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NORDUnet 2024 keynote: AI as the next generation of automation

NORDUnet 2024 keynote: AI as the next generation of automation

“My advice is that you should look at AI the same way you receive a new intern.”

“Take a Teams call like the one we are having right now. Soon, AI at my side will be able to predict how your software will perform, optimizing the user experience for both of us.”

Bob Friday is CTO and co-founder of Mist Systems. Teams and Zoom calls are a bit like a canary in a coal mine, he argues:

“It is often the first place you notice a network problem. If latency becomes too high or if there is some kind of disturbance on the line, we will feel it immediately. Also, there is a big chance that some VIP in our organization will feel it, so something must be done quickly!”

Most often the focus of Bob Friday and Mist Systems will be development of AI assisted solutions for other sectors in society, be it health care, agriculture, development of autonomous vehicles etc. However, he sees AI as equally relevant for the network industry itself:

“If you go back 10 or 20 years, all applications were run in data centers. Today, most of this activity is distributed and cloud based. Accordingly, locating the origin of a problem can be like finding the needle in the haystack, which is something AI is great at.”

Needed a blank sheet of paper

Before Bob Friday co-founded Mist Systems, he was Vice President at Cisco with responsibility for mobility strategy and investments in the wireless business. The dawn of AI as a business tool triggered his decision to give up one of the most senior positions in the industry:

“I left Cisco because I realized that I needed a blank sheet of paper. If you want to take full advantage of things like natural language processing, your systems should be AI native.”

Natural language processing is the core of ChatGPT and similar solutions which allow networks to improve radically.

“I guess everyone who has tried using AI based chatbots will have had the experience of getting answers that don’t really make sense. My advice is that you should look at this type of AI the same way you receive a new intern. You know that if you just show some patience, they will improve over time. It is about building trust.”

Non-deterministic systems

Despite the potential for radical improvements, Bob Friday does not see AI based business tools as a revolution:

“This is more of an evolution, the next generation of automation. The biggest change is that at earlier stages of automation, we strived to create systems able to perform the same tasks day in and day out. AI based systems are characterized by continuous learning, and therefore much less deterministic.”

“This is something you need to wrap your head around. Also, there will be implications for the network engineers of the future. Will they all need to know how to program in Python or something similar? Or will they not need to know what goes on inside the box, but just be able to use it?”

In any case, old virtues persist, Bob Friday emphasizes:

“As network engineers we must build infrastructure able to stream telemetry to the cloud. Still, we must keep in mind that gathering huge amounts of data is not enough in itself. If you want to make great wine, you will need great grapes. And to provide great network services, you need great data!”

Bob Friday is CTO and co-founder of Mist Systems, a Juniper Company. Earlier in his career, he co-founded Airespace, focused on management of unlicensed Wi-Fi technology brought by employees to their workplace. Following Cisco’s acquisition of Airespace in 2005, Bob Friday became Vice President and CTO at Cisco. He holds more than 15 patents.

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