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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A research team housed out of the newly launched Rice Biotech Launch Pad received funding to scale tech that could slash cancer deaths in half. Photo via Rice University

A research funding agency has deployed capital into a team at Rice University that's working to develop a technology that could cut cancer-related deaths in half.

Rice researchers received $45 million from the National Institutes of Health's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, to scale up development of a sense-and-respond implant technology. Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh leads the team developing the technology as principal investigator.

“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we’ll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time,” he says in a news release. “This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary.”

Joining Veiseh on the 19-person research project named THOR, which stands for “targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation,” is Amir Jazaeri, co-PI and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The device they are developing is called HAMMR, or hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator.

“Cancer cells are continually evolving and adapting to therapy. However, currently available diagnostic tools, including radiologic tests, blood assays and biopsies, provide very infrequent and limited snapshots of this dynamic process," Jazaeri adds. "As a result, today’s therapies treat cancer as if it were a static disease. We believe THOR could transform the status quo by providing real-time data from the tumor environment that can in turn guide more effective and tumor-informed novel therapies.”

With a national team of engineers, physicians, and experts across synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, and more, the team will receive its funding through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, a newly launched initiative led by Veiseh that exists to help life-saving medical innovation scale quickly.

"Rice is proud to be the recipient of the second major funding award from the ARPA-H, a new funding agency established last year to support research that catalyzes health breakthroughs," Rice President Reginald DesRoches says. "The research Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh is doing in leading this team is truly groundbreaking and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. This is the type of research that makes a significant impact on the world.”

The initial focus of the technology will be on ovarian cancer, and this funding agreement includes a first-phase clinical trial of HAMMR for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer that's expected to take place in the fourth year of THOR’s multi-year project.

“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” Veiseh says. “The first clinical trial will focus on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, and the benefit of that is that we have an ongoing trial for ovarian cancer with our encapsulated cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology. We'll be able to build on that experience. We have already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

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