An interview of Claude-Alain Roten, CEO of OrphAnalytics SA, by Startupticker.ch, an online platform for entrepreneurs. Redacted by Eugène Schön. Translated by the OrphAnalytics team. Link to original article in French.
The startup OrphAnalytics has developed an innovative approach capable of autonomous detection of ghostwriting, a phenomenon that affects a growing number of domains. With its expertise, the company from Valais is preparing to implement its solution at the university of the HES-SO for the academic year 2017-2018. Our editorial staff had the opportunity to take stock with Claude-Alain Roten, on the uses of the startup technology and on its projects.
Can you talk about the collaboration put in place with the HES-SO? Since when did it begin?
At the end of 2015, contacts with the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland (HES-SO) highlighted its interest in strengthening students' respect for good practices in the writing of professional documents. Software is already used to search for plagiarized texts (fraudulent insertion of non-referenced publications). The startup OrphAnalytics SA has presented to the HES-SO its innovative approach capable of autonomous detection of ghostwriting (unauthorized drafting of a certification document by a professional).
Stylometric applications of OrphAnalytics measure the style of a document in order to compare it with those of reference documents. This approach does not require a database of publications. It allows to authenticate all or part of a document by detecting changes of style present in the certification text or between different documents of a candidate. Two pilot phases have been implemented with the HES-SO to optimize the ghostwriting detection software to student documents. The first phase of exploration is complete and the second phase is underway to prepare the implementation of the solution planned for the academic year 2017-2018.
The interest of the HES-SO in textual analysis is not due to abusive behavior of its students. For the HES-SO, the implementation of fraud detection tools aims to reinforce the confidence of the public and students in the quality of the provided courses and the titles issued by the different HES.
Whatever the training institution, a student who cheats by mandating a ghostwriter for the writing of a text generally gets a very good score for this report fraudulently produced by a professional. In contrast, the score of a student report produced without professional writing experience is lower in the majority of cases. Consequently, the fraudster with higher academic grades is favored at the start of his professional career. To fight against the fraud advantage, the HES-SO would like to analyze the students' texts in order that they can subsequently show their respect for academic good practices, which is a guarantee of future professional integrity.
These values of promoting integrity for future economic players are essential for the founders of OrphAnalytics; the aim of the startup is to promote respect for good ethical practices in the scientific, economic and political worlds.
Can you describe in a few words what your company is doing, especially in the areas of investigation, content analysis and expertise?
Designed for an academic environment, text analysis tools can also be used for police investigations or judicial case processing. For example, stylometric information makes it possible to take quick decisions according to the needs of an investigation. Weighted by statistics, they also allow judicial actors to validate or not the textual evidence provided.
In 2016, OrphAnalytics SA was mandated to investigate on the mechanism of a major scam for an international arbitration. The specialists of OrphAnalytics had to establish who was the author of fragments of contract representing 3,000 characters in all. As the OrphAnalytics staff went to court for the first time, they asked the law firm to let them do a preliminary analysis. Thus, they ensured themselves of the feasibility of the analysis on this type of text. The first results obtained without knowing the context convinced the lawyers to contract the services of OrphAnalytics. The final stylometric results confirmed those of three other groups of experts: printing and formatting of documents, forensic psychiatrics and investigation. After reading the expert report, the lawyers recommended that the OrphAnalytics experts collaborate with forensic science departments to share their expertise. Other expert reports by OrphAnalytics are underway to investigate academic affairs.
A validation project is currently under preparation for a skill transfer between stylometry and result quantification by probabilities. This transdisciplinary project aims to integrate in software the functionalities that will enable judges and lawyers to appreciate a statistical comparison.
Can you give more examples of collaborations?
If the know-how of OrphAnalytics makes it possible to detect cheaters, it can also be used by publishers to favor authors who write texts that they sign. An initiative has been launched - Textually Transparent - which allows authors to show their audience that they do write their texts. The French politician, François Bayrou, was the first to agree to be analyzed by stylometry, in order to show that he is one of the few French politicians to write his texts. Other authors are interested in this initiative.
Other collaborations are currently under way. Some results are posted as the analysis of the novels published under the pseudonym Elena Ferrante.
When was your company founded? How many employees are working for you?
OrphAnalytics SA was founded in 2014 by about forty founders, coached by the incubator of The Ark Foundation at Martigny. The funding needed for the foundation was therefore brought by a crowd-funding process. With no need for significant contributions, the company was financed by the family network, long-time friends and former Claude-Alain Roten colleagues. The financing of corporate growth is mainly planned by self-financing for the medium-term.
The company is distinguished by the employment of senior employees. Competent, proactive, they are gathered around the values of integrity advocated by the startup. The textual expertise company benefits from the expertise of a core of specialists trained in the signal analyzes necessary for genomic exploration. Currently, 6 to 10 people are employed by OrphAnalytics on a part-time basis for its management, software development and the drafting of academic and judicial assessments. An application for intellectual property protection has been filed.
What are the prospects for the next few months for OrphAnalytics?
To the already described projects designed to document authentication is added the development of an application intended to measure the complexity of a text. This software will be used by institutions that want to produce documents appropriate to their audience in order to ensure an optimal information transfer. In the longer term, the technology will be adapted to document web pages in order to value them.