OutBuro Interviews - Dr Jason Behrmann - LGBT Professional Gay Entrepreneur Startup Business Leader LTGBQ Rights Activist Ethics Artificial Intelligence Marketing Strategist

Dr. Jason Behrmann – LGBTQ Technologist Artificial Intelligence & Ethics

Dr. Jason Behrman is an Out LGBTQ entrepreneur, marketing & communications professional, LGBTQ rights activist, science & technology ethics thought leader, and artificial intelligence evangelist. His entrepreneurial spirit and drive have led him to not only launch his own initiatives but also to work in several startups in the vibrant technology-driven Montreal, Canada area.  He is a marketing and communications strategist with a keen ability to distill complex concepts into approachable, informative, and engaging messages to reach target audiences. 

Dr. Jason Behrman on OutBüro

In our casual conversation, we discussed Dr. Jason’s interesting career journey and chance meeting Dr. Laura of the longest-running radio show in North America where he became and still appears monthly to discuss the intersection of sex, relationships, dating, and technology. The conversation naturally went to gay dating/hook up apps and how they protect a user’s privacy or not. From non-personal ways of detecting a user is a real human or a spammy scamming bot to well-used apps caught selling user data such as marital status and HIV status to well known and obscure marketing companies. We also discussed how users should be very cautious of the information and images shared because some other real users might attempt to use that information against you be it now or anytime in the future.

As the conversation turned to his current work as the marketing and communications director at Zetane (see below) we delved into the exciting work they are doing to make creating artificial intelligence solutions easier through a framework and highly visual interface. My comparison for those that recall the DOS operating system, the now old and cumbersome way of creating AI solution requires a deep knowledge of code to do the simplest of tasks. Then along came Apple and Windows with a user graphical interface that nearly anyone could use. Zetane is that kind of leap forward revolutionizing ease of use for non-technical team members and speeding conceptual ideas to actual results in record time.

Dr. Jason described a Zetane passion project that demonstrates the ease and power. Shortly after COVID-19 hit the world, Zetane took current data sets of known virus proteins along with known drug therapies and ask their AI engine to explore potential matches that may have a neutralizing effect on the new virus that maybe could have been overlooked by humans due to the where volume of data. The Zetane tool shortly identified a list of possible effective treatments and these are in fact therapies under medical investigation.

Dr. Jason is an enthusiastic open mind always asking the big question and paying attention to the details.

He and his husband balance their busy work lives in part through their mutual love for gardening. They not only have an extensive home garden but also participate in a community garden. They strive to grow as much of their own food as possible and enjoy hosting dinner parties where they delight in sharing their harvest with friends.

Jason on:

Jason on SexTech segments on Passion, with Dr. Laurie on CJAD800 (my monthly radio discussion about the influence of technology on love, sex, relationships, and sexuality)

Zetane Artificial Intelligence bulding block platform


Zetane provides us with an integrated platform where we can visualize 3D model representations of the inputs or outputs in the same space as the neural network. This, in addition to the platform’s explainability features, allows us to build visually compelling demos to present to technical and non-technical people alike.” https://www.zetane.com/

At Zetane we’re looking for passionate contributors who want to commit to a startup and make a contribution to our mission, “to drive the democratization and explainability of AI and facilitate collaboration between subject matter experts and AI specialists.”

We are developing the world’s first 3D (and 2D) Artificial Neural Network design engine and editor that runs on GPU. The Zetane Engine is on the cutting edge of AI and graphics engine development, and we regularly tackle problems where no solutions currently exist.

Our team is composed of honest, hardworking, creative, curious, and humble folks. We work hard to listen to each other first and talk second, and are overjoyed to see each other succeed. Zetane is a place where you will be technically challenged and personally supported. If that sounds like your type of place, we would love to hear from you!

Conversation Transcript

The below was created through voice to text recognition. We will strive to edit for accuracy as time permits. It may not be perfect. It is being provided for the hearing impaired to still enjoy the interview.

