In this episode of #LØRN, Silvija talks to Inge Grini who is the Founder and CEO of Intellectual Labs. Grini describes their teams as full-time inventors who, through their cutting-edge expertise in AI, work with product development or inventions based on AI technology. Their mission is to co-create and innovate around AI-driven products focused on scientific discovery.
With Silvija Seres and Inge Grini
Velkommen til Lørn.Tech en læringsdugnad om teknologi og samfunn, med Silvija Seres og venner.
SS: Hello and welcome to a Lørn podcast in collaboration with Smart Innovation Norway. My name is Silvija Seres and my guest today is Inge Grini the founder and CEO of Intellectual Labs. Welcome, Inge.
IG: Thank you very much, thank you.
SS: I´m not even sure if I’m pronouncing your name correctly in English. It’s still Inge?
IG: Inge is perfect, yes. You did it right.
SS: Good. So, Inge, we are going to talk about your company and we are going to be talking about the whole ecosystem around AI, energy systems, and the process systems in Halden. But before we do all of that I am hoping we could talk a little bit about yourself, who are you, and what made you that way?
IG: Yes, who am I? Well, I think I can consider myself an entrepreneur by heart, simply because I've always had a desire to start new things, including companies but other projects as well. I have started a few companies, I've failed a few, but I’ve also succeeded a few. That’s a part of it. My passion in entrepreneurship is to meet people with courage, other partners with courage, and to see people actually with knowledge and having the opportunity to do great, amazing things. That's kind of my passion. I'm also a sailor, I love science, and I am 24/7 in when it comes to reading. I'm a lot of things. I'm also a father to my kids that are big already.
SS: You've always been in the general vicinity of Halden or you moved there? Or?
IG: No, I never moved there. Actually, my mother lives there, but that’s a coincidence. I’ve been there a lot over the years. I like the people that I meet there, to be honest. Smart Innovation Norway and AI Cluster is another really good example of people doing good. People with energy and passion for what they are doing.
SS: It fascinates me that this little town at the southernmost point, well, the east southernmost point in Norway has this incredible energy around energy markets, energy products, smart energy, and AI energy. It might be some sort of inheritance from the nuclear reactor project or the energy institute. What's your take on why are they so good at it?
IG: It could be that. There's no big educational institute there. One of the founders of Intellectual Labs, he moved from Trondheim after his Ph.D. to Fredrikstad. So, you don't have to go to Oslo after your education or remain in Trondheim or Bergen. You could go to a place like Fredrikstad. So, it says something. Maybe it's other things like the history of entrepreneurship and industry. It used to be a big city where all the logs used to be floating down from the Glomma and collected, so they were big on that before. And there's been quite a lot of industry in the area. Øra is still a very solid industrial region of Fredrikstad. It's quite amazing stuff they are doing there too. So, a little bit of history, I think. I have seen this in a lot of places in Norway, to be honest. When you go out enough, to the west of the country, which is a good example of that, typically, they look at you strangely if you assume that for their business you need to somehow relate to the Oslo region, and for most of those people it's not true, they can do very well without Oslo.
SS: Very good. Tell us a little bit more about Intellectual Labs. What do you do?
IG: Well, we actually started the company a little bit odd, to be honest. We started the company to be inventors full-time, at least for some of us who started the company. But if you look at it more seriously, we are scaling on knowledge within AI specifically. So, the principal idea is to fill the company with scientific reigns and mines and use that to innovate new products and develop new products. So, we are aiming to become an AI knowledge center, and we are already that, but also, to develop products. So, sometimes we define ourselves from what we're not, we're not consultants for instance. It's not that we cannot do Consulting, we can do that, but it is not our main business driver. Then you can ask how can you make money from inventing stuff. That is a trick, a challenge that we put upon on ourselves to find a way to do both investments of money and time into products, eventually with good partners, because we understand there won't need to be working really in the broader community and ecosystem, as some people call it, to find entrepreneurs, other entrepreneurs, corporates who are brave enough to do joint ventures with innovators and people who can take a product to market. So, we think about that from day one. There's a lot of ideas that we are not working on because we don't have a mix of partners, we don't see the market yet, and the project is not funded. So, as much as we are investing in products, we are also looking to see funding to basically be able to do it. Does that make sense?
