While working a nine-to-five corporate job as a freshly minted engineering graduate from the University of Moratuwa, Dinal realized that his true calling was in fact to create and innovate and, more importantly, to work on his own initiative. He followed his heart, quit his day job, took the plunge into the fascinating world of AI and hasn’t looked back since.
Founder and CEO of BotFactory, Dinal Kurukulasooriya is a tech enthusiast and a young entrepreneur who is passionate about changing people’s lives for the better and transforming other small businesses, startups like himself, into efficient companies through the use of technology.
His startup BotFactoryAI.com is a free to start platform that enables users create their own Chatbot- a computer program that simulates human conversation, or chat, harnessing power of artificial intelligence – that can have simple conversations via Facebook messenger. Once created these chatbots are able to have simple conversations with humans, respond to simple queries and assist within a given capacity – much like Siri or Cortana.
Q: What is BotFactory-AI all about? How would you describe it to someone who doesn’t know the first thing about AI?
BotFactoryAI.com is a website that allows users to create chatbots that can be linked to Facebook messenger. In other words, it facilitates small businesses to make their own plug-and-play chatbots that can double as an app in terms of functionality. Simple flow charts can be used to feed intelligence to these bots and once created they should be able to perform simple tasks for you like answering basic, generic queries that the customers may have in relation to your products or services. The service is available for free at the moment with personalized exceptional support.
Q: What inspired you to start BotFactory?
I was inspired to start something like this when I was with my previous employer; working in a team to build a Chatbot. Chatbots were hard to create and required a lot of engineering effort. Working here made me realize two things: One, I was not meant to be doing a corporate job and two, Sri Lanka too can use AI tools like chatbots to do things better and more efficiently. I left my job shortly after and started working on the chatbot-making platform full time.
Q: How savvy are Sri Lankans in relation to AI?
It is apt to say we are way behind most developed countries. AI can be used for a lot of fascinating things and chatbots is merely another application of it.
There is this famous story about how Walmart in the US used an algorithm to find associations in buying patterns, which discovered a strong association for many customers between a brand of babies nappies (diapers) and a brand of beer. Most customers who bought the nappies also bought the beer. The best hypothesisers in the world would find it difficult to propose this combination but AI showed it existed, and the retail outlet was able to exploit it and increase revenue by moving the products closer together.
Likewise, AI can be used in the local context too and it is just a matter of figuring out where and how.
Q: What are other projects you’re involved in other than BotFactoryAI.com?
We are currently working with few large corporate clients in John Keells Group providing AI based solutions for various tasks. As an example we are making custom chatbots for more complex requirements, automating tasks which require cognitive capabilities such as reading text from images, identifying intention of those text and much more.
Me and my team also consult few startups and corporate clients on using AI for improving their existing processes. Some of them includes reducing their costs while some of them includes increasing sales.
Q: Don’t you feel bad that a lot of people are going to be out of jobs if AI becomes more popular?
This is going to be an opinionated answer. It is becoming evident that computers, machines, robots, and algorithms are going to be able to do most of the routine, repetitive types of jobs.
They have already taken over most of the blue collar jobs which are repetitive. That is mostly what machine intelligence is about. AI can perform very specific tasks and they will not replace humans in every task. The very purpose of AI is to make tasks easy for humans. It is supposed to aid and assist. Humans are the ones who ultimately benefit from the efficiency. According to Forbes magazine 51% of the CEOs believes that AI reduces costs in the areas it is applied to.
Q: Tell us a bit about your journey so far and what challenges you had to face as a startup entrepreneur in Sri Lanka.
We started BotFactory in 2016 June with two full-time members. Within the short period we’ve been in existence, we have won many local and foreign competitions including “Best university A.I startup”. We have created a core technology which is something that you can’t replicate easily. We’re possibly the only Sri Lankan startup that does language localization to support Sinhalese and Tamil.
One of the biggest challenges we faced is the lack of mentorship and guidance. It was mostly trial and error at the start.
Q: What does future hold for BotFactory?
We have a core tech and we hope to capitalize on that to create value for not only Sri Lankan companies but foreign companies as well. We are already working with companies on improving their mundane tasks with our tech and expertise.
If you’re interested in a chatbot or applying AI in your business this is the startup you need to get in touch with. Dinal, the CEO will be available on the email