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Local company pairs friendly faces with AI

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A Springfield company has announced the launch of Hey There, a custom artificial intelligence platform that its founders say will change the way people interact with AI.

The platform is designed to be both helpful and entertaining, say Brad Jones and Scott Blevins, co-founders of Carefully Crafted LLC, registered in December.

Hey There’s web presence has a bright violet background with smiling faces of the avatars – called personas – that each provide specialized assistance to users. Free accounts are available, and some avatars are free, with new personas looped in regularly. Others are available by purchasing tokens that start at $1.

The platform offers 230 distinct personas that have different areas of expertise. They include Ava, a creative marketer; Devin, a meal prep planner; Adam, a LinkedIn profile writer; and Sparkles, a unicorn. Not all of the applications are geared toward professionals; some are helpful for personal goals, and a few, like Sparkles, can write stories with children.

For professional use, Jones offered the example of Wei, a project manager. A user can describe a project to Wei, who will ask a few questions for clarification before breaking down the project into a task list with a timeline attached.

All of the personas are invented, with AI-generated pictures that look like polished photographs of real people, and with their own backgrounds and characteristics.

Personas are nothing at all like chatbots, those windows that automatically pop up on some websites, according to Jones.

“It’s like comparing a Homo sapiens to a Neanderthal,” Blevins said.

Jones added that personas are more interactive than chatbots.

“Chatbots are generally preprogrammed with responses, whereas the AI version is going to create a different response every single time. We don’t know what it’s going to come back and say – we just know that it’s going to try to answer the question,” he said.

For more advanced uses, Jones said the company has done some custom, one-off projects for around $5,000, and the price range varies widely depending on the amount of customization needed.

Carefully Crafted serves over 50 clients, from local small businesses to international companies, with more than 300 registered accounts since Hey There’s launch May 4. Jones said building the platform took about three months, and there was no monetary investment aside from the developers’ time. So far, the company includes Jones and Blevins, plus two more full-time developers they brought on this month.

Tools for the job
While Nina, the personal trainer persona, can help a user maximize the effectiveness of leg day, some of the AI applications offered by the Carefully Crafted team are far more sophisticated.

Shawn Roberts is a partner with VeriWatt LLC, a Springfield startup that he said helps to promote quality assurance and consumer protection in the solar industry. VeriWatt works with large companies that make thousands of solar energy deals every month, and it checks out each deal by analyzing images and data to identify red flags.

Carefully Crafted developed the AI software VeriWatt uses, and Roberts said the automation makes the service possible.

“With what we’re doing in the industry, we really couldn’t function without it,” he said. “We couldn’t afford to operate as a startup ourselves if we had to hire thousands of representatives to perform the function their software provides.”

Roberts said Carefully Crafted developed similar software for another industry, and that was how he came to partner with the company.

“Scott and Brad are veterans in the software engineering world,” he said. “They’ve been around a long time, and their expertise goes way back.”

Blevins is a former chief technical officer for a company involved in agribusiness insurance, and Jones was director of operations for a marketing firm. Both also had freelance careers prior to forming Carefully Crafted.

As software engineers, Roberts said, Carefully Crafted built the product from the ground up, rather than using a template and plugging in data.

“If they’re building an application, software, a website – maybe all three – they’re building a pyramid, and the top of the pyramid is your goal. All the different layers are how you get there,” Roberts said. “They build it all from scratch, every single image and process.”

If a business model changes, maybe through the emergence of technology that isn’t even conceived of today, engineers can go in and add to the code without a business losing its entire body of work.

“If you’ve ever had a business and built a website from a template, you’re limited to what was already created,” he said. “What they can do is on another level. These guys built the tool.”

Half the story
Blevins said Hey There uses a large language model.

“AI is kind of a misnomer, because it’s not actually intelligent,” he said. “It is artificial – that part’s right.”

A large language model makes it possible to do vector mathematics on words, Blevins said.

“It’s a really, really souped-up Dewey decimal system,” he said.

An example of the kind of mathematics used would be an equation like this: king minus man plus woman equals queen.

“A computer doesn’t understand those concepts – it doesn’t know what king is,” he said. “But this allows a large joint language model to derive words that are closely related.”

It’s just math, Blevins said.

“It kind of knows, like, hey, based on everything that I’ve seen, this is kind of maybe the next word that would go here,” Blevins said. “It’s not intelligent, but what’s really great about large language models is that they’re really great at language.”

AI is another tool in a business’ toolbox, he said.

“It kind of evens the playing field,” Blevins said. “We’re a small business, and we don’t have the resources of a Facebook or Google or Amazon, but we feel like technology can help bridge the gap for people who aren’t already massive.”

Hey There began with a product Blevins and Jones built to use internally for customer relationship management, Blevins said. As they saw the possibility of the product for generating proposals and managing tasks for projects, they began adding more features.

“Brad actually had the brilliant idea of creating these personas,” Blevins said, noting the personas ask questions and refine their solutions in an iterative process that provides a much better output in the end.

Senators weigh AI risks
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law heard testimony on artificial intelligence May 16.

“If this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong,” said Sam Altman, CEO of Microsoft-backed OpenAI, creator of the ChatGPT tool, during the hearing.

During his testimony, Altman outlined his concerns about how AI might spread disinformation, interfere with elections and cause massive job displacement. Altman also pointed to AI’s promise, noting it could help solve challenges like climate change or cancer.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said AI will be transformative, with implications for Americans’ jobs and security.

“We could be looking at one of the most significant technological innovations in human history,” said Hawley.

Roberts of VeriWatt said the benefits outweigh the risks. He said much of the use of AI is invisible to the public, in the way that his company uses it for data analysis, photo recognition or identifying patterns of human behavior to protect real-money investments.

“The scare stuff – that’s propaganda. That’s not reality. It’s something to get ratings, get votes,” he said. “Anything that helps with consumer protection in my opinion is a good thing.”


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