Unknown Speaker 0:00
Hi there. This is Dennis Velco with out Bureau and you are tuning in to the out bureau podcast where we are interviewing LGBTQ professionals, LGBT, LGBT entrepreneurs and leaders within the community. And today, we’re so pleased to have Jason Behrman, he is hailing from the long distance of Montreal, Canada. And Jason is a technologist with a deep and rich background in marketing and communications, and is currently working in the exciting field which we will be getting to the exciting field of artificial intelligence. Welcome, Jason. And thank you so much for taking time out of your busy week to chat with us today.

Unknown Speaker 0:48
Well, thank you, Dennis, for the opportunity. I know we’ve been in conversations for quite some time, a few years actually on LinkedIn and it’s just interesting how we finally have the opportunity to have this channel. Cuz it’s been a long time coming.

Unknown Speaker 1:01
Yes, absolutely. Well, it has been a minute or so since we last chatted. So Jason, if you could please give our listeners a little bit of background overview and get them up to speed then of what you’re working on.

Unknown Speaker 1:19
Oh, my gosh. So you want like a career trajectory? Is that what you’re aiming for?

Unknown Speaker 1:23
Well, just a little bit of background so people know a little bit about you. Like, for example, I know you’ve mentioned the radio show that you’ve been doing for some time. And, you know, I know you were focusing on the LGBT and so forth, maybe just a little. There’s no, we’re just a little bit of info about you.

Unknown Speaker 1:53
Okay, so in terms of me, I mean, I guess one great way you could describe me as someone who was really adaptive And so that’s pretty much been my life as being adaptive and very agile. So I started my university education in biochemistry, and I did my bachelor’s and master’s in that field. And after, like a disagreeable, I guess, challenging experience I had during my master’s, I went into my PhD in another university. So that was initially at McGill. And then I went into a French institution, University of Montreal, and I did my doctorate in biomedical sciences, but a specialization in bioethics. Wow. And then after that, I went back into McGill to do my post doctorate and ethics and health policy. After that experience, decided that I just did not want to stay in academia because it was just driving me nuts. And I kind of accidentally fell into the technology sector, as I was contemplating like what new kind of jump jumped into some new opportunity I would like to pursue. And then lo and behold, I fell into the tech entrepreneurship community here in Montreal. And I found this like dynamic group of people that were very avant garde in terms of their thinking and very extrovert and very hopeful and and so motivated and I felt that that was a better fit for someone like me who was like this really like extroverted, eccentric kind of like gay guy. It wasn’t quite working really well in that very introverted, quiet, sullen academia or laboratory environment. And so going into that, then I started, I got into a technology entrepreneurship accelerator. And that’s when I started to dabble in entrepreneurship. And from running my own company. That’s how I was able to apply all the knowledge I gained in academia from all the writing and publishing and presenting all those like hardcore communication skills. I applied that in marketing and communications. And so that’s how my career grew from there. But other than that, I do a lot of work. I’m very passionate, since a very young age about activism. And it’s like in multiple fields. I’m very passionate about the environment, for example, but also LGBTQ rights and LGBTQ health issues. And there was a bit of a focus in some of my health research back in the day. But that budding activism encouraged me to get involved in a lot of like the not not for profit sector. And so I helped initiate this one not for profit now it’s called queer tech. It was originally called queer tech Montreal. And so what we do is we try to encourage greater diversity and visibility of LGBTQ professionals in the technology sector specifically. And from that opportunity, I was their Vice President for a while and then their Vice President of Marketing and Communications I was presenting some of our work and trying to promote greater inclusion of LGBTQ professionals in in the tech sector. And that got us a presentation at a human rights conference, focusing on LGBTQ issues here in Montreal, we usually have it every year as part of our pride festivities. And lo and behold, I was just there like I was having lunch and this woman sits across from me and I started having a conversation with her like, you sound oddly familiar. And then it came out that her name is Dr. Laurie. And Dr. Laurie potato has been running a radio show. It’s like one of the longest running radio shows in North America actually now. So it’s over 20 years. Wow. And she is a sexuality and sex education activist very, very hardcore. So she’s like one of these handful of early stage pioneer people that started to talk about sexuality and sex education in general, openly to the public. So, you know, like Dr. Ruth, she was in the 80s it was like that, that pioneering woman, she was so great. And then you know, like that. Yeah, she she was like a great inspiration in my life. I love this person. And then you know, you had like Dan Savage who came as well. So these are like Pinnacle people that have really like pushed forward sex positivity in society, and also greater visibility of important issues in sexuality that most people find too taboo to ever talk about.

