Artificial intelligence, or AI as it’s commonly known, is one of the most talked about, and exciting, areas of technological research happening today. Thanks to its use of computing algorithms and machine learning to solve complex problems, it’s changing the way we live and work – be it through the form of humorous chat bots or wonderfully helpful smart assistants.
Because the potential applications of AI are so varied, there’s a plethora of startups working with the technology in strange and innovative ways. Snips just happens to be one of them, and its aim is to make your life simpler through the addition of a personal and private AI.
Founded in 2013, Snips is an app that uses AI to organise the information stored within your phone. It remembers everything you tell it and makes the important things in your life easier to find. Wondering how it works? You simply give the technology access to data from your email, messages, calendar, contacts and location. Snips then links everything together, creating a “personal knowledge graph”, which is essentially a compilation of all your smartphone data.
In the simplest terms, everything you need to know is stored in a single app. Essentially, Snips wants to remove the need for additional apps and services, providing you with an advanced AI instead.
Now, with all that sensitive data floating around you may be concerned about your privacy, thankfully Snips takes security seriously, building its app with privacy in mind from the start. Snips’ AI runs locally on your smartphone and doesn’t send data back to an external server like Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant. As a result, no one can see your data apart from you. That’s quite a feat, considering the advanced computing powers of the cloud and the ever-growing worth of user information.
Currently Snips has raised around $6 million in capital already and the task of product development is a major focus for the firm. The team is still in the early stages and working on its AI assistant technology but Rand Hindi, co-founder and CEO of Snips, says its goal is “to make technology disappear by putting an AI in every device”.
Hindi wants the technology to benefit as many devices and users as possible, and has been working on an SDK to do just that. “We are a technology company, meaning we build technology for AI assistants that can be integrated into a number of different products via a simple SDK,” Hindi explains.
This SDK includes a “natural query engine”, enabling users to ask Siri-like queries; a “named entity recognition engine”, so that chat apps can extract content mentioned in messages, and a “location-awareness engine” letting apps understand what’s going on in a user’s life.
Hindi says the technology is unique, in that it collects as much useful data as possible from smartphone apps and content. “Our assistant builds a deep understanding of the user, by aggregating as much data as possible and linking it to create a Personal Knowledge Graph. This enables the assistant to understand deep queries.”
“We realised a few years back that the way we interact with technology simply won’t work with hundreds of billions of devices.”
As a team, Snips consists of researchers with the expertise and interest in contributing to the development of advanced AI. “My co-founders and I all come from a research background, in mathematics or computer science,” Hinidi explains to me. “Personally, I have been doing machine learning since I was 18-years-old, so it’s always something I believed could be huge. We started the company in 2013 as a research lab, and became a startup in mid-2015 when we raised [$US6.3m] in our first round of funding.”
The company believes that the way we currently use technology – predominately through apps and software – won’t work in the future. AI is the answer, and that’s where Snips enters the picture. “We realised a few years back that the way we interact with technology simply won’t work with hundreds of billions of devices.
“The constant interruptions, the need to learn how to use every device, the lack of personalisation. All of that compounds to a point where we might becomes slaves to our technology! What we believe is – that by putting an AI in every device, while protecting privacy – we will be able to remove the friction of using technology, eventually automating most interactions so that we, as humans, never have to handle technology ourselves.”
As I mentioned earlier, there are many players in the AI industry right now, with behemoths like Google working on their own smart solutions. Hindi, however, is certain that Snips won’t be competing with them directly. Instead, he sees Snips supporting independent, third-party causes. “We provide technologies for those who want to be independent of those platforms,” he explains. “Whether it’s an app who needs Siri-like functionalities, or an IoT who needs to understand the user context, we are able to power the AI in them.”
Things haven’t been easy for Snips, though. Hindi points out that his firm has had to scale up in a short space of time. However, he sees an increased team as a sign of growth and prosperity. “The biggest obstacle has probably been scaling up from seven people to 45 in a year. That was hard, but fortunately we have an amazing team, so it’s all good,”
While the company certainly has a mountain to climb, Hindi and his team remain confident and ambitious, and they’re aware of what they want to achieve in the foreseeable future. “Our goal is that every single device, from smartphones to cars, TVs or home appliances, contain our technology. We want those devices to disappear into the background so that we don’t have to think about them anymore.”