Co-founder and COO of BigHub, Tomas Hubinek, recently talked about some of the ongoing projects in BigHub, AI challenges and his vision of the data-driven future. Below we enclose English translation, the original version of the interview (in Czech) is available at Verime v budoucnost - Interview with Tomas Hubinek.
TOMÁŠ HUBÍNEK: WE HELP BIG COMPANIES NOT TO BE AFRAID OF AI AND TO USE THE FULL POTENTIAL OF DATA
Tomáš Hubínek is co-founder and COO of BigHub, which provides services and technology solutions in the cloud and via artificial intelligence. Their clients include companies like ČEZ and Innogy.
He graduated with a degree in software engineering from the Faculty of Nuclear and Physical Engineering at the Czech Technical University and gained valuable work experience at CERN in Switzerland. What is his vision of data and the future of AI?
Hi, Tomas. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. You're familiar with the field of modern technology. Does anything else in this field surprise or inspire you? Can you think of a particular modern technology, service or app that has caught your eye recently and why?
I'm constantly inspired by something, either on a technological level or in the application of AI to different types of problems. So it's great to follow Neuralink, OpenAI and other Elon Musk companies where AI is one of the core elements. However, a lot is going on at all levels, even on the Czech and European scenes.
To give you an example, I'll mention a startup called presize, which was co-founded by a friend of mine. It uses deep learning and computer vision very nicely for recommending suitable clothes from e-retailers. First, you record a short video onto your phone. Then their technology generates a 3D model of your body and other data and recommends suitable clothes from an online store that fit your body size and shape. It's simple and not only improves customer satisfaction but also saves many people time. In addition, it reduces costs for stores and facilitates unnecessary shipping of goods.
I look forward to seeing apps like this, which are being created for a variety of different everyday activities, to become more standard and improve the world we live in. At BigHub, we are also trying to help big companies not to be afraid of AI and modern technology and learn to use them to their full potential.
Can you elaborate on your work experience at CERN in Switzerland? How does it help you professionally now? What did you specifically learn there and can this experience be applied to the Czech market?
Working at CERN taught me a lot. It is a unique environment. You meet great scientists and engineers in one canteen, and in a very informal atmosphere, you can discuss AI, particle physics or antimatter problems. You have the opportunity to educate yourself and expand your horizons continuously. There are a lot of lectures, seminars, hackathons and dozens of different interest clubs. And it all creates such an atmosphere that you feel part of a community working together to solve the big fundamental questions of our world.
Scientists and engineers from universities from almost all over the world come to CERN to do their research. They work together regardless of the political situation in the world; you experience a truly international environment. It gave me the opportunity to step back and look critically at the culture and society that I was firmly rooted in and thinking only within its confines. CERN’s diversity of culture and thought helped me gain a different world perspective. As a result, I am better able to deal with situations that arise on this same level. While the business environment is different from the work conducted by an institution focused primarily on research, I still try to apply some of the patterns I learned at CERN at BigHub. Particularly in terms of building an open, inspiring environment and the opportunity to continually educate and broaden horizons.
So let's talk about what you're currently working on yourself. What does the startup BigHub, which you co-founded with your colleagues in 2016, specialize in?
We focus on working with data. That's what it's all about. It's not like we come in and only do AI, period. You need to collect data, process it, apply algorithms and display the results. Imagine, for example, a gas distribution network with hundreds of stations with gas flowing through them. There are dozens of sensors measuring pressure, temperature and other physical variables at each of these stations. This data needs to be collected and processed in real-time. Then you apply algorithms or AI to it to predict and prevent potential outages. Ultimately, you need to display that information somewhere so it's accessible to plant operators, notify the people responsible in the event of a possible outage and so on. This is an example of one project we're working on right now.
There are a lot of activities that are related to the data. We at BigHub cover the whole process, which is our advantage. The data question is largely independent of any particular environment, which allows us to work for companies in different sectors. Apart from a few energy companies, we also help companies in the logistics, financial or genetics sectors.
Can you tell our readers about an exciting project you have been working on recently at BigHub? And how specifically did your solution make it easier for the client to do their business?
I would have a few favorites here, but our contracts with clients often don't allow us to present the details of projects. That's why I'm picking one that we did a while ago for East Slovak Distribution (VSD). Unfortunately, blackouts have plagued them for a long time. These are situations where someone illegally connects to the power lines or more or less expertly adjusts the meter so that the resulting electricity bill drops significantly.
Together with the customer, we set out several hypotheses about how these types of situations could occur and how to identify the problem using AI. And a significant number of these were indeed confirmed in the final analysis. There were also situations where, for example, we managed to find a "suspicious" greenhouse on the outskirts of Prešov with a consumption that indicated there was a permanent light source on. We are still wondering what they could have been growing there.
You have a lot of experience abroad. Can you compare the use of artificial intelligence in the Czech Republic to the rest of Europe or the world?
It is necessary to distinguish between the technological (startup) and corporate spheres. In the first case, I dare to say that if we ignore the technology giants who set the pace of the entire AI industry and others are just trying to keep up with them, the level of AI in the Czech Republic is very high. It is based on the quality of engineers who are coming out of our universities. I think it's comparable to the developed European markets and the USA, and in competition, Czech companies can succeed abroad.
As far as the corporate sector is concerned, the starting line is the same for everyone. I think the determining factor is a certain mentality. For example, in the USA but also Germany, in our experience, the willingness to start an ML project is much higher than in our country. Here it is often a long haul; sometimes politics also plays a role. It can take years to get to the actual implementation of even a successful pilot project. That is why most of our activities in BigHub are for clients outside the Czech Republic. But I think it's gradually shifting, and we look forward to sharing the experience we've gained more on the domestic market.
Of course, as an AI expert, I have to ask you where you think this market will be heading in the coming years. Or rather, what can we expect from AI in the future?
There will continue to be a gradual development of advanced algorithms both theoretically and in specific applications such as computer vision, text analysis, translation and more. Of course, this goes hand in hand with the continuous development of computing infrastructure, graphics cards and processors from big players such as Nvidia, Intel and Apple. However, the leapfrogging will only happen, in my opinion, with the broader availability, knowledge and application of quantum computing and algorithms to real-world problems. That's where I see the real "revolution," and I'm very much looking forward to it, although it will be more of a longer, continuous process from my perspective.
We at BigHub are focused on applying AI to specific, well-defined problems. However, it will certainly also be exciting to see how efforts to develop general artificial intelligence (AGI) that can perform any task better than a human will evolve. But I think we will not see any breakthrough there until a much longer time frame, and I believe there will be plenty of time to resolve the ethical and societal issues.
What other essential topics besides AI will the future bring? Do you see any challenges we will face today?
There is and increasingly will be a need to address global climate change and the Earth's declining biodiversity. If it hasn't already, this will become the most significant issue in the 21st century. Technology can help a great deal in this area, too, and of course it is already doing so in many ways. But significant changes that will reverse the current negative trend will also require greater political and societal action and, above all, the acceptance of personal responsibility. I would like to see us sustain ourselves as a species and have the opportunity to see answers to the essential questions that lie ahead in the field of primary research, AI, and other areas.
Tomas, thank you so much for the interview, and just two quick questions in closing: what product or service do you value and use the most in the digital age?
Definitely streaming services and the revolutionary subscription-based model for accessing content. After a long period of problems with illegal publishing on the Internet and sharing, especially in the music and film industry, a sustainable and well-functioning model has been found. I can't do without services like Spotify, Netflix and HBO Go.
And the second question: Do you miss anything from the past? Technology or anything that is now outdated or long ago replaced by a modern alternative?