Artificial Intelligence technology has been evolving steadily since the 1950s, but today it is seemingly “everything, everywhere, all at once,” capturing the imagination of a wider public. People are asking: how will AI influence the future of technology and society as a whole?
This is a question Amir Husain has been answering for decades and with great success. Husain discovered a love for technology at a very young age and a sense of wonder about what humanity could do with it. By 17, he earned his first bachelor’s degree in computer science in his hometown of Lahore, Pakistan. Later on, Amir moved to attend the University of Texas at Austin. While working toward his PhD, he dropped out to launch his first startup (based in his apartment). After selling his first startup, he started a second one, which merged with an Austin-based hardware company.
He then started SparkCognition, a company that leverages advanced AI technology in machine learning, neural networks, natural language processing, and computer vision for some of the world’s largest organizations.
In this interview with Insights Success, Amir shares his journey so far and his optimism about what an AI-enabled future holds for all of us.
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at SparkCognition. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?
In 2013, I founded SparkCognition. Starting an AI-based company didn’t have the cache that it has today. I encountered skepticism about ‘machine intelligence,’ particularly the ability of AI to outdo experts in specific areas related to industrial applications. But I recognized a huge opportunity: close to $100T of physical infrastructure in the world, under massive stress from environmental, productivity, reliability, and ease-of-use concerns.
Industries were awash in data but struggling to capitalize on it (the signal vs. noise problem). Computers were more powerful, cheap sensors made industrial data gathering easier, and storage was getting more affordable, just as deep learning was having its moment in the sun. I wanted to apply AI to the challenges of the physical world, where I believe it has limitless potential to unlock novel insights from sensors and data, predict, optimize, and automate processes, and help solve really meaningful problems.
Today, SparkCognition is redefining how industries operate and helping organizations address everything from climate change and renewable energy to defense readiness and school safety. The wonder I had as a child continues to propel me today. I want to keep pushing against perceived boundaries and enhance the world with AI.
Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision. What are the qualities and aspects that make it stand out as a leading company in providing AI solutions and services?
SparkCognition is truly a global leader in AI software for business. We are grateful to work with some of the biggest brands in the world, from Boeing and Airbus in aviation to bp and Aramco in O&G to Mondalez and Xerox in manufacturing. Our mission is to deliver world-class AI solutions that allow organizations to solve their most critical problems, empowering them to run a more sustainable, safer, and profitable business.
With our patented AI technologies that leverage machine learning, deep neural networks, natural language processing, and computer vision, we enable organizations to prevent unexpected downtime, augment human intelligence, maximize asset performance, accomplish netzero initiatives, make workplaces and schools safer, stop cyberattacks—and we’ve only scratched the surface, in my opinion.
Almost two years ago, we launched HyperWerx, our first of- its-kind aerial/terrestrial integration facility dedicated to developing and showcasing AI-based technologies for implementation in the physical world. Last year, we closed our Series D funding round, achieving a unicorn valuation of over $1.4 billion. And we have been continuously recognized as an industry leader in employee experience and innovation, winning awards like Built In Best Places to Work, Forbes’ America’s Best Startup Employers, and Fast Company World Changing Ideas.
Enlighten us on how you have been transforming the modern industry through your significant expertise in emerging technologies.
Building on an IP portfolio of well over 200 AI assets, SparkCognition has a proven record of delivering generative AI solutions at scale—accelerating digital transformation for energy, manufacturing, transportation, financial services, retail, education, cyber, and defense. We’re productizing the science of AI, bringing SaaS-based, modular, configurable, repeatable, scalable, extensible, and explainable solutions to the market.
Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.
Four core values have always driven SparkCognition’s culture: Own It, Do the Right Thing, Innovate, and Put Customers First. “Own it” means being accountable for the outcome. “Do the right thing” is acting respectfully and ethically at all times. To “innovate,” we must all keep learning, sharing, and asking “why.” And finally, “put customers first” always means the customer’s success is our success.
Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?
Governments and industries must address the over $100T in failing infrastructure we have currently, plus nearly $100T coming online in the next few decades. SparkCognition is building an AI-powered operating system for the world’s infrastructure, enhancing existing and new systems by encasing and embedding them with intelligent software. We’ve already begun. SparkCognition Visual AI Advisor now has 130K+ cameras under contract across 16 countries.
SparkCognition Maritime Shipping Advisor is used to transport over 3B barrels of oil globally. SparkCognition Renewable Suite manages 8.5 GW of energy capacity. SparkCognition Maintenance Advisor provides predictive insights for some of the largest offshore oil platforms, overseeing 170M+ barrels of production per year. SparkCognition Government Systems (SGS) Digital Maintenance Advisor augments maintenance support for the F-16 fighter, representing the largest jet fleet globally. SkyGrid, created in partnership with Boeing, is the world’s first airspace system built on AI and blockchain. The SkyGrid app is used by over 100K drone users across 100+ countries.
What, according to you, could be the next significant change in your sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?
Generative AI applications, like ChatGPT and others, are driving tremendous excitement in the space. A wonderful byproduct of all this attention is more people are learning how far AI has come. Maybe for the first time, they realize how transformative AI will be in their everyday lives and how soon that will happen.
As for language models and the trend of neuro-symbolic AI—we have been innovating in this area for years. We’ll have transformative solutions to share with the world this year, too. This is undoubtedly an era of rapid AI innovation.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for SparkCognition?
Over the next 50 years, this company’s expertise in generative AI for industrials will address the world’s most critical business challenges. I want to be instrumental in the production of clean energy and the delivery of net zero by 2050; to make our cities smarter and more responsive to the needs of its citizens; to enable autonomous operations of machines from factories and farms to highways and skyways; and to augment human abilities, enhancing the individual experience and eliminating workplace accidents by 99% by 2040.
We don’t view these goals as aspirational—they are achievable with our current technologies, know-how, and experiences. We ask governments, leaders, organizations, and individuals everywhere to join us to build a better, more equal, and abundant future for all.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the sector and develop integrated AI solutions for perpetual betterment?
Focus on solving real problems and delivering real value. Focus on the long term. Remain humble through this process and never stop innovating.