Top ex-Google researchers raise $30 million for Tokyo-based AI lab

By Anna Tong

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Sakana AI, a Tokyo-based artificial intelligence startup founded by two prominent former Google researchers, said on Tuesday it had raised $30 million in a seed financing round led by Lux Capital, with participation from Khosla Ventures.

Sakana AI seeks to put Tokyo on the map as an AI hub, similar to what OpenAI did for San Francisco and DeepMind did for London, said Lux Capital partner Grace Isford.

The company, which does not yet have any products in the market, is looking to make fundamental improvements to today’s AI systems through having a large number of smaller models communicate and work together rather than creating one giant monolithic model, it told Reuters last year.

It will also work on developing AI models better suited for the Asian market because Asian character-based languages function very differently from Western languages, Lux Capital partner Brandon Reeves said.

“Asian languages are very under-explored because most large language models are developed for Western languages,” he said.

The company’s founders are former Google researchers David Ha and Llion Jones.

Jones is the fifth author on Google’s 2017 research paper “Attention Is All You Need”, which introduced the “transformer” deep learning architecture that went on to become the basis for viral chatbot ChatGPT and the current race to develop products powered by generative AI.

Ha was previously the head of research at Stability AI and a Google Brain researcher. 

All of the authors on the “Attention Is All You Need” paper have left Google. Their new ventures have attracted millions of dollars in funding from venture investors, including Noam Shazeer, who is running AI chatbot startup Character.AI, and Aidan Gomez, who founded large language model startup Cohere.

Lux Capital is a venture capital firm that specializes in deep technology, investing in industries such as aerospace, AI and biology.

(Reporting by Anna Tong in San Francisco; Editing by Jamie Freed)