70 questions with Matej Guid, founder and CEO of InstaText: From ‘fair’ use of AI, future of writing, and artificial empathy to Grammarly, chess, and the best Slovenian food

By Elham P.Mohammadi

Some tools are much more than tools. They open your eyes to a new world of possibilities. They improve more than just the one aspect of your life you needed help with. They change your life.

For me, InstaText has been a life changer. It’s way more than a writing and editing tool. It’s an experience. One of those turning points that divide your life into a clear “before” and “after” with no going back.

When you develop an emotional connection with a piece of software and it finds its way into your gratitude journal, it’s no longer just a brand—it’s a “love brand.”

I fell in love with InstaText the moment I realized it can help me write more like a native speaker and give me perhaps the most precious gift there is—TIME.

With time, you can create more memories with those you love. You can have greater peace of mind. You can grow more and live a more fulfilling life—emotionally, spiritually, physically, socially, and financially. You can dream dreams and bring them to life. If you ask me, the less tangible benefits of InstaText are countless.

From a technical point of view, InstaText, at first glance, “over-promises” to help you “write like a native speaker”, but it also “over-delivers”.

It’s “intelligent” and “helpful”.

It “reads” your thoughts and shows you what’s wrong without rolling its eyes at your incorrect grammar and spelling mistakes. And, with its beautifully sophisticated simplicity, it drowns out all the noise and distractions in the writing and editing process so you can focus on what truly matters.

InstaText also has a “minimal” yet “effective” editing style and treats your ideas with care and delicately. It lets your personality shine through the text. It doesn’t take away the human touch from your writing. It respects the story you want to tell. It just helps you tell it better. It accentuates your message.

Yes, it’s “gentle”—but at the same time “assertive”.

It doesn’t explain its editing suggestions. It doesn’t offer you different options with colorful labels to choose from. It just gives you the best suggestion it has. You can either accept or reject it. That’s one of the features I really like about InstaText because it helps you avoid decision fatigue.

Besides, years of writing and working with editors from all over the world have shown me that edits are like jokes. If you have to explain a joke, there’s no joke. If you have to explain or justify an edit, it’s probably a bad edit. So I personally don’t like it when edits are explained to me.

InstaText can also be called “creative”.

In a brilliant LinkedIn post, I read that “What’s another word for _______?” is the wrong question in copywriting and makes it hard to find an answer. “You don’t need another word. You need another concept.”

That’s where InstaText adds real value. It helps you look at your message in a fresh way. It keeps the core of your own idea, but also offers you new perspectives.  

I also think InstaText is “competitive” and brings out your competitive side—and the best in you.

When I recently recommended InstaText to a friend, I likened it to a Chessmaster experience because I want to beat it every time with better texts. Later, I found out that the world of chess was the inspiration behind InstaText.

They say a brand becomes successful when users start treating it like a person. They talk to it, praise it, have expectations of it, and even yell at it.

So when I give InstaText a text to edit and shout “Bring it on!”, you should know that it’s coming from a loving place.

But it’s a kind of rival that’s more on your side than against you because InstaText is, above all, a “teacher.”

If you pay attention, it teaches you how to write and edit better. Not only does it not stifle your creativity, it actually encourages it. It shows you how to wrap your ideas in a more eye-catching wrapper and present them more elegantly.  

It helps you with so many things, but at the end of the day, you’re the one adding the finishing touches to the text and making sure it’s the version you want to put out in the world—and that’s the best feeling ever.

And last but not least, it’s simple and teaches you simplicity.

I asked InstaText founder and CEO, Matej Guid, how InstaText does what it does, and he generously and patiently answered not only that question, but my 69 other questions as well.

Read on if you want to know what Matej, a Slovenian entrepreneur, AI specialist, and computer science professor, has to say about artificial empathy, how he’d explain AI to a child, InstaText vs. Grammarly, “fair use” of AI, how to make the most of InstaText, popular entrepreneurial advice he disagrees with, and of course, the best reasons to visit Slovenia and the most delicious traditional food it has to offer!

