GigaOm reported last Tuesday that entrepreneurs D. Scott Phoenix and Dileep George raised $15 million from prominent venture capitalists Dustin Moskovitz and Peter Thiel. As Stacey Higginbotham reports, “Vicarious wants to build a series of algorithms that mimic the way the mammalian brain processes and applies information — in short it wants to build software that will grant computers intelligence.” While we would take issue with Vicarious on the technical fine points, followers of ai-one have been surprised to learn we were happy to hear the news from Vicarious.
Even though it might appear they are a competitive threat, this is great news for ai-one and others working in this field. First of all, this field is full of enormous challenges and more credible entrepreneurs in the field will accelerate progress through both competition and collaboration. There is no one answer to the question of intelligence. Intelligent agents already provide value across many businesses. The more data generated and the more digitally interconnected we become, the more the benefits move from helpful to essential.
Additionally, fundraising is incredibly painful, especially in a field that has been around for decades and several turns of the hype cycle. The news in this field has been either academic or dominated by Google, IBM and Apple, causing investors to sit on the sideline when it comes to funding new companies. Leaving this field of research to them will decelerate progress and more likely result in patent wars and concentration of power, not progress. As I stated in my interview with Derrick Harris in May, “If we don’t democratize access to AI techniques, we’re essentially handing the keys over to IBM and Google…”.
Thiel and Moskowitz have conveyed some legitimacy on the field and hopefully will be good stewards of Vicarious’ work while not expecting short term VC-like build and flip execution. Patience is critical in this field as the technical challenges are great and commercialization an even greater one.
Vicarious’ goal is to help humanity thrive by inventing the algorithm(s) to create intelligent machines.
ai-one’s mission is to enable biologically inspired intelligence in every computing device and application. We want to empower developers to help people to use intelligent computing to protect and better their lives.
We believe these goals are complementary, not competitive. We hope other new companies in the field will bring similar values, energy and brilliance to the “Mt. Everest of computer science problems”. It may be a “field of giants” today, but we hope the “computer” you buy in the near future will have intelligence as uniquely personal as you are.
Welcome to the mountain Vicarious. We’ve been at this over nine years and there’s plenty of room, but let’s get to the top before Google buys the mountain.
Tom Marsh, President