In Silicon Valley, the specialized semiconductor chips required to train AI systems are a hot commodity. Wait times can be months—forever in startup land. One tech satirist posted a video of himself headed out to sea to intercept a container ship as a way to get his hands on the coveted chips quicker.
Daniel Gross, 32, saw this coming. This year, along with fellow investor Nat Friedman, Gross built Andromeda, a mountain of cutting-edge chips weighing 7,255 lb. and costing around $100 million (including electricity and cooling). The chips are wired together to form a giant “compute cluster,” to which Gross and Friedman trade access in exchange for equity in AI startups they judge to be promising, a move that other venture capitalists are considering aping.
“What these businesses really need that are getting started in AI today is effectively the equivalent of a white hot oven to run their pizza through,” explains Gross. “They need that oven just once or twice to train—to heat up—their basic model and prove to the world that they’re good at what they do.”
It is a characteristically bold bet. When he was just a teenager, Gross founded the search engine Greplin (later renamed Cue). It was acquired by Apple in 2013 for an undisclosed amount, reported to be between $40 million and $60 million. That acquisition led him to run AI and search projects at Apple until he left in 2017 to found the AI vertical at Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s storied startup accelerator.
Since then, he’s been investing. He’s picked many winners, such as Uber, Instacart, and Coinbase. Where is the smart money in AI now? “Doing monotonous labor with text, extracting things out of PDFs, organizing information—all that stuff, I think, will get accelerated,” Gross predicts.
That’s just the start. Three years after the launch of the iPhone, the top apps were Facebook and a lot of games: Angry Birds, Bejeweled, Words With Friends. “Everyone thought that this was what the iPhone was for; sort of a gaming product with your friends,” says Gross. “The ideas of Uber and Instacart had not fully come around.”
As always, Gross is on the lookout for the next big thing. “The equivalent of looking at the iPhone and dreaming of Uber,” says Gross, “may be very hard to predict.”
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