Leadership Conversation / 29.08.2019

The Power of U: 5 Questions with Uniphore’s New VP of AI and Machine Learning, Cosimo Spera

This blog is the first in a series that highlights the voices of Uniphorians. I sat down to welcome our new VP of AI and Machine Learning and the following is the edited transcript of our conversation.

Tell us a little bit about your background…

My doctorate degrees are in mathematics and statistics from the University of Siena, Italy and in operation research from MIT. After my graduation I held post-doctoral positions at Yale and Princeton before becoming a professor.  Realizing I have a passion for combining technology with practical applications, I transitioned to a career in high tech and have contributed to many innovations in the past twenty years. 

How did you first get started in AI and Machine Learning?

If you can’t tell from my accent, I’m an Italian who fell in love with applied mathematics while taking a class from Richard Goodwin who later became my thesis advisor in Siena. While at MIT, I worked with Dimitri Bertsekas and Ron Dembo who taught me about distributed and network optimization. While working on my thesis I took a class from Noam Chomsky and that triggered my interest in AI/ML which later became my passion. And since I generally do not shy from bold statements, let me emphasize that today everything that gets done in AI is ML. 

What do you see as the opportunity with Machine Learning in customer service?

I’m fascinated by the value that data science and machine learning have on the business. And it is predominantly companies which have benefited from leveraging ML to understand and optimize their operations, Now, we’re really seeing a growing trend where these same technologies can add significant value for customer experience and suddenly, customers are the biggest beneficiary.  And when customers are happy and loyal, brands are able to expand wallet share and revenue through new customers and expanding business with existing base, while providing a touch of personalization to the interaction with the customer. 

How do you keep learning?

Learning has been and will always be in my DNA.  And because of this, I love to learn from and also inspire others. I have been a Fulbright Chair Professor at University California at Berkeley, and have also taught at University of Michigan, Columbia University and University of Siena. I have published over forty referred papers and have been invited to speak at several universities around the world. It has been said that the teacher often learns the most while preparing to teach and I have found that to be true and also I found that interacting with brilliant students and co-workers keep me interested in learning new things.  Discovering, discussing and disseminating new ideas is how I keep my mind agile and clear. 

What are you most looking forward to with your new role at Uniphore?

I came to Uniphore because I strongly believe in this space and because I think I can make a difference in driving product innovation. While the space is populated, I think Uniphore is uniquely positioned to be the thought leader and market leader in Conversational AI and Conversational Service Automation. 

What advice do you have for those trying to get into the AI field?

AI/ML is not a magic trick. Behind “Google find me a place where to eat tonight” there is a significant level of research that has been developed over the years. From acoustic models, to speech recognition, to sentence embedding, to recurrent neural network, to Transformer etc… So my advice is learn the fundamentals and do not be afraid to think out of the box!

 

By: Annie Weckesser, CMO