18 Questions with Dr. Soudip Roy Chowdhury: The Sustainability Potential of Artificial Intelligence

by Sierra Winters

Industries like mining, oil, gas, and manufacturing are often targeted as the unforgivable polluters of our environment. However, rather than blacklisting such sectors, which undergird modern society, a more progressive perspective is to identify ways in which their environmental impacts can be reduced. With this in mind, Dr. Soudip Roy Chowdhury founded Eugenie, an artificial intelligence system that first identifies operational inefficiencies within industrial enterprises and then suggests potential solutions. Eugenie can help reduce businesses’ emissions while at the same time increasing their profits. Join us in this month’s edition of eco-mavens as we learn more about the role of AI in sustainability.

  1. What was your professional background before starting Eugenie?

My background is in applied research, my PhD was on artificial intelligence, and my postdoctoral work was on the efficient processing of large-scale data. I have worked as a software developer, system engineer, senior research engineer, data scientist, and more. I have also worked as an adjunct professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. In many cases, these previous positions were not directly related to sustainability, but the skills I honed in them set me up for spearheading Eugenie.

  1. You have worked and studied all over the world – how have your travels influenced your outlook on your career and the environment?

The first eye-opener for me was when I was in Switzerland, deep in the Alps, where I realized how much the society there respected nature and preserved it with so much care. In some parts of India, we respect nature and have a way of categorizing everything as a god. Even a small rock can become a god. But these teachings have somehow been diluted, so we now see misuse of resources in India. I have also seen this misuse of resources in the Middle East. Because of my travels, I was inspired to learn more about sustainability. 

  1. How has fatherhood encouraged you to protect the environment?

When my daughter was learning about Arctic animals, I realized that many of them will become extinct due to man-made disasters and climate change. I also realized that Mumbai and much of the Bay Area will be underwater if sea levels rise in the next thirty years. The fact that my daughter’s generation and the generations after her will be under tremendous threat has really moved me. Therefore, as a professional, I have asked myself what I can do to solve these issues.

  1. Why did you decide to approach climate change through technology?

No problem can be solved without thinking in innovative ways. My superpower is understanding technology well. I learned about how heavy polluters affect the environment and what behavioral changes can help save and reduce wastage, emissions, electrical consumption, and more. Because my background is in technology, it was only natural for me to approach climate change with the tools of data in hand.

  1. What drives tech workers toward pursuing climate-related positions?

As an example, our CTO, Narayanan Subramaniam, has a life mission of sustainability. After three decades in the industry, he felt that he needed a meaningful job with a company like Eugenie, where he could create something with a global impact driven by technology. Thinking big, and thinking for the world first, drives our hiring process.

  1. What is “human-centric AI”?

No dearth of solutions exist in the manufacturing world. But the adoption of such technology is still very low. Before building Eugenie, I spent time visiting maintenance and operational engineers, and they told me that their tools’ interfaces, charts, and graphs did not make sense. In fact, they valued their intuitive knowledge more than the data provided by their technology.

Most of these charts and graphs are not wrong, but users need to understand them before they become useful. This is why Eugenie specifically offers human-centric AI that humans can interpret. Eugenie’s goal is to turn the black box into the glass box of AI. 

  1. Artificial intelligence has long been a controversial technological advancement in technology – what would you say to those who fear it?

We are in an industry where people fear AI. They think that systems like Eugenie will automate and thus threaten their jobs. But this perspective is not right. At the moment, AI is not advanced enough to automate human cognitive intelligence. AI helps humans make decisions, appending their knowledge with the information they cannot see; it is humanly impossible to look at real-time data and discover connections between data points. AI should assist, not replace, humans.

  1. Broadly, what does Eugenie’s framework look like?

Eugenie’s framework is known as “Spot, Explore, Exploit™.” Spotting involves using historical data to detect anomalies and potential problems in operations. Exploring entails the identification of correlations between those problems and other events that may have caused them. Exploiting is where solutions to those problems are offered. Final decisions rest in the hands of the users, not Eugenie itself.

