31 Oct 2017
Phrasee Goes to Parliament
On Monday October 30th, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Artificial Intelligence (more info) invited our fearless CEO, Parry Malm, to give evidence at the House of Parliament in London. The topic? How the UK can become a global Artificial Intelligence leader. Here’s what Parry had to say about his Parliamentary debut…
It is a big honour, one for which I am grateful – and one that I hope will help enact change in the UK, a country I emigrated to from Canada in 2006 and proudly call home.
In case you’re not sure what I’m on about: An APPG is a cross-party parliamentary committee whose intent is to learn about specific topics. They then advise policy and legislation based upon their findings.
When you give evidence, you’re invited to parliament to give a speech to a panel of MPs, and answer their questions. Invitees are leaders from business and academia, which, for this session, included me.
If you had asked me in 2015, when we founded Phrasee, if I would be invited to help push forward the country’s policy agenda, I’d have said, “OF COURSE I WOULD BE”. And then a unicorn on a skateboard eating a milk hot dog would have rolled by.
But – now that we’re nearing our 3rd birthday, I know exactly why I was invited. They had heard from all the big corporates and all the PhDs, but what they wanted to know was how government policy can help fast-growing companies, like Phrasee, galvanise.
Here are the details of the meeting, who else was presenting… and following that, the evidence I presented. These are my opinions, based upon my experience in starting, growing and running Phrasee, and who knows if the advice will be taken. But – you gotta be in it to win it. Or – as my mom says, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Evidence Meeting 7 – International Perspective and Exemplars
Monday 30th October, 2017
Committee Room 4a
Houses of Parliament
Palace of Westminster
- Stephen Metcalfe – MP, South Basildon and East Thurrock
- The Lord Clement-Jones CBE – Chair of UK AI Select Committee
- Janghyun Yoon – Mayor of Gwangju Metropolitan City, with his speech on “Smart Human City, Gwangju, in the era of AI – Harmony of Mobility, Energy, Culture and Human Rights”
- Allan Dafoe – Research Fellow at Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford, and Assistant Professor of Political Science, Yale University
- Andy Forrester – Director, HypeAccelerator Solutions
- Parry Malm – CEO, Phrasee
- Catelijne Muller – Rapporteur on Artificial Intelligence, European Economic and Social Committee
- Dr Scott Steedman CBE – Director of Standards, BSI Group
- Alenka Turnsek – Co-leader UK value chain transformation tax network, PwC
- Dr Blay Whitby – Associate Tutor, Engineering and Design, Informatics, University of Sussex
- Lisa De Bonis – Executive Digital Director, Havas London, and Cannes 2017 Juror
Hello, my name is Parry Malm. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Phrasee. Phrasee is AI that writes better email subject lines than humans. If you get emails from Domino’s, Virgin Holidays, Gumtree and dozens of other brands around the world then you’ve experienced our technology without knowing it. Global brands use our AI to generate and optimise email subject lines in their mass marketing campaigns.
Phrasee was founded in 2015. We have grown turnover 600% in the last six months, and aren’t slowing down. We employ 30 people, half of whom are in R&D. We took on a £1m investment on July 1st, 2016 – the FIRST UK venture capital round to close after the Brexit referendum. We are the fastest growing AI company – in Putney.
As a business owner, an AI practitioner, and an immigrant to the UK, I have a unique perspective on what the government can do to transform the UK in a global AI powerhouse.
The UK’s history of innovation built an economic and social power. However, right now, all anyone talks about are short term blips, like Brexit and inflation. Instead, we need to talk about long-term challenges the UK is facing – in particular, a protracted under-investment in innovation. Today, my evidence, much of which cites Canadian policy as an exemplar, will focus on what the UK needs to do to become a leader in the digital economy of tomorrow.
— APPG AI (@APPG_AI) October 30, 2017
The UK currently has SOME policy to incentivise innovation. For example, innovative companies like Phrasee can claim future tax credits against past R&D overheads. This forces companies like mine to self-fund, and retrospectively benefit from our blood, toil, tears and sweat. But by itself, it’s not enough.
The UK is also a hotbed of academic AI research. This is an externality of many things, and isn’t linked to any individual policy. Having SOME people properly trained and educated is a starting point. But by itself, it’s not enough.
It’s not just about creating places at universities – it’s about access to a broad range of talent. For example, over half of my business is comprised of women, but this isn’t to be trendy. It’s because a business is better when you have a diverse business culture. But: few women apply for certain roles, especially in R&D. Ensuring training is accessible to people of all socio-economic classes, genders, ages, ethnic backgrounds and sexual identities is key. For example, offering scholarships and incentives for more women, members of the working class, and other minority groups to train in AI-related fields. Tangible policy to ensure tomorrow’s workforce represents today’s diversity is vital for global success.
Further, the world is becoming more and more insular and protectionist. This is where the UK can stand out. I grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and emigrated to the UK in 2006 and founded Phrasee. Of the 30 people who I employ, over one third of them are immigrants, from Australia, South Africa, across Europe, and even The Sudan. In Canada, the current government has opened its doors to both skilled and unskilled migrants, and has progressive policies in place to codify social mobility. Today’s penniless Syrian immigrants will become tomorrow’s Steve Jobs – whose father, by the way, was a Syrian immigrant.
Lastly, the UK is home to research arms of large, global corporations, like Google, IBM and Microsoft… none of which were founded here. The global tech oligarchy benefits a lucky few in the UK – but most of the beneficiaries are far from our shores. This needs to change.
Let me leave you with one thought: small – and fast-growing – companies like Phrasee represent the future of the UK’s position in the global digital economy. One priority for this APPG should be to ensure that the UK of today is a fertile petri dish for tomorrow’s Googles, IBMs and Microsofts.
Forget reviving long-gone industries, forget populism, and forget the status quo. Let’s focus on the future. Let’s make the Great British AI economy a global leader. To do so, I would encourage you to support policy that 1) ensures our future AI talent pool represents the country’s diversity; 2) keeps our doors open to innovators – and future innovators – from around the world; and 3) economically encourage companies to start – and grow – on our shores. My adopted country – of which I am proud to be a member – will be better for it.
What I learned
The UK government is taking AI seriously – as they should – but there is uncertainty about how government policy should adapt to modern technology. There are numerous considerations, including economic, social and regulatory. So what should a government do?
One interesting thing I learned from Dr Steedman of the BSI is that 95% of global standards (not regulations) are derived from British standards. What this means is Britain has a historic – and perhaps moral – obligation to lead the charge on ensuring AI is used for good, and not evil.
I also learned that ANYONE can have a voice in the political process. The panel represented academia, big business, regulatory bodies, and one fast-growing startup (that’s us, btw). About half the panel were non-British born – showing that the government, despite its mantra of “hard Brexit”, takes seriously those, like me, who come to Britain’s shores to do something awesome.
The purpose of the APPG was to highlight international exemplars, and I’m proud to say that, whilst based in London, Phrasee truly is an example of a global business. Our staff, now 30 strong, hail from across the globe. We’re over half women. We have people from all class backgrounds, all age groups, all sexual identities, and all everything else. And this is what makes us strong.
I’m incredibly proud of the company we are building at Phrasee, and am ravenously hungry for what’s next.
If you’ve made it this far in this blog post, let me finish with this:
We are unwavering in our ambition to be the best. We are ferocious in our appetite for success, but remain humble enough to be teachable.
When you combine artificial intelligence and human language, you get Phrasee. It’s awesome.