Prasanna Vijayanathan

Senior Software Engineer

Engineer/Leader/Philanthropist

Connect with me on LinkedIn

Check out Speakhire and AI Applied Consortium where he serves a board member.

 

“I [use] data to make better software applications that help people have a better life. Social economic opportunities for people [have made] it easy for people to connect with each other for better opportunities. [I] invest[ed] in companies that I think will have a big social impact – helping people have better day-to-day lives. That’s my goal now in the field of education. I’m looking at investing in people and organizations that I know will make a difference.”

Designing for Growth

Human-driven growth

My parents taught me [to] do good as much as you can and [to] do no harm … I’ve seen my parents helping people, but with what little they used to have … that was very motivating. [My] mom used to take me … down the street where there was a shelter home. We used to go there for our birthdays and donate notebooks and sketch pens. Whatever I do in life, I always think about … the impact of it on my society: is it helping people, is it hurting people? I’ve turned away opportunities, which I felt … could … not help society, and I don’t want to be a part of something that’s going to be detrimental to anyone in any way.

AI-driven growth

“AI, more recently, has become one of the biggest tools that could help humans get to the next level. I’ve been building [and] modeling for almost a decade now … It still has a long way to go. But, in terms of being an effective tool in helping improve human productivity, I think it’s got amazing potential. I think we’ll be heading in that direction. Now it’s a question where we want to make sure we are building the right things to help a majority of society, [not] just a few pockets.”

AI vs. Human-driven growth

Being intentional about what we’re doing with [AI] and what its impact is going to be … is really important. Why would you go ahead and build it just because you could? Did you even think about its effect on people, on society? But a lot of times people don’t think about it. Just because something is cool, something’s gonna make them money, they go ahead and build it. [I] think being intentional is when you can scale your actions. With the help of AI, it’s going to be way faster than it used to be. It’s like … moving from horse[s] to cars, moving from lightbulbs to quantum computers. So if you’re not intentional about its impact, it could go either way. It’s a tool. It’s up to us to use it the right way.

Designing for Agency

Human-driven agency

“One of my mentors used to tell me, ‘Take your hands off the driving wheel.’ I think enabling other people, be it your team, your leads, your CEOs … is to [tell them to] take their hands off the driving wheel and trust you have the right people to drive your car. With that level of trust, once you have identified the right people to work with, I think showing them that you trust them fully, and enabling them to have the right skills to be able to drive that machine … that’s the most important factor, enabling others to do the best they can.”

AI-driven agency

“Today, even though we talk about self-driving [cars], how comfortable would people be letting cars decide how to drive without any control? [In] the field of medicine, AI is an amazing tool, [and] a lot of studies and research has shown [it] can detect diseases much earlier on than humans could: processes like cancer detection, breast-cancer detection, for example, ha[ve] been on the rise with AI. If you think about a society where AI is going to [make] decisions, if it is just tailored toward common people detecting diseases and getting treatment early on, that’s a good thing. But what if it is used to bump up your insurance prices just because you might fall in the bucket of getting a disease earlier than the average? Would you be okay with that?”

AI vs. Human-driven agency

“I don’t think we are ready to completely give control [of] decisions to AI. The final decision on any process that impacts a lot of people should be human-led and human-driven. AI to me is only a tool.”

Designing for Belonging

Human-driven belonging

“When I moved to the U.S. to study, I moved to Florida. I was all by myself. What was surprising was how [many people] didn’t like people coming from outside the country. Those are the times when I didn’t feel like I belonged in this country. Impostor syndrome happens anytime I’m in a new meeting with a new set of people I don’t know. [I think,] ‘These people are really awesome, they’re so talented, [but] I don’t think I’m in the right room.’ A lot of times students that I mentor, the people I work with, I tell them, ‘This is impostor syndrome. If you are feeling it right now, talk about it. It’s okay to expose your vulnerabilities. You need a lot of strength to show your abilities. Only with that recognition would you be able to move past it, and there are people around to help us with it.’ That’s what I’ve come to realize: if I have a lot of friends and mentors in the industry who’ve helped me through those feelings, that’s the only way things can get better.”

AI-driven belonging

“The underlying foundation for building any AI system is the data behind it. It is very crucial to understand the sort of biases and prejudices that go inside that data. That’s what the AI is going to be trained off of. We’ve seen so many instances where you have a model that is built off of data that we almost never understand the basis of, and then years later we tend to go back and say, ‘OK, now we know why this happened.’ [We must] have systems in place for AI engineers, specifically people who build the data, build the models, [who must] be able to understand the biases in the underlying data. We all have our own biases; we [all] have preconceived notions, and those tend to impact our daily lives. The way we look at data, the way we build models, all of that comes into factor. Who’s considering … all the biases that come with [those developing the models and tools]?

AI vs. Human-driven belonging

My answer is always collaboration. They say, ‘AI is only a tool.’ And it should be ultimately humans who make decisions based on what they’re impacting. You can use AI very heavily. AI can be very insightful. I’ve seen that myself. I’ve built solutions where AI provides insights. AI-driven insight is a big deal in the industry today, and AI is very powerful in giving you those insights. But then, the decision making should be human-led and democratized.

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