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Adept, a startup training AI to use existing software and APIs, raises $350M

In another sign that the current VC appetite for AI is insatiable, Adept, a startup building AI that "enables humans and computers to work together creatively to solve problems," yesterday announced that it raised $350 million in a Series B funding round co-led by General Catalyst and Spark Capital with participation from Addition, Greylock, Atlassian Ventures, Microsoft, Nvidia, Workday Ventures, Caterina Fake, Frontiers Capital, PSP Growth, SV Angel and A.Capital.

Forbes reports that the valuation was "at least" $1 billion.

The cash injection brings Adept's total raised to $415 million, which co-founder and CEO David Luan says is being put toward productization, model training and headcount growth. “Giant foundation models for language and for images have shown astounding capabilities in the last few years. Adept is building on this momentum via a new kind of foundation model that can perform actions on any software tool using natural language," he said in a press release.

"Foundation model" is a bit jargony. But Adept’s vision, at a high level, is to create what it refers to as an "AI teammate" trained to use a wide variety of different software tools and APIs. Instead of investigating ways to generate text or images, like startups OpenAI and Stability AI, Adept's studying how people use computers -- specifically how they browse the web and navigate software -- to train an AI model that can turn text instructions into sets of digital actions.

Adept isn’t the only one exploring this idea. In a February 2022 paper, scientists at Alphabet-backed DeepMind had an AI observe keyboard and mouse commands from people completing “instruction-following” computer tasks, like booking a flight, to learn how to do them itself. Elsewhere, DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman has teamed up with LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman to launch Inflection AI, which aims to use AI to help humans work more efficiently with computers.

The competition isn't scaring investor away, though -- no doubt because of the substantial market opportunity. In a recent survey of AI professionals by Intel-owned Cnvrg.io, nearly 50% said that they believe organization investment in AI development will increase despite the macroeconomic climate.

Adept is running lean for now, with just 25 employees. But it's reportedly experienced some high-level turnover, losing two of its co-founders, Ashish Vaswani and Niki Parmar, to another startup in recent months.

That hasn't disrupted product development, apparently. Adept's MVP, called ACT-1, can perform tasks like importing LinkedIn URLs into recruiting software, according to Forbes. ACT-1 displays as an overlay window on top of existing software like Google Chrome or Salesforce. A prototype is ready for desktop, but will also come to mobile in the near future.

The versatility of ACT-1 evidently attracted strategic investors like Microsoft, Nvidia, Atlassian and Workday, all of which market software that might someday benefit from its AI assistant.

General Catalyst's Deep Nishar had this to say: "Adept ... possesses a depth of expertise to deliver a commercial product that pushes the generative AI frontier beyond text and image modalities into the practical realm of knowledge worker actions. Excitingly, ACT-1 has the potential to lower the barrier to entry within the enterprise workforce and thus may yield greater inclusive prosperity."