Amazon, Founders’ Co-op Fund AI2 Natural Language Spinout KITT.AI

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with any device that can accept voice or text input, such as Echo or a chat platform such as Slack. KITT.AI’s cloud-based software handles the language understanding and translation into commands sent to colored LED smart lights (Philips Hue is the first product supported).

“We picked smart lighting as the entry point to home automation, as smart lighting is playful and passes the toothbrush test (something people use every day),” Yao says. “However, no one has been able to do much about these smart lights except for common simple tasks.”

Say, “Go Seattle Seahawks!” and the lights display the colors of the company’s home team (perhaps a bit more brightly after Sunday’s 10-9 playoffs win over Minnesota).

Yao and his KITT.AI co-founders wound up in Seattle in large part because of AI2.

The institute’s startup incubator is “very small and highly selective,” Etzioni notes. KITT.AI is the first company to graduate.

“It’s goal has been to attract phenomenal talent to Seattle and to AI2,” he says, noting the recruitment of Yao and Aria Haghighi, another AI2 entrepreneur in residence who is now CTO and chief architect at Pioneer Square Labs. “Another goal is to ‘spin out’ technologies from AI2 (when they are ready) and I’m confident we will see some of that in the coming years as well.”

Oren Etzioni


The AI2, founded in 2013, joins an enviable array of AI powerhouses in the Seattle area, starting with the University of Washington’s computer science department, which has been investing in AI research for years and has lately added to its expertise with hires including Yejin Choi and Noah Smith in natural language processing, and Sham Kakade and Sergey Levine in machine learning.

Yao also notes the importance of cloud computing expertise at Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure based locally; a strong community of experts in machine learning, big data, and natural language processing at Microsoft, Amazon, and Google; and what he describes as a “super friendly investing environment.”

But talent is paramount, particularly when you’re trying something that might be tougher than a moon landing.

“Between UW CSE, AI2, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, Seattle has quietly developed a very deep pool of engineering talent in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and it’s exciting to see entrepreneurial offshoots of that ecosystem begin to flower,” DeVore says.

The local presence of Amazon and the Alexa Fund is also significant, he adds.

“Amazon is making a massive, strategic commitment to voice as an input and control interface, and it’s gratifying to be working with their investment team on an opportunity right here in their own backyard,” DeVore says.

KITT.AI joins a group of startup companies working on AI and related technologies in the Seattle area, including Dato, Spare5, Algorithmia, and Textio.

“There could not be a better time to innovate in AI,” Etzioni says. And there are few better places to do so. “We are not Silicon Valley, but I think we are firmly number two in the world.”

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