DURHAM – Raleigh-Durham Startup Week got started Tuesday afternoon with sessions in and around the American Underground in downtown Durham.

The event is in its second year in the Triangle and is hosted by Techstars to promote the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the area. While the day sessions are free, evening events tonight and Thursday each requires a $10 ticket.

Entrepreneurial ecosystem feeds on connections at Raleigh-Durham Startup Week

Understanding AI and its Impact

First up in the Tech & Society track was Dr. Chris Hazard, CTO and Co-founder of Diveplane, a provider of AI-powered business solutions. Hazard dove right into the deep end, defining machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI), and discussing the implications of their intersections for providing insightful and accurate information.

“There’s a notion that having an interpretable (understandable) model that your accuracy must suffer. That used to be mostly true in the ’90s,” said Hazard. “[But] we can actually get deep interpretability and understandability without sacrificing accuracy.”

Hazard delved into the ethics of using AI and the importance of understanding the data that’s driving any AI interaction. Recent advances in the technology have made AI interactions faster, but they’ve also obfuscated some of the ways in which they’ve arrived at their responses.

There’s also the matter of how the data that is feeding the AI is collected. Hazard cited Progressive’s Snapshot program, which offered a USB stick that could be put in your car to track driving data. The program professed to aid in lowering insurance rates, but users who incurred a “hard stop” as defined by the device were penalized. Over time this resulted in “training” drivers to speed up at yellow lights and in other risky circumstances, to avoid a “hard stop” ding on their record. This essentially encourages unsafe driving, the opposite of the company’s goals.

“Now imagine for a moment that every insurer in the United States uses this technology. And all sudden we just drifted and changed all of our driving behavior,” Hazard said, noting that several companies followed Progressive’s lead with the Snapshot tech.

“AI is basically kind of can be used as a weapon of mass destruction for information, for getting people to fighting with each other,” continued Hazard. “Getting people to gravitate towards things that are good in the short term, but can have long-term bad consequences. These are the sorts of things we need to think about.”

“Use the data in honest ways that respect and protect human data,” said Hazard as he wrapped up. “This is a startup conference. So go build.”

Tim Greeff , left, of NSTXL answers questions about navigating government contracts. (Photo by Jen McFarland)

Federal Government Insights for Startups

The Tech & Society track continued with Tim Greeff, Founder and CEO of NSTXL, the National Security Technology Accelerator. The company is a non-profit that got its start helping to coordinate environmental contracts with the government but has moved into additional projects, including some with the Department of Defense. Greef offered up advice for startups looking for government contracts.

“There’s there’s not a lot of incentive alignment across government acquisition,” Greef explained. “If you can actually figure out what someone else’s incentive even if it doesn’t align with yours, you can align your process with them and empower them to be an advocate for you.”

Solid advice for any startup.

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More Tech & Society

The subject of “cleantech” innovations wrapped up the day with a panel including Rob Creighton from Windlift, Chad Eckhardt of ERMCO (GridBridge), and Cal Carter, cofounder of Cree (now Wolfspeed).

The track returns to the Full Frame Theatre on the American Tobacco Campus this afternoon to discuss Regenerative Ecosystems, Behavioral Science, and Quantum Computing.

The 2 pm session, “Working With The Government: How Startups Can Break Into The Public Sector”, has been canceled.

What you need to know about Raleigh-Durham Startup Week 2023