Unknown Speaker 6:28
And so, yeah, so I just met this person across the table. And I said to her, I go, you know, what, I remember calling you when I think I was like about 17 or 18 years old, and I was talking to you on the radio, and I was talking to your guests and expressing how much I appreciated this one teacher who went against the trend and was trying to encourage greater inclusion of LGBTQ issues in sex education in high school. And then she was like, oh, wow, that’s really great. So you know me for some time I’m like, Yeah, I definitely And then we just started talking more and more. And she’s like, Well, what do you do? And I’m like, Well, I’m a doctor of biomedical sciences. And this is all I do in the technology sector. And then she said, she goes, You know what, I’m looking for a technology expert to come on my show because she always has different kinds of people with different backgrounds that we’ll discuss. Family Law, fetishes and BDSM issues, LGBTQ issues, sexuality related to to youth sexuality related to the elderly, and she just has like these diverse kind of experts, and I just fell into becoming the sex tech guy. So I’m Dr. Jason on on passion radio passion on cjd 800 with Dr. Laurie and once a month I will come in and we will have about an hour long discussion talking about how technology influences any kind of aspect of sex, love, relationships and sexuality. And so these are some of the things I do on the side in terms of like activism. Okay, very interesting. And and I’m curious that you’re that you’re strong background in ethics and so forth. You know, having bridging ethics and technology is really critical because of course, online security and privacy issues and so forth. And have you guys had the opportunity to have those kind of discussions on on that particular show? Oh, all the time. Yes, that’s a common theme. I will talk about technology and its influence on sex, love relationships, and sexuality broadly construed. But I always make it a point to have like about 10% of the discussion about LGBTQ issues, so that it’s like representative of the populations. And so yeah, we always talk about mostly the social and ethical implications of new technologies out there. And yeah, it’s very common, I guess. If I could give a few examples related to LGBTQ issues,

Unknown Speaker 9:04
please go right ahead.

Unknown Speaker 9:07

Unknown Speaker 9:09
instead of being all doom and gloom, I’ll start on a positive note. So like one theme that is recurrent is how technology provides amazing opportunities for people to access information, and especially access information in an anonymous kind of way. And we see that these technologies, just like Internet platforms, different forms of apps and whatnot, are particularly of value to vulnerable populations and heavily stigmatized populations. So the quintessential example is LGBTQ youth in developing world nation where homophobia is rampant. You see, we see with technology today that we could access these populations now and wondrous ways and provide them with sex education that is empowering and helps protect their health and well being and it should be Essential, but given the challenges these populations face, it’s only through technology today that we are able to reach them. Right. So that’s one example of talking about social and ethical issues related to tech and sex. But there was like another really interesting issue where we were talking about dating apps. And one theme in general that I try to explain in detail to the population that listen to the population of listeners is that because we are LGBTQ there are particularities to our community and our sexuality, where technology can have a specific positive or negative influence on us that it would not necessarily have on the majority of the population that is heterosexual. And so one great example is like how dating apps have just kind of like exploded on the scene. And now it’s gotten to the point now where if you’re in the younger generation, chances are that if you have a significant other, you met them through technology You met them online, you met them through an app? Yes. And, and this is great. And it has like many, many positive influences on society. It has some negative ones, one of them being romance scams have really kind of proliferated on these new platform. Yes,

Unknown Speaker 11:17
they have.

