Primer's AI map, produced from 40 million documents. (Screenshot: Primer)

For the CIA, hedge funds and the largest retail enterprises, the confounding problem is the same: too much data. The world and its actors have never seemed more complex, and with no way to absorb a meaningful part of the information out there, events appear harder than ever to understand.

  • A business opportunity: We are seeing a slew of startups promoting artificial intelligence as a solution. The latest is Primer, which, backed by $14.7 million in venture funding, says it sorts millions of news sources and any other data thrown at it, and then crystallizes what's important in concise, natural language.
  • Why it matters: It will take time to gauge the accuracy of tools like Primer's, and its founder says it does not supplant human intelligence. But it — and rival products — appears to be a solid first crack at breaking through the mountain of data weighing down our best analysts, and shaping it into useable bites and form.

How it started: Back in 2009, a New Zealand-born physicist named Sean Gourley went public with a mathematical formula that he and a team at Oxford University had discovered to explain war (watch his Ted talk here). Kooky or spooky, Gourley's work was sufficiently compelling to attract the $14.7 million from In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital arm; Zachary Bogue, husband of former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer; and two other VC firms. The money is to fund Primer, his new company. Gourley's initial clients include Walmart, the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund and one or more of the U.S. intelligence agencies (under the rules of the game, he cannot be told who his precise intel clients are).

  • Primer seems much more machine-driven than rivals like GovBrain and Predata. In a forecast this week, New York-based Geoquant, relying on AI plus human analysts with Ph.D.s, cast doubt on the Trump administration's ability to push its top-priority tax cut through Congress this year (we have written about Geoquant in past months).
  • Gourley tells Axios that his objective is to do the job of a junior analyst, not top-level experts.
  • That means cutting through the first three or so hours of an analyst's day by sorting through news sources and providing, in plain English, a few takeaway thoughts for the human to then apply imagination and judgement to.

"You can sound pretty smart and bring up things that others didn't think about," Gourley said. He said a frequent comment he hears from potential clients seeing a demonstration is, "How did I miss that?"

"Its a humbling experience," he said. "You start to understand where human limitations and strengths are."

Go deeper

Updated 2 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4:30 p.m. ET: 30,306,469 — Total deaths: 948,147— Total recoveries: 20,626,515Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4:30 p.m. ET: 6,705,114 — Total deaths: 198,197 — Total recoveries: 2,540,334 — Total tests: 92,163,649Map.
  3. Politics: In reversal, CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people.
  4. Health: Massive USPS face mask operation called off The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine.
  5. Business: Unemployment drop-off reverses course 1 million mortgage-holders fall through safety netHow the pandemic has deepened Boeing's 737 MAX crunch.
  6. Education: At least 42% of school employees are vulnerable.

Court battles shift mail-in voting deadlines in battleground states

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Michigan joins Pennsylvania in extending mail-in ballot deadlines by several days after the election, due to the coronavirus pandemic and expected delays in U.S. Postal Service.

The latest: Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that all ballots postmarked before Nov. 2 must be counted, so long as they arrive in the mail before election results are certified. Michigan will certify its general election results on Nov. 23.

Ina Fried, author of Login
31 mins ago - Technology

Interview: Unity CEO explains his company's unusual IPO

CEO John Riccitiello virtually ringing the NYSE bell as Unity shares began trading on Friday. PhotoL Unity

Unity Technologies was just one of many companies with blockbuster IPOs this week, but it took a decidedly different approach, using data rather than handshakes to decide who got to invest and at what price. CEO John Riccitiello explained why in an interview with Axios.

Why it matters: Traditionally, bankers and companies set IPO prices based on conversations and expectations, a process that has been criticized as basically leaving money on the table.