Jana Joha sits down with EOFIS start-up founders Marysol Angeloni and Tiarnach Ó Riada to discuss how their new platform can help improve people’s memory.
Marysol Angeloni and Tiarnach Ó Riada— the founders of ‘EOFIS’, developed an AI software platform that aims to augment and improve human memory. Angeloni is currently pursuing an MSc in Management at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and Ó Riada is a recent Engineering graduate from the UCD School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Their start-up has recently won the NovaUCD 2021 Student Enterprise Competition, which took place in June.
EOFIS is a software platform that helps ‘knowledge workers’ better remember key pieces of information through periodically timed quizzes. In an interview with the University Observer, Angeloni and Ó Riada explained that ‘EOFIS is an application that automatically generates quizzes out of a given text’. Users can input a body of text and an AI-powered algorithm then sifts through it to produce questions that will be presented as quizzes for the user at different time intervals. Angeloni explained that the quizzes are presented ‘at an interval using a spaced repetition technique’ which is the technique of recalling information repetitively at varying intervals of time. For example, information that is easily recalled will be shown at larger intervals while in contrast, information that is harder to remember will be presented in shorter intervals. That is the basis of EOFIS. Angeloni further explained that ‘EOFIS will generate the question and the answers based on that piece of information you’re interested in and then it will present you the quizzes’. When the quizzes are generated, they will be presented after a specific period and if the user answers correctly then the application will register that the user knows and remembers this important piece of information. ‘Then this interval spreads out and the reason for it is because our brain actually remembers better when it’s challenged’. It leaves ‘a bit of time to make the effort of remembering’.
Ó Riada provided further technical information on the capabilities of EOFIS. "We have a little fleet of servers” that are housed on Amazon Web Services (AWS). “On these, we have a python programme running where it accepts requests” and generates questions. “It takes in a body of text and runs it through a neural network… the particular type is the transformer”. A neural network model is an algorithm that is inspired and loosely based on how our own brains process information. Similar to our brain, these models have a basic unit, ‘neurons’ which are organised into layers. These simplified models form the basis of machine learning and EOFIS uses a particular type called transformer neural networks. These are commonly used in processing text-based information. According to Ó Riada ‘it does basically magic’. When using machine learning models a training dataset is used to essentially ‘train’ the model. Ó Riada explained that they decided to use “a question answering dataset because that’s a big problem in computer science… question generation is a new sort of thing that people don’t really care about…. But we care about it’. Ó Riada further noted that ‘how you train it is you take these question-answering databases and put them backways… you have the answer first then the question”.
EOFIS uses these python based machine learning models to generate relevant questions from a body of text. It can achieve this as it contains “three models in one” according to Ó Riada. ‘There’s an answer extraction model where you send it your information’ and it will generate answers from the key information highlighted by the user. Ó Riada noted that the model also has the ability to decide what information is more important to remember. It will analyse “the [information] you thought was very interesting’ but ‘might decide’ to generate answers from ‘something beside it’ which it may deem ‘more information dense”. “There then is a question generation [model] with that specific answer in mind, so it’ll take the answer and go back across the text and see how it can make it into a question”. The final and third model, the ‘question answering model’, checks if the generated answers and questions are correct. Ó Riada explained that “it takes the generated answer, the generated question and tries to see if it can answer the question…. with the specific information in the text”.
The idea for EOFIS all started when Ó Riada started his final year thesis project. “How it started was Tiarnach had to write his thesis project and he read the thesis proposal which had this concept of automatically generating quizzes and then presenting them using this spaced repetition technique” Angeloni explained, “so Tiarnach started working on this thesis project in September 2020 and at the time Tiarnach and I started dating as well”. Angeloni remarked that “it was just a coincidence” and in January 2021 they both realised that it could be a worthy venture. “So around January I was like ‘Oh you know what, this could be a great start-up idea!”’. Angleoni also stated that she has been involved in multiple other start-ups over the years and suggested that they both apply for the NovaUCD 2021 Student Enterprise Competition. “I joined the NovaUCD programme in 2018, back then it was called the Start-up Stars Programme… so I was like ‘Oh Tiarnach you know what, we could actually apply!’ So then we did and we got in”.
In May 2021 they started the NovaUCD programme which ran over four weeks. On the 18th of June, all teams had their final presentation where teams competed for the €5000 cash prize. Angeloni and Ó Riada were the winners of the competition and they both stated how “the mentors are fantastic and everybody in NovaUCD are helpful”. “We did our best and everybody did their best and so we were happy to be there… the opportunity in itself was fantastic”.
The duo plan to continue developing and building EOFIS. They hope to complete their minimal viable product (MVP) in the coming weeks before beginning the design of the application. “In the meantime… we have applied to some accelerator programmes… one of them is the New Frontiers is in NovaUCD this year, which is sponsored by Enterprise Ireland… then there’s also Venture Launch” explained Angeloni. The team are looking forward to these programmes as it “encourages [them] to continue” as well as meet new people. Their ultimate hope for EOFIS is to “help people with their knowledge experience”. Ó Riada explained that “it’s like building up yourself as opposed to using your phone or your laptop as an external brain” and giving people the confidence to rely on their own memory. They believe that “life is not just work” and they “want people to enjoy their life”. Angeloni and Ó Riada emphasised how they “both want to make a difference in people’s lives” and remind us that “we need to appreciate the time that we have”.