Toby Ruckert shares some of his time and talent to tell Blockleaders about his life achievements, and how the development of AI has influenced his latest project, UnifiedInbox.
Toby Ruckert’s hands glide over the piano, his fingers hitting the keys at an almost dizzying speed. A melodious tune drifts upwards, enveloping the listener with a poignant feeling. I recognize the melody. It’s Franz Liszt’s La Campanella, a lively piece of music first composed in 1838.
Playing the piano is just one of Toby’s many talents. He is a young man still but to say that he’s made the most out of his time so far is a slight understatement. Apart from being a classically trained musician, Toby has dedicated much of his life to entrepreneurship. He had the drive to innovate from a young age. While most of his peers at university were discussing video games and the latest blockbuster, Toby founded his first e-commerce companies.
Along with his entrepreneurial spirit, Toby is a well-known (and much sought-after) speaker, advisor, and moderator at a number of events. He is a serial inventor.
More recently, Toby has embraced the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create the UnificationEngine®, an intelligent IoT messaging platform that allows users to talk to any connected “thing” or service on over 20 of the world’s most popular communications platforms, including email, SMS, smart speakers, social media messaging and chat apps (including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and many more).
“Bringing together IoT, AI, and unified messaging in UIB’s powerful, multi-patented platform will have a profound impact on future generations. We are humanizing technology. Channel neutrality is a fundamental principle of our business. We act as independent information brokers — our customers retain control of their data, regardless of the connected device and communications channel.”
On the relationship of music and entrepreneurship
La Campanella becomes the perfect background to discuss Toby’s life-long achievements. It is an evocative piece of music, and listening to its velvety mantle inspires positive feelings in one’s mind.
The positive influence of classical music on the human brain has long been documented. Listening to a classical piece not only reduces stress levels but also boosts one’s memory and induces creativity. Research has shown that classical melodies have a clear effect on genes involving dopamine secretion, also known as the ‘feel good hormone.’ Learning and memory activity is also positively affected by classical music.
It is no wonder then that Toby’s mind teems with the drive to create and innovate. He’s an accomplished pianist, and it shows. His talent for innovation shines through the melody.
It takes a special kind of person to become an entrepreneur, and Toby always stood out.
“To be an entrepreneur is to overcome adversity and one’s own limits, thereby creating opportunities for others.”
On striking a work life balance
The issue of work life balance is a familiar one to most workers. Striking a balance is an insurmountable task at times, especially when you work for yourself, and every cent counts.
Toby has been self-employed his entire life. While some say that work and life should be kept separate, Toby disagrees. He postulates that humans are made out of body, mind, and soul and that these elements are inextricably linked. Therefore, it is not possible to separate work and life without losing a great part of oneself.
“We all know that the sum is more than its parts and yet we give that sum so little attention in our daily lives. Mastering work and life in harmony aren’t the same as work-life balance, because in harmony and mastery there is nothing “to balance.” Instead, it is about meeting all the issues you care about and all those which are your responsibility with 100% dedication, while carefully choosing the people with whom you really want to concern yourself.”
On the journey from Winterbach to Singapore via Waiheke
Toby’s focus is “correcting” the course of technology so that it actually serves humans and not the other way around.
“My professional goal is to empower people to regain control of their digital lives by creating solutions that leverage technology to help us realize the importance of our attention and manage it with awareness to shape our destiny consciously.”
Perhaps some of Toby’s talents and vision of the world were influenced by his life on remote Waiheke Island off of the coast of Auckland, New Zealand.
“My music teacher was a famous concert pianist and toured around the world multiple times. She was very passionate about New Zealand and always emphasized that this was the one country she almost didn’t want to come back from when taking a tour around the world – mainly because it was so stunningly beautiful in nature, but also because it held a lot of opportunities in the arts. Mind you, this was in the fifties and sixties. So one day I decided we have to visit this magical place and indeed, marvelous it was. Contrary to my piano teacher, however, I indeed got stuck (in the most positive sense) on this beautiful island off the coast of Auckland, called Waiheke Island. Always dreaming to live on the beach, we emigrated and never forgot it ever since. Once my mission with UIB is successfully fulfilled, we’ll definitely be back.”
Right now, Toby is based in Singapore, but this has not stopped him from feeling like a citizen of the world and embracing a multitude of international cultures as his own.
