Solution overview

Our Solution

HodlPal

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Tagline

A civic engagement platform that empowers communities with collective trust

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Pitch us on your solution

An increasing number of government agencies are using social media to engage citizens. However, existing platforms fail to meet the needs of stakeholders, leaving communities vulnerable to disinformation and attacks on public attention.

HodlPal is building a platform that enables healthy conversation and exchange of ideas at large scale, using a novel system of personal attention control and collective trust measurement. HodlPal’s topic-specific reputation scores help citizens quickly navigate diverse conversations, find constructive ideas, and vote on goals of the community. Governments can also participate in discussions and access information needed for evidence-based decisions on public services and policies.

HodlPal developed key patents, prototypes, and partnerships and is accelerating towards the launch of its civic engagement platform MVP. Building on this early work, HodlPal will deliver a trustworthy, robust and scalable solution that empowers communities globally.

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What is the problem you are solving?

77% of government agencies in the US (nearly 90% state and local) use social media to engage citizens. However, public trust in these platforms is decreasing. According to a poll, 55% of Americans believe that social media spreads more lies than news. On June 25, 2019 the US Senate held a hearing to address the effects of persuasive technology used by big tech companies, which is harming public health and democracy. Existing social media is poorly suited for civic engagement purposes. 

This problem is deeply connected to the business models that rely on the extraction of user attention. As a result, everyone is fighting for attention, including the platform itself, which wants people to click on ads. As described by the Center for Humane Technology, this “race to the bottom of the brainstem” has polarized the democratic process and turned life into a competition for likes and shares. 

Citizens lack a platform for healthy conversation, and governments lack an effective platform for civic engagement. Without an effective tool for public discourse, lawmakers are missing a foundation for evidence based policy making. We need a better tool to create high quality public discourse and enable communities to coexist.

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Who are you serving?

We are working to serve communities that lack access to reliable discussion platforms, by leveraging local partnerships with global reach. Our partners at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI) have conducted prior studies aimed at increasing civic engagement in developing and rapidly-growing economies. For example, in early 2019 the CCI partnered with the Chilean Senate to launch a website that collected comments from 1,049 citizens who reacted to and suggested changes to 24 articles included in a proposed national cancer law. Our platform will give the CCI a powerful tool for communication and exchange of ideas on a larger scale, promoting greater interaction between legislators and citizens in future pilot studies that we will launch, together.

Given our potential for broader impact, we have also researched the use of our platform in a range of applications beyond civic engagement, including personal finance, education, and professional networking. Domestically, we have surveyed and interviewed hundreds of people about their needs for a more trustworthy platform to exchange ideas. By gradually expanding the scope of our platform, we believe we can have a far-reaching impact on the quality of public discourse across many economies globally.

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What is your solution?

HodlPal has designed a new collaboration platform to transform the way that citizens and governments exchange ideas. Novel mechanisms in the platform restore agency to the user, enable personal attention control, and provide tangible metrics of trust that help each individual to strengthen the integrity of the community. HodlPal believes these mechanisms will enable more meaningful collaboration, higher economic productivity, and greater resiliency against attacks on public attention. Citizens will be empowered to join public conversations with the support of their communities, and governments using the same mechanisms will gain insight into public opinion in an efficient and scientific manner.

At a fundamental level, HodlPal has reinvented the “social follow” through patent-pending mechanisms that enable users to explicitly define context and quantify trust towards each other. When following someone in the HodlPal platform, the user takes two critical actions:

  1. Select a topic. This sets the context and ensures the user only receives content on that topic.

  2. Specify a priority. This determines how frequently the user will see content from the person that was followed.

Taken together, these actions enable users to control their attention towards each other. HodlPal then calculates collective trust scores using an algorithm that considers the reputation of each person on topics of interest to the community. With the assistance of natural language processing (AI) to identify discussion context, HodlPal’s reputation system enables users to conduct opinion-based search queries, filter conversations according to collective trust, and easily compare differences in aggregate opinion of groups.

