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Meet the CTO: From philosopher to data scientist


5 min • 15 March, 2018

David Kell is the co-founder and CTO of Gyana, a SaaS platform that enables insights around physical locations using big data and artificial intelligence.

Describe your journey into tech and working for Gyana

As a child, I enjoyed finding out how things work, but even more making new things. So after studying physics and philosophy, I followed my passions into tech.

I believe that knowledge is the ultimate leveler in the world. Today, big data is knowledge, and the growth of data is making it possible to know pretty much everything. This will go on turbocharge as the world is filled with connected devices, like autonomous vehicles and smartphones.

Despite this, our decisions are still based on limited data and (mostly) gut feeling. I’ve always believed that most of the things we all wished didn’t happen in the world are driven by stereotypes and ignorance — by lack of knowledge. I think it should be effortlessly easy to know the things that matter for whatever you are making decisions about. If that was as easy as human intuition itself, making good decisions would become as effortless as messaging a friend. I don’t think anybody actually wants to be ignorant or to make a bad decision — it’s just hard to do right without the right data, presented in the right way. I’m passionate about changing that.

When I met Joyeeta Das and heard her ideas for Gyana, it all clicked—how we could build this and make it into a business. I knew I had to come on board and help make her dream a reality.

What is your role in the company as a CTO?

I see my role as working out what tech we need to build and getting everyone behind that. I am blessed with the tech team we have put together—if nothing else, I am proud of that. Other than that, my role is organic, and I try to learn whatever I can to play the roles I need to — be it sales, coordinating data providers, strategy, or even making tea for thirsty techies!

It is easy to get caught up with loads of work (it doesn’t help I am a natural workaholic). In the early days, I was working seven days a week, but I’ve learned to take breaks. As I’ve migrated into this more creative role, I’m just grateful every time my brain comes up with the right ideas. I believe strongly in taking a break every week and cultivating activities or moments that allow your mind to reset (mindfulness, breathing exercises, spirituality — whichever one you prefer!).

For me, the optimistic side of the revolution emphasizes big data and knowledge. Big data is about empowering people with answers to questions they could not have answered otherwise, even if they spent months trying.

David Kell

From your perspective, how are AI and big data integrated into our lives, and how this will expand?

In our daily working lives, we all do things that require our very human abilities — strategizing, negotiating, writing an algorithm, making a joke, communicating an idea, tuning a piano. Human beings are awesome, and the more you study AI and neuroscience the more you appreciate how awesome they are. In my opinion—at least with current approaches—we are way off replicating this in a computer.

In between doing all these awesome things, we have to do tedious things like “looking for that email with important sales details”, or “find the other time I answered a similar support request so I can copy it across” or “edit this legal document to set the geography to be in US not UK”. (All examples from my work life!).

Many applications of AI and big data today are about minimizing doing these easy things and maximizing the smart things we do. It does mean that you need to hire fewer people, but in this way, it’s no different to most other technologies, right from the wheel to steam to electricity to the agile software methodology. These applications reduce the bottom line.

For me, the optimistic side of the revolution emphasizes big data and knowledge. Big data is about empowering people with answers to questions they could not have answered otherwise, even if they spent months trying. It generates more opportunities to expand the pie and creates sustainable growth.

The history of human beings is about knowledge. We spend most of our lives doing the wrong things because we didn’t know something important. And the companies who have the knowledge (and know how to use it!) will win, the others will leave. It’s really as simple as that!

How do you think technologies will develop?

We are going to see what happened to the internet, happen to the real world.

By 2025 there will be 250 billion connected devices—they will be ubiquitous. We’ll build proper infrastructure for massive, high-quality data, like internet or electricity, powered by new computing paradigms that will enable the high-speed processing—quantum, optical, neural, ASICs. And they’ll run algorithms that leverage differential programming—the natural evolution of deep learning, where we write software that learns to fit itself to the data. Our founder recently described this is an “AI fluid”. I like this description!

Also, it would be nice if we could finally get conference calling to work reliably!

What does the future hold for Gyana?

I wish I knew what was coming! The joy and the terror of a startup is that it is always a surprise.

My job will be to grow the tech — more geographies, more customers, more insights, more reliable. It has been an incredible experience, to grow a company from an idea to a mature technology. But we are a long way off our vision to empower everyone with effortless good decision making, and that’s what keeps me going each day.