John Carmack, the game developer who co-founded id Software and serves as Oculus’ CTO, is working on a new venture — and it’s already attracted capital from some big names.
Carmack said Friday that his new AI startup, called Keen Technologies, has raised $20 million in a funding round from former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman and Cue founder Daniel Gross. Stripe co-founder and CEO Patrick Collison, Shopify co-founder and CEO Toby Luetke and prominent venture capital fund Sequoia are among the investors in the round, he said.
“It’s an explicit focus effort for me. I could write a check for $20 million myself, but knowing that other people’s money is at stake creates a greater sense of discipline and determination. I’ve been talking about this as a possibility for a while and I’m glad Nat pushed me on it,” he said in a tweet.
AGI, short for “artificial general intelligence,” is a category of AI systems that can theoretically perform any task a human can. This is in contrast to AI systems today, which are designed for narrow, specific applications such as generating art, driving cars, and playing video games. Some optimists believe that AGI could be achieved within the next century, thanks to emerging algorithmic techniques and increasingly powerful computer hardware. Others, including the chief scientist at Carmack’s current employer, Yann LeCun, have cast doubt on the idea that AGI will ever be a reality.
For his part, Carmack seems firmly in the camp of optimists. Speaking with MIT research scientist Lex Friedman for a recent podcasthe said he believes AI will someday reach the point where it behaves like a human being or a living being capable of becoming a “universal remote worker.”
“I don’t believe in quick take-offs… [but] I think we will go from a point where we start to see [AI-powered] things that believably look like animals,” Carmack said. “I think animal intelligence is closer to human intelligence than a lot of people like to think and … There’s just this smooth spectrum of how the brain has evolved and the cortices and the scaling of different things that happen there .”
Carmack goes on to note that his interest in AGI was partly spurred by Sam Altman, who he says tried to recruit him to join OpenAI. (Altman is one of the original co-founders of OpenAI, the high-profile artificial intelligence research lab based in San Francisco.) Altman, who has previously said he expects artificial intelligence to one day surpass human intelligence, has been vocal about his concerns about AGI — on -specifically how it can harm society if it is built or used incorrectly.
Carmack will still continue to consult with Meta on VR matters, but his work with the social giant, he said, will consume only 20% of his time.
Carmack isn’t the only high-profile technologist to recently found an ambitious AI startup. For about a year, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and DeepMind founder Mustafa Suleiman built Inflection AI, a startup that seeks to translate human interactions into a language that computers can understand. Former VP of Research at OpenAI Dario Amodei is among the co-founders of Anthropocenewho for most of 2021 and into this year has been studying the behavior of AI text generation systems like OpenAI’s GPT-3.