Andraz Bole is the Co-founder & CEO at Lightmass Dynamics, where he’s building a more efficient foundation for real-time 3D graphics and simulation.
#16 Andraž Bole – Co-founder & CEO at Lightmass Dynamics on philosophy, AI and the intersection of the two – Get Your AI On!
Ciprian Borodescu: I’m here with Andraž Bole, co-founder and CEO at Lightmass Dynamics, where he’s building a more efficient foundation for real-time 3D graphics and simulation. I’m super excited to have you on this podcast. Thank you so much for being here, Andraž!
Andraž Bole: Much obliged. Thank you for the invitation.
Ciprian Borodescu: You and I met at Techstars Montreal AI and I remember being extremely impressed with your personal background where Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a big part of it, but also tennis, your story as a founder and entrepreneur, and I guess your personal philosophy, which I hope we’ll get to, in a moment. And I wanted to invite you to tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you founded Lightmass Dynamics.
Andraž Bole: Since I was a kid, due to basically my parents, one being a mathematical physicist and economist and the other being a lawyer in foreign affairs, essentially, I was constantly in two places at the same time. Like, on the one hand, there was this very analytical, very scientific side, and the other was very, you know, humanistic, intuitive. And I was kind of constantly at play with each other. And I didn’t realize this, obviously, as I was growing up, but it was a very defining dynamic for me because even if you, for example, look at not just my interests, and hobbies, etc., but, like, my formal education is probably a very, very nice reflection of that. Because I have, you know, the two sides. On the one hand, I am a philosopher by education, and on the other hand, a computer scientist, which nets a current trajectory of doing a Ph.D. in neuroscience. So, it was a very eye-opening kind of thing when I started to think about this duality in my thinking. And the sports angle that you mentioned, I was kind of, you know, just a regular adolescent trying all sorts of – and even before adolescence, a kid trying all sorts of sports from athletics and tennis; tennis was actually one of the more serious sports I did up until 18 years old, where I have shifted out due to various situations. I still play it more as a casual hanging out with friends. But Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was basically one sport that kind of defined my adulthood or growing up.
Ciprian Borodescu: When did you pick that up?
Andraž Bole: I picked that up basically 11 years ago.
Ciprian Borodescu: Okay, so it was after tennis?
Andraž Bole: Yes. And I’m in it for the long run. You know, I don’t have a black belt, I don’t train with any sort of intent to get formal advancement. I find it such a winding web of events that have no solution in a way. It’s just an increasingly satisfying problem to solve because there’s no bottom to it. Right? Every answer has a new question that has a new answer that has a new question. And not to go into overly philosophic waters here since it is an AI podcast, but there’s a lot of character lessons to be had in martial arts in general, but in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and in turn, also, in mixed martial arts, where I kind of had my first experience as a leader, which translated super well into later the entrepreneur years because I was essentially helping to teach and to lead men into combat, basically. And I was very young for that type of work, but there was something about how I broke down techniques and situations in a fight environment that made people follow my lead. And also, in a way, it’s a very uncompromising environment, because you constantly have to back your shit up, to use a conversational word; it’s not enough that you just show something and break down a technique, there’s also this huge aspect of making it happen in a sparring environment. So there’s these very, very, very powerful parallels with leadership in entrepreneurial environments. But to go back and finish your question, Lightmass is not my first rodeo. It’s actually my… I mean, it depends on when you start, but technically, it’s my third. My first one was way back at the end of high school, beginning of University, where I was making sample audio loops for sound libraries – and at the shift of the music industry, it was the Napster era, mp3 shook up the market. And also, the digital audio workstation started to change the game and how music was made and produced and recorded. So that was my first.
Ciprian Borodescu: I remember those times. The romantic times, yeah.
Andraž Bole: So after that failed, I got caught up in the university track and for the longest time, I actually wanted to stay in school and teach in a university. I even taught in high school for a few months and I loved it.
Ciprian Borodescu: What did you teach? What was the subject?
