[This story has been revised and updated as of September 2017]
In eight short months, Stephen Pratt – then the global leader of Watson for IBM Global Business Services – decided his job wasn’t for him. In February 2016, he caused a stir by resigning from his esteemed position. But Pratt’s reasoning became clearer by mid-March, when he and a group of ex-executives from G.E. Digital, Infosys, and MicroStrategy announced the launch of an artificial intelligence (AI) startup called Noodle Analytics, Inc.
Noodle’s selling points are as intriguing as they are vague, though the running theme seems to challenge the approach of many other data analysis companies. Whereas companies like Palantir Technologies champion the “human-driven approach” with statements such as, “there simple is no substitute for human intelligence,” Noodle wants to specialize in AI to apply machine learning to data analysis with the support of human technological experts. In other words, the startup’s collaborative approach puts AI behind the wheel, as humans give directions from the passenger seat.
On its website, the company claims it will guide corporate partners navigate the AI environment and help businesses determine the most valuable data to retain. With “collaboration among human experts and artificial intelligence: learning from and teaching each other,” Noodle wants to bring the best AI and human minds together in innovative ways. It’s not yet clear how exactly they’ll accomplish this task, but through combined customer, product, and business analytics, the startup hopes to transcend industry and cultural barriers to develop comprehensive business solutions. “As industry lines blur, the best ideas often surface,” they state on their website.
These goals may sound like the average ramblings of an overly ambitious startup, but Noodle is backed by some big names in AI and data analysis. Pratt’s work on Watson at IBM mirrored his focus with the new startup and gave him unique insight into how such a project could and should develop. IBM Global Business Services unit was created to apply AI to data analysis in industries from healthcare to e-commerce. The company had high aspirations and employed around 2,000 people within the unit at the time of Pratt’s departure.
Noodle’s new corporate lineup also appears promising. Matt Denesuk will assume the role of Chief Data Science Officer, a position he once held for General Electric’s G.E. Digital. Ted Gaubert joins Noodle as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) after previously holding the same position at Infosys Consulting, a leading business consulting firm. Raj Joshi, Noodle’s Chief Client Officer, once served as Executive Vice President of Professional Services at business intelligence firm MicroStrategy, whose high-profile clients include Facebook and Starbucks.
In addition, the nascent company boasts the support of a proven investment firm. Noodle completed a Series A venture round with an undisclosed amount from investment firm TPG Group, whose portfolio includes Uber, Airbnb, and Hollywood studio STX.
The field of AI and data analysis may have vacancy for new firms, but it hasn’t been left unexplored. Sentient Technologies, the world’s most-funded AI company, has been kicking around since 2008, though the company’s $143 million in venture funding was only announced in November 2014. As Sentient explains in their promotional video below, the company offers clients machine learning algorithms that locate patterns in big data and make well-informed decisions in financial trading and e-commerce settings.
Unlike Palantir’s human-driven approach, Sentient’s CEO and co-founder Antoine Blondeau thinks their algorithms will one day soon eliminate the need for human intervention. He says his company aims to fade out human involvement, but admits in an interview with The Telegraph, “[This] doesn’t mean it should not be supervised. As long as humans can see what the system is doing, you can trace its steps and interpret the outcomes.”
TPG Group recognizes the other players in the AI and data analysis field; they’ve spent years investigating the industry to determine the companies that represent the best investment. But Bill McGlashan, who heads the investment firm, told The New York Times, “[We] never felt comfortable investing in any of them.” At least, not until Noodle arrived on the scene.
Image credit: Noodle Analytics, Inc.