The OpenAI of Israel and Germany
NLP as a Service is Booming.
In the field of artificial intelligence, American and Chinese companies get a lot of the hype. But that’s not to see that in the DeepMind arena of not for profit AI firms, other countries aren’t getting in the mix as well.
So who is the OpenAI of Germany these days? There is a new contender, a German company hopes to take on the next AI mantle and produce something akin to the success of the GPT-3 AI model. The names of these two aren’t that great but let’s introduce them.
German AI startup Aleph Alpha has now raised €23 million/$27 million in a Series A funding co-led by Earlybird VC, Lakestar and UVC Partners. Following a seed round of €5.3 million from LEA Partners, 468 Capital and Cavalry Ventures in November 2020, Aleph Alpha has now raised a total of €28.3 million ($33.3 million).
In Israel, we have the Israeli startup AI21 Labs who is releasing a line of language-generating AI models called Jurassic. They are both involved in the natural language process as a service sector (NLP-AaS). You can see their website here. As OpenAI gets headlines likely boosted by Microsoft, many companies in the world are doing much the same thing (minus the cool programming part).
The focus of AI2 Israel is bringing people closer to information, by creating and using advanced language-centered AI.
Meanwhile German based Aleph Alpha was founded in 2019 by Jonas Andrulis and co-founder Samuel Weinbach and are headquartered in Heidelberg.
TechCrunch suggests the idea behind Aleph Alpha is that it researches, develops and “operationalizes” large AI systems toward generalizable AI, offering GPT-3-like text, vision and strategy AI models. The platform will run a public API enabling public and private sectors to run their own AI experiments and develop new business models.
AI2’s vision of NLP is also obviously similar, that of pushing the boundaries of the algorithmic understanding of human language and advancing the common good through AI. OpenAI got some cousins and I’m pretty sure there are a few dozens of such firms in China, many of whom are likely in stealth mode.
The Israeli AI2 has good pedigree though. AI lab based in Tel Aviv, Israel — AI21 Labs — says it’s planning to release a larger model and make it available via a service, with the idea being to challenge OpenAI’s dominance in the “natural language processing-as-a-service” field.
AI21 Labs, which is advised by Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun, was cofounded in 2017 by Crowdx founder Ori Goshen, Stanford University professor Yoav Shoham, and Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua. Israeli startups have a technological prowess that defies the small population of the country, with a lot of talent as well.
Jurassic is also impressive, with you know, 178 billion parameters — the values that a neural network tries to optimize during training — Jurassic-1 Jumbo is the largest such model in the world, slightly bigger than OpenAI’s GPT-3, which was released last summer. Okay so let’s be honest here, that’s not more than PanGu-Alpha, HyperCLOVA, or Wu Dao 2.0, aww okay.
While we’ve come to think as DeepMind and OpenAI as bleeding edge and the cream of the American crop, it’s not really the case. Many of their work is being replicated and improved upon elsewhere, it’s a competitive field to be an AI firm and most won’t make it or will need quick exists and a lot of consolidation will occur due to talent and financing bottlenecks.
AI21 Labs claims that Jurassic-1 can recognize 250,000 lexical items including expressions, words, and phrases, making it bigger than most existing models including GPT-3, which has a 50,000-item vocabulary. AI2 Israel is a non-profit offering exceptional opportunities for researchers and engineers to develop AI for the common good. You will notice they all like to hype the AI for Good movement.
Who knows what in the end companies like Microsoft, the Pentagon and China will use these technologies for, and it won’t all be for good or humanity’s best interests. Aleph Alpha’s key messages is that it will aim to be a “sovereign EU-based compute infrastructure” for Europe’s private and public sectors.
In other words, they want to firmly center themselves in the EU under EU law, GDPR and regulation. In fact, one might even say that these are like AI kingdoms forming, all with similar banners and incredible talent. NLP as a service will be big business, and where OpenAI has Codex, these companies can contribute importantly in their own way and to their own respective regions.
DeepMind had a long time to mature and almost limitless finding from Alphabet so far, it was only a matter of time before companies like OpenAI, AI21 and Aleph Alpha came into being.
Wu Dao 2.0 is quite another kind of beast. Don’t be surprised if someone like Intel acquires AI21 and the various OpenAI copycats don’t last long independent. It sure didn’t take OpenAI to get supposed to such an extent by Microsoft and lose some of its not-for-profit shine and glow.
The age of AI is just beginning, Nvidia itself says there are at least 12,000 AI startups globally. It’s not the DeepMinds we should be worried about, it’s the ManyMinds. I kid, not really.