UNB Alumni
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James Stewart protects companies from artificial intelligence hackers as CEO of Saint John startup, TrojAI

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Oct 27, 2021

Category: Inspiring Stories , UNB Saint John , Computer Science

UNB alumnus James Stewart (BScDA’97, MCS’99, PhD’17) is on a mission to protect artificial intelligence from malicious attackers.

He’s working toward this as CEO and co-founder of new Saint John startup TrojAI, a company focused on building solutions for robustness and security of AI.

The company was first formed in June 2019, alongside co-founder and fellow UNB alumnus Stephen Goddard (BBA'98). While Stewart was working as SVP of video analytics for Toronto-based Patriot One Technologies, which acquired his former company EhEye, he became aware of the attack vectors around artificial intelligence and his newest entrepreneurial pursuit soon took shape.

“It’s meaningful work,” says Stewart. “Artificial intelligence is being used across all industries and it’s actually hackable. It’s not widely known because it’s a very technical area and the innovations coming out as a result of AI are reorganizing our world every day.”

TrojAI is currently one of fewer than ten companies in the world that are working in this space and was also recently listed as a Gartner representative vendor for adversarial resistance.

Though companies in this field all have different areas of focus, TrojAI’s concentration is on protecting computer vision – like that found in the autonomous driving features of American electric vehicle, Tesla.

When asked what the motivation would be for a hacker to attack computer vision AI, Stewart says it could be for financial gain or for competitive advantage.

“The opportunity to introduce noise into those inputs and into the vehicle could make the system misclassify things and create a real risk to the public. It’s only just the beginning of understanding the implications around trustworthy artificial intelligence.”

Despite building the startup amidst a global pandemic, Stewart says they have just landed their second enterprise client and are in the final stages of closing their SEED round. With half a dozen other earlier adopters and a strong pipeline, he anticipates they will reach their goal of three enterprise clients in 2021 and are on track for another ten by the end of 2022.

Throughout his over 20-year career in computer science, Stewart has not only worked as a cybersecurity entrepreneur, but also in software development and as a crime analyst with the police force - a job he describes as “just like the tv shows.”

He jokes that he still doesn’t think of his career as a job. Instead, he calls it his happy place.  

“I’ve always enjoyed the crime side and the cybersecurity side, and that DNA of catching the bad guy.”

A three-time UNB Saint John alumnus, Stewart says his education has been invaluable and many aspects of his career are owed to the technical background acquired at UNB.

“My first degree in data analysis, which doesn’t exist anymore, is more relevant today than it was when I took it,” he explains. “Now it serves me well because that new role of data science is a combination of statistics and computer science.”

Stewart says he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit and his hope for today’s computer science graduates is that they’ll go out and build something of their own.

“That’s how we’re going to grow the tech industry locally, by folks going out there and creating their own jobs. With these skills you can build anything, and you don’t have to settle.”