The next time you think a gamer is wasting time blasting away at a screen, think again: They might be trying to find treatments for COVID-19. That intriguing possibility is actually a reality—and it just won BALANCED Media | Technology a $20,000 award from Tech Titans.
McKinney-based BALANCED has won Tech Titans’ second annual Grand Challenge competition for its edge computing solution. The startup’s co-founder and CTO, Dr. Corey Clark, is the deputy director of research at SMU’s Guildhall and an assistant professor of computer science at the university.
“There’s a ton of data in medical applications, educational applications—so much that it’s unusable because it has to be preserved privately,” Clark said in a statement. “This data has discoveries and opportunities locked away in it that’s not accessible to us. So we’re here to change that.”
Partnering with Complexity Gaming to advance COVID research
BALANCED’s winning proposal focused on privacy-preserving edge-based machine learning. Using its HEWMAN crowd-computing platform, it partnered with Frisco-based Complexity Gaming and asked gamers to install the company’s code, which was embedded in a small game.
The HEWMEN solution pairs crowd-computing and AI to process large amounts of data to solve complex problems.
“While they were online, they were actually processing,” Clark said. “We found about 30 different compounds that could be used for therapeutic treatments of COVID. We found this compound that’s now being tested in labs, which actually helps prevent the spike protein from interacting with the body. And this is all by just having people connect their games and their computers to our network.”
Team won over applicants from across the U.S.
BALANCED was competing with rivals from across the U.S. for the award. Reps from top tech companies did the judging to advance three finalists. Then the finalists presented live/virtual pitches to celebrity judges including Dallas Cowboys CMO Charlotte Jones; Luke Wallace, VP of app development and edge-computing expert from Bottle Rocket; and Mo Katibeh, SVP of network infrastructure & build at AT&T.
The combo of gamers having fun as potentially life-saving research crunched in the background won the day for BALANCED.
“Almost everything that Corey articulated has been done,” AT&T’s Katibeh said in the statement. “But making it repeatable, where you can now go out to businesses and say, ‘Hey, you have a big problem with lots of data. And you’re trying to use AI to figure it out. We can use AI and humans together.’ And the efficacy of that is significantly higher than either by itself. It’s really, really clever, because people think they’re having fun, but they’re really working for you.”
Data security is a key ingredient
One key factor in the BALANCED solution is data security.
“Some of our partners expressed the need to use data for medical discoveries, applications, drug discovery,” Clark said. “What if, instead of just running applications with encrypted data, you could keep all your data encrypted, even while the application is running, and the results that come out are encrypted? At no point was the data ever decrypted. That way, no one other than the person who has the key can view it.”
The BALANCED team says its solution shows promise by combining people and human-guided machine learning with encryption into a technology that can be replicated.
Clark has raised almost $20M in funding
Clark brings 15 years of experience to his work at BALANCED, combining study areas including gaming, systems biology, distributed computing, and AI/machine learning.
To date, he’s raised almost $20 million in research, seed, and series funding from government and private entities. He’s also been the CTO of a gaming tech startup that was acquired—so his work with Complexity Gaming on this solution made for a natural fit. He most recently led a team to a $2.5 million XPRIZE Grand Prize win, according to the Tech Titans statement.
BALANCED will be honored at the annual Tech Titans Gala on Jan. 19. For more about the gala and the other finalists, read our story here.
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