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Contextual AI, a new enterprise-focused AI startup founded in Palo Alto by veterans of Facebook AI Research (FAIR) and Hugging Face, today emerged from stealth and announced it has raised $20 million in a seed round led by Bain Capital Ventures (BCV), with participation from Lightspeed, Greycroft and a long list of other angel investors.
The company has a unique focus: Developing what its co-founders Douwe Kiela and Amanpreet Singh refer to in a blog post as “‘ASI’—artificial specialized intelligence.”
“Why waste parameters, money, latency and compute on a model that knows Shakespeare and quantum physics, when all it should really do is solve your company’s problem?” they write, later taking a public shot at the most popular and widely used LLM to date, OpenAI‘s ChatGPT.
The opportunity Contextual AI sees
The duo has recent high-profile experience in the arena of AI and large language models (LLMs). Both previously worked at Meta Platforms’ FAIR on developing systems for detecting hate speech in memes and the sale of illicit goods on Facebook. At HuggingFace, they worked on LLMs.
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Now, with the launch of Contextual AI, they seek to apply their skills — alongside other engineers (the total team size is 12 so far) — to solve six problems they say confront enterprises seeking to use current LLMs.
The problems Contextual AI is targeting include:
- Data privacy
- Staleness, which the Contextual founders describe in their blog post as the relatively outdated information contained in leading AI models: “ChatGPT does not know anything that happened after September 2021, and the most downloaded model on the HuggingFace hub is BERT, which still thinks that Obama is president.”
- Latency and cost
Committing to open source AI
The founders also took their funding announcement to pledge a commitment to the burgeoning open source AI community, which has come under renewed scrutiny in the last week by U.S. lawmakers (specifically targeting Meta Platforms’ “leak” of its LLM LLaMA.)
“With a technology as important and disruptive as LLMs, we believe there should be more players, and that it is very dangerous to have this technology only in the hands of a few incumbent big tech corporations,” the wrote in their blog post. “Our approach both supports and is supported by open source. We plan to leverage open source software as much as we can and to give back to the community in return.”
For its part, BCV said they supported Contextual AI’s goals and ambitions and saw enormous potential in the market for enterprise-grade AI.
“Our view is that AI will become ingrained in everything enterprises do in ways that are secure, deeply integrated and most importantly, contextual to employee workflows,” BCV principal Rak Garg and partner Aaref Hilaly wrote in a blog post. “Spending time with Douwe and Aman, it’s clear they both understand that at an intuitive level. We are thrilled to be working with them both to bring the power of language models into the workplace.”
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