HodlPal’s solution involves building its collaboration platform, launching it in pilot studies, and optimizing its design to meet the needs of citizens and communities globally. To prepare for this work, HodlPal is refining its prototype and incorporating new features for its initial launch. This includes features enabling government officials to participate in conversations, conduct polls, and collect information they need to make decisions. Once these features are incorporated, HodlPal intends to launch its platform in a pilot study for civic engagement in a rapidly-growing economy, in partnership with the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI). With the help of the CCI, HodlPal will study the impact of its platform in the initial pilot, improve the platform’s design, and scale-up its solution for deployment to additional communities globally while leveraging earlier work.

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Select only the most relevant.

  • Make government and other institutions more accountable, transparent, and responsive to citizen feedback
  • Ensure all citizens can overcome barriers to civic participation and inclusion
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Where is your solution team headquartered?

Cambridge, MA, USA
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Our solution's stage of development:

Prototype

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More about your solution

Select one of the below:

New technology

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Describe what makes your solution innovative.

HodlPal transforms the way that people interact with algorithms in online communities. Most social media platforms use algorithms to decide what content to show by analyzing user behavior and showing information that they predict to get the most clicks. 

HodlPal enables users to set their own priorities and explore opinions held by diverse groups, using a unique system of trust as a tool for navigation. By letting users prioritize contents of their feeds, HodlPal restores agency to the entire community. HodlPal then uses this prioritization to calculate the reputation (i.e. collective trust from a community) of each user on multiple topics, using a patent-pending, transparent process. HodlPal’s system of collective trust is the foundation of many novel capabilities, including community-driven filtering and search ranking, effective liquid democratic voting, and accelerated integration of information. 

We believe HodlPal will measurably improve the quality of public discourse in civic engagement and many other use cases such as professional networking, scientific research, teaching and learning. With the help of our technology, communities can unlock greater potential for mutual understanding, collaboration, and decision making. 

We are the opposite of today’s social media, which is chaotic and harmful to public health. We help people focus their attention and work together with quantitative metrics of trust. User collaboration drives our business model, which aims to create a sustainable and productive ecosystem of users exchanging ideas and services.  

Other platforms divide and conquer. We unite and empower.

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Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.

User-centered behavioral design is at the core of HodlPal’s novel social network, which empowers users with tools that embody the collective intelligence of groups. HodlPal built a UI that promotes intentionality while minimizing friction, using systems that incorporate human agency into the platform. HodlPal also reinvented the “hashtag” as a functional mechanism that creates rich context and associates the processes by which users follow each other, react to content, and build trust in online communities.

HodlPal developed a scalable, recursive algorithm for transparent reputation scoring, combining topic-specific trust scores assigned by users. In addition to using hashtags, users identify context with the assistance of natural language processing and AI algorithms that examine content and suggest topics for users to confirm. HodlPal’s technology also includes mechanisms to handle big data from user interaction in large-scale civic engagement. 

The HodlPal platform is designed to support user accounts that are driven both by humans and by AI. All user interactions are mediated through HodlPal’s system of collective trust, which fosters humane interaction. As AI systems grow in power and complexity, HodlPal’s technology is paving the way for marketplaces that connect communities to helpful virtual users and guard against malicious bots that attack public attention. 

To maximize accessibility for the public, the HodlPal platform runs as a web app in browsers on PCs, tablets, and smartphones, communicating with cloud-based servers. 

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine Learning
  • Big Data
  • Behavioral Design
  • Social Networks
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Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?

With the harmful effects of existing social media platforms on democracy clearly established in news and scientific literature (e.g. see https://humanetech.com), we interviewed and surveyed citizens in many states across the US to gain a deeper understanding of individual pain points. We researched architectures of existing platforms and noted their shortcomings. We formed a theory on the root cause of toxicity in many social networks, stemming from a lack of human agency and exacerbated by attention-extractive business models.

We invented mechanisms to empower communities, on a clear basis of research and first-hand experience. We then built conceptual prototypes and tested them in additional interviews, incorporating feedback from stakeholders and confirming usability of our designs. We developed our novel reputation scoring system and conducted simulations to refine its formulation and ensure scalability.

We established partnerships with organizations who can help us reach communities in need and further improve our solution. We studied lessons learned by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence in their recent civic engagement project with the Chilean government and began planning a pilot study, based on their initial work.

