Crossing Minds would like to recommend a few entertainment options

Crossing Minds, which is launching in our Disrupt SF 2018 Battlefield today, is an AI startup that focuses on recommendations. The company’s app, Hai, provides you with a wide range of entertainment recommendations, including books, music, shows, video games and restaurants, based on the data it can gather about you from services like Spotify, Netflix, Hulu and your Xbox.

The company’s co-founders Alexandre Robicquet (CEO) and Emile Contal (CTO) tell me that they want Hai, which is available for iOS and on the web, to become people’s central hub for their entertainment needs. Both founders have extensive experience in machine learning and also managed to bring Sebastian Thrun on as an advisor. The team describes Hai as the “first pure cross-domain recommendation engine truly focused on the user.”

Ahead of its launch, Crossing Minds raised $3.5 million from Index Ventures, Sound Ventures and You & Mr Jones Brandtech Ventures.

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As the team told me, the idea for Crossing Minds and Hai came from their own need of wanting a smart recommendation engine that went beyond a single domain. To get started, they downloaded a few data sets and started experimenting. That was 2016. Those first experiments were successful, but to build a full-scale product, the team needed more data and cleaner data sets. That’s what Crossing Minds focused on over the course of the last year or so, which really isn’t a surprise, given that we’re dealing with rather messy data here, yet there’s no way to build a machine learning-based recommendation system without a lot of data.

Then, using techniques like transfer learning and other modern machine learning approaches, the team is able to take what it knows about you and apply that to other domains as well. “For example, when you read a biography of a band’s member, we can extract information that we can then relate to a movie or restaurants and so on,” Contal explained.

The app itself is organized around three tabs: A discovery tab that surfaces its recommendations; the “Ask me” tab for when you are looking for very specific recommendations (a movie on Netflix, maybe); and the training tab that allows you to train Hai’s algorithm. For movies and other content that’s immediately accessible on your phone or on the web, Hai will also show a “Watch Now” button.

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On the technical side, Crossing Minds uses all of the usual machine learning frameworks, but one interesting twist here is that the team decided to build its own hardware infrastructure with off-the-shelf GPUs to train its models and for inference. In part that’s because renting GPUs from a major cloud provider by the hour can quickly get expensive, but the team also noted that owning the hardware allows them to have full control over it and also offers security benefits (though I’m sure the cloud providers would disagree with that last part).

Over the course of the last few months, the team tested Hai with about 1,000 beta testers. The company isn’t quite ready to launch Hai to everybody, but it’s now taking beta sign-ups and plans to open the service to a wider audience over time.