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The power of machine learning

Monday, April 5, 2021

“Gaining broad technical skills in artificial intelligence and data science isn’t actually that challenging,” recognized Jaskirat Bhatia. “You can find countless tutorials on Youtube that will teach you the basics. But they can’t tell you which tools to apply to which problems. They can’t guide your learning in any way.” That’s where the Master of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (MDSAI) comes in. 

Bhatia came across the MDSAI program at the perfect time. As an undergraduate student of computer science in India, he completed a project in a coding class that required him to use machine learning to predict restaurant sales. “Even though it was a simple linear regression, I saw the power and potential of machine learning,” he remembered. Motivated to learn more about the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence, Bhatia applied to the Master of Data Science program at Waterloo. He received an email offering admission to both the Master of Data Science and a brand-new program, the MDSAI. He didn’t have to think twice to commit to the MDSAI. “I couldn’t believe it. No other university was offering a program like this.” 

Entering the MDSAI with minimal work experience, Bhatia found enormous value in his co-op term. In the Department of Chemistry, Professor Subha Kalyaanamoorthy had undertaken an ambitious research project to create a model for repurposing an existing drug to treat COVID-19, and she needed someone with exceptional data science and machine learning skills. 

Bhatia used machine learning to identify tens of thousands of properties that identify which types of molecules will bind to which types of proteins. “If you can identify a molecule that binds to the main protein of COVID-19, you can effectively disable the virus,” he explained. Kalyaanamoorthy is preparing to publish a research paper that incorporates Bhatia’s research. “I was the only person on the project who was able to code and apply a machine learning lens to the problem,” he reflected. “I couldn’t have expected more from the experience.” 

After completing his coursework at the end of 2020, Bhatia attended a virtual meetup to make industry connections. He displayed a project he had completed during his MDSAI experience that used machine learning to predict life satisfaction using 200 different measures. “Another participant approached me and complimented my work,” shared Bhatia. “One conversation led to another and now we’re business partners.” Bhatia and his co-founder recently created a company called JEmotions, which uses AI to measure stress levels and connect users to mental health resources. 

“We’re still in the prototype stage, but I’m excited about our potential for growth in the next few years,” said Bhatia. “Thanks to the MDSAI program, I had all the knowledge I needed to take this chance.”

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