We continue to develop our platform, simulate its operation, and prototype new features while incorporating continuous user feedback into our designs. Building on our progress to date, we are determined to create a healthy and highly productive platform for public discourse and civic engagement.

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Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.

  • Rural Residents
  • Peri-Urban Residents
  • Urban Residents
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • United States
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • United States
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How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?

We have not yet released our solution, but we have spoken with hundreds of people who we believe would directly benefit from it. We plan to launch our MVP in Q4 of 2019 and within 1 year will reach 100k people through a combination of our first pilot study and organic growth. In 5 years, we aim to reach 100M people as our platform becomes the new global standard for healthy public discourse and trustworthy collaboration in online communities.

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What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

1 Year: 

  1. Simulate the impact of our platform on the spread of credible vs. non-credible information. This gives us visibility into our large-scale social impact at an early stage.

  2. Launch our minimally viable product (MVP). The feedback from people in our platform will provide invaluable insight as we continue growth.

  3. Conduct a pilot study of our MVP in civic engagement. The experience working with stakeholders will ensure our ability to address issues of global importance.

  4. Grow user base to over 100k in the US. This target ensures we are on track to reach our eventual global impact.

  5. Positively impact discussions about the 2020 presidential election. Our solution comes at a pivotal time in our nation’s history, with the need for healthy public discourse greater than ever.

5 Year:

  1. Stress-test and scale-up the capacity of our platform. As our technology involves big-data, AI and machine learning, we need server infrastructure to support our operation.

  2. Measure and confirm the health of communities as we scale. We are focused on serving our communities and will not sacrifice their well being for rapid growth. 

  3. Grow our user base to over 100M globally. To begin to heal society we need to reach a scale that rivals and displaces other platforms that are harming the public.

  4. Create new marketplaces around trustworthy user interactions, demonstrating long-term value and sustainability of our business model.

  5. Become the global standard software platform enabling citizens and governments to effectively engage at large-scale.

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What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?

1 Year:

  1. Social network credibility simulation is a new field of computational social science, with few widely accepted studies or frameworks available.

  2. We need seed funding to hire additional engineers to support our MVP and pilot development.

  3. To conduct a pilot study for civic engagement, we intend to work closely with public officials as they engage citizens. Since our pilot plans involve building upon prior work in Chile, we also anticipate a cultural barrier to build trust and engage stakeholders.

  4. Since we have not yet released our product, we currently face a market barrier to acquiring users and growing.

  5. Having not yet launched and grown our user base, we are not yet in a position to make a positive impact on discussions around the 2020 election.

5 Year:

  1. We currently lack the financial and engineering resources necessary to scale our solution globally. 

  2. Metrics of digital health are newly proposed and not yet formalized throughout the industry.

  3. Mass adoption will require a highly compelling and sustainable user acquisition strategy. At the same time, we must avoid the harmful effects of persuasive technology and maintain our commitment to public health.

  4. Our marketplace will compete with platforms of other big tech companies that are already well established.

  5. Our expansion to serve diverse global markets with our civic engagement platform presents a complex range of cultural and legal barriers as we connect with new communities and comply with regulatory requirements.

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How are you planning to overcome these barriers?

1 Year:

  1. Station1 sponsored two research fellows to assist our R&D efforts this summer. Together, we surveyed scientific literature, identified relevant metrics, and are building our simulations using modern open-source frameworks.

  2. We are currently transitioning one of our advisors into a full-time business development role to accelerate our fundraising and growth.

  3. The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence has developed close working relationships with stakeholders in Chile and other candidate regions for our pilot. They will help us reach new communities with our solution.

  4. We surveyed and interviewed hundreds of people, confirming strong interest in our solution. We also partnered with thought leaders who will invite a broader audience once we launch.

  5. MIT Solve would provide our solution with national visibility at a critical time, significantly increasing our chance of positively impacting discussions around the 2020 presidential election.

5 Year:

  1. We will continue to fund and grow our company, building on a successful pilot and product launch.

  2. We will track and refine metrics involving digital health of communities, with the support of our research partners.

  3. By highlighting our value proposition of user empowerment, agency, and credibility, we believe we can grow rapidly, without resorting to manipulative marketing techniques.