SS: Very nice. It makes sense. So, I have this image in my head right now of Kygo and Avicii, and I might be overdoing it now, but they find a really cool song, and then they put their magic on it, and I think you're looking for really good cases where you can put your AI and other magic on, not just as a consultant, but as somebody who stays as a part of the team and has some ownership long-term.
IG: Exactly, long-term is the key. I haven't found any Norwegian company that has this kind of model. We have a role model, it's a big American company, who has been doing this for 20-years. They actually managed to be the birthplace of seven or eight unicorns already, after 20 years. But those are companies who started with fabulous technology innovation. So, we are learning from others, and outside of Norway, some people are better than this. So, the model that I like is that we can go to a corporate, and they have an industry, a sector, they need to innovate and create, and sometimes they have fantastic ideas, which is right down the core business, a little bit to the left, a little bit to the right, but quite often corporates are not able to fulfill and complete the innovation. They might do some experiments but many of them are not really product developers, or maybe the idea needs a commercial aspect that is slightly outside of their core business, or it needs people who are willing to take risks, who can give big priority to something which is for a corporate maybe at some small thing. So, when you go in there and find something, a great idea, maybe there's a reason why it's great. We can go in there and say: “guys we can do that with you''. So, then the corporates can invest, let's say, a million kroner, and we will invest, and together we will build a proper product. We will do market validation, the first face, the risky face, which a corporation will typically either do not want to do because it's not important enough, or they will take too long. It can take 2-3 years to do something, but we don’t have that kind of time scheme, we wanna do it faster, much faster.
SS: So, an innovation engine?
IG: Yes, that's the dream. And what I just explained to you is what some people call "power coupling" with corporates. I think we have a lot more experimenting in Norway to do before we do that well. We’re not doing it well enough, they’re much better in Germany for instance, and in Sweden.
SS: Also, Innovation Week had this as the main theme for their annual conference 2 years ago and they called it "power couples", but as you say, it's a little too rare, there's a lot and a lot of space to be taken here.
IG: I love that they brought it up as a topic and that some people do a presentation and try to teach the others a little bit. That's awesome, but this takes time. Somebody’s got to try and do it. We put all our eggs in that basket and we are trying.
SS: Very good. Why do you like the project? What's your motivation?
IG: Well, for me personally and for some of the co-founders too, but particularly in my view, is to be able to take part in forming the future, influencing the future in any way that I'm able to, and since I'm a technologist, I like to work with the really clever people, that's what I can do. So, forming it and take part in forming the future. Some people talk about exponential growth, right? Exponential development in terms of technology, science, and so on. To talk about it is well and good, that curve is coming, we are on the curve, it's going to happen, but to be one of the driving forces on that, that’s meaning to me. And also, I’m a risk-taker, I’ve always been, I feel more alive when I take some risks. That's a personal thing.
SS: I asked you about some dilemmas that you think are interesting in this whole space and you mention one that I also think is very cool, and it's this whole appetite for risk from buyers. I have been also on the selling end of wonderful technologies, but the people are more willing to buy if they are produced by an American company rather than by a Norwegian company. Why is that?
IG: This is horrendous, but there is a standard clause, and I don't know if it's regulation or not, but if you do a public tender in 9 out of 10 tenders, you have to prove that you have done a similar project to a similar type of customer within the last 3 years, so you had no chance, those tenders only work for big companies. A lot of people are talking about public needs to help the innovation in Norway, but the programs and Smart Innovation procurement rules are a dead end. I’ve seen it and what they need to do is to change the criteria so that they let the smaller companies compete for great deals, great contracts with brave people. And do take the risk. Maybe you buy something and three years later it's bankrupt, but you need to take that risk. And the public system in Norway, I don't know how many billions of dollars do they purchase every year, but it's a huge number.
SS: Not quite in billions but the number I know is 500 million kroner and that's a lot of money if it's not put into something that's very kind of value-creating. That's the "offentlig innkjøp", but maybe there are other pots.
