Google CEO Larry Page and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer agree on one thing: the future of search is tied in with artificial intelligence.
Page has talked about the ideal search engine knowing what you want BEFORE you ask it, and Ballmer recently explained Microsoft’s multibillion dollar investment in Bing by saying that search research is the best way to progress toward artificial intelligence apps that help you DO things, not just find things.
The app analyses data from around the Web to figure out what you will like, based on similarities with other people. It’s similar to the recommendation engines pioneered by Amazon — “other people who bought X also bought Y” — or the Music Genome Project that eventually grew into Pandora. Only it’s applied to the real world.
Clever Sense CEO Babak Pahlavan explains that the company grew out of a research project into predictive algorithms that he was working on at Stanford three years ago. The technology crawls the Web looking for what users are saying about particular products, and is able to categorize the results into between 200 and 400 attributes and sentiments for each one.
For instance, if somebody visits a coffee shop and posts on Yelp “the cappuccino at X was awesome but salad was crap,” Clever Sense understands the words “awesome” and “crap,” and also notes that “cappuccino” is a high-interest word for coffee shops.
This kind of analysis is performed millions of times per day. When it launches, Alfred will have a database of more than 600,000 locations with between 200 and 400 attributes rated ON EACH ONE. As you rate places, the app will get even more accurate.
Alfred is focused on four categories — bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and coffee shops — but Clever Sense plans to apply its technology to other areas as well. Pahlvan explains that Clever Sense could work very well with daily deals services like Groupon, LivingSocial, or Google Offers — instead of having merchants throw deals out to the entire world, they could target them at the users who would be most likely to buy.
At launch, the data is anonymous, but Alfred will feature Facebook Connect integration so it can add social data into its recommendations — if it knows that a lot of your friends are saying positive things about a particular bar, it will weigh those recommendations more highly than statements from random strangers.
The company has been running on an investment of about $1.6 million from angel investors, but Pahlavan says the company is planning to raise further rounds later this year. That’s assuming it doesn’t get snapped up by a big company first.
Microsoft may have an inside shot — Clever Sense is participating in the company’s BizSpark program, which gives free software and other aid to startups — but there are tons of other companies who should be interested in the technology as well.