How a 17-year-old student created a million-dollar A.I. start-up from his basement

Richard Black is the founder and CEO of Halfcode, a technology start-up that’s helping improve the lives of the visual and hearing impaired with their smart glasses technology. Using their Hal Cloud Artificial intelligence platform combined with their wearable smart glasses, Halfcode is taking steps to make a lasting and meaningful impact in as many lives as possible.

Richard answered some questions about his business:

Can you tell me what made you decide to become a social entrepreneur?

Ever since I was younger, I’ve always known I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Both my parents were entrepreneurs, so they always encouraged me to take lots of little risks and try out new ideas. I started all the usual businesses you can imagine kids having, from lemonade stands to lawn mowing. There was a time where I realized that being an entrepreneur was about more than just making money. We also have a responsibility to help people and make a real difference in the world.

Is that also where the inspiration for Halfcode came from?

Most certainly, that’s been a big influence on me and helped shape the philosophy that I run my company by. I was drawn to starting an artificial intelligence company because I’m very math and science oriented. I’ve always worked with computers and robotics since a very early age. A.I. was just a natural progression of my personal interests and Halfcode gives me the perfect platform to create the impossible and become a disruptive player in the field of A.I. One of our first product launches is smart glasses that use artificial intelligence to help people with disabling vision and hearing loss. We’re developing some really exciting technology that will make a meaningful and lasting impact in people’s lives. That’s what drives me and my team at Halfcode. It’s why we get out of bed in the morning.

You’re 17 years old. What’s that like, leading a start-up at such a young age?

Well, the biggest difference is that in addition to running a really exciting start-up and being passionate about making an impact in the world, I’m also still in high school. So, I have to juggle both. It can be a challenge at times, but I think I probably enjoy the hectic pace. I feel like people in Silicon Valley are accustomed to working with fellow entrepreneurs who are pretty young, and they mostly treat you with respect because they respect good ideas and disruptive change. When they see your passion, it can be kind of infectious.

I’d have to say that the biggest difference is when it comes to working with investors. They want to see someone who has the capabilities and maturity to run a company while balancing their interests to make a return on their investment. Since I’m in charge of managing outside investment and raising additional capital, it means that I’m the face of the company and the person they’re placing their trust in.

Your motto is AI For Good – are there any other socially conscious brands that inspire you?

For starters, I would say Google. Sometimes they get a bad rap, but when you see them up close, you realize they’ve implemented some fantastic socially conscious initiatives while running a massive organization. I think the bigger you become, the harder it can be to balance a “do no evil” mission with investor interests. But Google has done a good job. They do a lot with the environment and climate change while promoting renewable energy. They treat their employees better than almost any tech company in the Bay Area.

Also, Ben & Jerry’s. They seem like the original socially conscious brand before it became more commonly accepted. You had these pair of hippies running a hugely successful brand and all the while, promoting everything from responsibly sourced packaging to supporting social justice causes. How cool is that? You can’t eat a pint of cookie dough ice cream without feeling like you’re supporting one of the good guys.

Tell me more about Halfcode smart glasses. What technology do they use?

Halfcode’s smart glasses combine live streaming HD video capabilities, bone conduction technology and a noise cancelling microphone to interact with our cloud artificial intelligence platform. We affectionately refer to our Halfcode cloud A.I. platform as Hal for short, a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hal boasts natural language processing and advanced speech recognition to achieve contextual understanding. A.I. can be spectacularly smart, but there are also instances where human understanding is a critical component to bridge the gap in areas where A.I. is not sufficient. To that end, we also have Live Assist operators that can interact with users for complex tasks that require a human element. Together, our smart glasses solution is designed to help improve the lives of people with hearing and visual disabilities. We believe the positive impact has a knock-on effect. On the one hand, it helps to solve a critical issue that affects millions of people around the world, while also allowing them to reclaim their independence and become more active in their local communities.

What’s next for Halfcode?

I’m lucky to have a very creative team at Halfcode brimming with ideas. I’m also really passionate about a lot of social issues. There are so many problems in the world today, but I see an opportunity to find solutions. For example, we recently launched the A.I. Against Gun Violence Initiative. I feel it’s time we took a stand on an issue that matters, and gun violence is an issue that is very personal for me. So, we’re spending money on lobbying efforts to persuade lawmakers to pass common sense gun laws. I’m personally meeting with lawmakers and we’ll try to build a coalition in the artificial intelligence community to band together to focus our efforts to find a solution to a complex problem.

At Halfcode, we’re also working on a project to implement smart technology into gun safety. Because it’s crazy that we readily have the technology on an iPhone, but we don’t apply this tech to guns. So, you can look for our team to release details about the smart gun technology that we’re working on sometime in Q2 2020. We have so many social causes that we feel passionate about and we’ll continue to work to develop smart solutions using artificial intelligence to positively impact those causes we care about.

17-year-old entrepreneur and founder of Halfcode Richard Black talks about his journey from lemonade stand to CEO, explaining how a simple act of compassion informed his entire business philosophy from that point. Realising what the social responsibility of a true entrepreneur was, Richard set out to improve the lives of people with visual and hearing impairment through the development of innovate wearable smart glasses.

With a marriage of technological innovation and social goodwill, Richard has managed to establish a tech start-up with an indisputably positive impact.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Executive Editor at Best in Australia. Mike has spent over a decade covering news related to business leaders and entrepreneurs around Australia and across the world. You can contact Mike here.
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