Sentient Technologies: AI via Barbados and Hong Kong

December 14, 2014

I noted a blog post in the Wall Street Journal called “Artificial Intelligence Company Sentient Emerges from Stealth.” The company then had an enthusiastic PR person named Peter Lo contact me. I asked for a list of the company’s patents. These are public documents and the law librarian and paralegal who work with me on my research for Cyber OSINT are ever at the ready to provide a list of patent information to me.

Not Sentient, the “just emerging from stealth company.” Here’s what I received in response to a polite, legitimate request for patent numbers:

Hi Stephen,

We’re checking on the patent numbers to see if we can share these publicly and will disclose if we can do so.

Best,

Peter [on behalf of Sentient Technologies, Zenogroup]

I pointed out that patents were in the US as far as I knew information available at USPTO, via Google, and free services that seem to be as plentiful as Microsoft Surface ads on televised basketball games.

Mr. Lo from Zenogroup replied:

Hey Stephen,

Completely understood that patents are public. We’re checking if we can give the exact numbers to share those details specifically. While these patents can be found publicly, the company overall has been careful about revealing the precise patents so as not to tip off other competitors.

Will let you know what we have!

Best,

Peter

Well, Peter replied a couple of days later with this information:

About two days later I received this information from Mr. Lo, who at this point, had become a center of interest for my research team:

Hi Stephen,

I certainly didn’t mean to come off as trying to withhold any information. I’m sorry if I gave that impression. Here’s the patents numbers for the Evolutionary Algorithm (EA) patents that we’ve been granted thus far. You’re also welcome to Google other patents by Babak Hodjat, Sentient Founder and Chief Scientist, to see where we’re building our expertise. Please feel free to also Google the patents by our other founders for more of the team’s collective background.

· 8825560 – Distributed evolutionary algorithm for asset management and trading

· 8527433 – Distributed evolutionary algorithm for asset management and trading

· 8768811 – Class-based distributed evolutionary algorithm for asset management and trading

Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions, and I’m sorry regarding the impression I gave you earlier. Happy to help if you need anything else.

Best,

Peter

So, case closed, right? No.

I asked one of the ArnoldIT goslings to check the the company a bit more closely, particularly the claim made about patents in the PR spam email I received on December 9, 2014:

Sentient now has 15 U.S. patents – 6 issued and 9 pending.

My researcher pointed out that the email from Mr. Lo contained references to three patent documents. The clever ArnoldIT professional told me that we should have received 12 patent application and patent numbers.

Math is a strong suit of this particular researcher.

In poking around, we found that the folks involved with Sentient have or had some connection with Sentient Technologies Holdings Ltd, which in turn, is hooked with Genetic Finance (Barbados) Limited. A fair number of the inventions are related to finance; for example:

Distributed evolutionary algorithm for asset management and trading United States Patent 8825560 B2 · Filed: 05/15/2013 · Published: 09/02/2014

Abstract: The cost of performing sophisticated software-based financial trend and pattern analysis is significantly reduced by distributing the processing power required to carry out the analysis and computational task across a large number of networked individual or cluster of computing nodes. To achieve this, the computational task is divided into a number of sub tasks. Each sub task is then executed on one of a number of processing devices to generate a multitude of solutions. The solutions are subsequently combined to generate a result for the computational task. The individuals controlling the processing devices are compensated for use of their associated processing devices. The algorithms are optionally enabled to evolve over time. Thereafter, one or more of the evolved algorithms is selected in accordance with a predefined condition.

Assignee:

Genetic Finance (Barbados) Limited (Belleville, BB)

 

Inventors:

Hodjat, Babak (Dublin, CA, US)
Shahrzad, Hormoz (Dublin, CA, US)
Blondeau, Antoine (Hong Kong, CN)
Cheyer, Adam (Oakland, CA, US)
Harrigan, Peter (San Francisco, CA, US)

Others relate to executing algorithms via a network; for example:

DISTRIBUTED NETWORK FOR PERFORMING COMPLEX ALGORITHMS United States Patent Application 20140006316 A1 · Filed: 08/29/2013 · Published: 01/02/2014

Abstract: A server computer and a multitude of client computers form a network computing system that is scalable and adapted to continue to evaluate the performance characteristics of a number of genes generated using a software application running on the client computers. Each client computer continues to periodically receive data associated with the genes stored in its memory. Using this data, the client computers evaluate the performance characteristic of their genes by comparing a solution provided by the gene with the periodically received data associated with that gene. Accordingly, the performance characteristic of each gene may be updated and varied with each periodically received data. The performance characteristic of a gene defines its fitness. The genes may be virtual asset traders that recommend trading options, and the data associated with the genes may be historical trading data.

