Startup Support: Paul Allen’s AI Unit Doubles Down on

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Startup
Startup

Paul Allen’s AI Unit Doubles Down on Startup Support

Paul Allen’s artificial-intelligence research outfit is opening its doors to a handful of startup, dangling $250,000 in funding and the promise of opportunities to draw on the human brain power of its in-house Ph.D.s.

The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence has already lent a hand to a couple of Seattle startups that have gone on to success. Kitt.ai was recently acquired by Chinese search giant Baidu, and Xnor.ai has raised a round of venture capital funding. As of Tuesday, AI2, as the research unit calls itself, is seeking applications for startups to follow in those companies’ footsteps.

“We’ve decided to formalize and double down” on that work, said Oren Etzioni, the institute’s chief executive.

Jacob Colker, AI2’s entrepreneur in residence, says he hopes to recruit up to five startups and aims to have two of them in the building and working by the end of the year.

In addition to $250,000 in seed funding, the institute is offering office workspace at its Wallingford headquarters, and counsel from its experts in machine learning, computer vision and hardware engineering, among other disciplines.

AI2 is among the research units founded and funded by Allen [pictured above], the billionaire Microsoft co-founder. Other groups are studying the brain and cell science, components of a Seattle empire that also includes an influential real-estate arm, museums, and philanthropic efforts.

“It doesn’t take much for a city to really become a global leader in something,” Colker said. “It takes a few people standing up and saying ‘we’re going to make this a reality, and we’re going to push hard on it.’ ”

The incubator is the latest Seattle-area expansion in the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence, the software-driven field trying to boost computer understanding of things like human speech and images.

Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa digital assistant is among the most popular manifestations of software, powered by machine-learning algorithms, that is able to decipher and react to the human speech.

And a Microsoft reorganization late last year consolidated and rebranded the company’s work on search engines and research as its artificial-intelligence engineering division.

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