From 1992 to 2001, Dan Goldin served as the longest-tenured Adminstrator of NASA, overseeing projects like the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the redesign of the International Space Station.
After leaving NASA, Goldin spent some time bouncing around and studying robotics, before accepting a position as the president of Boston University in 2003 — a position Goldin never officially held, because the school terminated his contract a day before he was slated to start, though he still got a $1.8 million payout.
And then, Goldin mostly vanished from the public eye for over ten years.
Today, the 75-year-old Goldin has reemerged to reveal what he’s been working on for the last decade: KnuEdge, a top-secret startup based in San Diego, with a mission to one-up Google, AMD, and Intel with the “fundamental invention” of the next-generation computer processor.
“I’m not an incrementalist; I wanted to wait for the grand slam,” Goldin tells Business Insider.
KnuEdge is also releasing its first product to the broader business technology market: KnuVerse, an AI-assisted tool that helps identify and clarify voices, even in the noisiest of situations. With that foothold established in the market, Goldin hopes that KnuEdge will come to be the foremost provider of technology for the neural network-powered artificial brains of the future.
“We don’t want to be on the football field,” says Goldin. “I want to define where the football field is.”
Companies like Google, Intel, AMD are currently racing to optimise existing processors, especially graphics processors, to better run the neural networks that underpin artificial intelligence. But Goldin and KnuEdge say they are working to leapfrog them entirely.
“I’d like to be, as an American, on top of the pile,” Goldin jokes. “I’ve never done anything easy; I love to suffer.”
Over that ten-year quiet period, Goldin says that KnuEdge has racked up $100 million from investors who would prefer to stay unnamed, while also racking up $20 million in lifetime revenues from unnamed customers, many of whom come from the worlds of military, defence, and aerospace.
With both NASA and Boston University in the rear-view mirror, Goldin says, he went on kind of a trek around the country, trying to figure out what to do next.
Goldin decided that the way forward was to go back to an early fascination he had with building computers that can learn like humans do. His fundamental insight, or “shazam moment,” from this time of pondering: Humans don’t learn by having things explained to them; “we learn by making mistakes and we have to adapt.”
To follow that notion, Goldin knew that he’d have to expand his scientific expertise, which already included the physical sciences, to include neuroscience. But already in his sixties, Goldin shied away from going back to school.
“I didn’t want to do a PhD program at my very ripe old age,” says Goldin.
And so, Goldin tapped into his post-NASA network of scientists and convinced Nobel Prize-winning biologist Gerald Edelman, who passed away in 2014, to take him on as a senior fellow for three years.
With that knowledge, and new contacts in the field of neuroscience research, Goldin knew it was go-time to start his company. But he very purposely didn’t want to come to Silicon Valley, even though that’s where much of the talent is.
San Diego’s “Patient Money”
“I needed patient money and patient coworkers,” says Goldin.
Knowing that KnuEdge would take at least a decade to come to any kind of fruition, Goldin says he resisted the idea of going to Silicon Valley. As much as he respects that Silicon Valley “has magic,” he was afraid of taking on investors and new hired who were looking for quick payouts.
It turned into a boon for KnuEdge in another way, too: Goldin says he was able to hire top-shelf researchers, scientists, and engineers by promising them that they’d have all the years they needed to explore their fields, without short-term pressure to make it something they can sell.
“I wanted people to have time to dream, and you can’t dream to schedule,” says Goldin.
‘We live in a world of noise’
KnuVerse, the voice recognition software, is KnuPath’s first real commercial product, and has been tested in “battlefield conditions,” says Goldin.
It uses artificial intelligence to sift out the noise so computers can recognise your voice. The potential is to use the KnuVerse tech to build the best-sounding voice chat app of all time, or even in a police department’s forensics division to clear up recordings from crime scenes.
“We live in a world of noise,” Goldin says.
Going forward, though, KnuEdge’s real focus is the Hermosa processor and Knuboard motherboard, optimised for artificial intelligence. Banks and insurance companies have already been experimenting with the first versions, using them to sift through massive stores of data more efficiently than existing processors.
The Knuboard system can integrate with Intel- and AMD-based systems, says Goldin, which is good considering they’re still the standard. But KnuEdge is super-focused on building that next big step in processors.
Next for KnuPath, says Goldin, is to keep developing the technology. And later this year, KnuPath will finally come to Silicon Valley for more funding from traditional sources, Goldin says. Regardless, now that he can talk about KnuPath, Goldin says this is only the beginning.
“The world needs us,” Goldin says.