Unknown Speaker 11:20
Yeah, it’s become like a pretty serious problem. So everybody’s aware of this. Most people who use dating apps have probably encountered an automated bot message that’s trying to get them to click on something or buy something or anything like none. Other people are just like full scale scammers, and they will try to, to win your heart over a period of several months and then try to get money out of you. Yes, I heard. So the point

Unknown Speaker 11:42
is, you know, it’s, it’s interesting. I’m a single guy and so forth. And yes, I have an app or two won’t give props to the names. But you know, I’ve had interesting experiences. It’s like when I’m a US veteran, And you know, some of those messages that come through, you know, they’re there, they have a nice looking photo, always say in their verse because they want to cover their bases. And then, you know, it’s always, oh, they’re looking for relationship. And of course, they use locations woofers to look like they’re, you know, 15 to 50 miles away often. And, again, what I have found I can typically spot those things fairly quickly again, because they’re either bots, or they’re running off of scripts and so forth. But very, very interesting. Lee just the other day. A nice photo looked like it was 50 miles or so way. And, I mean, literally, that one of the very first things was, you know, oh, I’m very interested in you. What’s your phone number? I’m like,

Unknown Speaker 12:52
Are you kidding me?

Unknown Speaker 12:56
cray cray.

Unknown Speaker 12:58
Yeah, you want to meet for coffee. So

Unknown Speaker 13:02
this example you give is, is quite typical. And in order for these dating platforms to keep like the highest quality of service for their users, they now are struggling to try to weed out all these fake accounts and malicious accounts. And so you have to do something that’s called like verification like how do you assess whether or not a person is a real person, and that this profile is legitimate. So the point I want to make here is is that the needs and the strategies we can employ to do this will not necessarily be universal, and sexuality and especially being being part of a minority group will have an influence on what strategies will work particularly well for those kind of vulnerable communities. So what we saw with Hornet, for example, was one app and they were trying to figure out a way to validate profiles using tech where people did not have to provide personal information because quite often what we will do is we’ll ask you to either prove your identity through a name, a phone number or something else that we could trace back to like a real person that you have to go through and click on and to confirm your identity. But many of these dating apps, they’ve empowered LGBTQ people throughout the world in order to meet other LGBTQ people, especially in areas where homophobia could be rampant or where being LGBTQ is illegal. And so now you’re faced with a challenge of like, Okay, how do we verify people’s accounts without outing LGBTQ people in hostile environments? And so rather than have people send in identifying information, which could be hacked, or a government could like, you know, demand that a company provide that information or whatnot, they chose to use different kinds of strategies where they can assess the movement of your mouse and also the different types of steps you take. As you Use the platform, you could find patterns that are very indicative of a human being actually using the platform versus like an automated mess, an automated system like the boss. And also you could see like how scammers that have like catfishing accounts. So these are fake accounts, quite often they will be running like multiples of them. And they’re trying to like cast a wide net to try to, you know, capture as many vulnerable people that they could scam as possible. Well, using technology, we could see these patterns. And that’s how you could identify the fake accounts from the legitimate ones. And that’s how you could give a verification signal to like an LGBTQ person’s account without having to out them. And I thought that was just like one interesting example of the intersection of tech and sexuality and how it’s particular to vulnerable minority groups like LGBTQ people in certain regions of the world. Wow. And

Unknown Speaker 15:52
that’s very innovative of them. You know, I thought that yes, being able to see you know, that the phone has had movement because a bot obviously is probably sitting on a server and sits still. And you know, if you’re accessing the same app through multiple accounts, that’s probably as as they and you have indicated is indicative of someone who’s catfishing or spamming so very interesting. And

Unknown Speaker 16:22
it’s like the dating app issue, though. It’s something that has come up repeatedly. I’ve given several expos essays on issues both good and bad about dating apps, and especially with ones related to the LGBTQ community. Some of them are fraught with a lot of controversy lately. You’re you’re American. So I think this will resonate with you, but the iconic one is like the first movers for hookup and dating apps for gay bisexual man, queer men was Grindr. And this app was highly successful and it was recently sold to a Chinese firm and they’re in Like mobile gaming and other kinds of software development. And yeah, they legitimately bought the app. And it kept growing and it kept being successful. And then all of a sudden, the American government came forward and said, Wait a minute, this could put could be like a security risk. Because you could get too much information on LGBTQ people around the world, but also maybe have like American politicians. Yeah. And that maybe some kind of Chinese firm could then use that to blackmail them or out them or whatnot. Well, so this is yes. Oh,