IG: The big public procurement amount is much bigger than 500 million, maybe billions. We don't know the details.
SS: The point is we should be spending it on not repurchasing stuff that's been done many times over but maybe doing things differently.
IG: In a new way, or maybe more based on science for instance. I am very much a fan of developing a product that has some kind of routine inside, which for instance they do in the medical field in Norway. There is a lot of great things there.
SS: Your platform for the industries is called "Factory Mind". How does the whole thing work? How does one get factory mind?
IG: Well, if you've been around digitalization and industry being an observer, or in my case, also trying to sell it, I've been observing the international market for this. In order to do such acquisition of technology, to achieve with digitalization and becoming more of a data-driven industrial company, typically there are huge investments, typically we are running into tens of millions of the budgets that we've seen over the years. The other thing is the skills set, the competence required to do it. For some executives looks like too much for me. I know there is some value there, I don't know exactly what the value is, and it's really is going to be a budget that will kill my margins. So, investments are not done although people like us and others are investing. There are some good start-ups and some companies in Norway as well, but there are even more in Europe. What we want to do with the factory mind is to solve that problem, the obstacle of investing. We want to make it accessible, easier, and more cost-effective to do an incremental improvement of your production or industrial assets. We believe in an incremental step-by-step approach to becoming a data-driven organization. And the product we're making, the unique features of it, is that it makes adopting AI easier, faster, and cheaper because you buy it for somebody that has the knowledge, so the knowledge comes embedded in the delivery, and you don't have to think so much about the big-budget constraints. So, in a way, you buy something where you reap the benefits quickly, so it kind of finances itself and even more than that, and then you'll be more effective. That's the idea.
SS: Have you ensured that people become self-sufficient? That eventually they are, what shall I say, also committed to this innovation and the new way of doing things?
IG: I think when corporates if that's what you're talking about.
SS: Or your customers.
IG: Or my customers, yes. I think that they do hire very skilled people but they are not letting them free, and a lot of people come to us because I was working for that company and I really want to do stuff, but then, we do stuff, and it gets shelved, it gets put into the drawer. So the smartest people around don't want to work like that, they want to work where they can actually see value being extracted from whatever mathematics, data analytics, or AI that are producing. So, as much as it can be a little bit intriguing for very clever people to make a smart personal assistant or a very smart video analysis engine, that is very short-lived. It's only when you can see that is actually being used as creating some value and it could feel that I did that, then you find the right place to use your brain. I think that a lot of people, corporates, are not really appreciating the skills that they hire sometimes.
SS: They don't know how to make the most of it.
IG: But then they can come to Intellectual Labs and many people want to do that.
SS: Very cool concept. I asked you who is it that inspires you and you mentioned a guy called Nathan Myrvold. Can you tell us more about him?
IG: He's not Norwegian. He is a guy that has been doing this kind of invention-based business for about 40 years or something. He is the CEO of Intellectual Ventures and also the founder of a company I mentioned before. I said there was a company with 20 years in the business, that's them, and that's him.
SS: Intellectual Ventures.
IG: And they have a lab called Intellectual Ventures, so you can understand where did we steal the name from. The man has 800 patterns to his own name, and that's just him, then the rest of the company. He is a real machine, and they've been doing it for 20 years. We didn't even think about that, we were running around in the academic circles trying to do innovation in universities at that time. I don't believe in that model, I love the American model. Have you seen the effects of it? We should do more of that in Norway, to be honest, because we have the skills in terms of skills and scientific minds. We are best-in-class in Scandinavia and Norway. We have per capita an extreme density of smart people and, on top of that, smart people from Tokyo, Deli, from all over the world. Most of them go to the US but some of them are also coming to Oslo and Norway because it's a great country to live in. So, we are able to double up on skills, we need to do more of it basically.
SS: I used to be an academic for a while and one of the things that I remember is this disregard for applied research. I think that's changed in the latest years but there was something about the glorification of pure research, where you define what you want to do and why, and there is industrial money that is somehow confusing you. I think that that's what we need to be doing more of and I'm a very big fan of these ventures between academia and Industry because I think the industry has to solve so many problems so incredibly quickly these days and there is a plethora of really good research problems. So, why look for something abstract when you can find the concrete and then, also, do great research on top of it?