Andraž Bole: Subsidiary in philosophy? It was an extended period because it’s part of studying. You have obligatory classes in high school – just a few days, but I liked being the teacher because I was doing it in the high school that I went to, and I knew all the teachers, and one of them was on maternity leave and I said, “Yeah, I’ll try filling a few hours there.” So it ended up being a bit longer than expected and I loved it. So it took five, six years that I was pursuing that. But then my friends from computer science were making an app, and one thing led to another, and two years in we were making a game and on our way to Montreal, incidentally, where we were backed by an excellent early-stage investor – Execution Labs. It was nearly a year and a half. It was a very promising, very prospective team. We had solid technologies, we were just on the verge of unity, and we were doing a cross-platform real-time thing. And we were just, you know, maybe a year too soon. And we essentially, you know, we’re still great friends, we parted ways. It was 2016 and I was like, Okay, I’m going to take some time to, again, broaden my horizons. I enrolled in my Ph.D. in 2016. And incidentally, you know, within a few weeks ago, I met my current co-founder. Actually, it was the first video game conference in Slovenia, I think, and we were panelists on VR together.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah, I know the story. It’s great! You have to tell it.
Andraž Bole: I mean, it’s a long-winded event but, long story short, it was the pinnacle of the VR hype cycle. Everybody was talking about the holodeck, and this and that, and Star Trek inspired fantasies. And I just remember, like, me and him having very similar contrarian arguments to what everybody else was saying and it was the first time I met anybody that was just even, you know, loosely resembling my more non-traditional views on technology, on working habits, etc. And, you know, he had blue hair, and I’m reminding him like it was love at first sight. And I was like, “This is the guy I want to raise hell with.” And we saw that we kind of had very similar views, not on solutions to how things should look like, but on what are the problems that are defining, let’s say, vectors along which technology is going to evolve. And that was a crucial moment mentally and intuitively, almost, because you never know how or why. Or let me rephrase: the things you think you like in a founder never end up being the ones that the relationship is really based on.
Ciprian Borodescu: That’s such an important point. Yeah.
Andraž Bole: Yeah. And with us, I think it was very… To this day, four years later, we have very, very, very similar dynamics and it’s just like keeping each other honest to a point where, as soon as you start believing your bullshit too much, you know, something’s gonna break. And that’s just a wonderful back and forth pointing blind spots in each other’s strategy. And that initial meeting at the Slovenian games conference was… That’s why I say it’s almost like a myth. But it’s so easy to kind of point it out how and why that happened. And it was the start of Lightmass.
Ciprian Borodescu: And I think this is going to be a special chapter in your memories book, if you ever want to write something like that – how I met my co-founder. That’s something that is going to be really interesting to read. So, I know that your product is extremely complicated to understand or to explain – at least it used to be – but let’s give it a try. And in doing so, maybe describe the main challenges, tech or business, and how you managed to overcome them.
Andraž Bole: In some ways, the question is a testament to my inability to pitch the solution because if you can’t boil down a problem into understandable few sentences, you probably don’t understand it too well. But yeah, sure. So, very, very simply put, we’re making a rendering engine, or what we like to extend as a new type of naming a physics engine or a simulation engine render. Because if you just use a rendering engine, people are used to immediately connect you to something that does lighting. If you use a physics engine, people always gravitate to, generally, mechanics – you know, gravity, Newtonian mechanics. But what we’re working on is a technology that essentially enables… It’s a way more general way to simulate physics, which is not just gravity and light; it’s also thermodynamics, it’s also the wider electromagnetism part of physics. And the point is that it’s all computed from one part, right? So it’s a way more general simulation technology than individual parts combined. And the reason why, technically, is a very challenging problem, because computer graphics as such is a very niche, draconian, Sisyphus work of computer science. It’s not brute force; I mean, in some ways it is. But it takes a ton of work for very little increase in quality, let’s say, or in some measures of quality, at least. And the other part is that to enable the next level steps or pushes into the progress, we leverage hardcore machine learning. And not just machine learning, but deep learning. And hardcore meaning to a point that one of the core problems in real-time graphics, where you draw stuff in real-time, not just, you know, leave it for a couple of hours and have a result, as is often done in the movie industry, for example; in real-time graphics, you have problems where you have to have stable result across time, right? And a lot of the challenges are the same as a lot of challenges in machine vision. Because machine vision essentially does very similar things as graphics do, they just do it on different source material – it’s usually a camera or some sort of radar that captures information, but in our case, it’s 3D objects. So, we had to, in a way, modify or maybe invent a new kind of neural network that helped us get to this point of stability in time, or at least a much more stable result in time than anything else that we could find.
Ciprian Borodescu: I think from this point of view, it’s not hard to understand the why and the what. I think most of the people that try to understand what Lightmass Dynamics is doing is the how. When you start talking about the how, that’s where the complicated things appear, I guess.