Unknown Speaker 17:39
yeah. Well, I actually read where, because I was warning people in the group on LinkedIn about that. And what they had found and proven was that the Grindr app and its holding company was selling information, including HIV status. And and other identical identifiable and information to marketing companies. And then those marketing companies were selling it to many, many others. And so that was one of one of the security issues that was raised by the US government. And I think since then, about six months ago at this point, which is may 30 2020, that’s six or eight months ago, I believe that they have put down a mandatory sell back to a US entity course. I don’t know how all that works and so forth. But, but yeah, they’re very, you got to be careful what you share online. It can be both the it could be beneficial and useful, but then, you know, user beware, right?

Unknown Speaker 18:57
Absolutely. And so there’s There’s a couple points here that I want to highlight. So yes, you’re absolutely correct, that there was a pressure to sail back to a wall, the sale of Grindr from the Chinese firm to another entity. And it’s just interesting to note how a dating app can be targeted. For concerns for national security. I try to wrap your head around that and like the new, brave new world that we’re living in, in terms of love relationships, and sexuality and technology, like how this is all coming together, and how like how much it can have an impact on our lives. So it’s to the point where, you know, governments start to become a little apprehensive as to who is controlling the love line, and who gets to connect with whom it’s quite fascinating. But the other issue that you raised was the issue about privacy and the cell, the sale of personal information to a lot of different people out there. So you You are correct. There was recently a report. There’s many out there. But the the latest one that I got to read, which was quite concerning, was a not for profit entity that is funded by the Norwegian government. And so the Norwegian government through this body did a full blown assessment of like the top 20 most popular apps on people’s mobile phones. And I believe like the top five are always like major major dating apps. And one of them was Grindr, for example. And they did identify that they were selling massive amounts of your information to third parties and like a lot of them I had never even heard of before, but their analysis show that they can sometimes be sharing information with up to over 100 different entities, and a lot of them are marketing firms. Some of them are even like major social media platforms like Facebook. For example, and I was like, really, Facebook wants even more information on me through a dating app like, Wow, I didn’t even know that, you know, there. There’s obviously no upper limit to collecting information on people. And the point I want to make here is, is that dating apps in particular, are a particular problem. So studies are showing that when it comes to divulging personal information, people are willing to say just about anything about their lives and their sexuality on a dating app. And so this is what I want to get across is like, what I’m trying to raise awareness with other people is that no matter what it is that you’re using, whatever the technology is, or whatever the platform it is, always keep in mind that you should only divulge information that you should feel comfortable saying out loud in public, and never assume that anything you provide to another person will remain just strictly between the two of you, and I’m hopeful for a brighter future. Where we will have stringent regulations that will protect individuals and especially vulnerable populations like LGBTQ people that are living in, in areas of the world where it poses a significant threat to their livelihoods being LGBTQ. But like the day that day has yet to come. And so the current regulations we have right now provide very, very little support for us in terms of protecting our identity, all of our personal information, our consumption habits, our personal preferences on any kind of like dimension out there. And yeah, so we come like full circle. That’s like just one, yet another example of like this dating app for LGBTQ populations. And yes, like you said, part of the information that they were sharing, not necessarily for sale, but sharing with other engineering teams in order to improve the service on these apps was information related to people’s HIV status, and Like a marital status, and so on and so forth. And you know, that gets kind of weird. Like, why are engineering teams that I’ve never even heard of maybe have like another company and some other area of the world, getting access to population level information on people’s HIV status. This is incredible, in some ways, because technology enables this to happen. But it’s also quite disconcerting that there’s very little oversight, and also very little understanding in these vulnerable populations. And also the average user of these dating apps that this is actually possible, and that this is actually something of concern and that you should like, you know, put your foot down and say, No, I don’t stand for this.

