Marketplace: Tech company Banjo establishes roots in Park City
In an office building in Kimball Junction, a tech company is tracking movements and patterns around the globe. The head of the organization, Damien Patton, intends to change the world with the data the company disseminates.
Patton is the founder and CEO of Banjo, a tech company that tracks real-time data and uses artificial intelligence to organize digital signals so people can better understand events taking place. Emergency responders such as police officers and firefighters use Banjo to quickly identify and respond to life-threatening incidents, and news organizations use the software so they can inform the public. Patton started the company in 2010 in California, but he moved the headquarters to Park City in February of 2018.
A combination of Patton’s diverse experiences and a serendipitous event led him to found Banjo almost a decade ago.
He grew up homeless, but he sought out opportunities and learned whenever he could. When he served in the military for two tours in Desert Storm, he said he learned teamwork and camaraderie. While working as a chief mechanic for a top NASCAR team, he learned what it takes to put out quality work every time. He did a bout as a crime scene investigator, too, and he said he learned how to put pieces of a puzzle together.
Collectively, the experiences taught him that in order to solve a problem, people need to have accurate information all in one place.
“It makes it very difficult for us as human beings to make the right decision because when we are making a decision, we are making it on partial information or information that has been stepped on,” he said. “For me, it was about solving that problem.”
One particular instance turned him onto the idea of what would later become Banjo. He arrived home after a flight to learn that a friend he served with in Desert Storm was at the airport at the exact same time, but they missed each other.
Patton, who had started working in technology and was going to graduate school, was convinced he needed to discover a way to get live information to everyone.
In 2008, he started designing algorithms and artificial intelligence that would show people real-time data by aggregating their social media networks.
Patton’s idea took off after his wife entered him into an annual hack-a-thon at Google, a competition between computer programmers to solve a problem using technology, in 2010. He beat out hundreds of other engineers to win the competition, and Silicon Valley investors turned their eyes on him.
Investors funded Patton’s nascent idea for Banjo, which originally tracked social media.
But, as Patton tried to validate information on social media with public data from traffic cameras, weather reports and police scanners, he realized that Banjo’s artificial intelligence could almost instantly discover where accidents and other critical incidents took place.
Banjo gradually shifted from relying on social media to using it as one of several data points to show emergency responders what is happening in their respective regions. That is what it continues to do today.
Patton said Banjo has been able to thrive because it made digital privacy a priority from the start. Although the company sits on a wealth of data, he said the data points are anonymized so no personal information is gathered.
“For me, it was important to be a leader around the ethics of artificial intelligence,” he said.
The company is set on one unified mission, too. Patton says he tries to ensure Banjo’s artificial intelligence is only used “to save a human life or to reduce human suffering.”
Now that Patton knows what Banjo is capable of — he said during a routine law enforcement drill in Utah to practice what would happen if a child was abducted, Banjo provided the information to solve the case in 20 seconds, as an example — he is anxious to get the technology in more people’s hands.
“You feel this greater sense of responsibility because we are dealing with life and death every day,” he said. “I won’t sleep well until anybody who can save a life, like for example recover a child, has access to this to make a difference.”
Patton moved to Park City and brought the company along with him because he and his wife wanted to get away from the fast pace of Silicon Valley. He said he plans to remain in Park City and expand the company for several years. The company also has an office in California.
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