Assignee:

GENETIC FINANCE (BARBADOS) LIMITED (Belleville, BB)

 

Inventors:

Hodjat, Babak (Dublin, CA, US)
Shahrzad, Hormoz (Dublin, CA, US)
Blondeau, Antoine (Hong Kong, CN)
Cheyer, Adam (Oakland, CA, US)
Harrigan, Peter (San Francisco, CA, US)

The company has a Web site, it seems, for its financial applications. It looks like this:

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The company also has an artificial intelligence centric Web site. It looks like this:

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The company, according to Crunchbase here, has raised more than $140 million. Founded in 2007, Crunchbase describes the company this way:

Using advanced Artificial Intelligence technology, massively distributed computing, and a scientific approach to the verification of newly discovered strategies, Genetic Finance delivers novel solutions to complex problems in a wide variety of fields.

Sentient is described this way in an IDC article (without the ministrations of Dave Schubmehl it seems):

Sentient works on scaling artificial intelligence to help companies solve problems: “We take machine learning AI and algorithms – and scale them dramatically so by that we tailor and distribute them around thousands of sites and millions of processors.” Sentient has been around for about six years and has managed to raise a total of $143 million in funding. The founding team actually worked on the technology that became Siri, Apple’s famous voice-controlled virtual assistant. I ask Blondeau if his work on Siri influenced what Sentient are working on now.

Fresh from the research for my forthcoming monograph CyberOSINT, several thoughts wafted through my mind as my researchers bored me with this information:

First, it seems that the “play” for sentient is to repurpose “smart” trading methods for more general purpose applications; hence, the stealth and the second Web site.

Second, the company does not equip Zenogroup to email a person receiving PR spam a list of public documents. Instead the company operates as if it were one of the firms providing specialized services to the law enforcement and intelligence communities. I did a quick check on the vendors known to me to be involved in law enforcement and intelligence, and Sentient rated a hit on the WSJ blog I mentioned but nothing else. Perhaps my files are incomplete? My thought is that pretending to be secret and being secret are two different things. Maybe not?

Third, the Barbados connection fascinates me. Years ago I encountered a financial professional working on a business matter with me. In our conversations, he identified what he called flashing yellow lights. Among those were senior managers who operated away from the primary place of business. Another was having legal incorporation at some interesting places.

Net net: Once again PR backfires for companies trying to cash in with their artificial intelligence technology. I think this company will be interesting to monitor. At the February 2015 CyberOSINT Conference in Washington, DC, I will ask around about Sentient’s technology.

There is a great deal of talk about artificial intelligence. However, human intelligence may be needed when trying to whip up buzz. I suppose the approach works in Barbados, but it does not work in rural Kentucky.

We have added this company to our forthcoming and very public Overflight for CyberOSINT. News about this free service will be available in early 2015 and no PR professional will flog you with stealth baloney.

Stephen E Arnold, December 14, 2014

Verity as a Magnet: Great Sales Lead Idea

December 5, 2014

I scanned a machine generated summary of search news. I spotted this story:

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I navigate to the link and saw:

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I clicked the Verity link, which I assumed would be a 404. I was sent to this page:

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Yep, good old www.hp.com.

Marketing 2014.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2014

Insights into Selling an Enterprise Search System

November 16, 2014

I find sales and marketing difficult to understand. The reality in which I watch the mine drainage dribble is different from the shiny world of “access to all information.” I was confused. Then I read “7 Secrets That Sales and Marketing Colleagues Should Know about Each Other.”

The segment I found mildly interesting concerns prevarication. You know: Telling your mother a fib about what you did on the sleep over. Check this:

Sales teams lie. This is a reality, and it’s not a bad thing. Whether it’s because they don’t know their product well enough, they’ve been trained to be too empathetic, or they’re only focused on a performance-related bonus, the sales department’s dirty little secret is that their day is awash with lies. These lies may be to colleagues or emerge from the evasive tactics of prospects, but they are something every marketer should be aware of.

Wow. So lying is endemic. Wait. The author shifts the burden to the 20 somethings’ organization, not the individual:

It’s your organization’s responsibility to create a culture of honest communication. It is much easier to get repeat business than it is to land new accounts. Focus on the long term.

