Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, answers questions during a chat moderated by Mike Grabham, director of the Seattle chapter of Startup Grind. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) It may seem as if everyone’s already on the bandwagon for artificial intelligence and machine learning, with players ranging from giants like and to startups like and — but the head of Seattle’s , or AI2, says there’s still plenty of room to climb aboard. “Let me assure you, if you have a machine learning-based startup in mind … you’re not late to the party,” AI2’s CEO, Oren Etzioni, told more than 70 people who gathered Tuesday evening at Create33 in downtown Seattle for a Startup Grind event. Etzioni had a hand in getting the party started back in 2004, with the launch of a startup called Farecast that used artificial intelligence to predict whether airline fares would rise or fall. The company was and has faded into the ether. But Etzioni said the basic approach, which involves analyzing huge amounts of data to identify patterns and solve problems,is just hitting its stride. The potential applications range from spam detection and voice recognition to health care, construction and self-driving cars. “It’s really a versatile technology, and we’re going to see more and more startups based on machine learning,” Etzioni said. He demonstrated one of the applications for the Startup Grind crowd, First, Etzioni played a series of short, narrated video clips advertising vacations, fashions and home loans. Then he asked the audience to guess what innovation was reflected in the clips. Several attendees guessed that the images were assembled by an AI agent, but Etzioni said AI produced the voice rather than the pictures. The videos actually served as a sneak peek at the next-generation text-to-speech conversion program produced by one of the stealthy startups working with AI2. “The goal isn’t to create commercials,” Etzioni said. “But think about somebody who can’t speak. All they can do is type, but they don’t want to sound like ‘Ste-phen Haw-king’ … with apologies to the late Stephen Hawking. This is really quite natural, and all it requires is to type, and you can get a variety of different voices.”
Seattle’s tech scene has been built based on nitty-gritty infrastructure. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Despite all its success, Seattle’s tech community needs an unprecedented win to take it to the next level — a fast-growing, world-changing startup that creates a huge return for its backers and sparks a new wave of angel investing. The challenge: this isn’t what has historically fueled the region’s tech sector. But all of the work so far might have laid the foundation for this next generation. Those are some of the takeaways from a conversation with GeekWire co-founder John Cook on an episode of a new podcast from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, hosted by Seattle Metro Chamber CEO Marilyn Strickland. “In past because Seattle is isolated in the Northwest and doesn’t sit in a big media hub, a lot of the innovations and creations that you’ve seen come out of Seattle are what you would maybe call a bit more boring,” Cook said on the show. “There’s a reason why enterprise software and cloud computing have grown up here.” It’s “the nitty-gritty infrastructure,” the technology that “makes everything work,” he said. GeekWire co-founder John Cook “It’s extremely important. There’s a ton of money in it,” he said. “There are some amazingly valuable companies that are growing up in this area. And so I think Seattle historically has been able to develop technologies in hard and complex areas — and that’s a real benefit.” Historically, that has translated into long company life cycles, not the breakout successes more common in Silicon Valley. Examples from Seattle include Tableau Software, the data visualization company that went public in 2013, a decade after it was founded; and travel and expense management company Concur Technologies, which sold to SAP in 2014 for $8.3 billion, more than a decade after it was founded. “What Seattle needs in order to spark this next generation of capital and investing is a home run that hits really quickly, like an Instagram … where twenty or thirty angels are invested in it and they make a crap-ton of money really quickly,” Cook said. Seattle Metro Chamber CEO Marilyn Strickland hosts the Chamber’s new “Under Construction” podcast. While it might not lend itself to such rapid growth, health technology is one promising area, he said. Much of the breakthroughs in that space would be impossible without the cloud infrastructure coming out of Seattle. Innovative health technology is “an area that I think is just going to accelerate and I think Seattle is really interestingly positioned for that with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure,” Cook said. “Cloud computing is going to power the intelligence behind the ability for these researchers to … make the medicines or the cures that they want to go after.” “I see that transformation really happening in a big way and Seattle being positioned very well for that with the scientific health research, with UW, Fred Hutch and then the computing horsepower from Amazon, Microsoft and others.” Listen to the “Under Construction” podcast above, which includes more of Cook’s comments on Seattle and tech. Listen more episodes of the Seattle Chamber’s Under Construction podcast and (We’re featuring the discussion as part of a new GeekWire series spotlighting some some of our favorite podcasts about startups, leadership, technology, science and more from the Seattle region and beyond. Email suggestions for future guest podcasts to email@example.com.)
Tectonic Audio Labs CEO Craig Hubbell. (Tectonic Audio Labs Photo) Seattle-area startup has raised $6 million to further develop its audio technology used in smart speakers, TVs, cars, and other products. WestRiver Group and Delafield Hambrecht led the Series B round. Founded in 2011, Tectonic uses to provide more immersive sound across varying environments. The company’s product uses composite panel tech instead of pistonic vibrations from a traditional cone diaphragm design. Its customers across North America work in a wide spectrum of industries — Tectonic is used inside the ballroom at Treasure Island in Las Vegas; at the lobby and bar at the W Bellevue; and inside . Tectonic aims to ride the growth of the smart speaker market, which is to reach nearly $40 billion worldwide by 2025. CIRP last week an installed smart speaker base of 66 million units in the U.S., up from 36 million a year ago. “We believe the market will continue to shift toward audio products that provide higher voice intelligibility and full range, natural sound,” said , Tectonic’s CEO who joined in November after a 16-year career at PlayNetwork. “We expect that our products will be used in a broad range of consumer products across several industries that want to make voice interaction and audio playback more enjoyable for consumers.” Tectonic employs 25 people.