There is a clear trend in Artificial Intelligence whereby major companies like IBM, Microsoft, and Google are creating the plumbing with layers of abstraction on top such that mere mortals can leverage capabilities such as Machine Learning to build complex systems. This interview offers an excellent overview of the state of the union on this topic.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to Sapient.
Josh Sutton: I lead Artificial Intelligence at Publicis.Sapient, which is focused on digital business transformation. We have a number of brands that operate as part of Publicis.Sapient. Collectively, we represent a little over a quarter of the Publicis group, which is one of the largest advertising companies in the world.
Sramana Mitra: What is your background? Is Artificial Intelligence something that you’ve been working on in other capacities for a while?
Josh Sutton: I’ve been looking at Artificial Intelligence (AI) from a focused point of view for the past five years or so. I’ve been with Sapient for a very long time, through the IPO and subsequent exit. Through my time at Sapient, I got introduced to AI when I was leading a large portion of our capital markets business. A number of the more forward thinking companies were starting to approach us and ask questions around what was real and what was possible with AI. They wanted us to help them cut through the noise of all of the various claims made by sales organizations as well as the clutter in the media around what AI is perceived as doing, independent of any verifiable facts.
We were quite excited. While many parts of the technology have been around for a very long time, the advances in both process and power, as well as the availability of data, have enabled AI to turn a corner and transform from something that was theoretically valuable to generate real business impact.
There was still the challenge of figuring out what was possible and what’s not. We initially spent a lot of time in working with all of the various product companies – the Google’s and Microsoft’s of the world as well as your mid-tier companies, startup companies, and even academic institutions that were spinning companies out. The way we started to look at artificial intelligence was and is very similar to how, initially, we looked at the Internet. Right now, it’s at the underlying technology phase, but we view the real opportunity as how do you apply those types of technologies to different business problems and transform business models. We always try to look at things through the lens of business transformation and how these different capabilities are going to enable industries to change and transform.
Sramana Mitra: Wonderful. I’m going to probe along the lines. By the way, you are aware that we are both MIT alums?
Josh Sutton: Yes. What year were you?
Sramana Mitra: We were there at the same time, but I was a graduate student and you were an undergraduate. I was there from 1993 to 1995. I was in the Ph.D. program but I started a company and left to do the company full-time.
Josh Sutton: Such a small world.