InstaText founder and CEO Matej Guid (Photo by: InstaText, Jože Suhadolnik—Delo)

1- “Write like a native speaker”. That’s a pretty bold statement, Matej. What gave you the confidence to choose it as the motto for InstaText?

It came naturally. I never really thought about it. It just felt right because that’s what InstaText does: it helps you write like a native speaker.

2- I assume that “Insta” in “InstaText” stands for “instant”. Am I correct?

Yes, it is about speed. The idea is that you can write high-quality texts faster. This is important because it allows you to focus on your thoughts and ideas while writing or editing.

3- What was the highlight of this year for InstaText?

In July, we launched the InstaText Chrome extension, which lets you use InstaText directly in several web applications, including online word processors, email clients, collaboration tools, and social media.

4- How and when did you fall in love with AI?

I think it was when I tried to teach a computer program to annotate chess games about fifteen years ago. Computers are excellent at chess, but they are terrible at explaining their decisions. It was great to see that our program could explain chess moves in a quite reasonable way.

5- How would you explain AI to a child?

Intelligence is the ability to learn by yourself. AI stands for artificial intelligence and means that a machine can learn on its own.

6- Do you ever wish you were a native English speaker?

No, of course not. I love the Slovenian language. But when I write a text in another language, I often wish I could write like a native speaker in that language—fast, confident, with all those juicy words and phrases.

7- Would you please explain in simple language how InstaText does what it does?

InstaText rewrites your text in a way that maximizes readability. It was inspired by AlphaZero, a computer program that just a day ago knew nothing about chess and was able to learn the game better than any human, playing only against itself.

So I asked myself, “Could we set up text improvement as a game? Could such an approach be applied to computer language acquisition? Could we maximize the readability of texts, for example?”

It was the breakthrough in reinforcement learning known as AlphaZero that enabled powerful technology that continues to improve and leads to better and better performance.

InstaText learns from myriads of texts available out there to continuously improve and come up with better and better suggestions. At the same time, the engine is designed to preserve your message and voice as much as possible.

InstaText founder and CEO Matej Guid (L) and InstaText co-founder and CTO Marcus Hassler (Photo credit: InstaText)

8- The best country for AI?

I think it really depends on the domain you are interested in and the problems you are trying to solve.

9- The most important email etiquette tip?

I find it useful to sometimes go to the “Sent” folder right after sending an important email and read it again. When you take a fresh look at your writing and know there’s nothing you can do to change it, you can learn from your mistakes and think about possible improvements.

10- What do you like most about InstaText?

You feel confident in your writing and are grateful when you see that your text sounds better.

11- InstaText vs. Grammarly?

Editor vs. proofreader. Recently I read an interesting article where the author pointed out the difference very nicely, “The thing about Grammarly is that it’s a good proofreader, but not an editor. And, as any skilled writer will be happy to tell you, the editing is the secret.”

Grammarly sticks very closely to the original text, while InstaText gives you a lot more ideas and suggestions on how to improve your text and make it more readable and understandable. This is probably the main reason why InstaText is especially useful in the editing phase of the writing process.

InstaText browser extension (Photo credit: InstaText)

12- What does the InstaText logo stand for?

The pipe symbol in the center represents a cursor and a separation between the original text on the left and the improved text on the right. The arrow-like shape on the right side represents both the enter key and an algorithm in the background.

13- For AI non-experts like me, would you please explain what differentiates AI writing and editing solutions from each other when they all use the same technology?

Most AI tools are based on large corpuses of data on which they learn the models that are later used to process the texts. The algorithms for learning may differ, and the corpuses may vary as well. Some post-processing may be implemented, and different tools may emphasize different aspects or have different goals. Finally, the underlying technology may differ significantly, as is the case with InstaText.

14- Your thoughts on this news story? “Researcher tells AI to write a paper about itself, then submits it to academic journal

Technology can be fun and productive, but it is up to us not to abuse it.

15- The top three reasons to visit Slovenia?

Nature, cuisine, and people—as in most countries. However, in Slovenia nature is very well preserved and it’s really not too crowded.

Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital and largest city (Photo source: Unsplash)

16- The best website/blog to follow AI news?

I’m probably not aware of most of them. I think wired.com is pretty good and has many interesting and informative articles.

17- What do you like best about your workday?

Flexibility. And passion—I love what I do.

18- To what do you attribute your accomplishments?

I have been training chess quite a bit, and I think it has improved my decision making and problem solving skills. Also, perseverance and determination to finish something I started. Doing what you love to do and what you believe in. And not only trusting your intuition, but also trying to understand it.

19- Your answer to this question? “Is using AI to write morally wrong?

Certainly not if it’s about communicating the author’s thoughts and ideas.

20- How would you describe the “fair use” of AI for writing? Your website says: “This product is not designed for extreme use such as [by] SEO copywriters.”

I think fair use of AI in writing is about getting real-time help to make up for the gaps in our writing skills. InstaText is designed to help writers and editors, i.e. content creators.

There are other tools developed for duplicating content (in slightly modified versions), mostly for dubious purposes. And there are also tools for generating content automatically.

21- Can we ever enforce “fair use” of AI?

I think that we don’t want to force this—it would be much better to improve people’s moral values.

In a few years it will be almost impossible to distinguish machine writing from human writing.

As in photography, today almost anyone with a good camera can take an excellent photo. However, a skilled photographer is much more likely to take outstanding photos. And only a skilled photographer can make a great story using only photos.

22- A mistake you made early on in your business and laugh about today?

I think there were no serious mistakes, only inaccuracies. And I laugh at them as I answer this question. But seriously, I think we did quite well.

23- Can native speakers also benefit from InstaText?

Certainly. I often wish InstaText was available in my own language (but the Slovenian language is quite complex and the market is really not big enough to justify the development costs).

We often get great feedback from English native speakers. Business people benefit from clear and effective communication, marketers are happy that their texts sound better, and copywriters acknowledge that they are much more productive.

24- The biggest misconception about AI?

Most people believe that AI must have consciousness to achieve general human-level intelligence. They believe that a machine must be self-aware in order to act very intelligently on its own.

However, this is not really necessary—machines can act very intelligently only by maximizing the value of a certain variable.

For example, a giant computer system like Google can become smarter than the entire humanity only by continuously improving the quality of its knowledge. With the help of humans, of course. And also by manipulating humans to contribute to a single goal of maximizing the aforementioned value.

25- What have you always wanted to learn but haven’t yet?

The Italian language.

26- AI and bias?

AI models for decision making can be biased in similar ways as humans. Our decisions are based on our past experiences and also on our perception and interpretation of the current situation.

The models can be trained with a limited amount of data and the algorithms used for training may not be optimal for certain situations.

27- The best research paper you’ve written?

The most famous was the paper Computer Analysis of World Chess Champions (written with Ivan Bratko, one of the pioneers of AI research), in which we compared the strength of some of the strongest chess players who lived in different eras, many of whom had no opportunity to face each other at the chessboard.

We did this with computer analysis of individual moves. The results were interesting to the general public and some were quite surprising. On the other hand, the work was quite controversial because we used a computer program that was probably weaker than most of the champions (the analysis was done in 2005!).

Therefore, there was a big debate in the chess world about whether the results of the analysis were valid or not. And it turned out that the answer was positive! As reported in our subsequent research papers, our intuition was correct and the ranking of the champions was fair.

The main reason for this is that the program analyzed a large number of moves and was biased approximately equally for each player. The entire methodology for estimating human performance with computers was later presented in the article Using Heuristic-Search Based Engines for Estimating Human Skill at Chess.

InstaText (Photo credit: InstaText)

28- A technical AI term that every beginner should know?

You mentioned bias earlier, and in AI it is often associated with variance. It’s like you are aiming at the bullseye on a dartboard. You may always hit the board to the left of the bullseye, and that would be a consequence of bias (e.g. due to a constant wind). However, it is very likely that the darts are spread all over the board, which we could attribute to variance (e.g. your hand is slightly shaking).

