We’re bringing the ability to scale writing to everyone at a time when content generation tools are a must for businesses that seek to succeed with perpetual business and cultural shifts. Everyone creating fact-based content can use AX Semantics to generate content. Our software is 100% SaaS-based. Everything is accessible via a desk or web browser with no programming or IT departments required. Imagine never having to update a product description, website or financial report just because the numbers may change. We’re really a solution for the digital age, and we’re giving companies ‘superpowers’ so they can effortlessly publish quality content and grow.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing CTO and Managing Director, Robert Weissgraeber, at AX Semantics.
Robert Weissgraeber is the Managing Director and CTO of AX Semantics, where he heads up product development and engineering. Robert is an in-demand speaker and an author on topics including agile software development and Natural Language Generation (NLG) technologies and a member of the Forbes Technology Council. He was previously Chief Product Officer at aexea and studied Chemistry at the Johannes Gutenberg University and did a research stint at Cornell University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always looked for ways to solve really difficult challenges through the power of innovation and technology. Writing — and the way it has traditionally been executed — has not seen significant innovation since the advent of the typewriter 200 years ago. I knew this was one area I could bring about change and Natural Language Generation (NLG) was the key.
As companies increasingly embraced the digital age, they found there was no way to create the amount of content they needed in order to ensure they had a robust online presence. I wanted to help companies gain access to NLG tools so they can scale content in more than 110 languages. My work at AX Semantics fits that bill perfectly.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Written content is a big part of our everyday lives and interactions. Take Alexa, for example. Below Alexa’s voice output, there is text. One of our biggest challenges with NLG technology is that it can be used everywhere and across multiple verticals. So, the question became “Where to start?” It’s just not possible to dive into everything and ‘boil the ocean’ when you have limited resources.
We decided to take on the challenge by removing ourselves from making that choice. Instead, we opted to educate our users on why natural language generation is necessary, how it works and let them decide on the ‘what,”- essentially letting them tell us their needs, and then acting accordingly upon them. The approach worked well: we’ve already seen the creation of at least three new verticals from our product without us doing the innovation.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
I believe that decentralized acting leads to innovation. Every single person on a team should be responsible for innovative thinking, not just one centralized person. Every single suggestion or micro-decision should be considered to bring about new ideas and areas for growth. This kind of thinking can increase innovation by a factor of 10x instead of the usual consensus-based 2x increase. In our case, it’s our customers as well who are enabling innovation by suggesting forward-thinking use cases for NLG and areas for possible expansion.
Ok. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
We’re bringing the ability to scale writing to everyone at a time when content generation tools are a must for businesses that seek to succeed with perpetual business and cultural shifts. Everyone creating fact-based content can use AX Semantics to generate content.
Our NLG software powered by AI and natural language processing (NLP) effortlessly creates content that can populate an entire website, fill a news section with earnings reports, generate product descriptions for e-commerce, expertly manage financial services and regulatory reporting, automate the writing of clinical study reports in the pharmaceutical sector and more. Our NLG software can do this in more than 110 languages, in a manner of minutes — with a streamlined translation process that makes it easy to enter new markets.
Our software is 100% SaaS-based. Everything is accessible via a desk or web browser with no programming or IT departments required. Imagine never having to update a product description, website or financial report just because the numbers may change. We’re really a solution for the digital age, and we’re giving companies ‘superpowers’ so they can effortlessly publish quality content and grow.
How do you think this will change the world?
The rapid expansion and adoption of the internet has changed everything and content generation is the latest seismic shift in the printed word. Where once companies had to hire writers and editors to manually create and edit content, NLG tools offer a real alternative where ‘hybrid’ content is born from a partnership between man and machine.
Journalists, for example, will be able to focus more on actual insights, background stories, investigations etc., instead of just creating mind-numbing, manual, repetitive content in existing structures. They’ll be able to focus on being more creative. Really this is the first innovation that’s happened to the written word since the Gutenberg printing press, typewriter and word processor. It’s exciting!
You have to use NLG technology to create precise, hyper-personalized communications; otherwise you just create more content with no real depth that just gets ignored. Content generation is not just about quantity: quality matters equally. On the other hand, mass-influence like propaganda and deliberate fact distortion is a thing, so we conduct screening of our users and use cases to avoid political or violent content.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
This question actually goes back to my point on decentralization and how having ‘many minds’ on a project leads to innovation. There was a tipping point. A colleague was asked to write 1200 stories and 300 articles, for summer and winter each. He needed to write them in English and German, and it would be a monumental task. That was our main business at that time. In order to find a better way, he started writing a little code to help create that amount of content, which led us to the infinite possibilities and use of NLG and NLP technology.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We need greater awareness among people that NLG and NLP offer real solutions to generating the written word. Five-hundred customers strong — and growing- we are a market leader with four other vendors in our space, e.g. Arria, Narrative Science, Yseop and Automated Insights. That’s still five to six levels of magnitude, however, below what’s possible. Most writers and analysts are still only looking no further than Word and Excel, when they could be doing so much more, faster, easier and with better results.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t expect to be an overnight business sensation. Things will take longer than you think. We’re now in year four, and we’re still not Google.
- Remember after every big challenge there is another one waiting, so don’t promise yourself that after you solve a big issue everything is all ‘green.’ Make sure to also build structures and processes that last and act as a foundation to solve the next big problem that comes along.
- Hard problems make for hard pitches. If you don’t want to promise the typical magic, black box AI, you have to introduce transformational changes to your customers, which takes a lot of effort.
- Products are much harder to create and validate than services are. You miss the early validation of a signed project contract while building and your assumptions can work against you.
- You don’t have to check every box or fill every list. Work within the parameters set before you. Be agile and adapt when necessary.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Daily communication with your team is vital to success. No team can bring your vision forward or to fruition if you’re hiding in your office thinking and defining stuff by yourself.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
“We are already successfully changing the world for our hundreds of customers in e-commerce, media, financial services and pharma, so let’s get AX Semantics out to more of them!”
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.