Andrei Papancea On The Future Of Artificial Intelligence

An Interview With David Leichner

David Leichner, CMO at Cybellum
Authority Magazine

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“Brave, Not Perfect” how perfectionism — instilled from societal expectations and reinforced from a young age — often holds back women from advancing in STEM-related fields like AI.

As part of our series about the future of Artificial Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrei Papancea.

Andrei Papancea CEO, CPO, and Co-Founder of NLX. Prior to NLX, Andrei built the Natural Language Understanding platform for American Express, processing millions of conversations across AmEx’s main servicing channels. Now, Andrei steers his ideas through 21st-century technology to realize innovation in AI-integrated customer interaction.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path in AI?

Andrei: My career began in grade school. I was really interested (and good at) website design, so I began working for small businesses around my hometown in Romania. My mom even registered a business for me so everything was official.

My skills in the field of artificial intelligence started off while still in high school, with building small game solvers (“traditional” AI) and evolved at American Express where I leveraged natural language processing (NLP) technology to build AI-powered customer service.

At AmEx, I deployed to production the first version of the conversational AI engine of American Express. By the time I left the company at the end of 2016, the engine had evolved into a conversational AI platform and it was handling the majority of the traffic on AmEx’s website and mobile application.

Post AmEx, I spent a few years consulting for companies looking to adopt conversational AI technology. After observing different use cases across industries and the overall size of the market, myself and two co-founders incorporated NLX Inc. in early 2018. While the market strategy has naturally adjusted, our technology platform and our vision to power conversational experiences everywhere have been consistent in allowing us to stay relevant and innovative to date.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

Andrei: You are never too young to pursue your passions! The entrepreneurial bug bit me from a young age, and I was very lucky to have such supportive parents encouraging me.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Andrei: Our multimodal projects we’re working on with clients right now are next-generation conversational AI. Multimodal is the use of two (or more) synchronized channels. (Experience it for yourself here.)

We’re working with some of the world’s largest businesses to better leverage their omnichannel and customer data platform investments for better customer conversations through the use of multimodal technology. The result? Better conversations and higher customer satisfaction and retention.

What are the things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

Andrei: The future of conversational AI isn’t going to just be limited to your laptop, your Alexa/Google Home, and/or your phone, but rather it will extend to the devices that surround you. Gone will be the days when you need to call up or chat with a brand in order to get service. Service will be available to you through interactive refrigerators, coffee machines, televisions, closets, and more.

What are the things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

Andrei: There need to be guardrails in place to help brands prevent harm when deploying conversational applications that leverage technologies like LLMs and generative AI. (More on the dark side of generative AI for businesses here.)

At NLX, we architected our platform to drive practical Conversational AI solutions that are safe for enterprise use. By design, we focus on enabling our customers to build end-to-end customer experiences that are accurate and purposeful. While we integrate off-the-shelf AI products like Amazon Lex or OpenAI’s GPT model series, we provide our customers with the necessary checks and balances and fine-grained controls to use them safely.

For instance, we do not encourage the unhinged use of generative AI responses (ex. what a ChatGPT or GPT-3 might respond with out-of-the-box) and instead enable brands to confine responses through the strict lens of their own knowledge base articles. We allow brands to toggle empathic responses to a customer’s frustrating situation (ex. “My flight was canceled and I need to get rebooked ASAP“) by safely reframing a pre-approved prompt “I can help you change your flight” to an AI-generated one that reads “We apologize for the inconvenience caused by the canceled flight. Rest assured that I can help you change your flight”.

These guardrails within our platform are there for the safety of your customers, your employees, and your brand.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position on this?

Andrei: Of course it does. But so did cars when they were first invented. So did the internet and so did social networks.

But these advancements in technology have also greatly improved our lives, whether it be getting from point A to point B faster, having the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, or creating closer connections with people who we might not get to see in person as often.

When used for good and as it was intended — with the appropriate thoughtful guardrails — I see it being of greater good to humanity than harm.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

Andrei: NLX gives both customers and companies back the most valuable and nonrefundable thing on Earth. Time.

Waiting on hold to chat with an agent is frustrating. We remove that frustration by helping enterprise brands build out self-service solutions that shift the power from the company to the customer to resolve their inquiries at their own pace, whenever and wherever they want. When implemented, customers can solve their challenges through the channel(s) in which they reached out, lowering hold time and saving more complicated inquiries for agents. Our safe and secure solution has been described by a Fortune 500 company as a “win for customers, a win for employees, and a win for stakeholders!”

On a more personal level, one of the ways I like to give back is through teaching. I teach cloud computing and special topics on AI engineering at the graduate schools of Columbia University and New York University.

As you know, there is a lack of women in your industry. Can you advise what is needed to bring more women into the AI industry?

Andrei:

Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, explains in her book “Brave, Not Perfect” how perfectionism — instilled from societal expectations and reinforced from a young age — often holds back women from advancing in STEM-related fields like AI.

Specifically, she recalls one girl who called the instructor over to help her with some code, but the girl’s screen was completely blank. It wasn’t that the girl didn’t try — when the instructor hit undo a few times, it was easy to see that the student did attempt and was very close to finishing. But rather than show code that was 90% correct, the girl chose to show nothing at all. Perfectionism trumped all the hard work and nearly perfect code she created.

By supporting initiatives and organizations that promote bravery over perfectionism (check out her strategies here), we can continue to inspire more women and individuals from diverse backgrounds to participate in this dynamic and constantly evolving industry.

What is your favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

Andrei: One of my early advisors told me that as a leader, my goal should be to take care of people. So, I set out to pay people well, ensure they work on intellectually stimulating work, and treat them with respect — which has worked out quite well to date.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Andrei: I regularly share my thoughts in the form of a LinkedIn article series, which readers can find here while you can follow updates from NLX on our company page here.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

About The Interviewer: David Leichner is a veteran of the Israeli high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications. At Cybellum, a leading provider of Product Security Lifecycle Management, David is responsible for creating and executing the marketing strategy and managing the global marketing team that forms the foundation for Cybellum’s product and market penetration. Prior to Cybellum, David was CMO at SQream and VP Sales and Marketing at endpoint protection vendor, Cynet. David is the Chairman of the Friends of Israel and Member of the Board of Trustees of the Jerusalem Technology College. He holds a BA in Information Systems Management and an MBA in International Business from the City University of New York.

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David Leichner, CMO at Cybellum
Authority Magazine

David Leichner is a veteran of the high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications