Enhanced productivity: AI can be used to automate a number of repetitive tasks allowing humans to free up their time for other activities. AI can also generate actionable recommendations so that humans can enhance their productivity much faster.
As a part of our series about the future of Artificial Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Eduardo Abeliuk.
Dr. Eduardo Abeliuk is a U.S. based entrepreneur and technologist with over twenty years of experience driving technology development and innovation at various high-tech companies in the US. He is currently the Chairman and CEO at TeselaGen Biotech., a Silicon Valley based company that works at the interface between Biotechnology, Artificial Intelligence and Enterprise Software. Dr. Abeliuk holds a double bachelor’s degree in Physics and in Electrical Engineering from University of Chile, a M.S. in Bioengineering and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. His academic work has been published by prestigious journals and he holds multiple U.S. patents on computational biology and AI.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path in AI?
My interest in AI developed while I was pursuing my undergraduate studies. Since an early age, I had a strong interest in math, science and technology and I had my first exposure to machine learning while studying at the University of Chile, where I double majored in Physics and Electrical Engineering. Soon after I finished my undergrad studies, I came to the U.S. and joined the Ph.D. in E.E. at Stanford University. I became a Research Assistant at the Information Systems Lab (ISL). The research at the ISL focuses on algorithms for information processing, their mathematical foundation, and their applications to science and engineering. That’s when I realized that I wanted to dive deeper into AI and explore its applications in engineering, medicine and biology.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
Pursue your passions and follow your intuition. Have dedication, discipline, and perseverance if you want to achieve your goals. Find value by combining knowledge from different fields to create innovative solutions. In today’s world, many breakthroughs occur at the intersection of various disciplines, and an interdisciplinary background positions you well to contribute to these advances. Also learn to adapt and learn continuously. As an entrepreneur, it is essential to adapt to new challenges and constantly learn to stay ahead in a competitive environment. I wouldn’t be able to achieve my long-term goals without embracing lifelong learning and adaptability. Finally, build a strong network. This can be instrumental in launching a successful venture or advancing your career.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
At Teselagen, we are developing software and AI for designing, building and optimizing biological products. We are empowering as many scientists as possible, working on small or large scale projects, to develop their bio products as fast as possible, minimizing cost and technical risk. To accomplish this goal, we’ve been exploring and developing a wide range of tools and algorithms for optimizing DNA and proteins. Part of this work involves the development of novel machine learning algorithms, but many of the projects that we’ve been working on are intended for developing the necessary infrastructure upstream and downstream of the AI models. The AI models that we train are worthless without the proper infrastructure and tools to design the experiments, and execute the experimental workflows intended to gather the needed data points in a time and cost-effective manner.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful to have had the support and guidance of many people throughout my life and career. One such person is Harley McAdams, professor at Stanford who introduced me to computational biology. Both Harley and myself shared a common interest and background in Physics. We met during the summer of 2006, we connected very quickly and he encouraged me to work with him during that summer on using computational and statistical methods to analyze high-throughput microarray data and understand transcriptional regulation in bacteria. He also introduced me to Lucy Shapiro, the director of Stanford’s Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine and some very smart biochemists and engineers. Two years later, my work was on the cover of the Journal of Molecular Microbiology, highlighting the computational and statistical techniques that we had developed to identify the existence of 27 novel small RNAs. A few years later, we discovered that some of these novel small RNA play an essential role in prokaryotic cell cycle. Not only we became good friends and collaborators with Harley, Lucy, and many of the great scientists that I met back then, but it opened my eyes to how Artificial Intelligence and Computational Biology could have a meaningful impact to unveil new scientific discoveries.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
- New scientific discoveries: AI has the potential to unveil new scientific discoveries in many fields, including biotech. For example, AI can be used to analyze large datasets of molecular structures and predict which compounds are most likely to be effective as drugs. This can significantly accelerate the drug discovery process and enable the development of new treatments for diseases.
- Enhanced productivity: AI can be used to automate a number of repetitive tasks allowing humans to free up their time for other activities. AI can also generate actionable recommendations so that humans can enhance their productivity much faster.
- Enhanced human experiences: AI can be used to enhance many existing human experiences. For example, AI can be used to enhance the visual and auditory components of human experiences through augmented reality. This can enable more immersive and interactive experiences, such as in gaming or education.
- Novel human experiences: AI can be used to create completely novel human experiences, unthinkable before. For example by using state-of-the-art deep learning techniques, AI can be used to render unimaginable photorealistic movies and speech, music, art, and storylines that can be personalized based on individual preferences.
- Increased safety: AI can be used to increase safety. For example, AI can be used to help prevent accidents on the road, or at the workforce, by monitoring risky human activities or by preventing equipment failures.
What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
Here are a few things that concern me:
- Bias: The power of AI systems is defined by the datasets and models that were used to train them in the first place. If the datasets or designs contain certain biases, the AI models would also lead us to biased decisions that can be even reinforced and amplified over time, leading to negative outcomes for certain groups of people.
- Lack of explainability in AI: many AI models can be regarded as “black-boxes” and it is difficult to explain how these models reach certain results. The “explainability” of these results is important if we want to hold the developers and users of these models accountable for the impact of the algorithms.
- Concentration of power: Some of the most powerful AI algorithms and datasets are concentrated in the hands of a few large institutions. This concentration of power can raise concerns about monopolistic practices by such institutions.
- Misuse by authoritarian regimes: AI-powered surveillance systems could be used by authoritarian regimes to monitor and control their population.
- Finally, an eventual misalignment that can rise between the objective of AI algorithms and our objective as human species. If the goals given to an AI system are poorly specified, and as AI systems become more complex and autonomous, these AI systems might optimize for these goals in ways that could be harmful for the human species.
As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?
