Bright Idea: Formula Generator

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Computers are getting more “intelligent” because of algorithms — those sets of instructions that enable devices to better handle complex tasks such as understanding and interpreting images and language. 

Few of these algorithms end up being used outside academia, so Algorithmia, a Seattle startup, is creating a sort of algorithm marketplace, which it curates through partnerships with the University of Washington and other institutions. The universities earn royalties from the use of algorithms they’ve developed.

“This world of AI [artificial intelligence] doesn’t need to be reserved for Ph.D.’s at universities,” says Algorithmia CEO Diego Oppenheimer. “It can be accessed by any developer on Earth.” 

Algorithmia’s vast library includes an algorithm that detects nudity in photos and another that determines whether an online review is positive or negative. Algorithmia also sponsors contests; a recent one challenged developers to use its algorithms to create fictional short stories.

The company employs developers with experience in artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop algorithms internally when the market demands one that isn’t available on its website. 

Algorithmia’s trick is to condense each algorithm into five lines of code that developers can easily insert into their programs. Whenever an application uses a particular algorithm, the abbreviated code links to the full algorithm, which may be many pages long.

Developers buy credits to pay for usage. Algorithm authors collect a fee in credits each time an algorithm is run. Algorithmia charges credits for the compute time used when a developer’s application “calls” an algorithm on the site.

The first 10,000 credits are free, allowing developers to try out the concept before committing any cash. This allows even individuals building smartphone apps to add features easily without paying a hefty licensing fee to access algorithm intellectual property, a move Oppenheimer believes will democratize software development. 

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