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Oren Etzioni
Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, asks attendees at the AI NextCon conference in Bellevue, Wash., to raise their hands if they think artificial intelligence will someday pose a threat to humanity. Some put their hands up. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

A California-based AI startup called ClusterOne is moving its headquarters to Seattle to become the latest venture to benefit from the incubator program at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

“Allen AI makes a lot of sense for us, because they have the best researchers in AI,” ClusterOne co-founder and CEO Mohsen Hejrati told GeekWire. “They are investors and incubators, but more importantly, they are great partners in research … the best partners we could get.”

First word of the team-up came today from Oren Etzioni, the institute’s CEO, during the AI NextCon conference in Bellevue, Wash.

“Today, we’re just announcing for the first time that a company called ClusterOne, which was founded by some ex-Google folks in California — they’re moving to Seattle, joining our incubator,” Etzioni told the crowd.

Etzioni also revealed that Allen AI, also known as AI2, would be starting up a 12-month CTO residency program to pair up senior technologists from newly minted startups with the institute’s researchers in Seattle.

“You heard it here first. … Basically it’s for top-notch engineers who want to start companies, who want to get deep into AI, to join us and quickly ramp up on AI with the help of our internal curriculum experts,” Etzioni said. “It’s not a reading program or an online course. I like to think of it as a writing program. You come here, you’re a top engineer, you write code.”

Details about the program would be made available via the AI2 incubator’s website next week, he said.

AI2, which was established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2014, is raising its profile as a launch pad for artificial intelligence ventures — including in-house success stories such as Kitt.ai (which was bought by Baidu last year) and Xnor.ai.

Last August, the institute’s incubator program was extended to outside entrepreneurs. Two months later, the incubator took on its first startup, Blue Canoe, which uses speech recognition and machine learning to help non-native English speakers improve their pronunciation.

Mohsen Hejrati
Mohsen Hejrati is ClusterOne’s co-founder and CEO. (Photo courtesy of Mohsen Hejrati)

ClusterOne has developed a scalable software suite, formerly known as TensorPort, which is meant to take the pain out of AI programming.

“ClusterOne is not just one small product,” Hejrati said. “It’s a platform for AI and machine language development. … The pieces are all there, but the platform that brings together these pieces? There’s no such platform. We are aiming to create that platform.”

Hejrati said he left Waymo, Google’s self-driving car spin-off, to work on ways to apply machine-learning smarts to “areas that matter,” such as personalized health care. His venture started out as Good AI Lab, and filed documents for a $1.5 million funding round under that name late last year. The now-outdated name, “Good AI Lab,” mirrors AI2’s motto: “AI for the Common Good.”

Today Hejrati said that AI2 is ClusterOne’s lead investor, and that other investors have provided funding as well. But he declined to provide further financial details, due to the fact that the funding round has not yet closed.

About 20 people currently work at ClusterOne, in locations ranging from Seattle and California’s Silicon Valley to Poland and Lithuania. “We are expecting to grow in the next year,” Hejrati said. Six positions are already listed on the company’s careers website, with no location specified.

Hejrati takes pride in ClusterOne’s distributed-workforce culture, and he said it’s not yet clear how many employees will end up in Seattle. The relocation timeline will be sorted out over the next couple of months, he said.

The prospect of being headquartered in Seattle is “very exciting,” Hejrati said.

“Seattle is a hub of cloud, and it is becoming a hub of AI,” he told GeekWire. “The main point is being able to work with Allen AI. Being in Seattle, and having an office close to them, is a bonus.”

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