Acquisitions / AI / Transportation

Uber just bought an artificial intelligence startup out of NYU Tandon

As Geometric Intelligence's more humanlike approach to machine learning hits the road, might New York become a hub for AI expertise?

Self-driving cars everywhere could stand to benefit. (Photo via Uber)

As you might imagine, figuring out the best routes for taxi carpools, let alone how to configure a fleet of self-driving cars, requires some top-notch chops in artificial intelligence.
Yesterday, Uber announced that it’s building up that know-how by acquiring Geometric Intelligence, a startup based out of NYU Tandon’s Data Future Lab, for an undisclosed sum. The startup will form the basis of Uber’s newly launched AI Labs, which will conduct ongoing research into artificial intelligence and machine learning. Geometric Intelligence, which has a staff of 15, will move to Uber’s San Francisco headquarters.
Geometric Intelligence, founded in 2014, takes an alternative approach to artificial intelligence. Rather than focusing on deep learning, which relies upon processing copious amounts of data, it has been developing a system that approaches machine learning similarly to how a young child learns — by abstracting patterns and making generalizations from much more limited information. (This writeup at MIT Technology Review gives a good overview of the company’s approach.)
CEO Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology and neural science at NYU, has been vocal in his belief that such an alternative is necessary for AI to make the futuristic strides often portrayed in the media. In a talk at MIT Technology Review‘s EmTech Digital conference in May, he even referred to self-driving cars as an example of the limits of today’s AI: The cars need to be prepared for all sorts of driving conditions, which likely won’t be found all in one place. On top of that, there’s random, offbeat activity from passersby to account for.
“I’ve ridden around on a unicycle through Times Square, and you’re not going to get a lot of data on that,” he said.

Uber’s acquisition of Geometric Intelligence is a huge notch on the belt for Tandon’s accelerator program. In addition to the Data Future Lab, which hosts a broad range of tech startups, the university launched AI NexusLab earlier this year, which is devoted specifically to artificial intelligence, in conjunction with ff Venture Capital. AI NexusLab recently selected its five inaugural participants, and Geometric Intelligence cofounder Douglas Bemis is set to serve as one of the accelerator’s mentors.
During the launch event for AI NexusLab, ff Venture Capital’s John Frankel explicitly stated his desire to see New York City become a hub for AI. It looks like that goal just got some big-time validation.

Companies: Uber
Series: Brooklyn

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