How the Columbus startup is using psychological AI to shape the future
Emotions are a big part of how we interact with the world. From discussions on social media to in-person interactions, our emotions help us navigate everyday life and inform the decisions we make. Through their first-of-its-kind psychological AI, Columbus startup Cognovi Labs is delving deep into the connection between emotions and decision-making to explore how the things we feel translate into the way we act.
“We help our clients understand their customer’s decision-making process and what really drives their decisions,” said Co-Founder and CEO Beni Gradwohl. “We help our clients to offer a solution that’s important for their customers and to engage in an emotionally strong way to improve outcomes. You really have to understand human beings to understand how the world works. We think about how we can quantify human-decision making because human beings are not as rational as we think we are — we are much more emotional.”
The company’s innovative approach to consumer marketing began as research into psychological AI originated at the Kno.e.sis Center at Wright State University. The state-of-the-art research was funded by the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. When Gradwohl’s involvement began, his background in behavioral economics and finance was the perfect launch pad to kick off the technology in the commercial space.
“I came from a quantitative background, spent a lot of time in academia and then went into finance,” said Gradwohl. “And more than 20 years ago, I was exposed to behavioral economics and behavioral finance. When I saw this leading-edge natural language processing technology, I understood that this was the starting point of what I wanted to do in explaining human decision-making. There was a group, Ikove Capital, that identified this technology for commercialization, so when I got involved it was the perfect storm.”
In order to measure emotions and extract data that can be used to anticipate decision-making outcomes, Cognovi Labs’ technology mines free-flowing conversations from phone calls, blog posts or discussion forums. They conduct diagnostic interviews to create space for those conversations and the transcripts are analyzed by their technology for insights. The company’s Explore product then brings those insights to their clients to help them explore the emotional triggers behind their customers’ decision-making processes.
“The Explore product is a dashboard that analyzes conversations in real time at scale,” Gradwohl said. “It explores the reasoning why somebody would buy your product, engage with you or vote for somebody and believe in certain information. Once you have that information you can address topics which are emotionally important for your customers.”
Now, the company is expanding that same technology to make a difference in the public sector. The startup is working alongside pharmaceutical companies and doctors to improve and understand the reasoning behind low patient adherence rates for prescription medications. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve used their technology to combat COVID-19 misinformation and measure the public’s attitude and willingness to get coronavirus vaccinations.
“We work very hard for our clients, but we also want to give back to society,” said Gradwohl. “That’s what we want to focus on in terms of doing good with our technology. What makes us passionate is that our technology is applicable everywhere people make decisions. As a startup, you want to be focused because you’re building new technology and a new platform, but we want to choose to use that where it will help.”
But it doesn’t stop there for Cognovi. Soon, the company plans to release another public-facing project to address and explore the overarching uncertainty surrounding the current job market and economy. And as they continue to use their cutting-edge technology for the greater good, Gradwohl has found that Ohio has always been the perfect home for growing Cognovi’s impact.
“Ohio is a great place to start a business,” he said. “There are phenomenal resources and talent in Dayton, especially being located next to Wright-Patterson, one of the largest air force bases in the country. You do not have to be in Boston next to MIT or next to Stanford in Silicon Valley to create a powerful and leading-edge technology company. The team I’m working with is the best team I have ever worked with and we are very proud to work to benefit Ohio, as well as support the local economy.”