Apr 21, 2020

Interview with  Ben Lamm, CEO of Hypergiant

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Insights from Ben Lamm who is CEO of Hypergiant which is one of the financial sponsors of the book, Space Is Open For Business by Robert C. Jacobson

Ben Lamm is the founder of Hypergiant, a startup that leverages AI to create improved capabilities both on Earth and in space. A serial technology entrepreneur who builds intelligent and transformative businesses, Lamm was the chief executive officer and founder of various other successful startups prior to Hypergiant, including Conversable, the leading conversational intelligence platform, and Chaotic Moon, a global mobile creative technology powerhouse acquired by Accenture. During his time at Chaotic Moon and Accenture, Lamm spearheaded the creation of some of Fortune 500’s most groundbreaking digital products and experiences in the emerging tech world of IoT, VR, Connected Car, mobile, tablet, and wearables. In addition, Lamm is active in angel investing, incubators, and startup communities, with investments in the software and emerging tech space. He is also passionate about mentoring fellow entrepreneurs, lending his expertise and guidance to build disruptive businesses through accelerators and corporate programs.

What is Hypergiant’s mission?

At Hypergiant Industries, our mission is to create emerging AI-driven technologies and develop commercial products and solutions that improve the world around us and advance humanity's position in the universe.

Hypergiant is working on AI infrastructure for space. What this means is that we are not just looking at the hardware to get to space or improving satellites in space but rather we are looking at the entire ecosystem of data transference from Earth to space to other planets and back to Earth. This means we own satellites and we collect and analyze the captured data for our own products and services. It also means that we think about critical infrastructure projects like interplanetary internet which is fundamental for data transference and requires AI to power it. There’s a lot at play here. 

I started Hypergiant because I could see the huge possibility in AI across space, defense and critical infrastructure and I knew that now was the moment to use AI to solve these huge problems that underlie the foundational structures of what it means to be human. We are building the world of tomorrow, today, by applying AI to hardware to solve problems. That’s fun; it’s more a question of imagination than it is of technology—and that’s the promise AI holds: it is limited only by one’s imagination. Luckily, my team and I have huge imaginations. 

 

What is AI’s role in the space sector?

 

AI is the technology that will make it possible for us to live in and truly explore space. There are other technologies that will be essential, but AI is the big computing advantage that will allow living outside of Earth to be possible

Space is the next new API [application programming interface]. From outer space, we can gather Earth data in a way we’ve never been able to do before. There is still data from space missions we did in the 70s that hasn’t been fully reviewed. This is where AI steps in—we need AI to review and interpret our space data so that we can take actions based on that knowledge set. That data can help us tackle big global challenges like defense, climate change, ocean health, and critical infrastructure. That understanding of our own Earth system will then help us develop systems and accurate mathematical computing tools to help us understand non-Earth systems, which will be critical as we explore new systems and new planets. 

Finally, our ability to gather information in space and interpret on Earth will help us better understand and improve the space sector. AI is a tool for handling big data. There is no place that has more and greater data than space. The better our tools can be, the more we can begin to take on bigger and more aggressive missions in space—like travel outside our galaxy or creating a habitat on another planet. Longer missions will require even more intelligent systems and automation to make the long travel distance and life support systems possible. 

 

What is not commonly known about AI for business?

 

The big thing we need to remember is that none of this is new. This is not the first AI revolution or even the first big data revolution, nor is it the first time we’ve actively looked at commercial opportunities in space. In fact, we’ve been talking about all of this for a long time, with research dating back into the late 1800s. The thing is that now there are a lot of market conditions that make it possible to have expansive growth into AI for business that haven’t existed before, including the diminishing price of computing power and sector specific advances in computation. Like all industries, we are coming up on an inflection point that is also a tipping point for a massive acceleration of opportunity. 

Still, some people worry that we are in a bubble. That’s absolutely likely, but it’s a bubble that’s predicted to be worth $3 trillion by 2024. The reason we are in a bubble, though, is that AI hype has yet to meet AI reality—but not because the market isn’t there for the implementation of AI. As the math improves, the case studies improve, and the applications improve, we will see AI start to match the hype. Realistically, some of the companies that don’t have the tech aren’t going to make it. Those that do, though, are going to fly through the bubble and accelerate rapidly. 

