From tackling Ebola to driving business: How Norwich AI firm Rainbird leads the way

Rainbird CEO Ben Taylor, left, and chairman James Duez with staff members.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Rainbird CEO Ben Taylor, left, and chairman James Duez with staff members.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Enter the wrong password into an electronic sign-in at Rainbird's Norwich headquarters and a guard dog's threatening bark booms across the office.

Rainbird CEO Ben Taylor, left, and chairman James Duez.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Rainbird CEO Ben Taylor, left, and chairman James Duez.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

That and a series of other animal sounds are a pet project by one of the staff, and allows the team to multitask during meetings - a woodpecker's call signals a new customer has signed up.

For although artificial intelligence was once the subject of science fiction, it is now a tool for navigating big cities, is carried around in pockets, and has become a billion-dollar industry.

The team behind Rainbird believe they are at the forefront of this, and have found a way to digitally capture human knowledge, allowing computers to make complex decisions.

They have raised more than £1m so far in investment and new offices in Muspole Street have allowed the team to expand.


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Rainbird chief executive Ben Taylor, a former web developer, sees the technology as a rival for global artificial intelligence programme IBM Watson, and plans to incorporate in the United States in two years.

Mr Taylor is joined by chairman James Duez, who said Rainbird is unlike other programmes of its kind, because it can explain why it came to a decision.

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'People trust it because it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be better than humans,' said Mr Duez. 'We capture what people know but Rainbird will learn from there.

'People get really excited by its potential. If there is anything we have struggled with it is there is so much opportunity that people don't know where to start.'

Experts teach Rainbird what they know, and then it solves problems by asking users a series of questions.

The University of Surrey wants to use it to help tackle Ebola outbreaks, and the University of Pune in India wants to build a virtual map of art collections across the globe.

Eventually it is hoped anyone in the world will be able to discover their risk of catching Ebola just by answering a few online questions.

'The University can turn it into a website that anybody in the world can consult with at any time, to find out what to do in the event of a pandemic,' said Mr Duez.

Anyone prepared to be open and share the knowledge, such as universities and charities, can use Rainbird free of charge.

For businesses, the duo say projects are going to be quicker, cheaper and more successful, and the more people who use Rainbird the more effective it will be. 'It learns from being used,' said Mr Duez.

Are you launching a new technology venture? Call Sabah Meddings on 01603 772879 or email sabah.meddings@archant.co.uk

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