By Eric Xing, CEO, Founder, Chief Scientist at Petuum
At Petuum, we strive to catalyze the transformation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) from researching, hacking, and tuning, into a standardized building process like in civil engineering, with premade building blocks that are complete, reusable, robust, and performant. We want to make AI accessible, practical, and sustainable for every enterprise, no matter how big or small. We’re excited and honored that this vision has been recognized by the World Economic Forum (WEF), who has named us a 2018 Technology Pioneer. We’re proud to join this prestigious group that has recognized luminaries like Google, Dropbox, and Airbnb, and to be peers with this year’s Technology Pioneers cohort of 61 other exciting companies from all over the globe that are working on transformative innovations.
WEF has classified our current era of innovation as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. While earlier industrial revolutions centered on changes in power sources, such as steam or electricity, WEF explains that the current revolution is defined by the rapid, widespread technological innovations and synergies seen in the world today. This observation resonates with us at Petuum — we see our goal of making AI accessible, practical, and sustainable as essentially “industrializing” AI.
Today, AI is still treated as a specialized commodity: almost every application is hand-crafted, and only a few people and companies have the expertise to build it. Our aim at Petuum is to make AI easier to use for people and businesses with less technical experience, without losing any of its potency, by providing customizable AI building blocks.
In many ways, implementing an AI application is similar to building a house — before you begin, you need to be supplied with building materials, such as nuts, bolts, and bricks. Yet the current approach to AI is like creating all these materials on-site, from scratch — welding metal to create bolts, baking bricks, etc. — and then piling them into a house. It would be very time-consuming and difficult to build an entire neighborhood this way, since each house would require a legion of expert craftsmen and a non-trivial amount of time. Furthermore, because the materials are hand-crafted, the quality of each house would not be consistent — imagine how difficult it would be to repair the houses if the nuts and bolts were not even the same size!
Petuum is creating standardized nuts, bolts, bricks, and template blueprints for easier, faster, and more orderly assembly of AI applications. The final build can be customized as desired, but the overall process is much more efficient and sound. Workers don’t need to know how to create a nail, and they don’t need to fully understand how a nail works — instead, they can take a pre-made nail, determine what structure they wish to build, and then follow a template to execute on that vision. Since the nails (and other materials) are manufactured in a standard way and to a standard specification, repairs and upgrades can be easily conducted by a different worker, rather than the original craftsman who created the nail. Building and maintaining a whole neighborhood now becomes practical, efficient, and de-coupled from the availability of individual craftsmen — we see this as an important step towards mass ownership of AI goods.
AI has the capacity to transform every industry, from healthcare to manufacturing, in incredible ways, but it’s currently beyond the reach of all but the biggest companies. At Petuum, by using industrial-strength AI design processes and standardized building blocks, we are developing next-generation AI-powered software systems. One example is PetuumMed, a smart physician assistant that provides end-to-end AI functions needed in healthcare applications, augmenting clinical practice and increasing patient engagement. PetuumMed achieves superior accuracy and state-of-the-art performance measured across a comprehensive suite of benchmarks, including medical report generation, critical information extraction, disease classification, and treatment recommendation. We can’t begin to imagine all of the use cases that will benefit from AI, but the great thing about our work is that we don’t have to. If anyone can create their own AI solutions, the world will benefit from everyone’s collective creativity.
The World Economic Forum engages the foremost political, business, and creative leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas and, as a part of this network, Petuum is committed to exploring the future of AI. There are certainly concerns to take into consideration, including biases in AI and the possibility of worker displacement, but it is our firm belief that the overall impact of AI will be to support humans’ work and make it more efficient.
At Petuum, we are committed to bringing something profound to AI and transformative to AI users by pushing for the industrialization of AI and turning enterprises of all industries into owners, builders, and informed users of this technology. We’re proud of each of our hard-working Petuum team members; without them, we could not call Petuum a Technology Pioneer. As we continue to engage with WEF in the coming months, we’re looking forward to how we can help shape — and be shaped by — the discussions pertaining to the future of this Fourth Industrial Revolution.
To learn more about our mission and technology or to inquire about open positions, visit petuum.com.