Dr Rand Hindi has a vision for the future that is peaceful and distraction-free. He imagines Artificial Intelligence (AI) becoming so advanced that technology disappears into the background, enabling humans to become more creative and invest time into more meaningful projects. No more annoying notifications. No more overwhelming struggles to keep up. No more pesky remotes, or having to figure out how to use devices. Everything will just work, seamlessly and intuitively, through voice activation, which is as unique an identifier as a fingerprint.
Rules of Impact // Rand HindiMute/unmute
This is a stark contrast to the doom and gloom scenarios we hear of AI taking away our jobs, or the war of machines vs. humans found in Hollywood movies like the Terminator or Matrix. “There is an alternative to the future of oppressive technology,” he explains. “AI is a tool that can make machines more human…it is the key that will liberate us.” As your personal AI learns through commands and repetition of behavior, it becomes intuitive and customized to you. The more it learns, the more it can free up your energy to do what you love.
“The vision for SNIPS is to come preinstalled on billions of devices in the same vein as browsers and apps are ubiquitous today.”
This is also the vision he aspires to empower through SNIPS, the AI startup he co-founded, which has the tagline “Using Voice to Make Technology Disappear.” SNIPS aims to do this through AI that lives on devices, rather than relying on connections to the Internet. The company is “private by design,” meaning that by storing information locally instead of in the cloud, it protects all of a user’s data. As the concept expands to widespread use and AI technology continues to become more seamlessly integrated into our lives, the vision for SNIPS is to come preinstalled on billions of devices in the same vein as browsers and apps are ubiquitous today.
An example that Hindi uses to demonstrate how SNIPS will work is from a time when he was on vacation with his girlfriend in Costa Rica, relaxing in a beautiful and peaceful setting. “Your experience is that you are completely disconnected, not by choice, but because there is just no connectivity.” As they returned to their hotel room, all of their devices sent through push notifications, and the pair intuitively interacted with them. “That feeling of being overwhelmed by technology became extremely obvious in that setting because of the contrast.”
“Artificial Intelligence will not only free up our time, but it will give us more opportunity to develop as individuals.” tweet
Our devices should be able to adapt to the situation we are in and not disturb us unless it is absolutely necessary. We should be able to tell our phone to reply to someone tomorrow. It should be able to filter out only the most important messages, automatically reply to others, or recommend things based on the context of what is most important. In this way “Artificial Intelligence will not only free up our time, but it will give us more opportunity to develop as individuals.”
Now imagine this same basic example of your phone applied to almost every device you own. Your television could recommend programming when a special breaking story comes on. Your lights would dim or turn on automatically. Your bike could change gears. Your car could know where to drive you. Your office. Your home. Your favorite store. Your whole environment tuned into what you want or need. With SNIPS, Hindi wants to enable all of that with personalized AI customized to your individual needs across every device.
Hindi is a hacker by nature, which is more a philosophy and approach to life than what is typically associated with computers. His family immigrated from Lebanon to France at an early age; in Paris he learned to code at age 10, co-founded a social network at 14 and started his PhD in Computer Science at 21. “Hacking something is finding a creative way to solve a problem,” he explains. “If you want to really change things and have an impact, you have to break the rules,” he says. “Rules are great if you don’t want to question anything.”
“Hacking something is finding a creative way to solve a problem, If you want to really change things and have an impact, you have to break the rules.”
Hindi didn’t leapfrog ahead by skipping grades, but rather he hacked the education system to finish his Ph.D. by age 21. He stopped going to classes senior year of high school and still passed all of his classes Hack Number 1. When he didn’t get into the college he wanted to attend, Hindi went to London and told the Head of the Computer Science Department that he was there from Paris for an interview and talked his way into taking an entrance exam. Coding since age 10, Hindi impressed them so much that the school created a position for him. Hack Number 2. Lastly, he took all of the Master’s Degree classes as optional electives during his undergraduate, skipping the Masters Program completely and going straight to pursue his Ph.D. Hack Number 3.
“Technology is built to help us achieve more.”
Hindi’s research focused on bioinformatics, which is the application of AI to analyze and make predictions about biology. During his Ph.D, he quit smoking, and studied nutrition and dieting to stay fit. “There are as many studies as there are diets on the planet. Everyone of those diets says something different than the other, and everyone has scientific proof.” Faced with this wide variance in scientific claims, he came to the hypothesis: “It’s not about finding one universal diet, but finding the right diet for every person.”
To test his own theory, he became his own experiment, intentionally putting on 35 kg (about 70 pounds) of weight. “AI is built for hyper-personalization at the individual level. As a way to prove my theory, I decided to be my own experiment.” As a part of the test, Hindi systematically added items to his diet then let AI customize recommendations. “The AI came back telling me I should avoid dairy, tomatoes, and a few other things. All I did to lose the weight was take out those specific things.”
I usually talk about it very early to have crowd-sourced, intelligent feedback that I can then use in my own thinking
After hacking his way through the education system and health improvement, Hindi moved to the more ambitious task of hacking away the annoying notifications and dependencies we have on machines. To bring this concept to life first requires breaking taboos around Artificial Intelligence as it overly controls our lives, and founded SNIPS as an AI research lab. The company quickly realized the effectiveness of their system was to prove the value of AI, then open up to more people by making the technology open source, allowing SNIPS to scale to all devices.
For Hindi, technology is built to help us achieve more. If you assume that the future is going to be more connected, then AI can become an enabler to humans by delegating tasks to machines and removing the tasks that are tedious and repetitive. Companies like SNIPS, which take an open-source approach to AI, become particularly important as a vision for empowering individuality and personal freedom in contrast to “all becoming the same people conditioned by big corporations that make those devices.” AI will change a lot of small things in your life, not become some overarching controller, providing that companies in the future embrace the decentralized, purpose-driven approach SNIPS that places control into the hands of individuals instead of large corporations and governments.
Hindi has a firm belief that companies must be rooted in their values and measure their mission against impact, which is why SNIPS is built on the foundation of three core values: privacy, impact and independence. First, it guarantees privacy, as it believes privacy is a fundamental human right; this is in part why SNIPS’ approach to AI lives on devices rather than in the cloud. Second, to have a positive impact is to make tech disappear and become more intuitive, allowing users to live more meaningful lives. Third, independence is building a sustainable company in the future, so SNIPS has made its technology open-source.
“99% of every idea ends up being bullshit, but sometimes that 1% does come out.”
Hindi may have hacked his way to tremendous accomplishments throughout the course of life, but he attributes his success in learning to collaboration with others. Instead of coming up with an idea and thinking about it in isolation, Hindi explains: “I usually talk about it very early to as many people as I can to have crowd-sourced, intelligent feedback that I can then use in my own thinking. This process is very iterative.” The real breakthroughs come through eliminating what doesn’t work about an idea to arrive at what appears obvious. “99% of every idea ends up being bullshit, but sometimes that 1% does come out.” This sounds a lot like his vision for AI, eliminating 99% of notifications we don’t need and allowing technology to disappear into the background, but that independence is what our future depends on.