We talked to Francisco Webber, cofounder and CEO at Cortical.io on how to extract value from unstructured text with next generation AI business solutions and he the following to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Francisco Webber: Good, thanks.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Cortical.io.
Francisco Webber: My interest in information technology arose during my medical studies when I worked with the Vienna General Hospital and could not find relevant patient information hidden in data silos. After that experience, I spent a lot of time exploring search engine technologies, looking for the ultimate search engine. The state-of-the-art approaches and the statistical modelling-based information retrieval theories behind them did not satisfy me, and at some point, I turned towards neurosciences. The Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM) theory, described by Jeff Hawkins for the first time in his book On Intelligence, gave me the idea that a new interpretation of how the brain processes information could be the code breaker of all hurdles encountered by natural language understanding solutions. Basically, I founded Cortical.io to test this idea: can a text be converted into a numerical representation based on Hawkins’s sparse distributed representations? And if yes, will that make language computable? After approximately one year of developing and testing, it became clear how powerful and efficient this new approach is.
How does Cortical.io innovate?
Francisco Webber: Our focus within AI is on high efficiency because it has become the key for practical usability. We have created a technology for natural language understanding (NLU), an AI domain where state-of-the-art approaches are particularly inefficient. Our algorithms execute faster, require less training data, and can be trained by non-technical domain experts in a short period.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Francisco Webber: The impact is two-fold. In the first step, the COVID crisis has frozen the decision-making structures in large organizations, delaying purchase decisions, especially towards small vendors like us. After waking up from this state of chock, enterprises now realize they have a high need for technologies like the one we provide. And they want them sooner than later, which is in principle good for us, but our small company structure, itself affected by the pandemic, finds it hard to keep up with the vehemence of their reengagement. Nevertheless, the pandemic has pushed the AI market to readjust its targets towards practicability, which confirms our high-efficiency AI strategy.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Francisco Webber: We had to reduce R&D activities in order to allocate resources to commercial projects. As a small, innovation-driven company, this was a hard choice to make and momentarily slowed down the further development of our algorithms.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Cortical.io in the future?
Francisco Webber: As a founder of several startups, I am somewhat used to stress and anxiety. Nevertheless, the past year was special as anxiety was present both in the professional and personal contexts. Thinking about a positive future and how to get there seems to be a good remedy against Corona Blues.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Francisco Webber: We produce our own technology, which is the major difference from our competitors who use existing frameworks from big providers like Google, Microsoft, or Facebook. As we are competing for end-users, we have to compete on both levels, technically against the aforementioned and implementation-wise against typically larger solutions providers. Our USP lies in the much higher efficiency of our approach, leading to much lower project costs and risks. We regularly succeed with customers who have unsuccessfully tried one of the larger providers and understand now why efficiency matters.
Your final thoughts?
Francisco Webber: It seems that COVID is capable of surfacing the weakness of any system. It revealed the shortcomings of our healthcare systems, the insufficiencies of our business infrastructures, the porosity of our social structures, and the fragility of our economy. COVID is also the reason why the AI market will operate a 180° turn in 2021, to transform a brute force strategy into a high-efficiency approach.
Biologists believe viruses to be important trigger points for big evolutionary leaps by introducing completely new genes into an organism. I would never have believed that this fact has to be taken so literally.