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John Carmack, the game developer who co-founded id Software and served as Oculus’ CTO, is working on a new venture – and has already raised capital from some of the big names.

Carmack said Friday that his new artificial general intelligence startup, called Keen Technologies, has raised $20 million in a round of funding from former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman and Cue founder Daniel Gross. Patrick Collison, co-founder and CEO of Stripe, Tobi Lütke, co-founder and CEO of Shopify, and legendary venture fund Sequoia are among those investing in the round, he said.

“For me, this is explicitly a focus effort. I could write a $20 million check myself, but knowing that other people’s money is at stake gives a greater sense of discipline and determination. I’ve been talking about it as a possibility for a while, and I’m glad Nat pushed me,” he said in a tweet.

AGI, short for “artificial general intelligence,” is a category of AI systems that can theoretically perform any task a human can do. That’s in contrast to today’s AI systems, which are designed for narrow, specific applications such as generating art, driving and playing video games. Some optimists believe that AGI could be achieved within the next century, thanks to emerging algorithmic techniques and increasingly powerful computing hardware. Others, including chief scientist at Carmack’s current employer, Yann LeCun, have cast doubt on the idea that AGI will ever become a reality.

For his part, Carmack seems firmly in the optimistic camp. Speaking with MIT researcher Lex Fridman about a recent podcastHe said he believes AI will one day reach the point where it will behave like a human or living being, capable of becoming a “universal remote worker.”

“I don’t believe in taking off quickly… [but] I think we will go from a point where we start to see [AI-powered] things that believably resemble animals,” Carmack said. “I think animal intelligence is closer to human intelligence than a lot of people like to think and … There’s just that smooth spectrum of how the brain evolved and the cortex and the scale of different things going on there.”

Carmack further notes that his interest in AGI was sparked in part by Sam Altman, who he says was trying to recruit him to join OpenAI. (Altman is one of the original co-founders of OpenAI, the high-profile AI research lab in San Francisco.) Altman, who previously said he expects AI to one day surpass human intelligence, has spoken out about his concerns about AGI: specifically how it can harm society if built or used incorrectly.

Carmack will still consult with Meta on VR matters, but his work with the social juggernaut, he said, will only take up 20% of his time.

Carmack isn’t the only legendary technologist to have recently launched an ambitious AI startup. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and Mustafa Suleyman, founder of DeepMind, have been building Inflection AI, a startup that aims to translate human interactions into a language computers can understand, for about a year. Former Vice President of Research at OpenAI Dario Amodei is a co-founder of Anthropic, which has been studying the behavior of AI text-generating systems such as OpenAI’s GPT-3 for most of 2021 and through this year.


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