Michel Conrad is the CTO of Talkwalker, the company using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to help companies better manage their brands. As such, Talkwalker is part of the growing wave of AI companies. GlobalData estimates that the market for AI platforms will grow from $29bn in 2019 to $52bn in 2024.
As the CTO of Talkwalker, Conrad is in charge of the development of the consumer intelligence company’s platform, helping the 2,500 brands in its client roster to get the most valuable insights from internal and external data. The company was founded in 2009 and has raised $9.3m in funding in total.
In our latest weekly CTO Talk, Conrad reveals how he first became interested in tech, what he thinks AI can really achieve and his advice to other CTOs.
Eric Johansson: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?
Michel Conrad: My background is in computer science and I was lucky enough to join Talkwalker at a very early stage as team member number two. During my time here, I’ve been responsible for developing large parts of the Talkwalker platform, with my main area of focus being search and analytics. I was then appointed as CTO in December 2019.
Where did your interest in tech come from?
I have always been obsessed with mathematics and started coding at a very young age. I have to understand why things work and how I can improve them – I’d say I was born with tech in my blood.
Technology evangelists describe AI as the solution to all problems, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?
I wouldn’t say it is a solution to all problems. That said, over the past few years, it has shown it has a huge potential in automating tasks which were previously either not possible or not scalable. I’m certain that we will see further improvements over the next couple of years.
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How do you separate hype from genuine innovation?
Hype comes and goes – it’s a short-lived trend. Genuine innovation, however, is here to stay and something that improves our lives for good.
What one piece of advice would you offer to other CTOs?
Be curious. Always. Even if you have a crazy busy schedule, find the time to deep dive into selected topics and try to understand them by speaking with the people working on them in detail.
What’s the most surprising thing about your job?
There are never two days alike. Every day I face a new challenge, which I love. I have to wear many different hats.
What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?
Climate change. I feel that there will need to be breakthrough technological discoveries if we are to limit the impact humanity is having on our planet and ultimately avoid disasters for the generations to come.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for fun?
I once did 300km on the Rhine river in a paddleboat over a couple of days, just to see if it was possible. Needless to say, it turned out to be quite challenging but was great fun.
What’s the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?
The increase in computing power and the huge masses of data now available. This drives a lot of our current technology and creates possibilities which were unheard of just a few years ago. Running advanced AI-based analytics at scale, machine translation, sentiment detection and logo recognition are among a few of the processes that have only recently become possible at the current levels of accuracy.
In another life you’d be?
Traveling more. I have a list of places that I’d love to experience, and one day I will. Favourite place so far? Tough choice, but I would probably pick Vietnam because of the food. But the world is a big place and there are so many different places to explore – it will certainly never get boring.