This is where the orbital AI and intelligence comes in. The winners here, and ultimately the winner overall, will be the one who gets that [orbital] data. This satellite-based Earth observation market alone is predicted to hit $6.9 billion annually by 2027, and $54 billion cumulatively over the next decade.

 

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing the world/humanity today? 

 

Climate change. I want to go to space because exploring space is exciting; I don’t want us to have to run away from our home planet because we have destroyed it. 

 

How can AI benefit daily life on Earth? 

 

So many ways: how about helping to stop our CO2 problem? Or protecting us from space junk falling into the atmosphere? But, also, there are small things we might not even notice. AI can be used to help control robots everywhere, from surgery to warehouse inventory management. Or, AI can be used to help improve traffic patterns in cities. Or help make urban farming efficient and effective. Or help us learn how to create ocean farming and oceanic agriculture farms that change the shape of our coastline for the better. This year, we launched a program focused on creating interplanetary internet, a helmet that uses AI to improve the ability of astronauts to operate in space by adding haptic feedback and various layered data on top of their visors—a bioreactor that sequesters four hundred times the carbon of an acre of trees.

The public needs to learn to not be afraid of AI. AI is not inherently bad or scary. People can be bad and scary—but people can also be good. Allowing our fear of unknown technology to limit its adoption hurts all of humanity. Instead, we should focus on understanding AI so that, as a public, we can make informed decisions about where and how to regulate the industry.

 

What does the AI sector need to reach its potential? 

 

We need to continue to push for technological and mathematical improvements in the industry, but we also need to pull in experts from other industries (like biology, psychology, and neuroscience) to help us and— we need to overlay that with creativity and imagination. AI now operates based on pattern recognition. AGI (artificial general intelligence) will operate based on an inherent child-like learning capacity. Children aren’t just pattern-recognizers, they are truly creative innovators. We need to make the switch at this fundamental level to get AI to the place that will make it increasingly impactful in the future. 

 

Why do you believe now is the time for investors to invest in AI and/or space?

 

The gold rush is starting. Data has already surpassed oil in value. Hardware was the costly issue with space, i.e., physically getting there. Now that it is becoming easier and easier to launch things into space, we have the opportunity to think about what we do in space: this means software, new products, people, travel. Everything we have on Earth, we need in space, and those companies are just starting to pop up. 

I personally invest in emerging technology primarily because I already know a fair amount and I also find it exciting. Being at the vanguard of an industry keeps me involved in new and nascent industries that are developing. I’m fascinated right now by data visualizations companies, because that’s a major pain point at the moment. We have a ton of data, but few high-quality ways to see the data. Because we can’t see it, a lot of people don’t know how to wrap their heads around it. I recently invested in Molecula, an Austin-based data visualization company, because of this specific reason. Molecula’s software reduces the risk of errors in data and helps prepare it for complex analysis by making data from a variety of sources and locations instantly available through a virtualized access layer. Everything that allows people to analyze data faster and then act in a timelier manner is powerful.

 

What is NASA’s role in space and innovation today, from your standpoint? 

 

I love NASA, and we are fortunate to get to do a lot of work with them. The various teams at NASA are incredible, and the work they are doing will benefit humanity for forever. Many people don’t realize all the things in our lives that we take for granted exist because of the amazing innovation from men and women at NASA over the years. NASA is a critical partner in all space and space innovation work. I believe as a civilian-focused agency, NASA has our best interest in mind and is a force for science and exploration in the world today.

 

How do you plan to improve the internet and our relationship with it?

 

I am not very focused on Earth internet, but I do think interplanetary internet is critical to exploration of space and our future. We have come to rely on the internet for everything and we will need that infrastructure in space to create a habitable environment but also a safe one. The interplanetary internet will allow us to reach out for medical advice, or historical advice or rapid translation of languages. This isn’t central to our business model right now; Hypergiant won’t succeed or fail as a business based on the success of this project. We’re doing this because we see it as central to our core mission. The progress and stability of human existence are entirely dependent on what we call the three core Elements of Civilization: Space, Defense, Critical Infrastructure & Resources. When in balance and harnessed by the forces of good, life on Earth advances, as does the economy underlying it all. The pursuit is to preserve the longevity of our species and the habitability of our environments. There is no greater example of these principles in action than this communications network. We want humanity to become an interplanetary species, and we see the interplanetary internet as a fundamental human right and need.

