How this Houston innovator is making AI accessible, personal, and safe

Anshumali Shrivastava joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share the revolutionary work ThirdAI is doing for artificial intelligence. Photo via rice.edu

Anshumali Shrivastava's career has evolved alongside the rise of artificial intelligence. Now, he believes his company represents the future of the industry's widespread implementation.

Shrivastava, who's also a professor at Rice University, founded ThirdAI, pronounced "third eye," in 2021 to democratize artificial intelligence through software innovations. As Shrivastava explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast, AI processes have historically been run on larger, less accessible computing hardware. ThirdAI's tools are able to run on a regular central processing unit, or CPU, rather than the more powerful graphics processing unit, or GPU.

"We focus on the problems that people are facing in the current AI ecosystem," Shrivastava says on the podcast. "Right now, if you are to build some of the large-language models and (linear programming) models, you need a lot of computing power, dedicated engineers to move it, and, even if you are using fully managed services, it's costly and there are a lot of privacy implications because you have to move data around."

These are some of the challenges for AI development, and, as Shrivastava points out, this process isn't even accessible for 90 percent of the world that lacks the infrastructure to do it. And, even for companies that can afford to invest in the dedicated GPU hardware, there's a global chip shortage.

ThirdAI's solution? Enable AI processes on the hardware that is accessible — CPUs.

"That is what our product offerings are — the AI ecosystem on commodity infrastructure," he says, explaining that ThirdAI's goal is also to improve existing AI applications.

One specific AI application that ThirdAI is making more effective for its customers is search tools in ecommerce. The need to make online shopping searches as quick and as accurate as possible directly affects the company's ability to complete the transaction. Wayfair tapped into ThirdAI's tech to address its latency in its on-site searching.

"Their problem was in the domain of making language models and search engines, which are AI based, very efficient," Shrivastava says. "We were able to bring down (latency) significantly with our technology."

One AI application that's taken off over the past few years is the chat-based model — led by OpenAI's ChatGPT. As exciting as the prospect of navigating information via chatbot is, many companies, understandably, have privacy concerns.

ThirdAI created PocketLLM to address this concern. The platform, which ThirdAI offers for free, operates completely on the harddrive of the owner of the data, meaning your data stays with you.

"ChatGPT has shown the world what is possible," Shrivastava says, explaining that 80 or 90 percent of use cases are people or companies wanting to take their knowledge and data and turn it into an AI chat tool. "What people want is a ChatGPT-kind of agent on their data, but they don't want their proprietary data to be leaked to the outer world."

"Because I can build AI where your data is, your data never have to leave your ecosystem. PocketLLM is a demonstration of that capability," Shrivastava continues. "It's a tool that uses our software stack and essentially looks at your data and builds this chat agent and offers you an air-gapped privacy."

Shrivastava explains that the tool can be used for enterprises or even personal applications — like navigating past conversations on email, seeing as no email provider seems to have an optimized search option.

PocketLLM is just one thing ThirdAI is working on. Shrivastava explains that the company is developing an entire ecosystem of tools that can be used on CPUs.

"If AI is going to be an agent, it better be personalized," he says, explaining that no one AI will have the right answer for everyone.

Shrivastava shares more about the future of both AI and ThirdAI, which is growing to keep up with demand. Listen to the interview here — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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