ProfessorBob.ai : revolutionizing education through Adaptive Learning and AI
The education technology career path of a Polytechnique entrepreneur and product management expert.
Samy Lahbabi is a graduate of École Polytechnique (X99) and Télécom Paris. He is passionate about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and has a solid experience in designing innovative services and SaaS solutions. From 2004 to 2011, he worked at SFR as a consultant on the design and launch of new mobile consumer services, before focusing on AI-based content recommendation at SFR and then HTC, attracted by the international scope of innovations.
In 2014, wanting to have more impact on society, Samy switched to the education technology sector, within the EdTech startup Gutenberg Technology. As Director of Product and Innovation of the startup, he contributes to develop and scale the SaaS solution and innovate with AI, especially in personalized learning (adaptive learning).
Personalized learning is the ultimate goal in education, because it's really about adapting training to the fluency and difficulties of each student, allowing everyone to progress optimally despite differences in prior knowledge and learning rhythms and patterns.
Problem, solution, start-up: online education, NLP and ProfessorBob.
Today, the growth of online education, especially via MooC (Massive Open Online Courses) platforms, marks a revolution, allowing access to knowledge for all; however, there are still barriers to learning, as evidenced by indicators such as the completion rate of online education platforms such as Coursera, which is around 9%. This level can be explained by the fact that the majority of courses are free, but above all by the fact that students are alone with their training, and therefore without support to try to overcome difficulties and problems of motivation over time.
In 2014, it was very, if not too, early to improve this with the application of AI, but as soon as they realized in late 2018 that the AI technology of Automated Natural Language Processing (NLP) was finally more mature, François Xavier Hussherr, founder and ex-CEO of Gutenberg Technology, and Samy created ProfessorBob.ai (2019).
The startup was initially named The AI Institute with two activities: AI training and the development of an AI virtual assistant. The training activity provided a better grasp of the assistant's customer issues from the start, but was later discontinued to focus efforts on the AI development of the ProfessorBob.ai virtual assistant, hence the company's name change. The ambition (and social goal) is to help learners alone online and offload teachers, allowing them to focus on higher value-added learner support.
We want to accompany learners throughout their learning process and make education easier and more effective for all of them, regardless of their level, pace and learning style.
ProfessorBob.ai offers 3 main services:
- A virtual assistant to answer learners' questions. Its solution provides instant answers, adapted to the student and his/her level and verified, because it is based on its clients' courses, and in particular by exploiting videos. ProfessorBob.ai can answer a student's question by pointing to the specific segment of a video that answers it.
- Adaptive learning. Learner performance on exercises and interactions with learning resources are tracked to adjust the learning pace accordingly for each learner in real time. A study of an html development course (A/B testing) found that 42% of students learned twice as fast with ProfessorBob.ai's adaptive learning.
- Knowledge anchoring. Once a knowledge concept has been acquired, it can be tested over time to revise and reinforce it.
ProfessorBob.ai is also working to automate the generation of interactive activities from courses.
The R&D, integrated into Professor Bob's D.N.A.
ProfessorBob.ai automates the construction of these services from the knowledge of its clients' courses. Its algorithms and AI models take videos, PDFs, course documents, etc. as input and extract and model the knowledge contained in these sources in the form of questions/answers (with NLP) and interactive exercises. In parallel, they extract key words and concepts, analyze their relationships to build a knowledge graph. The startup's R&D team is working on simplifying this graph, which is currently very massive, in order to make it easier to use by educational engineers.
The other R&D axes of ProfessorBob.ai are :
- The improvement of NLP models and the creation of more specialized datasets to better train them.
- Transfer Learning, the models must be better optimized to improve performance when moving from one subject to another.
- Continuous Learning: models should be automatically enriched by feedback from teachers and students.
- Conversational AI: ProfessorBob.ai wants to offer richer interactions (dialogue) with learners, beyond simple questions and answers.
An important partnership: the CNRS and the SATT of Paris-Saclay.
Since 2020, ProfessorBob.ai has partnered with the LISN laboratory of the CNRS, which has a strong experience in building knowledge bases and assistants. This partnership was strengthened last summer with the implementation of an 18-month maturation program funded by the SATT (Société d'Accélération de Transfert de Technologie) of Paris-Saclay. A team of four researchers is working full time to integrate innovations into the services offered by ProfessorBob.ai. In exchange, SATT has taken a 5% stake in the company.
The CNRS has filed a patent in Europe for which ProfessorBob.ai has an exclusive license. However, the core of the technology (algorithm and language processing models) is not yet patentable in Europe, unlike in the United States, where ProfessorBob.ai is seeking to file a patent by the end of the year.
Being close to the CNRS and the founding team's ties to X, notably Ha Quang Le (X2015), Chief Data Scientist, and Samy (X1999) himself, COO & CPO, were the main motivations for joining the École Polytechnique's X-TECH offer. Finally, the presence on the Saclay plateau brings a greater proximity to recruit students from the École Polytechnique, from other grandes écoles on the plateau (Institut Polytechnique de Paris schools, Paris-Saclay) and to get in touch with research centers.
An ambitious team to address the French and American markets and have a positive social impact.
ProfessorBob.ai relies on a technical team of 8 Data Scientists experts in NLP, holding prestigious degrees (École Polytechnique, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Mines-Ponts, ENSAE, Oxford, PhD Machine Learning or Algorithmie...) in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, based in France and in the USA. The company works mainly in telecommuting with regular face-to-face meetings at X.
In France, the founders of ProfessorBob.ai have extensive experience in the education sector, but the market size is limited compared to the United States, where one of the co-founders, François Xavier, also has excellent knowledge of the market and a large network, thanks to his previous startup, Gutenberg Technology.
ProfessorBob.ai's participation in the Demo Day last year allowed it to meet with investors, and then to finalize a 4 million euro fundraising round in June 2022.
The goal for this year is to double the 2021 revenue, to exceed one million euros. At the same time, ProfessorBob.ai is launching an ambitious recruitment plan both in France for the technical part and in the United States for the commercial part.
Within the École Polytechnique X-TECH offer, ProfessorBob.ai begins a phase of strong growth in France and the United States. With a fundraising of €4 million in June 2022, the start-up aims to exceed €1 million in sales this year.
By 2025, as a Solidarity and Social Enterprise (SSE), ProfessorBob.ai is working with the French Ministries of Labor and Education to accomplish its ambitious social goal of supporting 1 million students in difficulty in France (mostly at school, but also people who are unemployed or in retraining).