It was back in the 1990s that the neurophysicist Dr Klaus Holthausen developed a highly intelligent search and recommendation technology. Its special feature is that it is oriented towards the way in which the human brain functions. Development was protracted, and Google was faster to market with its search. Now Holthausen is making a new start with his partners. In the interview, the founders of TEAL explain why now is the right point in time and what they plan to do with the technology.
TEAL is stepping up with a search that is smarter than Google. How did this come about?
Dr Klaus Holthausen: Our search and recommendation technology is not smarter than Google. It is intelligent in an entirely different way. Its theory is based on the logic of neural networks. Admittedly, we answer questions just as Google does, too. But our technology acts associatively. It not only understands a question semantically but also includes different information and thus constructs individual information paths. When fed with the right data, for example, it is able to put together a completely individual journey for the World Cup to suit a group of friends. The journey not only takes account of which matches the travellers want to see, but also whether Max only sleeps in hotels with German beer, that Markus doesn’t want to travel more than four kilometres to the stadium and that Maria expects vegetarian half-board to be on offer in her accommodation.
That sounds like a futuristic travel consultant, yet you developed the search back in the 1990s. Why are you only taking it to market now?
Dr Klaus Holthausen: It has been a long journey to arrive at this technology – and, in the end, we were simply a little too late. I started with the basic research for TEAL in 1991, but had a completely different interest at that time. My PhD supervisor and I were at the Institute for Zoology researching into how brains process information. At the time, our aim was to contribute to a basic understanding of the brain. The prospect that a search algorithm would result from this was not in our plan at all. It was not until 1996 that I carried out research into the first self-learning neural networks, with the first patent for an associative full-text search then coming a little later. There were two hurdles that blocked our path at the time: firstly, building up this knowledge structure would have called for an incredibly large amount of computing power. Secondly, Google had already cornered a substantial proportion of search requests.
Michael Pruban: That is precisely what we thought at the time, too. Our co-founder Ulf Letschert sent us the concept in 2014 after we had met at an IT event. This was because it was a pure search technology, and we were the search experts. We then read through the business plan and thought: ‘That would actually be a really good search technology. But what do we do with it?’
Arne Schmidt: Over the course of the years, we had a number of ideas. The time for a new search engine in the present digital world had simply expired. It could have been integrated into existing shopware, for example, or in WordPress. Behind all this, though, is a substantial financial input with an uncertain outcome. However, there was more in this technology for us.
Now for TEAL you are interlinking the associative search and recommendation technology with the blockchain infrastructure. Why do you see an opportunity in this?
Arne Schmidt: Michael and I had already become aware of the blockchain concept a number of years ago and also deal with cryptocurrencies ourselves. What immediately inspired us was the scope for visionary products. This infrastructure is strong enough to overturn the existing power relationships on the market. And the crowd is providing monetary support for this change.
Michael Pruban: The specific idea for TEAL then emerged in May 2017. One day, Arne reopened the business plan and then it dawned on us. This highly intelligent search technology is now being given a new chance because the blockchain is shaking up the market. And because these decentralized information networks can also be stored and used in a decentralized manner in an infrastructure such as this. It was simply the perfect match. We then sat down with Klaus over a beer and developed TEAL’s first proper product, the TEAL Marketplace.
Dr Klaus Holthausen: Actually there were also a few more beers involved (chuckling). Seriously though, the blockchain has the potential to revolutionize many areas that are still in the hands of a few major players. By giving users collective alternatives, self-determination and transparency. We envisage a Wikipedia with these capabilities: having a decentralized structure and storage, based on the consensus of the masses and intelligently interlinking topics with each other. That would be a quantum leap in collective knowledge management. And this thought can also be transferred to other areas. Through TEAL we are creating a blockchain ecosystem in which there is space for many of these applications.