In today’s landscape, the AI space is one of the fastest growing sectors in technology. And there’s no shortage of companies searching for the best solution to solve problems using artificial intelligence and machine learning. Despite their best intentions, many young people remain skeptical of AI and how it might affect them in terms of automation and job loss.
One company that strongly believes AI can be developed to do good and make a positive change in the world is California-based startup Halfcode. They’re quickly working toward becoming a disruptive player in the A.I. industry while steadfast in their motto of “AI For Good.”
We caught up with its 17-year-old founder and chief executive Richard Black shortly after the company announced its seed funding round to find out what being a social entrepreneur means to him and what his plans for the future are.
Can you tell me about what Halfcode does?
Halfcode develops artificial intelligence and wearable smart technology designed to assist people in need. We have a number of products in development and the way we choose our products is by identifying a problem that we feel could be solved using a solution that incorporates artificial intelligence. Then we build a prototype and bring it to market. One of our initial product launches is Halfcode smart glasses designed to assist people with visual and hearing disabilities. Our smart glasses combine live streaming HD video capabilities, bone conduction technology, and a noise-canceling microphone to interact with our cloud artificial intelligence platform that we affectionately refer to Hal for short, a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It boasts natural language processing and advanced speech recognition to achieve contextual understanding. And while AI can be spectacularly smart, there are times when human understanding is needed to bridge the gaps in areas where AI is not sufficient. In those cases, we have live assist operators to interact with users for complex tasks that require a human understanding.
What direction do you see the artificial intelligence industry moving?
There’s been so much hype around artificial intelligence in the last few years and it’s finally starting to catch up with that hype. Most businesses are realizing that the key to implementing AI is through some combination of artificial intelligence and human understanding. I think we’re at a really exciting time right now with a lot of key innovations in AI, but at the same time, we still have a long way to go. Innovation is one of our big drivers at Halfcode, and we’re always looking to push the envelope to become a disruptive player in artificial intelligence.
Where did the name Halfcode come from?
I decided on the name Halfcode because AI is sometimes referred to as ‘almost intelligent’ because in many instances artificial intelligence is fantastically smart, but in other instances, it can be head-scathingly dumb. So to really get the full potential of artificial intelligence and machine learning, it requires an element of human understanding and so Halfcode is really referring to how artificial intelligence is only half of the solution. With the other half being human understanding. Well, we would love to have AI be able to do many of the functions of the human mind. We’re still a long way from that point. That’s why you find a lot of the artificial intelligence applications most commonly found in more menial tasks that don’t require the more nuanced understanding that the human brain is capable of.
What prompted a teenager to create a startup tech company?
I recall reading an article for my AP Macroeconomics class. It was a Wall Street Journal article about how young entrepreneurs are becoming an endangered species. I think they said that between 1990 and 2017 the number of young people running companies had fallen from 10% to 4% but small businesses are responsible for about half of the workforce in the US so the implications are obvious with my generation and millennials shying away from entrepreneurship. Ever since I was young, my parents always encouraged me to take lots of measured risks. So I’ve never been afraid to swim upstream when everybody else is swimming downstream. I think when something is out of favor, that’s usually when there’s the most opportunity. Plus I’ve grown up in a family of entrepreneurs, and technology and robotics is something that I’ve been exposed to for as long as I can remember. So starting an AI company just seemed like a natural, organic evolution for me.
You’re about to graduate high school. Do you have any college plans?
Education is definitely important to me and I’ve always had a curious mind and a real love for learning. So I know I’d like to go to a college where I can grow as both an entrepreneur and as a person.
Of course, you know, some of the greatest tech minds have dropped out of elite universities like Harvard or Stanford. Do you plan on following their footsteps?
Ha! I think my parents would kill me if I dropped out of college! I definitely plan to complete my degree. I’ve been running an exciting tech startup for most of my high school experience and I found that I thrive in the environment of all of the hustle and bustle. So I don’t think I’ll have a problem continuing that in college. Plus I’ve always found subjects like math and science come pretty natural for me. So I think I’ll be able to handle most anything that I see in college while still finding the time to grow my company.
What’s your biggest dream in life right now?
I’m already doing what I love most – building a company while being passionate about our social mission. I think the challenge in the future is when we take on more investors, it’s important that we maintain our vision of building a company that’s profitable while doing good in the world. Because I believe that businesses, especially technology companies, have a responsibility to consider the impact of their products and actions. I know for me personally, the social mission is what drives me and no matter what I will be doing in the future, I’ll always be a social entrepreneur.