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Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, won the the Hire of the Year award at the 2014 GeekWire Awards. This year, AI innovations are getting their own category. (GeekWire Photo)

Artificial intelligence is one of the Seattle area’s fastest-growing tech frontiers, so it only makes sense for the field to get its own category at the GeekWire Awards.

Recognizing innovations in AI and its allied technologies, ranging from computer vision to machine learning and natural language processing, has always been a part of the big part of the awards, of course. In fact, some of 2019’s contenders for the top AI prize have shown up as finalists in previous years.

But there’s a new twist this year: We’ve split our traditional “Innovation of the Year” award into two categories, focusing on AI and health. The split shines a tighter spotlight on two areas of technology where the Pacific Northwest stands out.

The five finalists in this new category — Highspot, Mighty AI, Olis Robotics, Textio and Xnor — have already made names for themselves. Their founders can trace their pedigree to the leading lights of the Seattle tech scene, including Microsoft, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the University of Washington. And they’re working on technologies aimed at making enterprises more productive, making devices smarter and advancing the frontiers of exploration.

You can brighten the spotlight on one of these Seattle-based companies by casting your vote for AI Innovation of the Year, and for companies in 10 other GeekWire Award categories. We’ve included a handy voter’s guide below for the AI nominees, and there are guides for the other categories as well.

Don’t tarry: The voting deadline is April 19. Community votes will be factored in with feedback from more than 30 judges. On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by Wave Business — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. As usual, the party promises to be a sellout, so get your tickets here before they’re gone.

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Highspot

Highspot’s dashboard provides a deep dive into business analytics.

In a nutshell: Its sales enablement platform is a sales playbook of sorts, analyzing hoards of internally-produced information — historical data, marketing presentations, case studies, data sheets, etc. — and then applying AI to optimize the selling process.

Where it’s coming from: Several Microsoft veterans got together back in 2012 to launch Highspot, with the intention of helping sales teams craft perfect pitches to potential customers. Since then, the startup has brought in $64 million in investments, and counts big-name companies such as Amazon, Twitter and Dropbox among its customers.

CEO Robert Wahbe on AI innovation: “One cool example of AI in our platform is Content Genomics. Searching and recommending business content is challenging because there are multiple related versions, like when someone customizes a presentation. Our system uses AI to track the DNA of content as it evolves, which powers our search, recommendations and analytics.”

Wahbe on Highspot’s growth: ““Highspot is growing like crazy. We believe a unified, integrated product is best delivered by a unified, integrated team. So we’re committed to keeping our product team, which will grow around 300 percent this year, together in Seattle for the long haul, along with many of our other core teams.”

Mighty AI

Training data for autonomous driving
Mighty AI’s software platform can be used to create high-quality training data for autonomous driving. (Mighty AI via Vimeo)

In a nutshell: Training data for computer vision models.

Where it’s coming from: In the beginning, Mighty AI was Spare5, the first spinout created at Madrona Venture Labs in 2014. The idea was to have everyday people spend a spare five minutes or so performing short tasks like photo tagging, price guessing or survey taking on their mobile devices. The venture kicked things up a notch under its new name in 2017 when it raised $14 million in a Series B financing round. Now it’s focusing on providing high-quality training data for computer vision models. The potential applications include autonomous vehicles, delivery robots, cashierless checkout and precision agriculture.

Co-founder and CEO Daryn Nakhuda on the road ahead for Mighty AI: “Applying computer vision more broadly across our platform to automate and assist our human annotators is a central pillar of our long-term strategy to increase throughput while maintaining high-quality standards.

“Enhanced automation will allow us to continue to deliver great value to our customers by increasing the scalability and efficiency of our human annotators, who we believe will always play an important role in validating the output of computer vision models.

“We will continue to advance the modalities that our platform supports, beginning with lidar, radar and simulated environments.

“Today, companies’ data is highly proprietary, and it’s expensive to collect and annotate. We envision a world in which data is shared for the greater good to rapidly advance the development of intelligent applications. To that end, we are investing in a range of initiatives to increase the democratization of data.”

Olis Robotics

Olis Robotics controller
Olis Robotics has developed a plug-and-play controller loaded with its AI-driven robotic control platform. (Olis Robotics Graphic)

In a nutshell: Machine learning capabilities used for remotely operating robots undersea, out in space and in other challenging environments.

