How Elon Musk Unknowingly Got into a Twitter Fight with an AI

“What Elon Musk did not know was that that specific tweet was in fact generated by an AI, by our AI.”
I had the pleasure to interview Echobox Founder and CEO Antoine Amann. Antoine went from the newsroom of the Financial Times to running a company of 25. The artificial intelligence they built curates the social media feeds of global publishing giants like The Guardian and Le Monde. Their big data analytics model also predicts election outcomes and their newest product uses AI to turn any message into an optimal social post.

Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Journalism plays a vital role in society, but journalists and publishers are under unprecedented pressure. When I worked at the Financial Times, I got to see first-hand how publishers are trying to cope with these pressures. What we needed was a cost-effective service that could automate repetitive processes, so that journalists can focus on what they do best: find and report the news. I founded Echobox because I believe that technology, and artificial intelligence in particular, offers a solution to many of the problems that the industry faces and because I think that sustainable, high-quality journalism is absolutely crucial for the health of our society and democracy.

At Echobox, we are building the driverless car for social media. Our AI can take over the entire logistics of content distribution by automatically creating and posting material to share on social media. Social media optimisation is a never-ending task and a major distraction for publishers, with frequent and obscure algorithm changes by social platforms requiring a constant adjustment of each publisher’s strategy for an ever-increasing number of social networks. Our AI has become sophisticated enough to overcome this problem on behalf of our clients.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company

A few months ago, the New Scientist published a story about how long it will take for AI to surpass human intelligence, and shared the story on Twitter. The tweet read “AI will be able to beat us at everything by 2060, say experts”. None other than Elon Musk replied, engaging with the tweet and arguing that the day when AI beats humans at everything would come much sooner.

What Elon Musk did not know was that that specific tweet was in fact generated by an AI, by our AI. It was the Echobox AI that picked the article, generated the message and shared it at the seemingly unintuitive local time of 2:24am, anticipating that this would maximise traffic for the New Scientist.

Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We make a substantial contribution to the sustainability of the media industry. Last year, we generated the equivalent of $15,000,000 in extra revenue and time-savings for our clients. We’re also pushing the boundaries of AI research. Our algorithms have a unique ability to understand and classify news articles, and we’re only just at the beginning of what is possible.

Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me Before I Launched My Start-Up” and why.

Don’t try to be the next — be the first. There is a temptation to imitate others who do well, to tread the path that seems clear and proven to lead to success. But if you really want to make it, you have to take risks and blaze your own trail. Everyone in our industry has analytics dashboards. We don’t because we’re building the AI that will make analytics dashboards redundant.

People are everything and you’ve got to figure out how to find the right ones when you hire. To do that, you have to be unconventional. For a while, we asked every candidate what they thought the meaning of life was. No right answer, of course, but it gives you a sense of the person you’re talking to.

Some things take time and sometimes you have to be patient. That is a difficult lesson to learn for entrepreneurs, who tend to want to get things done and see results. Learning strategic patience was key. We’ve had clients where it took a year to convince them, but eventually they signed six-figure deals.

Say no — a lot. Whenever we had a major success, I would suddenly get offered things — speaking opportunities, intros, etc. — I previously had to fight for. But you always have to ask yourself whether what someone offers you will help you take the next step, rather than just repeat the previous one. Saying no is hard, but it’s necessary.

Be bold. We built a big data election prediction model as a side project — and it worked and got a huge amount of traction.

Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

For me, this would be Pierre Omidyar. Not only is he a great entrepreneur and VC, but we both share a conviction that, as he once put it, “the right kind of journalism is a critical part of our democracy.”