EventsStartups

What Culture Will Artificial Intelligence ‘Belong’ To?

AI and Ethics: possibly one of the most important debates of our time, and it gets boiled down to a bizarre GCSE-like math problem.

The test goes:

“There are three cars speeding along…

In the Renault is a young single mother, with two jobs and her rent is paid.

In the Chrysler is an aging judge, a philanthropist and a pillar in the community.

In the Ford is a convicted criminal: a real bad egg.

The cars are on course to crash and one individual will perish.

If you, me or AI had to decide, who would meet their maker?”

This is the introduction to a panel discussion on the Ethics of AI. The crowd are asked to stand in an area labeled with the car manufacturer. As an participant observer, I’m in the Ford corner, along with, I’d guess, the 50% majority. The Judge and Mother share roughly equal pickings.

So who was “right”.

No one knows. The moderator didn’t continue the experiment. We were shuffled back to our seats, slightly deflated. That was it.

I sat there thinking, “It’s weird that we have such conflicting opinions, even though we’re all part of the same cultural clique: young(ish), London-based, tech enthusiasts”.

Although no “correct” answer was hypothesized by the moderator, Peter Hotchkiss (UX/UI Manager at Clarksons), it opened a critical vortex in the Ethics of AI discussion. If we can’t agree on the facile death of a fictional criminal over a fictional mother — and we are cut from the same cultural cloth — how is AI going to make decisions, globally?

Indeed, what cultural values system will AI be born into?

Impossible Quandary?

“My worldview and values base are very different to my grandmothers”, she said.

Stix calls for a global values system to be created to feed into the development of AI. This shouldn’t be a rigid a doctrine such as the UN Human Right Declaration because anything set-in-stone does not have the ability to change (easily).

Rather, Stix argues, “we have to give an algorithm the tools to reason when it faces an ethical dilemma.”

That way, the value systems is in a constant state of flux, much like our own.

Algorithms As Decision Makers

“Algorithms will make more and more decisions about: legally, educationally and in terms of employment”, stated Head of Privacy & Data Protection Practice at Gemsery, panelist Ivana Bartoletti.

Fellow panelist, Seyi Akiwowo, founder of Glitch!, a UK not-for-profit for online abuse, concurs. She speaks about how young black women’s car insurance in Newham is going up, because crime rate in the district is on the rise. The women are being legally judged, and financially implicated, on their postcode.

So how can we prevent this level of bias?

Bartoletti believes algorithms’ development should be made public so researchers can scrutinize tech companies and hopefully guide safer, more holistic AI development. French president, Emmanuel Macron is leading the way.

In March 2018, Marcon “guaranteed that all AI algorithms that his government creates will be open to scrutiny to mitigate the threat to democracy”. I wonder where the UK, Russia, and USA are on that front?

Global Problem Needs A Global Solution

The ‘problem’ [with this debate] is that we are in London.

Well not just London, any wealthy metropolis where these debates happen — and AI algorithms are being developed — cannot be representative of the whole the world, and that is the critical issue at hand.

The pragmatic solution is to make AI a truly global project and debate.

That means, we need AI developers in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific and everywhere else. And the best developers from these regions shouldn’t have to ply their trade in Western tech ecosystems for job security and better wages, but in the their own local ecosystems that are also thriving.

The logical way an ethical AI can begin to develop is if there is a focused nurturance of startup ecosystems in emerging countries the world over. Then, smaller nations will be able to enter the AI expansion project. And — crucially — feed their local, culturally-specific values into the global AI system.

Of course, even then there will still be cultural discrepancies. In London we couldn’t even agree what hypothetical stereotype to perish in their car! However, the evolution of developing world startup ecosystems could democratize Western tech hegemony, and help create an AI for all.

Either that, or we start giving ethics lessons to Harvard grads!

EventsStartups

Can FinTech Reverse 500 Years Of Colonialism?

THREE out of the five pitchers at FinTech — Silicon Roundabout Meetup at Google’s London Campus were startups for social good, with a specific focus on developing countries.

It goes without saying that the the financial industry has not necessarily been aligned with movements for social good, especially not internationally.

