Local startup Mycroft is tackling a huge challenge with an even bigger potential upside: It’s building an artificial intelligence that you could have a conversation with.
Some of the most respected names in technology have already developed voice-enabled software. Apple has Siri, Amazon has Alexa and Microsoft has Cortana.
One reason why Mycroft is different from those projects? It’s open source. That is, anyone can use or modify Mycroft’s code for free.
“We want to break it open and democratize it and make it open to the masses,” CEO Joshua Montgomery said. The startup’s tagline sums it up: “AI for everyone.”
It’s an idea that people are eager to support. Mycroft recently raised $335,000 from the Northland Angel Investor Network, Star Power Partners and local angels. Last month, it won a $50,000 LaunchKC grant.
That’s on top of Mycroft’s successful Kickstarter campaign last year. It attracted more than $178,000 in donations—and caught the eye of Techstars at the Sprint Accelerator.
“The whole idea of Techstars completely took it to a new level,” said Kris Adair, Montgomery’s wife and Mycroft’s social media director.
Techstars has introduced Montgomery to a national network of blue-chip corporations. Why are these companies interested in open-source AI?
More and more consumers want connected, Internet of Things-style devices. Your company might be the world’s leading producer of waffle irons, but your team probably doesn’t have the time, money or expertise to build its own AI.
Without an open-source alternative, corporations are left with the option of licensing AI from the big tech companies. In the process, they sacrifice control over their product. Sort of like how Apple dictated terms to record labels during the heyday of iTunes.
“One of the things that alarms these companies is getting sucked into somebody else’s ecosystem and suddenly you’re a pawn in a chess game being played by Google,” Montgomery said.
By using an open-source solution like Mycroft, the blue-chip companies retain independence without paying a ton of money. (Mycroft generates revenue by charging a small fee for extra features.)
This month, Mycroft will ship 1,000 copies of its first-ever physical device, also named Mycroft, to its Kickstarter backers. If you’ve seen the movie “Wall-E,” Mycroft the device looks like Wall-E and EVE had a baby.
“I like to say we’re about a year away from a technology that’s really mind-blowing when you interact with it,” Montgomery said, “and four or five years from where I want to be with your daily interaction with tech.”