Top AI Execs to Watch: Balan Ayyar,

Balan Ayyar

Balan Ayyar is president and CEO of, which he founded in January 2017 to deliver advanced artificial intelligence for national security missions. A retired U.S. Air Force general officer, Ayyar comes from a family that emigrated from India shortly before he was born. He went on to attend the Air Force Academy and build a 27-year career that culminated in his role as the commanding general of the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Before founding, he was president and CEO of Sevatec, Inc. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and served in the White House as a White House fellow.

Why Watch: With its Mirage computer vision/machine learning platform and a leadership team that includes the former head of Google Maps Data, has been named among the world’s most innovative tech startups in the 2018 TiE50 awards. Earlier this year, it received $14.7 million in venture funding from Venrock, an early investor in Intel and Apple. And it’s a serious contender for joining the Defense Intelligence Agency’s digital arms arsenal.

In the wake of Google’s decision this spring to not seek renewal of a contract helping the Defense Department analyze video data through computer vision, Ayyar says that decision doesn’t reflect everyone’s approach.

“ is a great example of a Silicon Valley firm precisely focused on the national security missions that computer vision and machine learning tools are so desperately needed for,” he said. “For example, we’ve built a best in class module for the type of FMV data our Armed Services have enormous costs around the exploitation of. We believe the integration of these foundational AI tools will save time and money for these important missions.”

Amid a broader debate around ethics and privacy concerns with the proliferation of AI is the fact that surveillance tools and increasing availability of personal data are, in many cases, already in our adversaries’ hands. Providing advanced analytics to the government helps the speed at which in some cases decisions can be made in life-saving missions, Ayyar said. Mirage can, for example, detect individual people, vehicles or objects associated with terrorism or other kinds of attacks, potentially helping prevent or solve crimes. Ayyar said Mirage’s architecture allows the integration of other forms of data  that could make this analysis and decisions even faster.

“Right now, we have humans doing tasks that really are inhuman in nature, for example, going through thousands of hours of data,” he said. “We’re now in a period where the machine’s tasks can accelerate and elevate human decision making. From our perspective, this is a very natural and transparent transition.

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