But isn’t that what the startup game is all about? Disrupting the status quo? Breaking from tradition? Reversing 500 years of colonialism and finally delivering products and services that support local people at a grassroots level?!

Hmmmm. We shall see….

Zingr

First up is Zingr. CEO, Giselle Frederick, is Grenadian-born and makes a compelling case as to why her digital wallet could propel a financially-flailing region above water.

Currently, Frederick explained, the problems in the Caribbean are bank-led and unforgiving to local people. Not only does a standard US dollar remittance cheque take 4–6 weeks to clear, but 20% remittance tax is also whacked on top! Zingr, on the other hand, will offer real-time payments and is free to use for peer-to-peer transactions.

And in a region where 65% of adults are unbanked and 70% of transactions are strictly cash, the majority of people simply have no way of building a credit profile: which in turn affects house ownership, insurance and job opportunities. Zingr’s blockchain value proposition means, however, that all transactions on the app are tracked and many Caribbeans, for the first time, will automatically build a credit profile.

Moreover, she continued, Caribbean governments need this tech implemented. After all, it will make their countries look less corrupt to the outside world!

Zingr is pre-MVP and they are looking for £1 million in seed investment.

Mautinoa Technologies

Mautinoa Technologies may have a very serious job on their hands. Nevertheless, CEO, Emerson Tan takes a very animated approach to introducing digital payments methods in places liable to disaster, and his pitch is like a standup routine!

However, with thirteen years experience in disaster management, paired with 22 years in information security, Tan is acutely aware that when disaster strikes and infrastructure is smashed, existing digital payment platforms fail. And the people in most need cannot access money. Conventional banks, and, even blockchain, are internet or, at least, mobile reliant.

Mautinoa’s solution is a “fragment of history”: a smart card like no other. It’s integrated hybrid platform can deliver cryptographically secure payments while operating offline. “We’re resilient!” Tan exclaims, “We can survive for weeks when the internet is down!”

Excitingly, this is a piece of tech that works; not just a whitepaper. They have raised £2.3 million already and they are looking to raise a further £1.6 to go global. The product is already rolling out in earthquake-prone East Timor, where the first pilot has provided 10,000 cards. They plan to hit the whole population of 1.8 million in the next ten months, and Puerto Rico is next.

Market Without Borders

By time the time founder, Maxx Ginnane, came to pitch, the fact that current financial services are ineffectual to many people in the developing world was well established.

So, what other pathways to financial inclusion are needed?

The answer: the world’s first peer-to-peer online marketplace for the financially excluded, that allows the unbanked to sell their products to the international community.

Starting out of Africa, and Kenya more specifically, Ginnane revealed that there are 400 million people working in artisanal industries that have no way of bringing their talent to the market. By bringing together blockchain and traditional payments systems (as opposed to using crypto) Market Without Borders deliver payments straight to local kiosks. Their product is unusually bilateral: for not only does it provide a foothold in the digital marketplace by offering supply chain financing to sellers, but it unleashes the amazing African design tradition to buyers around the world.

Market Without Borders’ MVP is two weeks away from launch and they are finalizing their patents now. Ginnane is open to a co-founder, and with 3,000 global buyers waiting for African artisanal designs, they are almost to ready to go!

FinTech’s Positive Future

Of course, FinTech cannot reverse 500 years of colonialism.

That said, all three pitchers reminded us that there are over two billion people who are either unbanked or underserved by current financial processes. These three startups, therefore, could be on course to have a profound effect on how the ordinary people in emerging economies access their funds, build credit profiles and excel in the marketplace.

Two weeks ago I reviewed the Future FinTech Unicorns and the standouts of those eleven UK based startups — Bigcrowd.netCap:RatioTrezeo and LOQBOX — are also FinTech superstars not only looking to disrupt the status quo, but add value to subaltern populations, globally.

I’d say that today’s three plus the above four is almost a trend. And FinTech could be in very serious danger of getting a positive reputation!

EventsStartups

Future Fin-Tech Unicorns: England’s Next Best 11

As part of London Fin-Tech Week, the outstanding Future Fin-Tech Unicornsevent presented flash pitches of eleven fin-tech startups who have a genuine hope of hitting that $1 billion mark in the near future.

