AI can be a force for good too, says veteran investor Bobby Yazdani

Veteran tech investor Bobby Yazdani says the community shouldn’t just look at artificial intelligence with concern, arguing breakthroughs in sectors such as healthcare and food could change society for the better.

Yazdani is the founder and managing partner of Cota Capital and has built an impressive reputation as a venture capitalist after investing early in companies including Google, Dropbox, Salesforce and Uber. On Tuesday he will speak at the UBS Australasian Investor Conference.

He described AI as a “phenomenon” but cautioned against looking only at the disruption it would bring to business and society.

“Clearly we can always look at disruption with a negative lens, or we can look at disruption as a positive change. There’s two sides to every coin.”

 He gave the example of health, where troves of data are now available to be mined.

“The applications could be in farming, in road maintenance, in transport. It’s really at the beginning of this evolution.

“We now have historical data, we have algorithms and we have the computational ability to bring all of these pieces together to be able to build tools around our civilised world, so we are able to live better.”

Need for regulation

 Yazdani conceded that there had been examples of AI being abused, or used to the benefit of a few, he argued that underlines the case for strong regulation.

“I think that’s why governments exist, that’s why policymakers exist, to make sure there is enough guidance for some of these capabilities.”

Yazdani, who spent the day meeting his investors face-to-face in Melbourne on Monday, says food is another sector that fascinates him.

While the sector has been good at innovating on the product side, Yazdani sees opportunities for technology in distribution, pricing models and even nutrition.

“The application of technology in food hasn’t materialised yet,” he says.

Iranian-born Yadzani founded software group Saba Software in 1997 and took the public company three years late. His VC investing career started in 1989 and through his family office, Signatures Capital, and now Cota Capital, Yazdani has invested in more than 100 early stage companies.

“What we do is sensationalised. It’s a lot of work,” Yazdani says of his VC interests.

‘A lot of false positives’

 Given we’re in an age where technology such as AI is developing so quickly, it’s no surprise to hear that firms like his are inundated with pitches.

“There’s a flood of ideas but there’s a lot of false positives,” Yazdani says.

“I think the experienced financier has an approach so they don’t get caught up in the moment, or caught up in the volume.”

Cota is hunting for what Yazdani calls “platform plays” that “substantial in terms of the impact they could have”.

 Having a good product is crucial, but Yazdani says it is also important to back entrepreneurs who are subject matter experts, but can also lead teams.

And Cota isn’t just keen to provide cash; his team includes people who have worked in tech and can help early stage businesses dodge the minefield of problems they inevitability face.

“It’s a journey and along the journey there are going to be difficulties of many sorts,” Yazdani says.

“We feel as a group we are attached to the journey, not detached from it. We are there to serve the company, to serve the change.”

Source: Australian Financial Review 13 November 2017