Article - February 14, 2017

Reviving Boston’s “AI Alley”

In a by-gone era forgotten (and in most cases probably completely unknown) by Boston’s younger tech generation, the city was once an innovative center of machine learning/AI companies. Back in the 1980’s the buildings around Cambridge’s Kendal Square were known as “AI Alley”. Companies like Palladian Software, Lisp Machines and Symbolics were spun out of MIT’s AI Laboratory. However by the late 80’s the companies were gone and in short time the “Alley” was erased from our tech-world’s maps.

Boston-based startups, supported by the city’s great academic institutions, companies like IBM and now hometown-favorite GE, and an increasing amount of venture capital, can rebuild the city’s “AI Alley”.

GE, looking to bolster its AI chops and compete with IBM’s Watson, recently acquired two AI companies that will apply AI and machine-learning to systems and data used in utilities, manufacturing and aviation. Speaking of Watson, the world’s most famous AI system, last spring IBM opened up a new center for development in Cambridge; a center focused on applying Watson’s capabilities to improve patient treatment within Boston’s healthcare systems.

A recent report from PWC and CB Insights stated that artificial intelligence companies saw $705 million invested among 71 companies in the last quarter of 2016.

AI startups like Nara Logics ($13M A), Talla ($4M A), Spiro ($1.5M Seed) and Semantic Machines ($12M B) have had no problem raising money here in Boston. Just last month Neurala, an AI startup spun out of Boston University, raised a $14M Series A from investors to continue to develop AI software to be used in drones and autonomous vehicles.

Boston is a city that has the academic institutions at which the first working AI’s could be fostered and developed (see startups spun out and capitalized above) and the financial and medical institutions where the technology is sure to be first utilized. With that combination (given the right amount of investment and local support), forget about the “AI Alley” – Boston could be the “AI City”.