Haiku Deck Taps Artificial Intelligence for Automatic Presentations

Haiku Deck is building a tool to automatically create slide presentations using artificial intelligence informed by choices the Seattle company’s users have made in designing millions of slides over the past two and a half years.

Co-founder and CEO Adam Tratt says the company’s mission has been to make presentation authoring dramatically easier, while also enforcing best practices such as less text per slide and big, beautiful images.

Haiku Deck began as an iPad app, and expanded its lightweight tool to the Web last year. Haiku Deck’s forthcoming Web app, called Zuru, combines natural language processing, computer vision, and machine learning with the wisdom of the crowd to make the process even faster and easier.

“We have a lot of that understanding because we’ve processed tens of millions of slides now,” Tratt says. “Each one of those slides, we can see what other users are doing.”

Here’s an example of how and why you might want to use Zuru. Say you want to share information in a just-published report about a competitor with your team at a staff meeting later this morning. There’s no time for manually building a presentation using PowerPoint or Keynote—outlining the information, selecting relevant images, fitting text on each slide, and so on.

Tratt demonstrated how Haiku Deck Zuru can take an outline summarizing the report and automatically turn it into a slide deck, complete with relevant images, in less than a minute. He was working on “alpha” code—a pre-release version of the software that still had a few kinks—but what he showed me was startling.

The system employs various technologies that are often lumped under the broad, amorphous heading of artificial intelligence.

Tratt

Tratt

“There’s all of this buzz about artificial intelligence in the context of robots,” Tratt says. “My coffee maker is going to know when I wake up. My thermostat is going to know when I come home and all that. It really hasn’t come to fruition in the context of everyday productivity.”

Starting with an outline—in Tratt’s example, it was in Evernote, but the system could eventually ingest structured data from many sources—Zuru uses natural language processing to identify and weight different words and phrases to understand what concepts and ideas are important. It pulls out titles and breaks things down into individual slides, setting the right amount of content on each one, according to the best practices for presentations baked into Haiku Deck, Tratt says.

Zuru then searches for relevant images. It brings back images like ones other Haiku Deck users have selected for the relevant words in the past, weighed against other factors, such as where the word is located in the slide. The system also has to understand that if you’ve written “Space Needle,” it needs to return an image of the Seattle landmark, not a generic shot of space or a needle, he says.

With the right image selected, Zuru employs computer vision to analyze the images themselves for areas of high and low contrast to determine where slide text should be placed for maximum legibility.

It chooses slide layouts, and applies a uniform theme of fonts, colors, and image filters based on the content.

The system displays a green check mark on each slide that it thinks it got right and flags ones it knows still have problems. The nearly finished slide deck can then be fine-tuned by a human, slide-by-slide. You can pick from among the images the system found, or change the keyword it searched against, returning an entirely different set of images.

“If you made a slide that said ‘I love my wife’ you definitely don’t want a picture of ‘wife’ because we’re not going to pick the right wife. Highly unlikely,” Tratt says.

The finished presentation can be embedded on any website, shared, or exported to PowerPoint or Haiku Deck for further editing.

“This is not possible today. This is something that nobody’s done before, and we think it’s a game-changer in the category,” Tratt says.

Haiku Deck’s business model for Zuru is also interesting, hewing toward the model of code-sharing site GitHub. It will be free, as long as you’re willing to share everything you create. If you want to keep your presentations private, it will cost $5 a month to use Zuru; the company is offering a discount to early adopters. It aims to have a beta version of the Web-based Zuru app available this spring.

Zuru will also be able to take an existing PowerPoint slide deck and quickly, automatically fix its flaws. Slides with too much text can be edited down or broken into multiple slides, with the excess added to the deck’s notes. Zuru chooses a theme based on an assessment of the presentation’s characteristics—is it casual, or is it professional? The system decides which pictures in the existing presentation to keep and which ones to replace—decisions that the human can override at the end.

“Though the system is pretty smart, and though it will get smarter as more people use it, ultimately this kind of process is always going to require some intervention from the end user,” Tratt says. “We’ve tried to provide a way to make it better without being so heavy-handed that it creates an additional layer of work.”

The new slides are appended to the original slide deck, allowing people to mix and match the new and old slides.

The Zuru engine draws its computing power from the cloud. Haiku Deck has been using Rackspace but is in the process of transitioning to Joyent, Tratt says.

The system is starting with structured information in Evernote and PowerPoint, but Tratt says the Zuru engine can ingest any kind of structured content.

The name Zuru—from senbazuru, the Japenese word for a string of 1,000 origami paper cranes—is a nod to this crowd-informed aspect of the system. Haiku Deck’s logo is an origami paper crane.

“The idea of leveraging the community of thousands of cranes to a better result is what we’re after,” Tratt says.

But even with the wisdom of thousands of users, and the help of artificial intelligence, it’s still up to you to take the stage and make that beautiful slide deck sing.

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