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Feature: AJ Abdallat Is Taking AI Beyond Today’s Limits

29 April 2019
Author: Entrepreneur Staff
Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com


“Shoot for the moon,” an old saying goes. “Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”This aphorism has been used in everything from graduation cards to board meetings. As a business initiative, it speaks to the American Dream of working your way to the top through your own blood, sweat and the capacity to think big. In other words, the spirit of the entrepreneur. For AJ Abdallat, success began with the moon and work edits way down to earth.

In July 1969, Abdallat was an eight-year-old boy living in Amman, Jordan. He watched Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk with the rest of the world and dreamed of becoming an engineer. Little did he know that his work would eventually bring him into close contact with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the world-renowned institution whose Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) builds and operates NASA’s unmanned space missions. AJ’s drive took him to UC Berkeley at age 16, where he studied engineering, later earning a Master’s of Science in Engineering. Abdallat worked in technology at HP’s high-performance computing division, which brought him into contact with Caltech’s JPL. That’s where he met future partner, Mark James, a visionary scientist who pioneered the development of AI at NASA.

The two men put their combined expertise to work in 2014 when they founded their AI engineering company Beyond Limits, with a mission to adapt and commercialize space technology for use on earth. By combining cognitive intelligence with human-like reasoning, their venture goes beyond conventional AI to solve complex, tough, mission-critical business problems in energy, healthcare, finance, and industry. Having already been proven in unforgiving deep-space environments, Beyond Limits’ core technology is a powerful platform for tasks that require comprehension of vast amounts of data along with the reasoning acumen to predict the best path for human decision-making. Today, Beyond Limits’ technology provides high-value solutions for the world’s most demanding industries, solving problems such as oil reservoir management and well performance, refinery operations, credit scoring, fraud prevention, clinical decision support, cognitive patient monitoring, automotive, IoT and much more. The company is on a roll.

Beyond Limits’ innovations in the energy industry made it a smart bet for BPVentures, which invested $20 million in the company’s Series B funding. As the venture capital arm of British Petroleum, BP Ventures invests in strategic technologies for oil and gas exploration, production and downstream processes. The unit partners with entrepreneurial companies in Europe, Canada, and the United States that have potential in biotech, mobility, advanced materials, digital transformation, and power distribution. Beyond Limits is working with BP to improve performance with superior reservoir management technology that uses static and dynamic observations in integrated models to predict optimal drilling targets, saving millions of dollars. Other innovations include cognitive AI advisors for refining operations, predicting pipeline corrosion, managing well production and accelerating lubricant development. Technology from Beyond Limits applies lessons learned in deep space to deep below the earth’s surface.

Case in point is one of BP’s crown jewels, the Azeri-Chirag-Deepwater Gunashli (ACG), a sprawling complex of oil fields located 60 miles southeast of Baku, Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea. By using Beyond Limits’ AI technology to codify expert human knowledge into the system, BP intends to reduce sand contamination and boost production. A savings of 3000 barrels a day at a single well could yield $30+ million more revenue in one year. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), digital technologies like AI could boost production volumes in oil and gas by 5 percent and reduce operational costs by 10–20 percent.

As powerful as AI can be, Abdallat and James knew they had to take the technology beyond conventional thinking. At NASA, automated systems could not control spacecraft without clearly explaining their reasoning to human experts running the mission. This required the development of explainable AI (X-AI), an important feature of every Beyond Limits system. Unlike deep learning and machine learning, the explainable cognitive AI pioneered by Beyond Limits shatters the “black box” of conventional AI that prevents users from being able to follow the AI’s line of reasoning. X-AI is essential for humans to learn to trust the guidance provided by advanced AI systems and is a critical requirement in healthcare, finance, automotive, as well as energy.

As Beyond Limits continues to break boundaries on the frontiers of AI, it’s also expanding in more commonplace directions. A company that began with headquarters in Glendale, California is actively engaged in raising a Series C round, and now has plans to expand in Houston, the Bay Area, Asia, and international cities. It’s clear that what began as a vision by a boy who was born to be an engineer has quite literally blasted off. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see where they land.