2023, The Year That Was: Quddus Pativada, Founder And CEO, ASI Pativada and his team at ASI have built a "responsible, personal, and instructional" AI tool that can act as a student's lifelong tutor.
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20-year-old Quddus Pativada was still in high school in the UAE when, two years ago, he launched ASI, an artificial intelligence (AI) research lab with the primary intention to "reimagine the way we learn." As for why this was needed, Pativada is clear-cut in his explanation.
"The modern education system, like the technology of old, is often cumbersome, outdated, and, frankly, unresponsive to the needs of the individual student," he says. "We need to rethink how we approach the very essence of learning, stripping away the layers of unnecessary complexity to arrive at something beautifully simple. Imagine if the education system was as intuitive as a button you can press. A system that adapts to the learner, understands their strengths and struggles, and molds itself to facilitate an organic learning experience. Students shouldn't have to adapt to education; education should adapt to students. Much like how we've observed people struggle with complicated technology, students today wrestle with an educational framework that often doesn't speak their language. The fragmentation of their attention, primarily due to the rise of the digital age, isn't a problem to be solved- it's a reality to be embraced. So, we set out to harness this, and design educational experiences that are modular, flexible, and deeply personal."
It's with this thought process that Pativada and his team at ASI came to build a "responsible, personal, and instructional" AI tool that can act as a student's lifelong tutor. Much like the large language models (LLMs) that power chatbots like ChatGPT, ASI has developed what Pativada calls personal language models (PLMs) that emulate personal tutors for students. "It's essentially an AI that emulates a human tutor, and provides the same support, but better and 24/7," Pativada says. "And the goal is to provide a billion students with a personal tutor."
Now, this might seem like a lofty goal for any entrepreneur, let alone a 20-year-old one, to profess- but Pativada seems to be well on his way to realizing the objective he's set for his company- and then some. "Some of our highlights include crossing a quarter of a million students who use one of our products, raising over US$3,000,000 from investors like GSV Ventures (one of the largest education funds in the world) and Mark Cuban (perhaps best known as the owner of Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association, and for Dallas Mavericks, and as one of the investors on the American reality television series Shark Tank). We're also incredibly excited about us recently signing a partnership with the UAE Ministry of Education to build and develop the world's first national AI tutor."
This particular partnership between ASI and the UAE Ministry of Education was announced only in November this year, and the multi-year undertaking is something that Pativada holds very dear to his heart. "This was especially meaningful to us, not just from a commercial perspective, but it also gave me the opportunity to be able to give back to the country I was raised in, and did my own schooling in," he explains. "It also sees us be able to deploy a solution that can benefit a population at large, and see learning outcomes increase across the board, giving the people of the country more opportunity. A selfish side-benefit we saw when it was announced was it also made me the youngest CEO in history to win a government contract, and because of the scale of the project, it was also noticed by Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella, whom we got to meet and chat to as well!"
While such an achievement would be enough to make 2023 a memorable year for Pativada, he says that it will also be remembered for the fact that it marks when the ASI platform surpassed 4,000,000 user queries. "It's a milestone, and a testament to the retention our platforms have, but it also meant that there were over five million times a student needed help, and we were able to provide them that help," Pativada says. "It's certainly an emotional moment, and a humbling one, knowing that the work we are doing is directly impacting students, and providing them with a learning experience that is enjoyable."
Pativada is also especially glad about the growth the ASI team has seen over the past year, with him saying, "This has meant a lot to me personally, growing from a hobby in my bedroom living with my parents, to now having employees all over the world, and having people like John Rouhban and Alan Greenberg, who joined from companies like Palantir and Apple, or Dun Xiao, who was a founder himself with an enterprise that later went public at a multibillion dollar market cap, and Chansa Kabwe, one of the smartest AI minds who I've been fortunate enough to work with since the beginning of the company."
Quddus Pativada, Founder And CEO, ASI. Source: ASI
All of this bodes well for the future of ASI, whose offering Pativada now describes as two-fold, with one of its arms building consumer-facing tools that would provide students with accessible help for free, and the other -ASI Atelier- partnering with governments to build national-scale tools that can be deployed for the benefit of an entire population. As for Pativada himself, he's just excited about the road ahead.
"I'm looking forward to just staying on the trajectory we're on," he says. "We're growing really fast, and we're confident in multiplying our user base, and partnering with more governments, and so, the biggest thing I'm looking forward to is just making more of an impact, and making learning something more and more students can actually enjoy. Education has always mattered to me personally, because of my background, and being able to make a better form of education, and give the power of understanding to anybody in the world is something I feel very fortunate to be a part of. I think everybody should get behind this, and collectively be excited about a world where quality education isn't scarce, and opportunity is abundant. We'll also be launching a standalone consumer platform in January that we're excited about, so keep an eye out for that!"
Reflections 2023: Quddus Pativada shares his key insights from the year that was
Bet on yourself "When I first tried to raise money, I had over 60 investors turn me away, and when I decided I wasn't going to university, I had about 20 people tell me I was crazy. Everything ended up working out, and I believe a large reason for that was just unwavering -and sometimes foolish- self-belief that things would work out. In life's grand casino, betting on the only variable you can control -yourself- is probably the wisest decision."
It's more about who you work with than what you work on "The team's the reason why we are where we are. A talented and collaborative team can elevate an average idea into a groundbreaking innovation; so, choose who you work with very carefully, and stick with them, because the people almost always matter more than the idea."
Pressure is privilege "Building companies is extremely hard, but embracing the pressure that comes with responsibility and high expectations is a mindset that recognizes challenges as opportunities for growth. The privilege of facing pressure signifies that you are in a position to make a meaningful impact, and viewing it as such can fuel resilience, creativity, and a relentless pursuit of excellence."