It’s unclear whether inviting eleven pitchers was a direct reaction to the news that amongst the USA’s glut of startup unicorns, eleven are in the fin-tech space. The Future Fin-Tech Unicorns were, however, up against a world cup semi final, but these eminent entrepreneurs easily outplayed France and Belgium’s combined eleven.

Thank Gareth they didn’t organise it for Wednesday, eh?

In no particular order then, here’s a rundown of the Future Fin-tech Unicorns pitches and who to keep an on eye in the next few months and years.

BIGCrowd.net

BIGCrowd.net could be one of the most compelling social enterprises in years. Founder, Steve Podmore wants to identify the Big Impact Game-Changers — or “BIG” businesses who are looking to reduce poverty, fight climate change and generally make the world a better place. BIGCrowd.net is a crowdfunding platform who are launching subscriptions in August or September which will include tokens in advance of their ICO scheduled for eighteen months time.

Cap:Ratio

At a time when rising wealth inequality risks leaving UK youth behind, Cap:Ratio is a wealth management automated advisor for the undeserved: Black Minority Ethnic Groups and people who earn under £30,000 a year. Going into their second year and closing their seed round, they have 1100+ subscribers already. CEO and Cofounder, Gibran Registe-Charles was named an “innovative force in business” by GQ Magazine.

Trezeo

We all use Uber, right? And it’s pretty well known that Uber uses it’s drivers. As self-employed drivers there is no safeguard for slow-days, sick days or holidays. Trezeo offers financial support to these people. And with five million self-employed people in the UK, Head of Marketing, Alysia Wanczyk has a big job on her hands.

LOQBOX

LOQBOX is a new platform for those who are financially excluded due to a poor credit history. By signing up for free, anyone can save £20-£500 a month on the platform, grow their credit rating, and then get all their money back at the end. Head of Growth, Ally Fekaiki said, “Your credit rating can have a huge impact on your life. The current solutions just weren’t good enough. We built LOQBOX to allow people to break the cycle.”

Photocert

In the age of photoshop and fake news, Photocert are fighting back with a software solution that guarantees the authenticity of photos. This is big news for the insurtech industry as it allows for real-time automated claim reporting. Rather than waiting by the side of the road for the loss adjuster to tell you your car has been bumped!

GLINT

For anyone disenfranchised with the global banking system — and let’s face it, who isn’t since the crash of 2008 — GLINT is seriously exciting. Via their app users can buy gold and then pay for goods and services using the GLINT Mastercard, thereby employing a form of capital that does not suffer the same depreciation as traditional currency. Cofounder and CEO, Jason Cozens said “The policies of central banks erode our money. But gold can’t be corrupted.”

VEBLEN

Daniel Vu, CEO of Veblen, almost stole the show with the most dramatic of pitches. At 14 seconds long he kept it to-the-point: “We evaluate startups and their ICOs. And we are good at it! [Mic-Drop!].”

KiteEgde

KiteEgde is building the 2.0 of search engines, specifically designed for the Asset Management Industry. Why? “Because,” said CEO James Flavin, “search engines haven’t changed much since the late 90’s. And Asset Management is about to explode.” The late stage startup SAAS platform’s key asset is its ability to use Cognitive Ontology to interact with the end-user.

Coriunder

Eliad Saporta, Managing Director of Coriunder, explained how their Backend-As-A-Service system helps PSP and fin-tech companies launch faster. The Coriunder platform handles the boring stuff — the on-boarding, billing and compliance — so the startup can focus on what makes their offer special.

Coinypay

We all shelve our online shopping basket now and again. It’s not necessarily out of lack of purchasing power, probably more that something else literally popped up. Coinypay’s friendly chatbot could solve the millions of revenue lost by merchants and PSP from “checkout abandonment”. Their white-labelled ‘bot uses subtle messaging to convert indecisive window shopping into sales. Finally, a chatbot with a purpose!