  4. We have developed a business model that is disruptive to existing social media companies, creating value by focusing human attention instead of extracting it.

  5. We will reinvest our funds in reaching and understanding the communities we serve, forging new partnerships in industry and governments to unify our global effort.

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About your team

Select an option below:

For-Profit

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How many people work on your solution team?

We have a total of 10 people are on our team: 2 full-time staff, 2 part-time staff, 4 advisors, and 2 summer research fellows.

We are also transitioning one of our advisors from a part-time advisory role into full-time business development position starting in August, to accelerate our growth.

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For how many years have you been working on your solution?

1

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Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?

HodlPal’s team has deep experience in technology, business, finance, marketing and entrepreneurship.

George Whitfield - Co-Founder and CEO (PI)
George leads HodlPal’s business strategy, operations, product design, development, and IP. George holds three degrees from MIT: BS in Computer Science ’03 and, MEng ’04, PhD ’12. George co-founded and led multiple MIT startups spanning IT, robotics, transportation, renewable energy, and environmental protection. Prior to HodlPal, George led software teams at Nucleus Scientific (Cambridge, MA) as they grew 10x in size over 7 years. 

Lara Bathurst - Co-Founder, Strategic Advisor
Lara advises business strategy and finances, with a BA in Economics from Harvard and MBA from Santa Clara University. Lara has experience in banking, corporate finance, and business restructuring. 

Rita Ma - Co-Founder and Marketing Specialist
Rita leads HodlPal’s user acquisition, growth and marketing communications. Rita has an MA Marketing Communications from Emerson College, Boston.

Josh Harding - Full-Stack Developer
Josh has 15+ years of experience developing large-scale web applications using diverse technologies and frameworks.

Rene Chen - Product Design Advisor
MIT BS MechE, RISD Master of Industrial Design. 10+ years in design.

Kinhong Kan - Technology Advisor
MIT M.Eng. EECS, 20+ years in tech startups.

Thomas Vogel - Marketing Communication Advisor
Emerson College Professor. 30+ years in marketing.

Kiren Karra - Business Development Advisor
Columbia BA Econ, 20+ years in IT venture management.

Karl Elbakian - Research Fellow
UCLA Senior in Statistics, researching social network simulation and analysis.

Kallayah Henderson - Research Fellow
Florida State University Senior in Information, Communication and Technology, researching digital health metrics and user experience.

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With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?

HodlPal has the following strategic partnerships:

  • Station1 (www.station1.org) is helping HodlPal pursue socially-directed inquiry by sponsoring two summer interns and advising them as they research social impact of the HodlPal plaform. Station1 is also providing office space to HodlPal at their dynamic learning space in Lawrence, MA.

  • The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (cci.mit.edu) is partnering with HodlPal to launch pilot studies of the HodlPal platform for civic engagement. The Center has conducted prior studies that provide a useful frame of reference and will connect HodlPal to governments in need of this solution.

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Your business model & funding

What is your business model?

We want governments to use our platform and technology to engage with their citizens. Our key customers are governments who need to incorporate citizens’ opinion in their decision making and their perspective on certain policies. Key beneficiaries are the citizens who will be using this platform. 

We picture our platform to be the alternative of social media for civic engagement. Governments and citizens will be able to create accounts and have Q&A. Because we benefit all parties involved, we expect governments will subsidize the operation and growth of our platform.

In addition, we will create marketplaces for services provided by users, enabled by our unique trust scoring system. Companies can hire trustworthy users to market products and services. Users can also offer premium content and services delivered in-platform. HodlPal’s trust scoring system ensures that the public sees value in ideas that are presented, and HodlPal will collect a fee for transactions in this marketplace.

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What is your path to financial sustainability?

We plan to have multiple paths to fund our work moving from prototype into launch and growth stages:

  1. Investment capital: We see investment capital as essential to our early stage growth and are pursuing this as our initial focus. We are bringing onboard a new head of business development to drive our fundraising efforts, transitioning from an advisory position in our team.