  1. What differentiates Eugenie from other systems of its kind?

There is no other company like Eugenie that exists today. No company is helping others detect their baseline emissions, tracing anomalies back to operational data, and telling them exactly where their inefficiency issues lie. No company is doing this with such user-friendliness, either; Eugenie is built to be adaptable to each system’s needs, and its outputs are explained in simple terms.

  1. How can Eugenie help reduce unnecessary costs for businesses?

At the end of the day, companies want to make a profit. It makes sense that profits will go up if energy bills go down. If emissions are reduced, carbon taxations will also be reduced. In the mining and mineral industries, if wastages are reduced along the production line, mineral recycling costs, which can be quite expensive, are also reduced to a large extent. So the triple bottom line becomes appealing and beneficial for all parties involved.

  1. What is needed for a business to start using Eugenie?

Eugenie is highly adaptable to systems with varying data sources and amounts of historical data on file. It can be deployed on-premise or through cloud platforms and track the information a business values most. It can be used to track a few assets or a few hundred. This flexibility helps make Eugenie accessible to more businesses looking to improve their environmental impact.

  1. What environmental indicators does Eugenie track?

Though it varies by industry, Eugenie tracks a wide range of environmental indicators within companies’ operations, supply chains, and transportation frameworks. Eugenie monitors aspects like GHG emissions, energy consumption, and material wastage. These indicators can be linked to environmental issues like soil pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and global warming.

Eugenie Wins “Best Paper Award Finalist” Distinction at the IEEE PHM 2022 Conference

13. What kinds of businesses and industries typically use Eugenie?

There are several major industries to which Eugenie is well-suited: manufacturing; oil and gas; energy; mining and minerals; and smart cities. Those industries looking to reduce machinery failures, streamline operating expenses, and lower emissions, while guided by an easy-to-understand AI interface, would benefit from Eugenie.

  1. How can Eugenie contribute to building a “smart city”?

About a year ago, we investigated where else we could apply Eugenie. Today, many cities have centralized public amenity services. Singapore is one such city with a centralized water distribution system. Their pipeline sensors allow them to track water’s speed, quality, and more in real-time. But they are also entry points for hackers to disrupt services, posing a threat. They identified 52 different anomalies/abnormal conditions that they wanted to monitor in real-time, and technology was used to help detect and prevent issues. Eugenie was used to develop this WaterWiSe@SG testbed, and it was able to detect abnormal KPIs and suggest fixes with significant accuracy.

  1. What other kinds of urban infrastructure can Eugenie analyze in building smarter cities?

Eugenie can also work with transportation patterns, parking space efficiency, construction plans, and more. Eugenie can detect infrastructural damages earlier than human intuition, making it a great asset in city planning. It can also help keep superfluous costs down, which is attractive for city planners working within budgets.

  1. What is it like working at a start-up?

Team is the most important aspect of start-ups. Furthermore, Eugenie is not a typical software company; we are building a company with a mission and a complex ecosystem. Because of our uniqueness, we cannot simply mimic other companies; hence, we need skilled, passionate people. A desire to improve humans’ relationship with the environment is prerequisite to working with us.

  1. How have you assembled such a strong team of individuals at Eugenie?

We first hired folks to build the research background of Eugenie; the mindset of building something where nothing similar exists has become the company’s DNA. Then we hired people who have made enterprise solutions at scale in the past. Then we onboarded people from companies like Amazon and Walmart with experience in rigorous ecosystems. We also hired people who were fresh to the scene, who had an extreme passion for our work and wanted it to be their first job. 

  1. How will Eugenie be built upon in the future?

We are still very early in our journey and are building to scale. Climate change is causing thousands of people to lose their lives worldwide every month. Eugenie is one solution among hundreds of other solutions that will have to combat climate change successfully. As the world’s population is increasing, it is becoming more clear that we need technology to create change faster and on a larger scale. Most companies we work with do not know the levels of their emissions, so we use satellite data to help them understand how aligned their operations are with industry standards and goals. In the future, we will continue to develop Eugenie to better serve more companies for a greater global impact.

If you would like to dive deeper, visit the resources page on Eugenie’s website, which features a blog that covers topics like sustainable technology and industrial water operations and oil pipeline leakages.

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