Talla CEO Rob May on “Creating Digital Workers” with AI
Talla Inc. has developed a bot platform with the ability to perform mundane tasks typically done by the HR department. The longterm goal, says CEO Rob May is “creating digital workers.” He also talks to James about his involvement in Half Court Ventures and in the space of artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency.
James West: Rob, thanks for joining me today.
Rob May: Yeah, thanks for having me.
James West: Rob, let’s talk a bit about what you’re up to in the world of artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency. What is it that you’re doing?
Rob May: Yeah, so Talla is actually one of the few companies playing in both of those worlds. So we started about two years ago and we built a bot platform that has the long-term goal of building digital workers. We did that through two things: Number one, we created a knowledge base which you can think of as the bot’s brain. So you put all your corporate documentations, all your policies and procedures and that kind of information, into this knowledge base, and you can use it like a regular knowledge base; you can just access articles and create articles the way you would, confluence or anything else.
But the difference is, the bots that you can deploy around it also know what’s in the knowledge base. So, for example, if you were to onboard a new employee and you write the information they need to know to be onboarded, you can define how that information gets dripped out to them through a bot. so you might have a bot say hey, on Day Two you need to know this thing, and on Day Three you need to know this block of content and fill out this form, and stuff like that. And these bots get smarter as they interact with your organization. So they learn when content is going out of date, they learn how content is related to each other, we can build knowledge graphs sort of behind this stuff, and you know, so we’ve had paying customers for that for a while, and that’s been a good product for us.
But what’s happened is, we realized that people were starting to deploy more and more bots in these organizations, and these bots were doing more and more types of work, and what’s coming is that these bots are going to start being deployed with reinforcement working models, which are models that learn and change over time. So now you have this problem of these sort of like pseudo-digital workers in your organization who are going to get smarter and change – how do you know what they’re doing when they’re talking to people, to your customers, to employees, or when the bots are talking to each other, how do you know what’s going on there?
And so we saw this as a great opportunity to store what’s happening here in a special way on Blockchain, because the beautiful thing about Blockchain is that it’s immutable. And so we chose the Ethereum Blockchain, and it launched a product, a network really, called Botchain. It’s a cryptographic layer that sits on top of this and manages a whole bunch of interactions for bots of all kinds – related to work, makes them auditable, and forces compliance and different stuff like that.
James West: This is a complicated proposition. I mean, it’s technology on top of technology. So at the end of the day what this is doing is essentially making workflows more efficient in the corporate level while adding the immutability and certainty of transaction on top of it through the Blockchain Ethereum?
Rob May: Yes, right. So Talla’s core product is focused on the former there. And the network that we’ve launched, we have a bunch of partners that haven’t been announced yet, but you will see, starting in 2018 and on into 2019, lots and lots of bots adopting and supporting the Blockchain standard. This will be something that is owned by the ecosystem and not by Talla directly, and what it will allow you to do is, let me give you an example: let’s say you have a process that requires certification. Maybe it requires HIPAA certification, or maybe it requires SOC 2 certification. But if humans were part of that process, their actions would have to be audited; they’d have to fill out forms and sign off on things and say yes, I did these things in this way to comply with the rules of this regulation.
What happens when you start to put bots into those processes, and these bots can learn and grow? How do you know that the bots did what they were supposed to do and are in compliance with the processes? So you know, an example might be, let’s say you have an A-chart chat bot, and you have an employee who’s going to ask that A-chart chat bot some medical questions about our health plan, and in the process of doing that, discloses some personal health information about the condition they have or why they’re asking. Does that bot have a HIPAA issue?
Well, it turns out if you’re Ernst and Young, or PWC or one of these big accounting firms, you know, you should really be in these large companies auditing their machine learning processes for this reason, the same way that you audit their financial processes and their security processes and everything else.
And so given that all sort of business process outs we’re seeing and robotic process automation’s going to get smarter and more intelligent, this is a way every bot action is going to create a digital certificate stored on the Blockchain so you can go back and sample them and audit these transactions and say, did these bots do what they were supposed to do in the transactions that we looked at? Were they compliant, or were they not?
