Thomas Edison called genius “one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.” Now Valery Tsourikov, a Russian-born entrepreneur, believes he has found a way to package the 99 percent and sell it as software.
Tsourikov’s Boston-based company, aptly named “Invention Machine,” has created and patented a program to speed the process of coming up with new technologies. “We understand how people invent,” Tsourikov claims. “It’s cause-effect analysis, backward reasoning and forward reasoning.” The magic of genius, he says, comes from having a large knowledge base and knowing how to apply it.
To capture that magic in software, Tsourikov’s program comes with more than 6,000 “cause and effect” processes and techniques, gathered from different fields of engineering. Each effect is integrated into a semantic network so that the computer knows when it can be applied and what it does. Much of the database stems from U.S. patents that have been painstakingly categorized. The company’s newest program, called CoBrain, automates this data-gathering process as well. As a result, Tsourikov says, when companies buy Invention Machine, they can easily add their own proprietary processes and techniques to the database.
“It’s much more than a really good encyclopedia,” says Tom Carlisle, director of new technology at Phillips Petroleum. “It retrieves information in context.” Carlisle’s group is using Invention Machine to figure out ways of eliminating microscopic amounts of oxygen in natural-gas collection systems, which cause the equipment to corrode. “The problem-analysis section [of the software] has helped us clarify what the problem really is.”