A casual conversation in one weekend in April 2021 in a San Francisco home led two girls to initiate an AI-based project to get oxygen concentrators to Covid-19 patients in India.
Anjali Ambati, 11 and Lali Ambati,9, heard their father, Sri Ambati, sadly recounting a telephone conversation about a business contact in India who had contracted Covid-19 during one of the worst periods of the pandemic.
Ambati also shared news about Indian hospitals running out of beds. Also in short supply were oxygen concentrators, machines that pull in the surrounding air and removing the nitrogen to get oxygen enriched gas.
These machines were also in high demand because the coronavirus attacked the lungs and many patients needed oxygen to help breathe.
Frustrated with the situation, the two girls wanted to do something to alleviate the suffering. Thus was born o2forIndia, a community project in San Francisco, using AI to ensure the timely deployment of oxygen concentrators to hospitals across the Indian continent.
The girls figured that a manual spreadsheet would take too long to crunch the data to study the spread of the disease and to set up the supply chain of oxygen concentrators. Could their father help develop a prediction model?
Ambati obliged. He pulled together a small team from H20.ai, an AI firm he founded in 2011 to help organisations and enterprises to rapidly develop, operate and innovate to solve complex business problems and accelerate the discovery of new ideas.
Based in San Francisco, it has a strong focus on automated machine learning (autoML) and time series forecasting.
The prediction model Ambati and a small team of software engineers pulled together over that weekend in April using the company’s AI tools.
This model could for example, forecast the demand for oxygen concentrators, identify reliable oxygen suppliers and schedule pick up for the concentrators and deliver them to the cities where they are needed.
Information fed into the AI system included list of oxygen concentrator suppliers in China, transportation companies that could pick up from China and deliver to India and the facts and figures of the pandemic that was sweeping India. Other information such as the funds raised from a crowdfunding project for o2forindia was also included.
Anjali and Lali led the project, with their father providing the technology support. The two girls were able to make an impact with o2forindia.
With the US$250,000 they raised through crowdfunding, they bought distributed nearly 900 oxygen concentrators to hospitals across India between April 25 and May 25 2021. The project has ended.
On a recent visit to Singapore, Ambati recounted this story to emphasise that AI can quickly solve meaningful problems for society.
His company had helped to accurately predict the occurrence in Australia of new sites for bush fires and in the United States, which telecom pole would fall if hit by a hurricane and thus disrupt services.
Looking ahead, Ambati believes that by 2030, every company will become an AI company. “Issues are becoming too complex with too many data points,” he explained. “Companies will use AI as the key differentiator to transform data to competitive advantage.”
Many of these companies would be trillion-dollar companies, he predicts. They would use intelligent AI-based processes which would enable a small workforce of about 20 to 30 people to do the work of 100.
Citing the example of Amazon, he said the American company started business selling books. Then it encouraged customers to write reviews. This was the new data which Amazon used to enhance its business and create new revenue channels.
So the lesson for companies, he stressed, is that to thrive in the years ahead, they would have to create new data no one else has and use that to create new businesses and generate new revenue channels, just like Amazon did.
He would like to see greater use of AI to reduce the cost of philanthropy, health and climate change. “I think the ability to inspire the next generation to solve meaningful problems for society as well as major social, technological and global issues would be by using AI,” he added.
“People would have to be educated in it so that they can apply it properly and so that they can create new solutions quickly,” he stressed.