How to succeed as an AI and blockchain startup

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If you haven’t met Sia, perhaps you should get to know her.

Sia is a digital AI assistant who helps make sense of the deluge of unstructured data. My company, Opentopic, a 25-employee startup, developed Sia for people who work in the financial services industry.

Powered by IBM Watson and blockchain, purple-haired Sia won’t tell anyone what to do or predict the future. But she can unlock insights from the overwhelming volume of public and private data that comes at people every second of their professional lives. This helps them come up with fresh ideas for meeting customer needs as they talk on the phone with them.

Here’s how Sia came about. We didn’t set out to develop an AI and blockchain technology solution. Corny as it sounds, we came across a problem and tried to solve it.

Addressing the data deluge

As we worked with potential clients, we noticed their struggles with the speed and complexity of data, including unstructured text, images, email, social media, news feeds, video, audio, expert sources and data from CRP and ERP systems. This problem created two technical challenges.

The first was the pace of technology. Standard technologies and usual ways of working weren’t fast enough. Only AI, we realized, has the speed and intelligence to understand the different data types, classify them, put them into a taxonomy, and ultimately extract value at the speed of business.

Another speed issue involved the many microtransactions our solution would generate. Putting conventional payment processes between data providers and users would be too slow. The answer was blockchain’s peer-to-peer ledger technology. Using blockchain’s smart contracts, Sia can automatically settle transactions through tokenized micropayments

The second challenge concerned democratizing the solution. Most banks have a small team of in-house experts or consultants working on AI projects. But unless you give AI to all customer-facing employees across the global enterprise, it won’t move your business. That’s why we deliver Sia to everyone’s desktop from the cloud.

Counting on Watson APIs

In all this, we rely heavily on our partnership with IBM.

Basing our solution on AI led us to become an IBM Watson partner. No other company offers the breadth and depth of cognitive APIs, which we use for personality extraction, entity extraction and concept extraction on data that goes into the AI engine. Such contextualized data helps Sia generate insights useful to financial services employees.

We also take advantage of the IBM Cloud, a transformative technology that makes integration and development easy. Built-in Watson code modules helped our developers create rapid prototypes. And IBM Blockchain’s expertise assisted us in developing the blockchain exchange.

As important as advanced technologies are to Sia, what’s more important to Opentopic, and any startup, is delivering a reliable, accurate and usable solution that meets customer expectations day by day. If we can do that, we’ll succeed by making users’ lives easier and helping them grow their business.


Watch André König discuss how AI and blockchain can unlock the value of data.

Co-Founder, Opentopic

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