Steg.AI, a startup based on artificial intelligence technology developed at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and founded by double Rutgers graduate Eric Wengrowski and School of Engineering professor Kristin Dana, PhD, hopes to use its innovative security software to help businesses and organizations protect their media assets and intellectual property.
The technology is the brainchild of Wengrowski, who received both his Bachelor's degree and PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Rutgers. After working with Dana on his capstone project as a senior, she invited Wengrowski to join her lab as a PhD student in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.
“The technology we developed is information security software that businesses can utilize to protect their media assets and intellectual property (IP),” said Wengrowski. “We leverage a research technology developed along with some of my co-founders called light field messaging, which is an advanced forensic water marking technique that adds information to files like images, video, pdfs, gifs, etc., that is invisible to us but visible to our algorithms or even a camera. This information is essentially embedded into these files as forensic tracers for our customers, so they can figure out who is doing what with their assets.”
Steg.AI’s mission is to establish a level of provenance for all digital media, using patented steganography technology to place attribution into content so that users can be sure that what they are engaging with is indeed real, or at least trustworthy. The research conducted by Wengrowski and Dana and their team focused on the ability to transmit information with light in a way that is only visible to a machine or a camera. This required an understanding of not only how the light works and is captured by a camera, but also how the human visual system operates in terms of seeing and processing that information. Wengrowski and Dana were able to tailor their research to face this growing problem after meeting with various companies.
“We participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s national I-Corps program and received feedback regarding the real-use cases of the technology, and we realized that we had a very compelling value proposition for information security,” said Wengrowski. “We learned that by talking to companies like Meta, Getty and Adobe, and then putting two and two together about how we could solve those problems.”
"We were able to leverage recent deep learning advances to build a robust solution to the pattern embedding problem,” said Dana. “By taking part in the Bay Area I-Corps in the Winter Cohort 2019, we were able to dedicate significant time and effort to in-person customer discovery to explore commercial needs for our technology."
This innovation could not come at a more critical time; according to The New York Times, the increase of content such as deepfakes – very realistic but phony visual or aural content – and the ease of use in creating fake content using artificial intelligence has grown exponentially and will only expand further. According to Wengrowski, current deepfake detection methods involve analyzing visual or aural content for artifacts that indicate it was created by an algorithm. Still, he feels that over time the algorithms will simply incorporate those detectors, and the fake content will pass through undetected.
Steg.AI, whose name stems from steganography, was able to parlay the technology into funding from a variety of sources. Besides the NSF I-Corps program, the company received non-dilutive funding from phase one and phase two NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants. According to Wengrowski, Steg.AI recently closed a seed fundraising deal with leading cyber security venture investors.
“Steg.AI is another example of Rutgers excellence and how the university is leading the way into the future,” said Deborah Perez Fernandez, acting executive director for Innovation Ventures. “The rise of deepfakes, mis- and disinformation highlights the importance of the potential impact that the technology developed by Dr. Wengrowski and Dr. Dana can have around the world.”
Rutgers Office for Research’s Innovation Ventures, the technology transfer department for the university, filed patent applications for the technology in the United States, European Union, China, Japan, and India, and handled the execution of the exclusive license to Steg.AI.