August 19, 2015      

Wipro Ltd. and Samsung Electronics Co. have invested in Vicarious FPC Inc., a San Francisco-based artificial intelligence company. Vicarious is researching machine learning and computer vision, and the latest round of venture capital brings its funding to about $70 million.

Vicarious has been working on visual perception problems using an algorithmic architecture partly based on neuroscience models. The company’s software has been able to solve CAPTCHAs, the images used to screen out bots from Web sites.

Partners including Samsung, Wipro, and robotics firm ABB Ltd. are providing funding and staff for projects such as so-called smart devices, text identification, and robotic sensing and problem-solving.

Development of software to emulate the human brain and thus enable robots to operate more like people could be a bigger gamble than programming around more specific tasks.

“Our technology is a very long-term bet, and we want to interface with the other long-term bets being made by big companies,” co-founder Scott Phoenix told Bloomberg. “To do that, we need to get to see their road map.”

Vicarious is developing systems that can recognize textures or substances such as ice as well as shape and size. Phoenix said he hopes that AI will eventually learn how to cure diseases and produce cheap and renewable energy, freeing up human talent for other jobs.

Artificial intelligence will evolve from narrow to general in the next 10 years, and investors are banking on continued market growth, according to Seeking Alpha.

Vicarious funding joins Indian AI efforts

Phoenix declined to say how exactly how much Wipro Ventures and South Korea-based Samsung have invested, but he did say they invested less than $20 million each. Other investors include executives and co-founders of Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce.com, Skype, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo, as well as actor Ashton Kutcher.

Wipro Ventures, which is valued at $100 million, also invested in Milpitas, Calif.-based big data startup Talena. It is one of a few India-based companies investing in AI. Other examples include Wipro’s Holmes, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.’s Ignio, and Infosys Ltd.’s services. They all hope to automate repetitive tasks among IT vendors beyond e-commerce using AI and the Internet of Things.

“Wipro’s investments are strategic,” said TechPortal. “At a later stage, perhaps, the Indian IT company might look into incorporating the AI and big data tech from these foreign startups into its own software. This becomes all the more important, considering the recent heat which Indian IT giants have been facing, largely due to their sheer failure at innovating and complete focus on churning out consultancy jobs.”

Other India-based companies developing AI include Agrima Infotech, and investment has been flowing to AI worldwide. As with robotics, AI is attractive because of the wide range of potential applications.

Money flows to AI

Cambridge, Mass.-based Twitter recently bought five-person startup Whetlab for an undisclosed amount to boost its own machine-learning capabilities for analysis of posts for advertisers. French startup Snips got $6.3 million to add an AI layer to smartphones.

As robots increasingly interact through voice interfaces, natural language processing is another application of AI. DigitalGenius got $3 million for customer-support purposes. On the healthcare side, Atomwise has received $6 million to develop AI to speed up the discovery of new drugs.

And in machine vision, Ambarella Inc. acquired VisLab SRL for $30 million to obtain its imaging systems for driverless vehicles. Smartvid.io Inc. raised $3.4 million in capital to develop an industrial platform for content from mobile devices and drones. Startup Occipital Inc. raised $13 million in a Series B round of financing for its 3D structural sensors.