AI Firm Attracts Funding from CIA Offshoot to Analyze Massive Quantities of Data — Including Social Media Postings
“… Narrative Science’s technology helps address the intelligence community’s challenge of analyzing massive amounts of data, such as video surveillance footage, a history of financial transactions or social media postings. … ‘We think it represents a pretty significant expansion in terms of the market opportunity for us. It will hopefully enable us to work even deeper with folks in the intelligence community.’ …”
Company specializing in artificial intelligence to build program to help In-Q-Tel’s government clients with data mining, interpretation
June 6, 2013
Stuart Frankel can’t tell you how his startup got connected with the Central Intelligence Agency. He can’t tell you whether he now has security clearance. But he can tell you that he is very excited about the funding and partnership deal that his company, Chicago-based Narrative Science, signed with the CIA’s venture capital arm.
“We’re obviously pleased to be part of this portfolio,” said Frankel, chief executive for the firm, which specializes in artificial intelligence and communication technology. “We think it represents a pretty significant expansion in terms of the market opportunity for us. It will hopefully enable us to work even deeper with folks in the intelligence community.”
The amount Arlington, Va.-based In-Q-Tel invested in Narrative Science was not disclosed. The startup said it will build a version of Quill, its flagship technology product, for In-Q-Tel’s government customers. The CIA established In-Q-Tel in 1999 to look for short-term investment opportunities in cutting-edge technology coming out of startups that might otherwise escape the government’s notice.
Narrative Science’s technology helps address the intelligence community’s challenge of analyzing massive amounts of data, such as video surveillance footage, a history of financial transactions or social media postings.
Quill’s artificial intelligence algorithms mine large data sets for key facts and write natural-sounding English prose based on the data. The program can produce a range of formats, from tweets to long-form business reports, and Narrative Science’s customers include companies in industries such as financial services and marketing.
The startup’s technology “analyzes data and communicates this information in a way that is easy to read and understand,” Steve Bowsher, managing partner at In-Q-Tel, said in a statement. “We believe these advanced analytic capabilities can be of great value to our customers in the Intelligence Community.”
Narrative Science came out of Northwestern University, where computer science and journalism students created software to write automated recaps of baseball games. Frankel, a former DoubleClick executive who was an adviser to the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern, helped license the technology from the university to create the startup.
Frankel said Narrative Science’s business has “evolved pretty significantly,” with less focus on creating news content and more efforts on serving financial firms and marketing companies. Before the deal with In-Q-Tel, Narrative Science had raised about $10 million in three rounds of funding from coastal investors such as Battery Ventures and SV Angel.
The government sector can be “difficult to get into, and that’s one of the things we’re excited about,” Frankel said. “We actually have a lot of inbound interest from … different organizations within the U.S. government, both within the intelligence community but also outside of that. It was definitely an area that we were learning about, and we thought there was a lot of potential.”
The “Q” in In-Q-Tel’s name is a reference to the British Secret Service quartermaster who supplied fictional character James Bond with his fancy spyware.
“I’ve found that our technical capabilities often far exceed what you see in Tom Cruise films,” then-CIA Director David Petraeus said at an In-Q-Tel gathering in March 2012, according to a transcript of his remarks. “But there are a few feats he can accomplish in the movies that we can’t: We haven’t figured out, for example, how to change an individual’s fingerprints or eyeballs just yet — but give us time. In any event, our partnership with In-Q-Tel is essential to helping identify and deliver groundbreaking technologies with mission-critical applications to the CIA and to our partner agencies.”
In 2010, In-Q-Tel invested in Chicago-based Cleversafe, which makes cloud-based storage technology for big data.