Alexander Hudek of Kira Systems: “Everything is ultimately your responsibility”

Kira is AI-powered contract review software that enables teams to truly know what’s in their contracts and documents. It comes with 1,000+ pre-built machine learning models for the most common contract review tasks such as due diligence, deal points tracking, commercial contract analysis, lease abstraction, ISDA schedule reviews, and more. Our customers can also build […]

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Kira is AI-powered contract review software that enables teams to truly know what’s in their contracts and documents. It comes with 1,000+ pre-built machine learning models for the most common contract review tasks such as due diligence, deal points tracking, commercial contract analysis, lease abstraction, ISDA schedule reviews, and more. Our customers can also build their own machine learning models with a capability called Quick Study.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexander Hudek, CTO and Co-Founder of Kira Systems. He leads the company’s products, technology and research departments. He holds a Ph.D and M.Math degrees in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo, and a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto in Physics and Computer Science. Alexander’s past research in the field of bioinformatics focused on finding similarities between DNA sequences. He was heavily involved with the human genome project. He has also worked in the areas of proof systems and database query compilation.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been interested in computer science. In undergrad I took courses in algorithms for planning and logic, machine learning and AI, numerical computing, and other topics. My interest in machine learning grew more specifically during my PhD at the University of Waterloo. There, I used machine learning methods to study DNA. Afterwards, I dove more deeply into formal logics as part of my postdoctoral research. Logic and reasoning is in some ways the “other side” of the coin in approaches to AI and I felt it important to know more about it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When we were building the first version of our no-code machine learning platform, Quick Study, we had it running on servers that I built myself and they were running in my father’s basement. There was one point where we were showing an early prototype of the system to a prospect from an enormous office tower in New York. Sitting there in suits, my co-founder and I were hoping against hope that the servers and internet would stay up, as my father’s internet had a habit of going down frequently. They held out, and that day ended up being hugely important to our future success. This sort of “built in a garage” thing happens in movies, but for us it was ironically real.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Kira is AI-powered contract review software that enables teams to truly know what’s in their contracts and documents. It comes with 1,000+ pre-built machine learning models for the most common contract review tasks such as due diligence, deal points tracking, commercial contract analysis, lease abstraction, ISDA schedule reviews, and more. Our customers can also build their own machine learning models with a capability called Quick Study.

In September 2020, we took Kira to the next level of contract analysis technology by launching Answers & Insights. This new capability goes beyond identifying and extracting provisions, clauses, and data points, and labels them based on the meaning behind the text. This provides decision-makers in firms and organizations with the answers to their most pressing questions. Questions like: “Is LIBOR or Eurocurrency referenced in the agreement?”, “Are there environmental indemnifications in the lease?”, or “Does the lease require the tenant to obtain business interruption insurance?” Decision-makers in firms and organizations will gain a deeper understanding of what their data means, helping them make faster, smarter decisions or recommendations for their businesses and clients.

Even better, Answers & Insights is built into our Quick Study platform, letting anyone teach the system to answer new questions without the need to know how to program or have deep machine learning knowledge. It does all this while protecting the data you use to teach the systems using the strongest privacy preservation techniques in the industry.

How do you think this might change the world?

80% of data is unstructured and even though contract analysis technology transforms the way businesses extract information from within documents, this only scratches the surface. With Answers & Insights, users can quickly answer questions across their entire set of contracts. This will allow businesses to react far more quickly than they do now, and understand all their contractual relationships in a way that is unthinkable today.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

While we were doing research on how lawyers work, we realized that if we mimic the process by which humans work to answer questions, it makes the problem more tractable. In particular, lawyers first find parts of documents that are relevant to a given question, then subsequently interpret these parts. This breakdown was key to creating practical technology that can do this automatically.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We have an in-house marketing and PR team that works together to create integrated strategies to amplify brand awareness. When Answers & Insights was launched, they focused on media outreach to promote the new capability, organized panel discussions during a well known legal conference, and also organized a product webinar that included key insights from customers who took part in our early access program.

