Joshua Brown and his co-founder Dhrubajyoti Das were students in California who started Ag for Hire for seasonal workers. They pivoted their biz to Wazlo, an AI tool that streamlines recruitment. The 2.0 version of their venture now operates from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast Innovation Centre. Their move to Australia was powered by Hot DesQ, Queensland’s startup attraction program. We caught up with Joshua to find out if it’s true what they say about robots, that we’ll make great pets.
How did the idea for Wazlo start?
Personal frustration and a couple of failed student projects. Initially Wazlo was a university project known as Ag for Hire and was built by my co-founder Dhrub and myself, in an attempt to build a better job-board for seasonal workers.
We worked on this for nearly a year before we came to the realization that a better job-board, is still just a job-board. It also suffered from two more fatal faults: the problem wasn’t personal to us (we weren’t seasonal workers), and it didn’t utilise any new technology. What was personal to us, was the frustration we experienced applying for jobs and internships. The hundreds of application forms, the waiting, the lack of any application feedback. And what was innovative, was the new “chatbot” interfaces developed and released by Facebook, Skype, etc. We were both lucky enough to be at a university that had courses on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, providing us with the knowledge to use these new tools.
From all of this madness and the help of great business mentors, Wazlo was born. I can’t say we have everything figured out, but we’re finally at a point where our customers enjoy using Wazlo and feel it provides a huge boost to their company.
Where does the name come from?
This is actually a company secret. You have to be a member of the Wazlo team in-order to learn the answer.
Okay, moving on. What’s the most unusual job you’ve recruited for? Did recruiting for this job present unique challenges to the chat bots?
Internally we give Wazlo crazy tasks all the time. We’re hoping to release an Easter egg this June where Wazlo recruits for an imaginary superhero team, with some great prizes for the chosen few. Publicly, we’ve only allowed Wazlo to recruit for ordinary jobs thus far (think marketing, sales, software, admin, etc.). We need to give him a solid baseline before we try anything too crazy.
What’s your favorite AI film? And why?
You can’t go wrong with The Matrix. It doesn’t show AI in the best way, but it shows the risks we face in developing militarized AI. Humans have a responsibility over the technology we build, and should look at new ways to govern the technology we build (blockchain anybody?).
Elon Musk says he has a fear of highly-intelligent AI — what do you think about this point of view?
Well it’s definitely a valid concern, however I don’t think you need to worry about embedding a chip into your brain anytime soon. We see Artificial Intelligence as the new assistant to the modern workforce. AI is great at running redundant tasks such as scheduling meetings, checking on employee status reports, and even conducting job interviews (shameless plug). We see a future where humans work alongside various AI tools to automate data collection so they can make better decisions in less time.
Do your chatbots pass the Turing test? That is, can they think?
If you’re asking if Wazlo is “sentient,” the answer is no. We don’t ever want him to trick you into thinking he is human. But does he think? That’s very subjective. At what level of life do we think they are thinking? Do insects think? Probably not. Do reptiles think? Maybe? Do all mammals think? Yes? Where does Wazlo fall in the spectrum? Well he probably couldn’t hunt for food very well, but he can do complex calculus. Have I confused you yet?
What is your vision for Wazlo?
We want Wazlo to be your personal career mentor. Wazlo will work with you over the years to establish your career goals and help you achieve them. The job search process is very stressful, and statistically most candidates who apply for a job will not be selected. How can Wazlo keep you motivated and help you move onto the next opportunity, next goal. That’s what we want to explore.
Are you developing chatterbots?
Dhrub and I have talked about building video interviews into Wazlo. There’s a lot more you can learn about a person, just from their body language; and we plan to make this an important part of the Wazlo experience. As for just chatting to Wazlo, you can do that right now via the Facebook Messenger application, but he can only message you in reply. If we ever received overwhelming user demand to integrate him into a Google Home or Amazon Alexa, we would probably do it.
What do robots not do better than humans?
A lot of things. Take the simple task of touching your thumb to your pinky finger. That seemingly simple process required thousands of neurons and several muscles to fire in unison. Even the most advanced prosthetics can barely mimic this process. It really shows you just how advanced and complex humans really are.
To find out more about how your startup could relocate to Queensland visit Advance Queensland’s Hot DesQ. Round 2 opens in April, 2017.