Vicarious, which develops artificial intelligence (A.I.) technologies, has snagged $40 million in venture funding (according to a report in The Wall Street Journal). True, in Silicon Valley, this is normal stuff. But the Vicarious deal is a bit different.
First of all, the company has attracted some of the world’s most notable investors, such as Facebook’s (FB) Mark Zuckerberg’s and Tesla’s (TSLA) Elon Musk. Even actor Ashton Kutcher has participated in the round. Keep in mind that Kutcher has a knack for investing in cutting-edge companies, such as Airbnb (which is in the process of raising a mega round of capital).
Vicarious is also a super-secret organization. Yes, this goes against the grain of the Valley, where startups seem to always be trying to gin up PR and social media momentum. But with Vicarious, the company wants to make sure no competitor steals its sophisticated technologies.
Despite this, there are some indications of what Vicarious provides. That is, the company’s goal is to essentially come up with a computer version of the neocortex, which accounts for about 76% of the human brain’s matter. Some of the core functions include motor commands, sensory perception, language, reasoning and even conscious thought.
This is certainly an ambitious effort. But then again, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk like solving very tough problems. So why not try to recreate the brain?
If Vicarious can pull this off, then the implications would be wide-ranging. A.I. employed in the security sector, for example, can better detect intruders. For social networking, the A.I. could improve apps’ abilities to recognize a face. Keep in mind that Facebook recently setup an A.I. lab, so Vicarious has very real potential in the social media world.
Of course, the concern is that Vicarious could portend a dark future — the kind you might read about in a sci-fi novel. Let’s face it, the big fear is that A.I. will lead to the loss of many white-collar jobs. Perhaps a computer-based brain could do accounting or taxes better? Or even be more effective at coding? And there’s always the concern that artificial intelligence will have costs beyond what we’re able to easily anticipate.
However, it doesn’t seem like any of those scenarios will play out soon. While there have been many advances in understanding the brain, there is still much to learn. But with backers like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Mush, Vicarious will have no lack of funds — or leeway in experimenting and taking a long-term view on things.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook. He is also the author of High-Profit IPO Strategies, All About Commodities and All About Short Selling. Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.