FREDERICTON – A new company out of New Brunswick plans to use artificial intelligence to help individuals and businesses detect threats and events at home and abroad.
Near Threat Analytics Corp is a web-based service that aims to provide consolidated, real-time information on the status of various types of threats around the globe. Its artificial intelligence (A.I.) sifts through billions of points of data daily from government agencies, social media, and newsfeeds to give users critical information they need.
The company is gearing up to launch a beta of its flagship product business, which will help them keep ahead of market changes.
The company’s beginnings go back two years ago with founder and CEO Paul Methot and colleagues at his previous job were discussing forest fires happening in the Fredericton area and how most of the time you had to constantly read the news and check social media to learn that such events were even happening.
“We’re all techie geeks and we thought, ‘there’s got to be an app for this, right? Something to notify us so we don’t have to spend all that time reading the news,’ ” says Methot.
Turns out there wasn’t, aside from a few isolated apps here and there that focused on specific events like fires and floods. But there wasn’t one that was all-encompassing.
Methot, whose background is IT security and has worked for some big companies and governments, thought it was time create one. That’s how Near Threat got started.
Near Threat taps into major international databases and satellites such as NOAA, NASA, European Space Agency, CDC, FEMA, EPA, Fire/Water monitoring agencies and more. Near Threat’s platform takes this data and break it down into something readable.
Initially, the idea was to create a platform to just help everyday citizens. But Methot says they soon realized it could go a step further.
“At first it was us just bootstrapping it and building an app for ourselves. How many threats can we put on there? But the more we start to look the data, the more we realized way bigger possibilities,” he says. “It’s one thing to tell a person that their cottage is near a forest fire, but it’s another thing for a corporate environment to be able to learn about second-order effects.”
“Second order effects” basically means that they are not only able to alert when an event is happening, but also how the event may affect other things.
“If you’re a commodities broker, and you find out pine beetles have moved into a new area, or forest fires are burning down the lumber, it could affect commodity price,” says Methot. “Or if you’re a PR expert and you find out one of your clients has an oil spill, you want that alert immediately.”
Near Threat is able to gain this deeper understanding by also monitoring social media and news feeds globally.
“If you combine the three, you can come up with what we call a credibility score. We can tell you about something very earlier on and say, ‘we have low confidence in it. But here are our sources as to why we think this is a real threat and here’s why we think it’s a low confidence threat,’ ” says Methot. “Then as more information comes in, our credibility score grows.
“We’re not just telling a stockbroker, ‘do this’, we’re giving them actual sources of where we get it from and how much confidence we have in it. We’re being very transparent about that stuff.”
Near Threat’s target corporate clients are financial institutions, public relations firms and media outlets. Methot says they are currently working with big players in the fields in the U.S. in Canada to fine tune and pilot the platform with the goal of officially releasing it in beta early next year. He said he couldn’t name specific because of privacy agreements.
“We’re going after the big juggernauts, the enterprise level clients and some smaller guys too,” he says. “Mostly, we think the best use of it is with media companies, which just have so much happening to be able to monitor on a global scale. You can just set all of your alerts in advance. It tells you when something in your wheelhouse pops up.
“If you’re monitoring the Middle East, it just starts flagging riots or bombings, terrorism, power outages, cybercrime in the areas you need it to so you’re not constantly looking or reacting”
Methot says Near Threat has a team of around 15 people. About half are in Fredericton, while others work remotely from Europe, South Africa, and Japan. The team is made up of I.T. experts whose resumes include Microsoft, IBM, Boeing, CERN, McAfee and Bank of America. They also have a board of advisors that includes Omar Ahmad, a founder of Expedia Canada.
Besides launching a beta of their corporate platform early next year, Near Threat will also offer a subscription for individuals, which is currently free in beta on the company’s website now.
In the future, Methot says the plan is to grow the platform to include historical data.
“Not only will it get second order effects, but we have historical data, some of it going back 100 years,” he says. “It will take us another six months to get it working, but once we get the historical data and the second order effects all lined up, we can start forecasting in some ways that are little hard to predict.”