Community

How Kelowna-crafted Artificial Intelligence is Putting a Dent in Cyberbullying

Comprehensive tech project sets out to eliminate the darkest corners of the internet.

Making life on the Internet safer for everyone is a lofty goal, but it is one which Kelowna-based Two Hat takes very seriously. Chris Priebe, founder and CEO of the company, wants to see the end of cyberbullying and believes that his technology can be the catalyst. But stopping cyberbullying is only one of a myriad of issues his Community Sift program was created to combat.

Community Sift’s origins date back to Priebe’s stint at Club Penguin, the Disney-owned company started by his brother, Lance. Priebe was doing web security at the time and living in Belize when Club Penguin came calling. Having a license to hack anything with a Mickey Mouse logo on it, Priebe began seeing patterns on the corporate network and wondered if he could use the same methodology on social media. Trying to decipher those patterns became the foundation for the Community Sift technology.

With Disney’s blessing, Priebe set off to build the technology on his own, and much like many companies’ storybook beginnings, started the company in his basement. But it was when Two Hat moved into the Accelerate Okanagan (AO) building that things started happening. “AO rented me space, I started talking to them, and they said I had a good idea they could get behind,” he said. “They offered me mentoring, they offered me help with partners to set up a corporation, and introduced me to the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), who provided funds to get started.”

Priebe had all he needed to graduate from a one-man basement-based operation to a real business with three staff and an office. “It was because of AO that I got it started,” Priebe acknowledged. “They told me to get early adopters. I got a few large clients who came on board and helped us. We went through eight prototypes, and we expanded; we got to twelve staff and graduated from the program.”

The road from startup to growth stage was not an easy one, however, and took Priebe over two years to navigate. Having a solid product and a great staff made the ride smoother, but AO was instrumental with some of its new programs for growing companies. “We started on a program called Traction, and at the same time we raised $700,000 of angel investment, and we were able to move into a larger office. We became tight with the companies in our cohort, and we help and feed off each other.”

Priebe believes the Okanagan is rare in that most communities don’t see this many success stories in their tech sectors, and is encouraged by the number of tech companies doing so well.

His business also benefits from the Discovery Foundation RevUP program offered by Accelerate Okanagan, where a successful entrepreneur with extensive experience is provided as a mentor to its clients. “Larry Smith [the Executive in Residence (EIR) assigned to Two Hat] is here every week, mentoring our team,” Priebe said. “He’s invaluable. He's been deeply embedded in our team and is helping us go to the next level. I gave him a parking pass today; that tells you how important he is.”

Smith helps the company meet strategic goals, and provides training for both the sales and engineering process.

“If you’re gonna be big, you need to stand on the shoulders of giants,” Priebe said. “AO is great at hiring people for their home run team who have created companies, have done it all, and have seen the obstacles before, so we can stand on their shoulders. That gives us a position of incredible strength.”

Two Hat has three products: Community Sift, Sift Ninja and Cease.ai. Community Sift, the company’s award-winning product, is an AI-based chat filter which identifies and thwarts the worst things that can happen in chat: rape, bullying, sexual abuse of children, bomb threats, suicide, swearing, and racist hate speech. Although the product has its roots in protecting children, it has expanded to filter material for all age groups.

“People are sick of the bullying, the racist comments, and all the trolling going on,” Priebe said. “Children should be safe, without worrying about all the harm that can be inflicted on them. And adults don’t want to be bombarded with hate speech, pornography or child porn when they just want to relax.” He adds that there are proper forums for political discussion and debate, but that conversation needs to stay productive, without regressing to racism, hate, or threats.

Whenever the company’s products are mentioned in the media, Priebe is unfortunately subject to actual death threats from people saying he is taking away their right to free speech. “Initially people thought we were getting rid of the fun - like swear words - but now we are tackling very serious issues like rape, the sexualization of children, and child abuse. What we are doing isn’t purposeful: we are not limiting free speech, we want to stop trolling and abuse,” he said.

Two Hat’s latest product, Cease.AI, builds upon what they’ve learned from Community Sift and was developed in working with high-level government to produce evidence for cases of online child sexual abuse.“We are using deep learning to train and find what is unique about these images,” Priebe said. “We have a technology that will sit on the Internet and accurately scan for images that exploit children as they are uploaded, with the ultimate goal of stopping them from being posted.”

Despite running a successful and growing company with 36 staff, Priebe admits that entrepreneurship is still brutally hard. “It’s never easy. Entrepreneurs don’t do it because it’s easy, it’s because it’s nearly impossible. That’s why so few do it. I wanted to solve online bullying, something challenging. Because it’s security, we are up against hundreds of millions of teenagers with unlimited amounts of time that try creative ways to get around our system so they can cause someone else to commit suicide. The stakes are incredibly high, it’s in real time, and there are millions against us.”

Learn more:

For more information about Two Hat Security, click here.

For more information about the RevUP program offered by Accelerate Okanagan, click here or contact Thuy Tran, Accelerate Okanagan’s Program Manager at thuy@accelerateokanagan.com.

Written by Kelowna freelance writer, Mark Stone.