Dennis Ye set up Reality Detector in 2019 together with Teodor Andius, Jiamin Bai and Nini Chang. Their software solution detects facial and body signals to identify deception in videos (take a sidetrack and find out here why even VC John Kim makes his own).
Besides grants from A*Star and Enterprise Singapore, the company also recently landed funding of $500,000 from deep-tech investor Draper Associates. The software, which will enhance border control applications, is in the final stage of alpha testing. We met the quartet at The Greenhouse at SMU Connexion to find out more.
Reality Detector produces software to detect deception cues in videos through a combination of AI, deep learning and computer vision. What intrigues you about lying?
Dennis Ye (DY) Most deception, both quality and quantity, is created by a minority of persons. And the sad thing is, people on the autism spectrum find it difficult to deceive or even be tactful towards others. So I hope what we do can help equalise opportunities between the minority who tend to overstate themselves and the majority who underestimate themselves. We can also think of it as a truth detection software to exonerate the innocent or even detect hidden truths.
Teodor Andius (TA) Imagine coming home to a system that knows you better than you know yourself. It knows how you feel or what needs to be done — even when you don’t! Reality Detector signals the beginning of a system that… can help us live more authentically fulfilling lives in the short time we have on this earth.
Jiamin Bai (JB) For me lying is just an application; what really interests me is the ability of machines to understand humans beyond the superficial face-value communication (text and speech). So in that context, yes, I do think machines that can understand humans better will improve lives for people.
Nini Chang (NC) I consider this technology a promising aid for human decision makers. It allows us to find out the incongruence in people’s actions and inform decision makers about these changes. We can also understand ourselves more with technology that detect minute changes in our expressions and emotions. The delicate interaction between technology and humans can be perceived as descriptive and dangerous, but I think it’s a great opportunity to encourage people to present their authentic self without unnecessary filters.
Your most important take away from 2020?
TA Where there’s a will, there’s always a way. The global financial turmoil meant that venture capitalists made significantly fewer investments, but we secured funding on good terms from Tim Draper. I also managed to take a break by travelling through Sweden, Croatia, Serbia and the US — just before Covid-19!
JB The show still goes on. Invariably curve balls will be thrown at us, but one way or another, we will find a solution that works.
DY To let go of things that are outside my control and focus on those within my control. I also learnt to live more in the present and less in the past or future.
Dennis’ granduncle Tan Chin Tuan helped establish OCBC in Singapore in 1933. What’s the story?
DY My granduncle met Tan Kah Kee at the Ee Hoe Hean Club, which was founded by my great-grandfather Tan Cheng Siong. It was the support from family friends like Tan Kah Kee that enabled OCBC to survive World War II and start financing businesses after, which contributed to rebuilding Singapore’s economy. It’s taught me that social capital and trust are key to building start-ups from scratch.
Would you say that Covid-19 has played a crucial role in the birth of Reality Detector?
TA Yes, in that it’s boosted our ability to use cameras [laughs]. No, in that my co-founders and I could not learn to thrive together, face-to-face, when it was paramount to do so.
How do you think 2020 will change the way we work and play in the future? And what role does Reality Detector play in this big picture?
JB It’s made people realise that human-human interaction is precious and it will become scarce in the immediate future. Virtual communication will increase and humans must learn how to communicate better in this new environment. And Reality Detector represents a small step towards improving communication through this medium.
One thing you’re looking forward to in 2021?
TA Elevating my DJ game and going surfing, hopefully!
DY Bringing my founding team together and going on a tour and cruise around Singapore.
NC Lemon ice cream, trips to the museum, and a vacation in Europe!