This serial entrepreneur has been developing the XXII company, which specialises in artificial intelligence, for the past three years. The company’s vision focuses the technology squarely on the human being.
Make no mistake about it, this 30-something founder of a startup focused on artificial intelligence is not a true believer in a rosy technological future. He would be more likely to claim anti-geek status. William Eldin, co-director of the XXII company, advocates his own vision of a return to basics.
“Our company’s vision is to augment the human being and his perceptions in order to develop a form of emotional quotient that we seem to have lost.”
“Our company’s vision,” he says, “is to augment the human being and his perceptions in order to develop a form of emotional quotient that we seem to have lost to some extent. Technology is there to handle all the routine issues of life in society so that we can pay more attention to ourselves.”
A fan of Daft Punk, William Eldin and his partner and childhood friend Damien Mulhem gave the company the name of an electronic music group that he founded at the age of 14. He is a serial entrepreneur.
After setting up a network of stores to sell highway radar detectors in 2005, he joined forces with Fabien Pierlot, the founder of Coyote System, a specialist in radar warning and driver assistance systems. After eight years, he sold his shares and in 2015 invested €1 million in XXII and the artificial intelligence adventure, encompassing artificial intelligence, gaming, nanosciences, and marketing.
At the intersection of science and engineering
Rather than AI, William Eldin prefers to talk about “deep technology”, a concept “at the intersection between science and engineering,” which is aimed at “helping companies apply very sophisticated algorithms to their own specific needs.”
But priority is given to the human being. “People don’t come to us to work on an algorithm for a single use,” he says. “They come to look at a wide variety of issues. This means putting on our boots and going to look at a worksite to see what the actual concrete issues are. Someone with a PhD in artificial intelligence who spends his time in front of a computer never does that. Our work straddles science and execution.”
This approach is what prompted VINCI Energies to present XXII to its network (business units and customers) at the most recent Viva Tech event, held from 16 to 18 May.
“Industry, building construction, energy, and artificial intelligence touch on the full range of our activities,” says Julien Guillaume, Open Innovation and Collective Intelligence manager at VINCI Energies. “The advantage of William Eldin and his team is that their highly pragmatic approach never leaves out the human aspect, the way in which the human being uses the technology.”
“This approach brings us together around our ‘Human Beyond Digital’ credo,” says Julien Guillaume, who adds that William Eldin also brings “a passion for communication and a talent for education.”
The young entrepreneur, who now heads a team of 60 employees in Suresnes, France along with six people in Shenzhen, China and two in a recently-opened office in Seattle, Washington, works with large companies such as BNP Paribas, Bouygues Telecom, Clear Channel, Dassault, Google, Groupe M6, GRDF, Havas, L’Oréal, Netflix, Novartis, Samsung, Sanofi, SNCF, Shiseido, and TF1.
“The point of view of the human being”
“We developed this artificial intelligence capability starting from the point of view of the human being,” says William Eldin. “Our learning method is simple: we start by looking at people and objects as they interact, as case studies.”
The entrepreneur adds, by way of illustration, “For example, in an airport, a passenger arrives with a piece of luggage and both are given the same identifier. If the intelligence behind the CCTV camera sees the passenger move away from his luggage, beyond a certain distance and a certain amount of time this information is reported to the control centre so that action can be taken as needed. At Paris-Charles de Gaulle, there are 12,000 cameras and it is impossible to watch them all at the same time.”
What is William Eldin’s secret? Managing agility and… risk. “Agility is first and foremost a culture, the culture of speed. At XXII, we regularly organise ‘serious games’ on rapid response. But we always accommodate risk, because in our company people have the right to make mistakes. We do individual interviews every six months and if a person hasn’t failed at least twice or three times, he or she has not taken enough risks.” Managing slip-ups is a must for the former Coyote manager.