Element Data’s Decision Cloud aims to remove decision-making risks.
If it feels like virtual assistants know more about you than your closest friends, you might be on to something. As you casually ask Apple’s Siri for driving directions, Microsoft’s Cortana for a weather forecast in a distant city, or Amazon’s Alexa to set a timer while you cook, these devices are gathering information about you — that you are planning a trip, for example, or like to cook.
This human-machine exchange is fascinating but limited, according to Cyrus Krohn, co-founder and COO of Element Data in Bellevue.
“Intelligent agents — Siri, Cortana, Alexa — aren’t that intelligent,” explained Krohn, who was easily enthused while discussing the potential of machine learning during an interview at Element Data’s 11th-floor office in Plaza Center downtown. “They are a voice-activated search. You ask something, you get a result. But what they are not capable of doing is cognitively understanding what’s important to you in helping you arrive at a better decision.”
Krohn illustrated this point by opening his laptop and clicking “play” on a 30-second promotional video of a man, offscreen, asking a series of simple questions that mystify Siri:
Element Data’s Decision Cloud exists to change that. The platform aims to help individuals, organizations, and companies make better decisions through machine-learning and analysis of the options, criteria, and trade-offs. Sure, Siri is helpful at times, but she can’t assist you with making deeper, more nuanced decisions.
The company’s team of engineers updates code, tweaks Decision Cloud’s algorithms, and mines publicly available information to produce more informed, contoured results depending on its customers’ needs.
Think of Decision Cloud as a much friendlier, fuzzier cousin of HAL 9000, the menacing virtual assistant from 2001: A Space Odyssey — “Absolutely, Dave. I can totally do that.”
“Our (Decision Cloud) platform could be integrated into one of these (intelligent) agents and help an individual get the answers to these types of questions,” observed Krohn, who noted these were actual questions asked of Siri, Cortana, and Alexa. “We are about improving the decision-making process. Human decision-making is messy. We let emotion get in the way. Extenuating circumstances factor into our decisions. (There’s) irrational thinking. As we further develop our platform that enables more data analysis to help inform a choice of outcomes, (we can) help an individual or a company be more confident in their decision-making.”
Element Data was founded in September 2016 by Krohn, Charles Davis, and Geoff McDonald — entrepreneurs with combined experiences in the fields of predictive analytics, behavioral biometrics, computational modeling, and digital communications. Element Data’s original headquarters was in downtown Seattle. As the company grew, its co-founders put its own product to the test when deciding where to relocate.
“It’s funny because, just to kind of keep it parochial, when we did the assessment and analysis of where our (original) office should be, we used our own technology, and the best suggestion at the time was Seattle,” recalled Krohn. “But as we grew, we geocoded everybody’s physical address onto a map, (looked at) a 10-mile radius, and everybody was within the radius of Bellevue. So, it was a no-brainer: Let’s move to the Eastside!”
Last year, the company — which today employs 25 people — landed $7.8 million in venture capital funding ($1.7 million in April, $3.5 million in July, and $2.6 million in December), which has helped it acquire three technology companies:
- Sammamish-based PV Cube, which uses machine learning to help companies enhance their sales;
- Philadelphia-based BehaviorMatrix, which uses technology to understand human emotion and behavioral cues;
- Menlo Park-based Auguri Corporation, which has helped organizations such as Boeing, the United Nations, and the Department of Defense use technology to focus on decision-making tradeoffs and comparisons to ultimately help computers emulate human thinking.
Krohn declined to name Element Data’s customers specifically, but said they include companies in a variety of fields.
“If you think about the amount of time and money (insurance) agents (spend) trying to create lead-generating lists, there are companies out there who would like to just know who a prospect is and bypass the time and cost burden of the lead-generation component,” he explained. “In the entertainment industry, we are working with companies who are trying to identify people who are likely to make a decision to subscribe to this service versus that service, or this channel versus that channel, and helping them understand, through our software, who’s likely to make a decision to want to purchase your offering. In the political advocacy space: What is the probability that somebody is going to decide to support this initiative, vote for that person, or make a contribution to that cause?”
As intelligent agents become more prevalent, and Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon vie for leadership and market share in this field, perhaps Element Data’s Decision Cloud will appeal to one of these tech giants hoping to make Siri, Cortana, or Alexa smarter and more intuitive.
“Somebody is going to solve that problem, and that’s what we aim to do,” added Krohn. “We are positioning our company to execute on our technology and supply this platform to any organization or company that would like to license it.”
Krohn added, “If (Amazon CEO Jeff) Bezos or (Apple CEO Tim) Cook or (Microsoft CEO Satya) Nadella want to give us a call, they can find our information online.”