Andraž Bole: Yes. And a lot of it is connected to, you know, if you have something that can be demonstratively shown in the sense that, “Here it is. Download it. Try it” it’s a whole different conversation than if you don’t have something demonstrable yet, but you want to show to a prospective interested party that you do have something unique. And we used to be in the part where we had to describe how ‘the how’ works because a big portion of why the how works is, on the AI side, the new type of neural net, and on the graphics side is a new geometrical primitive, which replaces discrete geometry – meaning polygons, voxels, etc. – with a continuous representation of geometry that can encode an arbitrary number of dimensions, really, which means you can have one data structure for ’n’ number of things, to put it simply. You can encode in one data structure animation, textures, materials, whatever you want, right? Because right now there’s all sorts of different rigorous pipelines that take up a whole bunch of time and resources. So, the how there is connected to how these two angles interact – the graphics innovative part and the AI innovative part – and the magic, so to speak, happens that one is enabled by the other, right? But nobody really cares, you know, because we’re not an academic laboratory. We don’t, at least at this point, want notoriety writing papers about it. It just has to work. Period. So the conversation now is different to how, you know, when we were hanging out in Montreal, when we weren’t at the, you know, “This works, try it out” phase. And a big barrier with us is – I mean, hopefully, it’s gone now with the new unpaired architecture from Nvidia – but the big caveat for our technology is that you need to have tensor acceleration, meaning that you have matrix multiplication accelerated on hardware. In the long term – and I guess this can also be a discussion for your podcast – almost our core bet as a startup, that the most long-term paradigm shift in machine learning is going to be something along the lines of tensor programming. So, in a sense, how can you transform the biggest possible array of current problems into a machine learning problem or into a dimension that the machine learning approach can bring a better result? And, of course, the counter-argument there immediately is that all sorts of problems are perfectly fine with a deterministic solution, which is a faster and easier program, etc.
Ciprian Borodescu: Correct.
Andraž Bole: But our wager is that a big portion of the digital space is going to converge around real-time 3D tools and that there is just no other solution right now in terms of how mankind does computation, that probabilistic answers will be the only approaches, let’s say, will be the only way where you can just have something and compute it down at the level of it’s good enough, is going to be the one way to kind of really, really bring about a strip in workflows, which are going to really… You know, in a lot of ways, AI hasn’t done anything new. Right? In some ways, you can make the argument that the explosions of deep learning were largely fueled by the industry needs that were powered by excess data in parallel processing power. Right? And that the approaches that are currently mainstream were approaches that were there a decade or two decades ago.
Ciprian Borodescu: Correct.
Andraž Bole: They were just enabled. You know, I remember when I was in the middle of high school, there was a very famous professor at the University of neurosciences, a world-renowned professor doing AI stuff, and classifying X-ray images with two-layer-50-neuron kind of… Super high neural networks. But anyway, I don’t want to digress. So the business challenge is how do you now bring a piece of technology that, in a lot of ways, is too dependent on the cutting-edge hardware that’s going to sooner or later be mainstream hardware, how do you bring about a viable business case to a market that is going to need it in three years – no question about it – and they have to start investing in coming about the change or investing in, basically, you know, all these tech cycles in big companies are very long so you have to, you know, think ahead. So, how do you sell something not thinking it’s too soon but still making it enough of a case that your technology moves the needle far enough, soon enough and making the case to a company, “You know, if you start today, two years down the road you’re going to be on top.” So business-wise, that is the challenge right now because we have to figure out which interactions of markets are the ripest for this. So it has to be companies that don’t have a computational limit as consumers usually have. It has to be companies that solve a particular problem that is connected to a physics simulation.
Ciprian Borodescu: It’s a very specific niche and it’s kind of like a tight rope that you have to walk on.
