Declension AIthe machine learning startup led by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and founder of DeepMind member Mustafa Suleyman, has raised $225 million in equity financing, according to to a filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. The source of the capital is not yet clear – Inflection did not immediately respond to a request for more information – but the mass round suggests strong investor confidence in Suleyman, who is the company’s CEO.
Based in Palo Alto, California, Inflection has thus far remained unobtrusive, giving relatively few interviews to the media. But in CNBC profile as of January, Suleyman described that he wanted to build products that eliminate the need for humans to simplify their ideas of communicating with machines, with the overarching goal of using AI to help humans “talk” to computers.
†[Programming languages, mice, and other interfaces] are ways we simplify our ideas and reduce their complexity and in some ways their creativity and their uniqueness to make a machine do something,” Suleyman told the publication. “It feels like we’re about to generate language for near-human-level performance. It opens up a whole new set of things we can do in the product space.”
The concept of translating human intentions into a language computers can understand dates back decades. Even today’s best chatbots and voice assistants haven’t lived up to the promise, but Suleyman and Hoffman bet that coming advancements in AI will enable an intuitive human-computer interface within the next five years.
They will have competition. Last month, Adept, a startup co-founded by former DeepMind, OpenAI, and Google engineers and researchers, emerged from stealth with a similar concept: AI that can automate any software process. DeepMind itself has explored an approach to teach AI to control computers, in which an AI observes keyboard and mouse commands from people performing “instruction-following” computing tasks, such as booking a flight.
Regardless, the size of Inflection’s funding round reflects the high cost of building advanced AI systems. OpenAI has spent an estimated millions of dollars developing GPT-3, the company’s system that can generate human-like text on prompt. Anthropic, another startup developing advanced AI models, recently raised more than half a billion to — in the words of co-founder Dario Amodei — “explore the predictable scaling properties of machine learning systems.”
AI expertise doesn’t come cheap either, especially in the midst of a talent shortage† In 2018, a tax return was spotted by the New York Times revealed that OpenAI paid its top researcher, Ilya Sutskever, more than $1.9 million in 2016. Inflection recently poached AI experts from Google and Meta, CNBC reported in March.
“Even at the bigger tech companies, there’s a relatively small number of people who actually build these [AI] models. One of the benefits of doing this in a startup is that we can go much faster and be more dynamic,” Suleyman told CNBC. “My experience of building many, many teams over the last 15 years is that there is a golden moment when you really have a very close, small, focused team. I’m going to try to keep that as long as possible.”
A cloud surrounds Inflection, somewhat, next reports that Suleyman allegedly bullied employees at Google, where he worked after being placed on administrative leave at DeepMind over controversy surrounding some of his projects. Google launched an investigation into his behavior at the time, according to the Wall Street Journalbut it never made its findings public.