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Welcoming Kitt.ai to the Founders’ Co-op Family

I’m excited to be able to finally talk about this one as it took some doing to bring it all together. KITT.AI is a new Seattle company that emerged from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. AI2 is a private, Seattle-based AI research institute headed up by longtime UW Computer Science and Engineering leader (and serial entrepreneur) Oren Etzioni and backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Between UW CSE, AI2, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, Seattle has quietly developed a very deep pool of engineering talent in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and it’s exciting to see entrepreneurial offshoots of that ecosystem begin to flower.

KITT.AI‘s mission is to make Natural Language Understanding (NLU) — conversational interactions with non-human intelligences — easily accessible to non-expert developers. KITT will begin releasing its first developer-facing products this Spring, including a customizable hotword detection engine and a conversational understanding service, with a longer-term vision of becoming the “Twilio/Slack for NLU”.

Another exciting aspect of this financing was the participation of Amazon’s Alexa Fund, a new $100M fund created to support the developer and product ecosystem surrounding Amazon’s groundbreaking Echo home automation device. Amazon is making a massive, strategic commitment to voice as an input and control interface, and it’s gratifying to be working with their investment team on an opportunity right here in their own backyard.

The team behind KITT.AI is remarkable, with each of the three co-founders a recognized expert in the intersecting domains of natural language processing and deep learning. Guoguo Chen is an expert in deep learning and speech recognition, creator of the “OK Google” hotword detection prototype for Android and a respected contributor to two open-source deep learning engines (Kaldi and CNTK). Kenji Sagae is a past professor of Natural Language Processing at USC and an expert in natural language parsing and dialogue systems. And Xuchen Yao is a Johns Hopkins PhD in natural language processing and — prior to founding KITT.AI — an Entrepreneur in Residence at AI2.

The journey for KITT.AI is just beginning, but I’m thrilled for Founders’ Co-op to be a participant and supporter of that adventure, to be doing so right here in Seattle, and with such fantastic partners in AI2 and The Alexa Fund. This is going to be fun!