Will.i.am on launching the first AI-backed messaging app
We caught up with the multi-hyphenate artist, as he celebrated Formula 1 and his new game-changing tech venture at Miami Pool House
Friday 19 May 2023 By Esther Park
On a sweltering May afternoon, the buzz around Miami Pool House was electric. Today was the official launch of FYI.Ai – a new venture founded by Will.i.am that, in his own words, will ‘revolutionise how we communicate and collaborate with one another.’ A bold statement, to say the least, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from this multi-hyphenated artist-entrepreneur-philanthropist-futurist who, in most recent years, found himself sharing stages with world thought leaders like Ray Dalio and Ray Kurzweil, as well as his musical peers.
‘He’s still on the track,’ one of his assistants whispered to me, as we were now two hours deep in waiting mode. And when she says, ‘the track’, she means the Miami Grand Prix one that’s nearly 30 miles away from our location. Oh yes, did I forget to mention that Will is Formula 1’s new ‘Global Artist in Residence’ in which he scored F1’s soundtrack and released their official 2023 song, ‘The Formula’ featuring Lil Wayne? Yeah, that happened the same day as the app, too.
As Miami Pool House, which was exclusively open for the event, began to fill up with members (both local and those visiting for F1 weekend), FYI.Ai representatives were hard at work showing curious bystanders what this app is all about.
‘So it’s like Slack?’ – overheard by the entrance.
‘What if I use WhatsApp? Isn’t it the same as WhatsApp?’ asked another enquiring mind.
Upon further observation, FYI.ai’s user experience is like Slack – you can group friends and colleagues by project – but it’s also a cleaner, sleeker version of WhatsApp. Dare I say it, it’s like if Slack and WhatsApp had a baby, but mainly geared towards creatives. Before I got the chance to dig into the UX experience, it was apparent that Will has finally arrived. I was immediately escorted to a backroom, where I awaited the man of the hour, and within minutes he was sat right next to me opening FYI.Ai.
‘Can you please find the phone number in this chat and send it to ______,’ Will speaks directly into his phone. I look in confusion. He gives me a wink. Within seconds, he shows me a populated message from his FYI.Ai that immediately identifies a phone number that is now directly sent to his recipient.
‘It’s like having your own personal assistant within your messenger. This is the first messenger that has AI baked into the program,’ he says, with excitement. You can tell he’s been working on this for years – three years to be exact.
‘It was rather selfish, actually,’ when asked why he decided to create an app among all the million other projects he’s working on. ‘FYI was really made for me and my friends who are juggling multiple projects at the same time, yet the tools we use to communicate with each other for our projects just weren’t cutting it. It’s like, why are we working on messenger 1.0 when we’re in 2023?’
He then proceeded to show me his WhatsApp and iMessage with approximately 800 unread messages and 55 group chats; his eyes wide and glaring, ‘Look at this. Tell me, how am I meant to find what’s relevant to me in all these messages that I’m supposed to tackle?‘ I stare blankly with no answer. For even my meagre self, with only a few group chats that I can barely keep up with, I can’t fathom what his daily incoming messages look like.
‘But wait,’ he says, opening up the app again. ‘Can you go through all my unread messages and pull out any that I need to know about?’ I look around, wondering if he’s talking to some invisible assistant in the room. Nope. He’s directly talking to his app. And again, within seconds, FYI.Ai shows all relevant messages that are directed to Will. ‘This is what I’m talking about,’ he says. ‘We are the first to use AI technology in a messenger app that immediately solves a problem. This is the future.’
At this point, I’m starting to understand why Will would make such a bold statement about this new venture. Using such high-powered AI technology in an everyday, user-friendly messenger tool will, indeed, transform how people communicate and work. But isn’t Meta already incorporating this into their platform? And Google, with Bard – their $100bn investment into AI engineering that, in some dystopic future, will essentially run our humanoid lives.
‘They said the same thing about Beats,’ Will explains. ‘When Dre came to me saying he was going to change how people hear music, you had all these giants like Sony and Sennheiser saying we were crazy. But we knew our audience: fellow musicians. That was the defining factor in how Beats took out everyone – we created a culture – and that same playbook is being used for FYI.’
It now makes sense why he has decided to launch FYI.Ai with Soho House: both entities share the same ethos that artists and cultural creatives dictate the future. In fact, Will was not shy to share an email dating back to 2020 where he hinted the mere idea of this app to Soho House Founder, Nick Jones, saying: ‘Once we’re ready, we wanna launch with Soho.’ And here we are. ‘Soho House is FYI – both are a place for like-minded folks who just want to do amazing stuff efficiently and maybe help change the world at the same time.’
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