Alex Martin is a former Force Recon Marine who went into start-ups, then then NGOs and now into a technology at A.C. Global Risk that could change threat assessment everywhere, at every border and port of entry, on every mission in every hostile community.
HH: Even though Donald Trump has changed course, and very successfully so, we have a problem at every border in the United States. We have a problem at every port of entry in the United States. We have a problem at every passport control in the United States. We have a problem in every country in the world with security. What do we do about that, people who want to come in? I am joined by Alex Martin. He is the founder of AC Global Threat. I heard about AC Global Threat from my friend, General Mel Spiese, and I said I want to talk to Alex Martin. Alex, good morning, welcome, it’s great to have you on.
AM: Hey, Hugh, good morning. Thanks for having me.
HH: Would you give people a little bit of your background in the service?
AM: Yeah, sure. So I started out as a Marine, as a Marine officer, and deployed four times with Infantry and Reconnaissance and force reconnaissance units mostly to Iraq, but also to the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
HH: After that, what did you do before you went to Stanford Business School.
AM: Yeah, so it’s pretty interesting. I started a private maritime security company over in Oman. It was a pretty interesting pivot from just having lived that counterpiracy work over there off Africa. And then I went into the NGO world. One of my friends from our Force Recon unit started an amazing NGO called Nuru International. They were doing some pretty incredible work in Kenya and Ethiopia. So I joined those folks, and the idea there is empowering local leaders to co-create, you know, answers to their very challenging problem of extreme poverty. So did some incredible work out there with some amazing professionals for a couple of years in Kenya. And then was fortunate enough to be a part of AC Global Risk.
HH: So from Marine Recon to NGO world, a startup world and then AC Global Risk. What does AC Global Risk do?
AM: Yeah, so AC Global Risk, we’re a California-based technology firm, and we focus on risk assessment services. It’s the core of our offering. We’ve got a technology that we employ that helps people triage risk and helps human experts make better decisions faster.
HH: Now when you say triage risk, I want people to think about the border. I want to think of people who are being picked up by border patrol, people who are trying to get in through ports of entry as the President and DHS Secretary said this week, and I want to think about all those people in Europe coming over from Libya or Turkey. They represent risk, right, Alex Martin?
AM: Yeah, I mean, there’s people in there certainly that represent a risk. And what we’re kind of charged to do in various settings is to triage that risk so that the very high demand, low density experts have a better place to start with whom and with which risk factors they’re most concerned about. And kind of the key is accelerating those that pose no risk at the same time, so you have this acceleration factor going on while people that present risk are being adjudicated.
HH: See, we have to sort people. That’s what it comes down to. In various places across the world, we have to sort people at first into maybe a risk, not a risk. That’s the very first choice we make. Am I right about that, Alex Martin?
AM: Yeah, Hugh, I think that’s absolutely correct. I think you have to be able to triage people so that those that pose that risk are able to receive the, you know, the process in any matter of adjudication and second and third order interviews. And I think the ability to have you know, technology underpinning this system, as you said, creating an ecosystem where risk is triaged at various levels and keeping that actual risk further away from any point where harm can be done, and then allowing those with no risk present to move much faster through a process.
HH: So what does the technology do that you are deploying and testing, and hopefully scale?
AM: Yeah, absolutely. So the technology is called RRA or remote risk assessment. And it’s a sophisticated decision support tool. So what we’re doing is we’re incorporating proprietary analytical processes, and we’re evaluating human voice to assess these risk issues. So it’s simply an over the phone interview in any language. It takes about ten minutes to conduct with a high degree of accuracy. And what’s happening is these yes or no responses to client-defined questions are being analyzed by the algorithm. So these proprietary methods that we’re evaluating are categorizing these features of these vocal responses that are embedded in kind of the micro levels of the voice signal. And we’re able to very accurately and quickly make a determination based on our model, on our algorithm, of whether or not risk is present. So it becomes this automated risk assessment interview that’s globally networked. And the idea is to provide data as a diagnostic tool to people, again, to triage very quickly where we should start and with whom, again, while accelerating others. So that’s the core of the technology.
HH: When General Spiese was describing this to me, I’m a radio host. I’ve been doing this since 1989. I have literally listened to hundreds of thousands of people call in. I don’t know them. I don’t know where they are. Do you know, I can instantly recognize a seminar caller, what we call in our business, someone who’s lying? I can instantly recognize someone who’s drunk.
HH: I can instantly recognize where people are from, what point of view they have, because I’m practiced. What you’re telling me is that you’ve figured out, or are working on an algorithm that will sort through intonation in voice, or, what is it that it sorts through to identify people who might be a risk in one way or another?
