Vicarious, a startup that says it’s “building software that thinks and learns like a human,” has just raised a $15 million Series A.
The round was led by Good Ventures, the investment firm founded by Dustin Moskovitz, who also co-founded Facebook and Asana. (The firm’s profits will be donated to the Good Ventures Foundation.) Founders Fund, Open Field Capital, Steve Brown, and Zarco Investment Group participated too.
Vicarious launched in February 2011 with funding from Founders Fund, Moskovitz, Adam D’Angelo (former Facebook CTO and co-founder of Quora), Felicis Ventures, and Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale. Since then, co-founder D. Scott Phoenix tells me that the company has been in research mode. The research has resulted in a system that’s supposed to interpret the content of photos and videos in a way that’s similar to humans, and which is powered by the company’s “key innovation”, the Recursive Cortical Network.
Ultimately, Phoenix says the technology could be used in “almost every industry,” including robotics, medical image analysis, and image and video search,. But that’s a ways off — Phoenix and his co-founder Dileep George say they’re still deep in research and development, and that the funding will be used to expand those R&D efforts. Developing products that commercialize the technology is still several years off, George says.
“Based on our experiments in the last year, we are very optimistic about our rate of progress,” he says. “At the same time, this is a very challenging problem. We are not getting too excited about how productize things. We’re testing everything very carefully.”
You don’t see too many venture-backed software companies spending years on research nowadays, and Phoenix says he was lucky to find investors who share his big vision — to use AI to “help humanity thrive.” The investors at Good Ventures and Founders Fund have a “natural affinity” for that kind of talk (Founders Fund’s Peter Thiel, for example, has been pretty vocal about what he sees as a lack of transformative innovation), but Phoenix says it’s “very different from the language that a lot of other investors speak.”