Somayeh Aghnia, co-founder and CEO of Geeks spoke to Grant Powell MBCS about her passion for helping today’s businesses get the most from AI and her thoughts about its continuing evolution.
Geeks is a London based custom software and AI integration specialist, helping medium and large organisations evolve and grow through technology advancements. Somayeh Aghnia shares her insights on the impact of AI and what businesses should be doing to stay ahead and remain relevant against a backdrop of rapidly evolving technology.
Why did you start Geeks and what did you hope to achieve?
I’m a technologist by education and by trade. I studied software engineering at university and have always been very passionate about the application of technology. Very early on I decided to focus on bringing technology into businesses and the many benefits that can be realised by doing so. I have been a developer, a product manager, a project manager and a business analyst, and all of that culminated in the creation of Geeks in 2007, with a mission to implement tech for businesses in a way that would make a tangible positive impact. I didn’t want to just deliver a project or the next shiny product, but rather to solve real problems and look for ways to add value.
How has the quick emergence and uptake of AI impacted on your work?
AI has definitely made what we do more exciting and a lot more challenging at the same time. It’s exciting because we solve the sorts of industry problems that we know only tech can solve in a very scalable way. When new technology comes along it’s essential to understand its value as soon as possible, and as a technologist my role is to optimise the connections between technology and people. By helping people understand technology and see what’s possible through its use, they can begin to implement it, trust it and depend upon it within their organisations.
AI unlocks a whole new way of solving problems, it’s powerful but also very accessible. One of the reasons I’m such an advocate of BCS is that it’s at times like this, as we stand at the dawn of another technological advancement, that we need professionalism and regulation more than ever in our industry. While AI is new and exciting, at the same time you really need people that are responsible and accountable to make sure it is used professionally and ethically by all.
What are the main business drivers for AI adoption?
I think it’s a massive ‘dare or die’ situation. I talk with a lot of businesses about the future of AI, specifically after the advancements of generative AI, and it’s apparent that the pace at which this technology is changing, together with evolving customer expectation, is resulting in business models needing to be hastily redrafted. This happens with every round of technological innovation, and businesses really need to be thinking and planning for AI’s impact, rather than waiting too long until it’s impossible for them to catch up. What I’m talking about is a natural change in the business world whenever a new technology is introduced, and the need for businesses and industries to prepare and future proof themselves.
The difference with AI, and I emphasise generative AI here, when compared to other technologies, is the pace at which it is being adopted is so much faster, the depth of its capabilities are so much deeper. Where other technology would take years to become available worldwide, AI has effectively arrived almost overnight. On the plus side, for organisations, AI is easy to use and easy to integrate into their business once they have a clear plan of action and have developed appropriate models around its use.
With some still wary of AI, do you face much resistance at board/investor level?
I don’t ever really see fear or wariness, but mostly ignorance. Often this is based either on a lack of understanding about the speed and progression of the technology, and therefore an inability to recognise the need to adjust the business to capitalise on AI’s benefits, or a simple lack of imagination around AI’s potential. I run a lot of workshops for business leaders, and when I pose the question ‘What can AI do for you?’, they still talk about ‘process automation’ or ‘improving efficiencies’, and I have to stop them and say, ‘Hey guys, go higher! Think bigger!’ Sure, those things are important but that’s not what you should be worried about – it’s that someone will come along who understands AI and could eliminate your business, maybe your whole industry.
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It’s the businesses that can see the bigger picture, who can imagine their business with AI, envisage how it could transform the way they operate and the way they serve their customers, that are often the most engaged, from staff to management to board members and investors.
What about the future of AI? What do we need to consider?
When we talk about the future of AI we need to look at what kind of future we want to build: What does that look like? How much can we influence it? How will that future be designed, and how do we begin upskilling people for new job roles and new industries? It is essential to have conversations about this and to work to create that future, rather than just letting it happen to us. We need to spearhead a positive, inclusive, exciting use of AI that can help us solve not only the problems of today’s individuals and today’s businesses, but also those problems that affect us on a global scale.
This will make us a better society and bring people together. The work that BCS does, the way it brings the right people together around the same table, is critical to avoid continuing down the same well-trodden pathways. This is a time for innovative thinking, improved collaboration and a resolve to work closely towards common goals.
Where do you think the strongest and most impactful use cases will be seen?
There are two massive trends: hyper personalisation and hyper contextualisation. Hyper personalisation is processing massive amounts of data to create an extremely personalised experience for the customer, and then you can hyper contextualise if you can do it really fast and very frequently. Generative AI is massively helping in both areas. Hyper personalisation and hyper contextualisation have the potential to solve a lot of problems, are easily scalable and can unlock a lot of value from a relatively small amount of investment. An example might be a personalised diet, tailored to an individual’s specific health requirements and based on their personal medical data.
If this was actioned in a way that was safe, trustworthy and contextualised it could make a significant impact within months to issues such as obesity, as well as many other medical conditions which can be improved through such an individually tailored and carefully managed approach to dietary needs. I’m sure this is the kind of application that we can expect to see in the very near future, and the technology is more than capable. As with any future that we can imagine, we have to consider the path needed to get there. Often businesses want to rush ahead and embrace technology immediately, but it’s about elevating their vision, carefully looking at where they want to go, what they want to achieve, and then connecting that vision with the resources, skills and technology to make it a reality.