IG: We just can't do it now, and you're right, we have really come a long way from this intense focus where the only valid research is basic research and the problem must be defined by theories and academia. As much as that is good, we've come a long way and with the TTO’s, for those who don't know what that is, it is "Technology Transfer Offices" owned by universities. They are doing great, I still think they have a little risk problem that we talked about initially and there are some other challenges people have been talking about, but yes, they are doing very good, and we could do better. We need more companies like Intellectual Labs who take risks to challenge them a little bit. For instance, an institute attached to the university will do an innovation typically from 3 to 5-years, even applied research, and maybe there's a product and sometimes it's not even a goal that this research should produce a product. So, it doesn't have the right goals and they are spending too much time, they need to go faster.
SS: What do you think is relevant knowledge for the future?
IG: For me, when I hire people, it's not what you know, it's to what degree are you passionate about learning new stuff because you need to have a foundation, and your experience, scientific background, or theoretical background, it's definitely important, but you need to continuously expand on that knowledge. That is the only way in the knowledge industry, and I think that it probably sounds like a cliché, but it is very true, and that is what I'm looking for, curious people. So, if you're Ph.D. in statistics, do you really want to learn something totally different? If you are passionate about that, then you could be right for my mind.
SS: How do you incentivize it?
IG: I'm no guru but I tried to make people find those incentives themselves discussing them openly having fun and letting people be totally free but with some direction. I think that the core competence in Intellectual Labs is actually to create a place for their bright minds. All the other things like what are we going to produce, what ideas can we deliver on, how do we do it, the business model, etc. That follows the fact that you have good people. I think it's just creating a great place to be.
SS: I asked you what you could recommend as a reading point and you recommend two books. "Lifespan" is something that we have been reading in Lørn as well, but partly, I'm fascinated and I'm a little repulsed. I think that the way that David Sinclair talks about aging is making a process that is very natural and actually maybe even the process that we should be proud of very negative, I guess. I have a more philosophical point of view.
IG: We can talk about the philosophical topic as well if that's what you would prefer. I would challenge the inclination to cling to the concept of natural, because look around you, there's almost nothing natural with us in the human society anymore, we have changed so many things already. So, there's a long argument for why we should actually tackle aging, but why should there be some part that is sacred? Like: "let's not touch that part, let's do all the other changes to the world around us, to the world we live in, to how we live our lives, but not that". It just doesn't make sense to me. It's counterintuitive to me. So, on the less philosophical but more practical and political side of becoming 200 years old, which I believe we will do, totally believe that and I think medically we will solve aging. I can't say when but I'm afraid that that's going to create a huge society where there are people who can do it and people who can’t because they can't afford it. So, one of our ideas have been working on that to solve that problem long before it happens, not by being the ones to solve aging, there are 120 age scientific laboratories in the world today, one of them right here in Oslo, and with some of the brightest people in the world actually, and all these laboratories are producing a massive amount of science these days, so I think we will solve it. I think what is in the name of the human race to do is to change things fundamentally. The Healthcare systems don't work actually, they are not natural the way they are.
SS: My worry is that when you produce services or products that are so coveted they are never evenly distributed because they just have such a high sales potential and I think once you start redistributing that unfairly we're creating inequalities we’ve never seen before. The other thing is that well, even if you do live to be 200 years old, will you be able to fill those 200 years with real meaning? Sometimes we feel our life with more meaning exactly because we know that time is short and time is limited, so I don't see why more is necessarily better other than at a very kind of selfish level. It's better for me, for my children, and for my parents. We all think like that and we all cling to life but it's a long discussion. I just think that we should be sure that we don't let business goals override some very basic moralities that I think this whole, not just society, but maybe even ecosystem, on earth is built on.
