Amazon hires founders of AI startup Adapt

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Adept, a startup that develops AI-powered “agents” to perform various software-based tasks, has agreed to license its technology to Amazon, and the startup’s co-founder and part of its team have joined the e-commerce giant.

GeekWire’s Taylor Soper first reported the news. According to Soper, Adapt co-founder and CEO David Luan will join Amazon, along with Adapt co-founders Augustus Odena, Maxwell Nye, Erich Elsen, and Kelsey Sott, and other Adapt employees.

Adept isn’t closing shop, though. Head of engineering Jack Brock is taking over as CEO, as Adept focuses its efforts on “solutions that enable agentic AI.”

“(Our products) will continue to be powered by a combination of our existing cutting-edge in-house (AI) models, agentic data, web interaction software, and custom infrastructure,” Adept wrote in a post on its official blog. “Continuing Adept’s initial plan to build both useful general intelligence and enterprise agent products will require a significant focus on raising funds for our foundation model rather than bringing our agent vision to life.”

The deal provides a lifeline for Adapt, which has reportedly been in talks with Meta and Microsoft for the past few months about a possible acquisition, which had previously invested in the startup.

As for Amazon, it will gain valuable talent — and technology to bolster its generative AI ambitions. As GeekWire reports, Luan will work under former Alexa chief Rohit Prasad, who is leading a new AGI team focused on building large language models.

“David and his team’s expertise in training cutting-edge multimodal foundational models and building real-world digital agents aligns well with our vision of delighting consumer and enterprise customers with practical AI solutions,” Prasad wrote in a memo to employees obtained by GeekWire. “(The license) will accelerate our roadmap to building digital agents that can automate software workflows.”

Adept was founded two years ago with the goal of creating an AI model that could perform tasks on any software tool using natural language. At a high level, the vision — a vision now shared by OpenAI, Rabbit, and others — was to create a sort of “AI teammate” that could be trained to use a variety of different software tools and APIs.

Adept managed to win over a number of backers with its technology, including Nvidia, Atlassian, Workday, and Greylock, raising more than $415 million in capital and reaching a valuation of nearly $1 billion. But the startup suffered from poor performance. Adept lost its two co-founders, Ashish Vaswani and Niki Parmar, early on, and despite months and months of testing it struggled to bring any products to market.

The market for AI agents is a bit more crowded than it was when Adapt was launched. Well-funded startups like Orby, Emergence and others are vying for a piece of a lucrative pie; market research firm Grand View Research estimates the AI ​​agent segment will be worth $4.2 billion in 2022.

But perhaps the Amazon tie-in will push Adapt across the finish line. Or — with most of its executive ranks gone — it will leave Adapt to a fate similar to that of Inflection, the AI ​​startup that was effectively gutted by Microsoft in a bid for talent earlier this year. Or regulators, increasingly skeptical of these kinds of AI acqui-hires, will step in (if they aren’t rendered powerless by Friday’s Supreme Court ruling).

Grab your popcorn and sit down.

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