Inflection AI, a machine learning startup headed up by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleiman, has received $225 million in equity funding, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The source of the capital is not yet clear — Inflection did not immediately respond to a request for more information — but the massive round indicates strong investor confidence in Solomon, who is the company’s CEO.
Palo Alto, California-based Inflection has kept a low profile so far, giving relatively few media interviews. But in a CNBC profile from January, Solomon described a desire to build products that eliminate the need to simplify their ideas to communicate with machines, and the overarching goal of leveraging artificial intelligence to help humans “talk” to computers.
“[Programming languages, mice, and other interfaces] They are ways in which we simplify our ideas and reduce their complexity and in some ways their creativity and uniqueness in order to get a machine to do something,” Solomon told Publishing. It opens up a whole new set of things that we can do in the product space.”
The concept of translating human intentions into a language that computers can understand goes back decades. Even today’s best chatbots and voice assistants haven’t kept their promise, but Solomon and Hoffman are betting that upcoming advances in artificial intelligence will make an intuitive human-computer interface possible within the next five years.
They will have competition. Just last month, Adept, a startup co-founded by engineers and former researchers at DeepMind, OpenAI and Google, emerged from stealth with a similar concept: artificial intelligence that can automate any software process. DeepMind itself has explored a way to teach artificial intelligence to control computers, with AI monitoring keyboard and mouse commands from people who complete “following instructions” computer tasks, such as booking a flight.
Regardless, the size of the Inflection funding round reflects the high cost of building advanced AI systems. It is estimated that OpenAI has spent millions of dollars developing GPT-3, the company’s system that can generate human-like script if required. Anthropic, another startup developing cutting-edge artificial intelligence models, recently raised more than half a billion — in the words of co-founder Dario Amoudi — “to explore the predictable scaling properties of machine learning systems.”
AI expertise isn’t cheap either, especially in the midst of a talent shortage. In 2018, a tax filing monitored by the New York Times revealed that OpenAI paid its chief researcher, Elijah Sotskever, more than $1.9 million in 2016. CNBC reported in March that Inflection had recently acquired AI experts from Google and Meta.
“Even in the big tech companies, there are relatively few people actually building these companies [AI] Models. Solomon told CNBC that one of the advantages of doing this at a startup is that we can go faster and be more dynamic. “My experience building many, many teams over the last 15 years is that there is this golden moment when you really have a very cohesive, small and focused team. I will try to keep that for as long as possible.”
A cloud surrounds Inflection, somewhat, following reports that Solomon bullied two Google employees he was working on after being placed on administrative leave at DeepMind due to the controversy surrounding some of his projects. Google launched an investigation into his behavior at the time, according to the Wall Street Journal, but it never made public its findings.