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Major tech execs fling cash at heretical AI company Vicarious

Jeff Bezos + Marc Benioff + other execs + artificial intelligence = ???

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Credible artificial intelligence startup Vicarious has taken in more money as accomplished billionaires fling cash towards what could be a hugely significant technology.

The additional funding was disclosed by the company on Monday in an article in TechCrunch and subsequent interview with El Reg. Some of the Valley's best known tech execs are flinging cash at the company, including Amazon's Bezos, Yahoo!'s Yang, Skype's Friis, and Salesforce's Benioff.

This further funding, the amount of which was not disclosed, follows a $40m round from Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, and others last month.

Vicarious is led by D. Scott Phoenix and Dileep George.

The company is notable not only for its credibility – Dileep was previously the chief technology officer of Numenta, an AI startup led by Palm Pioneer Jeff Hawkins – but for its approach: unlike big companies such as Google and Facebook which have bet heavily on "Deep Learning" systems based on refined 1980s technology, Vicarious has taken its inspiration directly from the mammalian brain.

Like Hawkins's Numenta, this sets the company apart from many other firms in the valley, and means its approach has far more promise for creating intelligent machines.

"What is doing all the work in those [Deep Learning] models hasn't changed since the 1980s, and the only reason it's useful now is our computers are fast enough to throw a lot of data at it," explained Vicarious cofounder D. Scott Phoenix to El Reg. "Essentially it's just interpolating with training data. That's not at all how the brain works – the brain extrapolates from data. Vicarious's research is about going back to that fundamental model which was originally inspired by the brain."

The company is working on systems for static and dynamic image recognition. "We want to build a digital brain that can understand high-level concepts," Phoenix said. "To get there we believe you need to write software that understands the visual world."

Like Hawkins's Numenta, Vicarious has a "near-term" research objective of figuring out how the neocortex's sensory and motor components work together.

The company is confident that by developing an artificial intelligence system informed by both these components, it can imbue a technology with the intuitive pattern-recognition capabilities of our own brain.

"People are coming to understand that now is the right time in history for humanity to build the first intelligent machines," Phoenix said.

His comments echoed ones made by Jeff Hawkins on Monday during an appearance on internet TV show "Triangulation" with Leo Laporte.

"We entered 1940 with the concept of the Turing machine and ended 1940 with the computing industry. We are in that phase right now," Hawkins said.

When it comes to AI, Vicarious agrees. Maybe Google engineering director and techno-optimist Ray Kurzweil will get his hoped-for singularity by 2035 after all, eh? ®

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