John Carmack, the game developer who co-founded id Software and served as Oculus’ CTO, is working on a new venture and has already attracted capital from some big names.
Carmack said Friday that his new general artificial intelligence startup, called Keen Technologies, 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 Tobi Lütke and legendary venture capital fund Sequoia are among those investing in the cycle, he said.
“It’s explicitly an effort of focus for me. I could write a check for $20 million myself, but knowing that other people’s money is at stake breeds a greater sense of discipline and determination. I had been talking about it 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 that a human can perform. This contrasts with today’s artificial intelligence systems, which are designed for narrow, specific applications such as creating artwork, 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 computing hardware. Others, including the chief scientist of Carmack’s current employer, Yann LeCun, have cast doubt on the idea that AGI will ever be a reality.
For his part, Carmack seems resolutely on the side of the optimists. Speaking to MIT research scientist Lex Fridman on a recent podcast, he said he believes AI will one day reach the point where it behaves like a human or living creature, capable of becoming a “universal teleworker”.
“I don’t believe in fast takeoffs… [but] I think we’ll go from a point where we start to see [AI-powered] things that credibly resemble 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 developed and the cortices and the grounding. scale of different things going on 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 top AI research lab based in San Francisco.) Altman, who has previously said he expects AI one day surpasses human intelligence, raised concerns about the AGI – specifically how it could harm society if built or used incorrectly.
Carmack will continue to consult Meta on VR matters, but his work with the social juggernaut, he said, will only consume 20% of his time.
Carmack isn’t the only high-profile technologist to recently found an ambitious AI startup. About a year ago, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and DeepMind founding member Mustafa Suleyman built Inflection AI, a startup that seeks to translate human interactions into language computers can understand. Former VP of Research at OpenAI Dario Amodei is among the co-founders of Anthropic, which for most of 2021 and this year has been studying the behaviors of AI text-generating systems like GPT- 3 from OpenAI.