“Time is Now: A Journey Into Demystifying AI.” Q&A with Raj Verma

“Part of why I wrote Time is Now was to demystify this technology. Steve Jobs once compared the invention of the PC to a bicycle. I’ve always found that fascinating. With AI, we also have a new bicycle.”

Q1. You just published your first book, “Time is Now: A Journey Into Demystifying AI.” What made you decide that “now” was the best time to write this book? 

We are at a crucial point in the development of AI. We’ve been talking about this technology since the 50s, when we saw the development of the first AI programs. Some of these were capable of playing checkers and solving algebra problems. In the following decades, AI development stalled because computers lacked key capabilities needed to power this technology, including the processing power to perform complicated calculations and access to vast amounts of data to generate answers. 

That has all changed today. Computer processing is more powerful than most of us could’ve dreamed in the 50s, and the internet and cloud computing have made it much easier to access and store much more data.

Time is Now arrives at this crossroads moment, in which generative AI is finally a reality,  but there is still much of it to be defined. We need to make important decisions and actions about how we develop it and how we want it to impact our world. We need to start looking at AI not necessarily as artificial intelligence but as amplified intelligence, because when used correctly, it can transform our lives for the better. One of the main reasons I chose to write this book is because I think we need to be aware that we are the ones steering this technology. We choose what path it will take. 

We have had a narrow view of many technologies before, and that has led to serious consequences. For example, we dropped the ball with social media, and allowed these platforms to be developed in a way that creates addiction and other mental health issues among users – and concerningly in teenagers. We can’t afford to do that with AI. Technology isn’t the problem. What’s critical is the way we develop and use it. AI is so powerful, we must approach it differently, more responsibly, because we cannot afford to ignore its repercussions. We need to get it right, and to get it right, we need to act now. 

Q2. Why was it important for you to take readers on “A Journey into Demystifying AI”? What do you think most people misunderstand about AI? Do you think experts need to change how they explain AI to the general public?

There’s a lot of uncertainty around AI and what it will bring. While some are racing to figure out a way to integrate it into businesses and become more productive, others are terrified that it will one day come to dominate humans. Before we jump into quickly adopting or rejecting it, we need to truly understand AI. Because if we truly understand it, what it is, and how it works, we have a much better chance at shaping AI in a way that benefits us. In other words, the only way we as a society can actually take control of the way we develop this powerful technology is for each of us to understand it.

Many fears about AI are not grounded in facts. AI is not likely to take control over humanity, as it does in the movies. But there are some serious risks involved, like AI bias, which is very serious and can perpetuate social ills like racism, or data leaks, which can put people’s identities and even lives in danger. 

I am optimistic about AI’s future and our potential to use this technology responsibly and ethically. But those of us who dwell in the world of AI development need to do a better job at explaining it to society, to our leaders, so we can have a healthy conversation about how we develop it. After all, it’s hard to be excited about something you don’t understand. Confusion leads to anxiety and knee-jerk responses that do more harm than good. 

We need to communicate that AI has been around for decades, and all the ways it benefits people’s lives already. We need to plainly explain how it works – that it relies on the data we feed it. Most of all, we need to emphasize what the responsible development and use of this technology looks like and how it will benefit society overall. Education is the path through which the misinformed can become more informed and the only way to  mitigate people’s fears.

Q3. In your book, you talk about the “Three Pillars of Now”: information, context, and choice. Explain these concepts and why they are so important in the context of the book. 

“Now” refers to the present, how we experience it, and how we react to it. Information refers to data – the wealth of knowledge available to us. Context is about understanding the circumstances and factors that are relevant to the information, and filtering that data through this lens. Choice is about what we do with this information, funneled through the right context. 

I love golf, and it’s a helpful analogy to explain these concepts. Golfers have to make decisions in real time, based on the direction of the wind, the distance to the green, and the position of the water and sand traps. They have to remember how many points they need to get ahead in a competition, and consider all of this before deciding how to swing. The golfer is experiencing the “now” by recalling information within a specific context and making a choice. 

We may not all golf, but this is what every single person does every moment of the day. Consequently, information, context and choice, are the three concepts that form the foundation of “now.” 

These concepts are so important to Time Is Now because they are both critical to my personal journey and because they also form the “trinity of intelligence ” (TOI) framework I use to describe AI throughout the book. Through information, context, and choice, I’ve been able to bounce back from personal and professional setbacks, make challenging leadership decisions, and achieve my dream role as the CEO of a major Silicon Valley company. At the same time, I believe these capabilities are what distinguish the AI revolution from previous technological innovations – and they are key to scaling AI going forward. AI depends on information, or vast amounts of data, and the right context to make the choices necessary to provide us with the best answers and insight we humans need to generate the most impactful decisions. 

Q4. You say we should view AI not as artificial intelligence, but as amplified intelligence. What do you mean by that?

AI is not sentient. It relies on data to function. I love to say that with AI, “the easy will become automated, the hard will become easy, and the impossible will become possible.” By using AI’s transformative capabilities, we can make breakthroughs and decisions faster and make more informed choices; all of which will amplify, or enhance, our existing intelligence. For example, if physicians can use AI to help comb through thousands of pages of medical research, then they can spend more time treating and supporting patients. 