James West: Hmm. Like bad robot.
Rob May: Yeah, well it’s interesting, because one of the ways this could evolve, there’s a lot of fear over humans and robots and their role in the future, and one of the things that could happen is, using a Blockchain to enforce compliance could be one good way to put some modicum of control back in the hands of humans, right? And there’s a bunch of other benefits to doing this as well. One would be bot identity, right? I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet, but people are starting to spoof bots the way that they spoof websites and emails. So if a bot pops up and says ‘Hey James, I’m the vendor bot from somebody you do business with and you owe me $200’, how do you know if that’s really that bot? And how do you know if you should pay it?
So you can use Blockchain to validate the identity of the bot by making the bot register and having a unique address on the Blockchain that is, you know, it’s the only one that matches to that bot. And everybody, the way Blockchain works, everybody that’s involved in the network has a copy of the ledger at any given time.
James West: Oh wow, that’s interesting. That’s very interesting. So then, is this – I mean, switching to sort of the self-interested part of it – is this something that investors can participate in at this point if they wanted to?
Rob May: Well, yeah, so it’s interesting, right, because we – Talla has already raised equity financing from traditional venture capitalists and accredited investors, and the cryptocurrency space is interesting right now because people are trying to figure out what the SEC is going to do. So, you know, we’re in an interesting position which is, there are a bunch of funds, cryptocurrency funds, that like to buy these tokens in advance. They sort of speculate on the tokens. And there are some tokens that actually are meant to be securities; they have security-like properties.
Ours is not. Ours is a utility token; you have to interact with the Blockchain that is what we use for the process of sort of recording and validating and stuff like that. And so we’re still working through some of that stuff, right, because if you’re – a lot of the legal advice right now is that if you’re going to sell these tokens, you should only sell them to wealthy individuals and accredited investors, just in case.
But the problem is if you’re a 18 year old college student and you want to develop for Botchain and you need a couple of bot coins in order to do it, how do you ever get them, right? So from our perspective, we’re working through the best way to do that and be legally compliant, but our hope is that we can sell some of these in advance to some of these cryptofunds, you know, and that they can hold some of those so that the market’s not sort of flooded with tokens. And then we can sell some small amount of the tokens to the public, primarily targeting the people that actually need to use them for Botchain.
James West: I see. So in view of the uncertainty regarding what the SEC’s going to do – and it certainly looks more and more like they’re incrementally moving towards a classification of tokens and coins as securities – but there are certainly cases where, which it sounds like in your case, a token is more representative of a function, a utility, as opposed to a security. In other words, something that’s expected to grow value as a representation of some other sort of value creation process.
So is that something that you anticipate, is that how you’re evolving it to make sure that you’re possibly less financial affluent developer community can access it?
Rob May: Yeah. So one of the things is, you know, if you look at Bitcoin for example, you know, as Bitcoin goes up relative to dollars, you just buy a fraction of a Bitcoin. And so I see a very similar thing happening with, you know, I think the price of an underlying token, regardless of the use case, never really makes it prohibitive to some people if you can subdivide it.
And so I think a lot of what will happen with the SEC legislation comes in, or what I hope will happen, is it, there are a lot of really scammy ICOs; I would say the majority of them are. And I think a light regulatory framework, that is not as intense as sort of going public, and doesn’t require that level of disclosure, but does have some requirements attached to it if you want to sell utility tokens to the public, I think that would be a really good compromise for the SEC, and I think it would help weed out the sort of real opportunities for people that are building real products that can use Blockchain and cryptocurrency and people that are just trying to make a quick buck and be scammy.
James West: Right. Okay, Rob, that’s a great introduction. We’re going to leave it there for now, and I’m going to come back to you in a quarter’s time. We’re going to do some research on this whole segment of AI as it applies to Talla and what you’re saying; that’s sort of, this is kind of seminal education for me. I had no idea that this even existed, and then on the token side, there’s a whole bunch of research we have to do. So it’s fascinating. We will come back to you and continue this discussion in the future. Thank you so much for your time today.
Rob May: Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
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