Sharon Zhang and Kristie Kaiser from Personal.AI sat down with us to talk about what it takes to build a truly inclusive AI memory aid, how they’re leveling the playing field when it comes to learning to use an AI product, and how they’ve been keeping their promise to protect and safeguard the personal memories of the very people they serve inside and out.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
PI: Humans forget it’s part of what makes us human and striving to remember has shaped a tremendous amount about how we live. Think about that for a moment. Think of all the things in our lives that we’ve created or that we do because of our imperfect memory. The origin of written language was to help us remember financial transactions. We carry little notebooks with us to remember our ideas. The invention of photography has helped us remember visual scenes. Statues, pyramids, buildings have been built to remember rulers and legacies past holidays help us commemorate and remember events in history.
There’s also research that shows there’s a purpose to forgetting. Forgetting helps us reason and understand by forcing us to generalize and abstract, helping us see patterns so it’s easier for us to remember. While forgetting has led to incredible discoveries and a great deal of life, hacks, forgetting can also bring us to our wit’s end creating anger and frustration, and sometimes even leading to catastrophe.
Welcome to project inclusion. I’m Fanny Krivoy and I’m Mindy Eng. On this podcast we speak to the makers and shakers in the world of how we build better business practices and products to lift the veil on inclusion and show you what it takes to build an inclusive product, brand or community, and how connected thinking is a secret ingredient in each of these businesses.
Our guests today are co-founders Sharon Zhang and Kristie Keiser, and memory loss, well-being and quality of life are the driving factors of their latest startup pursuit called personal A.I.. Welcome, Sharon and Christy!.
P.AI: It’s really good to be here. So very excited to talk to you guys. Yeah, thanks for having us. We’re really excited.
PI: We’re so happy that you’re here with us. So, tell us what this Personal.AI I do. And how does it help people?
P.AI: Our goal is to solve the problem of memory retention. So just imagine going through your day having a lot of conversations with people or zoom conversations, which we’re doing now or writing down your most intimate thoughts. Eighty percent of everything that you go through in the day is lost after three days. Even those memories that you really rely on the key and the details that you want to remember so such as, you know, the name of my friend’s baby that he just had or things that you need to remember, such as medications for my parents and my grandparents. We are here to create a technological version of your memories so that you never forget and also capturing your memories in real time through different audio feed sources or text feed sources. It really relieves retention anxiety for our users.
Just think about all of the times that you’ve been in an important meeting or an important conversation, and you’re really worried about capturing all the details that you need to complete your task afterwards or just soaking in that information. And you’re so worried about capturing that information. You kind of forget it’s hard to multitask and soak in what is going on.
We believe at retention anxiety for our users, and we also help them by doing ambient recall so we can retrieve those memories for them in a way that doesn’t interrupt their flow of daily life — so they don’t have to interrupt what they’re doing to go search through their written notebook or their messages online or their emails. And we just serve it up to them just to make it super easy for them to remember what was said or what they did.
PI: So Christie talked about how this is accomplished on the user experience side. Sharon, can you tell us about how this is accomplished on the technology side?
PI: In short, what we do is we create your own private memory stack. So that’s a largely from the feed that you’re connecting to or the conversation you’re having. Then on top of that private memory stack, we create your own personal AI. We call that your prime. We accomplish this in three steps:
1) The first step is about capturing your memories, both historical and ongoing memories by inputting them into your memory stack. Think about thinking text and images, thoughts and life conversations.
2) The second step is about applying all sorts of different types of AI models on top of that memory stack, so that will include identifying emotions associated with that specific memory, identifying people, actions, questions that will help you recall better data.
3) The third part is about understanding the context itself around all of these memories, such as people, time place entities and also to be able to use a real time input, as well as your past memories to recall the information that you will want to know without you having to take an action similar to what Kristie was just referring to. We want to give that biological experience of you not having to take an actual action to search in your memories. We will simply recall the relevant memories for you.
PI: Can you speak to how your applications specifically help people on specific occupations or health conditions.
P.AI: We can help in the simplest of use cases like all the way to the extreme. I mean, imagine all the time that we’ve saved emails and documents just so we have the comfort of knowing we can go back and find information when we need it or the times we use, like the shortcut command F to find a specific thing. Then you have to go through all of your information to find what you’re looking for. That’s the simplest use case.
In the future, imagine a patient with dementia, for instance, could wear an IoT device that captures their feed, their conversations, their location where they are throughout their day and throughout their life. And all they would have to do is to ask a question like, “Where do I live? How do I get home? What is my emergency contact number, or even just memories about their past?” That’s the future use case that I think we’re all really excited about solving.