AI algorithms behave similarly: they are often slightly off (they don’t hit the bullseye), and this could be due to both bias and variance.

It is quite common for an AI engineer to modify the machine learning algorithm to better fit a given data set, resulting in less bias—but increasing variance. Or vice versa.

29- The biggest risk of language-generating AI?

How it can affect human behavior. Creating entire articles based on a few thoughts of the author can backfire in several ways.

First and foremost, quality writers can struggle with their work because quantity sometimes beats quality—something like that seems to be happening in journalism recently.

30- Can AI help improve our writing skills?

Certainly. We have received comments from several InstaText users that their writing skills have improved over time and that the program has taught them to write better English.

One of the most important reasons is immediate feedback by the program. In areas that involve problem solving (e.g., math), several studies have shown that immediate feedback is very effective in improving one’s skills.

Editing and improving texts can also be seen as problem solving in some ways. It is therefore not entirely surprising that receiving high-quality feedback in real time can improve our writing skills.

31- The best lesson about writing you learned while editing with InstaText?

Over time, you develop a sense of word order and learn not only that a simple sentence is usually better than a complex one, but also how to express your thoughts in a simplified way. This is especially relevant for non-native speakers and happens to me quite often as well.

32- The most important skills that made you who you’re today?

I’ve already mentioned decision making and problem solving skills. Perhaps also empathy and the ability to figure out what’s best for everyone involved. And a special ability to take a short nap by simulating dreams to quickly recover and become fresh again.

33- Can you please explain in simple terms what an AI algorithm is?

An algorithm is usually a set of rules, calculations, and problem-solving operations. An AI algorithm is no different, but it also contains mechanisms that enable intelligent behavior, usually by automatically learning from past situations to perform well in future situations.

34- Why computer science?

It’s probably one of the most creative fields for engineers. It fits virtually any domain or discipline. For example, your hobbies may have to do with animals or languages or astronomy, and computer science allows you to create something useful in any case.

35- Why did you decide to bootstrap your business?

First and foremost: because it was feasible to do so. Most startups don’t have that luxury, they usually need money to finish the product or find a sustainable business model.

We managed to develop a minimum viable product with our own funds and were able to find product-market fit quite early—also with the help of our advisors.

Not only did this help us establish a sustainable business model, but we also found a way to further develop and improve our product without investor money. In this way, we have managed to remain independent and grow on our own terms.

36- What’s the best thing about bootstrapping?

You can make your own decisions. In the end, these decisions are backed up with advisors and shaped together with the team, but they are in no way forced by anyone else.

We act in the best interest of our customers, the product, and the team—not to achieve any goals or targets set by someone else.

37- The biggest challenge of bootstrapping?

To not run out of money or out of time (by being too slow).

38- How can people get the most out of InstaText?

I prefer to improve one or two paragraphs at a time. This also allows me to occasionally re-edit and re-improve the text.

There is a personal dictionary that you can use to retain certain words or combinations of words that are part of your professional language or personal style.

It’s important to realize that not all suggestions should be accepted—rejecting certain suggestions, revising, and re-improving is part of the editing process.

InstaText browser extension (Photo credit: InstaText)

39- The future of writing?

The quality of writing will continue to improve. Thoughts and ideas will still matter most, and people will be able to express themselves better.

40- What’s the difference between machine learning, deep learning, and AI?

I’ll give you a simplified answer.

Machine learning is learning from data to infer models that help us make decisions about data we have not seen yet.

Deep learning can encompass more data and more complex data as well as imagery.

And AI is a much broader term that covers other forms of machine intelligence, including decision making and problem solving with heuristic search and reinforcement learning.

41- Your message to those who see AI as a threat to writers?

It is fair to say that better and better software for writers will come to the market. As with photography and translation, significant changes are to be expected. However, experienced photographers still stand out from the crowd, and they too have learned to use software to their advantage.

As with InstaText, I can confirm that skillful writers benefit more from the software than ordinary users because they are more adept at rejecting and accepting suggestions, editing, and revising the text, and finally improving it again.

