Mathematical research into war and insurgency
12 March 2013
A former University of Canterbury Rhodes Scholar, who has been a political adviser to the Iraqi government, has started his own company in San Francisco.
A former University of Canterbury Rhodes Scholar, who has been a political adviser to the Iraqi government, has started his own company in San Francisco as an extension of his mathematical research into war and insurgency.
Dr Sean Gourley has moved to San Francisco to start his company, Quid, which has now raised $17 million in venture capital and employs 45 people, including five New Zealanders.
"We were recently rated one of the most innovative companies in the world by Fast Company magazine. We are building software to augment human intelligence. Software that combines together data, algorithms and interactive visualisations to help our users understand the complexity of the world we live in and to help them make better decisions within it.
"Our customers include Samsung, Microsoft, Red Bull, the Department of Defence and some of the largest banks in the world. They are using the software to make decisions that impact millions of people. There is also a non-profit side of the business where we are engaging with foundations and orgs like Greenpeace and NASA to help them make better decisions too.
"The goal is to build the company out and keep pushing the limits of what is possible with the software and help to amplify human intelligence around the globe.
"I loved my time at UC. The best part of this was the education I received. Getting to work with great lecturers that helped me to understand physics at a fundamental level is something that I keep using. In an ever more complex world we often need to go back to first principles to solve the problems that we face. This is what physics teaches you how to do.
"Physics and the teaching at UC also confronted me with problems to which there were no answer -- it was up to you to try and figure out a solution. They allowed me to naively try and solve these problems and, in doing so, I was able to find creative solutions, I wouldn't have found if I had not been given the freedom to follow my hunches.
"UC was a place where we challenged our lecturers. I remember a lot of times we would debate in class as to whether the physics theory made sense. The lecturers were open to this - and the rest of the class I was part of embraced this. I don't know if this was unique to us - or part of the university in general -- but it made for a powerful experience.
"I was also able to study a range of different subjects. Everything from philosophy to law to computer science, astronomy, and of course, physics. This range of study allowed me to contextualize my work -- to understand how the technical solutions impact the world we live in. This is something that is critical when starting and scaling a company.’’
Dr Gourley’s research has taken him from the Pentagon, to the House of Lords, the United Nations and more recently to Iraq. He has acted as a political advisor to the Iraqi Government, briefed the Pentagon and addressed the United Nations in Vienna.
Dr Gourley’s UC physics lecturer Professor Simon Brown said he always knew Dr Gourley would go on to have an impressive career.
See Dr Gourley’s recent speech on the mathematics of war here.
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