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Meet the CEO: Mitch Alhenius of Feed Inc.

Cognitive computing is becoming less of a sci-fi fantasy and more of a viable digital marketing resource.  Cognitive computing involves self-learning software that use data mining, pattern recognition, and natural language processing to solve problems without human assistance.

Natural language processing, in particularly, has been adopted in various technologies. Consumers have used Siri, Google Search, and Cortana to verbalize simple questions, while IBM has sought to demonstrate how machine helpers like Watson could make sense of large information.  All in all, smart marketers know that cognitive computing is around the corner.

Among the cognitive computing software ideas are a suite of communication apps that include security protocols. Sesame, a cognitive software app from the start-up Feed Inc., offers secure chat software designed with customized permissions and end to end encryption that ensure messages are used as intended, protecting legal rights to those messages.  Cognitive computing powers a key feature–Personal Cognitive Agents. These agents are protocols to maintain a continual awareness of compliance with the permissions governing each message thread.

Such security features arise at a critical period in the tech and legal industries. The topic of personal privacy weighed against legal rights to intercept communications in the name of public security has seen an intensely scrutinized 15 minutes of fame.  Even President Barrack Obama, making the first appearance at SXSW, discussed the issues involved with the recent Apple-FBI case.

I asked Feed Inc. CEO Mitch Ahlenius to share his observations on the public discussion on security and his perspectives on what marketers should consider in the privacy versus security debate. 

What do you think have been the shortcomings in cognitive computing that need to be addressed so that the technology strengthens its appeal and value to customers?

I think the shortcomings have come in our ability to articulate not only the real value of cognitive computing, but also the true danger of not paying attention…which results from content that does not cut through the noise. These technical developments could either be fantastic, or terrifying, and that will largely depend on who and to what degree ordinary everyday consumers are enabled to be actors in said evolution.  We constantly look at new and better ways to try this. Feedmusic.com was an early example of some strides we took, but it needs to go much further … and much further than a cute Watson ad.

The software is evolving so rapidly that I think that by the time this is published, there is high probability of some imminent solution that would render reading this obsolete.  What is not evolving as rapidly is the consumer palate and attention for this evolution.

What technologies excite you and the Sesame team today that marketers should pay more attention to?

Wow haha…you could ask each one of us on the team and get very, very different responses. For my own personal take, I think that when you combine collaborative technologies, like Sesame, that enable the sharing of much more valuable information, with virtual reality, you’re on the verge of a creative frontier that is difficult to fully appreciate or imagine. That’s more of a longview (five to ten years) for marketers. I think the intersection of those technologies will catalyze a radical redefinition of what we consider to be “marketing.”

Right now, I think cognitive technologies are an absolute must for marketers.  Too many are still trying to wring ROI out of their websites and social strategies, and these are just primitive precursors.  Not that they are not the thing right now, but if you’ve got the staff capacity to handle it, someone should be dedicated to cognitive, as I would consider these “eventualities” to be inevitable and imminent.

All that to say…marketers should primarily pay attention to making their creative content more consumable, now, otherwise you can invent some pretty hot technology features and still get a deficit of attention.

Whatapp just announced a secured encryption for calls, and there are rumors of similar encryption from Google and Facebook on the horizon. How does this news impact the marketplace and strategy for Sesame?

These are great developments, but not new news.  These capabilities have existed for some time.  We’re just starting in the security market because, you need to start there.  (And there is something very different from starting somewhere, than eventually going somewhere because the market told you to).  We’re built from the ground up knowing that security is vital, but security that obfuscates or altogether does away with the value of communications vis a vis encryption is not exactly a progressive solution.  Apple-FBI has brought up some of these discussions well.

We envision (and will be rolling out the technical capability to do so over the coming months and years) enabling a type of security more formidable and valuable than encryption, without sacrificing the value of those communications (ie. your agents could be learning how to better serve you from what is shared…or not, you choose).

That requires giving users ownership and control of their information, including the ability to set their own terms and conditions, and continuously and independently auditing compliance with said terms and conditions…which is as much a policy feat as a technical one.  When Whatsapp, Google, Facebook et al make that sort of policy decision (the one the EU has been clamoring for) then that will definitely make some market- and strategy-changing news.

How can marketers who deliver communication services better educate customers on the security and privacy rights on communication via an app or software?

Make it simple. Dead simple. (I don’t think we have accomplished that.)

How has the Apple-FBI controversy influenced the market for Sesame? Do you see a unique trend/concerns for startups in dealing with the government requests that larger tech firms do not see?

Not so much “influenced” as validated.  We’ve been watching these developments for a long time.  A lot of our team comes from NASA; if you know an asteroid is going to hit, you can see its path from a long way out. Here is an article I wrote with some more of my own thoughts on what is at stake. The video’s password is “opensesame.”

I think larger tech firms see as much, if not more, than we do.  But I think at that level you are muddying economics with good public policy, which compromises both.  I don’t think the ‘smaller’ guys fully appreciate what is at stake, and the power that can be wielded, or at least here in the Valley  ( a lot of noise from the next big thing).  I have found Europe to be much, much more acute to these developments.

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