Reflections from the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting: Raj Verma




Reflections from the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting: Raj Verma

For the second year in a row, our CEO Raj Verma led the SingleStore delegation at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Artificial Intelligence was a key topic at the Annual Meeting, and Raj shared his insights in an article for the World Economic Forum (WEF), “AI can turbocharge profits. But it shouldn't be at the expense of ethics,” at panel discussions and sessions and while hosting SingleStore’s inaugural WEF reception. During this event, Raj spoke about AI’s potential for innovation, and why it’s important for people to understand not only the impact of this technology, but the onus leaders and organizations have in using it.

He also launched his upcoming book, “Time is Now: A Journey to Demystifying AI,” addressing these themes. We sat down with Raj to discuss his time at Davos. 

1. Raj, what was your take on the issues addressed in Davos?

Artificial intelligence was a major topic at this year’s Annual Meeting. It’s clear 2023 was gen AI’s breakout year, and its potential to transform humanity is at our doorstep. What I like about WEF is that it’s more than a gathering —  it’s about better understanding and finding solutions to the most prevalent topics in the world. You do hear concerns, but there is always talk about how to heed those warnings, and what to do to mitigate dangerous scenarios.

It was like that with the conversation around AI. There was a lot of talk about how we can use AI to support humanity, how to have it complement human jobs rather than eliminate them and how to use it for good. In that sense I came back feeling optimistic about how we can come together to make the most out of this technology and develop it as a tool to amplify intelligence and enhance human capabilities. 

2. One of your key messages at WEF was that businesses benefit from using AI responsibly. You even wrote an article on this for WEF. Can you expand on that message?

I think there’s a lot of focus on AI as an exponential profits booster — with some estimates like a $17 trillion gain in productivity by 2030. But businesses need to understand that viewing it only as a tool to increase profits and productivity is short sighted and irresponsible. Using AI without ethical considerations can harm people and businesses. It can lead to reputational damages that are impossible to fix and that drive away customers. Generating trust with customers and stakeholders is good business, and with that premise in mind companies need to use this powerful technology ethically and responsibly.

Now, what can companies do to take the lead in using AI responsibly? First, they need to prioritize data privacy, and one way to do that is to use a private Large Language Model (LLM), instead of a public one. Private LLMs are based on company specific data, as opposed to open source data, and mitigate the risk of accidentally sending sensitive data to third parties. Second, companies need to focus on reducing AI biases. If they don’t, they risk enhancing discriminatory practices that can seriously harm societies. To mitigate this risk, companies should make sure humans are always involved in LLM training processes.

Humans can spot bias in AI systems, and can train it to recognize such patterns in the future. Lastly, companies should base their use of AI on a transparency framework that allows anyone to trace the data used to train AI systems,  explaining the reasoning behind the system and how it arrives at decisions — and that can clearly communicate what its limitations are. 

3. SingleStore hosted a reception at Davos, “A Journey Into AI.” Who attended this event and why was it important for you to talk to this crowd about AI? 

The crowd was very diverse: journalists, university educators, financial professionals,and tech company leaders, among many others all attended. We wanted to host this event because we believe AI is currently misunderstood by many, which inevitably leads to fear and backlash. So we wanted to host this event to encourage a relaxed conversation about AI and its potential to enhance human intelligence. And what better way to have this conversation, in a relaxed and joyful manner.

During the event, I introduced my book,Time is Now: A Journey into Demystifying AI,” and invited our guests to celebrate AI. With this technology, anything that is easy is going to get automated, anything that is hard will get easier, and anything this is impossible is going to be possible. That makes for a very powerful technological tool — and when we see it as such, we understand that we can take charge in developing it responsibly so that it lets us reach all the good potential, while letting us mitigate the risks.

4. The Annual Meeting is attended by some of the most iconic and influential leaders in the world. How has this experience impacted your views on leadership?

This is the second time I have led the SingleStore delegation to a WEF annual meeting. And I have to say, I am always impressed — not exactly by the people that attend and their positions, although I must say they all have the most impressive CVs, but rather by their intent to engage in meaningful conversation around some of the world’s most pressing issues. People go to Davos with their own opinions and ideas, but they are always willing to share those ideas and expect them to be challenged.

In other words, people are open to hearing each other out, no matter how different their points of view are on any given issue. And that is key because only through dialogue, through challenging and defending ideas, can we really think them through and assess if they can become solutions or not. I believe gatherings like WEF are a very important moment in which seeds are planted for future solutions to pressing problems. 

5. As you return to San Francisco, has this experience left you with any ideas for SingleStore to explore this year?

WEF has reinforced my conviction that data companies will play a critical role in the development of AI technologies. If you look at it that way, you understand that we have an important moral obligation, and that is to serve this groundbreaking technology with the best data categorization and analysis tools out there. Without these tools, AI will not reach its potential to enhance human intelligence and transform humanity.

I am deeply committed to making SingleStore the leader in delivering the most accurate data in real time, so that businesses and organizations can have access to the best AI insight, and therefore make the most consequential decisions possible.

6. Sum up your experience in three words.

Enriching, inspiring, promising.

Want to see more from WEF? Raj  sat down with Reuters to discuss the future and ethical use of AI. You can watch the interview here.