Dr Ryan Ries Of Mission Cloud: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Don’t go out and just do AI for AI’s sake. You have to have a business case in mind that would have an ROI and a plan. Too many companies have the, “my board told me to go do this” mindset, and that is the worst thing possible that can happen!

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ryan Ries.

Dr. Ryan Ries is a renowned data scientist with more than 20 years of data and engineering leadership at fast-scaling technology companies. After earning his Ph.D. in Biophysical Chemistry at UCLA and Caltech, Dr. Ries has helped develop cutting-edge data solutions for the U.S. Department of Defense and a myriad of Fortune 500 companies. As Chief AI and Data Scientist for Mission Cloud, Ryan has built out a successful team of Data Engineers, Data Architects, ML Engineers and Data Scientists to solve some of the hardest problems in the world utilizing AWS infrastructure.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Sure. When I was in grad school at UCLA and Caltech, I started analyzing our optical imaging data which would now be called Computer Vision. After grad school, I started working for a think tank where I was focused on computer vision projects utilizing home built software and hardware solutions. This experience led me to working at a startup, where I led the development of the DAQRI AR glasses and headsets which were featured on stage during the Intel Keynote at CES. The startup utilized Amazon Web Services (AWS) to host our IoT deployments and we worked with an AWS partner, which initially piqued my interest into AWS. Funding in the AR/VR space started to evaporate in 2016 and I was asked by our AWS partner if I would be interested in joining their team to build out their machine learning practice. Once this AWS partner was acquired, I then joined the Mission Cloud team to build out their data, analytics, and machine learning practice, and I’ve been here ever since.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At Mission Cloud, we’ve been doing generative AI long before it was called generative AI. We started doing natural language processing work for customers using the advanced models that were available at that time like GPT-2. Now, you’d classify NLP as generative AI, but that keyphrase hadn’t been developed yet.

My favorite story is the MagellanTV story. Initially we started working with MagellanTV to help with their cost optimization work on AWS. As we continued on with our relationship with MagellanTV, we discussed the idea of creating a generative AI solution on AWS to translate and dub documentaries that are in English into any language — enabling MagellanTV to reach a global audience. MagellanTV had reviewed several 3rd party tools that were cost prohibitive and were looking at how to build their own solution with the help of Mission.

The solution we created used AWS services like Amazon Bedrock, Amazon SageMaker, Amazon Transcribe, Amazon Translate, Amazon Comprehend, and Amazon Polly. This was a super cool project to work on and even earned Mission Cloud a spot on the main stage at AWS re:Invent 2023 during Ruba Borno’s partner keynote!

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. I will say this one has gotten me into trouble in the past but its also been a good thing at the same time. I have always been a “doer”. I don’t feel things are ever impossible. I’ve always gotten stuff done that other people complained about, or didn’t want to do because they felt it was impossible.
  2. I’ve never asked anyone to do anything that I haven’t done, or would not do myself.
  3. The other big one is inspired by my thesis advisor. He always pushed us to describe things in a way that anyone could understand, not just a super technical audience

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

As a professional services company, we’re riding the wave of all the additional excitement for AI. We’re in a prime position to take advantage of our knowledge and previous experience in building out these systems for customers. So, I would say our experience in AI is enabling us to be disruptive in the industry.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

I would say the really large language models have made it easier for us to develop customer’s products using a single LLM versus having to find a model that was opensource and would solve just part of the problem since they were more task specific models.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

I have been working in AI since graduate school so it is really all that I have known. I worked in the early days of pioneering computer vision for many applications that you see today like object detection and classification, so its hard to pick a pivotal moment! However, I would say the pivotal moment was probably 6 years ago when cloud providers really started to push AI and the infrastructure needed to do really good AI. That was a game changer.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

This is a hard one! In terms of skills, you’re still going to need to know Python coding to build these systems out and build the integrations with data sources. Prompt engineering is becoming a skill that feels easy, but is actually incredibly complicated to make it work well. And then, everything about the gen AI craze is all about the user interface and making it easy for people to use. So you can’t forget about everything involving application development, because that’s how people interact with your AI systems.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

The biggest challenge is that all of these tools are complicated and fall into data science. And it’s called data science because essentially it is a scientific endeavor where you need to think deeply about the problems and projects. For example, there are a lot of people who believe that when they’re typing to ChatGPT, that ChatGPT understands English. It doesn’t understand English — it’s solving a mathematical problem at the end of the day. When you ask it questions, you have to understand how it actually forms its vectors to get a better answer. So there’s still a lot of understanding the system and understanding the science, physics, math, and computer science to get good answers from these tools.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

Ethical concerns really come down to hiring the right people and saying no to customers that may want to do something that you find unethical. Having policies in place of what your company’s ethics are, and then maintaining those ethics by not taking those kinds of projects is important. Mission Cloud holds a strong and clear stance on its ethics and core values, like inclusivity for example, so we make sure to only choose projects that are within those values.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

1 . First, you need to understand why and how AI is disrupting your industry.

2 . Second, build out a plan as to how you can challenge those assumptions or create your own AI systems that make your company successful. At the end of the day, look at what will have the best ROI for your company.

3 . Third, don’t go out and just do AI for AI’s sake. You have to have a business case in mind that would have an ROI and a plan. Too many companies have the, “my board told me to go do this” mindset, and that is the worst thing possible that can happen!

4 . Next, start small. The AI race is just starting; you’re not far behind. Find the right places that have high value to accomplish your goals.

5 . Last, you don’t have to do AI to be successful. You can implement other changes, like better dashboards, for example. Ask yourself, “does my business truly need AI?” Ai is going to be a buzzword and people will jump on it, but there are a lot of businesses where AI will not give you the best ROI.

For example, one of the big telecom providers spent a ton of money building out an AI call center. As they started to run the call center, it was running really well, but it was super expensive. So, they stopped using it and ended up hiring back all their human employees because it ended up being vastly cheaper for their human call center versus their AI bills!

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

The biggest issue is that a lot of people feel gen AI will solve all their problems! People also underestimate how expensive production level AI is and the amount of infrastructure that’s needed to build and manage these systems.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I love this one, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” So many times we hold off on an idea because its not perfect. But oftentimes its the good idea or product that sees success and we didn’t need to waste time waiting to make it perfect.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

To be honest, people keep me up at night! As a leader of a busy AI and Data Science practice, it’s crucial to find top talent that is positive, motivated, and shares the same values system we all uphold at Mission Cloud of striving for excellence, inclusivity, embracing life, accountability and action, and being on our customer’s mission.

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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think a lot of us forget how accessible and available basic needs like water and electricity are, but there are so many people who do not have access to these things. So, I would say using technology like AI to improve the accessibility to water or power would be a movement I would love to see.

How can our readers further follow you online?

I’m on Linkedin! You can find me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryan-ries-0376783/

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.