Vicarious announces $15 million funding for AI software based on the brain

August 24, 2012

An abstract visualization of the neuromorphic Recursive Cortical Network (credit: Vicarious)

Vicarious FPC Inc, an artificial intelligence company that uses the computational principles of the brain to build software that can think and learn like a human, has announced a $15M Series A round of financing for development of machine learning software based on the computational principles of the human brain.

The research at Vicarious is expected to have broad implications for robotics, medical image analysis, image and video search, and many other fields.

“Building machine intelligence is one of the most important and challenging problems humanity has ever faced. Advancements in neuroscience, probabilistic models, and computing power are enabling new strategies for AI research,” said Vicarious cofounder Dileep George, PhD.

A new computational paradigm: the Recursive Cortical Network 

Since its launch in February 2011, the company has developed a visual perception system that interprets the contents of photographs and videos in a manner similar to humans. Powering this technology is Vicarious’ key innovation: a new computational paradigm called the Recursive Cortical Network (RCN).

RCN is an extension of the motivation behind hierarchical temporal memory (HTM), a machine learning model developed by Jeff Hawkins and Dileep George of Numenta, Inc. — to model some of the structural and algorithmic properties of the neocortex.

“HTM was an important effort,” George told KurzweilAI. in an email interview. “Much like Poggio’s foundational HMAX model, HTM had the right high level goals. But, when you dig into the algorithm level, you’ll see that HTM implementations hadn’t solved the problems of information representation in the hierarchy.

“This led to inefficient learning and scaling issues.  The mathematical formulation of HTMs were made up of these “blocky” nodes with boundaries that restricted information transfer between adjacent nodes, which is not very effective in dealing with domains like vision and sound.

“After I started Vicarious, I had the freedom of a clean slate and could look at the problem with fresh eyes. My goals have always been to embody the computational principles of the brain in a mathematical model, but RCN is a ground-up rethinking of what kind of algorithmic approach is necessary to solve the problem.”

Investment by leading venture funds

The investment was led by Good Ventures LLC, a for-profit investment firm founded by Facebook and Asana co-founder Dustin Moskovitz that will donate all of its earnings to the Good Ventures Foundation. Also participating in the round are veteran institutional investors Founders Fund and Open Field Capital, as well as Vicarious angel investors Steve Brown and Zarco Investment Group.

“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,” said Peter Thiel, partner at Founders Fund.

“We are honored to pursue this long term goal with the support of investors who share our deepest values,” added Vicarious co-founder D. Scott Phoenix.

Vicarious was founded in 2010 by D. Scott Phoenix and Dileep George, PhD. Before cofounding Vicarious, Phoenix was Entrepreneur in Residence at Founders Fund and CEO of Frogmetrics, a touchscreen analytics company he co-founded through the Y Combinator incubator program. Previously Dileep George was CEO at Numeta.