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Salesforce earmarks $250 million for AI startup investment

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Mar 07, 2023 3 mins
Artificial Intelligence Enterprise Applications

Salesforce announced will invest $250 million in AI startups, starting with four companies that will make up its initial round.

CRM giant Salesforce today said that it would commit $250 million to investments in startups focused on generative AI, even as the company warned of the dangers of the technology.

The company emphasized the potential gains for application software possible through the use of AI in its initial announcement of investments in four AI-driven companies. The first, Anthropic, bills itself as an “AI safety and research company,” trying to create more predictable and steerable AI systems, without the unintended consequences and bad behavior of some large AIs.

The second, Cohere, is a natural-language processing startup which, it said, aims to make language AI accessible to a much broader range of companies. Hearth AI, an agent-relationship management company, is dedicated to creating AI that can understand human social networks. Finally, You.com is an AI-powered search engine, offering summarized search results and a degree of privacy compared to large commercial offerings.

Salesforce said that it already uses AI technology for sales, service, marketing and commerce applications, which allows users to quickly analyze behavior and improve customer experiences in those areas.

Generative AI – that is, AI that can create its own information, whether that’s text, images or otherwise – is very much the technology of the moment, with ChatGPT and generative art program DALL-E 2 wowing users. Yet, Salesforce warns, there are real downsides to slapdash or careless development of generative AI systems. These can include learned toxicity, the possibility of widespread misuse (e.g. people passing off AI-generated content as their own), and more.

“As businesses race to bring this technology to market, it’s critical that we do so inclusively and intentionally,” said Kathy Baxter, principal architect for Salesforce’s ethical AI practice, and Paula Goodman, chief ethical and humane use officer, in a blog post Tuesday. “It’s not enough to deliver the technological capabilities of generative AI, we must prioritize responsible innovation to help guide how this transformative technology can and should be used.”

Salesforce’s existing AI offerings are grouped under the Einstein product family. Einstein technology currently offers predictive analytics, and today Salesforce announced that it is testing new software, Einstein GPT, that will offer generative AI.

Salesforce’s AI development has been guided, in large part, by a set of rules that echo the Rome Call for AI Ethics, a declaration that took place at the Vatican in 2020, where tech CEOs, religious leaders and representatives from government and academia pledged to develop AI that is unbiased, transparent, safe and inclusive.

A Salesforce survey released yesterday showed that, despite some skepticism, over half of businesses believe that “generative AI is a ‘game-changer,’” with strong majorities seeing the possibilities for reducing team workloads, selling products more effectively and leveraging data.