IG: I totally agree with you on that. I'm scared about the same things, this is not only about aging science. My team doesn't think we will create artificial general intelligence in 10 or even 50 years. A lot of people in the business think that it will happen much sooner and when it happens, let's say in 100 years, or 10 years, these ethical dilemmas pop up also when it comes to what the machines can do for us versus what can we do. What are we supposed to do if, indeed, AI can do everything? That is relevant and I'm scared of it. One thing I've been thinking about recently is that, in Scandinavia, and thankfully I think it's because of our culture, we've been focusing a lot on ethical AI. We have had a lot of conferences on that, I haven't seen much of that in Europe and the US, to be honest, and definitely not in the far east, but I haven't seen many people actually trying to build an ethical AI that is happening outside of Norway. So, we are very good at talking about AI and how should it be ethical. We made conferences about that, and we bring our Scandinavian culture into the discussion of AI. That is good, but which team is actually making the first ethical AI?
SS: On that point, I agree. There are lots of ethical AI conferences all around the world and lots of them are converging between philosophy and IT, or society and IT, or technology broader than AI. I think there's a lot of applications of narrow AI in aggregates that can have a bigger effect than general intelligence. I think that's a completely kind of moot point by now. What I think is interesting is that we have a lot of opinions by now on what AI should or shouldn't bring to us, but, as you say, we don't build those systems, we don't say: "let's make this system that will follow the right rules". And I think what you're pointing out there is a super important point about. If you want to see a good future ahead and you have some opinions on what the future really tells, then go ahead and start working towards it. I think we are a little bit too passive in that regard, we feel that technology is being built somewhere else and we might be good at maybe process technology. I think we are really good at many kinds of technology, and through that construction, we are actually defining the future.
IG: I think so. We need to do stuff as you need to do when you are really going to learn stuff, you need to do stuff in order to change society. It's easy to get carried away and say that we're not doing this, we're not doing that. There's a lot of things happening in Norway, don't get me wrong. This is just one of the teams attracting scientists who want to be part of them. Just to bring it down to some practical thing, some of us came from another AI Consulting company before, and in that team, one of the most used cases for data making AI modeling, especially customer analytics, customer insights, and so on, still very important for companies. What those customer AI models are doing there is to suggest that something has probably been happening, those are the things you want to catch. The problem has been when those models are a little sophisticated. They are really hard to understand, there are some results that are counterintuitive to the people in the organization, so we made not an ethical AI, but an explainable AI. That was another topic in conferences, and we just made it. So, the machine is made with a score and with the 10 top reasons for that score. I remember it was very statistical but we were struggling to find a way to lay people's words to add to the statistical probabilities. We did it in the end, but if we hadn't managed to put words to those statistics, to explain why that was happening with this customer. And that is really cool, but also difficult because you're going away from mathematics into the intuition of the people who were actually going to use the result. That's a big challenge. Again, we're not doing enough for that incompetence.
SS: Explanable AI, as much as Certifiable AI, will be very important going forward. What's your most important lesson learned from the corona crisis?
IG Apart from everybody struggling, and we are struggling hard, there's a little comfort in that we are not alone in this struggle. Is that true collaboration with the genetics of our team and company? True collaboration doesn't work on video. A lot of nice things have been said about it, but the true collaboration is not happening on video, creation if you like.
SS: I found it's like a two-edged sword; on one hand I find the video meetings very efficient because usually you stick to the points, and you try to get out as quickly as you can, so, the meetings don't drag out as much. But on the negative side, you lose all the creative aspects of collaboration, I think, or at least, lots of them. And I think you also lose basically the social side of meeting people.
IG: On the counter side I think we have learned to use video in a better way. CEOs and managers rallying for the 50 little pictures on the screen with 50/50 individual cameras feeding into one big meeting. We never used to do that, so we've tried a lot of new things and learned something about it. Somebody was telling me today, this person is producing and delivering video conference room equipment which is an area of AI, that working spaces will be changed a lot. When we do get to the office we don't want to sit in the cubicle like I'm doing now, we want to actually be there to do that collaboration, so we need to rearrange the space a little bit and do more of that when we actually are in the office.
SS: I imagine that your organization has somewhat of a different structure than other organizations given that you're all about innovation. Perhaps more of a network than a hierarchy. How do you lead an organization like that?
