Mighty AI Opens Detroit Office to Pursue Auto Industry Customers

Mighty AI, a Seattle-based startup offering “training data as a service” for artificial intelligence applications, has opened a new office in Detroit. According to founder and CEO Matt Bencke, the company chose the location inside the Techstars Mobility headquarters to explore autonomous vehicle development prospects in Southeast Michigan.

“We’ve been getting more automotive customers, and Detroit is the Motor City,” he explains. “We really believe in the future of autonomous navigation, and that’s why we chose to open our second office in Detroit instead of Silicon Valley.”

Bencke says Mighty AI’s team provides the human judgments that train machines to think like people. A machine learning algorithm is only as smart as the people programming it, he notes, and the company’s engineers can teach computer visioning and natural language algorithms to do things like analyze sentiments, classify media, and verify images.

“As exciting as AI is, at the end of the day, it comes down to people,” he says. “You need people to train machines to interact with humans effectively.”

Mighty AI works with customers in a number of verticals, including e-commerce, healthcare, and social media, but Bencke sees a huge opportunity in autonomous navigation and other self-driving technologies due to consumer demand and the amount of money being poured into creating them.

“A lot of smart people with almost infinite capital are going after it,” he adds.

Where Mighty AI can play a role is in the integration and real-world application of autonomous vehicle innovations. Bencke says it’s easier to identify pedestrians on a closed test track, but less so at an intersection in downtown Seattle.

“Will the pedestrian keep walking or will she get distracted by her phone?” he says. “Those are hard problems to solve, and it remains to be seen if there’s a truly breakthrough moment where automotive companies make self-driving cars that work. We have a pretty good vantage point to judge the auto industry, and I think it’ll play out over many years, even decades.”

Analysts disagree on whether Silicon Valley, Detroit, or some combination of the two will lead the charge on self-driving cars. Bencke says he isn’t sure either, but he does feel pretty confident that autonomous vehicles are coming—eventually.

“There’s so much economic value in making transportation safer and more efficient. It’s hard to identify too many other $3 trillion industries that have changed so little” since inception, he points out. Regarding autonomous vehicles, Bencke says, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been involved in such a compelling technology—it’s really game-changing.”

Mighty AI hopes that having a presence in Detroit will help employees learn more about the auto industry and its needs and challenges.

“The biggest risk in autonomous vehicles isn’t as much about the technology, but society and regulators embracing the changes to come,” he says. “I selfishly believe Mighty AI has a central role so the government and public can understand how you train a computer to see like a human. Breaking open the AI module to validate and certify autonomous vehicles is unexplored territory.”

Mighty AI has installed its first Detroit employee and plans to add more staff as needed. The 41-person company, which was originally called Spare5 and sought to offer AI-powered business intelligence insights, launched two years ago and is backed by a number of investors, including Foundry Group, Intel Capital, Madrona, and New Enterprise Associates.

 

 

 

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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