Author Archives: Michael Seiler

AI is bringing back balance to Japanese workers

The “Japanese economic miracle” is a term used to describe the fast-paced growth that Japan saw in the second half of the 20th century. Along with the rise to the world’s second-largest economy came a strong mentality for success, and much like other advanced economies, that left a side effect: work-life imbalance, resulting in an overworked population. 

Japanese entrepreneur Miku Hirano founded her startup, Cinnamon, to address this challenge to help relieve the burden on the Japanese worker. Using artificial intelligence, Cinnamon removes repetitive tasks from office workers’ daily responsibilities, allowing more work to get done faster by fewer people. Cinnamon recently participated in Google Developers Launchpad Accelerator Japan. We asked Miku to reflect on her path from becoming an entrepreneur and the challenges she faces in her work. 

When did you realize you wanted to make an impact on Japanese workers? 

I founded my first startup when I was a student in 2006, and it was successfully acquired by mixi in 2011, so entrepreneurship is not new to me. Just three years ago, I read a news story about a young woman in Japan who committed suicide after working too much. I did some research and found this was not an isolated incident, and in fact, we have word, karoshi, which means death from overwork.. 

I was pregnant at the time, and I started to think we should change this current working style for the next generation. Work-life balance isn’t just a “nice” aspiration to have. Consistency with your family, pursuing hobbies and spending time in nature is directly related to health and happiness. 

So how does Cinnamon help restore work-life balance? 

he majority of the time-consuming work that Japanese workers face is the result of “unstructured data.” For example, legal contracts are often 400 pages long, and without a way to quickly summarize it, workers are left to read the entire document, a task that can take up to a week to accomplish. Cinnamon uses artificial intelligence to quickly summarize the document in minutes.  

What we’re building at Cinnamon is a way to use AI to remove repetitive tasks that can give workers back hours of their life each day and increase the quality and output of their work. Advanced technology is the core component that makes Cinnamon work, and Google’s AI tools like TensorFlow and Firebase have been an easy way to allow computers to read and understand a lot of text very quickly.  

Why did you choose to participate in the Launchpad Accelerator? 

We were facing a block on how to develop large, quality AI models effectively and how to build strong teams.  Google’s program was supporting exactly that. 

During our time in the accelerator, we received hands-on mentorship for complex AI model development. We also got to participate in a program called LeadersLab, which gave us in-depth insight into our leadership styles.

What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs?

Start your business today!  There’s no reason to wait. Talk to potential customers immediately and get a sense for if they find your idea valuable. Most importantly, find your inspiration. For me it’s my kids, because they always inspire me with their genuine, fresh eyes and minds.

AI is helping rural patients get crucial medical care

For those of us who live in big cities in developed countries, it’s easy to take access to hospitals and medical specialists for granted. But many rural communities in developing countries have too few medical clinics and doctors. With only prohibitively expensive and slow options for managing their healthcare, many patients in these areas deal with a lack of diagnosis and treatment.

Rafael Figueroa, an entrepreneur from Brazil, created Portal Telemedicina to help address this problem. His company uses advanced technology to drastically reduce the time and cost barriers to quality medical care. Portal participated in Google’s startup acceleration program, and Rafael has become one of the program’s top global artificial intelligence mentors. 

Now, more than 500 rural clinics and large healthcare institutions throughout Brazil and Angola use Portal’s technology. The company was selected by the United Nations as one of 10 global companies to join Accelerate2030, which supports entrepreneurs working towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

We asked Rafael to reflect on his path toward entrepreneurship, the work Portal is doing and how technology is making it all possible. 

How does Portal work? 

Here’s an example: with our technology, a patient that lives in the rural rainforest in Brazil can go into their local clinic and get an X-ray. With just a few clicks, local nurses can send the information through the cloud to specialist physicians in the capital city of São Paulo. Those specialists can then give diagnostics to those patients, from 1,000 miles away. 

Portal's telediagnostic platform helps doctors give more accurate and fast diagnoses, using artificial intelligence to help diagnose thousands of patients each day. The system double checks all of the diagnostics against the AI prediction and, in case of discrepancy, automatically sends the exam to three other doctors, in order to reduce human errors. 

How does AI know what to look for in an exam image? 

Computers are only as “smart” as the information you input into the system. Our platform uses more than 30 million exams and health records that the computer can use to “learn” and reference so that it can make medical findings at or above human level accuracy. 

