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Humanizing Tech

In Focus
NAME:William Welser IV
In co-founding “anti-tech” tech company Lotic.ai, William Welser IV is putting the promise of technology back into the hands of the user by harnessing the power of the spoken word.

The ink was barely dry on his undergraduate degree when William ‘Bill’ Welser IV set to work building a megawatt-class laser that could be launched into space on a satellite to knock down intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Once that project was complete, he turned to the next challenge: fixing a high-powered laser to the front of a Boeing 747 to shoot down missiles and rockets in any theater of conflict.

“We’re the tech company that’s focused on giving the user agency and power over technology.”

To become a chemical engineer in the United States Air Force, Welser had followed a well-trodden path in his family. Having grown up in a “deeply military service-oriented family”, as he describes it, the Air Force was all he knew.

“We were born into this idea of service and were raised with this idea that there are three things that come before anything else,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “They are the Air Force core values: service before self, excellence in all you do and integrity first.”

People Power

Like his three siblings, Welser received a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship to the University of Virginia. But unlike his siblings, he’d be the only one not to have retired from the Air Force. Because, after seven years, he called time on the military, leaving as a Captain with two master’s degrees (one MBA and one Master of Finance) under his belt.

Armed with his advanced technology expertise, consulting seemed like the logical path. Instead, Welser landed at Californian-headquartered think tank RAND Corporation. Even while on the executive leadership team, he maintained a full-time research portfolio that, as he explains, started where he left off in the Air Force: advanced technologies, specifically, how to approach them from a policy standpoint.

“Quickly, I learned it’s impossible to discuss advanced technology and policy without thinking about humans, the complex system that is a human and how they’re going to use that technology and what they’re looking for from technology,” Welser reveals.

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Ten years after starting at RAND and after a year-long sabbatical learning as much as he could about ethnography and anthropology in a human behavior company in Copenhagen, Denmark, Welser was ready to enter the startup space with the launch of Lotic.ai.

The “anti-tech tech company”, as he describes it, brings together not only his career experience, but also the core military values instilled since his childhood. Along with being the Co-Founder, Welser is the CEO and CTO.

“We’re the tech company that’s focused on giving the user agency and power over technology, so that they understand themselves better, can make better decisions and can operate in the world as a more informed consumer participant,” he explains.

The Spoken Word

It’s no secret that we live in a world where data is king, and where the average person hands over their data with little thought to how it is used or the value it holds.

“Technology companies have made humans into objects and they make money off those objects,” Welser explains. “And humans have very little agency or understanding about how much they are worth to those technology companies.”

The opportunity with Lotic.ai, as he says, was to reverse this relationship, and give humans more control over their own data. “What if we took all those same technologies that Facebook and Google and Amazon and others are using and handed it back to the individual?” he asks.

The way Lotic.ai achieves this is through analyzing the spoken word, something that Welser and his Co-Founder Jonathan Cohen have long been convinced is the most powerful source of data about a person.

“The spoken word story is very powerful because, while I can write you a text message one hundred times and send it once, I cannot go back on what I said just five minutes ago and delete it,” he says. “I can only add more context, more detail.”

“There’s too much technological power out there, there’s too much data out there. Why shouldn’t it fall to the individual to have those powers harnessed for them?”

By capturing these stories, Lotic.ai can then identify patterns and trends in people’s emotions, Welser explains, based on aspects such as how fast they are talking, the inflection that they put into words, the words they couple together and the topics they group as they are describing something.

“You can see where their motivations are and essentially how they are wired at a subconscious level so you can provide insights that help them understand their own story, their own being and their actions,” he explains.

This means that, rather than being a pawn in the system, people can actually reclaim their sense of agency, whether that’s questioning the purchase of a new suit that they’ve just seen advertised in their social media feeds, or something much more significant, such as political messaging.

“What we often do with technology companies is put our hands up and allow them to tell us what’s important, what we should believe,” he says. “We believe that empowering individuals is the way the world needs to go.

“There’s too much technological power out there, there’s too much data out there. Why shouldn’t it fall to the individual to have those powers harnessed for them?”

Quality Expertise

A broad spectrum of expertise has been hired to imagine Lotic.ai’s AI-driven methodology. “The company employs behavioral scientists, clinical psychologists, machine learning experts, data scientists; we even have someone with a PhD in brain plasticity,” Welser says.

Such a diverse array of experience is necessary because, as he explains, the algorithms needed to make sense of the data collected require both quantitative and qualitative coding.

“There’s a lot of qualitative understanding and interpretation that has to happen based on the expertise of people who understand the complex system that is a human being,” he notes, adding that seeing clinical psychologists work side by side with machine learning experts has been very exciting.

He’s also drawn students undertaking two and four year degrees through not-for-profit organizations such as LA-Tech.org, founded by the city’s tech community to support underprivileged and underrepresented youth.

“It would be easy for us to go to well-established universities, but here we get a chance to touch on schools people just typically ignore,” he says, adding that these students have also interacted with early beta projects.