Andraž Bole: Yes, exactly. And everybody agrees that down the line, this is going to happen. There’s just questions about how long it will take to get there, and that is the core dilemma of us showing to a skeptic why it has to be now instead of, you know, three years down the road. And we feel that we have a lot of giants on our side, most notably Nvidia, especially with the acquisition of ARM. It is, without a doubt, clear that their cutting-edge view on PC is going to translate into many, many more non-PC, maybe even portable devices. And, you know, that being said, the product side of things is what do we do? Do we sell the tech? Do we raise money and build a whole ecosystem around it? Do we do both? Do we go into professional graphics, 3D design architecture industry that kind of thing – we’re going to movies, sell parts of it? And all of these variables are, in a way, good news because we can take the stagger that we have any which way, but on the other hand, it’s bad because if you decide for too long, you lose opportunities. So we’re trying our best to ironically use a Monte Carlo method to shoot rays in all these different industries to see where we get the most optimal result and then decide on one in the short term. And I think we found one. I’ll let the practical results be a surprise for the next few weeks, but I think we have a solid footing where to go from here.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah, yeah. And such as the life of an entrepreneur or a founder or a startup, you have to try out different things and see what sticks. It’s not like chaos or random stuff. Sometimes that helps. I know we had some conversations around randomness, back in Montreal. But, you know, at the end of the day, you also have to be strategic about these moves – and I’m happy to hear that some of these things are playing out okay for you guys. And what were some of the mistakes you made along the way? For one, I’m sure that we had a lot of mistakes, and for sure, we’re going to make a lot of mistakes in the future. But for you, what were the key learnings? If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?
Andraž Bole: I mean, that is one of those questions that I’m still not sure what to do about, you know, because in one way, hindsight is always 2020. You know, there’s an expression in Slovene that I don’t know if it’s gonna translate well into English, but it says, “After the battle, everyone’s a general”, right? So, in a way, part of me feels that is a very destructive exercise because in an environment where you’re constantly being bombarded – it’s very emotionally, intellectually, cognitively stressful – sometimes it can be the straw that broke the camel’s back, if you start thinking backwards, what did I do wrong? What should I do? But on the other hand, like, you know, how a person learns is foundationally based on how a priori distribution matches a posteriori distribution. Like, how much did you miss if you put a reference frame of what you wanted to hit in the first place and then, in turn, kind of change your behavior so that the miss is smaller and smaller. But to be more practical in my answer, what would I do differently? To be honest, I don’t know if I would do anything differently. Maybe in terms of how I accepted my failures, I would have just taken in the bad news in a more wise way, which is, in turn again, 2020, because you have to get those things under your belt, otherwise, you can’t get wiser, in a way. You know, there’s an unknown saying, “The secret to life is getting smart faster than you grow old.” So my first thing is that I would try to be more graceful in my defeats of battles, of course, because, you know, the long term is the war; what is the thing on the horizon that you are fighting for? And it’s a metaphor, again, from my fighting days or from fighting in general. Usually, the fight is over even if it’s not technically over yet when you lose sight of the finish line. You don’t know what you’re fighting for anymore.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah, you lose your why, basically.
Andraž Bole: That just kills any person. So that would be my one comment in terms of what would I have done differently. I would try to be more graceful in my defeats in the sense that I would keep my eye on the thing on the horizon, not so much on the internal struggles – the ego struggles, I’m going to put it directly – because of the failure. And the second would be, I guess, connected to this one, which is that I would bring my philosophical explorations into my practical day-to-day thinking of whatever I’m doing much earlier on. Because for the longest time, I was, in a way embarrassed by my background. Not embarrassed in terms of hiding it, but embarrassed in terms of, you know, philosophy, especially in the technologically developed West, has this undertone of having lost the connection with reality and it’s like this watered down drivel, and it has no value, etc. But then I came to realize that it was that point of view that, in turn, ends up taking the short straw because, as a philosopher, you know – and what I do is, you know, just hardcore old school ontology and epistemology – as a neuroscience researcher, at least in part, you have to constantly ask questions, the biggest possible questions. Otherwise, you could be a scientist, a computer scientist, you know, whatever – if you’re not asking the bigger picture questions, what are you doing? You’re losing yourself in the study of individual trees where you should be constantly thinking that they are part of a forest. So it’s a constant interaction of the two points of view – the broad point of view, the specific point of view, the broad, the specific – or as in philosophy can be called a particular and universal point of view.
Ciprian Borodescu: Clearly, I’m super happy that you touched on this point. Clearly, your personal philosophy plays an important role in your day-to-day decision-making. And I just want to ask, do you have kind of like a routine or a process? How do you go about deciding what’s best for you, for your teammates, for your company?
Andraž Bole: Yes. Okay. So, I don’t have a routine, ironically. The only routine that I have is Jiu-jitsu. But it’s not routine, as in, if I don’t do it, my day falls apart. I just have to have a certain amount of specific kind of training per week, let’s say, and if I can’t get it, I try to substitute with either running or whatever else.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah, yeah. And I guess it keeps you grounded.