It’s really interesting because we started opening up the platform to our early access people. We started doing this “curated new user experience”. What that means is that our founder would carry you through this 30 minute to one hour experience, introducing you to our platform and introducing you to your AI. Right. So, you see your memory block being formed in real time, you would be able to see what AI can do for you in real time. In the process, we got to talk to a lot of users, which is an amazing experience, nd I think we had many moments of, “Oh my god, you know, we’re making a huge impact!.”
One area is our people who are therapists, counselors or salespeople, who deal with people and emotions. What they want to do is to really want to remember these people and the details about these people as well as some of the things that I said to them or they said to me. Personal.AI becomes a thread through all these professions.
I have another story to add when we first launched the idea, we went to a conference called the National Federation of the Blind Convention every year. It’s the biggest convention for blind and low vision individuals in the United States, and I have a connection there with them our because our last company, AIRA, made a product for the blind and low vision community. And there were just some amazing stories! The one that stood out was an individual who had vision as a child and was slowly losing vision through adulthood, and they said “I would want to be able to remember exactly how things look, so when I lose my vision, I have those vivid and rich memories from exactly how I remember them”. So, you can see there’s many use cases to from personal to professional, extreme use cases.
PI: It is just so interesting how you have very practical benefits, but then all these emotional benefits as well. How do you deal with the challenge of being transparent but assuring people that their data and their information is private? And how much does playing with that balance affect the way that you work in that you do your part of the magic? How do you really manage your research and still protect the privacy and the data of your users?
P.AI: That’s a good question. We talk about this a lot, and I think when I were first taught principles as well as probably a very big differentiator is talking about data ownership by the user. So if you think about like Facebook, Google and other platforms today, mostly the company owns part of your data or if not all of your data. One of our top principles is: “you are the owner of your data, you have the right to your speech”.— and how we accomplish that is through a few different ways. One is just through brand principles, which Christie will go over. And the other way is we really dictate that type of technology choices that we have to make daily so that we protect ourselves from the future self that may do other things with the data. So how do we do that right? We leverage blockchain technology to give the user a complete control over how we are accessing their data and how they are accessing their data. So, what does that mean? Right? So every person’s key is kept with them. We won’t have access to a key as data is coming through. Our system is already encrypted and put on to the cloud itself, and that doesn’t mean we can’t see it. It simply means our models can run on it so we can train for you on your data and even the modeling part itself is protected in these enclaves secure enclaves called the trusted execution environments. So, what happens is your encrypted data is shuttled into these environments and the models themselves, the code that we have is also shut into these environments and everything is executed in there and that gives hardware security to the data. So, there’s absolutely no transparency on our side, and we have a partnership with Oasis Labs, who are the blockchain experts in this, and they give us this API for us to be able to accomplish that end-to-end privacy. And there’s really, like none of us will be able to access any of it, right? And I think internally as a process, this is like so buried into our value. So every time someone’s like, Oh, maybe I should do this, someone else would challenge them, say, I think just living by that value is really important.
Sharon touched on it really well. It’s one of our brand principles and it’s. Not just a brand principle we throw out there, it’s something we all really internalize, and it’s the number one thing that we’re all focused around because we know for this product to be successful, people have to trust us because they’re going to share a lot of personal information and so we really do live in that value. We’re doing everything we can to put privacy technology in place so we can’t see the data.
Like Sharon said, we audit ourselves. For example, we wanted to use a software to see how people were interacting with our product where they were clicking, kind of like heat mapping tools. But the one tool that someone suggested captured too much data. It was kind of stepping over the line of our privacy principles and someone said, “You know, no, we cannot use this because of our focus on privacy”. It’s breaking that rule. And so all of us said, OK, that’s great. Let’s find something else that fits within what we’re trying to do. And I think that says a lot about the team because no one’s pushing forward for something that breaks those principles. It just comes back to auditing ourselves, hiring people who are like minded and have the same values. I mean, even our investor, David is we’re super excited about him because he shares the same AI principles and privacy principles. I think it’s just finding the people to kind of be on the journey with you that want to live in those values as well.
PI: You talked about how the privacy and protection of user data is something that’s ingrained in the way the product is engineered. You even talked about how it’s ingrained and how you decide who are the partners and investors in personal.AI. Can you talk about how these founding values maybe transcend beyond the product itself? Where does personal.AI see itself in society and how do these values affect the culture of the company or your business practices?
P.AI: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll jump off what Kristie was just mentioning about our lead investor, who really believes in this, and he’s also associated with the center of Personal.AI and I think there are also two bigger principles for us that go beyond the product.
One is that we want to build AI for every individual. What that means is we want AI to not be something for just a certain percentage of the population, but for it to work for each individual person — not the business, not the internet and not just selected people — we want to democratize that.
The other focus is about producing the value for each individual person. What that means is: if you think about usually how A.I. models would work for business, it will maximize our life for the business, right? We want to be able to maximize that utility for you. We measure and track that quite closely because everything that we have in the product has the user feedback component so the user can constantly give us that measure of are we doing good for you?
