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Facebook Founders Back Union City Startup’s Artificial Intelligence Research

Union City-based Vicarious will receive $15 million in financing from various investors, including groups led by Facebook, PayPal and Napster founders.

Founders of Facebook, PayPal and Napster are betting big bucks on a Union City technology startup’s research in artificial intelligence.

Vicarious, which creates “software that thinks and learns like a human,” announced yesterday that the research team had received $15 million in financing from various investment groups. Among them are Good Ventures, a firm started by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, and Founders Fund, a group managed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and Sean Parker, a co-founder of Napster and Facebook’s first president.

“The technology that Vicarious is developing has the potential to improve all lives and revolutionize every industry,” Moskovitz said in a statement released yesterday.

Launched in February 2011, Vicarious has developed its own vision system that interprets photos and videos the way humans do.

In a 2011 interview with Bloomberg TV, Vicarious co-founder D. Scott Phoenix said the system will allow software to interact with images and understand what’s in them. He cited software being able to study an image and identify where you’ve been and who your friends are as examples of their research’s capabilities.

“Vicarious is bringing us closer to a future where computers perceive, imagine, and reason just like humans. We are proud to support Vicarious in its quest,” Thiel said in yesterday's announcement.

Vicarious’ research could make a big impact on a broad range of industries, from medicine and robotics to manufacturing and retail, the company said.

While the local startup’s work could be game-changing, business and technology blog GigaOM notes that Vicarious is “playing in a field with giants.” IBM, HP, Google, Apple and other large companies are all making efforts in artificial intelligence.

What sets the Union City company apart is that Vicarious’ software allows computers to recognize patterns and understand images without their actions dictated by programming, GigaOm reports. What affect it will have on the future of the technology industry is unknown, the tech blog says.

“It’s unclear what that means for computer science, programming and the current job market,” GigaOM reporter Stacey Higginbotham writes. “It’s also unclear how far that freedom can really take a computer. Just giving it intelligence won’t mean it can ‘think’ for itself.”

Read the full GigaOm article here.

To learn more about Vicarious, visit www.vicarious.com.

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Johnny C. August 22, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Interesting to say the least !
Frank Jones August 30, 2012 at 06:26 PM
I agree, Johnny...and somewhat scary concept! Maybe I'm just thinking of the negative possibilities.
k.j August 31, 2012 at 05:47 PM
What happens when the computers aren't able to be controlled? Have they looked into all the pros and cons? I'm in favor of people still having a voice. I am also not in favor of w police state where my every move is monitored. Who cares, besides myself, who my friend are? Why would artificial intelligence need to know that? Where are we headed....wake up!

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