Andraž Bole: Yes. You know, you always have to realize that there’s always a bigger fish. And I don’t like these general mantras, but there’s one I kind of like from jiu-jitsu, and it says, “If you’re the best person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” And it can sound like this new-age motivational stuff, but getting through somebody just crushing you, and destroying you and barely breathing for 10 minutes, you know, just getting out completely wrecked thinking you’re gonna be on top, but then it’s just the opposite. It’s a humbling moment and it’s a learning moment of how you deal with defeat. So I guess it goes back to that question, if I had done something differently, I would train in Jiu-jitsu earlier. But going back to my philosophy or day-to-day stuff, if somebody would analyze me, for sure, they would find a routine. I also play a lot of video games partly as an educational studying thing, but partly also because I just like playing games, solve problems. And I read a lot of books per week. Some in full, some in part. I’m more largely inclined to read papers lately because of the more brain science part.
Andraž Bole: I think part of the question was also how my philosophy, I think, guides the behavior of the people in the company. Me and Nejc – my co-founder – are very similar in this regard. We almost have no structure in the company and a lot of what I’m going to say is probably not going to work when we have more than 10 people. Or maybe it will, I don’t know, but for the time being it seems to be the most efficient strategy that sometimes for people that start working for us, it comes across as a shock. But the way we are and the way we function is, more often than not, we will present you with a problem without giving you an idea how to solve it because Nejc is a thorough believer that a big problem of why certain things in technology don’t move along fast enough is because everybody reads the same papers and he’s a firm believer in the creativity and ingenuity of each individual. And as soon as you read one paper, it is very hard to go out of that box of being kind of guided down the path of what somebody else was thinking.
Ciprian Borodescu: That’s an interesting point. However, I’m also considering the alternative, which is trying to reinvent the wheel.
Andraž Bole: It doesn’t mean we don’t read papers. It means that as you get to a barrier – you get to a solution, and then you say, “Okay, let me benchmark this with what everybody else is doing.” And you kind of see what everybody else is doing, you see how much you missed, and then you take away what is to take away from the general accumulated knowledge on the topic, and then you iterate on your hybrid with that. A few months ago, we hired a student, a prospect from computer science, with a problem that currently has no solution. There’s a side mini-product that we’re going to release that’s very, very loosely connected to graphics but we can use part of our technology for that. We presented the student with a problem that essentially has no product out there right now. They’re just academics researching what to do with similar problems in different fields. And we just said, “This is it. This is what we want you to do. Let’s talk in a week.”
Ciprian Borodescu: And you probably scared the bejesus out of him.
Andraž Bole: Yeah, I mean, there was also a mentor in between who I think is his Professor, I’m not sure; maybe just kind of mentor. But the guy was, like, week after week after week, it was just exponential results, growth in interest and motivation. And it’s also with other folks that aren’t students. It’s actually harder with people who are more veterans who are used to having a dedicated working hand constantly following their progress. And it is becoming very, very, very apparent how people who are truly passionate about some problem in technology, if you align them with a course of where we are going is, let’s say, fair, and how you get there is entirely up to you. A lot of people say we place too much trust in them, but up till now, I was always more surprised in a positive way than underwhelmed, every single time. So it seems to be working for the needs that we have at the moment. But truth be told, the nature of our work, at least right now, it’s not as engineering intensive yet. It’s more r&d intensive. Let’s talk in a year and see what happens when we have 50 people. So I don’t know in that regard, how that will evolve, but at this point, keeping individuals and having complete trust in their motivations seems to be what works the best for us.
Ciprian Borodescu: And talking about teams, what do you think are some of the most important roles a product team should consist of, especially if it’s an AI company at the core? And maybe talk a bit about these teams as relative to the stage of the company. You already mentioned something about that, from startup to scale-up company?
Andraž Bole: I mean, there’s two counter questions here, I guess. What do you mean with an AI company? And what do you mean with a product team? Because they can be diametrically opposite companies.
Ciprian Borodescu: Okay, tell me more.
Andraž Bole: Well, you can have an AI company like ours that solves an uber technical challenge based on innovations in machine learning or you can have a company that has a recommender engine, like Netflix or YouTube, that are fundamentally foundationally different in how their AI plays a part. Because of that, you could argue that we don’t have a product team, and we will never have a product team, whereas a gaming company that also uses AI has a product team, right?
Ciprian Borodescu: I see. I see. So you’re looking at these things a little bit differently. I always considered, for example, for you guys, the SDK being the product. However, even if that’s the case, I understand how your product team is different or consists of different roles than a recommender engine. I see now.