  2. Government grants: We are actively searching government grants and were recently are invited to submit a full proposal to the America’s Seed Fund SBIR program. 

  3. Grants from non-profit organizations: We have identified several organizations that we believe will support our effort such as the Knight Foundation and intend to apply for funding with the support of our partners.

Once our product is launched in the market, we will sustain our growth via a number of mechanisms

  1. Market Intermediary Model: As we reach a critical mass leading up to our first 100k users, we will introduce marketplaces for in-platform products and services,  leveraging our novel system of personal attention control and collective trust. We will generate revenue through fees for facilitating trustworthy transactions using our system of collective trust.

  2. Service/licensing fees: As we establish our direct impact we also foresee an organizational support model by licensing our technology to companies that will be able to carry forward our social impact.

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Partnership potential

Why are you applying to Solve?

With Solve, we are seeking partnership, mentorship and advice to navigate the many challenges we face as an early stage startup with a socially-directed mission, seeking to address problems of global importance. We know that with Solve's strong network we will gain access to thought leaders, experts, and key decision makers who can enable our solution to rapidly reach the public. We also want to learn from other veteran entrepreneurs who have built and deployed innovative solutions for communities at large scale, to enable us to adopt the most robust technology and business strategies in our plans. 

We know the Solve community values public health, sustainability, and empowerment of citizens globally. This is a very different set of values than the typical seed-stage investment firm, incubator, or accelerator. We believe that by partnering with Solve, we will strengthen our core values and align ourselves with incentives that will enable positive social outcomes. When we scale our solution, Solve will enable us to grow rapidly while still maintaining our integrity and commitment to the at-risk communities that we serve.

Solve would give us a global stage to directly address threats to our democracy and our society posed by big tech companies that wield persuasive technology. We believe the world urgently needs our solution, and the Solve Global Challenge comes at the perfect time to enable us to deliver it with maximal impact.

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What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?

  • Business model
  • Distribution
  • Funding and revenue model
  • Talent or board members
  • Media and speaking opportunities
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With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?

We would like to partner with additional university labs such as the MIT Media Lab and Emerson Engagement Lab (discussions are in progress) to study the impact of our platform in civic engagement at the Local, State and National levels, starting in Boston and Cambridge.

We would like to reach out to the Commission on Presidential Debates to organize and facilitate healthy public discourse around the 2020 presidential election.

To achieve global transformation, we want to partner with the United Nations, who can quickly connect us to many economies that are in greatest need of improved tools for civic engagement and can propose new standards to ensure the integrity of society.

We are also in communication with leadership at the Center for Humane Technology and would like to partner with them as they build support for startup companies that seek to reverse the tech-induced downgrading of humanity.

We would like to partner with philanthropic organizations such as the Knight Foundation, who share our vision for social change and can help us accelerate our broader impact.

We are also interested in partnering with companies that can complement our platform with additional human-centered products and services that help communities build trust and credibility. For example, NewsGuard has developed "nutrition labels" for news sources that could give a helpful annotation to content and sources listed in our platform.

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If you would like to apply for the AI Innovations Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If you are not already using AI in your solution, explain why it is necessary for your solution to be successful and how you plan to incorporate it.

HodlPal developed scalable, recursive algorithms for transparent reputation scoring, which mediates the exchange of information between human- and AI-driven user accounts. The HodlPal platform is designed to support user accounts that are driven both by humans and by AI. As AI systems grow in power and complexity, HodlPal’s technology is paving the way for marketplaces that connect communities to helpful virtual users and guard against malicious bots that attack public attention.

HodlPal’s solution also makes direct use of AI through assistive mechanisms that empower the user and preserves human agency. Users identify context with the assistance of natural language processing and AI algorithms that examine content and suggest topics for users to confirm. This streamlines the process of engaging with HodlPal’s collective trust system and is an important aspect of UX to ensure our solution is low friction and usable by communities at large-scale.

To integrate information involved in large-scale discussion, collaboration and decision making, HodlPal has also developed a novel approach to unify the actions of the community. HodlPal is developing an approach to use trust scores as weights impacting the relative contribution of each person towards a collective statement or response that is derived using NLP. We believe this can transform the future of public discourse and negotiation.