Unknown Speaker 23:45
Right. Well, you know, and it’s not all in the corporations, you know, are in my opinion, abusing the information, but you know, we also have to be as vulnerable community also have to be just aware and concerned that you know, infractions on your privacy can also come from other users of the apps. You know, when you when you put when you put forth that photo you know, I’m very cautious the food that I didn’t have know it’s, it’s Hey, you’re gonna see a torso shot Ray I’m in my bathing suit or I’m in a pair of shorts but I didn’t see anything other than that anymore. And um, you know, but like there there’s been political people who’ve been ousted, you know, because of their their profiles on dating apps and photos that they’ve sent. I forget the name of the person and I don’t want to give that individual you know, any props here, here but I believe it was Morocco a trans person. Not long ago, there was lots of news about it. You know, I for whatever reason, bitter queen who knows You know, basically announced to her followers on YouTube to all go on the dating app so that they could see that they’re, you know, neighbors and brothers and so forth. Were on those apps and therefore gay. And, you know, she, she later came out, you know, quote unquote, apologized saying that she was only trying to show visibility of the community. No, no, bitch.

Unknown Speaker 25:27

Unknown Speaker 25:28
you were you were being that you were being vicious, for whatever reasons. And you know, in that society, this is to your point, you know, not only, you know, even in, you know, you know, countries like where we live in Canada in the US, you know, where we have quote unquote, freedoms and so forth. But in countries like that people can be imprisoned, they could be shunned by their families, put on the streets and so forth, then

Unknown Speaker 25:57
fired from the job. Yeah, absolutely. on the job, this is a big issue in the US still. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 26:05
that could happen here too. So, and being outed, being shunned from your family and being put on the streets and so forth, even at young, you know, ages. So it’s a very, very, you know, people should be very cautious about how they utilize all apps. Mm hmm.

Unknown Speaker 26:26

Unknown Speaker 26:27
it’s it’s interesting that you say this, because you just touched on a few topics that I could I could give like a great overview of how all of this intersects. So we started talking a little bit about like, how I was doing activism in this nonprofit called queer tech. And one of the the goals of the organization was to encourage LGBTQ people to pursue careers in the tech sector, and, you know, show that there’s a place for you and also that we do need way more diversity in the tech sector and one of the reasons why we need more diversity in the tech sector is in order for people to add that LGBTQ perspective into technology development. So you were talking about, you know, people being outed by tech and you know, trans people being outed by tech. Yes, this does happen. So I could recall of an update they made I pardon me, don’t quote me on this, but I can’t remember which operating system it was. But I’m pretty certain it was something related to Google and Android. And the tech team at these prominent corporations which do not have a lot of diversity. It’s mostly hetero white male, some Asian as well, that have all gone to, you know, a handful of educational institutions in the world and they all come from like a certain socioeconomic status, and they’re the ones that quite often lead a lot of the tech development in Silicon Valley. And so when you have that kind of homogeneity in a workforce that’s developing technology, you can sometimes get, like tunnel vision, and you cannot see how problems that will affect certain communities will arise just because you just never even thought about thinking about, you know, the black single mom woman’s perspective and using an app, you know, like, right. And so yeah, so they did an update to the one of these operating systems. And it was just like the strangest fluke and they didn’t test it on any trans populations out there, because I bet you there weren’t any trans members that were part of the team. And when they did the update, what it did was it automatically reverted people’s profiles back to a gender that they had listed way back in the day. And so there was a few people that were using the system that had transitioned. And then people were using some of these software tools on this platform in the workspace, and this outed a handful of trans people and you know, some lost their jobs, some committed suicide. And it was just like, such an unexpected kerfuffle, you know, like, you know, you do a software update and then all of a sudden you out trans people by accident, you know? Wow and so stuff like this happens and this is why one of one of our modus operandi is to try to encourage greater diversity in these like fields that are impacting every aspect of society, namely technology to try to get as many voices into the development cycle as possible so that we could foresee these problems and make technology that is truly inclusive of everyone as it ought to be.