If you want to be encouraged in your sales and marketing expertise, you will not want to fail to miss it. Quite a listicle. I have only highlighted one modest tip.

Stephen E Arnold, November 16, 2014

Mid Tier Consultants Scratch One Another’s Back

November 14, 2014

I received at my Yahoo email account an email from IDC. That’s the outfit that published content with my name on Amazon’s book store without my permission. Yep, that IDC.  Here’s what I received on November 14, 2014:

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The key line is “Magic Quadrant: Key Players in the WCM Market.” I clicked that link and was redirected to this page:

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So what we have is IDC, employer of the “expert” Dave Schubmehl, pointing to Gartner and one of its fascinating, mostly marketing oriented Magic Quadrants. When I clicked the “Get this now” button, here’s what appeared:

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If this url will not resolve, contact the mid tier consultants. Perhaps one of the “experts” will provide you access.

This is one of those tony consultant reports. I recall reading that no one—and I mean no one—is supposed to reproduce, republish, recycle, or reinvent this quadrant thing. After all, it includes really clear information asserting that some companies are niche players, some challengers, some visionaries, and some leaders.

I assume it is really good to be a visionary. In this sort of odd ball collection of vendors, HP and IBM are leaders in content management. Well, that does not square with my perception of either company. IBM is like a waif, wandering from business explanation to Watson application in an almost random way. HP is busy splitting itself in two, explaining to various legal eagles why its purchase of Autonomy has become a two year old’s finger painting, not a work of financial art, and jumping back into mobiles and tablets as it tries to become a leader in cloud computing.

Let’s set aside the arbitrary classification of companies. I have explained numerous times that the original BCG matrix was based on data. The Gartner matrix is based on secondary information, mostly from companies who have some type of relationship with magic.

My point is that IDC, a mid tier outfit, is promoting another mid tier outfit. Does one scratch the back of a stranger on the R train at 11 35 pm Saturday night? Nope, back scratching stakes me as a somewhat personal, connected relationship.

I am getting nervous thinking about this familiarity, particularly when some folks may accept the mid tier firm’s work as objective, independent, and unbiased. Perhaps I am wrong, but this coziness is an indication that marketing may be more important than information.

Stephen E Arnold, November 14, 2014

HP and Accordions

November 10, 2014

I try to avoid reading about marketing and MBAs. Sometimes I slip. For example, this morning I read about the trials and tribulations of “Pizza Hut Reboot: Food Chain To Reinvent Itself For The First Time.”

The write up explains that selling pizza is not easy—when you are part of YUM. Here’s a passage that I found laughable:

They plan to change everything from their topping options to the very logo. One major change includes the addition of 10 more crust flavor toppings. While garlic has always been the general standby, apparently you will now have more options than just removing the garlic if you want to. There will be new toppings as well, including salami and spinach, and more sauces available for the pie itself, such as barbecue and balsamic.

This sounds like the silliness search and content processing vendors foist on the wary prospects. Hey, the problem with pizza from Pizza Hut may be that the company is out of step with pizza eaters. There is a joint in Middletown, Kentucky that offers all you can eat pizza at lunch time for less than $8. That pulls in the hungry pizza cravers.

Almost as intriguing as a Fortune 100 company trying to get hip with pizza is the information in the article “What Do Chief Executives and Accordion Players Have in Common.”

This AdAge.com story includes this passage:

Expand and Contract. Repeat. Except When CEOs Hit a Sour Note, They Blame the Marketing

I like this analogy. The write up is about Hewlett Packard. One passage I highlighted before my trust Ricoh laser ran out of toner was:

“The question I get most often is, ‘What is H-P?'” said Meg Whitman recently and then added “It’s a communication problem.” Sure, blame the marketing people for not solving the company’s communication problem instead of blaming the management people for inflating the company into such a mess it can’t be communicated.

I don’t think marketing can do much to improve the four percent after tax net profit margin.

Perhaps Autonomy Systems as a Service (quite an acronym!) will generate an IBM Watson scale $10 billion payoff. These seems as likely as Pizza Hut crushing the upstarts like Hometown pizza or neutralizing the Peyton Manning love of Papa John’s pizza.

Stephen E Arnold, November 10, 2014

Enterprise Search, Knowledge Management, & Customer Service: Some of the Study Stuff Ups Evident?

October 27, 2014

One of my two or three readers sent me a link to “The 10 Stuff Ups We All Make When Interpreting Research.” The article walks through some common weaknesses individuals make when “interpreting research.” I don’t agree with the “all” in the title.

