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22 December 2014

12 spin-outs of Christmas: Sentient Technologies

As the festive season comes around again, Global University Venturing looks back at some of the most impressive technologies driving academic spin-outs which have crossed our pages over 2014.

Author: Gregg Bayes-Brown, editor

Sentient Technologies

Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Sector: Artificial Intelligence


Artificial intelligence (AI), once the mainstay of dystopian science fiction films and novels based around the creation of AI being a harbinger for the end of mankind, is finally leaving the worlds of prose and celluloid behind and becoming a reality. In fact, many AIs are already with us in the form of Apple’s personal assistant Siri or the countless billions of AIs regularly slaughtered at the hands of overzealous computer games aficionados.

In the same month period that renown physicist Stephen Hawking added his own concerns over the future of humanity should AI continue to evolve, Global University Venturing has tracked no less than five separate deals support five different AIs. Maryland-backed FiscalNote, aimed at regulatory analytics, raised $7m. Narrative Science, capable of sorting raw data into readable stories and backed by the Central Intelligence Agency’s corporate venture arm In-Q-Tel, added $10m to its previously raised $32m. Columbia’s Ebravia attracted $1.5m to provide AI-led due diligence on legal documents. And Kensho, a collaborative spin-out from MIT and Harvard, attracted $15m for its investor-friendly financial data analysis AI from investment bank Goldman Sachs.

However, the biggest deal with the widest scope for impact and further unsettling sci-fi fans is MIT’s Sentient. The AI was awoken from stealth mode at the end of this year, emerging with $143m, $103.5m of which came in a series C backed by conglomerates Access Industries and Tata Communications.

Founded in 2007, the company is aiming to produce the most powerful AI the world has seen. Sentient will be used to provide problem-solving services to researchers, individuals, and corporates, with the latest funding going to support a significant increase in Sentient’s AI products. While under stealth, the company provided services for financial trading and medical research, but it is thought that the potential scope for Sentient could be much wider.

Sentient and its fellow AIs may not yet be at the level of HAL 9000 of Space Odyssey fame, but progress in the area is rapidly developing, and is expected to become more and more of a regular feature in GUV during 2015 and the years ahead. Especially so if we hire Narrative Science’s financial journalism AI anytime soon.

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