Q&A: A Smart Take on Artificial Intelligence

Written by: 
Erin Cristales
Photography by: 
Ranjani Groth

Dave Copps (’91) — the founder and former CEO of three tech startups, including Addison-based Brainspace — has always been fascinated with technology’s potential to change the world, particularly when it comes to artificial intelligence. Copps graduated with a degree in anthropology, determined to build positive corporate culture that would buoy the possibilities of employees, while also dedicating himself to creating technological innovations.

“I was always a geek,” he says. “Even while I was studying anthropology, I was building my own computers.”

Copps has spoken at several conferences, including this year’s Techstars Startup Week, about the future of AI. Here, he delves into what it means for the world moving forward.

Q: How does Brainspace use AI?

A: We can take a company’s information, ingest it and learn from it. We turn it into what we call a brain. If you could actually read 100 million documents and remember everything in every document, that’s what it does — Brainspace has built these large AI’s from human language. The Brainspace platform can read emails and documents, learn from them and connect the thoughts, concepts and ideas into a unified collective intelligence. People then can use that brain to find things. It’s almost like having an expert who knows everything about your company.

Our initial area was eDiscovery: large litigations where companies are sifting through millions of documents trying to figure out who said what when. It used to be, you’d sit 300 attorneys around a table to sift through documents trying to find the answers. We took that experience down to one that could be performed with five or fewer attorneys using our software’s AI-powered visualizations that allow them to surface insights into the data incredibly fast. So if you find a hot document, you can take that document in our system and say, ‘Find more like this.’ It's almost automagical.

Dave Copps, the founder and former CEO of Addison-based Brainspace.

Q: Why is AI important?

A: AI is really the only way we will be able to manage and perhaps even thrive in the coming abundance we are creating in the world. The amount of data being produced every day is almost unimaginable, and without AI, we would be buried. AI will lead us to the positive side of that abundance by giving us the ability to see multidimensionally into data-surfacing patterns and answers that we are simply not able to see without it. That’s the real value of AI: It gives us this breadth of view that we’ve never had before.

Q: Where is AI headed?

A: AI is an apex technology that will accelerate and enhance virtually every market. The conditions today are ripe for AI to flourish, and we will get there in three stages. We have what we call artificial narrow intelligences (ANI). On your phone, maps is an ANI. It does that one thing, voice. We have lots of narrow AIs, but they are limited to their intention. The AI that does maps can’t do lung scans. When we have one AI that can do many things and seems more human, we will have reached artificial general intelligence or AGI. I think that’s still 30 years away, but definitely in our lifetime. We’re a breakthrough or two away from understanding how to do that.

What you’ll see over the next several years is more ANI — autonomous cars are out there mapping the world, seeing park benches, bushes and trees, and mapping all that stuff, but it’s only useful for a car. We have an ANI for finding lung tumors — it’s feeding images of lungs to an AI, and it’s learning what lung tumors look like. And now it can diagnose lung tumors better than the best doctors in the world. But if you ask that AI to do the same thing for eyes, it’s like: ‘Nope, no idea.’ After AGI is artificial super intelligence which has been well documented in movies like iRobot.

Q: Do you have any concerns about the evolution of AI?

A: I think we’re going to see an acceleration because of AI; technology has always caused change, but because we’re actually automating automation with AI, it’s going to be exponential change. That’s the part that worries me. I don’t think we’re prepared for that.

But I’m a utopian, not a dystopian. I think in the next 10 years, we’re going to see 100 years of change, and that’s going to be something that’s scary and exciting at the same time — it’s going to challenge what’s possible for humanity. With things like CRISPR, we’re literally entering the era of Human Beings 2.0.

We’re the first civilization that’s ever had to contemplate co-evolution with technology, and I don’t mean next to it — I mean with it. But I think it’s inevitable that as time goes on, we’re going to get closer with technology. I don’t see it as “Us vs. Them.” I mean, I don’t want to see a world where everyone’s plugged into AI, but wouldn’t it be interesting if you could pop a contact into your eye that could help you see the surface of the moon? That kind of stuff could happen. Humans always want to exceed our biology, and I think AI is going to give us incredible options to do that.

When it comes to building corporate culture, Brainspace founder uses his head -- and his heart.