One of my favourite parts of being a venture capital investor is getting to talk to entrepreneurs who dream big and are building companies at the cutting edge of the possible. Some of the technology being built by start-ups in the UK today only a few years ago would have seemed impossible and the stuff of science fiction. Here though lies the challenge for investors when talking to start-ups - Is this grand vision really possible to deliver today or am I being sold the promise of future technology?
I spend a lot of time talking to start-ups building technology powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) in all its various forms, and in particular AI is a field where technology is developing very rapidly. There is a strong inter-play between the start-up world and academia, with many start-ups boasting a raft of PhD's on the team roster.
So how does a humble investor tell if the tech they're backing is really the best?
I try to keep pace with what start-ups and academics are claiming to be able to achieve, whilst also asking the right questions of entrepreneurs to understand what their technology can do now, compared to what they think might be possible in the future. For example, in a heavily-researched field like Artificial Intelligence, it is unlikely that a new start-up will be light years ahead of everyone else. Articles like the one below are a great resource for me, both clarifying some of the limits on what AI can currently achieve and also providing some handy questions to probe CTO's with on the limits of their technology.
The fundamental and inconvenient truth is that science fiction is more interesting than science fact. Just as stories and companies reporting advances on medicine or physics should be taken with a grain of salt, we should combat this fictionalization of the reality of AI. This can be a painful realization for practitioners in the fields of AI/ML/NLP/CV. For them, there is no need to hype the research - reality is exciting enough.