42- What would it mean for AI to have a “soul”?

I suppose we don’t have a clear definition of what it actually means to have a “soul”. So let me rephrase the question: “What would it mean for AI to have empathy?”

Intelligent machines can definitely learn to recognize and even understand emotions of other “agents” (that’s the term we often use in computer science).

More than that, they can continuously improve their understanding of emotions and empathy. How would this affect their behavior? Well, to put it simply, it depends on how they are programmed to use this information, or–if they were acting independently–what goal(s) they would aim for.

43- If AI were a geometric figure like a square, triangle, or rectangle, what would it be?

I have no idea. Just as I have no idea what geometric shape would represent a human being.

44- Ljubljana Technology Park?

Pleasant environment, not only for startups, but also for established companies.

45- The most common feedback you get from academic writers about InstaText?

It really helps them increase their acceptance rates at academic conferences and shorten the time to publication in academic journals. There is a faculty in my hometown where every professor and researcher has an annual subscription, and they more than doubled the number of research papers published in academic journals within one year of use.

Many of them hardly wait for the MS Word add-in, and I’m happy to say we are working on it. We have learned a lot from the academic writers who have used InstaText and their feedback.

46- The most difficult day you’ve had at InstaText?

It happened one day that the servers were unavailable for a few hours. We received tons of emails from our users and no clear information from the infrastructure provider. In the end, everything turned out fine, and we also made the system more robust.

47- The best day you’ve ever had at InstaText?

Perhaps the day we received the Start:up of the Year award in 2020.

InstaText receiving the Start:up of the Year award in 2020. (Photo credit: InstaText)

48- What AI apps do you have on your phone?

Like most people, I use Google’s apps and more or less all of them use AI in one form or another.

49- Reskilling and upskilling?

Learning new skills can be enjoyable and rewarding. However, successful people tend to constantly improve at what they are already good at.

50- The most important lesson you’ve learned from teaching?

I’ve learned that learning by teaching can be very productive. I’ve also learned that sharing knowledge and experience with others can be quite rewarding.

51- AI and human touch?

In 2003, I visited Stanford University in California. There was a device there that allowed you to touch the ball at the neighboring table via a robotic hand. It felt like touching a real ball. That was twenty years ago. So I can imagine that anything is possible.

52- What’s the most delicious traditional Slovenian food everyone should try?

Prekmurska gibanica. It’s a layered pastry and a national specialty of Slovenia.

Prekmurska gibanica (Photo source: Wikimedia)

53- Your main strengths and weaknesses as an entrepreneur?

I’m determined, persistent, and hardworking. I’m passionate about our product. I often pay close attention to details, which can be both a strength and a weakness.

54- The “non-negotiables” in your business?

I can’t think of anything, but, in general, I prefer argumentation and not negotiation.

55- Your most satisfying moment as an entrepreneur so far?

Last year, we more than quadrupled our sales compared to the previous year. This allowed us to speed up development and increase our advertising efforts. InstaText is used all over the world, which I’m proud of.

InstaText team at their office in Ljubljana, Slovenia (Photo credit: InstaText)

56- What can’t you imagine your day without?

I think it’s the Internet. It’s my window to the world, the source of knowledge and information, the connection to other people…

57- The biggest challenge for AI?

The whole world seems to be contributing—in one way or another—to building powerful AI in gigantic computer systems like Google. It’s becoming increasingly clear that sooner or later these systems will be smarter than any human in the world.

More than that, they may become smarter than all of humanity combined. No one really knows what will happen then. What values will these machines have, what goals will they pursue? Will they be beneficial to humans and in what ways?

Once the machines have reached the same level of general intelligence as humans, they will quickly become much smarter than we are—most people are not really aware of this.

The challenge is therefore to build them in such a way that they are clearly beneficial to humanity. This is probably the most important challenge of this century—more important than climate change, hunger, and nuclear apocalypse combined.

Because if we fail this challenge, there is clearly no way back. This challenge is excellently described in the book Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control (2019) by computer science professor and renowned AI researcher Stuart J. Russell.

Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control by computer Stuart J. Russell (Photo source: Amazon)

58- What do you think about this news story? “No Joke: Google’s AI Is Smart Enough to Understand Your Humor

No surprise. Intelligent computer programs are getting better than humans at individual tasks these days. Interestingly, we do not seem impressed when that happens. We feel a little cheated, as if someone passed our car in the wrong lane and it no longer counts.

In reality, it doesn’t matter if intelligent behavior is achieved computationally or in some other non-human way—it’s still intelligence.

59- Do you have a favorite quote about AI?

I can’t think of it right now. However, there is one quote about AI that really deserves attention: “Machine intelligence is the last invention that humanity will ever need to make.”

The author of this quote is Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University and author of another very interesting book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.

The quote is closely related to the AI challenge that we discussed earlier. AIs that far surpass general human intelligence could solve all of humanity’s problems. However, it is not clear whether such AIs would really benefit humanity.

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom (Photo source: Amazon)

60- Who do you look to for guidance and mentorship?

I prefer business coaches who have vast experience with similar products and also understand business aspects and challenges.

61- How do you think entrepreneurs can benefit from a life/business coach?

Over the past few years, I’ve learned that a coach really can make a difference. Sometimes even a big difference. A good coach can help you lead (do the right things) and manage (do things right).

In my experience, it’s important to set up regular meetings with an advisor, prepare relevant information in advance, highlight key challenges, and explain them as best as you can to show your current understanding of the situation.

The subsequent interaction is often an iterative process: you have more information than your coach and he has more knowledge and experience—you both need to contribute to figuring out what the best decisions might be.

The coach can also shape your thoughts and understanding that can guide you in your future decisions.

62- The best way to handle conflict/disagreements in the workplace?

I think argumentation is the most important and also effective way.

63- Your strategy to avoid burnout?

Sleep well—even a short nap in the afternoon—healthy diet, sports activities, watching movies and TV series, and flexible working hours.

InstaText founder and CEO Matej Guid (Photo credit: InstaText)

64- AI and cryptocurrency?

I’m not a fan of cryptocurrencies. In my opinion, they just contribute to a lot of speculation and waste of time. Moreover, they are not backed by anything solid in the real world. For example, their value usually doesn’t depend on technological progress in any field.

65- British or American spelling?

I think that in Europe we are supposed to use British spelling, but it seems that the American spelling is present everywhere. InstaText supports both. The user can choose the dialect and the program makes sure that the text is improved accordingly.

I was quite surprised to find that there are many differences in vocabulary—far more than I expected. For a non-native speaker, it is impossible to know all the differences.

InstaText (Photo credit: InstaText)

66- A popular piece of entrepreneurial advice you disagree with?

One such advice would be to find an investor in an early stage, not only because of money but also because of knowledge, experience, and connections.

I think that investor money is usually very expensive and having an investor severely limits your possibilities. You can obtain knowledge and experience from coaches and advisors and you are supposed to find appropriate connections yourself.

Of course, it may not be possible to do without an investor. But sometimes you can simply change your goals and develop an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) first.

Most importantly, a startup shouldn’t waste time pitching to investors (unless it’s really necessary) and should rather focus on customer discovery and building sales.

The goal of any startup is to find a sustainable business model. Once this is achieved, investors will approach you. You will save a lot of time and money and have better options on the table.

67- The best book about AI for beginners?

I recommend a university textbook Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach by Stuart J. Russell and Peter Norvig. It may not sound like a book for beginners, but it gives a great overview of different fields and aspects of AI and can give you a deep understanding of all kinds of AI algorithms.

Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach by Stuart J. Russell and Peter Norvig (Photo source: Amazon)

68- The next milestone for InstaText?

MS Word add-in. We are focusing on the online version because it seems that all the trends are going in that direction. In the meantime, we will also continue to develop browser extensions.

69- The questions in this interview were edited by InstaText. Are you happy with the result?

I cannot imagine answering these questions without InstaText!

70- How do you say “thank you” in Slovenian, Matej?


Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.

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