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Big Ideas: “An AI that proactively engages with lonely people” with Dor Skuler

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dor Skuler. A serial entrepreneur, Dor has co-founded five ventures, the most recent being Intuition Robotics, following his passion to develop artificial intelligence-driven robotics that address major social issues of […]

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dor Skuler. A serial entrepreneur, Dor has co-founded five ventures, the most recent being Intuition Robotics, following his passion to develop artificial intelligence-driven robotics that address major social issues of the 21st century. Having trained in Israel’s elite military intelligence unit 8200, Dor made a mark on interactive broadcast technology with Zing Interactive Media (acquired by Invesco, NASDAQ: IVZ) and security software through Safend (acquired by Wave Systems Corp, NASDAQ: WAVX). Dor then joined Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) to create and lead innovative ventures, most notably as Founder and GM of Cloudband, the world’s first platform for Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), cited by Nokia as a major motive to purchasing the French-American telecoms giant. As Senior Vice President at Alcatel-Lucent, Dor was a regular speaker on the telecoms circuit, frequently cited in the media and made the Global Telecom Business ’40 under 40’ list in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Dor also served as Vice President of Strategy and Global Head of Corporate Development for Alcatel-Lucent in its corporate headquarters in Paris. Dor holds an MBA and Master’s of Science in Marketing from Temple University, has co-authored ‘Cloud Computing: Business Trends and Technologies’ published by Wiley in 2016 and holds board level advisory and director roles for several telecoms, cybersecurity and tech-led social impact ventures.


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

I started in the Intelligence Corps in the Israel Defense Force Unit 8200 before creating my first company, Zing Interactive Media, a venture-backed startup company in the field of mobile interactive media and NLP. Afterward, I served as Vice-President of Business Development and Marketing at Safend, an endpoint security company. Then, I moved on to Bell Labs in Alcatel-Lucent where I built and ran businesses and was General Manager of Mobile Security in the company’s Enterprise Business Division. I then moved to a corporate role as VP Strategy and Corporate Development and founded a large scale internal startup as SVP, General Manager of CloudBand Business Unit, credited for one of the key factors for the acquisition by Nokia.

I left Alcatel-Lucent with the goal of creating a startup with high social impact. Throughout my career, I enjoyed switching domains to brand new challenges that I’m not an expert but are on the cusp of the latest technologies. Focusing on longevity was an important place to try and add value. My co-founders and I became passionate on helping older adults keep active and engaged, and avoid loneliness and social isolation — an epidemic in modern society — through a venture that’s focused on celebrating aging rather than focusing on disabilities.

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

There’s nothing more humbling than moving to a new domain you know little about, especially after being an executive at a large company. I don’t know if it’s funny, but we’ve received 82 noes from investors before we secured funding. It’s not what we expected given the size of the problem and the track record of the team. However, each no made us more resolved to sharpen our pencil and fine tune our offering and story.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

The product we set out to create, ElliQ, is meant to solve a major problem we have in our society. Did you know that some people over 70 only interact with one person per week? Many older adults are dealing with loneliness and depression, and while I would love to say that people are stepping up and engaging more, it simply isn’t happening. We simply asked ourselves — is there a way technology can help? ElliQ is the answer — a tabletop device that proactively engages with people, getting them connected on social media, reminding them of their daily tasks, encouraging them to learn and stay physically active.

During the process of developing ElliQ, we encountered an even bigger potential for this technology: if technology can use sensors to understand its environment, and be programmed to learn in order to make more personalized proactive actions, we could completely change the way humans interact with machines. Imagine if instead of having to ask your technology to perform a task, it simply understood what you were trying to accomplish and proactively helped? Every area in which technology can support our lives will become exponentially more personal, and more effective — the possibilities are truly endless.

How do you think this will change the world?

Right now, any tech products in our lives are built based on a reactive model of interaction. You prompt, in whatever way, that it needs to do something, and it may or may not respond the way you want it to. This has several drawbacks. For one, we need to learn how to use every piece of technology that comes into our lives! This is difficult for older adults, but also, as technology becomes more advanced, this may become more difficult for everyone. Second, it takes time and energy on our part, and may not even produce the result we want.

What we have created is a platform that any company can use, which transforms any machine capable of interaction into a ‘companion device’ — a device capable of learning its user’s preferences in order to proactively make decisions to support him or her. Your devices will know what you want and need, and understand the different factors in its environment, in order to help you accomplish your goals. This will make our lives simpler and more enjoyable, but also provide huge benefits to older adults and people with disabilities.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

People can be intimidated by this idea of proactivity — will it be annoying, how will it know what I need, is that a breach of my privacy? Of course, all of these factors have been considered in the design; the user determines how much or little the product interacts with them, and in what ways. The user also sets their goals as to what they want to accomplish, so their devices are working within the user’s preferences while being a “learning” system. That said, the way technology is used is up to its maker — so it’s on every technologist and company to decide that the user’s safety is their top priority.

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

When we first set out to develop ElliQ, the idea of the final experience was clear…how we were going to create that was much more complex. We had to understand the nuances of the user’s environment, we had to understand the user themselves and their personal preferences, we had to find ways for the product to learn the user’s goals and continue to refine its approach to achieving them — and most importantly, we had to assess all of the different ways ElliQ could create these interactions, which are quite endless. It was during this development process, when we saw the incredible potential of multi-modal design, that we realized this could apply to any device, and we began to develop our unique AI platform.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

The potential impact of this technology is clear; in the same way a product can use other mainstream AI platforms to operate, companies can use our Platform Q to create proactive AI-powered interactions. What we really need are the right partners to bring this to life. With our first customer, Toyota Research Institute — we are looking at ways in which proactive interactions could recreate the entire in-car experience. Imagine if your car understood your mood, your calendar, daily routines, knew who was in the car, and could create moments of magic to make your day better and easier. Once more and more partners start to think this way — how can our product proactively help make our users’ lives better — it is only a matter of time before people start expecting these types of experiences.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

The future of work is unclear; we really don’t know how things will play out and which jobs are “guaranteed.” That said, understanding how you can utilize technology in order to enhance your current job is one way to proactively keep your role safe, or to be a leader in moving your field into the future.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

You’re looking at it! We’ve been fortunate to have others see the potential of our vision and invest to bring it to life. At the end of the day, I just want to make people’s lives better, and I believe this is the way to do it.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

My guiding principle is simple — is what I am doing helping people? Having integrity and staying true to this value is not contradictory to having a successful career. I think you can be a good person and also do amazing things on a global scale. Being honest, being authentic, and putting 100% of myself into my work has led to amazing results, for myself and for the people whose lives are impacted by my work.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

On one hand, you should never give up. If you have a vision for how you want to change the world, don’t stop until you have found a way to bring it to life. On the other hand, be open to how it all plays out — if you learn or pivot along the way, don’t fight it. It could end up being the best thing that happens to you!

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

Think about every machine in your life. Think about the energy that goes into making that machine work. Now imagine if the device could not only know your preferences but understand enough about its environment to make contextual decisions and proactively help you accomplish your goals. We’re flipping user experience on its head, and turning every device into a personal companion.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@dorskuler ‏ on twitter

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

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