Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg Have Invested $40 Million in a Mysterious Artificial Intelligence Company

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March 21 2014 4:18 PM

Musk and Zuckerberg Have Invested $40 Million in a Mysterious AI Company

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Vicarious is a company aiming to replicate the human neocortex as computer code.

Photo by Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk are investing $40 million into an artificial intelligence company called Vicarious alongside actor and tech investor Ashton Kutcher, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Vicarious is a company aiming to replicate the human neocortex as computer code. The neocortex is the rather important part of your brain that “sees, controls the body, understands language, and does math.” Company founder Scott Phoenix told the WSJ that once they successfully accomplish this task, “you have a computer that thinks like a person except it doesn't need to eat or sleep.”

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After that, Phoenix said, the next task is to create “a computer that can understand not just shapes and objects, but the textures associated with them. For example, a computer might understand ‘chair.’ It might also comprehend ‘ice.’ Vicarious wants to create a computer that will understand a request like ‘show me a chair made of ice.’”

If this sounds like a tall order, it's only because it is. The applications described above may still be decades out from happening, but there are more immediately useful ways of using this technology:

Facebook, for instance, wants to turn the massive amounts of information shared by its users into a database of wisdom. Ask Facebook a question, and, if all goes to plan, it will spit out an answer based on facts users have shared. Facebook is also using artificial intelligence for facial recognition to identify users in photos. Facebook recently hired a leader in artificial intelligence, Yann LeCun, to run a new lab.

Phoenix acknowledges that Vicarious has an uphill battle ahead. He told WSJ that it “won’t make a profit anytime soon” and hasn’t disclosed many details about how this technology will work. As for where the company's located, they won't even reveal a complete address in case someone should try to hack them.

This is not the company’s first major injection of capital. In 2010, Peter Thiel invested $1.2 million, and a second group of investors (including Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz) gave the company $15 million in 2012. 

Dylan Love is a writer for Business Insider. Follow him on Twitter.

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