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Entrepreneur Opening Up New AI Possibilities at the MIT Media Lab
Hajime Kuwayama is the founder and CEO of Emotion Intelligence, who led the company all the way to Series A.
He started his research at MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces as a research affiliate in January 2018. He is involved in a wide range of activities including data analysis, AI system planning and development, and is also a startup mentor and creator. We asked about the path that led him to his current career.
First, let’s talk about the events that led Hajime to start Emotion Intelligence. He says that he’s always had the mindset of an entrepreneur.
“In college, I majored in machine learning which was then called data mining, and did research on future price predictions of used products. I joined a global oil inspection technology company, but eventually started thinking to myself, “It’s been over 10 years since the development of the internet. What can be done with the great amount of data?”, and began searching for ideas with a few unique members. This is when I met my fellow members through startup co-working spaces who would eventually become my fellow colleagues as the founding members of my company.”
One day, one of the members noticed from watching Hajime shop from an EC site the “possibility of measuring buying intentions from mouse actions and change in web access patterns”. From there, they began developing ZenClerk, which utilizes data analysis from EC sites in marketing. In 2012, they started their own company.
ZenClerk’s approach is through Emotion I/O, which is a technology that interprets human emotion, to identify the “moment of persuasion” from the user’s involuntary actions and raise their buying intentions. For example, if the user is repeatedly moving his mouse on a certain page, it is assumed that he/she is interested in buying a product on it; thus, coupons like “10% off this product now” could efficiently be distributed to the users. Without damaging the brand image, one could aim to maximize profit on the EC site.
Mr. Kuwayama is drawn to the “zero to one” phase, and ZenClerk as of 2016 had grown into a company with a distribution total of 60 billion yen, with more than 700 companies as users.
However, as business becomes successful, Hajime is forced to shift from being an entrepreneur in search of “zero to one” to managing a fair-sized company to grow further. Although he learned a lot from this stage, his desire to start something new from scratch became greater and greater. In considering his next career, he stepped down as Emotion Intelligence’s CEO and decided to go overseas. Let’s talk about his overseas experiences.
“I travelled for a year and a half around Europe, America, Turkey, and countries with high expectations of further economic growth like Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania. (*ref 1) I figured that it would be best to experience and try out new things as much as possible during the period that I am not committed to a certain company or research. It was a journey to find out what I can do, what I want to do, what the world needs, and where all of those overlap.
One of the things I’m glad I did a lot of during this period was to read. I was greatly moved by George Orwell’s classic SF novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which depicts a society of monitoring management, and Huxley’s Brave New World. To figure out my future actions 10 years from now, I needed to look back on the history of the past 100 years. The shortcut to doing this was to read great works of the past. Because I had surrounded myself in a different environment, I feel that I was able to confront myself through reading these novels.”
(*1: According to reports by the World Bank, the annual economic growth rate of Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania are expected to exceed 5.4%)
Through all of these experiences, Hajime found MIT Media Lab as the most suitable next step in his career.
“Media Lab, needless to say, is a unique group specializing in the education and research of the digital technology used in expressions and communications. Media Lab had always been familiar to Hajime as he had received entrepreneurial support when starting Emotion Intelligence from Digital Garage, which was co-founded by Media Lab’s head Joichi Ito. Of the group, the Fluid interface lab offered the most advanced research using AI and VR. AI and VR are fields that offer great impact to society in the near future.”
The project that Hajime will be working on is the development of an app that uses AI to practice speaking English.
“It is an app where a friendly foreign ‘teacher‘ avatar cheers you up and gives you feedback during your English-speaking practice. It is our goal to make ‘learning fun and continuous’ by enriching the interaction between the user and avatar using AI and VR. When speaking to a real person, it tends to make people shy and afraid of making mistakes, but if the counterpart is an AI avatar, you can concentrate on practicing without worrying.
Let’s say we divide one action into input, judgement, and output. Until now, in the fields with a lot of AI utilization, there was just input and output. For example, image and speech recognition are input and the decision to ‘make a stop’ in an auto-drive would be judgement. On the other hand, the utilization of AI in output still has more room for development. I wanted to do research and development which could lead to innovation in this territory. ”
Hajime actively works as a creator outside of his projects at Media Lab. In 2017, he developed an AR app called ELPIS which won him the Hacking Arts 2017 artist award.
“ELPIS is an app for artists and fans to build a more emotionally bonding relationship. Enjoying video streams on YouTube is too passive for the fans. Going to live concerts will allow fans to have a more intimate connection with the artist, but it is costly and opportunities are limited. EPIS was developed to fill this gap. There is a special QR code on the CD sleeve, and when the code is read through ELPIS, users are able to view footage of the concert through AR.”
It is without a doubt that with ELPIS, the interaction between artists and fans will become more intimate. Starting with ELPIS, Hajime’s works and achievements will be updated on his personal site. (For details see: http://hajimek.com)
We are excited for what’s to come from Hajime.