Illia Polosukhin is the CTO and co-founder of NEAR.AI, a platform that wants to give the power of programming to everyone. How so? By enabling entrepreneurs, researchers, and every other professional to upload their sketches, which will be rendered into designs, receiving a fully functioning mobile app in return.
Originally from Ukraine, Illia moved to California after finishing his Master’s in Applied Math and Computer Science at the National Technical University “Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute.” After working on various machine learning projects in the US, he joined Google Research, where he became an Engineering Manager within only a year. Three years later, he decided to create his startup.
The seed of the idea behind NEAR.AI started with the programming competitions at High-School and College in which Illia participated. “In these competitions, you spend a lot of time reading the descriptions of problems and quickly programming them up. We understood that, at some point, this could be done by machine intelligence.”
Illia felt that, as software engineers are solving problems, they are taking very vague descriptions and figuring out how to make them concrete and executable – “and this is what you expect from intelligent systems when people talk about AI.” So he decided to build something that creates value in the short term. “Other AI applications have a lot of PR but don’t provide any substance. With NEAR.AI, we are building valuable tools for others”.
Together with his co-founder Alex Skidanov, Illia is leading a change within the applications of AI by challenging the established role of developers and creating value for the end consumer.
NEAR.AI aims to unlock advances in all areas of humanity, from business applications to scientific research. Imagine if the domain experts could ask directly to a computer to analyze the required data streams instead of having multiple meetings with engineers. According to the co-founders, the business won’t need to wait for a third party anymore, and, in the future, they will be able to build tailored solutions.
“My background is actually in machine learning. I worked for about ten years at a few places. Specifically, my last big company gig was at Google Research, where I led a team working on question answering and machine translation. I was always really excited about open-source. Many machines learning is open source and was one of the most significant contributors at the time to TensorFlow when Google just released it. For people who don’t know, TensorFlow is probably among the top five open-source projects on GitHub in the world.
So that was exciting working in a big company, and at the same time really releasing something into the world, contributing and working together with a lot of people around the world. There are cool things where people would use TensorFlow, like classifying random stuff in their homes.
But in general, Google, even though inside, it’s a very open place but has a lot of constraints just being a big company. I left it to start a startup because I wanted to leverage things I learned and some machine learning tools in the wider world. My co-founder Alex and I started the company called Near AI, which was supposed to teach machines to code. We wanted to have a machine learning model that an ordinary person who does not know how to do programming would be able to explain what they want, and the computer would write codes for them. It’s a very challenging task, and many people have been working on it.”
Besides being a brilliant engineer, Illia always had an entrepreneurial mindset, as he wanted to build something new. “I thought intelligence tools would be super valuable for a long time and was trying to figure out how to best execute on it.”
His message to everyone who wants to become an expert in machine learning is that you can do it, whether you are a specialist in one area or have a more generalist background.