Novacene 2021 year in review

Runner getting ready to sprint

2021 was a challenging year for the world. But one of creativity, excitement, and new-found clarity at Novacene.

2021 brought many challenges to people around the world. Grim news filled the newscasts. Among the loudest, the continued pandemic, the failure to come together to fight climate change, and the increased instability from multifront disinformation campaigns that weaken democracy. And these are only the latest headlines. In this world of microscopic attention span, memories of other shocking events like people clinging to military planes or storming the U.S. Capitol, seem to fade in a distant past. In this complex world, it behooves us all to act for the common good. AI has the potential to help solve many existential challenges. It can shorten our path to carbon neutrality, and it can help rebuild trust in societies severed by intolerance.

For us working in AI, where the consequences of careless misuse of the technology can be outright dangerous, we must constantly question our thinking, challenge our strategies, and scrub our actions from practices that could inadvertently give way to harmful outcomes. This slow thinking makes us a better organization.

2021 marked the second year in our company’s trajectory, and we feel as excited as we felt during the initial few weeks. Applying leading edge technology to solve real-world problems doesn’t seem to get old. This year, we grew our team with talented new people, and brought on courageous clients who are not afraid of trying new ways of solving old problems. We collaborated with peers we respect tremendously, and engaged in thought-provoking discussions with folks from diverse backgrounds.

From collaborating on Quantum AI with a nanotechnology firm, to pushing the state-of-the-art in natural language processing, and from being the AI engine of a platform that sheds light on global protest movements, to being a finalist in a NATO innovation competition, 2021 was chock-full of creativity and excitement. And thanks to this combination of talent, clients, and projects, we were led one step further on the path of strategic clarity.

A sharper vision

What started in 2020 with a wide-ranging vision of democratizing AI—some dubbed it as DIY-AI—began to morph into the more tangible helping domain experts harvest insight from Big Data. The mission remains the same: to put smart tools into the hands of domain experts that may not have access to the resources needed to operate an AI practice. We believe that this mission is not only absolutely achievable, but also inevitable; sooner than later, AI will be made accessible to non-scientists, just like many technologies that came before it. So, while our mission hasn’t changed, our own understanding of it—and the way in which we articulate it—gained precision.

Another area that enjoyed new-found clarity was the definition of our primary target market. Like our mission, we initially thought of our target as the all too encompassing, organizations. The generality seemed inevitable when seen through the lens of applicability. Like other general purpose technologies, AI can be applied to pretty much every problem that could be tackled through computation. Therefore it seemed natural to presume that every organization across sectors would benefit from the technology. And while we remain open to exploring opportunities in many industries, a few, such as market research, public administration, and finance and insurance, bubbled up to the top.

The invisible common thread

Although the mission remains wide-ranging and the primary target markets may seem too dissimilar to be grouped, there are invisible linkages that tie them together. Whether it being understanding public opinion, detecting suspicious behaviour online, or countering cognitive warfare, a common thread weaves through these seemingly disparate objectives: to help analysts make sense of massive amounts of information.

It is with this thread that we look towards a promising 2022. A year when we expect to deepen our commitment to continue pushing technological boundaries, taking part in exciting projects, meeting interesting new people, and putting powerful technology into the hands of those trying to make the world a better place.