AI Genius: Mustafa Suleyman – A Beacon for Muslim Youth

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As the chief executive of Microsoft AI Suleyman has a wide world to conquer and limitless skies to soar.

Asad Mirza | Clarion India

Mustafa Suleyman is a Syrian-born British citizen about whom former Microsoft former chief Bill Gates said: “Watch his work, he can become a big name in the world of technology”. If Bill Gates said it, then we should also review Suleyman’s achievement.

Suleyman’s Syrian father worked as a taxi driver and his English mother was a nurse. He grew up off Caledonian Road in the London Borough of Islington, where he lived with his parents and two younger brothers. Suleyman went to Thornhill Primary School, a state school in Islington, followed by Queen Elizabeth’s School in Barnet. Around that time, he met his DeepMind co-founder, Demis Hassabis, through his best friend, Demis’s younger brother. Suleyman initially attended Oxford’s Mansfield College before dropping out at 19.

Suleyman’s practical life began when he started the ‘Muslim Youth Helpline’ with his friends at the age of 19. The situation of the Muslim youth in Britain was very similar to the dictum; “Faith has stopped me, which has drawn me to disbelief”. That is, on the one hand, it was their (Muslim youth’s) compulsion to blend into British society; on the other hand, they had to avoid the drug culture and immorality. This phone helpline service was for their guidance. Coincidentally, this service started around when 9/11 happened, heralding an increase in Islamophobia incidents and putting pressure on Muslim youth. In these trying circumstances, this service helped Muslim youth get out of social isolation. The initiative has now become the largest mental health service for Muslims in the United Kingdom today.

Suleyman subsequently worked as a policy officer on human rights for Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, before going on to start Reos Partners, a ‘systemic change’ consultancy that uses methods from conflict resolution to navigate social problems. As a negotiator and facilitator, Suleyman worked for a wide range of clients such as the United Nations, the Dutch government, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

But for Suleyman, essentially a philosopher and brilliant manager, this was just the beginning. The turning point in his life came in 2009. An environmental conference was being held in Copenhagen; Suleyman was also among the organisers. His effort was to get the delegates to the conference to agree on a common strategy against deforestation. He was very disappointed when he saw that they could not agree on a common strategy. But there was a new way out of that despair.

This was the year 2009. Facebook was emerging as a huge company. In those days, Suleyman read somewhere that the number of active Facebook users has reached one hundred million. This thing stuck in his mind.

He realised that not even a few people could be brought together on a common goal at the Copenhagen Conference; on the other hand, it takes only a few days for millions of like-minded people to connect on social media.

That day Suleyman realised that in the future it would be technology that would bring people together. Thus, he entered the computer field from the world of philosophy and ideas. The very next year he started a company called DeepMind along with his friends. It was an artificial intelligence research firm.

What was the goal of DeepMind? Making decisions that humans might have to think about for an infinite amount of time, better prepare computers to make them in a much shorter amount of time!

Just think, in 2023, most of us were being introduced to the world of artificial intelligence for the first time, but Mustafa Suleyman and his friends were creating AI algorithms 13-14 years ago when even in the West very few people were aware of this field. In one of his interviews, Suleyman said that at times he had to hide his work from people to avoid their sarcasm and derision; as it seemed to them like a silly dream of children reading science fiction, which is impossible to interpret.

“DeepMind” must have been hidden from the eyes of the general public, but the people of the tech world were watching its rise very carefully. Several big names including Tesla’s Elon Musk and PayPal’s Peter Thiel started investing in it. Then in 2014, Google bought DeepMind for 65 million dollars. It was Google’s largest and most expensive acquisition outside the US at the time.

The achievements of DeepMind could be the topic of a separate discussion. For now, a simple anecdote would suffice. Google has data centres around the world that require a lot of electricity to keep cool. Suleyman was given the task of finding a solution. He applied DeepMind’s algorithm to find the optimal solution. Now such solutions are actually a large combination of many decisions. Finding the perfect combination that gives the best results is a very time-consuming task. Take the example of biryani. Everyone is aware of the 12 to 15 different spices in it, but still, there are only a few shops which attract a large number of customers. This is because they have found the perfect combination of aromatic spices and the perfect time to add them to the pot, to bring out their flavour.

So, if this project of saving electricity at the Google data centres was given to a person, he might not have been able to find the best and ideal situation even in ten years. However, after ‘considering’ not hundreds of thousands or millions, but billions of combinations, DeepMind proposed the best solution that reduced the power consumption of Google’s data centres by forty percent. Suleyman wanted to use the same solution in buildings around the world to reduce global electricity consumption and environmental pollution.

This same Suleyman became a part of Microsoft recently. In March 2024, Microsoft appointed Suleyman as EVP and CEO of its newly created consumer AI unit, Microsoft AI. Now, as the chief executive of Microsoft AI; he has a wide world to conquer and limitless skies to soar. Let’s see to what heights he takes the field of AI.

The number of Muslims in the tech world is very small. In such a situation, if a genius, a layman, comes forward and reaches for the sky, we should also be happy about it and it should motivate our youth to emulate him.

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