In the Oscar winning movie “Her,” Theodore Twombly, the lead character says, “Well, you seem like a person but you’re just a voice in a computer. And Samantha, an intelligent computer operating system, personified through a female voice replies saying, “I can understand how the limited perspective of an unartificial mind might perceive it that way. You’ll get used to it.” The relationship between a man and his computer occupies the film’s centre stage.

Start-up Vicarious is working towards making machines work like a human brain


In films such as “Her,” “Transcendence,” “Lucy” and “Artificial Intelligence,” machines and humans converge in various ways such that people turn to them for emotional as well as practical needs. That’s precisely what Vicarious, the Silicon Valley-based startup is working towards-making machines work like a human brain and do things that humans can do. Vicarious is building a unified algorithmic architecture to achieve human-level intelligence in vision, language, and motor control.

No other company would have attracted as many investors as this one does. Founded in 2010 by Scott Phoenix and Dileep George, Vicarious’ investors includeAmazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, Facebook Inc’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla, companies like Wipro, Samsung and more.

George, holds a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from IIT, Bombay and a Ph.D from Stanford University.

“Solving AI has wide range of consequences. We have a innovative approach trying to combine neuroscience and machine language. People are excited by the possible outcome of this approach and that’s why companies are betting big on us,” George said.

“We don’t know how long will it take for us to come out with a human level vision system,” he adds.

The idea is to design AI technology to give robots and computers some of the intuitive and imaginative capabilities of humans with good progress in making visual recognition. Its applications include reading distorted images, hand writings, making robots to read traffic signals and obstacles on the road while driving a car and similar things.

There is lot of interest in the AI segment. Facebook’s AI powered facial recognition software that can identify people even when faces are obscured, is one such. Wipro is using one of Vicarious’ solutions for its AI product Holmes, to automate a task with identifying handwritten text. The Vicarious team may not have any product ready for near future, and they aren’t worried about a commercial product at this stage. “AI is the defining problem of our lifetime.

We are into long term research for building human level AI. So, we don’t have any products as of now. But, we have had small victories on our way. One of them is breaking CAPTCHAs,” George says with pride. In November 2013, the company announced that it had developed visual-sensing algorithms that could reliably solve CAPTCHAs, a web-security with distorted images used to protect from BOT, a malicious program, which runs automated tasks over the Internet.

“Right now, we are not thinking that our product is be used by Google or Facebook. Our focus is primarily on the research,” he adds. Before Vicarious, Dileep had worked with Jeff Hawkins, the man who revived the hand-held computer industry, in Nuventa, the company they co-founded.

“Jeff bridged the gap between neuroscience and computer science. He made a high level framework, which computer scientists can understand and elaborate,” George said. George believes that India can do a lot more on the AI research front and big companies, particularly the tech companies should start paying attention to.

“AI is automation and there are quite a number of companies in India that are doing back office processing, the job that probably will be done by AI engines in the future. Hence, they should start researching AI techniques and be aware of what is happening in the field.”

However, historically, there have been panics about different technologies including that of nuclear power and biotechnology and many have voiced concerns about it. Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates is one of them. During an AMA (ask me anything) session on Reddit, Gates had said, “I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super-intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”