Synaptiq’s 2020 Impact
By Stephen Sklarew, Co-Founder and CEO
There’s no doubt; 2020 has been a challenging year. As a global community, we’ve weathered political discord, economic crisis, and a virulent (and ongoing) pandemic. However, we’ve also battled against the odds, championing extraordinary triumphs.
Individuals across borders have rallied together for human rights victories, technological breakthroughs, and more. Despite 2020’s challenges, we have hope for recovery and growth in 2021; the global scientific community has developed the COVID-19 vaccine at an unprecedented speed— truly, a modern medical miracle, made possible by collaboration and big data.
At Synaptiq, we wielded artificial intelligence (AI) and data science to advance some of these inspiring ventures, from accessible banking in Mexico to life-saving technology and personalized medicine in the healthcare industry. This article will explore some of our most impactful projects of 2020—and our predictions for how AI will evolve in 2021.
Enabling Accessible Financial Services in Mexico
The democratization of banking is a global challenge of immense proportions. Today, more than 2 billion people live “outside” traditional financial systems. The services that many of us take for granted—from having a savings account to cashing a check, which are critical to paying bills, establishing credit, and renting or buying a home—are inaccessible to them.
One of Synaptiq’s most community-serving projects of 2020 was our work with DICIO, a financial services provider. We crafted machine vision models that allowed DICIO to securely offer financial services to “unbanked” citizens in Mexico—individuals who, for various reasons, could not establish a bank account at a traditional bank or other financial institution.
We employed a “crypto-facekey” platform, combining facial-recognition and fingerprinting to provide biometric authentication. Thanks to our work, DICIO can now extend services to individuals who otherwise would not have access to safe, secure banking.
Improving Infrastructure in Rural Rwanda
Our Chief Data Scientist and co-founder, Dr. Tim Oates, PhD, is especially proud of a 2020 project in which we aided communities in rural Rwanda, where seasonal floods isolate towns and villages for months every year.
According to the World Bank, more than a billion people worldwide currently lack access to an all-season road. These individuals suffer limited access to safe water, sanitation, energy, food, healthcare, shelter, schools, and other infrastructure and services.
To help, Synaptiq partnered with the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The Mortenson Center’s teams had constructed several bridges across high-traffic flood-zones, hoping to preserve communities’ access to healthcare and other services. They needed an accurate count of the pedestrians crossing each bridge to determine their use and impact on trade, economic prosperity, and more.
We built a machine vision model to count pedestrian bridge-crossings from surveillance videos. Our work allowed the Mortenson Center to determine that the bridges were indeed effective, empowering them to scale up their work. Ultimately, our contribution advanced an effort to protect a significant number of Rwandan communities’ access to essential services.
Empowering Immigration Services in the United States
Back home in the U.S., Synaptiq worked with Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP (BAL), the world’s leading immigration law firm, to build the first-ever machine learning solution for the employment visa application process, giving lawyers “superpowers” and enhancing client and candidate experience.
Our first-of-its-kind AI ensemble dramatically reduces manual work, freeing up time for legal teams to focus on reviewing, editing, and fine-tuning final responses before submission. In November, BAL and Synaptiq also presented a published paper on their research at the prestigious 2020 IEEE ICDM Workshop on Mining and Learning in Legal Domain Conference.
Immigration—which determines companies’ ability to access global talent—is a key economic driver in the U.S. By using technology to help companies attract, hire, and retain the best and the brightest from around the world, our communities grow and thrive, powering human achievement.
Facilitating Personalized Medicine in the Healthcare Industry
Some of Synaptiq’s 2020 work that was most reflective of our company’s larger mission was our contribution to advancements in the healthcare industry. In a year where hospitals and healthcare workers were stressed to their limits, we were proud to contribute to this industry of heroes and innovators by creating solutions to save time and add efficiency to life-saving systems.
Every second, vast amounts of medical data are collected by various systems, devices, and organizations in the healthcare industry. By making this data actionable, we improve patient experiences and outcomes, reduce the administrative burden on healthcare providers, and make our healthcare system less expensive. It’s a win-win-win!
This year, we started working with a healthcare services company to build machine vision models that can rapidly analyze medical images, like sonograms. The intent of our work is to develop a solution that “reads” images to generate reports and track conditions over time. We are deeply committed to this and similar applications of machine vision in healthcare, as they can significantly improve patient outcomes as well as the quality, timeliness, and cost of care.
How Will AI Change and Trend in 2021?
In 2021, I predict that a growing number of business leaders will begin to view AI as a realistic, effective solution rather than a sci-fi Hail Mary. Today, too many executives fail to recognize the utility of AI. In many cases—especially in industries that lag in modernization—their only exposure to AI is through fictional franchises like The Terminator or The Matrix.
However, in 2021, with more graduate classes and corporate leadership courses incorporating practical AI training, more business leaders will begin to see AI as a practical solution, not a fantasy. The real challenge of implementing AI isn’t the technology; it’s the data and businesses realizing how to collect it and use it to their advantage. Therefore, AI needs to move beyond being an “IT Thing” and into the minds of strategists, change agents, and innovators on the business side of organizations.
This change in mindset will likely grow significantly in 2021, increasing AI adoption rates across all industries. It will undoubtedly change how society views AI, as machine learning applications become integrated into staple products and services—and even into our own homes.
On the other hand, Tim cautions against “AI hype”—overinvestment and lack of caution regarding AI adoption. “AI” describes a range of unique, problem-specific applications, not a single technology. Today, some companies market “out-of-the-box” AI solutions, claiming that their generalized platforms can replace AI consulting firms like Synaptiq. However, Tim warns that these platforms are far from adequate:
“There is, as of today, no substitute for experienced, knowledgeable practitioners to help understand business problems, find AI/ML solutions for those problems, and navigate all of the problems that inevitably arise,” says Tim. “I’ve seen lots of companies who say, ‘We explored platform X, but it didn’t do what we needed it to do without lots of expensive customization.’ The platforms may get there eventually, but they are not there yet.”
Thank You and Conclusion
I want to extend a heartfelt thank-you to our families, friends, and clients, who have been the best partners we could have asked for this year. It has been quite a wild ride at times, but we have a great team and inspiring clients who have made this year a very positive one despite the global pandemic. I am excited about the future and look forward to developing and launching more solutions powered by AI that have long-term, positive impacts in our world.
Thank you for everything, and cheers to a happy and healthy 2021 for you, your friends, and your loved ones.