AM: Yeah, sure. So let me just start by saying what we first do is we define the question set, and this is really important, because these questions, the question design process, are actually what’s causing the reactions that we’re measuring. So once we’ve set this question design up with the customer or the client, in this case, we are automating these question sets. So again, now no human being is touching it. So in your case, you’re an expert at reading people in the voice. We’re taking the knowhow and tradecraft of other experts who are experts in this kind of design of questions and how they should be enrolled, and we’re automating it. So that becomes a perfect delivery, and that’s really important. Next, what happens is these questions are essentially used as stimuli, and these pertinent questions cause neural activations which occur if the person gives an inaccurate response, meaning they say no when their memory tells them in fact it was a yes. The brain then reacts with the stimuli, and then we’re essentially activating the fight or flight concept, and it’s posed by these pertinent questions. And so the brain reactions then cause uncontrolled release of hormones and chemicals. These activate neural muscular pathways. They affect the output of the voice. And our algorithm is able to measure those changes in the neuromuscular pathways. This technology detects the presence or absence of these characteristics, and we can measure and quantify it. Think of like a blood pressure reading from low to high risk. That’s simply what we’re doing. And to demystify it all, really, it’s just looking at these yes or no responses very quickly and providing that data point as a diagnostic tool. We’re not telling people hey, this is a lie. We’re not doing a credibility assessment. We are simply providing this risk data to then give people a place to start.
HH: So you’re sorting according to risk so that those who do deep dives into the individuals sorted into the potentially risky category don’t have to do that deep dive with everyone in line, but only with those people that your algorithm, based on these questions, as identified as risky?
AM: Yeah, that’s absolutely correct, and we always advocate for, you know, security and risk assessment being holistic and being, using, you know, multiple sensors and technologies, so we never want to be a standalone touchpoint. We certainly think that as a first order sensor to provide indications of warning of risk that is, that could be very real, that’s kind of where we play best, at the front end of the ecosystem that again should be robust and holistic. And it’s kind of the concept of former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work’s notion of human-machine teaming in his third offset strategy. We very much are a human-machine teaming kind of approach. And I think with something like immigration and the border issue where we have this highly-complex issue, I really do think the answer is innovation and human-machine teaming at scale.
HH: Now I want to go back to your days of walking point in your deployments when you have to go into small towns and to remote villages, or perhaps into dense urban areas in Baghdad and you have to talk to lots of people. Are we looking at a day down the road, and it sounds a little Minority Reportish, but are we looking at a time down the road where technology is going to accurately tell us who presents a risk to our troops? And does it get scary at some point because of the technological ability to sort?
AM: Yeah, you know, it’s a great question, and there’s always that moral component to all decisions to make with any technology, right? And that’s kind of, I think, the bumping on the importance of innovation done right with the moral underpinnings of how things should be delivered. And I think that’s at the heart of what we do every day here, you know, veteran-founded, and we have people who have joined us from Enterprise, from amazing companies, technology companies and so on. And we think about this every day as, you know, this tool as a force for good and other tools. I don’t think you’ll ever get away from a point where individuals you know, having to do the hard work on the ground. It’s how we help them do their job better and faster is the key. So you know, can I envision a day where these kind of problems are dealt in without human beings and human contact and human final decision making on adjudication for final decision? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I’d prefer a world where experts who are kind, caring, compassionate, professional and motivated by the same kind of equity that we all are, are just fed with multiple data points and have as much at their hands and disposal to make these decisions the best way possible the fastest. So that, to me, is very important, and I think the counter to the potential, the kind of Minority Report kind of allusion is, you know, it’s a very real concern. But for our end, we think about breaking down a lot of walls and accelerating trust. We have a social line of business. We’re working with NGOs in Africa to hire people that couldn’t be hired previously because they’re in neighboring villages near Boko Haram. We’re working in Uganda with counter-poaching forces to make sure that rangers can protect rhinos. That poaching, you know, money goes to terrorism and so on. So the idea that we can go places where they count and be on the frontier is wildly important to us. And I think at the end of the day, back to your point, the more sets of data that these people out in these risky environments have, the better.
HH: Last question, Alex Martin of AC Global Risk, how fast is the technology in this area developing, because boy, do we need it in the assessment of risk? It’s not a verbal polygraph. People shouldn’t get that impression. It’s an assessment of risk strategy that triages risk. But how fast is it developing not only in your world, your company at AC Global, but others?
AM: Very fast. A lot of technology in the commercial sector moving, especially in biometrics. There’s a lot of incredible innovations going on in the voice and other biometrics that are helping push this forward – counter-fraud applications, hiring IP protection and so on. And then I think government is attempting to move fastest. You know, a lot of incredible indicators that there are a lot of innovative, of people in government, who are looking for solutions, and there’s a lot of indications that they’re doing a ton of work to get there. You know, it just happens our own special operations command, very fast moving, very willing to adopt new tech innovate, because the stakes are so high. So in my opinion, a very fast-moving market, and I think government is trying. I’ve seen a lot of great leaders, but the answer, in my opinion, is this innovation and this human-machine teaming, and you know, we’re excited to be a part of the potential solution.
HH: Yeah, I’ve read about the preliminary credibility assessment screening system. This is another, you’ve come up with another one. I think technology is going to be our great assist here. We don’t have to feel hopeless. Alex Martin, great to talk to you. Thank you. I appreciate General Spiese bringing us together as well.
End of interview.