GeoSpock: Going boldly where no data scientist has been before
GeoSpock wants to be 'the Google of the physical world'. CEO Richard Baker explains what that involves
At this very moment, one of the biggest build-outs in human history is taking place – bigger than the construction of downtown New York, the reconstruction of Europe after the Second World War and the arms race put together.
Yet, to most people, it is invisible, and it will only become noticeable once the architecture has been developed to the point where it is unavoidable.
It is invisible because the architecture houses not people, not weapons, but data – big data, vast masses of it, more than the human brain could possibly ever process and perhaps visualise. And the race is now on to make sense of all the data that’s being harvested. The firms that make the most sense of it the fastest will be the biggest guns in the new Wild West. And right out there, on the frontier of knowledge, firms are setting up shop – firms like GeoSpock.
Richard Baker is the new CEO of the Cambridge-based data science firm. His backstory is on the commercial side – rather unusually for Cambridge, but all the more welcome for that.
“I’ve been living in Cambridge since 1992,” he says, “and I’ve always been a sales person. My career had been corporate and marketing, but I’d never found the right commercial role in Cambridge.
“As venture capital has developed with Amadeus and other agents starting up in the city, I had a realisation that the hub has not been so good about commercial teams and how we scale up. How do we keep the assets here in Cambridge? The time is now right for me to do the right thing here.”
In 2010 Richard founded Cleartrade Exchange, a fintech commodities future exchange headquartered in Singapore. He sold the business in 2013.
“I’d moved past the era of wanting to work for big enterprise companies,” he explains, adding: “It’s done really well, I chat with the team every week – they’re based in Canary Wharf and Singapore.”
Next up was Quiptel, a video streaming service acquired by Falcon Media House in 2016. He’s still on the board at Falcon, but last year took on another role as chairman of Crowdsurfer, which recently rebranded as TAB.
“I met Emily Mackay (TAB’s founder) and Paul Bailey in 2015. I’ve known Paul for a long time and told him I wanted to get more into the Cambridge scene.”
He sees TAB as a sort of news agency for fintech.
“They’re a next-generation Thompson-Reuters or Bloomberg, which is how the first financial news companies got built, and now there are 5,000 venues (listings) from around the world. Emily has built the technology to aggregate the data and put it out in the same way as ticker tape was offered to a previous generation.”
The economy is changing with the arrival of blockchain and alt-finance, he says.
“Millennials think differently, and that’s had a retail and marketing impact. Millennials have 52 per cent of the US retail market and it’s a similar story in Europe. They’re about sharing, they don’t have the same ideas about owning capital, about owning homes. I thought: ‘There’s a complete demographic shift coming’.”
With global blockchain-based assets now valued at more than $154billion, that assessment sounds about right, and TAB’s analytics service for the crowd finance industry has become the industry’s benchmark. Advantage Mackay.
“I am responsible for the strategic leadership of the business, supporting and steering the executive team to reach their potential and achieve both commercial and shareholder returns in an effective and timely manner,” says Richard, while also wondering why Cambridge doesn’t have any blockchain technology of its own. Answers on a postcard please.
On to GeoSpock, founded in 2013 by Steve Marsh during his PhD at Cambridge University’s Computer Lab. Dr Marsh teamed up with Horizon Discovery’s Dr Darrin Disley to found GeoSpock, “a geospatial intelligence platform for the rapidly-changing multi-dimensional physical world”.
“Paul Bailey introduced me to GeoSpock and it really resonated,” says Richard. “Steve Marsh is the co-founder and he’s a true innovator. Dr Marsh was CEO and co-founder, now he’s become chief technology officer (CTO). My job is to scale up the management team and work out how to make this business really successful. The first-generation products came on-stream earlier in 2017.”
GeoSpock has created a proprietary indexing engine, infin8, that enables data analytics to run faster, bigger and better, and with lower infrastructure costs. Meanwhile GeoSpock’s high-performance, cloud-based services – illumin8 and extrapol8 – grapple with enormous data sets as well as massive concurrent load.
“It’s a data science company. What Steve did for his thesis was to emulate one function of the human brain in software – the storing and retrieving of information very, very quickly. This is one of the challenges for technology companies and has translated into infin8, which is processing software – it’s a database and indexing engine designed for extreme big data, i.e. petabyte size and above.
“The logic is that in a very hyper-connected world, the world of the Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities, sensors on roads, at crossroads, on devices, constantly updating news and weather and so on... this is a phenomenal amount of data.”
GeoSpock is analysing this data from billions of data points at very high speeds. It aims to be the Google of the physical world. That could mean trying to sell you a burger as you walk past a McDonald’s, or it could be to steer your autonomous car through a city. How does that work in practice?
“If I drive in my autonomous car down Regent Street how does my car make decisions? It needs to access data – this needs to happen very quickly,” says Richard. “We want to be part of that programme. We’ve built a very large database of structures, with real-time visualisation and communication of information.”
All this is happening on the cloud, of course. The process is already under way. As you walk, your phone tracks your GPS co-ordinates and sends the data to Google, or Amazon, or the BBC – whoever you’ve allowed to track you. What GeoSpock is doing is linking that information to services and products near you.
The information about you involves not just a spatial location: there’s gender, previous buying history, likes and dislikes on various platforms – all the data an advertiser needs to send you the ads that you’re most likely to appreciate. The data around you is also being read when your driverless pod is going down a street so you don’t hit anything. Every object, every form, is part of a giant IoT map which is currently work in progress.
It’s a huge market, and monetising it is a challenge, but GeoSpock is busy joining up all the fragments and boldly taking you to frontiers you never even knew existed. But don’t give yourself a hard time about it – they didn’t exist until very recently, but now they do and this big data world is fast becoming the building block for this century’s economy.
Successfully making use of this data will define the next generation of winners – and GeoSpock could be in the leading pack.