IG: We are a small team, when it comes to the employees, there are 5 people now, so leading that is fairly easy. I tried to be hands-on, later on, I might not be able to do that. Basically, it's letting the seniors have their hands at leading the whole team. The main topic around leading is two things: how do we deliver the things that we decided to do, and how to do to that while learning, and what other things do we need to learn, and who can learn it as fast as possible, because this is really about a lot of learning. The people are getting paid to learn in this company. But there's always a purpose to that learning. What we`re also doing is making extended scientific teams. We started to make projects where there's not only us and it's not only us but us plus entrepreneurs also plus other scientists working in other companies. And that works too. I was surprised about that, but we can put together quite advanced teams around intellectuals. And that is a little bit of a network effect.
SS: At the very end: do you have some sort of a life motto?
IG: Yes, it's the curiosity. I don't know if it is a life motto or just my autopilot, but I'm always curious, so if I want to say something to somebody, always be learning, always be curious. The most dangerous people are the know-it-alls, they have an education and some background, they just know things, and they know that they know, there's no check question. I really can't work with those people. But there's not a lot of people like that. Always be learning would be my life motto. I used to have another very personal one. There's a necessity to sail.
SS: Anyone who has been an entrepreneur, a founder, and had to worry about giving people their salaries knows what you are saying. I have a completely newfound respect for sales after having been on the selling side of things. Inge Grini founder and CEO of Intellectual Labs, thank you for exposing us to a really wonderful idea, and for inspiring us about taking an active role in defining our future.
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Hvem er du, personlig og faglig?
En iverksetter som brenner for at mot, mennesker og kunnskap kan få til grenseløse ting.
Hva selger din organisasjon, og hvorfor kjøper folk fra dere?
Vi er oppfinnere på heltid. Vi skalerer på spisskompetanse innen AI og produktutvikling. Vi skaper AI drevne produkter sammen med andre og selger disse gjennom egne selskaper - JVs og startups.
Hva motiverer nettopp deg ved dette oppdraget?
Å kunne være med å forme fremtiden. Å kjenne at man lever ved å ta risiko som grunder.
Hvilke interessante nye dilemmaer oppstår i ditt innovasjonsfelt?
Mange vil være med å ri på digitalisering og moderne teknologi. Men det er ikke nok folk som tar risiko i Norge. Det fører til: 1) for lite radikal nyskapning innen teknologi og 2) for mange som ikke kjøper nyskapningene fra de som gjør det
Dine beste tips til andre lignende selskaper?
Det er få eller ingen lignende i Norge. Foreslår at noen flere starter slike som oss.
Dine viktigste prosjekter siste året?
FactoryMind. En helt ny og unik AI plattform for Industrien.
Hvem inspirerer deg?
Hva er relevant kunnskap for fremtiden?
Evnen til kontinuerlig læring, bygget på et solid teoretisk fundament - innen alle vitenskaper. Årsaken til at dette er viktigst er den eksponentielle utviklingen innen vitenskap og teknologi
Hva gjør vi unikt godt i Norge?
Vi har ekstremt høyt faglig og vitenskapelig nivå (per capita), og vi kan det å tiltrekke oss noen av de beste fra andre deler av verden. Våre teknologimiljøer et i øverste verdensklasse mht. kompetanse.
Viktigste nye perspektiver fra Covid?
Reell samhandling fungerer dårlig på video!
Dine beste ledelses-tips?
- Lev med kundens opplevelse som det første motto
- Slipp folk fri, men vis vei med en strategi
- Sørg for at salg kommer først
Bruker du bærekraft som vekstmotor?
Muligens. Alle produkter vi lager har bærekraft eller meningsfulle endringer som basis - i en eller annen form.
Et yndlingssitat eller livsmotto?
«There’s nothing quite as frightening as someone who knows they are right» - Michael Faraday.
Motto: always be curious and keep learning.
Samle deg med en venn eller en kollega for å se om du klarer å svare på spørsmålet nedenfor.
Vi er mer villig til å handle hos store amerikanske firmaer enn hos norske bedrifter. Hvilke kriterier må vi endre for å la de små bedriftene i Norge trenge gjennom til å være første prioritet?
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