In today’s world, artificial intelligence is used to make big decisions. Colleges depend on it to admit students. Parole boards use it to approve or deny the release of inmates.
A startup in North Carolina’s Research Triangle is working to make AI systems more ethical, and the company has secured major funding to do so. On Monday, Diveplane announced that it had raised $25 million in Series A funding, a significant sum for first-round investments. The Raleigh-based company prides itself on creating ethical artificial intelligence, the responsible use of machines by identifying and correcting unintended bias.
Diveplane was co-founded in 2018 by Michael Capps, former president of Cary, North Carolina-based Epic Games. Over the past four years, Diveplane has attracted a number of notable clients and investors, including several American football stars.
Now backed by millions more venture capitalists and defense firms, Diveplane seeks to expand, with the ultimate goal of reshaping the AI systems that have come to dictate much of everyday life.
So what makes Diveplane’s approach to AI unique? And what size does he hope to grow to? On September 15, Capps sat down with The News & Observer to discuss it. Here are five great takeaways:
Explainable AI vs black box
Diveplane provides what is called explainable artificial intelligence, systems that allow humans to better understand how the results of machines came about. With this clarity, Capps said organizations can better identify flaws that could produce biased results.
“For this (to happen), it takes a human touch,” Capps said. “That assessment of being able to go back and say, ‘That’s not how we wanted to hire people into our business. This AI did something wrong. Let’s fix this. “”
Explainable AI contrasts with the most common type of AI used today, neural network systems, modeled from the biological functions of the human brain. Most neural network systems, Capps said, are known as “black box AI,” which means no one — not the organizations using the technology or the people affected by it — can see exactly how they work.
“It might work well, but it might not,” he said. “And the fact that we don’t know it, but that it’s being used to make such a critical decision seems inappropriate. More than inappropriate, it pisses me off.”
Diveplane counts Duke Health and auto racing team Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing among its North Carolina customers. Capps said Diveplane aims to use its recent funding to attract more defense, insurance and finance customers.
“It’s a real, real deal,” he said. “Now let’s see how to start scaling it.”
Capps hopes Diveplane can one day help replace black box technologies, and he said investors have started to see that explainable AI has a market. As consumers become more aware of AI ethics, he said businesses and organizations have felt pressure to ensure their systems are transparent.
In a sign of this growing awareness, Capps sits on the board of directors of the Data and Trust Alliance, a group of leaders from major companies like Walmart, Starbucks, Nike, and CVS who are committed to advancing artificial intelligence systems and… more responsible machine learning.
New office, double staff
With its latest funding, Diveplane is looking to double its workforce from around 20 to 40 employees. Capps noted that he hopes this is just the first of many job extensions.
His company is also opening a new office in the Smoky Hollow development in downtown Raleigh. Despite the new headquarters, Capps said many Diveplane workers may be based out of town or state.
“I wanted to build a Raleigh-based tech company with the talent here, but the world has changed so much with remote work,” he said. “So it’s silly for us not to cast a very wide net. Also, people who care about what we do, how we do it, they’re everywhere. We’re looking for true believers in the mission.”
Investors with a kick
Some of Diveplane’s early investors were top athletes like American soccer players Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Rapinoe and former UNC Mia Hamm. Retired basketball player Sue Bird (Rapinoe’s fiancée) and former baseball player Nomar Garciaparra (Hamm’s husband) also invested.
Capps first connected with many gamers through their involvement with a 3D printing startup called Carbon. Capps and Hamm were advisers, while others invested. Carbon turned out to be a success, and Rapinoe, Hamm and others were open for investment when Capps mentioned his idea for a new ethical AI company.
The lessons of the epic
From 2004 to 2013, Capps served as president of Epic Games, the Cary-based creator of video game titles like Fortnite, Rocket League and Gears of War. While Capps wasn’t with the company for its biggest hit – Fortnite – he said there was ambition at Epic that he says translated into Diveplane.
“Here it’s a totally different company (from Epic), but I think we have this basic expectation of excellence,” he said. “There was never a question (at Epic) that it wasn’t going to be huge, and I think that definitely applies to that.”
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