Unknown Speaker 29:36
laps Absolutely. And I and you know, talking about technology that that’s boy week, we could we could chat so much on and obviously you have a wealth of knowledge and information, you know, to do to be on the Dr. Laura show, and of course, whatever I’d love to do is have a link on the show notes to that so people can tune in and also hear you on a regular basis. So let’s kind of transition into the exciting stuff that you are working on now in artificial intelligence. It’s sounds so exciting.

Unknown Speaker 30:20
It is really exciting. And this is another situation where just being an agile and adaptive person, I was looking for opportunities at one period in my career, and I happen to live in Montreal, a really great city. But one of the things that’s really great about the city is that early on in the 80s. Well, let’s go into this a little bit deeper here. Canada has a very interesting way of funding, curiosity driven research. And so in the United States, it’s a little bit more focused towards Pure and Applied Research. So trying to fund studies that will like produce a product or you know, a pharmaceutical or some other kind of fundamental understanding that we could apply. But you know, there’s another side of research, which is just, you know, curiosity driven. So like, what is in the middle of an atom? Like, what is beyond our galaxy, you know, like, what’s going on there. And so one area that we funded heavily in the 80s was this thing of like thinking computers and trying to develop, you know, software that could piece together patterns and stuff like that. And at the time, people were like, Oh, that’s very cute. You know, that’s nice. And then, lo and behold, this is was like the nascent kernel of artificial intelligence. And it took about 30 years for it to become sophisticated enough and for like the computer processing power to reach a certain level that was both like performance as well as affordable. And now all of a sudden, we’re like, oh, that curiosity driven research has just exploded into You know, the next major impactful technology that that many people are saying will have as big an impact on society as electricity or the internet, you know. And so this all just kind of happened. This exploded on the stage in like the middle of my career entering into the tech sector. And I was like, Okay, I’m going to dive into AI. And I just started working at different kinds of AI startups here in Montreal, sometimes on just like short contract basis. And I just really beefed up my skill as someone who was like a more biomedical expert.

Unknown Speaker 32:37
By working getting my hands like actually dirty by working in these startups. I taught myself AI, and how to market it and how to communicate it. And so yeah, I’ve been in different kinds of industry verticals related to artificial intelligence, that span from business insights and analytics all the way to healthcare and trying to develop new technologies to assist doctors and helping people overcome depression, for example, but what I work in now is in like cutting edge software development for AI. So with that being said, we’re, we’re like in the 80s. Now we’re trying to develop AI, it’s kind of curiosity driven, people couldn’t really see like how this could actually work and, you know, industry or enterprise, then all of a sudden, it all started to come together. With that being said, like, up until, like very recently, all the tools that were developed to make AI was developed in this context of being a geek in a laboratory or a university kind of setting. And you do a lot of like theoretical research because it’s cool and interesting and you just try to push the limits of computation. You’re not really using tools because you want to build like the next killer software for a major financial company in order to root out fraud. For example. Apple, or build like the next killer software technology that will optimize how to place patients in a hospital so that you have the best use of space. And you know, it will simplify the workflow of different kinds of health professionals and their interactions with patients like these are like some of the cutting edge technology that’s coming forward. So now we now need to make a transition. So the old tools that we were using to do AI that was more like oriented towards curiosity driven research are now like obsolete. They’re just like, they’re, they weren’t built for that kind of vision of applying AI in the real world. A lot of these tools are disconnected and like disparate. So there’s like a whole bunch of different tools out there. A lot of them are built in something called Open Source. So that means like, you could tap the innovative potential of anyone in the world who has an internet connection and they could come in and they could all work together on building software tools for AI. That’s amazing in terms of like innovation because You get like thousands of like smart people all around the world that could contribute towards a project. But with that being said, Sometimes a concerted vision or like a unifying goal is absent. And so this is the problem we have today is that a lot of the tools are not all, like interconnected and working towards like some long term vision, which is, you know, applying AI in the real world. So the company I worked for now, it’s called attain, by the way, and we developed like the next generation of software tools that make it easier for people and teams of people to execute really complicated AI projects to solve problems in industry or an enterprise. And like, you know, applying AI to optimize electrical infrastructure or to predict when a fleet of vehicles will require maintenance, for example. So imagine if you’re a municipality like St. Petersburg, Florida where you are like Think of all the vehicles that your your the city actually has to run on a day by day basis such as like all the garbage collection trucks. Imagine if you could develop a software that could understand when these vehicles are most likely going to break down in the future so that you could like intervene ahead of time to make sure that you know, the garbage is always collected on time because nothing broke down unexpectedly. These are some of the projects that we were helping to advance using the tools that we developed at the chain, for example. And it’s pretty cool because we take a lot of like abstract concepts and AI, which is like a bunch of computer code that if if you’re an outsider and you look at it, you’re like, Okay, what’s that, and with our tool, it makes it visual. And so it’s an overlay to a lot of the complicated computer code you have but then it gives it more of something that is like tactile or immersive, you could zoom into it. You could flip it around. It’s like in a digital workspace and you could actually see, we call them models. So they’re AI models, how they are like hoovering up data, analyzing it and then spitting out outputs that could be like a prediction or you know, a recommendation. And it’s super cool because you could actually start to see what AI is, instead of just like abstract computer code. So that’s some of the fun I’ve been working on lately with this company.

