The debate surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) is often dominated by the achievements of major companies that are pushing the boundaries of the technology. Their recent developments have prompted us to ask ourselves how much change might be too much and if we really understand AI’s potential at all. The questions are timely and important but small businesses have a role to play in challenging our thinking too. Each year, the Royal Academy of Engineering seeks out promising young entrepreneurs who have the potential to change the way we see the world around us. 2017’s search recently culminated in web tracking and machine learning start-up, Klydo, being named as the Academy’s winner of its fourth annual Launchpad competition. Nick Schweitzer, the CEO of the award-winning start-up, spoke to Indigo& about the company’s journey so far and why he, and co-founder Wai-chuen Cheung, believe AI can drive innovation and boost creativity.
Let’s start with the name ‘Klydo’. Where did it come from? It came from ‘kaleidoscope thinking’. As we know, in a kaleidoscope you have a group of fragments and as you turn the device the individual pieces form new patterns. It’s the same underlying material but they combine in new ways to create something different. We can use that as a metaphor to help describe how companies innovate because they’re gathering and assessing information – they’re looking at what other businesses are doing, what other ideas are out there, and the clever ones break down all of the different elements – and re-assemble them – generating new ideas. And how does that process relate to your business? We’re helping companies innovate by tapping into the wealth of information that exists online. We find out what other businesses are doing and identify emerging trends, and we make that intelligence accessible. It helps companies understand how industries are evolving and allows them to be more creative. What prompted you to build a business around this idea? The underlying premise is that although the volume of information available to people is increasing, what you’re exposed to is, counterintuitively, decreasing in scope. This issue has been widely discussed in the last year or so. It has become apparent that although we live in a world where we can access almost any information, in reality, our sources are quite limited and they’re reinforced by our existing beliefs. This is something we picked up on two or three years ago, and we explored a number of different options for addressing it, including using artificial intelligence and data mining to read through large volumes of content and finding visual ways to communicate what was found. We don’t mean providing a top ten list, we wanted to produce visualisations of thoughts and ideas across hundreds of thousands of documents. How are you turning this into a product that companies will benefit from? We’ve been working with creative agencies and innovation consultancies to explore consumer trends. What we’re actually looking to do, in a consumer setting, is to develop a deep understanding of an audience and their unmet needs. That’s what we’re training the models to recognise. But when you have the infrastructure to trawl large sections of the web and pick out relevant information you have a powerful tool you can apply in other sectors too. Tell us more about how you’re using AI. We’re not an AI company that focuses on automation or optimisation. And that’s often where people’s concern stems from – they fear that technology will replace jobs. I think the more interesting side to AI is how it could change the way we work, and specifically, boost creativity. The most creative people are the ones who make interesting connections between seemingly disparate ideas. But you have to be exposed to a range of influences to get to this point and AI can help. It can lay the foundation – that is, scanning the web, tapping into the ideas that are out there, and making it easier for people to join the dots. How is that important to the way we work? Creativity has a wider reach than logical reasoning. To progress the world and to solve the biggest problems we can’t rely on logic or our ability to reason through problems, we need to be creative. Even in quite rational spaces, like science, there’s always a creative process at the start. I believe there is much more scope to improve and progress what is happening in the world by enabling the creative process, more so than increasing automation and optimisation. So, how will you take your concept forward? At the moment we’re working with creative agencies and innovation consultants in the consumer products area and we’ll continue to do more testing with them to prove the effectiveness of Klydo. That will help us raise funds and grow our team. Is there anything you have learned during your journey that you would like to share with other young innovators? The main thing I would say is that I thought you had to wait until you had the perfect idea, and when you did, everything would fall into place for you. In reality, it’s not like that. You should just go for it. Chances are, your idea will be refined as you learn more – and the journey is great.