Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Norwegian Serial-Entrepreneur Anita Schjoll Brede Wants To Accelerate Research With Her Artificially Intelligent Scientist

Via Busimess Insider:

For the past ten years of Anita Schjoll Bredes career, she has worked in nine different industries, for- and non-profit, and has, amongst an array of other businesses, developed e-learning tools, worked with reducing energy consumption and built a racecar. She has worked in her home country, Norway, in Kenya as well as in tech-Mekka Silicon Valley and studied at six acknowledged universities.

With the motto ”I do things I don't know how to do”, Anita now looks to artificial intelligence.

Business Insider Nordic met up with Anita at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in London for a talk about her most recent startup, Iris AI.

Could you please tell me about Iris AI?

“We are a cross-European start-up registered in Norway. We are one year old and we are building an AI scientist. Right now it is a tool for research and development, people who work with research on a daily basis, to map out the scientific content around their innovation or their project. So Iris AI is a machine learning based platform, where the basic functionality is you take one piece of scientific text, like a research paper, drop it into the tool, Iris’ machine reads it and extracts the key concept of what this paper is about and sends them back to you with relevant open access research”.

Starting out studying Drama and Theatre in Oslo, Norway, a 20-year-old Anita began her career in an industry far from technology. Along with her fellow students she founded Experia, teaching body language and doing team-building projects with companies like Deloitte.

Since then, Anita has studied Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of California, and Management of Science and Engineering at Stanford University, before eventually returning home to achieve a master degree in Entrepreneurship and Business Design at Chalmers University of Technology in Norway.

In 2015 Anita was admitted to the Graduate Studies Program focusing on Solving Humanity’s Grand Challenges at the acknowledged Silicon Valley-think-tank Singularity University. This changed her view on technology, innovation and our future in general, and this was where Iris AI took shape.

Given her affection for studying, developing learning tools and educating locals in solar power, an artificially intelligent scientific assistant seems like a major step for her educational process. But how did she come up with the idea?

Is Iris AI founded on your own personal frustration?

“It definitely is. One of the experiences that lead to Iris was a start-up company I did, actually when I was at Chalmers University. It wasn’t technically frustration related to writing a paper or anything like that, but I was doing energy optimization of heat exchanger networks in the process industry. I was trying to find researchers and research on the topic, because it was very technical and I knew we needed some serious evidence, and I just couldn’t find any. I did not know the field enough to know what to search for. I knew I had to search for something, but didn’t know where to start”.

"Later on at the Singularity University, we were talking about research and science, and that was one of the experiences that stood out for me: ‘What if I could have had easy access to science at that point, and found the right papers and the right people?’ I could have moved so much faster and actually made that company happen”.

Working with artificial intelligence, it is a must that Iris can mimic cognitive abilities such as learning and understanding data in order to solve problems. But what are the future prospects of a machine that educates itself, and what is the vision for Iris AI in the near future?

“Right now it is about getting our funding in place. We have just secured our first five customers, so it is about delivering a product to them and getting the business model proper going. Over the next two to three years, Iris is going to become a more proactive research assistant, so not just contextual navigation like today, but an actual assistant that can tell you ‘Hey, shouldn’t you be reading this?’ or ‘check out the method in this section’ ”.

“And then of course we come to our ten-year vision, which is an artificially intelligent scientist who will read your content and come up with a hypothesis of what she has read, while having the ability to actually test that hypothesis in a robotic lab or a simulation environment, and then publish the results. But that’s ten years into the future”.

Are you working with any partners in Scandinavia?

“Yes we are, both customers and R&D partners. In Scandinavia we are working with Chalmers Technical University in Goteborg, a Norwegian research institute and a German university. These are all the R&D partners. As for clients, Kone, the Finnish infrastructure company are among our first clients, so we are going to host a Scithon (science hackathon) with them this spring”.

You have created four companies in industries ranging from theater to energy optimization – what are you driven by?

“The thing is I don’t have a big plan, there is no master plan. It feels completely random in a way, but it makes a lot of sense now that I suddenly run this company doing AI for science – that was not part of my plan.

Doing really tricky, hard things that are going to be difficult excites me. I guess, for me, one of the biggest motivations in life is when people say, ‘No, you can’t do that’ – I’m like ‘I’m going to show them I can’. It is a little scary sometimes. But I guess it’s one of those things where it just happens”.

“I get a lot of opportunities and I work hard and have drive. For me it’s not about the money. I mean, it would be fun to make a big exit at some point in my life, so I can give back and do some proper investing in really cool companies, not just photo or travel apps, but do some impact investment. It would be fun, but that’s not what drives me. I want to make a difference; I want to build something that matters. I want to build something that actually makes this world a better place”.

Final question. You've built a race car and several companies, taught children solar light entrepreneurship and you're a futuristic entrepreneur – are you the female version of Elon Musk?

“Haha, no no no, he is a genius...and a jerk I hear. He’s a hard person to work for, and I like to think I am nicer than that. And I’m not, haha".

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