war vs. machines

Today hundreds of financial technology companies and executives have descended upon New York to attend the Finovate conference, which gives choice financial technology startups a chance to demo their products in front of colleagues and press alike.

Up until now the demos have been focused on ways to streamline personal finances in the digital and mobile age. But, every once in a while there’s a company that is doing something so far different you can’t help but notice. One such startup is Narrative Science, a company that focuses on a unique form of data analysis and which announced today an $11.5 million Series C round of funding.

Narrative Science provides a platform called Quill that translates raw data into tangible narratives. That sounds bizarre, and it is. Instead of providing endless amounts of charts and spreadsheets, Quill uses artificial intelligence algorithms to correctly identify germane data points in a set to create easily understood written reports. The three-year-old company’s CTO Kris Hammond explains the platform’s process as simply “mining data for meaning and insight.”

The software must be pretty powerful too; the CIA’s investment arm In-Q-Tel has invested in the venture. No word on whether the CIA’s sister agency, NSA, has inserted a backdoor into the code. If it did I doubt the CIA would tell us, but I digress.

What makes Narrative Science so fascinating is its forward thinking. Hammond explained to me that he doesn’t see the company as merely a software maker. Instead, it is reconfiguring what people expect from machines. Currently, humans interact with machines using a language and technical configuration that is highly complex and obtuse. Further, the output these machines provide directly mirrors this. This is to say that those who work with data analysis systems must know high-level mathematics and logical structures to create meaningful results. And, when interacting with these systems, humans expect a similarly technical output of charts and highfalutin graphs.

Hammond wants this interaction to be a thing of the past, and thinks machines should be able to respond at a human level. He envisions a world where all people “can understand more because the system knows more.” With this in mind, he envisions a future where data spreadsheets are on par with time punchcards: an archaic relic.

Using this rationale, Hammond said the idea of being acquired is something he doesn’t envision for the company; he wants everyone in the world to be able to use his software. At the same time, Narrative Science’s technology does sound like something a government agency or large data-oriented company would love to have for its very own.

According to Hammond, the company is using this new funding to work further on the Quill program. In addition, it plans to build out its sales and marketing (the company currently has about 50 employees).

Right now, Quill is operating solely as a software-as-a-service (SaaS), but the company is working to release the software on its own soon. While Hammond wouldn’t put a date on the release, I’m sure the data will be informative.

[Image courtesy x-ray delta one]