Dimtris Vassos Of Omilia On Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The AI Industry

An Interview With David Leichner

David Leichner, CMO at Cybellum
Authority Magazine

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Be hungry to learn more. AI is constantly and quickly evolving and there will be a lot more to learn every day.

Artificial Intelligence is now the leading edge of technology, driving unprecedented advancements across sectors. From healthcare to finance, education to environment, the AI industry is witnessing a skyrocketing demand for professionals. However, the path to creating a successful career in AI is multifaceted and constantly evolving. What does it take and what does one need in order to create a highly successful career in AI?

In this interview series, we are talking to successful AI professionals, AI founders, AI CEOs, educators in the field, AI researchers, HR managers in tech companies, and anyone who holds authority in the realm of Artificial Intelligence to inspire and guide those who are eager to embark on this exciting career path.

As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dimtris Vassos.

Dimitris is Omilia’s CEO and a Founding Partner. He is an NLU technology visionary with passion for excellence and amassing more than 20 years of experience in Customer Care self-service solutions. He started his career with IBM UK back in 1997 contributing to IBM’s Voice product portfolio development and rollout in more than 70 countries. After Dimitris decided to move back to Greece and Cyprus, splitting his time between two in 2002, he founded Omilia out of his garage with a mission to reinvent customer service. He has more than 20 years, and 110 large scale projects in Conversational AI successfully in production across 17 countries world-wide.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would like to learn a bit about your origin story. Can you share with us a bit about your childhood and how you grew up?

As a child, I was always fascinated with how computers and humans communicate, and how we can control computers to do things for us. I believe that we should bring humans closer to computers not computers closer to humans — and by human I don’t mean an engineer, I mean people like my mother, the consumer. An engineer will always be able to train themselves to speak to computers, but how do we train computers to speak to humans? And that is the question I have been longing to solve — and a question that drives me even to this day.

Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue a career path in AI?

Without realizing it at first, the things I studied and the early jobs I held at the beginning of my career before starting Omilia really connected the dots back to my early passion for and interest in computer and human interaction. I was ahead of my time, starting over 20 years ago when AI wasn’t anything tangible — instead more of an idea shown in movies. But even the movies and shows followed the same theme of, how do you make computers really useful and take their ability to the next level? I am fortunate that in the second half of my career, I was able to bring my vision to life and build a business out of making computers talk to humans.

That has accelerated in the last year of course, with the advent of generative AI. The larger AI space has been thrust into a new and exciting time, where we’re already seeing capabilities and progress that I was until then placing 5–10 years away..

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

I guess I am working on the same topic as the rest of the world: weaving Generative AI into our products as well as our operations. My twist or angle, if you will, is what it always has been: I want technology to solve real-world, tangible problems, transparently serving consumers. One really interesting project is the developing technology that will protect Enterprises from…technology! For example, we have developed technology that is able to detect deep fake speech i.e. speech that is synthesized by computers using voice cloning technology, with unprecedented accuracy. Why is this exciting to me? It is exciting because I can clearly see in a few years chat GPT being (mis)used for staging massive phishing attacks in contact centers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I believe that one person alone is not sufficient to succeed, so having partners that see my blind spots is incredibly important. And I have been fortunate to have people, my partners Pelias Loannidis and John Nikolaidis, early on in my career, that shared my vision and that I could trust and vice versa. This ‘village’ played a critical role in my ability to build a protective environment that is conducive to innovation and creativity which was key to getting where I am today.

As with any career path, the AI industry comes with its own set of challenges. Could you elaborate on some of the significant challenges you faced in your AI career and how you managed to overcome them?

Unsurprisingly, my journey in the AI industry has been full of challenges along the way. Obstacles will always be there, and in each instance what I’ve learned is that you get to make the decision on how to deal with it. It has been said that an easy path is not worth taking unless you want to be in the same category as the rest of the world. And my vision at the time, 20 years ago, was way ahead of its time so I always had a difficult path because there simply wasn’t another path to lead us where we wanted to go — we had to forge it ourselves.

