Interview With Jason Wolf - CEO and Co-Founder of Genie

Shauli Zacks Shauli Zacks

SafetyDetectives recently spoke with Jason Wolf, CEO and Co-Founder of  Genie, discusses his personal journey and the inception of his company. Born in South Africa and raised in Israel, Wolf’s early experiences in the Israeli special forces and his subsequent introduction to the internet in 1994 played pivotal roles in his career. His move to Silicon Valley marked the beginning of a 25-year journey in technology startups, leading to the birth of Genie. Inspired by the challenges faced by older adults in an increasingly digital world, Genie was created as a financial protector to assist them against scams and phishing attempts. Wolf’s narrative reflects a deep passion for technology’s transformative potential and a commitment to making a positive impact on society. 

Can you talk about your journey and what motivated you to establish Genie?

I was born in South Africa in 1968, and moved to Israel at the age of 6, where I grew up and served as an officer in the special forces. In 1994, during a sabbatical from the army, a friend introduced me to a new technology called ‘The internet’. He said that it was likely to change the world, and I joined his startup to manage their only customer at the time in Silicon Valley. Loving the sense of purpose in changing the world via new technology, I moved to Silicon Valley with my wife and a 25-year journey began; that company was sold to SAP, where I led their global New Product Introduction (NPI) team.

However, my passion for earlier stage companies drove me to leave SAP after a few years, and I went on to start or join a number of technology startups. Following my return to Israel in 2018 to be closer to my aging parents, I continued to commute back and forth to Silicon Valley, until Corona hit in 2020 and I could no longer travel so began to think about what was next for me.

While helping my aging parents it struck me how challenging it is for older adults to age in their own homes these days, as the world rapidly moves online. When sharing my thoughts on aging-in-place with a friend, he said that I could come be an Executive in Residence at his VC fund. I didn’t know what an Executive in Residence meant, but he explained that it basically means I will spend a few months thinking with top brains in the industry, and if there’s an idea that can become a major technology company, then I can go out and do it. If not, no harm, no foul.

Near the end of 2020, we finalized our research with a simple and clear conclusion that successful aging-in-place necessitates three things:

  1. Physical health
  2. Mental health
  3. Financial health

Physical and mental health solutions are complex and subjective to measure, while a financial health solution can be objectively measured in dollars and cents, so that’s how Genie was born. We said we’re going to build a financial protector that is with older adults 24/7 and can make sure that they don’t listen to scammers or fall for any phishing or impersonation tricks.

What sets Genie apart from other anti-scam/spam solutions on the market?

When we conceived this need to protect older adults, we thought about the different ways people are trying to steal their money or personal information. The top three threats are:

  1. Phone calls, which are also the hardest to stop because it happens in real time
  2. Email and text messages
  3. Social media

Basically, any way that people can communicate with them is a good way to impersonate someone or trick them.

To solve the problem, we decided we needed a digital protector that can answer the call, be able to discern what’s good and bad. It can then block the bad and pass through the good, and at the same time do it with an accuracy that has never been seen before.

So that’s what Genie is. It’s basically a digital assistant that takes all these communications, can interact back and forth in real-time with the caller, and then pass them through to the person if it is safe and good.

What are the most significant challenges in developing AI for scam detection and prevention?

There are two major challenges.

The first is acting in real-time. We employ an approach here that no one else takes. Instead of relying solely on historical data, as most call blockers or spam filters do, we answer the call. While still utilizing older technologies to assess the incoming call’s likelihood of being good or bad, the AI responds in real-time. This presents a challenge as the AI needs to be quick, comprehend the communication, decide whether to ask more questions, and determine whether to block, pass through, or send with a warning. The third option, with a warning, allows the user to make an informed decision based on additional context, enhancing the user experience.

The second challenge is achieving accuracy levels. Some phone calls can be subjective, leading us to develop options for good, bad, and special cases. This empowers the user to be part of the solution. Unlike traditional background technologies, Genie is a companion, working with the user every day, sometimes by simply letting calls go straight through. This builds trust between the user and Genie, creating a unique relationship where users not only trust but also collaborate with Genie in specific cases.

How does AI differentiate between scam/spam calls and legitimate ones? Does it interact with the caller?

Yes, exactly. Genie answers the call in real-time on your behalf, introducing itself as an assistant and requesting information about the caller’s intentions. For instance, the caller might say, “This is Jake from the synagogue, and I want a donation from him.” Genie analyzes the identity of the caller, their behavior, the nature of the request, and the scripts being followed. By combining these factors and asking follow-up questions, Genie achieves an accuracy rate of 99%, significantly surpassing the industry standard of 80% for scam blockers. This interactive approach is akin to airport security personnel asking questions beyond your responses to assess behavior and actions, reinforcing why Genie’s real-time interaction is crucial to its effectiveness.

What happens if the AI isn’t sure if it’s a real call or spam?

That’s a great point. When Genie determines if a call is good or bad, it will either pass it through or block it. However, when it’s uncertain, Genie won’t make a guess but will instead convey the information to the user, allowing them to make the decision. Take a seemingly simple pizza delivery example; if Genie sees an unknown caller, it might be a pizza delivery, and you may have ordered pizza, but Genie doesn’t have confirmation. After talking to the caller, Genie will then pass it through, stating something like “This is Mike from Uber Eats, he’s got your pizza, and he’s looking for your address.” The user can then quickly decide, based on the provided information, whether to allow or block the call. This user engagement also contributes to Genie’s learning, making it smarter for future scenarios.

Are there any upcoming features or capabilities that you plan to integrate into Genie?

Yes, we started with voice because it’s the most real-time, crucial for situations where users need to make rapid decisions, such as calls claiming to be from the IRS or a bank. We’ve also developed a text and email version. Currently, users can send text or email to Genie, and it will provide its assessment. In the future, we plan to integrate this as an active agent, similar to the voice feature, where Genie can be the one answering your initial email or text message, especially if it’s from an unknown party.

Following text and email, we’re also planning to incorporate social media. Given the rise in romance scams and deceptive online practices, Genie will become the first point of contact for users. With AI becoming increasingly versatile, now users can have their own AI protector – their own Genie.

About the Author

About the Author

Shauli Zacks is a tech enthusiast who has reviewed and compared hundreds of programs in multiple niches, including cybersecurity, office and productivity tools, and parental control apps. He enjoys researching and understanding what features are important to the people using these tools.