Alexa co-creator gives first glimpse of Unlikely AI’s tech strategy

After announcing a whopping $20 million seed last year, Unlikely AI founder William Tunstall-Pedoe has kept the budding U.K. foundation model maker’s approach under lock and key. Until now: TechCrunch can exclusively reveal Unlikely is taking a “neuro-symbolic” approach to its AI. In an additional development, it’s announcing two senior hires — including the former CTO of Stability AI, Tom Mason.

Neuro-symbolic AI is a type of artificial intelligence that, as the name suggests, integrates both the modern neural network approaches to AI — as used by large language models (LLMs), like OpenAI’s GPT — and earlier Symbolic AI architectures to address the weaknesses of each.

Tunstall-Pedoe gained public profile in the U.K. tech scene back in 2012 when Amazon acquired his voice assistant startup, Evi. Two years later Amazon launched the Echo and Alexa, incorporating much of Evi’s technology. With Unlikely AI, Tunstall-Pedoe is aiming to put himself back in the limelight as he takes the wraps off the technology he and his team have been working on since 2019, when the startup was founded.

At Stability AI, meanwhile, Mason managed the development of major foundational models across various fields and helped the AI company raise more than $170 million. Now he’s CTO of Unlikely AI, where he will oversee its “symbolic/algorithmic” approach.

In addition, Fred Becker is joining as chief administrative officer. He previously held senior roles at companies including Skype and Symphony. At Unlikely, his role will be to shepherd its now 60 full-time staff — who are based largely between Cambridge (U.K.) and London.

The AI startup claims its approach to foundational AI models will try to avoid the risks we’ve quickly become all-too-familiar with — namely bias, “hallucination” (aka fabrication), accuracy and trust. It also claims its approach will use less energy in a bid to reduce the environmental impact of Big AI.

“We’ve been working privately for a number of years and we’re very excited about our two new senior hires,” Tunstall-Pedoe told TechCrunch over a call.

Fleshing out the team’s approach, he went on: “We’re building a ‘trustworthy’ AI platform that’s designed to address pretty much all of the key issues with AI at the moment, as it pertains to… hallucinations and accuracy. We’re combining the capabilities of generative AI, statistical AI, with symbolic algorithmic methods, [and] conventional software methods to get expandability and reliability.”

He described the platform as “horizontal” in that it would “compound many different types of applications.”

Of the exact applications, he was more coy — but continued to emphasize the phrase “trustworthy AI.”

For his part, Mason said his time at Stability AI saw the company build “some amazing models” and “an unbelievable ecosystem around the models and the technology,” as he put it. It also featured the abrupt exit of founder Emad Mostaque, followed by a number of other high-profile team departures. While Mason wishes his former colleagues “all the best,” he said said he’s “super excited” to join Unlikely AI.