One of the major challenges to overcome has been educating the market that this technology actually works and exists — that was huge in the early days, and then when the market started catching up, the challenges shifted to the maturity of the technology. There were a lot of failed attempts and a lot of negative feelings around AI technology in general. People were quick to get cold feet and to see the potential problems instead of the opportunities, so that created an added challenge for us to overcome.

Now, post-Chat GPT, everyone has access to amazing open-source technologies and the perception is that anyone can be a potential competitor. But the reality is that they cannot. You need experience, time, passion, and most importantly, if my story is any indication, a relentless vision for what’s possible to propel you forward. All of these recent shifts have resulted in a very noisy market where standing out is increasingly difficult.

Ok, let’s now move to the main part of our interview about AI. What are the 3 things that most excite you about the AI industry now? Why?

  1. Surely, the first thing that is really exciting is how accessible AI technology has become. Anyone has access to incredibly powerful models, both as a user as well as a developer, spurring exponential innovation.
  2. Another really exciting thing about AI is the philosophical aspect. When chatGPT was released last November, what was immediately striking to me was not how advanced machines can get (I was expecting that at some point in time, maybe not this soon though), but the validation that humans are after all a very similar, albeit a lot more sophisticated, “machine”.
  3. However, I am most excited for the customer service space where Omilia brings a dedicated focus.I am excited about the fact that a lot of human jobs will change for the better, and a lot of customers will have much better experiences I am very passionate about customer experience, and I think that the reality today is that 90% of customer service interactions are failing the expectations of consumers. The reasons are simple: it is simply not cost effective for brands to employ the right caliber of customer service representatives, at the scale they need. Therefore they resort to outsourcing operations to 3rd parties, whose employees are tasked to follow a script and answer as many calls as possible. The result is, of course, very disappointing for consumers. But I also like to view this phenomenon from the agent perspective too: what is the job satisfaction of an agent that all they do every day is have 50–60 conversations with angry consumers, dancing around the sad fact that they are unable to really assist them? Contact centers have notoriously high rates of employee attrition. I think that AI can actually do a much better job at serving consumers than a clueless agent 5000 miles away, in some outsourcing call center. On the flip side of the coin, once we enter into an AI-first customer service model, then we no longer need hundreds or thousands of agents, we need 10s of agents, and these agents can be more senior supervisors, can be in-house, knowledgeable, and care about customer satisfaction. This is my vision for customer service: a small number of high value, highly knowledgeable and empathetic humans that supervise and train massive numbers of AI-based agents. The ramifications of this model to the cost-basis and customer experience run very deep.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why? What should be done to address and alleviate those concerns?

The AI market is in a craze right now, and everything we know is really being reevaluated. Some specific areas of this that concern me are:

  1. Hype: Shifts are the norm. Even the term ‘conversational AI’ which was formerly used to describe Omilia, no longer has the same meaning because the scope of conversational AI and who can use this technology has opened up to a much larger audience. This creates a lot of extra noise which impacts the maturity level of the market, and slows down the pace of adoption.
  2. Responsible AI — Misuse: With Generative AI, there is a lot of potential for misuse of the technology. If we are not careful there may be incidents which will set the market back considerably. Enterprises may label the technology as not safe, and it will take us many years to reverse any such negative predisposition. Hopefully, the leaders in generative AI technology have already acknowledged the importance of safeguarding it from such misuse, and a lot of investment is currently being put into just that. But it is not just what OpenAI, Google and Microsoft can do to safeguard the tech from misuse. It is the responsibility of every AI company out there to make sure that they roll out responsible AI to the market.
  3. Accessibility: This was originally a strong concern, i.e. whether AI technology would be controlled by a few large players, or whether it would become a democratized technology, accessible to all. I think that the market is moving to the later, quite fast, so this is becoming less of a concern. But definitely it is one to watch out for. The next cold war is already becoming access to advanced technology, including AI

For a young person who would like to eventually make a career in AI, which skills and subjects do they need to learn?

