I got news that Alex Capecelatro was now doing JOSH.AI – which is a voice-controlled home automation system, set out to make your Home smarter. Much smarter. And besides happy hour, skydiving, and a few other things, Nothing is more fun than ai! So I asked a few questions to learn more…
Q: Yeti (which you co-founded) has members now in over 120 countries and seems like it can only grow, so why did you decide to move to Josh.ai?
A: It was a hard decision, but I felt Yeti needed a fresh perspective. I was approaching 5 years on the venture (Yeti was previously known as At The Pool) and while we continued to grow, it wasn’t explosive growth. The majority of my time was spent fundraising and it wasn’t clear that we would monetize in any appreciable amount soon. The new owners are much more focused on turning Yeti into a business and they have the background to make that happen. For me, I come from a research science background and felt invigorated to jump into a field like AI where much of the technology is nascent. This time around we will be monetizing from day 1 and are self-funding the company so I can focus on what I love: building a great product.
Q: You seem excited to work with partner Tim Gill, who’s 34 years difference in age and has an impressive background starting with Quark in 1981 that grew to $300mm+ per yr as a private company… I would be too! How did you meet and how did this come together?
A: I just checked and we currently have 237 mutual friends on Facebook. While I’m sure the number was smaller when we met, we clearly spend time in similar circles. We’re both vegetarian, skiers/snowboarders, love science and tech, and we’re both involved with equal rights non-profits (he started the Gill Foundation and I serve on the board for StartOut). We connected when I was launching Hyphos, the parent company to Yeti, and he became a technical advisor helping us work through a number of challenging problems. In many ways we balance each other out, from the age gap to operational and technical interests within the company. So yes, you’re absolutely right I’m excited, I get to work every day with one of my heroes.
Q: Josh.ai is a voice activated home automation system. My first thought is, if a parent yells “Turn off the TV!” and the kid yells “NO TV On!” and they yell back and forth will Josh.ai lose it’s mind like I would? What would happen?
A: You and me both would lose our minds. Thankfully Josh is much more rational than we are. Any system like this needs to distinguish between people who have access to controls and those who don’t. Josh is primarily built to sit on top of Android and iOS devices. As a result, a parent could conceivably revoke permissions if there’s a real problem and/or override control right from their smartphone or tablet.
Q: Your goal is to have Josh be voice-based. But would it be specific to approved voices? What if a burglar broke in and told it what to do? And if it’s your voice only, what if you have a nasty cold and you sound like a monster?
A: Natural language processing and voice recognition still have a long way to go as far as nuanced voice recognition is concerned. Our approach is to discern users through their device rather than voice for the initial version of Josh, and to evolve over time. So for example a burglar would have to either gain access to your wireless network in order to control Josh, or to gain access to one of your devices with Josh configured (most of which are already password protected).
Q: Your logo is a dog, so if voice-based only turns out harder than expected, would you consider having a Physical robo-dog as Josh? Like the Jetsons maid, but instead an adorable dog maybe with a tray on it’s back?
A: That would be fun! But if you follow the latest from the DARPA Robotics Challenge you’ll see we’re still years away from a robot that can ascend stairs, open doors, and navigate without breaking things or hurting people. In reality, this would probably be much harder to do since it not only requires voice, but it also requires advanced robotics. And I’m not sure we want a physical incarnation of Josh following us around the house. Our vision is much more like Samantha (the female voice) from the movie Her.
Q: This is a hard one to take on, you’re against Apple with its beloved Siri and others… What are your biggest challenges at this moment in time?
A: We feel like the work from Apple, Google, Amazon, and others only reaffirms this is a technology whose time has come. Customers don’t need to be convinced any more that talking to their computer is “normal”. They get it. Now they need to be convinced that the technology is valuable and worth investing in. Our challenge is moving fast and staying quiet, we’re just really excited to share Josh with the world as soon as it’s ready.
Q: What did you think of Ex Machina? Will that be you and Tim in the near future? (But with a happier ending of course)
A: I hope not! As mentioned earlier, we’re much more bullish on the bodiless form factor like Jarvis in Iron Man or Samantha in Her. Ex Machina was a fun, if not almost scary, view on what an AI form factor could look like. We like to think of AI from a different perspective. The beauty of the Internet is its omnipresence, it’s ability to be anywhere and everywhere all at once. That’s the vision for Josh: using connected devices as an interface for the physical world, accompanying us to be available when we need it. Why lug a big metal android around when you could literally have Josh move between your home, car, office, smartphone, etc? We’re excited about the rapid pace of innovation and hope to contribute to the field and to the delight of our customers.
To keep up with “Josh” visit JOSH.AI