Oren Etzioni is one of the big names in the Seattle-area tech scene thanks to his fantastic string of startup successes stretching from 1994 to 2013. Six startups, all successful exits, including one sold to Microsoft for about $US110 million in 2008, and Decide.com acqui-hired by eBay last year.
He’s also known for his decades-long role as a computer science professor at the University of Washington, where he’s published truckloads of papers since 2004.
In other words, the man didn’t exactly need a job. But Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen lured him away for a project too intriguing to turn down: running Allen’s Institute for Artificial Intelligence, otherwise known as AI2. Together Allen and Etzioni want to create a computer so smart, with reading, reasoning and learning skills so great that it can pass classes and tests designed for humans.
This is not to be confused with the original, and somewhat related, Allen Institute for Brain Science, with a mission of understanding of the human brain and to further neuroscience research.
Allen is known for his extravagent lifestyle, museums, the $US1.5 billion he’s donated to charitable causes, and his investment firm Vulcan. He also owns two professional sports teams, the Seattle Seahawks football team and the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team.
Etzioni has been six months on the job. Not only is he thrilled with his new career, he tells us, but he also received one of the best employee perks we’ve ever heard of:
Business Insider: About your job at Allen’s AI institute. You left your job as a professor at UW to do this, right?
Oren Etzioni: Yes.
BI: What is one great project the AI institute is working on?
OE: We are building a program, called Aristo, that seeks to understand science at the level of a fourth-grader and prove it by taking a standardized science test (that it hasn’t seen before) and acing it.
That problem forces us to study fundamental problems in AI in understanding language, reasoning, and much more.
BI: What’s it like to work with Paul Allen? Does the job come with access to Seahawks and Trail Blazers games?
OE: Paul Allen is very involved with (and passionate about) our intellectual challenges. I literally had a brain-storming sessions with him today.
My wife and I had the huge privilege of being invited to attend the Super Bowl. We got to watch the Seahawks win, and even attend the after party with the players, which was incredibly generous of Paul and the best perk I could imagine.