Getting Smarter Every Day: Innovative Pasadena AI Company Helps Monetize ‘Thinking’

Gradient Intelligence joins Innovate Pasadena’s Connect '17 event

Published : Friday, October 13, 2017 | 5:00 AM

Erik Dreyer, of Pasadena’s Gradient Intelligence

[Updated]  You know that new iPhone technology that allows you to open your phone up just by looking at it? Only five years ago the technology didn’t even exist, and only very recently has it actually been applied on such a large-scale basis.

Or did you know that you can teach a machine to recognize a dog from a cat? This is a simplified version of the machine learning technology that, for example, allows the Mars Rover to tell solid ground from a cliff.

This is the kind of technology that Erik Dreyer, of Pasadena’s Gradient Intelligence, deals with every day.

Gradient Intelligence is one of a number of Pasadena companies featured at Innovate Pasadena presents Connect ’17, its fourth annual series of independently organized seminars, workshops and social events taking place throughout Pasadena starting today, October 13, and running through October 13-22. For more about Connect ’17, click here

“We provide machine learning services to companies that have a need, or want to build products that make better use of their data using machine learning but either they don’t have those skills in-house, or they’re looking to extend their machine learning talent,” said Dreyer by way of explaining his company’s mission.

Gradient is just one of the many companies showcasing at this year’s Connect ‘17 event produced by Innovate Pasadena, a community organization dedicated to advancing greater Pasadena as a hub of technology and design innovation.

The week-long event is the fourth annual series of independently organized seminars, workshops and social events taking place throughout Pasadena beginning October 13.

Featuring over 80 events on the topics of art, science, entrepreneurship, technology and astronomy that range from panels and open houses to exhibitions, mixers, and workshops, Connect ’17 offers an opportunity for guests to connect with industry professionals, discover local startups and learn the latest trends and insights.

“Most people think of Pasadena as the home of roses and football, but this rich and creative city offers so much more,” said Mike Giardello, president of Innovate Pasadena.

“It touts more restaurants per capita than New York, ranks second for housing the most non-profits in a single city within the United States, and is also home to major institutions like the world-renowned California Institute of Technology and ArtCenter College of Design, as well as hundreds of major companies like Idealab and NASA-owned Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“For the past four years,” Giardello continued, “we have played a major role in bringing together the city’s deep pool of brilliant minds and innovative businesses via our Connect series, and this year we are proud to offer the community a wide range of engaging, educational events. Connect ’17?s programming will give attendees the chance to collaborate and share knowledge, showcase visionary products and discuss new ideas that will further Pasadena’s reputation as Southern California’s center of innovation and creative thinking.”

Dreyer originally migrated to Pasadena to Caltech as a student and never left, he explained.

“I’ve always been a data junkie and enjoy figuring things out from data,” he said, “With the rapid progression of processing power, especially GPU processors in the past 10 years, machine learning algorithms can be applied in many more powerful practical applications. Because of this, there is a huge opportunity for businesses to leverage their existing assets utilizing machine learning to create new products.”

In other not-so-technical words, he found his market. And his company.

But back to that dog and cat.

As Dreyer explained, “You have 5,000 images of a dog and you have 5,000 images of a cat, so you can have a system that starts out not being able to tell the difference at all. And once you feed the images over and over to the algorithm, it learns features that are unique to dogs, and learns features that are unique to cats, such that after the training, the system will correctly classify the image if it’s a dog or a cat.”

As Dreyer expanded, “Those algorithms have been extended to recognize thousands of different classes and different types of objects. And even localize them within an image.”

While Dreyer is loath to reveal the exact nature of specific projects, He did tell Pasadena Now, “I’m working on an interesting video qualification project where I can identify specific events within the video feed. I’m also working on real-time recognition system in a small form factor that can recognize objects by pointing a small camera at it.”

“It’s this kind of technology that helps Facebook automatically, for example, tag potentially incendiary or inappropriate content in videos that are posted in Facebook, so it can look for things like, things that might be weapons,” said Dreyer.

Dreyer describes his ideal client company as one “that is willing to explore what they can do with their data, and see where it can get you, even if you don’t quite understand the technology yet. The ideal client is a company that either has data or has the ability to generate data and wants to create innovative products.”

As far as advice to other start-ups and entrepreneurs, Dreyer offers, “Don’t be afraid to apply your problem-solving skills in novel ways. Don’t discount the ability to understand and work with data as a competitive advantage for companies.”


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