Also, in conjunction with the launch, we published a research study on a timely topic in debtor- creditor relationships in this time of economic crisis: the use of so-called “trap doors” in negative covenants that some borrowers have used to shield assets from creditors. The research for this study entailed using Kira’s machine learning based software to analyze 156 publicly-available credit agreements, and as part of the research we applied Kira’s new Answers & Insights’ capabilities. The study was shared with customers so that they could better understand how this capability can be leveraged for specific case studies. In addition, our PR team secured coverage for the study in The Wall Street Journal.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My coach Michal Berman has completely changed how I approach management, and has been invaluable in helping me grow to be an effective leader. I wish I had sought out an executive coach sooner. I think many people underestimate how much quicker they can learn from those with experience. You can “learn on the job” but it is generally much slower, less effective, and less complete than being intentional about learning. This rings true from my academic experience as well. There is a point in learning where you realize that previously you felt confident only because you were so ignorant of the topic that you didn’t even know what you didn’t know. A coach can help fast track you to learn these “unknown unknowns.”

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Contracts govern many relationships in the public sphere, including those between governments and the people who serve them. Local and regional governments often have contracts in place with the labor unions that represent groups of employees, like police, teachers, and transportation workers. Those contracts govern many aspects of how public policy is implemented. Recent events — including the killings of Michael Brown and George Floyd — have brought increased attention to the role police union contracts have played in the longstanding issues of systemic racism, discrimination and police brutality. As a society, we really need to do better here.

To that end, we donated our technology to support Campaign Zero, a police reform platform developed with contributions from activists, protestors, and researchers. Their end goal is to provide people with the information and tools they need to end police violence. Campaign Zero has worked (with Kira’s help) to generate data transparency on over 600 police union contracts and Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights (LEOBRs). Our experience has been that data drives higher quality decisions, and we are optimistic that this data will help improve policing. Legal tech has a role to play in social justice. It empowers us with data, which can be used to inform police reform conversations and enable better policy-making.

We look forward to enabling many more people — including advocates and activists, policymakers, academics, and journalists — in this important work. Please reach out if we can help.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. There are scientifically validated management techniques. I should have learned these far earlier than I did. After reading many different success stories and articles on how to manage a startup, I had noticed that people often use their success as justification for the techniques they use being effective. However, success doesn’t mean everything you do is good. Amusingly, different successful people sometimes cite opposing techniques as being effective. By focusing on scientifically validated techniques, you can cut through the noise. I strongly recommend the book “Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager” by Latham on this topic.

2. Managing technology and creative people is no different than managing anyone else. There is a strong narrative that you need to manage “creative” people differently. There is a lot wrong with this narrative, including the very idea that there are classes of “uncreative” people. In reality, things like milestones, goals, clear roles and responsibilities are important in any work domain. People are more similar than they are different.

3. Use boring technology. Businesses do need unique differentiators, but the majority of what they do is the same. It’s tempting to innovate everywhere, but this will end up creating more technical debt and risk than necessary. Be innovative where it matters, but use boring, tried and tested technology everywhere else.

4. As a founder, everything is ultimately your responsibility. Even if you have co-founders and split the work, you can’t just absolve yourself of the things you aren’t directly responsible for. High impact companies have teams that work well together, and it has to start at the top. For example, some technology leaders feel sales isn’t their problem. It is, and in fact you yourself need to learn to sell, both externally and internally.

5. Storytelling and communication are key to having people work towards one goal. Learn this early and always practice. Simple techniques like repeating a message are unreasonably effective. If you only say something once, don’t bother saying it at all. No one will listen.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One of the biggest threats to society today is how information technology is reshaping how and what content we consume. From creating media bubbles via recommendation systems that do not reflect reality, to making false or misleading information easier to access and consume by making it free and bite sized, technology has inadvertently divided us.

I don’t have a solution right now, but if I could inspire any movement, it would be one to restore objectivity and balance to our information systems. We need to realize the original dream of bringing the world together, rather than dividing it with hate and misinformation. Our world is only “post truth” because we choose it to be, and make ignorance the easiest path.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I admit to not being good at memorizing quotes, but one that captures much of my life philosophy is the following: “There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.” — Hippocrates. Science is a way of thinking, approaching problems, and discovering knowledge, and has been my approach to everything in life. Of course I can’t create experiments for everything, but at least I know that if I haven’t demonstrated something through science, it’s just my opinion, it’s not necessarily truth.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me on Linkedin or Twitter.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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