Unknown Speaker 37:30
Okay, when we last did a quick catch up. Before scheduling this. You mentioned one of the projects regarding that’s pertinent today on cozy Yes. Tell us a little bit about that and how this application was use.

Unknown Speaker 37:45
Oh, that’s a really good example. And yeah, that has been a major project that we’ve been working on as attain kind of like a passion project, I guess you could say. So this is one of the applications of Have AI that is particularly amazing. Okay, so you have an unknown virus, it starts a global pandemic, we have to conduct very detailed, complicated long term investigations in order to find a cure and also to find a vaccine. So this is obviously going to take some time. What are we going to do in the interim? We can’t sit on our hands. So what we have to do is we have to do the best with what we already know. So how can we apply the knowledge that we already have in terms of viral ology and treatment strategies for people with different kinds of infections and whatnot? How could we maybe repackage this knowledge in a way that we could use it to fight this unknown Corona virus that just came to light probably in late November. And this is where AI is like super cool because you could develop the Smart software where you could push into it a bunch of information that we already have on hand, such as all the different kinds of protein structures of known viruses we’ve dealt with in the past. And we could like, push into these models, all the different kinds of drugs that we already have available today that we use to treat other kinds of viral infections such as HIV, such as Ebola, such as other opportunistic infections that people sometimes get after organ transplant. So the point I’m making is, is that we have a lot of information that’s out there already on other viruses and other treatments. Is there a way that we could kind of like, find a pattern in them? Is there something we could figure out if, if we would do like a very complicated high throughput analysis with cutting edge computers? Could they see something that the average human being can’t? And lo and behold, yeah, this is where we’re really applying AI and it’s called drug repurposing. That’s the sphere. So to give you an idea of how it works is, and we’re just one team of several people who have done something similar throughout the world. We jumped on information related to the genomics and proteomics, so the protein makeup of different viruses, and how those different proteins bind to different drugs, antiviral drugs. So once the model the AI model understands this kind of association between viral proteins and therapeutics, we could show it the proteins of this new virus this Coronavirus, SARS, co v2 and say, Hey, Ai, can you give us a best guess as to what drugs we have available might be able to bind to this and, you know, maybe might be able to stop its growth or its replication. And that’s a project we’ve developed now. And sure enough, it’s spat out a list of recommended antiviral drugs. And to our delight, some of these drugs have been matched confirmed as having therapeutic efficacy in clinical trials. Open clinical trials that have been published subsequently in prominent scientific journals like the Lancet. And yeah, so the point I’m making is that we could use AI today to really hit the ground running towards finding cures or interventions in areas that were just like a big, unknown and you know, like something that is just thrown in your face like a new virus, it’s like, we can actually intervene quite quickly now towards mitigating these problems using this cutting edge technology, which is just mind blowing, in my opinion.

About the author: Dennis Velco Verified icon 1
An LGBTQ social entrepreneur who focuses on strengthening the global LGBTQ+ through connecting, engaging, online, and in person.

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