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Pulkit Jaiswal’s Aims to Counter Online Propaganda Wars

“We’ve trained our system to look for loaded language and strong sentiment”

March 13, 2023

Illustration: Irena Gajic

When Forbes Magazine put Pulkit Jaiswal on its 30 Under 30 list for 2022, the accompanying blurb described him as a “serial entrepreneur,” a term that calls to mind a rather pat list of attributes: restlessness, audacity, intellectual promiscuity. Having recently turned 30, the New York-based tech pioneer is indeed all of these things (“I built drones in high school,” he says in true Silicon Valley style), but he has also shown a tendency to go off-piste from time to time.

Jaiswal first rose to prominence in his early 20s, when the success of his autonomous drone start-up, SwarmX, earned him a spot on the MIT Technology Review’s 2016 Innovators Under 35 list. Shortly afterward, as he puts it, “I took a break from starting things to look inward,” which he did while trekking across the former Soviet Union, with a stopover at the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

This extended walkabout, along with the occasional DJ gig, provided an early indication that Jaiswal’s career path wouldn’t always be a straightforward one. “I ended up working for a hedge fund billionaire in Singapore,” he recalls. “Part of what we did was to use data on the Internet to predict trends and trade off our findings.” This was lucrative work, but Jaiswal didn’t stay for long. “A couple of years later I took everything I’d learned and moved to New York City,” he says. “These became the ideas behind”

Co-founded in 2019 by Jaiswal and Sourav Goswami, started out conducting data mining for a range of corporate clients, using cutting-edge machine learning and natural language processing programs to anticipate geopolitical trends, which could then be parlayed into business strategies. More recently, the company has focused less on selling consumer products and more on cutting through the fog of war.

“My interest in geopolitics began when I was working with the hedge fund tycoon, the idea that we could predict aspects of international conflicts,” Jaiswal says, describing the origins of his most recent business venture. “We’d been using this ability to find trades and opportunities in commodities, but I could see there were other applications.” That realization resulted in teaming up with Ukraine’s Centre for Strategic Communication, along with risk assessment firm OODA, to counter the propaganda war Russia is waging as part of its actual war with Ukraine.

In purely technological terms, the work is doing here is refreshingly pragmatic. At a time when tech developers are promising machines that will do everything from constructing philosophical theses to replacing deceased relatives, Jaiswal simply wants to let AI do what it does best: crunching vast amounts of data in short amounts of time.

“We’ve trained our system to look for loaded language and strong sentiment,” he says. “We already specialize in that sort of analysis, and we are also really good at categorizing specific topics. So, say, an article or tweet is talking about hidden bio-labs or a major infrastructure project—we create a count of these topics, and if there is a sudden spike, we can point to something about to take place. It’s time to start paying attention.”

While you can’t fault’s technology—or, for that matter, its moral stance—you do have to wonder about the decision to place the company in the midst of an armed conflict, especially if the work hasn’t earned it a single penny. “As a start-up, your preference is to work with clients who pay, but we decided to do this pro bono because it helps establish us in this area,” Jaiswal says. “Our work in Ukraine was a trial run, and it has shown us to be the real deal—we managed to pull it off. We see this as a way to get into national security long-term.”

The implication, of course, is that the work started doing last summer has the potential to become a money spinner in the future, but Jaiswal doesn’t seem particularly interested in this aspect. “A big part of what I’m doing comes from my visit to Chernobyl,” he says. “Being there made me realize that the best thing I could do is to build technology that will help stop that sort of disaster from happening again.” He laughs and adds, “I’m a bit of a tech hippie.”