Artificial intelligence could help solve a wide variety of problems, and Google is among the large tech companies trying to achieve breakthroughs in that area before the competition. With that goal in mind, Google has launched a new venture fund that will provide money and expertise to AI startups in return for a minority stake in those firms.
Gradient Ventures aims to help startup companies overcome the engineering challenges that can prevent AI applications from being developed into helpful technology products, according to Anna Patterson, the fund's founder and managing partner. She announced the fund's launch in a Google blog post, July 11.
Although Gradient Ventures is just now making its formal debut, the fund has been active for more than a month, and it's already made investments in at least four AI startups: Algorithmia, Aurima, Cape, and Cogniac.
Startups Focused on Algorithms, Drones, Deep Learning
"Through Gradient, we'll provide portfolio companies with capital, resources, and dedicated access to experts and bootcamps in AI," Patterson wrote yesterday. "Many members of our team are engineers, so we're familiar with the journey from big idea to product launch."
She added, "The goal is to help our portfolio companies overcome engineering challenges to create products that will apply artificial intelligence to today's challenges and those we'll face in the future."
Formerly an AI/computer science researcher at Stanford University, Patterson has been vice president of engineering at Google since 2010. According to her profile on LinkedIn, she has been leading Gradient Ventures since April.
Algorithmia, an open marketplace for algorithms and one of the companies Gradient Ventures has invested in, announced last month that it received $10.5 million in Series A financing from Google and other venture capital organizations. Cape, which virtualizes drone hardware, has raised a similar amount from "leading investors."
Other startups backed by Google's new fund include Aurima, which is building "a multi-sensor deep-learning awareness platform," and Cogniac, which develops ways to extract data from video and image streams.
Technical, Data, and Networking Support
Google has been working on AI research and development for some time now and has made a number of acquisitions to bolster its strengths in that area.
For example, in 2014, Google acquired DeepMind, which is probably best known for its AlphaGo technology that has beaten human champions in the game Go (pictured above). And, in March of this year, Google announced acquisition of Kaggle, describing it as "the world's largest community of data scientists and machine learning enthusiasts" and "the best place to search and analyze public datasets, build machine learning models, and grow your data science expertise."
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at the company's 2016 I/O developers conference that Google was focusing on "making AI work for everyone" as technology continues to advance from a mobile-first world to one led by artificial intelligence.
Through Gradient Ventures, Google said it will help AI startups "supercharge" their development and get their products to market quickly with support from senior Google engineers, data and networking opportunities.
"Through AI, yesterday's science fiction is becoming today's nonfiction," Patterson noted yesterday. "There's everything to reimagine as we usher in this new era of technology -- and we're excited to work with entrepreneurs to start building it."
Of course other tech giants as well as automakers are also focused on the race to develop artificial intelligence to its full potential. AI has become a key focus for Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Tesla; and, Toyota unveiled its own AI-focused venture fund just yesterday.