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The backing of a group of committed investors who believe in the long-term value of Lotic.ai has allowed the company the luxury of staying in stealth as it approaches its fourth anniversary, says Welser, who adds that a broad launch is set for later this year.

The platform has already soft launched in a key vertical for Welser: social impact.

“The world is built to serve people who have resources,” he says. “The entire economic foundation of the world is articulated to give those people exactly what they need and when they need it.

“Those people who do not have resources are kind of forgotten. They rarely get a voice and are often scrambling. I see that as a travesty.”

Welser says he’ll see Lotic.ai as successful if it gives a voice to those who currently do not have it, as well as bridging the socio-economic divide.

Helping those in Need

Assisting asylum seekers and refugees is an area of particular focus and the company has already worked with the likes of This is About Humanity, a non-governmental organization (NGO) supporting separated and reunited families on the United States-Mexico border, as well as SolidarityNow, a Greek humanitarian organization that strives to help society’s most vulnerable and marginalized groups live with dignity and safety. Another NGO partner is Cyprus-based Vela Foundation, who Lotic.ai has worked alongside to capture stories from Ukrainian refugees who have fled across the border.

“We undertook both qualitative and quantitative analysis that looked at the policies that UNICEF and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] have put in place to support these refugees and where they have been successful and where they have fallen short,” he explains.

“Those people who do not have resources are kind of forgotten. They rarely get a voice and are often scrambling. I see that as a travesty.”

The company has also found a partner in the City of Newark’s HUBB Arts & Trauma Center (ATC), a local community-based violence intervention center.

“We’ve been engaging with them around how you collect on the ground experiences of community members so you can better articulate and target policies that will actually help them,” he says.

The other key verticals Welser has identified include finance, human performance and health care, a trio of subjects where he spots enormous potential to ensure people have access to the information they need to make good decisions and become better advocates for themselves.

“We believe that building a system like this, helping someone know themselves better, means they can engage with companies in a more personalized way with service providers,” he says.


And the benefits will go both ways. “It’ll be up to each person to choose whether or not they share their data, but we will have metrics by which we can say this person is an eight out of 10, for example, in terms of knowing themselves along the lines of emotionally or as it relates to their career,” he explains.

“For companies, that’s extremely important because, if they can hyper-target their products and services towards a set of people who understand themselves better, they can drive down their cost per user acquisition to close to zero.”

“We’ve also talked with many companies about this as a tool to help their employees achieve better feelings of wellbeing,” he says. “Again, that can drive down unexpected insurance costs at a company level, among other things. There’s a lot of important enterprise value there.”

A Changing Ecosystem

From a design standpoint, Welser explains that such a use wasn’t top of mind when the first ideas for Lotic.ai were sketched out. “But I knew long-term that this would be in play because I started the company with a 15, 20, 30-year horizon in mind,” he says.

He also knew he wanted to name it after an ecosystem that was representative of what he felt people were struggling with or having to navigate. “I spent a lot of time at RAND looking at ecosystems and I see ecologists as rock stars,” he smiles. “They have to weigh up so many different aspects to figure out how to help an ecosystem survive.”

The name he was looking for was found in the freshwater ecosystem. “There are two types,” he explains. “There’s the lentic system, which is very safe and still, a pond where tadpoles turn into frogs.”


Then there’s the lotic system of constantly moving water. “Our belief is that we’re helping people navigate this lotic system, or a rapidly moving water of social change, technological change, geopolitical change, all of that,” he says. “And a lot of us don’t know what to do, so we chose to do a few things right now.

“We choose to stand on the sidelines in the hopes that it will all just go away, which is not a solution. Some of us are brave enough to choose to navigate it on our own, but without the proper information, so we just get pummeled against the rocks. Most of us get in boats, and those boats are ferries that are filled with millions and millions of people, and they are captained by Meta, Google and Amazon and all those other firms.

“Our belief is that there’s a fourth way, and that is for you to learn to navigate it yourself by understanding yourself better.”

Welser cautions that he’s not promising utopia. “We’re not promising any sort of sci-fi, crazy understanding of oneself after one day and one story,” he says. “It requires a commitment of wanting to put yourself in a position of agency and trust that technology can be harnessed for good.

“And because humans right now are treated like objects and don’t trust technology, we believe there’s tremendous hunger for that.”

Nuts and Bolts

So how does Lotic.ai actually work from a user standpoint? Spoken stories can be recorded via a text message that redirects to a URL, via an app, via yet-to-be-released pocket-sized proprietary hardware that releases people from the tether of their phones. “We can even engage you on a rotary phone if we had to,” says Welser.

To be able to establish a pattern, Welser says users ideally need to commit between three to 10 minutes per day – but no more.

“That’s enough time to tell one or two stories and engage with some of our world-class content to explain some of our insights,” he says. “I want it to become a part of someone’s daily routine that gives them a superpower of understanding themselves better, but  I do not want people to be endlessly scrolling on my system.”

Of course, every recording is locked away with the deepest cryptographic protection, meeting General Data Protection Regulation guidelines and in Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-approved clouds. And, the platform has the ability to capture stories in multiple languages.

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