In this way, the AI industry is no different than any other sector in that to be successful, it’s important to have a positive attitude, be open to possibilities, be inquisitive, and take ownership of your vision — then do it. I think too often the road from vision to action can be clouded with fear, distraction, and doubt, and the truth is, there’s no way to start but by going forward and trying things while not being afraid to fail but instead expect to learn and adapt. AI is actually an easy sector to be successful in these days — there is so much out there that is readily available, open-source tools, training, etc. the only thing you need to be successful is what is uniquely you in what you bring to the table and the larger conversation — your attitude and vision.

I am one of those CEOs that, I still go into the machine room and plug in cables, I write and review code, I always like to keep a very close relationship with the technology because you have to know it intimately to have the right ideas about it, so you have to have the right attitude. Deep dive into the technology and fail and try again and see what works and what doesn’t. That is how you get ahead — don’t ask why you should do something, just start doing it and then let it drive you. With cutting-edge technology like AI, no one has all or sometimes any of the answers, so instead of worrying about being wrong, dream about what you can do that’s right and that takes the larger industry forward — that is how you become a pioneer.

As you know, there are not that many women in the AI industry. Can you advise what is needed to engage more women in the AI industry?

This is similar to my answer above, create an environment where people can experiment, deep dive into the technology, fail, try again, and see what works. This is how people become passionate about AI.

Ethical AI development is a pressing concern in the industry. How do you approach the ethical implications of AI, and what steps do you believe individuals and organizations should take to ensure responsible and fair AI practices?

I think there is overlap between the definitions of ethical AI, useful AI, and safe AI. It is all about having good governance around how you train the AI and for what reasons. When using AI, an enterprise will want to know that the AI will not go crazy on its customers — so how do you safeguard that and not just safeguard the performance but before you deploy it, persuade the enterprise that it is safe. You must have a lot of governance as an organization about the data, traceability of the data, benchmarks that you can demonstrate that the AI is doing what it should be doing — nothing more and nothing less. With these models, it is no longer about ‘how do I make this work,’ that is complete. Now it is all about how we make these models do the right things, prevent abuse and prevent it going rogue.

To ensure this, many companies can give out questionnaires about the solutions, what they do, how they are trained, etc. And with these surveys, we can start to develop standards, fair practices, and specialties.

Ok, here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share the “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The AI Industry”?

  1. It is all about data. You need to have the right data to work with, otherwise you are blind. So, finding a way or partnering to have access to the right kind of data is really important.
  2. Do not be discouraged by those who do not share the same vision as you. Early in my career, I would ignore that voice inside of me and look to play it safer when people discouraged me, and you have to just keep moving forward. The road less traveled is never easy.
  3. Be hungry to learn more. AI is constantly and quickly evolving and there will be a lot more to learn every day.
  4. Don’t avoid a challenge, you’ll be smarter and stronger in the end. And with the boom of generative AI, I anticipate new challenges to come. In my 20 years in the AI space there have been challenges at nearly every turn, however they have all made me stronger and believe in my solution even more.
  5. Understand the industries your AI is intended to serve. While this one seems simple, so many companies are quick to create an AI solution, but it is all relative if it doesn’t meet the needs of the business and the industry.

Continuous learning and upskilling are vital in a dynamic field like AI. How do you approach ongoing education and stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in the AI industry? What advice do you have for those looking to grow their careers in AI?

In an industry that changes by the day, it is important to stay in the news, follow company updates, and remain in touch with other experts in the industry. For those looking to grow their careers, get involved as soon as possible. Again, even as a CEO, I still write and review code, so it is important to stay close to your technology, have the right attitude, and know your vision.

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

One thing I have always tried to live by is that you have to learn to listen to that little voice inside you and not let anyone tell you otherwise. I am amazed how difficult it is to find someone that shares the same vision as you, even today with our ability to access anyone at any time. People will discourage you, not understand, point you to safer ground — but do not get dissuaded and power through, even with challenges. That is one of the mantras I started following in my later years.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I think I would leverage my knowledge about how AI works to help people with their personal lives. There are so many insights that we gain from how AI models get trained, what works, what does not work and how their behavior is impacted. I find it fascinating extrapolating and projecting these learnings onto human learning. In a sense, by learning more about AI training, we learn more about the human brain’s operation. Not sure how I could mold this into a “movement” to help people, but intuitively I think that this process can be very powerful in helping people self-improve.

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 a 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