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

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 198

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.

ThirdAI's new PocketLLM app is free to use and completely secure. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup launches innovative chat tool on its mission to democratize AI

smart tech

Artificial intelligence has a big potential to disrupt the technology industry, and one Houston company that was founded by a computer science professor at Rice University, is fast on its way to help lead that future now in a convenient and affordable way.

Founded by Anshumali Shrivastava and Tharun Medini, a recent Ph.D. who graduated under Shrivastava from Rice's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, ThirdAI is building AI deep learning tools that aim to be sustainable and scalable to fit the changing needs of the industry. The company is on a mission to democratize AI, Shrivastava tells InnovationMap.

Shrivastava likes to use the word efficiently when describing what makes ThirdAI different, and how its programs can teach AI via multiple avenues to be what he refers to as “1,000 times more efficient.”

“The carbon footprint of these models are off the charts, and so expensive,” Shrivastava. “We believe this could be made efficient. … We use the same ideas that were developed, but we do it on a massive scale.”

ThirdAI's latest tool is a multilingual ChatGPT-like AI training tool PocketLLM app. Announced earlier this month, the tool is free. According to the company, users have access to a personalized chatbot that understands what the user is searching within documents, and can be fine-tuned to help elaborate your thoughts through a neural search.

ThirdAI's PocketLLM app is free to use. Image courtesy of ThirdAI

The app is private and secure and runs on deep-learning algorithms according to Vinod Iyengar, head of product at ThirdAI, and no one — not even ThirdAI — has access to the documents except the user.

“Tools exist to help people search text files, but that requires sharing your data with third parties,” says Iyengar in a news release. “Our solution is private and secure, powered by deep learning algorithms. And it returns results lightning fast.”

The process includes the user installing the app, uploading any text document files, and clicking "train." Minutes later, you have an AI tool that can process the information in those documents.

“The neural search encourages you to elaborate on your thoughts with details in the discover window and see the difference in results,” says Shrivastava in the release. “It can also be fine-tuned to your tastes by selecting the relevant option and hitting the update button to re-train."

In September of 2021, ThirdAI — pronounced "third eye" — raised $6 million in seed funding. The round was invested in by three California-based VCs — Neotribe Ventures and Cervin Ventures, which co-led the round with support from Firebolt Ventures. The technology ThirdAI is working with comes from 10 years of deep learning research and innovation. The company's technology has the potential to make computing 15-times faster, the company reports.

Anshumali Shrivastava is an associate professor of computer science at Rice University. Photo via rice.edu

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Houston energy company opens applications for unique energy tech startup pilot program

calling all innovators

Houston-based NOV is launching a new growth-stage startup accelerator focused on the upstream oil and gas industry.

NOV, a provider of oil and gas drilling and production operations equipment, has announced its new NOV Supernova Accelerator in collaboration with VentureBuilder, a consulting firm, investor, and accelerator program operator led by a group of Houston innovators.

Applications to the program are open online, and the deadline to apply is July 7. Specifically, NOV is looking for companies working on solutions in data management and analytics, operational efficiency, HSE monitoring, predictive maintenance, and digital twins.

The five-month program establishes a significant relationship between the 20 selected startups and NOV, beginning with paid pilot programs.

"This is not a traditional startup accelerator. This is often a first-client relationship to help disruptive startups refine product-market fit and creatively solve our pressing enterprise problems," reads the program's website.

Selected startups will have direct access to NOV's team and resources. The program will require companies to spend one week per month in person at NOV headquarters in Houston and will provide support surrounding several themes, including go-to-market strategy, pitch practice, and more.

“The NOV Supernova Accelerator offers a strategic approach where the company collaborates with startups in a vendor-client relationship to address specific business needs," says Billy Grandy, general partner of VentureBuilder.vc, in a statement. "Unlike mergers and acquisitions, the venture client model allows corporations like NOV to quickly test and implement new technologies without committing to an acquisition or risking significant investment.”

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston innovator bets on humanoid robotics with new startup

back in the founder seat

For his next act, Houston entrepreneur Nicolaus Radford has started — in what he describes as an "anti-stealth" capacity — a new company that hopes to bring humanoid robotics out of science fiction novels and into manufacturing floors.

Radford, who saw his last company, Nauticus Robotics, from founding to IPO, left the company in January. He tells InnovationMap that he started receiving some compelling offers at other robotics companies, but none of them felt like a fit. However, he just couldn't get the idea of advancing humanoid robotics out of his head.

"Humanoids are the holy grail of all of robotics," Radford says. "It's what every science fiction writer's always dreamed about.

"It is the future," he continues. "And now with this generative AI moment of 2022 where these machines look a lot more capable, flexible, reprogrammable — they can reason in real time. That's a huge deal."

Radford says he got a call from his friend, Jerry Pratt, who was the CTO at humanoid robotics company Figure AI. Pratt and Radford both worked in robotics at NASA and each have decades of experience in the tech world. The conversation really sealed the deal for Radford, and the two officially launched Persona AI in a LinkedIn post that Radford says shocked him with how much interest the community had.

Radford says that with all this interest, he wants to open up the company to more co-founders than just himself and Pratt, who's based in Florida.

"We're going to give a significant amount of the company out to the early joiners, more so than is probably typical," Radford says. "And it's because we know it takes a village, and we want to highlight that to everybody."

"We're trying to crowdsource the company," he continues. "We've coined that we're anti stealth."

Specifically, Radford says he's looking at growing the team to about 25 people in the next year, alongside raising early funding. He's looking for people with a diverse tech background with well-rounded experience.

"Robotics and humanoids in particular are just so multidisciplinary," Radford says. "Humanoids are a hundred-thousand-piece puzzle, and you're trying to put this puzzle together."

And for Radford, assembling that puzzle in Houston is of utmost importance. The company is headquartered here, and Radford is currently working with The Ion to set up an office there.

"We're exceptionally excited to put (the company) in Houston," he says. "It would be incredible for the city — there's a lot of industrial manufacturing here and a lot of warehousing. ... I still have this desire to shine a light on Houston's tech scene because I believe it is unsung, underappreciated, and quite capable."

The potential for this technology is huge — Radford estimates it as a $3 trillion market — but the first industry he plans on tackling is automotive, but he also sees promise in the medical, energy, and home industries.

"We think automotive is going to be a first-mover market. There's a lot of publicly announced partnerships between advanced robotics companies and humanoid companies and automotive," he says. "These folks are showing a willingness to put something out in the press that says they're developing a humanoid or piloting a humanoid. That's huge.

With this expressed interest, technology advancement, and large labor shortage, Radford is convinced now is the time for humanoid robotics — and for Persona AI.

"We're at a technology tipping point where it makes sense that these machines can do this, and there's an investment community willing to finance it," Radford says. "I think the first time in all of robotic history we're closer than we've ever been to making this a reality."