Google has launched a new venture capital program focused on artificial intelligence, Axios is reporting. Google declined to comment on the report, which states that the initiative will be led by longtime Google VP of engineering Anna Patterson and involve a rotating cast of engineers instead of the venture investors who work for Alphabet Inc.'s corporate venture unit, GV .
Google has launched a new venture capital program focused on artificial intelligence, Axios is reporting. Google declined to comment on the report, which states that the initiative will be led by longtime Google VP of engineering Anna Patterson and involve a rotating cast of engineers instead of the venture investors who work for Alphabet Inc.'s corporate venture unit, GV. It isn't completely surprising that Google might create an investing practice around AI, particularly given Google CEO Sundar Pichai's recent pronouncement that Google is becoming "AI first" rather than "mobile first." Indeed, AI was the running thread throughout the recent Google I/O developers conference, where the company introduced new tensor processing unit (TPU) chips that promise to more quickly train and run AI models for researchers and businesses; it also announced (among many other things) that its Google Assistant, the company's virtual personal assistant that's available on devices like the Google Home and Pixel phone, will soon grow more conversational. According to Axios, Patterson and company will reportedly be co-investing with GV when it makes sense to do so.
Google launched today a venture capital fund, named Gradient Ventures, that will focus on early-stage AI startups. Gradient's site says the new fund aims to "invest in and connect startups with Google's resources, innovation, and technical leadership in AI." "Many members of our team are engineers, so we're familiar with the journey from big idea to product launch," Gradient managing partner Anna Patterson wrote in a blog post. "The goal is to help our portfolio companies overcome engineering challenges to create products that will apply artificial intelligence to today's challenges and those we'll face in the future." Gradient currently lists four companies in its portfolio, including Algorithmia, a marketplace for algorithms and functions, and Cogniac, a suite of tools used to create and manage visual models. In May, Axios reported that Google would set up an AI-focused program.
First detailed by Axios, Google has reportedly launched a venture capital fund to focus solely on artificial intelligence. The fund is reportedly led by engineers, as opposed to traditional venture investors, with the company investing between $1 million and $100 million at a time. While the list of names that this AI-first fund could invest in are limitless (Re/code has put together a few speculative names), it's clear Google wants to dominate as much of the AI space as it can, outdoing Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), and Microsoft (MSFT). While Nvidia (NVDA) is still seen as the dominant chip company when it comes to doing AI tasks, it's notable that Google (and reportedly Apple as well) are trying to go up and down the stack as much as they can.
Sundar Pichai's demonstration of the company's new virtual-assistant technology, unveiled at the company's annual developer conference last week, was more unnerving than Pichai presumably intended it to be. Google Duplex, as the technology is called, represents a major leap forward in Silicon Valley's efforts to produce robots that sound like people. It can make phone calls to schedule appointments, say, or to reserve a table at a restaurant, using familiar human verbal tics and filler words--"uhm," "mmhmm," and "gotcha"--that make it eerily hard to tell that the voice on the other line is an artificial intelligence. To show the tech in action, Pichai played a recording of the Google Assistant device--Google's answer to Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa--calling and interacting with someone who was purportedly an employee at a hair salon to make an appointment. "What you're going to hear is the Google assistant actually calling a real salon to schedule an appointment for you," Pichai told the audience.