This article arrived as I was reading a recent study about search. As an exercise on a surprisingly balmy Sunday afternoon in Kentucky, I jotted down the 10 “stuff ups” presented in the Interpreting Research article. Here they are in my words, paraphrased to sidestep plagiarism, copyright, and Google duplication finder issues:

  1. One study, not a series of studies. In short, an anomaly report.
  2. One person’s notion of what is significant may be irrelevant.
  3. Mixing up risk and the Statistics 101 notion of “number needed to treat” gets the cart before the horse.
  4. Trends may not be linear.
  5. Humans find what they want to find; that is, pre existing bias or cooking the study.
  6. Ignore the basics and layer cake the jargon.
  7. Numbers often require context. Context in the form of quotes in one on one interviews require numbers.
  8. Models and frameworks do not match reality; that is, a construct is not what is.
  9. Specific situations do matter.
  10. Inputs from colleagues may not identify certain study flaws.

To test the article’s premises, I I turned to a study sent to me by a persona named Alisa Lipzen. Its title is “The State of Knowledge Management: 2014. Growing role & Value of Unified Search in Customer Service.” (If the link does not work for you, you will have to contact either of the sponsors, the Technology Services Industry Association or Coveo, an enterprise search vendor based in Canada.) You may have to pay for the report. My copy was free. Let’s do a quick pass through the document to see if it avoids the “stuff ups.”

First, the scope of the report is broad:

1. Knowledge management. Although I write a regular column for KMWorld, I must admit that I am not able to define exactly what this concept means. Like many information access buzzwords, the shotgun marriage of “knowledge” and “management” glues together two abstractions. In most usages, knowledge management refers to figuring out what a person “knows” and making that information available to others in an organization. After all, when a person quits, having access to that person’s “knowledge” has a value. But “knowledge” is as difficult to nail down as “management.” I suppose one knows it when one encounters it.

2. Unified search. The second subject is “unified search.” This is the idea that a person can use a single system to locate information germane to a query from a single search box. Unified suggests that widely disparate types of information are presented in a useful manner. For me, the fact that Google, arguably the best resourced information access company, has been unable to deliver unified search. Note that Google calls its goal “universal search.” In the 1980s, Fulcrum Technologies (Ottawa, Canada) search offered a version of federated search. In 2014, Google requires that a user run a query across different silos of information; for example, if I require informatio0n about NGFW I have to run the query across Google’s Web index, Google scholarly articles, Google videos, Google books, Google blogs, and Google news. This is not very universal. Most “unified” search solutions are marketing razzle dazzle for financial, legal, technical, and other reasons. Therefore, organizations have to have different search systems.

3. Customer service. This is a popular bit of jargon. The meaning of customer service, for me, boils down to cost savings. Few companies have the appetite to pay for expensive humans to deal with the problems paying customers experience. Last week, I spent one hour on hold with an outfit called Wellcare. The insurance company’s automated system reassured me that my call was important. The call was never answered. What did I learn. Neither my call nor my status as a customer was important. Most information access systems applied to “customer service” are designed to drive the cost of support and service as low as possible.

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“Get rid of these expensive humans,” says the MBA. “I want my annual bonus.”

I was not familiar with the TSIA. What is its mission? According the the group’s Web site:

TSIA is organized around six major service disciplines that address the major service businesses found in a typical technology company.

Each service discipline has its own membership community led by a seasoned research executive. Additionally, each service discipline has the following:

In addition, we have a research practice on Service Technology that spans across all service discipline focus areas.

My take is that TSIA is a marketing-oriented organization for its paying members.

Now let’s look at some of the the report’s key findings:

The people, process, and technology components of technology service knowledge management (KM) programs. This year’s survey examined core metrics and practices related to knowledge capture, sharing, and maintenance, as well as forward-looking elements such as video, crowd sourcing, and expertise management. KM is no longer just of interest to technical support and call centers. The survey was open to all TSIA disciplines, and 50% of the 400-plus responses were from groups other than support services, including 24% of responses from professional services organizations.

Read more

Sprout Lacks an Idol Function

October 22, 2014

I read “HP Will Unveil new Computing Product Called Sprout Next Week.” I am not sure I understand a multi function device that combines a touch screen, an overhead projector, and a 3D scanner. Why? An important function is missing.’

Where is Autonomy Idol? It’s a multi billion dollar technology wonder. A “Powered by Idol” would be a nice marketing touch.

Shortly after the acquisition, I heard that HP wanted to embed Autonomy Idol in a range of devices. Well, after three years, why isn’t Idol included in Sprout?

