Artificial Intelligence Startup Lands These High-Profile Investors

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Some of the biggest names in the tech world have recently begun opening wallets to help fund an artificial intelligence startup called Vicarious. Notable investors include PayPal’s Peter Theil, Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Jeff Bezos, and Yahoo’s (NASDAQ:YHOO) Jerry Yang. TechCrunch reports that Vicarious has raised more than $56 million since it was founded in 2010.

So what does Vicarious do, and why are the tech elite lining up to throw money at it? According to the company’s website, the people behind Vicarious are “building software that thinks and learns like a human.” In other words, it’s trying to model its technology on the “software” of the human brain so that machines will be able to take in various kinds of information, draw connections, and reach conclusions just like people do. Even giving computers an imagination is within the scope of Vicarious’s aim.

Its first application of the software will be a “visual perception system that interprets the contents of photographs and videos in a manner similar to humans.” To illustrate the software’s abilities, last year Vicarious announced that the program was able to solve 90 percent of text-based CAPTCHA tests.

CAPTCHA is a loose acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.” Whenever you have to type in a word that appears in a blurry or choppy image, that’s a CAPTCHA test. They’re often used online to prove that the user is human rather than software.

Vicarious said that the CAPTCHA tests it used came from Google, Yahoo, PayPal, and Captcha.com. They even released a video of the software solving the tests. According to the BBC, the company said it has used its software to solve CAPTCHA tests “as a step towards thinking machines, not for nefarious purposes.”

Eventually, Vicarious hopes to use its technology in a wide array of applications, including robotics, medical image analysis, and Web searches. Dustin Moskovitz, another Facebook co-founder and Vicarious investor, said that the company was “at the forefront of building the first truly intelligent machines.”

The company claims that their AI will be better than other companies’ similar projects in the works — including IBM’s (NYSE:IBM) Watson, the computer that handily defeated two of the best Jeopardy players in 2011. The reason the company’s founders support Vicarious, says Forbes, is that, “The approaches IBM used don’t truly involve understanding of words because they don’t include experience with physical objects, like humans innately have — and like Vicarious claims to have simulated at least in preliminary fashion in software.”

Likewise, other AI programs like the Human Brain Project, Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Siri (NASDAQ:SIRI), and Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) voice search are based on models much more primitive than the human brain. According to the founders of Vicarious, that makes them rely on heavier computation and more examples than Vicarious uses.

There’s still only so much we can know about Vicarious at the moment. No products have been released yet, and the company is keeping the technology on lockdown. Once they release a product into the world, their claims will become testable, and will undoubtedly receive the proper scrutiny.

So why is Vicarious attracting funding from so many founders of major tech companies? Probably because, if the software actually does work like a human brain, it will be able to power all kinds of applications, including many that tech companies like Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Facebook rely on. That’s all in the future. But if there’s on place techies are always looking, it’s to the future.

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