US agents seek Kiwi collaborators

Babak Hodjat has agents that he is offering New Zealand partners the opportunity to deploy.

Babak Hodjat has agents that he is offering New Zealand partners the opportunity to deploy.

These agents are far from secret. Hodjat travelled from the US last week to tell audiences in the three main centres about their potential, with a view to finding partners who might use them in applications. He also met representatives of tertiary institutions in a bid to interest them in teaching how his company’s software might be used.

Hodjat is technology head of Dejima, a Californian company that has been working for three years on software agents which provide a natural language interface with computing devices. Applications might include sales force automation or accessing content on a website via voice queries.

Hodjat claims that an agent developed for a financial information service halved the amount of time required to answer a particular query compared with a user’s effort to find the same information on Yahoo website. “And it reduced the number of mouse clicks from two to eight.”

On devices like cellphones, they do away with awkward menu systems.

Hodjat came to New Zealand at the instigation of Neil Scott. Scott is an expatriate New Zealander who heads the Archimedes Project, a Stanford University undertaking whose goal is to design systems that will enable the disabled to use computing devices.

Scott, a self-styled “marriage broker”, is convinced there are opportunities for New Zealand developers to work with companies like Dejima.

He was also flying the flag for a company that specialises in pattern recognition, Silicon Recognition, using low-cost ZISC (zero instruction set computing) processors. Both companies have worked with him on the Archimedes Project.

“The thing is to get business links built between New Zealand companies and Dejima and Silicon Recognition to turn this technology into products.”

Scott, who is a former head of Wellington Polytechnic electrical engineering school, believes New Zealanders have a bent for cheaply and quickly creating prototypes that can go on to become successful products.

Hodjat says he was impressed during his brief visit by his audiences’ receptiveness.

“I’m amazed at the level of welcome; the level of entrepreneurship. I hope to go away with leads that will become concrete deals.”

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