Amazon hires founders away from AI startup Adept

Adept, a startup developing AI-powered “agents” to complete various software-based tasks, has agreed to license its tech to Amazon and the startup’s co-founders and portions of its team have joined the ecommerce giant.

Geekwire’s Taylor Soper first reported the news. According to Soper, Adept co-founder and CEO David Luan will join Amazon, along with Adept co-founders Augustus Odena, Maxwell Nye, Erich Elsen and Kelsey Szot and other Adept employees.

Adept isn’t closing up shop, however. Zach Brock, head of engineering, is taking over as CEO as Adept refocuses its efforts on “solutions that enable agentic AI.”

“[Our products] will continue to be powered by a combination of our existing state-of-the-art in-house [AI] models, agentic data, web interaction software and custom infrastructure,” Adept wrote in a post on its official blog. “Continuing with Adept’s initial plan of building both useful general intelligence and an enterprise agent product would’ve required spending significant attention on fundraising for our foundation models, rather than bringing to life our agent vision.”

The deal provides a lifeline for Adept, which has reportedly been in talks with Meta and Microsoft over the past few months about a potential acquisition. Microsoft previously invested in the startup.

As for Amazon, it gets valuable talent — and tech to bolster its generative AI ambitions. Geekwire reports that Luan will work under Rohit Prasad, the former Alexa head who’s leading a new AGI team focused on building large language models.

“David and his team’s expertise in training state-of-the-art multimodal foundational models and building real-world digital agents aligns with our vision to delight consumer and enterprise customers with practical AI solutions,” Prasad wrote in a memo to employees obtained by Geekwire. “[The license] will accelerate our roadmap for building digital agents that can automate software workflows.”

Adept was founded two years ago with the goal of creating an AI model that can perform actions on any software tool using natural language. At a high level, the vision — a vision now shared by OpenAI, Rabbit and others — was to create an “AI teammate” of sorts trained to use a wide variety of different software tools and APIs.

Adept managed to win over backers including Nvidia, Atlassian, Workday and Greylock with its technology, raising over $415 million in capital and reaching a valuation of around $1 billion. But the startup’s been plagued with disfunction. Adept lost two of its co-founders, Ashish Vaswani and Niki Parmar, early on, and it’s struggled to bring any product to market despite months and months of testing.

The market for AI agents is a tad more crowded than it was at Adept’s launch. Well-funded startups like Orby, Emergence and others are vying for a slice of what promises to be a lucrative pie; market research firm Grand View Research estimates that the AI agents segment was worth $4.2 billion in 2022.

But perhaps the Amazon tie-in will get Adept over the finish line. Or — with much of its executive ranks departing — it’ll resign Adept to the same fate as Inflection, the AI startup that was effectively gutted, talent-wise, by Microsoft earlier this year. Or regulators increasingly skeptical of these types of AI aqui-hires will step in (if they aren’t rendered toothless by Friday’s Supreme Court decision).

Grab your popcorn and settle in.

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