Merida Hackers Create Cutting Edge Artificial Intelligence
In the following interview, with Israel Cauich Viñas of SoldAI, a local IT company specializing in artificial intelligence. Israel and his team of self-proclaimed hackers are at the cutting edge of technology and are moving so quickly even they find themselves struggling to keep up with the demand.
The idea of Artificial Intelligence brings up all sorts of emotions: unsettledness, fascination, curiosity and a sense of living with robots as if we were in a version of Total Recall or in an obsessive relationship with and OS as in the movie Her. Those in the tech industry are thrilled with the possibilities that AI offers. Those who are not technically inclined are wary of the all-knowing robot that can process data a lot faster than we can. These bots are not just gathering information provided by humans, but also generating their own information; essentially they develop a mind of their own. Technologically speaking it’s beyond many people’s wildest imagination. But what exactly is AI? How can it be used to help us in our daily lives?
About four years ago I started attending meetings for motivated entrepreneurs who shared the commonality of working online. It was in that group where I met Israel Cauich Viñas who has since become a friend, client and English student of mine. Israel is an entrepreneur in the tech industry and when I met him, he was about to launch his app Sellow. This was an app that allowed everyday consumers to type in what they needed and then connect and chat with the business that had the product. I agreed to be part of the group of “testers” of Sellow. The app worked and people seemed to like it. They liked it so much in fact that soon after its launch, those providing the product started to complain that they could not keep up with the demand. They were being bombarded with orders coming at them all at the same time and it was impossible to tend to all the customers. That’s when Israel thought: “would it be possible for me to substitute a robot for people in order to respond to all these messages?” After contacting Victor Uc, professor of Artificial Intelligence in the mathematics department at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY), Israel got his answer. Yes, it was possible. And Victor Uc was very interested in helping him.
Soon after the two partnered up, they started to think bigger than the Sellow app and wanted to exploit the huge potential of big companies using AI for both internal communication and correspondence with their clients. They started working on the idea of creating an AI bot for major corporations and that is how their company SoldAI was born. During the next year, September 2015 to August 2016, they worked purely on developing this AI technology. In the first few months after the technology was developed, they tried marketing it with small companies, but they didn’t get the hoped for results. Then, out of the blue, they received an email from Coca Cola Mexico. The company was looking for Mexican startups specializing in AI to design a bot to interact with people via their Fresca Facebook page. They found SoldAI. Coca Cola Mexico was impressed with SoldAI’s technology and a few months later Cauich and Uc signed their first contract with a major corporation.
In December 2016, they launched Coca Cola’s Fresca bot with great success and within 8 months SoldAI had gone on to sign contracts with 24 major national corporations in Mexico including Bimbo, Axtel, Grupo Modelo, major supermarket chains and banks. Their growth as a company has been phenomenal and the SoldAI team works around the clock writing code and creating new algorithms. When I asked Israel what his thoughts were on their impressive achievements in such a short amount of time he replied with a smile, “It validates our product. It validates the company. For us it’s like a dream. We said a lot of times: Imagine when we will be working with these big corporations and we start doing business around the country and then the world? And in 6 months you realize you are at that point and you say, oh my god, we are doing it and we didn’t even notice. And that’s cool”.
What exactly does the SoldAI bots do? They are ultra-smart assistants with an extraordinary ability to remember all details. For company-client communication, the SoldAI bots chat with clients when they type a question in the chat box on the company website, answer FAQs and inquiries about warranties or product specifications and then generate a support ticket in order to pass the information on to the appropriate department. They have a voice component, therefore the client actually speaks with the AI on the phone about product orders or customer complaints. They also help with sales by working in call centers making calls to potential clients. They can understand synonyms, expressions and how you feel, depending on the tone of your voice. Incredibly enough, they can also differentiate between regional expressions and the way people talk in Merida, for example, as opposed to Monterrey and are able to answer properly according to the region. The bots also facilitate employee-company communication by helping the employees understand how things are done within the organization and problem solving by informing employees of who is in charge of a specific department.
The possibilities for AI are limitless and for that reason this technology is both exciting and terrifying. What the SoldAI team has created will help catapult Mexican companies into the future of corporate communication. It allows business to be done more efficiently, quickly and on a larger scale. Israel Cauich, Victor Uc and their team of hackers are at the center of innovation in technology happening right here in Merida. They are a true testimony to the Yucatecan entrepreneurial talent that I am lucky enough to meet and see all around the city. Their cutting-edge technology and computer laboratory is where the present collides with the future and those who can’t keep up will be left in the digital dark.