 

How did you get interested in AI?

 

I grew up on pop culture: sci-fi, adventure, Indiana Jones, you name it, and those stories inspired in me a deep and unending curiosity about this world and the universe around us. After selling my previous companies, I started to contemplate what else I could on to improve the world around me, and I started to think about all those stories I had been obsessed with. I realized there was a real disconnect between the future we had talked about in the 70s and 80s and the future we were talking about now. I wanted the future we were promised, not the dystopian narrative of our current dialogue. 

I joined the advisory boards of the Planetary Society and the Arch Mission Foundation. I started to speak with the leading experts in space, in AI, and in defense. And, what I learned was that I had a unique set of skills that could help lead a company that would use AI to transform the world around me. I have a deep understanding of emerging technology, but more than anything, a passionate curiosity about how it works, combined with an understanding of how to break down complicated problems and bring products and solutions to market. 

 

When did your interest in space become serious?

 

After selling my other companies, I was able to spend more time reflecting on what really fascinates me. I spent a year thinking, reading, and learning and I begin to see space for all its potential: economic, philosophical, inspirational and otherwise. We have an opportunity within our lifetime to live in space for the first time ever. That is one of those things that’s utterly unique in the growth of humanity, and I started to understand that I could be part of this moment in a big way. The moment I realized my role, I became incredibly serious about space and began to hire the leading thinkers on the topic to help me grow my company. 

I think there is a lot we can learn from better exploration of the world around us that we can then overlay with science to really understand how things work. I’m always fascinated by how little we know about our oceans and the potential to harness the oceans to make substantial changes. AI was the best technology to do what I wanted to do: use technology to solve the world’s biggest problems. 

 

What has your approach been in running successful startups? 

 

I believe in brand first and foremost. You must create a company that has a personality and a vision. People should immediately get what you are trying to do and emotionally respond to that. So, I start there. Then I hire the best of the best to do the jobs they want to do, even if they aren’t jobs that they have done in the past. Then we deliver great products and solutions to the markets. 

 

If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?

 

More is more: it never hurts to have more ideas, more time, more money and more opportunities. Chase them all. 

 

What is your vision for the evolving space economy?

 

Space is the new frontier, and with it comes all the opportunities of any new frontier: there will be big booms and busts but also great achievements for humanity. Right now, the space opportunities are three-fold:

  • LEO—which is quickly becoming saturated from a hardware perspective.
  • Data—which is about the a.) getting data from space, b.) sending that data to Earth, c.) analyzing that data, d.) making that data useful, quickly for real-time decision making.
  • Software—which is about updating the systems and services that are being used in the hardware race.

Eventually, the space frontier opportunities are going to grow in a variety of other ways that democratize the opportunities for non-technology companies to profit. These include areas like:

1. Water (e.g., supply, safety, distribution, etc.)

2. Food (e.g. supply, safety, storage, preparation equipment, etc.)

3. Textiles & Body Protection (e.g., clothing, shoes, etc.)

4. Consumer Health and Safety (e.g., equipment, nutrition supplements, ensuring and aiding sleep, medications, hygiene, prevention of illness, accidents)

5. Living Spaces (cooking, sleeping spaces/furniture/equipment, beds, desks, etc.)

6. Connectivity and Communication

 

How can newcomers get involved with the space industry?

 

The space industry is growing rapidly, and there are lots of ways for people to get involved—and not just technologists. We need people to think about political structures, the law, investments, agriculture, and more. Join a local meet-up, read everything you can, and talk to people who work in the sector. Like any industry, the best way to get involved is through having a curious mind and connecting with people who are already involved.

 

How should individuals and companies alike shift their mindsets to create a successful future?

 

We must simply believe that changing our future is possible. Most people only think about the small problems in front of them; what more people need to do is think about how we can address big global problems together. Nothing will change unless people believe they can be the change they want to see in the world. 

 

 

 

 

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