China’s Baidu plans to develop its own ChatGPT-like AI bot for search in March

Character.AI personalized chatbot service raises $150M at $1B valuation 

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Character.AI, a company that allows people to personalize their own artificial intelligence chatbots, today said it has raised $150 million in a funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, bringing its valuation to $1 billion.

Character AI’s platform allows users to create their own chatbots that can take on the personalities of different characters, thus the name, by providing descriptions of the character they want to talk to. Using this technology users have created various bots from historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and television and film characters such as Walter White and Tyrion Lannister.

The characters created by the company’s AI don’t even need to be distinct or from popular media. All users need to do is describe the personality that they want and fine-tune it over time. The chatbot will take their description, react to it and tune itself based on the interests and needs of the user.

Founded in 2021, Character AI was started by ex-Google researchers Noam Shazeer and Daniel De Freitas. They applied their expertise to building the models that would become the Characters to power the conversations that users have with the company’s AI today.

“Character AI’s power is our highly sophisticated language model, which rapidly analyzes and contextualizes large volumes of information to produce useful intelligence tailored to each individual,” said Shazeer, calling it a “superintelligence companion” for people to enhance their productivity. “The potential use cases are infinite.”

The company launched its beta product in September and since then users have sent more than 2 billion messages, with the second billion messages sent in the past month alone. Users have also created more than 2.7 million AI characters on the platform, which launched with fewer than 100. 

The first AI model that Character AI released, called C1.1, allowed users to hold conversations with characters for what the company called entertainment, role-playing and emotional connections. The company today said that it’s previewing a new model called C1.2 with enhanced accuracy and a number of productivity features.

With C1.2, users will be able to do more than just converse with the AI. They will also have a research assistant, be able to ask it to help them draft emails, get assistance with test prep, brainstorm ideas and even have it co-write code.

“For years, we’ve known the potential and power of conversational AI, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see people from around the globe use Character AI for a huge variety of use cases,” said De Freitas. “We understand the importance of providing an AI that truly feels like your own.”

The Series A round was joined by previous investors in the company including former GitHub Chief Executive Nat Friedman, Elad Gil, SV Angel and A Capital. It’s likely that the round will be expanded in the future with strategic investments. According to a report in January, Character AI’s co-founders told investors that it was seeking a $250 million round to build out its technology platform.

Character AI is one of a number of conversational and generative AI models that have gotten attention in the past few months, including OpenAI LP’s GPT-4, Anthropic’s chatbot Claude and Google LLC’s Bard, which is just beginning to debut in the U.S. and U.K.

When asked about potential similarities to Google’s chatbot, De Freitas told Axios: “There are some overlaps, but we’re confident Google will never do anything fun. Because we worked there.”

The company said it will use the new funding to push forward with its current significant growth by expanding its compute capabilities in order to increase the accuracy of its current model for greater reasoning. It will also deliver even more features for users and hire on more staff for its engineering team.

“Character.AI is rapidly and dramatically advancing generative AI, with 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 lives,” said Sarah Wang, a general partner at a16z. “They’ve built a powerful platform, with an end-to-end combination of both model and application that allows Character.AI to continuously improve its product as more people create and engage with its characters.”

Image: Pixabay

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