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Clouds over Seattle. Flickr photo via Dan Hershman.
Clouds over Seattle. Flickr photo via Dan Hershman.

Seattle is poised to be an epicenter for machine learning and artificial intelligence.

That’s one takeaway from the inaugural Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence Summit hosted by Madrona Venture Group on Wednesday in downtown Seattle.

Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president of Data Group and Machine Learning at Microsoft, speaks at Madrona Venture Group's machine learning event in Seattle on Wednesday.
Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president of Data Group and Machine Learning at Microsoft, speaks at Madrona Venture Group’s machine learning event in Seattle on Wednesday.

Thanks to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and a wide range of startups, the Emerald City is already known as a hub for cloud computing technology development, with Madrona Managing Director Matt McIllwain calling Seattle the “cloud capital of the world” more than two years ago. There is also a long list of Silicon Valley tech companies who have established engineering outposts in the Seattle area, including Google, Facebook, Oracle, Apple, HP, Uber, Lyft, Twitter, Splunk, and many others.

But looking beyond the infrastructure and services side of cloud computing, there is also momentum building from both tech giants and small startups in Seattle that are developing technologies related to machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, algorithms, data analytics, and more.

The speaker list at Madrona’s event on Wednesday was a testament to that. Executives from local companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Algorithmia, Dato, Redfin, Spare5, ReplyYes, Textio, Context Relevant, Integris Software, VoiceBox, and KITT.AI, in addition to folks from the University of Washington’s computer science department, all shared their expertise and insight with around 100 people in attendance. Other founders and entrepreneurs like AI2 CEO Oren Etzioni and Amperity CEO Kabir Shahani were in the crowd.

S. “Soma” Somasegar, a Microsoft veteran who joined Madrona six months ago as a venture partner, told GeekWire on Wednesday that there is a “mass concentration of innovation” from big and small companies in Seattle focused on both cloud computing and newer industries like machine learning and AI.

“Given the pedigree of companies like Microsoft and Amazon, and the ecosystem that has spun up over last five to 10 years, there is a tremendous amount of talent we have here that focuses on solving hard technology problems,” he said.

Madrona Venture Partner S. "Soma" Somasegar.
Madrona Venture Partner S. “Soma” Somasegar.

Madrona, one of the region’s top venture capital firms, is clearly bullish about big data, AI, machine learning, and related technologies. It’s a recent investment theme for the firm, which backs startups like Dato, Context Relevant, and KITT.AI.

“Our world view is that everybody who is building an application is going to be building an intelligent application moving forward,” Somasegar said. ” …  Simply put, you will either be building machine learning, or you will be consuming machine learning.”

Somasegar said he’s met with nearly 100 startups during his first six months at Madrona, and at least 90 percent are either thinking about building machine learning or artificial intelligence-related technology, or are thinking about how they can develop intelligent applications.

“90 percent are there; 10 percent will get there tomorrow,” he noted.

Somasegar said that a few years ago, lots of people were talking about how every company was turning into a software company. This was laid out in venture capitalist Marc Andreessen’s piece from 2011 in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Software Is Eating The World.”

Now, though, the attention has shifted past just software and into data, analytics, and more.

“Our world view is that every company today is a data company, and every application is an intelligent application,” Somasegar said. “It doesn’t matter whether you are manufacturing paper or building a rocket — technology and software will be a fundamental part of what you’re doing for your business. How can companies get insights from huge amounts of data and learn from that? That’s something that has to be brought up with every organization in the world.”

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