4 min read

Why we’re investing millions in an awkward teenager…

With Underscore VC’s newest fund just closed oversubscribed at $140M, we’re doubling down on our investment thesis and seeking out the most daring founders. As part of that, we’ve been running the #12DaysOfFunding twitter campaign, a fun play on the 12 Days of Christmas, as a way to highlight 12 areas in which we’d like to find bold, brave founders to back.

There are some themes running through the 12 days that might inspire you if you care to follow us at @underscorevc. Meanwhile here is just one: Shepherding AI through its awkward teenage years…

AI is both a commodity and a competitive advantage — depending on where you are in your ability to train and apply it:

  • Thanks to “the cloud”, computing is a utility available at scale, which along with open source algorithms and great tools like AWS Sagemaker and Ground Truth makes AI truly accessible.
  • We’ve reached a tipping point where the volume, velocity, and variety of data being generated is beyond our human ability to analyze and act on — There are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day at our current pace. And while we’ve long used machines to tame the ever-growing data beast, more data warehouses/marts/lakes and BI tools are not the answer. We need to get beyond data processing, beyond analysis, and even beyond prediction to true intelligence that can act at machine speed with enough context to reason and recommend.
  • AI is only as good as the data used to train it. While we’ve got more data than ever, we need new tools to capture, organize, and label the appropriate data to train our AI systems in the right way. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for startups. It goes beyond traditional data management, requiring careful curation to avoid things like bias.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” — William Bruce CameronClick to Tweet)

  • Once the right data is training our machines to learn the right approaches, we believe every current application area will be rewritten to take advantage of AI (Click to Tweet). We can already see this happening everywhere from HR apps that route resumes more efficiently to Investment apps, such as “robo advisors,” that screen stocks and pick portfolios unemotionally, more effectively and with a truly personal risk / reward profile.
  • Initially, AI will need to earn our trust through narrow applications in which humans are “in the loop”. In time AI will learn to handle workloads without human intervention and earn our trust to guide workflows in broader applications. (Even with deep learning we are still a long way from generalized AI or AGI as it’s referred to. )

“….be really afraid to ride in a car that’s controlled by a huge neural net that has no way of telling you what it’s doing. That’s called a taxi driver.” — Geoffrey Hinton

  • Initially, AI will grow it’s value within closed loop systems and with backpropagation that prove and improve the positive impact it can have on many things from faster medical research and clearer diagnoses to better cyber defenses, and many many other applications.

Sometimes reflecting on history helps us realize just how far we’ve come and how much promise the future holds. And the best way to shape the future we want is of course to invent it.

We’re looking forward to funding new AI reimagined apps as well as finding new problem areas previously unaddressable without AI.

“A Pessimist Sees the Difficulty in Every Opportunity; an Optimist Sees the Opportunity in Every Difficulty”

As always, at Underscore we’re viewing all this as the opportunity to back the founders that can help move AI through its awkward teenage period. Like our teenagers, AI deserves to grow through this time where it has a rapidly developing brain but not the learning and experience to apply it. We must be patient in allowing AI to reach its full potential, training it to earn our trust and make a positive impact on our future.

2019 is the end of a decade, the end of the teen years for this century. What do you see ahead and what and who do you want us to invest in? We look forward to hearing your thoughts, tweet us your opinion!