By Emily McDaid
Many commercial interests lie in the mood and opinions that people actively share online, via social media posts, comments and feedback. If businesses can capture what the public is “thinking and feeling” then it can adapt offerings in retail, fashion, style, media – even stocks and shares are affected.
Belfast-based startup Yedup develops the fundamental mathematical algorithms that power artificial intelligence (AI) – machines that continually learn from real-time observations. The company uses its technology to detect breaking news, unfolding events and changing public attitudes from social media posts. Yedup analyses these posts so fast it can produce results before the posts are delivered to the authors’ own followers.
Yedup co-founder Dr Martin Spollen, a mathematician, said, “The problem we’ve solved is how to keep pace with an evolving language on social media. Just consider how the term ‘Brexit’ was unknown not that long ago. Traditional social media analysis simply cannot keep up, and so loses accuracy quickly.”
He explained how this impacted the building of their product, called SodaBread.
“Yedup machines learn continually ‘on the fly’ so new concepts and hashtags are instantly understood. It’s far above the level of keyword search – this is the realm of abstract mathematical pattern analysis,” said Martin.
Three characteristics of social media make it one of the trickiest types of AI to handle:
Yedup has developed a scalable business so promising it was crowned Company of the Year at the InvestNI Propel Awards earlier this month. This added to other awards recognising Yedup’s vast potential.
Who uses the trend analysis?
“Businesses across many sectors will increasingly look to access global opinions and emerging events in real time. Yedup is focussed initially on serving global hedge funds, particularly those that rely on high speed, algorithm-based trading. We feed these trading algorithms with live data from our system so that traders can profit in the market by being first to know breaking news, unfolding events and significant changes in public attitudes as they happen. This ultimately benefits investors looking for a better return,” said Martin.
With so much promise, are you committed to keeping Yedup in NI?
“Yes. Northern Ireland is a great location for developing innovative technology solutions and our track record in attracting inward investors attests to that. While the brains behind Yedup will stay in Northern Ireland – and those are the high-paying jobs that impact locally – we will also develop a sales presence in key markets like London, New York and Chicago,”, he said.
Are you associated with one of the local universities?
“Yedup is not affiliated with a particular university. My PhD in mathematics is from Queens, but our team comprises alumni from both local universities and some further afield.”
Give me an example of when your analysis paid off.
“There was a fire recently on a plane at Chicago O’Hare Airport. The airline stock took a hit once the news hit the main media channels, but our analysis picked the news up faster from passengers’ social media posts - so we were able to alert our hedge fund clients before the stock price subsequently declined. We also correctly predicted that the news would affect the airplane manufacture’s stock price,” he said.
It seems nearly impossible to measure how much financial impact that could have.
Martin said: “Next-generation AI will make the impossible possible, and mathematics is at the heart of delivering that promise. There’s a bright future for companies like Yedup that are doing the fundamental research to push back the frontiers in this space, and building solutions that deliver higher accuracy and faster speed.”
Are you expanding or raising funds?
“Yes. There is active interest from the VC community both locally and from the US in helping Yedup to the next stage in its development. So, we expect to raise an initial round in the near future,” said Martin.
Will you analyse Facebook posts, or other social media sites?
Martin said: “We are always looking to add additional sources that improve our real-time perspective on the world. One of the big advantages of the Yedup system is that it is language agnostic by design. So, we are aiming to plug in Chinese social media in 2017 for a truly global perspective.”