On AI’s promise and pitfalls
AI has been a hot topic for some time, and the issue is likely to keep generating news for many years to come. For many, AI is our savior. For as many others, it will herald the end of mankind’s freedom or even existence.
Toby first became involved with AI back in 1994, when he used speech recognition for the first time to have his phone dial the numbers in his contact list without lifting a finger. More recently, Toby’s work at UIB has enabled him to explore other aspects of AI, such as machine learning or Natural Language Processing (NLP), which was required as a skillset in the company to make human-machine communications and translations happen.
Regardless which camp you stand on, Toby had a lot to say about AI.
“It’s not a linear rise. There will be a lot of bumps in the road. People will lose jobs to AI, just to find new ones, before losing the same (new) ones again while AI keeps learning. The instability from not being able to predict the future of AI is both positive and negative. If it would be predictable, human nature would limit it and it couldn’t achieve its full potential. But, that also comes with the associated risks.”
No matter what approach or attitude one takes, the rise of AI entities and applications poses a number of challenges that must be overcome before AI and people exist in harmony.
“The challenge with AI is that with boundaries (even ethics) it might not achieve its full potential. I like the idea of developing an AI in a confined environment – an oil rig for instance – and making everything autonomous there first. To me, AI has a really long way to go. We don’t even understand how our own brains work, so it will take even more time to develop ‘intelligence artificially’. Also, despite having a principle understanding of what is right and wrong, humans have repeatedly used their free will to ignore what they consider to be human ethics. So, it remains to be seen whether any form of ethics that AI designs would be better, especially if the background algorithms are made by humans who have proven themselves to ignore those same values in their own history.”
On UIB’s technology’s capabilities
Toby’s efforts are currently focused on his company, UIB.
We all love chatting online, be it through Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, or whichever app it may be. All these tools exist to facilitate communication between people.
But, increasingly, people need to communicate with machines and herein lies the problem, with the solution provided by Toby and his team. Just installing yet another app to talk to one specific machine, a category of them, or all of those related to the same manufacturer or brand, doesn’t really cut it. That’s where UIB comes in.
UIB’s flagship product is UnificationEngine®, the world’s first intelligent IoT messaging platform. This platform facilitates frictionless onboarding and seamless communications between humans, IT systems and machines, such as connected appliances and smart homes, smart cities, and smart factories (Industry 4.0).
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is in full swing. The era of AI, advanced robotics, and IoT ecosystems has enabled a technological leap across many industries, generally grouped under the Industry 4.0 concept. Adding UIB’s UnificationEngine-powered SmartContact® to your smartphone’s address book allows you to talk to any connected “thing” or service on over 20 of the world’s most popular communications platforms, including email, SMS, smart speakers, social media messaging and chat apps (including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and many more).
With a SmartContact in your smartphone’s address book, you can talk via natural language voice and instant messaging to any device on any channel in any language with or without the device’s native mobile app or a virtual assistant.
On UIB’s mission
“Our mission is to give people back time and our technologies enable people to simply communicate. We want people to choose who they want to be able to access their data (conversations with machines). Right now, those choices are limited. In the future, we hope to have played a role in having given people a choice about whether they own their data (and can monetize it themselves), trust a device manufacturer to own their data, or trust an ad-sponsored service.”
The bottom line of UIB: We want people to decide for themselves who owns — and gets to monetize — the data from their conversations with machines.
On the future of AI
A new melody permeates the air. The tune emanating from Toby’s piano is now Mendelssohn’s Trois Fantasies ou Caprices. The music has a slower tempo. It paints my mind with images of tranquil evenings spent by a roaring fire, listening to the beat of the music and the rain.
Such an evocative piece is the perfect companion for the closing statements to illustrate Toby’s commitment to UIB and the technological advancement of people.
The issue of AI is, and will remain, controversial. There are as many detractors as there are supporters. Designing and implementing AI routines, and how these entities are used, pretty much comes down to the human agents behind them. And humans, of course, are often confronted with ethics vs. business issues.
“Despite knowing right from wrong, we repeatedly ignore our own human ethics. So if AI is made by humans, will it be any better?”
Earlier this month, Toby spoke on a panel at Google’s headquarters in Singapore. Below are two excerpts from this talk, exclusive to Blockleaders.