I think that’s something that goes beyond just the product itself, but we really believe in that democratization of that individual utility. And the second, I think, is more a vision in the future. But the derivation from having every person being able to have their memory stack forever is almost like contributing to the humanity’s memories, right? So, a lot of the 80 percent that we mentioned is not captured so that 80 percent is not there for future generations to benefit.
One of the big vision that we have is that not only do you benefit yourself now, not you can only also benefit the future generations in the future. Memories are history is memories of everyone’s past and not just the winners who writes the history.
Then there’s some other ways that these values kind of transcend beyond the product, especially just in the company itself. You know, we really value inclusivity, diversity, accessibility, and we live that through our team. We have a very diverse team. We have women in leadership positions. We continue to hire people who kind of uphold our brand principles and have the same company values. And then, like I mentioned before, just helps us keep each other accountable and work towards the same goals. We also put a big emphasis on accessibility in the product as well. We leverage a tool that uses AI actually to scan our website and our product and identifies accessibility issues. And it also enables users to customize their experience. So whatever disability they may have or whatever needs they have, they can customize our website, the fonts, the colors, the sizes, how they interact with it, so it’s usable and inclusive for everybody.PI: It’s such a great example of how your values and your mission are so intertwined that you can’t accomplish your business goals if you don’t really live up to your values. One last question for both of you. If you had the world open to you, what would be your ideal version of Personal.AI? Where do you want to take it? What would you like it to be possible?
The idea of legacy, I think it’s really powerful and emotional to a lot of people. I mean, people take pictures and record videos and write down notes, save voicemails from people they don’t want to delete. Just because we know, we know that our memories fade over time and we want to capture that richness that we can always look back on it and kind of relive that experience. And I think that’s really powerful and something that I really hope that we can do justice to. Capturing people’s legacy so they can preserve it for their families or future generations, similar to what I talked about my grandmother having dementia, I wished I could, you know, go back and relive some of our memories together or hear some about his experiences in World War Two. Personally, for myself, you know, in the future, I’d love to just be able to see a movie of my life and all of the things that happened and just kind of relive those experiences and not lose any of the details. I think that’s that would be pretty amazing.
I think my ideal version is very inspired by sci fi, so I’m a big fan of Iron Man, and my ideal version of the product would be Jarvis next to me telling me the time pushing information to me with cool Iron Man glasses, right? That’s my ideal version of the product itself and on a larger level, I think it comes back to that building kind of the knowledge for the humanity. I love the foundation series by Isaac Asimov, there’s this concept of Gaya in there, where everyone shares the same knowledge, the same consciousness, so you feel empathetic about other people’s history. When you’re taking an action, you’re always considering everyone knows how they would think or how they would feel andnd I think that’s the state that I want to get to like when you’re saying something, say on social media are saying something to be able to have that diverse cognitive diversity of information coming to you. So, you know, like what’s the impact of me speaking this and what are all the other views in this world. I think that’s powerful for me.
PI: Have they surprised you with some of those ideas, things that you had not expected?
P.AI:: In the early onset, we got this email from a man from India, so he emails someone and it was like their correspondence. He’s 88 years old, he wrote this giant email across the ocean to us and he said, “I didn’t know if personally it would help me to create my virtual avatar that will live after I am gone”. I think it was very profound for the things that he told us after: “My sisters are ninety and ninety-four years old are bedridden. I can’t see them right now and I want some way of embodying myself to communicate with them”. And he also went on to say, “I have thirty thousand manuscripts that have written over my life. So all of those I want to know if the person only I can consume them for me. I have videos even shared his wedding videos from when she was young with us. How can you use that as a vehicle like what he has produced throughout his life to communicate to other people who are living now, or maybe his children, his grandchildren? S I think to have that depth of impact is what surprised me, like even just the potential that people have seen and like something like a personal ad that would do for them. It’s just magical.
PI: It’s remarkable you’ve taken a from something that usually feels like it’s reserved for the young and tech savvy to something that’s so accessible, even an 88 year old grandfather from a developing country wants to pick it up to safeguard his memories both in his lifetime and his family’s lifetimes.
Sharon and Kristie, thank you so much for joining us on this conversation. It was it was enlightening and amazing. Can you tell our audience where they can learn more about Personal.AI and how to get in touch with you?
You can find us at Personal.AI so sign up to create your own AI. Right now there is a short wait list, but we’re going to be lifting that soon. And then everyone will be able to start building their AI!
PI: We’re all going to sign up right away so much!
Change starts with you. Get inspired, get thinking and start putting inclusion in action. Subscribe to the Project Inclusion podcast from your favorite listening platform or on our website at Project Inclusion. Start us if you were inspired by the stories from this episode. Share it with a friend or leave us a review to spread the love. And we’ll see you next time.