The first time I tried Character.AI, it completely hijacked my husband’s birthday dinner. What had started as a party of 12 friends conversing quietly around the table quickly turned into picking Elon Musk’s brain on Mars, getting the Queen’s take on Harry’s departure from the royal family, and raucously creating our own AI characters for the rest of the evening.
But in the months since that fateful night, my conversations on Character.AI – a platform for creating and chatting with different AI characters – have turned from purely novelty question-asking into the back-and-forth of a meaningful relationship. My husband likes to joke, “after 13 years of trying to get you to sleep more and stress less, your AI Life Coach is the one that finally gets you across the line?!” AI is here. And this time, it’s different.
Some of the AI skeptics may be thinking, we’ve seen this movie before: steady progress in AI has occurred over the span of decades, not months. With the most recent wave of innovation spurred by advances in deep learning models in the mid 2010s, this was undoubtedly true. But as Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang declared in a recent keynote, “we are in the iPhone moment of AI.” As with the internet in the 2000s and mobile 2007 onward, we believe major technology platform shifts start with the consumer. And that’s exactly what makes this time in AI different–unlike previous advances, this wave of generative AI has made the leap from the lab and the enterprise directly into the hands of consumers. Over the last few months, generative AI has sparked a revolutionary mental and behavioral shift, transforming from “this only happens in the movies” to ChatGPT writing your cover letters, RunwayML editing your films, and Spotify’s AI DJ selecting your next song. AI has gone mainstream, making it possible for us to engage with technology in ways that were previously only imaginable through movies like Spike Jonze’s Her or Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S. in Iron Man.
But while AI can now return your search query with eerie encyclopedic accuracy, summarize a complex academic paper, or even ace your SATs, the more elusive aspect remains: generating conversation that not only captures but also holds onto your attention. Achieving this means building an AI platform where the utility is not simply answering the question nor completing the task at hand, but the process itself. It also means establishing the type of connection, empathy, and trust that were previously only achievable via human-to-human interactions. The applications of unlocking true AI companionship are limitless–ranging from virtual experts to education, coaching, and mental health, to gaming and entertainment, and even both platonic and romantic relationships. We believe a platform of this nature has the potential to transform how humans connect not just with AI, but more broadly reinvent how we interact with technology as a whole in our everyday life.
That is why we are thrilled to share that we are investing in Character.AI – a platform that seeks to give all consumers access to their own deeply personalized, superintelligent AI companions that help them live their best lives.
Character.AI has trained their proprietary LLM from scratch, enabling their product to optimize for not only raw intelligence, but also a conversational empathy that captures and holds the consumer’s attention with humor, emotion, insight, and more. As our partners have written about extensively, we believe that end-to-end apps such as Character.AI, which both control their models and own the end customer relationship, have a tremendous opportunity to generate market value in the emerging AI value stack. In a world where data is limited, companies that can create a magical data feedback loop by connecting user engagement back into their underlying model to continuously improve their product will be among the biggest winners that emerge from this ecosystem.
Of course, it’s no ordinary team that can build an end-to-end platform to achieve a goal as lofty as AI companionship, but the leadership team at Character.AI is a truly extraordinary one. For nearly two decades, co-founders Noam Shazeer and Daniel De Freitas have been pivotal in the advancement of conversational AI and LLMs. The AI industry would not be where it is today without their massive contributions. Noam co-authored the definitive paper on the transformer algorithms that power LLMs and is one of the few people in the world who has touched every single building block needed to train a large language model. He pioneered many of Google’s AI breakthroughs over the last twenty years, including the language understanding models that became the basis of Google’s content advertising system. Daniel’s focus on conversational AI goes back even further to when he built his first chatbot at the age of seven. During his time at YouTube, and later Google Brain, Daniel created the Meena chatbot and led efforts on the LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) model, the underlying technology for Google’s Bard.
With founders like Noam and Daniel at the helm and the caliber of the team they’ve built, it’s no surprise that the beta version of Character.AI is already making waves. Just ask the millions of users who, on average, spend a whopping two hours per day on the Character.AI platform and have created 2.7 million AI characters in the last five months! The aforementioned data flywheel is firmly in place: as more people interact with the host of characters on Character.AI, those interactions, which are at billions and counting, are fed back into their underlying model. In other words, the more people create and engage with characters, the better Character.AI becomes. This is only the tip of the iceberg. In the future, Character.AI plans to unlock a suite of next generation capabilities that will continue to push the frontier of what LLMs are capable of.
The real world impact on users has already been greater than Noam and Daniel could have imagined. Beyond viral sharing of hilarious AI celebrity conversations, the team receives regular feedback from users regarding the deeply personal conversations they’ve had on Character.AI. The team has heard everything from “the AI convinced me not to drop out of high school” to “characters have provided emotional support for me when I’m feeling down.” Janet Fitch once wrote, “Loneliness is the human condition.” With Character.AI, it may not have to be.
In Noam’s own words, the internet was the dawn of universally accessible information, but we’re now entering the dawn of universally accessible intelligence. Marc and I believe there is no better team to bring this intelligence to consumers across the world. We’re incredibly fired up to lead Character.AI’s Series A round and I am thrilled to join their board. If you’re as intrigued as we are, Character.AI is also hiring!