How did you know you wanted to be a healthcare entrepreneur? 

I have always strived to help people. I’ve worked with NGOs and have been aware of the discrepancy in access that people have based simply on where they live. In 2013, I had my own healthcare emergency while in Northeast Brazil, and in the absence of a medical specialist, I had a misdiagnosis which almost took part of my mobility. I rushed to São Paulo and underwent surgery. I spent six months without walking, which gave me plenty of time to think about the lack of access to doctors in remote regions. 

How have Google technology and programs helped you grow Portal? 

Google products help us run many aspects of our business, but most importantly we use the machine learning platform TensorFlow, which gives us the image recognition technology that examines the X-rays to make a diagnosis. During Google’s acceleration program, we worked with experts that helped us through tech our challenges and prepared Portal’s technology platform for fast growth.

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?

Don’t presume you know the right path to follow. Prioritize building a platform where you can run experiments very quickly. The key factor is to put the product in the user’s hand ASAP to collect their feedback. Based on that, start to develop a more sophisticated technology.

TerraTalk is changing how Japan’s students learn English

With increasing classroom sizes, more paperwork than ever and new mandates from the ministry of education, Japanese teachers face an uphill battle in their mission to teach their students. 

Yoshiyuki Kakihara wanted to use technology to figure out a solution, with an emphasis on English language education. He created TerraTalk, an AI-powered app that allows students to have audio conversations. TerraTalk’s artificial intelligence can hear and process what the students say and give feedback, removing this burden from teachers, and reinvigorating the classroom by creating an atmosphere filled with conversation and English learning games. TerraTalk was recently part of Google Developers Launchpad Accelerator, a program that provides mentorship and support to early-stage startups.

With nine acceleration programs and 341 startup alumni, we at Launchpadhave seen firsthand how  entrepreneurs around the world are using technology and startup innovation to solve the world’s biggest problems. In the third installment of our series, “Ideas to Reality,” we talked to Yoshiyuki about why he started TerraTalk, and where he hopes it will be in the next few years. 

TerraTalk app

A look at the TerraTalk English learning app.

When did you realize you wanted to make an impact on the education field? 

I grew up on the outskirts of Tokyo as a science-savvy kid and became super interested in foreign culture. I ended up leaving my high school to study in the United Kingdom. I did well academically back home, so it was quite a shock how my English fell short of being comprehensible at all abroad. It turns out that I wasn’t alone; in Japan, very few people reach conversational level at the end of secondary or university curriculum.

I feel that this is the result of an outdated methodology where too much emphasis is placed on explaining the grammar and little to no attention on putting the language into use. To make matters worse,  80 percent of teachers in Japan are putting 100 hours of overtime per month. They don’t have time to investigate, experiment with and transform the way they teach. When I learned this, I realized that I could help by creating a new technology to ease the burden on teachers, and make learning English more engaging for students.  

Who are your customers? How is your company positively affecting them?  

We do business directly with education institutions and local education councils. With our TerraTalk app, students can engage in role-playing style conversation lessons with their mobile devices. This enables teachers to ensure their students get enough speaking time, which is difficult to achieve with conventional classroom methodologies.

We are seeing students teach each other on how to tackle the exercises, sometimes creating their own competition out of it. In some ways, the technology we are bringing is humanizing classrooms, as it frees teachers from the standard lecture format.

How did you use Google products to make TerraTalk? 

BigQuery has helped us crunch massive user data to discover how people are using our app. Google Analytics is our go-to tool for marketing and search engine analysis. We use the TensorFlow family of machine learning tools and other numerous open source projects maintained by Google. We also use G Suite as a primary business tool, because of its reliability, security and ease of use.

Why did you choose to participate in Google Launchpad?

Google is a leading company in machine learning and cloud technology applications, which we heavily rely on. The prospect of receiving support in these areas was extremely appealing, especially when you are running a startup and saving time is everything.

What was the most memorable moment from Launchpad? 

We attended Launchpad Tokyo, which had seven startups in total. In a session called Founders Circle, founders from the startups got together and shared their biggest failures to date in a fireside-chat style. It was the moment where we became a true community, and many of us are still in touch after the program.

What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs? 

Don’t quit. Find a business or market where you have a natural advantage over other people. Whether your competition is other startups or established companies, it is the people you work with who make the difference.