Gianluca Mauro, AI-Academy: “We are in the AI gold rush, we help people and companies not to lose this revolution”

by | Apr 10, 2017

Hi, guys! We had a chat with Gianluca Mauro, co-founder of AI-Academy, one of our supporting partner. AI-Academy’s mission is to help companies not to miss the Artificial Intelligence revolution, through tailored education, consulting and prototyping.

In this interview Gianluca talks not only about this company, but also about the AI-Academy workshops and talks, that will take place during the BLAST days (May, 10-12).

Gianluca is also a a mentor at Peekaboo, one of our supporting partners, and currently working to spread awareness on Artificial Intelligence’s potential among businesses and professionals with workshops, public speeches and through his blog. His Medium article “I reverse-engineered a $500M Artificial Intelligence company in one week” got 50k+ views with 33% read ratio, 600+ recommends, and got featured in the Startup Grind publication, inspiring many to approach this field. You can read it here.

At BLAST 2017 you can meet him and his colleague Simone Totaro, co-founder of AI-Academy with Gianluca and Nicolò Valigi. Apply now for our startup program or book you pass!

Meanwhile here below our interview. Enjoy your reading!

Let’s talk about you, an energy engineer turned into entrepreneur: along your educational path you felt in love with AI sector. Can you tell us more about your story?

My background is in energy engineering. When I finished my bachelor degree, I started my master and decided to study abroad for one year. I went to Belgium and there I fell in love with entrepreneurship. And that happened thanks to a university course which was teaching the basics of the lean startup technology. That brought me to start to understand how this things work and to found my first startup which was called GreenItApp, a new system for energy saving in student houses.

The whole project then didn’t work: we had some problem with the team, as well as some problem in making the technology economically viable, but it was a great experience that helped me to learn the first things about what does it mean to have a startup. Then I won a scholarship that brought me to Silicon Valley.

It was an incredible experience. I’ve been there studying for three months at Santa Clara University, and then working for three months for Mind The Bridge, which is a company that helps the entrepreneurs from all over the world to grow their startups, taking advantages of the resources of Silicon Valley. In Silicon Valley I fell in love with AI and data science. That was pretty easy because everybody is talking about it there, you’re so much surrounded by this topic and by companies trying to push forward the boundaries of this technology that you can’t not fall in love, at least for me it was.

It was the only thing I could do: start studying it, because it was so interesting, I understood the value of it, and I really needed to dig into this topic.

How was the AI-Academy project born and what are its core business and goals?

It started when I came back to Rome, together with my friend Nico, who was in Silicon Valley with me and as me he fell in love with AI. We started to look around for people who shared our passion for AI: and then we met Simone and almost no one else, so we found out that it was really this hole: no one basically knew the revolution that was going on in the AI and we decided to do something about it. So we started this project to help companies and individuals not to lose this revolution that is happening right now.

AI-Academy in based in Rome but has its roots in Silicon Valley. All the story started there. You have been working on an international level, in general. What do you think about the Italian situation, compared to USA and the rest of Europe? Is there a chance to improve the Italian presence in the international AI scene?

The main difference between Silicon Valley and Europe is not that much in the amount of people that want to start companies, rather in the possibility they have to grow them. I don’t think that Silicon Valley is the best place to start a startup, for sure is the best place to grow it. The main reason behind that is that in Europe there is not much of an M&A market. That means there are less companies that acquire startups and that of course makes the whole ecosystem less interesting for investors, because they see that is much more difficult for them to get a return of investment on a startup that has less chance to be acquired. This is the biggest different I’ve seen.

In your manifesto, it’s possible to read: “This is the best moment in history to work on AI” and at the BLAST event you will talk about the “AI gold rush”. Would you explain to us something more about that?

Number are saying it. We see big companies that are always and always more hungry for startups that are doing AI to be acquired, there’s a great boost in acquisitions on this topic. As well as great breakthroughs in the technology itself, so we see every year we go on over and over and over the old records in the accuracy of the AI systems, talking about image recognitioning, speech reconitioning, speech synthesis. So the technology is pushing forward and the reason behind that is in what we need for a successful AI implementation: a lot of data, a lot of computing power and of course good methodologies too, to use this data and to create our algorithms. If you look around we see that thanks to cloud storage saving data is always cheaper and data is always more available. Computing power: same thing here, GPUs are always getting more inexpensive to train our algorithms and regarding knowledge the open source community it’s super wide regarding AI.

That makes developing AI features or AI techniques in your products much easier. I think the best example of that is George Hotz, the founder of Comma.ai, who started this company to make self-driving cars and he was the only one working at it. He was working literally out of a garage. He hired, I think, 7-8 people but he was able to build a self-driving car by himself in one year using open source technologies and inexpensive GPU for development and all the date he could get.

In your manifesto it’s also written:  “AI can be a critical asset for a company using it, or a huge threat for a company not using it.”. Moreover, your workshop, hosted in the Startup Academy, will focus on “AI core principles for business” and “AI implementation strategy”. Would you anticipate something about your point of view?

As I said before, this is best moment to develop AI features in your products because data are cheap and available as well as computing power and open source tools basically, that help you to startup with your AI products. We believe that AI can be helpful for everyone, for every kind of business, from ecommerce to finance, to social media, to engineering and robotics and what we want to do in our first workshop is to teach to a non-technical audience what AI is and what it can do for your business.

You are going to get out from this 1 hour workshop knowing what are the core principles of AI and how it can help your business to become better and better. The second part is called “The AI implementation strategies for businesses” and it’s going to cover the major aspects about how to actually implement this technologies. I decide a new feature: what should I do tomorrow? Who should I hire? How much is it going to cost me? What kind of resources do I need? Those are the topics we are going to cover in the second workshop.

You’re also a mentor at Peekaboo, one of our supporting partners, a community of founders, designers, developers, growth hackers and enthusiasts of innovation that work together to grow their ideas. Could you tell me more about that?

I met the Peekaboo guys as soon as I came back from Silicon Valley. I had been out of Rome for two years, and I was looking for people who shared my passion for innovation. At the time, they had just started building their community, and I was immediately impressed by their ambitious goal: to foster innovation through education and by building a wide network of people sharing experiences, ideas and skills.

Fast forward one year, and they’re at the third fully-booked edition of their Lean Startup program, they’re well established in Rome, started to expand in northern Italy, and we actively collaborate to raise awareness on AI’s potential with specific workshops. The great response they had is a clear sign that Italy has plenty of people that want to learn new stuff, innovate and make things happen.

What is your forecast about the next future of AI in Italy and worldwide?

I like to quote Marc Andreessen, who is probably the most successful investor right now, who said that he believes that AI is going to be even bigger than  mobile and cloud. It’s a big revolution. I think that AI is going to be one of the greatest revolution in technology that human kind has ever seen. What is nice about it is that everyone can participate, because it’s getting cheaper and cheaper  to build AI stuff. And it’s going to enable a lot of businesses to make new stuff. Just think about computer vision: basically now machines can see and this of course opens a lot of doors. So I think it’s going to be one of the protagonists of the next years as regarding technology.

Regarding Italy I made a research about what’s going on in the Academia and I found out that Italy is the country in Europe which has the highest amount of publications regarding AI. This of course makes me hope that is going to be one of the protagonists in it. Unfortunately what I noticed is that most of the researchers tend to stay in the Academia and not to go out and use their knowledges to  help businesses to build new stuff.

This is something we are working on, so we’re trying to build awareness on the potential from a business side, to the business people, as well as trying to create a network of AI researchers that can help Italian businesses to build AI products and be a part of this revolution, that they really can’t miss.

 

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