Startup Vicarious is trying to build a computer with the human ability to see and perceive.It’s a really hard artificial-intelligence problem that once solved, has immense potential to change the world.
And this particular startup just got an immense boost from some big-names in the tech industry. Its backers include Facebook and Asana cofounder Dustin Moskovitz. His venture-capital firm, Good Ventures, has led a $15 million round; it’s joined by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and Open Field Capital, as well as some angel investors.
Moskovitz and Founders Fund were also seed investors (among others) when the company launched two years ago.
Getting a computer (or robot) to capture an image is obviously easy. But getting the computer to truly see that image—to intelligently understand what that image means, as a human does, is insanely problematic, Vicarious cofounders Dileep George and Scott Phoenix told BI.
“The biggest problem in robotics is perception,” George said. “They can make things that walk but they can’t make things that see and understand what is in front of them. So we are solving the perception part.”
George and Phoenix want to replicate the part of the brain called the neocortex, which commands higher functions such as sensory perception, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language. In other words, they are trying to create “intelligence.”
They are making progress, too. They’ve got a technology they call the Recursive Cortical Network, or RCN.
“Anything humans do right now with their eyes would be something that we could do in an automated way,” says Phoenix. “Is this cancer or not? Is this heart disease or not? Is there a manufacturing defect in any of these things? Take a picture of your dinner plate—how many calories are in it?”
Eventually RCN will lead to commercial products and services. Products based on the tech are “five years out, at least,” says Phoenix, adding that the plan is to release some kind of software platform “upon which an enormous number of things we haven’t even thought of can be built.”