HodlPal’s technologies are aimed at helping users and realizing out new capabilities within communities. We fundamentally changing the relationship between humans and algorithms and building technology that will unite and empower instead of divide and conquer.

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If you would like to apply for the GM Prize on Community-Driven Innovation, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.

We believe we qualify for this prize, because our novel collective trust system is designed to help promote the visibility of helpful and trustworthy content, even if it is coming from users who have not yet attained a large number of followers. Our reputation system is different from a popularity score: we identify subject-matter experts who are receiving attention from the community due to helpful contributions that they make. 

We believe our system will highlight the diverse strengths that each individual and community may possess, which can easily go overlooked in the noisy environment of conventional social media. Our system also promotes social responsibility and stewardship, rewarding people for identifying new contributors to the community who bring valuable ideas. 

Our collective trust system also enables trustworthy individuals to rapidly integrate newcomers into the community, through the recursive nature of our trust algorithm. A highly trusted user can significantly raise the trust of a newly integrated member of the community by assigning trust to that user. Other platforms simply presume the total number of "followers" or "likes" identify users that are worthy of attention, which is less meaningful and more time consuming to accumulate.

Overall we believe our collective trust system will provide more humane and fair metrics that will benefit previously under-represented populations that have become overwhelmed by popularity-driven metrics in existing platforms. HodlPal is dedicated to empowering communities globally and promoting sustainable and healthy public discourse throughout society.

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If you would like to apply for the Innospark Ventures Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If your solution utilizes data, describe how you will ensure that the data is sourced, maintained, and used ethically and responsibly.

HodlPal developed scalable, recursive algorithms for transparent reputation scoring, which mediates the exchange of information between human- and AI-driven user accounts. The HodlPal platform is designed to support user accounts that are driven both by humans and by AI. As AI systems grow in power and complexity, HodlPal’s technology is paving the way for marketplaces that connect communities to helpful virtual users and guard against malicious bots that attack public attention.

HodlPal’s solution also makes direct use of AI through assistive mechanisms that empower the user and preserves human agency. Users identify context with the assistance of natural language processing and AI algorithms that examine content and suggest topics for users to confirm. This streamlines the process of engaging with HodlPal’s collective trust system and is an important aspect of UX to ensure our solution is low friction and usable by communities at large-scale.

To integrate information involved in large-scale discussion, collaboration and decision making, HodlPal has also developed a novel approach to unify the actions of the community. HodlPal is developing an approach to use trust scores as weights impacting the relative contribution of each person towards a collective statement or response that is derived using NLP. We believe this can transform the future of public discourse and negotiation.

HodlPal’s technologies are aimed at helping users and realizing out new capabilities within communities. We fundamentally changing the relationship between humans and algorithms and building technology that will unite and empower instead of divide and conquer.

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If you would like to apply for the Morgridge Family Foundation Community-Driven Innovation Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.

HodlPal developed scalable, recursive algorithms for transparent reputation scoring, which mediates the exchange of information between human- and AI-driven user accounts. The HodlPal platform is designed to support user accounts that are driven both by humans and by AI. As AI systems grow in power and complexity, HodlPal’s technology is paving the way for marketplaces that connect communities to helpful virtual users and guard against malicious bots that attack public attention.

HodlPal’s solution also makes direct use of AI through assistive mechanisms that empower the user and preserves human agency. Users identify context with the assistance of natural language processing and AI algorithms that examine content and suggest topics for users to confirm. This streamlines the process of engaging with HodlPal’s collective trust system and is an important aspect of UX to ensure our solution is low friction and usable by communities at large-scale.

To integrate information involved in large-scale discussion, collaboration and decision making, HodlPal has also developed a novel approach to unify the actions of the community. HodlPal is developing an approach to use trust scores as weights impacting the relative contribution of each person towards a collective statement or response that is derived using NLP. We believe this can transform the future of public discourse and negotiation.

HodlPal’s technologies are aimed at helping users and realizing out new capabilities within communities. We fundamentally changing the relationship between humans and algorithms and building technology that will unite and empower instead of divide and conquer.

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