Reputation Transfer

Their pitch was rather “discreet”. On their website they describe themselves as “an insurtech startup that unlocks new sources of rich user data hidden in the sharing economy’s walled gardens.” They’ve also won a bunch of awards.

Voila! That’s the Future Fin-Tech Unicorns. Or England’s Next Best Eleven. It’s especially great to see so many startups with a social inclusion message and supporting the underserved in society. More of that, please.

Final thanks to We Are Fin-Tech for hosting an exceptionally good event. More of them, too, please!

InterviewsStartupsTrendsUX

How To Grow Your Digital Agency Without Hiring Anyone

Ten years ago the tech industry was aggressive. Everyone wanted to own everything. If your company was involved in a project, that was it: it was your project. Your client, your pitch, your tech, your invoice, your fee.
Now, we are slowly starting to see that change.
For starters, tech has got so big. Not many agencies can truthfully say they can excel at everything. Yes, they can deliver exceptional website design, but can they build complex backend functionality? If one organisation’s tour-du-force is UX design, can their development skills really be that good too?
The smart agencies realise this. They know it’s better to really focus on their core offering. And then look for collaborating partners.
Or wait until they find you…

Meeting Of Minds
In 2017 a new London-based foodie startup wins seed capital. For their UX design they engaged locally renowned Profound. The startup’s CEO also recruits Calcey Technologies from Colombo, Sri Lanka, who have a great reputation for building platforms for Silicon Valley startups. He invites the South Asian techies over to the Profound’s Basingstoke office for a month of workshops.
Ten years ago this kind of organised chaos was unheard of.
But that’s when the magic happened.
“What surprised us most was how in sync we all were”, Matt Quinn, CTO of Profound, told me over a lunchtime lemonade during last week’s heatwave.
“Asela [Calcey’s Director of Product Engineering] was challenging the same assumptions that I was. I could see that the guys from Sri Lanka thought exactly same as I did!”
Clearly, being a tech enthusiast has a distinctly homogenising effect on the brain.

Calcey’s team with a client at Profound’s office in Basingstoke, UK. Photo credits: Matt Quinn (CTO, Profound)

The Breadth Of Tech
Profound are a specialised niche consultancy; the merging of one creative agency and another tech consultancy. Founding Director, Tim McMillen, has pedigree in the early 2000’s enterprise omni channel e-commerce revolution. To this day, Profound’s sweet-spot is Enterprise website design and build for international retailers and manufacturers.
Similar to many other agencies, they have a core proposition that demands deep focus: UX design and CMS implementation.
Increasingly, however, the breath of technologies required by their clients is proliferating so fast that to routinely diversify into new tech—then hire (and probably fire)—is costly, and too high risk.
It could derail their core proposition.

Working In Tandem
So when a client asked at the beginning of the year for a creative UX refresh on their website, plus the development of a mobile app, Profound thought let’s ask our pals in Sri Lanka to manage the tricky conversion to mobile .
“What impressed us most was their relentless pursuit of MVP’s (minimal viable product),” Quinn said about Calcey’s sprint performance philosophy.
“Their approach is to build the leanest product possible—day on day, week on week—so there is always something to continuously test in it’s real world context. It means the speed of progress is non-stop.”
“Another key driver for us was Calcey’s experience with React Native [app building software]. Calcey have quality developers building cross-platform mobile apps [on IOS and Android] with one code base. That allowed us to accelerate delivery, so the app was demo-stable before the client’s major international conference in June”.

Collaboration: Rebranded
Being an agency offering bespoke tech solutions, Profound were, like most out there, profoundly anti-outsourcing. After all, doesn’t it undermine your client needs, and devalue your own workforce? “Outsourcing” is like a swear word to many.
In our modern tech bubble, however, this somewhat outdated word needs a rebrand. Who works in an agency that can genuinely say they are experts across the technical-mix? Furthermore, who wants to give their clients less than anything other than the sharpest service possible?
So, as of today, let’s rebrand small-scale outsourcing.
How about “collaborating”?
Collaborating is when their is meeting of minds. And when two external parties, be it individuals or organisations, work in tandem.
Let’s keep collaborating.
It’s so much nicer.