Andraž Bole: But I know what you’re trying to ask me. Okay, let me give you a broad answer. This is gonna be a somewhat contrarian response. So I have this notion that I had for a while that every single company should have a game designer. I mean, also a designer in terms of art, but a game designer in terms of mechanics – designing mechanics for games. I’ve come to a realization that game designers are some of the most cognitively flexible and productive and creative people I’ve met because making mechanics for games is, in some ways, a very general basic way of building an organism and how that organism functions. And when you look at it from this perspective, every company’s an organism, whether it’s on the human level, or on the technology level, or on the product level. There’s always parts that interact in a way, like we said before, the tree and the forest. And game designers I find have always very insightful comments on various different parts of whatever it is you’re doing – whether it’s an autonomous vehicle company or a marketing company or a machine learning company that does recommender engines, like we said before. So that’s my first part of the answer. Every company that deals with AI or any sort of digital technology or, I’m going out on a limb and say every company should have a game designer, even if you have a chain of stores. So, one was the game designer.
Andraž Bole: The second was somebody who understands the technology at the foundational level – so let’s call it an expert engineer. And then, I don’t know if this translates to other… Like, I have somewhat good insight into games because that’s where I kind of grew up in the industry. I don’t know if the role of a producer is a thing across various specters of industries. But basically, you know, in the games industry, there’s this joke that the job description of a producer is, “buys lunch”. And it’s a nice ridicule of a certain social skill set that I think it’s absolutely crucial in an organization, which is somebody that sees and realizes and also in a way manages all the subtle little team dynamics between people. Because one of the issues, for example, that we have – sometimes not all the time – is that if you’re dealing with very specific engineering stuff, more often than not, you’re going to have people who don’t know how to deal with social anxiety, who don’t know how to deal with social pressures, problems, etc. And if you’re somebody that, for the vast majority of your life, were in your room coding on problems and now, all of a sudden, you’re part of an organization and you don’t know how to solve simple little problems – like if somebody took your coffee mug, accidentally – and I, as a person, I’m going to keep having to put out fires because of you, you’re useless to me, right? Because no matter how genius you are as an engineer, there’s going to be more effort to make everything going than the results you would produce. So that’s why I think the third role as, you know, whatever it is you call the producer in other industries – and a manager is not a proper word for this because usually, what manager means is somebody who misplaces trusts and uses, you know, all sorts of leverage to make people do whatever it is at hand.
Andraž Bole: So, the point being is how you identify the nuances in dynamics in the team so that conflicts and fires don’t even come up. So, in a way, it’s like a teacher in elementary school class, where if you don’t react to certain things fast enough in a proper manner, all of a sudden, you will have a fire in your classroom that you’re not going to be able to put out without resorting to authoritarian measures, which always, in my opinion, make you look impotent and lose a certain amount of prestige, right? As many times as you have to raise the voice and go all monkey-like, you’re just losing prestige and a certain level of respect. So I think that’s the third crucial part besides, of course, all the usual suspects of having somebody who can communicate the ideas, somebody who can operate the ideas, Scrum masters, etc.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah. I also want to pick your brain on the diversity topic. Where do you see things heading because personally, from what I’ve seen and experienced, I feel like there are more and more women involved in STEM, which is amazing. However, it still feels that we need to be intentional about it and be on the lookout for women that are interested in a technical career. And I’m wondering, based on your experience, how the ecosystem feels in Eastern Europe versus some other places you’ve been, in terms of the diversity of the AI talent pool?
Andraž Bole: You know, to be Freudian about it, the problem is way too complex to crystallize into one psychosis.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah.
