We use our smart devices so frequently that we often to do not give much attention to what keeps them running. When we open an app, we simply trust that it will function without an issue. Part of that confidence lies in how much we rely on Wi-Fi. In the coffee shop, in the mall, and waiting at the doctor’s office, Wi-Fi is readily available to us. Bob Friday and his team at Mist Systems are well aware of how critical it is for us to have the technology we need, when and where we need it. That is why as the CTO and Co-Founder of Mist, Bob has established an AI-driven wireless network that is it at the top of its game in wireless, cloud, and data science. Thanks to Bob, our wireless systems and Wi-Fi operations will continue to be dependable, just the way we like them.
Tamara: Can you share a story that inspired you to get involved in AI?
Bob: In 2011, I saw the Watson for Jeopardy episode, and thought, ‘If they can build software that plays Jeopardy, we can build a virtual IT assistant that answers questions on par with a wireless expert.’ This was one of the inspirations for Mist. The other inspiration was my co-founder Sujai Hajela and I saw a need from enterprises putting business critical and customer engagement services on their wireless networks for AI-driven IT, where software could proactively help them with the visibility needed on their users connectivity.
Tamara: Describe your company and the AI/predictive analytics/data analytics products/services you offer.
Bob: Mist’s goal is to be the leader in AI for IT. Today, that manifests itself in the form of an AI-driven wireless network that automates Wi-Fi operations, lowers operational costs, and enables new value added mobile services using location. As part of our journey, Mist built the first virtual network assistant (VNA), which uses AI to answer questions on par with a human Wi-Fi domain expert. In addition, we are the only vendor leveraging AI to virtualize Bluetooth LE, bringing the convenience, accuracy and scale of indoor location on par with GPS.
AIOps (AI for IT operations) is a burgeoning market with huge potential. We are proud to be leading the charge from a technology standpoint, all the while helping businesses and end users have amazing wireless experiences.
Tamara: How do you see the AI/data analytics/predictive analysis industry evolving in the future?
Bob: Ultimately, we will see AI evolve to the point that IT infrastructures are totally self-healing. Today, we have done a great job collecting data, classifying it with domain knowledge, and then using machine learning and other techniques to turn this information into actionable insight. However, the next step is still ahead of us – where the network proactively and automatically corrects on its own.
Tamara: What is the biggest challenge facing the industry today in your opinion?
Bob: The biggest challenge facing the industry today is the gap that exists between data scientists, domain experts, and cloud. On the one hand, you can find great mathematicians with PhDs. On the other, you can find RF experts with years of experience working with Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies. The trick is bridging the gap between the two so the respective sets of expertise work in harmony with one another. In my opinion, this is why small companies (i.e. startups), have an advantage over big established companies when it comes to leveraging AI. In addition to less baggage from legacy solutions, startups have less organizational silos. This leads to better collaboration and faster innovation, which is key when bringing new AI technology to market.
Tamara: How do you see your products/services evolving going forward?
Bob: We brought the first AI-powered virtual network assistant to the industry in February 2018, which we plan to constantly evolve going forward. It is amazing to see the Mist VNA getting smarter every day and answering more and more Wi-Fi questions with stunning accuracy. Eventually, we will reach the ultimate goal of using VNA to build a completely self-healing network. In addition, we plan to broaden our VNA services beyond wireless to bring similar AI expertise to other strategic IT domains, such as security and analytics. We have just scratched the surface on what AI can do for IT. The next few years will be very exciting!
Tamara: What is your favorite AI movie and why?
Bob: I wouldn’t be a real CTO at an AI company if I didn’t say “2001: A Space Odyssey”. It is obviously a classic and one of the first to breach the notion of an AI-driven assistant. Beyond that, I enjoy “The Matrix” series as they broach some very interesting ideas, particularly around humanity and simulation theories. Finally, “Iron Man” is a favorite of mine. Who doesn’t want their own Jarvis?
Tamara: What type of advice would you give my readers about AI?
Bob: No one can or should ignore AI. It will be relevant to all industries and impact all of our lives. If you are in the business of AI, you will need the right talent, so start early and seek out the best.
Tamara: How does AI, particularly your product/service, bring goodness to the world? Can you explain how you help people?
Bob: Our product makes Wi-Fi more predictable and reliable. If you ask any teenager, there are few things in life more important than great Wi-Fi! More seriously, we are also working hard to bring new indoor location services to market that provide real value to many people. For example, the Mist platform can help companies locate employees in an emergency. It can help a sick patient find the closest nurse. It can prevent kindergartners from wandering off site without adult supervision. The real-world applications of AI-driven wireless are quite numerous, and still evolving every day.
Tamara: What would be the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you during your company’s evolution?
Bob: It’s been interesting to see our company – a small startup that has been shipping product for under two years – become the default wireless standard for some of the biggest companies on Earth. This is a real testimony to the benefit of AI and the demand for new automated wireless networks. On the more humorous side, a partner and I got lost in a large hospital where we were installing location. We felt like mice in the maze trying to find the cheese.
Tamara: What are the 3-5 things that most excite you about AI? Why? (industry specific)
Bob: There are lots of things that excite me about AI in the IT industry. One is the need for the technology. Traditional wireless networks, for example, are too manual and outdated, making the market ripe for innovation. Second are the results. AI-driven wireless really works, with Mist’s VNA being a prime example. Lastly, it is the promise of the technology. There is so much more to come.
Tamara: What are the 3-5 things worry you about AI? Why? (industry specific)
Bob: The only thing that worries me is the misperception that AI will replace IT professionals. A virtual network assistant is exactly what the name suggests – an assistant. It won’t eliminate the need for people; it just makes them faster, smarter, and more cost effective.
Tamara: Over the next three years, name at least one thing that we can expect in the future related to AI?
Bob: AI is here to stay – it’s not a passing fad. It’s like internet and TV, and the adoption rate will be on par with cell phones and radio. In the future, it will be so embedded you probably won’t even know it is there.