I’m not worried about the danger that AI can pose to humanity in the short term. However, I do believe that we have to be cautious about the potential dangers that advanced technology such as AI can pose to humanity in the long-term. Rapid advancements in technology can lead to unintended consequences and new risks that need to be carefully managed.
For example biotechnology and genetic engineering can offer incredible benefits to humanity, but also raise ethical concerns and risks related to unintended consequences, such as the creation of new pathogens or ecological disruptions. In general, ethical considerations and threads need to be understood and managed with any advanced technology such as electrical engineering, aerospace engineering, nuclear engineering and so on, and we have to establish regulations and policies that guide its development and use. What is particularly special about AI though is that it would be a failure of our imagination not to consider that AI can achieve superhuman intelligence (in the “strong AI” sense). If this is the case, and by its own definition, there are some conclusions that the AI can achieve that go far beyond what we can currently conceive and AI could eventually be smart enough to persuade humans and help dictate our own regulations and policies.
What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?
To address these concerns and ensure AI benefits humanity, several measures could be taken. Researchers, developers, policymakers, and other stakeholders could also work together and share information to address AI-related challenges and ensure best practices are adopted. Also, regulations and policies could guide AI development and deployment, ensuring ethical and safety considerations are taken into account, including the ones that consider a world where AGI is achieved. In order to assure the public that these are not things to be seriously concerned of, it is important to educate the public about AI development and to maintain transparency about how AI systems are being deployed by public and private entities. It is very important to address concerns and build trust in AI technology because I believe that at the end, the impact that AI can have on humanity as a whole significantly exceeds the potential risks, if managed properly.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
Over the years, I have been fortunate to team up with amazing individuals and collaborate with great institutions that are doing amazing things. For example, one such company is LanzaTech, a biotechnology company that uses synthetic biology to convert industrial waste gases into sustainable fuels and chemicals. The company’s technology has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the sustainability of various industries, from steel production to transportation. Another small company we have empowered through our technology is OuroBio, a biotech company that is using synthetic biology to develop bioplastics and have the potential to significantly reduce the environmental impact of the plastic industry. We also work with DNA synthesis and manufacturing companies that have the potential to significantly accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and enable the development of new biotechnologies that improve human health and well-being.
Of course, I recognize that there is always more that can be done, and I am constantly seeking out new ways to make a positive difference in the world. I am humbled by the work of others who are doing amazing things to create a better future, and I am inspired to continue doing my part, no matter how small, to contribute to that effort.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
Although it’s true that there are not many women engaged in the AI industry, the same is true in Computer Science, and STEM related fields in general. To address this problem we need to address the root causes. Some of these factors include societal stereotypes and biases about gender roles and abilities that contribute to the perception that women might be less capable than men in math and STEM fields in general. These stereotypes can influence girls’ self-confidence and interest in pursuing STEM-related fields, as well as the expectations of parents, teachers, and peers.
It’s important to challenge stereotypes and biases, promote inclusive educational environments, and provide girls with the same opportunities, encouragement, role models, and support as boys in order to develop confidence in girls and close the gender gap and participation in STEM-related careers.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
One of my favorite quotes is“The first principle is not to fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool”, from the physicist Richard Feynman.
I’ve been spending the past many years learning about a number of mental models, and constructing a few of my own. I’ve developed these mental models by studying science, economics, geopolitics, human nature, psychology, etc. Some of the most important mental models and learning come from understanding our cognitive biases. If you want to learn and succeed, probably among the most important attributes is to know your own limitations as an individual. We are all susceptible to self-deception, and that it is important to be aware of this basic cognitive bias and to take steps to guard against it. It is easy to convince ourselves of something that is not true, either through wishful thinking, or simply lack of information. However, failing to recognize our own biases and limitations can lead to mistakes, misunderstandings, and even outright falsehoods. We need to seek out multiple perspectives and sources of information in order to arrive at a more accurate understanding of the world. By being honest with ourselves about our own limitations and biases, we can become better thinkers, better decision-makers, and better human beings.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Science and technology have allowed our species to live a healthier life, have access to quality food, have the ability to travel across the world and learn from different cultures, etc. But scientific and technological innovations do not emerge spontaneously. Our natural condition as a species is poverty and misery. I believe that one of the most important milestones that we can pursue within our lifetime and that can bring the most amount of good to the most people is to understand and be capable of engineer life. By gaining deeper insights into biological processes and manipulating them with precision, we can develop new solutions to pressing challenges and improve overall quality of life. We can improve healthcare by developing better diagnostic tools and health treatments, we can advance agriculture, address environmental challenges and decrease our reliance on fossil fuels. Ultimately, understanding the principles of life can also contribute to our overall knowledge of the natural world and of us as human beings.
However, this is no easy task. Access to resources, expertise, and opportunities in science and technology is often limited to a select few. We need to enable individuals from diverse backgrounds to contribute to developing new scientific breakthroughs, biological products and technical innovations that can ultimately benefit society as a whole. At TeselaGen we are doing our part by building the tools and an AI-powered operating system that can be used by everyone. However more should be done on educating and training a wider audience in these areas and supporting grassroots innovators by providing funding and logistical support to these individuals and innovators.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me and connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also follow our company’s work and blog at www.teselagen.com, and find our company on the usual social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About The Interviewer: David Leichner is a veteran of the Israeli high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications. At Cybellum, a leading provider of Product Security Lifecycle Management, David is responsible for creating and executing the marketing strategy and managing the global marketing team that forms the foundation for Cybellum’s product and market penetration. Prior to Cybellum, David was CMO at SQream and VP Sales and Marketing at endpoint protection vendor, Cynet. David is the Chairman of the Friends of Israel and Member of the Board of Trustees of the Jerusalem Technology College. He holds a BA in Information Systems Management and an MBA in International Business from the City University of New York.