Andraž Bole: I feel it’s a cultural divide. On the one hand, obviously, you know, there has to be a net of motivation – not even a net of safety, but a net of motivation which, I guess, loosely translates to what you said, the intentionality of how you motivate people, any kind of minorities, that for some reason or another thinks it is not worth or capable, or whatever else go into STEM because usually, it’s those people that are the most talented. What I fear with a lot of the intentional programs – and you can see it in a lot of the huge gaming companies – that it just becomes a number, right? We have to have X amount of people. Period. And it’s a very, very dangerous, superficial solution, which does nothing to tackle the actual problem, the cultural social divide between a dominant, established voice, let’s say, that drowns all the other voices. And just keeping score and saying, “Yes, yes, we’re very progressive and very up to speed; we have X amount of minorities and X amount of women” I think it’s just part of the problem. Because, like I said, it does nothing to shift the mentality, to shift the cultural changes, and that’s where, as a company, I think, what I was describing before with the role of the “producer”, that is a very, very – if not the most – important role in that. Because the way you change these things is by small, incremental nudges in the way people act, in the way they behave, in the way they talk, in the way they make jokes. But to finish the response, the local ecosystem in Slovenia, I would say, in comparison to the West, the West is way more engaged in what you describe as intentional solutions which, in some ways can be described as superficial, but they do something. Whereas, I think, at least in Slovenia – I don’t know about other parts of Eastern Europe because I think a lot of my compatriots would disagree that we are in Eastern Europe, but that’s a different conversation – at least for Slovenia, I would say that we have less of the intentional pushes, but also that the cultural and social divide is less potent.
Ciprian Borodescu: I think it’s similar here in Romania as well. I mean, women in STEM are about 30%, something like that. And that’s why people here are not that intentional about it because compared with Western countries, this is a good percentage. Of course, we’re talking about numbers, again, like you mentioned, and this just may not be the right way to address this sort of situation, but it’s a start. So yeah, probably this is why.
Andraž Bole: Yeah, I don’t know about the number here but it’s probably not that hard to find it. But I would say, at least in general, one of our VPs of tech, who’s also running the data science program at the local university of neuroscience, I was surprised actually how many women frequent the community, like picnics we do or talks or sessions, etc. But I’m sure there has to be a more efficient way of combining the two approaches that we talked about.
Ciprian Borodescu: Alright, Andraž, for the final special section on the podcast, lightning questions and answers, a series of fun, short questions that you have to answer really, really fast. Are you ready?
Andraž Bole: Oh, dear. How fast?
Ciprian Borodescu: Well, as fast as you can.
Andraž Bole: Okay.
Ciprian Borodescu: Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.
Andraž Bole: Lord of the Rings.
Ciprian Borodescu: Star Wars or Star Trek.
Andraž Bole: Star Trek.
Ciprian Borodescu: Okay, what’s your favorite movie?
Andraž Bole: Stalker by Tarkovsky.
Ciprian Borodescu: Okay. Where can we find that? Is it on Netflix?
Andraž Bole: Oh, no, it’s not on Netflix. It’s an old movie. I don’t even know if you can buy it, but for sure you can download it.
Ciprian Borodescu: Alright. Cats or dogs?
Andraž Bole: None.
Ciprian Borodescu: Care to venture an animal that you like or you don’t like animals in general?
Andraž Bole: No, I love them. It’s just that cats or dogs – I wouldn’t like either because there’s a ton of work with both.
Ciprian Borodescu: Okay. The last book you read.
Andraž Bole: The Limits of Mathematics by Gregory Chaitin.
Ciprian Borodescu: Okay, was it good?
Andraž Bole: Amazing.
Ciprian Borodescu: I also have a bonus question here. I wanted to ask you, if you were to pick between philosophy or AI, what would you pick?
Andraž Bole: Philosophy.
Ciprian Borodescu: Okay. Interesting. Why?
Andraž Bole: Oh, why?
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah.
Andraž Bole: Because philosophy is a way of looking at the problem. In a way, its foundation is different from what can even be called AI. Because AI, in a lot of ways, deals with how you solve something, not how you look at a problem. So, no matter how developed any intelligence becomes, you could wager that philosophy will always… I mean, it’s a broader conversation about what people mean by philosophy, etc. But what I mean philosophy is, you know, the pre-Socratic, or the ancient Greek period, which is way closer to a philosophy of science, if you want to call it. But, you know, AI is just a small part of a grand take on how to view solutions in a computational manner or field, whereas philosophy is probably one of the most general approaches we have to how you can ask a question. So, hopefully, AI will eventually evolve into one of the most general ways we can answer the questions that philosophy can ask.
Ciprian Borodescu: Cool, man. Cool. Andraž, it was a pleasure to have you, and thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with me and with us. How can people reach out to you for ideas and comments?
Andraž Bole: So, first of all, thank you, Ciprian, for the opportunity. For ideas and comments, they can hit me up on LinkedIn or my email – it’s on the LinkedIn page. So, I’m more than happy to engage in, you know, whatever discussions or other shenanigans there.
Ciprian Borodescu: Awesome! Thank you, so much.
Andraž Bole: Take care.