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Kristina Bergman
Kristina Bergman, CEO of Integris Software. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The world’s biggest technology companies are pouring billions of dollars into developing sophisticated artificial intelligence capabilities, but its usefulness in all but the most complex scenarios may be a bit overblown, according to a group of startup CEOs.

“I can count on maybe one hand the number of companies that have enough data to genuinely do AI,” said Kristina Bergman, CEO of Integris Software, a Seattle startup that helps companies manage personal information data and meet compliance mandates. “They’re monstrous companies that are constantly crawling the internet.”

“From our perspective, we don’t talk about AI, we talk about (machine learning), (natural language processing), RegEx and lookups depending on what data we are looking at,” she said.

AI has been a popular topic at the GeekWire Cloud Summit, and it came up frequently in the conversation between startup CEOs. Google, and its wealth of data for searches, needs AI to surface the right results. Smaller data operations don’t need it as much, Bergman said.

AI and machine learning often get grouped together, as they are both concepts focused on making technology smarter, but there are some subtle differences. Artificial intelligence aims to simulate human intelligence for solving complex problems, whereas machine learning is more narrow and uses data to learn about specific tasks.

Left to right: Icertis CEO Samir Bodas, Integris Software CEO Kristina Bergman and ExtraHop CEO Arif Kareem chat at the GeekWire Cloud Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Fully realized AI is able to build algorithms and make decisions that humans can’t truly understand or explain,, Bergman says. And that works great for things like Google search, which accounts for countless factors to surface the right results. But when it comes to other, more sensitive topics, the calculations change.

“Depending on the scenario, you very likely need to be able to explain what is going on and why, especially if you are dealing with regulations,” Bergman said.

Founded in 2016, Integris uses machine learning and other technology to map a company’s sensitive data, apply regulatory obligations, and automate actions such as encryption or deletion. Consumer data protection has become an important topic as of late with new mandates including GDPR, the EU law that went into effect last year, around the time and Integris raised a $10 million funding round.

For Icertis, a contract management startup, another emerging technology is top of mind: blockchain. The trendy technology is a method for sharing a record of an online transaction in a secure and trustworthy way that allows both parties to have a copy of that record without either party having to maintain it.

Samir Bodas, CEO of Icertis. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Icertis, which raised $50 million last year, helps companies keep track of deals with suppliers and customers that require extensive contracts. Blockchain, despite its flaws in the early going, has the potential to be a boon for Icertis.

“I think blockchain in our mind, and at least in our space, is going to be much more transformational than AI,” said Samir Bodas, CEO of Icertis.

Arif Kareem, CEO of cloud security startup ExtraHop said a lot of companies claim they have AI capabilities, but really they are running machine learning models. And others who say they are deep into machine learning are just doing some light statistical analysis.

ExtraHop plunged into the network security market nearly two years ago, and it has paid off. The company’s bookings have surpassed the $100 million mark, and ExtraHop is now eyeing an IPO.

Without machine learning, Kareem says the company wouldn’t be able to make it in the security market.

“There is huge shortage of security practitioners, and the amount of data they have to sift through and look at is enormous,” Kareem said. “You have to deploy some advanced technology to be able to compensate for the shortage of skills and the overload people are feeling with data and alerts.”

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