Furthermore, by focusing on the “amplified” instead of the “artificial,” we reinforce that humans are the ones steering the ship of this technology, and ultimately who have control over how it is used. By using AI responsibly, we can use it to help us make our lives better and to be more productive, so we can spend more time supporting and taking care of each other – the things that make us human. 

Q5. In one year, we went from clearly fake, AI generated videos of an alien-looking Will Smith shoving pasta into his mouth to crystal-clear, 60-second Sora videos from OpenAI. What do you say to people who are apprehensive or scared about the rapid development of AI?

I understand why people are apprehensive. Fear of change and fear of risk are natural. However that is expressed to you – your gut, your inner voice, or your intuition – I feel it too.

But life is about navigating risks. If we don’t take risks, we can’t innovate. I like to say that we can’t let the fear of discovery prevent us from experiencing the joy of discovery.  The good news about AI is that we are still in the driver’s seat, and thus we decide which path to pursue with this technology and how it is developed. 

I also emphasize to people that generative AI relies on the data we feed it. Without data AI is nothing, and so by being intentional about the types of data we use for AI development, we can successfully mitigate many of the risks that so many people are concerned about. 

We have a responsibility as leaders in the field to take action now, in the training process of AI, and carefully define its relationship with data, to shape the kind of future we want to live in with this new technology.

Q6. The tech ecosystem is rapidly adjusting to the growth of AI. Tell us what it is like to be the CEO of a company deeply involved in that change. What excites you, and what challenges do you face?

For SingleStore specifically, it is a very exciting time because, as you know, data is what fuels AI. As I said before, without data, AI is useless. And with the wrong data, AI can be dangerous. So data technology companies have a very big responsibility in the age of AI. The way we store, process and analyze data will determine AI’s potential to transform our lives. 

Leading a data technology company during this moment in history is exciting, but also comes with a lot of uncertainty. We have made bets to stay ahead of the game in powering AI. For example, when we chose to migrate our data platform to the cloud. That was a huge decision, with many costs involved, but it paid off because the cloud helps us scale and adapt data to efficiently power AI. Today it is obvious that AI benefits from a cloud based data platform, because the algorithm has access to a limitless pool of data and resources on which AI models can be trained. 

We also made the decision to make our data platform unique in supporting both analytical and transactional workloads. These capabilities make it a real time data platform, which, again, is crucial for AI to deliver insights that will help us make better decisions. If AI models aren’t fed the most up to date and accurate data, they are not going to be much better than the latest model of a computer. This is a groundbreaking technology because it can analyze data and deliver unprecedented insights. That is how it is going to transform humanity. And we, the data technology companies out there, have a huge responsibility in unleashing that potential. 

Q7. You talk about your early life and career path throughout the book. What experience has had the biggest impact on your leadership style? How will leadership change in the age of AI? 

It’s hard to narrow it down just to one, but I do have to say that the process of getting my first job was a pretty defining moment, both in terms of my life and my leadership style. I grew up in India, which is where I got my Bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. As I was about to graduate from college, I wanted to work at WIPRO, just like most of my classmates. The process of getting a job there involved taking a test. Which we all failed. I was pretty disheartened, as I felt my chances of working at WIPRO were ruined. But after processing this sadness, I refused to give up. One day I put on the only pair of professional looking pants I had and knocked on WIPRO’s door. I won’t tell you many details about what exactly happened next (you’ll have to read Time is Now to find out how things evolved!). But, you can deduce that in the end, things worked out for my career, because today I have the privilege and honor of leading one of the most exciting data technology companies in Silicon Valley. 

And since then I have been bold in many leadership moments. For example, when the pandemic started, all our financial advisors were telling us we should take on significant amounts of debt and layoff staff. But my instinct told me otherwise: I wanted to avoid an interest rate problem down the road and, critically, because I believe people are at the heart of any organization. So we kept our staff positions and took only a minimal amount of debt. And today, our financial standing is resting on solid ground and our workforce feels supported. 

This experience taught me that, while being informed on trends and what is happening with the economy is important, it is also crucial to listen to your instincts, be bold and have the courage to go against the tide. 

Q8. If there is one thing you want readers to take away from your book, what would it be? 

That knowledge is power when it comes to AI. Read, watch, and stay updated. AI is a technology that will revolutionize society, probably more so than how factories and the industrial revolution revolutionized production, cars and airplanes revolutionized transportation, and the internet revolutionized information and communications. 

Part of why I wrote Time is Now was to demystify this technology. Steve Jobs once compared the invention of the PC to a bicycle. I’ve always found that fascinating. With AI, we also have a new bicycle. Like a bike, AI can help us go faster and farther, and be more agile. But like a bike, we must also pedal AI in the right direction as it develops. It’s up to us. Now is the time for us to take the reins and steer AI onto the path that can revolutionize humanity for good. 


Time is Now: A Journey into Demystifying AI,” Raj Verma. Forbes Book. Publication Date: April 16, 2024


Raj Verma is the CEO of SingleStore. 

He brings more than 25 years of global experience in enterprise software and operating at scale. Raj was instrumental in the growth of TIBCO software to over $1 billion in revenue, serving as CMO, EVP Global Sales, and COO. He was also formerly COO at Apttus Software and Hortonworks. Raj earned his bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from BMS College of Engineering in Bangalore, India.

Sponsored by SingleStore

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