The Race to Singularity: Five AI Startups Changing the Game
From waking up to Amazon Alexa’s morning news brief to ordering dinner with Pizza Hut’s automated chatbot, artificial intelligence (AI) technology has seeped into many aspects of people’s daily lives. While some have equated the invention of AI to the advent of mobile technology or even electricity, others have questioned whether AI, despite the breathless hype, might be just another passing fad in Silicon Valley.
According to CB Insights, venture capitalists invested $5 billion in more than 650 AI companies in 2016 — a 60 percent increase over 2015. Large technology companies have also leapt into the market, snapping up more than 40 AI startups last year. A quick search of “AI startups” on AngelList surfaces more than 2,000 companies. While some have minimal core technologies, others are genuine innovators using AI to solve significant problems. Newscenter.io’s editors have hand-picked what we see as five trailblazing AI startups that are transforming legacy industries with their forward-thinking visions and robust technology.
You have probably never heard of MindMeld, but chances are you have interacted with a chatbot powered by MindMeld’s technology. Founded in 2011 by Tim Tuttle, a former AI researcher from MIT and Bell Labs, MindMeld is the first technology platform that makes it possible for companies to create intelligent conversational interfaces for any app or device.
While giants like Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook all have in-house AI platforms, their proprietary solutions do not easily translate into other apps because they are custom-built for proprietary interfaces like Facebook Messenger. MindMeld, in contrast, developed a more adaptable and flexible protocol called Deep-Domain Conversational AI, which can capture important domain knowledge on any application. According to TechCrunch, MindMeld “has the potential to advance natural language recognition and push the envelope where Google, Microsoft, and Apple have failed so far.” The startup currently works with such renowned enterprise customers as Spotify, UNIQLO, and Samsung.
Clarifai is another startup that is challenging AI incumbents. Founded in 2013 by Matthew Zeiler, New York-based Clarifai has created an image and video recognition API that developers can use to automate photo tagging, visual searches, and content management. While Pinterest and Google have developed similar visual recognition technologies, they are far from perfect. (Google Photos made an infamous mistake last year when it labelled an African-American couple as “gorillas.”) Not only does Clarifai aim for a higher level of accuracy, the startup is also on a mission to democratize machine learning technologies by opening up its API to developers, who can then teach the Clarifai platform to recognize new concepts using only a handful of data examples. In an interview with PYMNTS.com, Zeiler spoke about his goal of keeping Clarifai independent despite the demand among large enterprises for AI startups. “Because now our competitors are Google, Microsoft, IBM — tech giants — but none of them are independent of their customers,” said Zeiler. “They all have divisions and products that compete with them.” For Clarifai, the technology is about empowering customers with great tools to help them create innovative products without worrying about their data being shared with competitors. To date, the company has raised $40 million from such leading venture capitalists as Menlo Ventures, Union Square Ventures, and Lux Capital.
One can’t discuss recent Silicon Valley trends without mentioning self-driving cars. As with other industries, artificial intelligence is playing a role in transforming the automotive industry.
Drive.ai is a Silicon Valley startup that aims to “build the brain of self-driving vehicles,” creating hardware and software that applies deep learning throughout its driving system. Drive.ai’s goal is not only to teach autonomous vehicles how to avoid obstacles on the road, but also to train them how to make smart decisions when faced with different scenarios and cases — in much the same way that human beings intuitively react in unexpected road situations. More important, the company envisions its autonomous vehicles as socially aware robots that communicate with surrounding vehicles and pedestrians. To that end, Drive.ai’s system will include a roof-mounted exterior device that can display written signs and even emojis to convey meanings such as “safe to cross,” just as human drivers yield to pedestrians using hand gestures. With an all-star founding team that includes PhDs and former graduate students from Stanford’s artificial intelligence lab, Drive.ai is helping make autonomous driving a reality.
Kasisto, which launched at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat 2016 conference, is a bot maker that aims to transform 21st century personal finance.
Its flagship product, KAI, is a smart personal assistant that helps people manage money, track expenses, and analyze spending across multiple accounts and credit cards. Available on multiple chat platforms, including Facebook Messenger, Slack, and SMS, KAI can also help users analyze their investments and portfolio allocations, as well as provide answers to such financial literacy questions as “What is equity?” The company also provides white-label solutions to banks that are looking to provide better customer service via smart, 24/7 chatbots. Since Kasisto’s launch last June, it has signed customers including the Royal Bank of Canada, Development Bank of Singapore, and mobile-only bank Digibank in India.
Mastercard also tapped Kasisto to build its conversational chatbot, Mastercard KAI, which allows Mastercard cardholders to access member services as easily as texting a friend. Consumers based in the U.S. can ask Mastercard KAI questions about their accounts and purchase history, monitor spending levels, and get access to financial learning. Founded in 2013 by Dror Oren, Sasha Caskey, and Zor Gorelov, Kasisto raised $9.2 million in Series A financing in January, 2017.
Artificial intelligence can make people’s lives easier; it can also save lives. Case in point: Freenome, a biotechnology startup that is using deep learning and machine intelligence to identify early signs of cancer.
The company accomplishes this by tracking the health of people’s Freenome — a dynamic collection of genetic material floating in everyone’s blood. Although Freenome sounds like another Silicon Valley blood-testing startup, the company, which has a $65 million Series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, is not another Theranos. According to Andreessen Horowitz general partner Vijay Pande, who leads the VC firm’s $200 million Bio Fund, what sets Freenome apart from other blood biopsy startups is that its technology can actually pinpoint when and where a cancer is growing, as well as how serious a threat it represents. Because Freenome tracks how people’s genomes change over time, it allows diagnoses while cancer is still in its infancy, one of the biggest challenges in medical testing. Considering that at least 80 percent of cancers can be treated successfully if caught early enough, Freenome’s technology has the potential to revolutionize cancer care.
There is no doubt that artificial intelligence will profoundly impact society. Whether the timetable is 10 or 100 years in the future, artificial intelligence will inevitably surpass human capability. Keep an eye on Newscenter.io for information about the latest developments among AI startups and our ongoing reporting on the race to singularity.