I can envision the late night TV ad now. I want to see a touch screen, overhead projector, and 3D scanner promoted as the next American Idol.

Stephen E Arnold, October 22, 2014

LucidWorks and Its Clueless Graphic

October 21, 2014

I noted a link to a LucidWorks presentation in a tweet. I navigated to the presentation on Slideshare. The approach in the presentation was trendy. My approach to presentations is untrendy, so I am no judge.

I found one slide particularly suggestive of the company’s approach to marketing. On slide 20 I saw this:

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I am not exactly certain what vowel the asterisk represents. The slides strikes me as possibly offensive. But I live in rural Kentucky. What do I know? I assume the message is clear.

Perhaps this type of marketing messaging is one of the reasons ElasticSearch appears to have more momentum in the commercialized open source search sector?

Here’s a representative ElasticSearch slide from “A Gentle Introduction to ElasticSearch.”

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Which company’s presentation resonates with you? Cluelessness or clues?

Stephen E Arnold, October 22, 2014

Xanalys: Sidelight on the Name Watson

October 21, 2014

I read a thought provoking post on the Xanalys blog. The write up is “Watson a Name?

The article states:

long before IBM began using the name Watson for its artificially intelligent computer system – the system designed to play the TV game show Jeopardy – the name was used by Xanalys for its industry leading investigation management software.

The write up continues:

Xanalys’ Watson™ software was born out of Cambridge, England technology company Harlequin in the late 1980s. The programs in the Watson suite include Elementary Watson, Watson Mapping, Watson Pro, Watson PowerCase and Watson CaseCall. The foundation of the suite, though, was always Watson. Watson, a name still trademarked by Xanalys, is a powerful visual analysis tool for operational intelligence that enables investigators to rapidly import, track and then interpret data from a wide range of sources. Watson provides a powerful querying facility to support the effective analysis of that data that can actually identify links between contacts and reveal associations among activities that are not immediately apparent to an investigator or analyst.

Xanalys does not seem overly troubled by this “coincidence.” My thought is that IBM may have been somewhat casual in its branding of its search system. Another possibility is that IBM was just doing what large companies do.

For more information about Xanalys, navigate to www.xanalys.com.

Stephen E Arnold, October 21, 2014

Gartner and Enterprise Video Content Management

October 19, 2014

I read “Panopto Recognized as a “Leader” in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Video Content Management.” I learned that Panopto is a “leader” in the mid tier consulting firm’s league table of enterprise video content management vendors.

According to the write up,

In use at Fortune 500 companies and leading academic institutions worldwide, Panopto is the only video platform that provides organizations with an integrated, off-the-shelf solution for video recording, live streaming, video management, and inside-video search. Within the enterprise, Panopto is being used to improve sales enablement, streamline employee onboarding, scale corporate training, and simplify the delivery of executive communications.  Within universities, Panopto is the fastest-growing solution for flipping the classroom, capturing lectures, and streaming campus events.

For many years, I have pointed out that locating information in a large collection of videos remains a dicey proposition. Years ago I explored Exalead’s video search system. It worked, but it imposed hefty computational burdens on system resources. Perhaps that has changed under Dassault’s stewardship? I wonder if the Exalead system could be used to manage an organization’s video? I don’t know, and the company does not appear in the Gartner version of the Boston Consulting Group’s matrix.

Another possible omission is Autonomy’s line up of video management and findability tools. I recall seeing a demonstration of a system with the “powered by IDOL” label. Has Autonomy withdrawn from the field of video play?

In our ongoing investigation of Google technology, we learned that it is easy to use YouTube as a convenient, low cost video management system. But no Google in the BCG inspired matrix.

I don’t know too much about video management, but when I scanned the graphic available from this link, I noticed these companies’ absence?

The inclusion of some products/companies with which I was not familiar was interesting; for example, Perceptive Software (part of Lexmark and owner of ISYS test search). The separate entries and Kulu Valley and Qumu struck me as an anomaly. Qumu, I believe, owns Kulu. Does 1 + 1 = a super leader or is this an oversight or just a failure to update?

Congratulations to Panopto. But in the back of my mind there is a reason why some consultancies lag behind McKinsey, BCG, and the pre-break up Booz, Allen & Hamilton. Mentioning “mid tier” reminds me of IDC’s sale of my content on Amazon without my permission under the “expert” Dave Schubmehl’s name.

Stephen E Arnold, October 18, 2014

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