When Chris Boos pauses to think, he closes his eyes, though he sees little when he opens them again. Germany’s leading expert on artificial intelligence is practically blind.
“I don’t see well, but I think I have better hearing and memory than other people,” Mr. Boos said. “I also believe in people. We can accomplish anything, we just have to dare to do so.” He added: “Just look at me.”
Mr. Boos, who is also albino, cuts a striking figure, dressing in jeans and a leather jacket whether for meeting CEOs or just walking through town. At our recent meeting in Frankfurt, he was direct and empathetic, his speech quick. “I’ve worked hard for the privilege to approach CEOs in a t-shirt,” he said.
Mr. Boos is unrivaled in Germany, a pioneer and visionary in artificial intelligence (AI). He studied computer science in Zurich, and Darmstadt, near Frankfurt. Besides IT, he also made time for lectures on English romanticism, though reading is only possible using a large magnifying glass.
“I've worked hard for the privilege to approach CEOs in a t-shirt.”
He started out by founding Arago, an IT company specializing in artificial intelligence. To finance its research and development costs, Arago provided IT management and consulting services to other companies. Mr. Boos and his team helped German banks come up with national solutions for online banking, proving their strategy worked.
Then, come 2014, Arago brought its own AI platform to market. The team called it “Hiro,” an acronym for “human intelligence robotically optimized.” It enabled banks including UBS, to manage their IT infrastructure and is also used by IT service providers and industrial companies like Klöckner, a German steel and metal distributor.
Arago worked, thanks to ingenious algorithms and the savvy people programming them. The company has 170 employees in Frankfurt, New York and Exeter, UK, and annual sales in the 9-digit range.
The company has long been profitable but Mr. Boos doesn’t focus on the finances. Bernhard Walther, a retired banker who used to work for Credit Suisse and UBS, is his uncle and helped him build his company, and mentored Mr. Boos.
Now, Arago is looking to expand further and has started by opening offices in San Francisco and in Bangalore, India. If everything goes to plan, the company’s Silicon Valley branch will have 20 employees by the end of the year. “We don’t want to develop there – we want to sell our systems,” Mr. Boos said.
Silicon Valley is a good place to network for research and development, though. Mr. Boos said he saw other companies less as competition than as a community and a chance for further exchange. Rather than compete with West Coast tech giants such as Facebook and Google, he will keep Arago’s headquarters in Germany. “Frankfurt is a great international city. Besides, here we’re the top dog and one of the top addresses for developers,” Mr. Boos said.
And Arago may benefit from its focus on B2B services in contrast to larger IT firms which usually bring products directly to customers. Google, for instance, has only just begun exploring new ways to expand its B2B offerings.
“There's no one who can explain the issue of artificial intelligence as well and as clearly as Chris Boos.”
Arago’s customers in Germany are confident that Mr. Boos and his team will succeed in both new sites. “There’s no one who can explain the issue of artificial intelligence as well and as clearly as Chris Boos,” said Gisbert Rühl, Klöckner’s chief executive. “Boos is nothing if not convincing. He differs from other founders in that he’s not interested in a quick and profitable exit. He really wants to change the world.”
The company’s plans to expand are ambitious, but Mr. Boos isn’t worried, with sufficient funds available. Financial investor KKR became a majority stakeholder in Arago when it bought €50 million ($59.3 million) of shares in 2014. Two executives from KKR, Lucian Schönefelder and Philipp Freise, now sit on Arago’s board, along with Alexander Geiser. The board could soon double in size. “Chris Boos is Germany’s ‘Mr. Artificial Intelligence,'” Mr. Schönefelder said. “Arago is revolutionizing companies’ IT operations and has had a number of well-known customers in the US, Asia and Europe over the past few years.”
Of course, should Mr. Boos ever tire of the IT world, he could always embrace his other passion: rock ‘n’ roll. Next to his office computer, he keeps a music system with a fancy mike. Beside it is a fridge containing cognac and whiskey, one of which dates back to 1801. “I’ll open up that one when things either go really well or really poorly,” Mr. Boos said. As Arago gathers speed, that moment may come sooner than he thinks.
Tanja Kewes is Handelsblatt’s chief reporter and author of the column “The Human Factor.” Britta Weddeling lives in Silicon Valley and also reports on the internet and technology industry. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.