Artificial intelligence is gaining momentum as a topic as data becomes more powerful and technology finds a place in all of our lives. AI expert and Broad alumnus Manoj Saxena (MBA ’91) illuminated this topic at the MSU Detroit Executive Forum on Sept. 21, weighing in on the digital transformation of business.

Manoj Saxena, (MBA ’91), executive chairman of CognitiveScale speaking at a podium for a Michigan State University event.

Manoj Saxena, (MBA ’91), executive chairman of CognitiveScale

“AI, in very simple terms, is about nonbiological intelligence,” Saxena said. “There is nothing artificial about AI. It is real, it is going to impact your life, and it is going to impact everyone on this planet.”

The event, presented by the Broad College of Business and the College of Engineering, took place virtually and featured Saxena and Broad College Dean Sanjay Gupta discussing AI’s role in addressing COVID-19 and the importance of ethics.

Saxena is the executive chairman of CognitiveScale, an AI software company that has revolutionized how AI can help companies and customers in many different industries. He is also the founding chair of AI Global — a nonprofit dedicated to the ethical use of AI — and currently sits on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Earlier in his career, Saxena was the first general manager of IBM Watson, becoming a pioneer of “Trusted Artificial Intelligence” for his work on building ethical and responsible AI systems.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the health care industry has had to adapt very quickly to changing conditions for providers and patients. Saxena explained how AI will make a difference moving forward.

“In the next few months and definitely in the next couple of years, AI is going to take on a much bigger role as we come through this pandemic,” he said. “AI has some value and some role [in the pandemic] in terms of generating signals from data and looking at patterns as to where hospital beds are likely to run out of space. I would call it just the tip of the iceberg of what it can do.”

Gupta and Saxena spent a large portion of the event discussing Saxena’s passion for keeping AI responsible and ethical, especially as it is becoming more prominent in society.

“There is going to be both an opportunity, as well as a pressure on companies, to start really transferring to responsible AI,” Saxena said. “And to me, responsible AI is an AI that works for the measurable benefit of the individual and the society. It has transparency and honorability; it has fairness and it has robustness.”

As a way to bring this passion to life, Saxena’s Family Foundation gifted the Broad College $1 million to establish the Omura-Saxena Endowed Professorship in Responsible Artificial Intelligence. This endowment allows a faculty member to focus on ethical and responsible AI, ensuring that students gain this understanding, too.

Dean Gupta concluded the forum by emphasizing the importance of Saxena’s work in the newfound collaboration: “It is a good idea for MSU to keep building on the leadership position and the phenomenal vision that you have for the school, and I think to me there’s no doubt that that’s the next frontier [of education].”