EventsStartups

ICO’s: Let’s Cut The BS

A panel discussion on Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) in June 2018, hosted by Rise London, featured some of the leading players in this exciting, new game.

This article presents the unique perspectives from the panel, Omaid Hiwaizi, consultant Blockchain Startup and ICO Marketing Strategy Advisor, Aldin Ademović, CCO at The Pillar Project, and Obediah Ayton, Private Investment Manager at Chainstarter. The objective is to cut all the BS that has been published elsewhere on ICO’s, and bring you news straight from the people who know what they are talking about.

A Quick Crash Course In ICO’s

Traditionally, it is hard for startups to make money. Even if they have a robust product or concept, they can be bad at selling themselves to investors. Furthermore, traditional venture capitalists can be mean. It’s in their interest to demand a lot back from the startup; namely, influence in shaping the product and shares in the company.

ICO’s have their foundations in crowdfunding, whereby organisations in their infancy raise capital by offering the promise of actual products or services to “the crowd” (ie. the world) in the future; but unlike, Venture Capital, not a share in the business.

ICO’s difference to crowdfunding comes from the return offering. Rather than actual products or services, the early-stage company sells newly created “crypto-tokens” in exchange for more established cryptocurrencies such as Ether (ETC) and, but to a lesser extent, Bitcoin (BTC).

In many people’s minds, ICO’s hold the potential to revolutionize the way people do business, especially for enterprising block-chain startups. However, the “bet” that buyers of ICO tokens or traditional equity make on a startup product or platform isn’t all that different. Both need the startup to gain traction and at least show promise of delivering growth, to see their investments rise in value.

What Was So Wild About ICO’s In 2017?

The whole essence of blockchain, and in turn, ICO’s, is democracy.

By not giving up influence in the business direction or its shares, ICO’s democratise who can raise money for their startup or idea.

The problem in 2017 was that this democratic process was unregulated and the revolutionary concept of ICO’s — that anyone can come and raise money for their idea — gave birth to mercenaries essentially releasing tokens without any tangible idea, concept or business plan. They were effectively printing their own dollar bills.

For fear of missing out on the spiraling boom, people invested their established crypto-currencies in phoney startups. Much like the Wild West, some people made a lot of money, whilst, others lost a lot.

The “Wild West”. Photo by Chris Murray on Unsplash

What Changed In 2018?

Regulation has come in.

Whilst the regulations differ across the world, to launch an ICO in the UK and EU requires a prospectus: essentially a “deck”. So, now you can only raise up to €5 million through an ICO, before a business plan that takes approximately six months and €200,000 to produce is needed.

ICO’s, therefore, have changed. Now a startup needs to package their ICO more traditionally, using strong professional advisors to produce high quality documentation. A big chunk of capital is also essential.

What Are The Positives And Negatives Of Regulation?

Clearly, the negative is that the very essence of ICO — the democratization of who can raise money — has been lost (to an extent), because only startups with an initial access to funding can afford the lawyers and documentation required to produce the deck.

That said, regulation is a compliment to the growth potential of ICO’s, and it is only a positive step to burst the bubble of 2017. The message now is to embrace regulation.

Therefore, startups should not rush their ICO, but instead wrap their sale in governance. Soon the system will be cleaned of last year’s bad ICO’s, and the bad press will be drowned out too. In 2018 there has been far fewer ICO’s to 2017, but much more money has been raised this year: approximately $10 billion already to last year’s $6 billion.

The Future Of ICO’s

The language of tokens will probably disappear. “Token” was only initially used because it has been tried and tested, but now, with the new, very centralised, regulation, reverting to a more traditional equity-language, will encourage the likes of JP Morgan and Barclays to enter the fray.

ICO’s don’t have a future in China and South Korea: they have been banned. But there are a number of offshore jurisdictions popping up — Bermuda, Cayman, Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Cyprus — that are offering cheaper, leaner frameworks.

At present, it is unclear how these unregulated ICO economies will affect the global market, but an ironic twist feels imminent…

Won’t dodging established economies (EU, Japan and USA) for cheaper pickings offshore, smack of the same age-old problems of traditional equity deals and dollars?