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Data Scientist Vijayasarathi Balasubramanian Looks Optimistically on the World of AI

Vasid Qureshi

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The history of artificial intelligence, or AI, goes far back than people might originally think. Scientists and engineers first broke ground with the technology back in 1943, which gave way to the neural network foundation that AI uses today. Since its inception, various technical professionals have tried their hand at shaping AI into the complicated system of interconnected subsets we now know.

One such expert,Vijayasarathi Balasubramanian, who also goes by Vijay, is a data scientist who has been using AI in a professional capacity for years. He’s been using one of AI’s subsets, machine learning (ML), to create recommender systems commonly used in e-commerce. We asked him to lend us some insight about his expertise and his thoughts about the AI movement.

Tech Announcer: Thanks for sitting down with us today. AI has become a hot topic in the digital space; what are your thoughts about it?

Vijay: I think that there’s a lot of potential with the space. There’s a lot of conversation about it, and while there are people who will try to use it selfishly, AI has become fundamental in a lot of things we do today, and in a lot of industries. I make recommender systems in e-commerce, which are used to suggest products or services to customers based on a number of factors such as previous buying history, viewing history, and similar buying behaviors from other customers. These systems have completely changed the way we engage with buying things online, and it’s become such an all-encompassing inclusion that it’s hard to remember what came before. I think there’s a lot of good underneath it all. AI presents a lot of exciting opportunities.

TA: How exactly did you get your start?

Vijay: I worked early on with British Telecom, and the assignments that they put me on really grabbed my interest. After that, I ended up going to University of Notre Dame where I got my Master’s in Data Science, and then I went on to work with several companies where I’ve created enterprise scale data solutions. And I started all this back in 2006, so it’s been a long time.

TA: Outside of working in the e-commerce space and developing recommender systems[1], what else have you worked on?

Vijay: I am a big believer in sharing knowledge with the community, so I’m constantly on the lookout for ways and opportunities to contribute. I help fellow data scientists solve complex problems through channels like Stack Overflow and Quora. I also lend my time to open source projects such as Apache Beam and TensorFlow. I am one among the lead contributors to Apache Airflow, which is a popular open-source workflow management platform for data engineering pipelines.

TA: What has been one of the most exciting developments in AI in your opinion?

Vijay: For me, the impact of technology is how useful it is to the common people. I always look at Innovations as how it can help/improve people’s lives rather than the money it can make. When looking at recent advancements in AI, large language models, like ChatGPT, are pretty well-aligned with that. NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang calls ChatGPT the “iPhone Moment” for AI. Applications like this, Bard and other related large language models are already helping people in all possible ways. Whether it’s translating foreign languages, bringing ease of accessibility to customer service, or personalizing e-commerce, AI is impacting almost all industries in a massively positive way.

TA: Is there anything about AI that has worried you? What’s been something that has helped you overcome or make peace with those concerns?

Vijay: I’m always worried about accuracy for AI models. The accuracy results are directly linked with the amount and type of data we feed in. Though we have infrastructure to collect data, the challenge has always been how respectful we are with the user’s privacy as it’s important to build common people’s confidence on technology innovation. So, you can say that privacy is another concern as well; they go hand in hand. It’s been a big challenge for companies across the globe to balance data collection and compliance, but having a team dedicated specifically to data governance and privacy has really helped raise the bar. It’s imperative that every company has a privacy team, regardless of size.

TA: In your opinion, what do you think could be the biggest improvement with AI?

Vijay: Data security is one of the biggest improvements, by far. Over the past three-four years, the number of data breaches has really concerned the public. Now, with this huge advent of AI, I think that that has a lot of people on edge. It’s important to know what the privacy experts are doing and what the big moves are because these things will ultimately impact the end user. I’ve been watching these privacy changes for data and cybersecurity, and I’m really happy with what’s been going on so far.

TA: What’s something that inspires you?

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Vijay: Paulo Coelho’s quote, “When you want something with all of your heart, the universe conspires to help you achieve it.”

TA: What would you say is one of your greatest achievements so far?

Vijay: In my 17 years of professional experience, I’ve worked on multiple high-impact initiatives for Fortune 50 companies and won internationally recognized awards for contributions to the community, but I am most proud of the framework I created for Friends of the Children using the data they collect. Friends of the Children is a national nonprofit organization that selects and invites youth—all of whom have unique talents, interests, and dreams, and face multiple systemic obstacles—to be paired with a paid, professional mentor called a Friend. 

As a data scientist, I analyzed the sensitive data they collect for each child and their mentor and established a framework to optimize resources to maximize the positive impact on every child in the program. The good thing about the work is they were able to reuse my work till date.

TA: Any thoughts about what’s coming down the pipeline?

Vijay: There’s so much happening even now that it’s hard to imagine. We’re always looking forward to the next Billion Users, which is a term for the next wave of about a billion people who will join the Internet. Depending on where they are in the world, we might have developed a “beginner friendly” space for them with the assistance of AI. Also, digital currency is still in its infancy, so the potential for AI with just those two factors is astounding. Whatever comes next, I’m excited, and I’m eagerly looking forward to it.

ABOUT VIJAYASARATHI BALASUBRAMANIAN

Vijayasarathi Balasubramanian is a data scientist with seventeen years of experience and specializes in developing recommender systems for e-commerce spaces. He now works as a leading cloud solution provider as a Senior Data and Applied Scientist for Microsoft and contributes his knowledge to a number of open source communities. He is also affiliated with a number of technical organizations such as IEEE, IET, and BCS.

To learn more about Vijay or his future pursuits, you can find him on his website.

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