Where it’s coming from: Olis Robotics was born in 2013 as BluHaptics, a spin-out from the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory that specialized in developing control software for underwater robots. Since then, it’s widened the capabilities of its platform. Last year the startup changed its name to Olis, which is “silo” spelled backwards. “Olis Robotics is the opposite of siloed technology,” CEO Don Pickering explains. Olis has brought in millions of dollars in investments and grants, and acquired a machine learning startup called White Marsh Forests.

CEO Don Pickering on where Olis Robotics is going: “We’re developing the next step in the evolution of robots. Our industry-leading team in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood is advancing a critical AI-driven software platform which plugs into existing robots and off-the-shelf sensors, to make robots smarter, safer, and much more precise.

“Olis Robotics’ AI-driven software enables robots to operate in dangerous and dynamic environments like space, the ocean, and outside of predictable factory floors, using a software platform that provides progressive levels of autonomy. The progressive autonomy allows humans to remotely manage robot operations, while out of harm’s way, with the benefit of allowing the robot to autonomously conduct very precise, mission-critical operations without significant pilot burden or pilot training costs.

“Olis Robotics’ innovation currently manifests in a plug-and-play controller loaded with our AI-driven software platform. The controller and our proprietary software can operate tethered robots on the ocean floor, satellite servicing robots using high-latency satellite links in space, or industrial robots cleaning up a dangerous chemical spill on land using 4G/5G networks. Our innovation will exponentially expand the role of robots to make an impact on human advancement and exploration.”

Textio

Textio analysis
Textio’s augmented writing platform analyzes documents to help writers maximize their impact. (Textio Graphic)

In a nutshell: An augmented writing platform.

Where it’s coming from: Co-founders Kieran Snyder and Jensen Harris both made their mark at Microsoft. Harris led the design of the Microsoft Office user interface and created the software platform’s famous Ribbon, while Snyder led teams focusing on the Windows 8 interface and Bing integration into Windows search. In 2014, the husband-and-wife team created Seattle-based Textio to help companies craft better job listings and candidate emails. In 2017, the startup raised $20 million in a Series B investment round. And in 2018, Textio made it to the final round in the GeekWire Awards’ Startup of the Year and CEO of the Year categories.

Co-founder and CEO Kieran Snyder on Textio’s mission: “The language that you use shows the world what you truly value. Whether you’re hiring, selling, marketing, or communicating internally, the language that you use changes who responds. Your language deeply represents your culture and brand, and tangibly alters your business more than any other single factor.

“Textio is an augmented writing platform that creates the language that will work to get a response, for anything you’re writing. As you plan your document and jot down your ideas, Textio works with you to meld your ideas into language that will get a response from a diverse and relevant set of people. The first set of applications, Textio Hire, tells you who will apply to your job post, or respond to your recruiting messages, based on the language you’ve included in them.

“This goes far beyond recruiting. Textio’s extensions bring augmented writing to all your most important communication inside email providers, LinkedIn, and more. The Textio platform is the link between the company you are and the company you want to be.”

Xnor

Xnor engineers with chip
Xnor machine learning engineer Hessam Bagherinezhad, hardware engineer Saman Nderiparizi and CEO Ali Farhadi show off a chip that can use solar-powered AI to detect people. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

In a nutshell: Powering AI on edge devices.

Where it’s coming from: Xnor, which gets its name from the XNOR digital logic gate, was spun out from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in 2017 with an assist from Madrona Venture Group. The startup’s secret sauce has to do with running deep-learning models directly on resource-constrained devices ranging from smartphones and Internet of Things hardware to solar-powered, standalone computer chips. Xnor had a big score last year when it raised $12 million in a Series A funding round.

Co-founder and CXO (Chief Xnor Officer) Ali Farhadi on Xnor’s mission: “At Xnor our mission is to deliver AI everywhere, for everyone. We make AI everywhere a reality by enabling leading global brands to run state-of-the-art deep learning models on anything from a $2 batteryless piece of hardware to the cloud. We empower any developer to deploy countless AI models optimized for the edge with just a single line of code, a future where AI for everyone is real.

“We believe that power will become the biggest bottleneck in scaling AI. At Xnor, we are developing always-on AI solutions for vision and language that are so low-powered they can run on a coin cell battery for 32 years! This will not only change the way products are built in the future, but how entire cities and countries deploy AI solutions at scale.”

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