Artificial intelligence is not a single technology, but rather a collection of technologies that are applied to specific tasks. As a result, the effects of AI will be felt unevenly through the economy, the White House wrote in its most recent report about AI and automation.

Two things can be inferred from the White House report. First, AI applications can impact the job market both positively and negatively. Some tasks can be automated, leading to the displacement of some labor. However, AI itself is a field that will likely guarantee new employment opportunities in the future. “We have a crisis in our particular industry: the number of people who can do the Artificial Intelligence machine learning work […] is so small that we have to manufacture more,” Eric Schmidt, Alphabet executive chairman and former Google CEO, said at a recent panel at MIT.

Second, AI applications range across all industries, as the following list of the most promising Boston AI startups will demonstrate. These companies are using AI to work in fields such as email management, creative writing, cancer diagnostic and even makeup applications. We expect to see some of their key players at aiWorld, the global AI business event that will be taking place in Boston next December.

Out of all the companies working in AI-related fields, we picked 9 startups in the Boston area that have been making some moves recently, or that simply sparked our imagination:


This company’s product, The NeuralaBrain, is a “deep learning neural network software that mimics how the human brain works” and that could have countless applications, from drones to interactive toys. The CEO is Massimiliano Versace, a Fulbright scholar with two PhDs from University of Trieste, Italy and Boston University. In January, Neurala closed a $14 million Series A round in led by Pelion Ventures, with participation from Sherpa Capital, Motorola Ventures, SK Ventures and Idinvest Partners.


Behind this company, not out of stealth mode yet, there are Jim Crowley, who stepped down as CEO of Skyhook Wireless last year, and Jennifer Lum, co-founder of Adelphic Mobile. According to Crunchbase, Jim Crowley will be the CEO, Jack Crowley the CTO and Lum the COO. According to its website, Forge.AI plans to “create fuel for intelligent machines,” but we don’t know much more. As we wrote in April, Jim Crowley said in the podcast with G20 Ventures that he was building software that would help businesses process unstructured data so that it can be used for machine learning and analytical purposes. For “unstructured data,” Crowley gave as examples things said on television or written in a news story.


Based in Cambridge, this startup is developing a platform providing automated and data-driven pathology analysis, with a focus on cancer diagnosis. The investors are 8VC, Refactor capital, Danhua Capital and Pillar VC. The CEO is Andrew Beck, a former principal investigator at Beth Israel Medical Center, and the CTO is Aditya Khosla, who completed his Ph.D. at MIT.


This Israeli startup, which relocated to the Boston area in 2016, uses AI to predict the priority of emails that hit people’s inbox, primarily Microsoft Outlook users. Knowmail is currently available by request for individual users, with apps for iOS and Android in the development and a full launch scheduled by the end of 2017. Last December, the company closed $3.5 million in a funding round led by CE Ventures, with participation from existing investors AfterDox, Plus Ventures, 2B Angels, INE Ventures, and various unnamed private investors, according to TechCrunch.


In our First Look at the startup, we described Frase as a word processor with an artificial intelligence-powered research assistant inside. While you’re writing, Frase uses machine learning to search for additional sources and to suggest further ideas. In 2016, this Boston startup raised $200,000 seed round from four angel investors and it’s currently working out of Dat Ventures, an invitation-only Boston accelerator for international startups. Frase co-founder Tomas Ratia is also CEO and founder of Dat Ventures. “While Frase intends to generate insights by itself, we believe it is the combination of AI and human feedback that will yield the best results in aiding your creative writing process,” Ratia wrote in a blog post last year.

Luminoso Technologies

Founded at MIT Media Labs in 2010, this Cambridge company produces AI-powered software to analyze users’ feedback in 12 languages, including Chinese, SpanishandArabic. In 2014, the company raised $6.5 million in Series A funding led by New York venture firm Acadia Woods, with participation from Digital Garage. Luminoso’s software extract data and trends from what customers of a specific company write in product reviews, social media posts and call center and chatbot transcripts. However, the software can be launched on very different databases. Recently, Luminoso analyzed 84,058 movie reviews on IMDb and concluded that the 2017 Academy Award winner for Best Picture would have been Jackie. We all know how things turned out, with Moonlight winning over La La Land. Although Luminoso’s software didn’t get it right, it’s worth noting that it considered Moonlight more likely to win than La La Land.


Started in 2015 by Backupify founder Rob May, Talla is developing an AI-powered virtual assistant integrated within office chat programs such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Hipchat and Gchat. The company raised a $4 million seed round last year from Jason Calacanis’s Launch fund and Avalon Ventures, among other investors. The goal of the company is to help IT, HR and other internal service teams cut back on repetitive support tasks, by automating answering of FAQs, managing the support ticket process, and more. May is also a venture partner at Pillar, a new VC firm that made an undisclosed investment in Talla.


Jo Tango, a VC of Kepha Partners, ranked the Kemvi pitch as the second best he heard in 2014 and decided to fund the company with a stealth seed investment. The “two really super-smart data scientists with chips on their shoulders,” according to Tango’s definition, are co-founders Marco Lagi from MIT and Vedant Misra from Columbia University. Co-based in Cambridge and San Francisco, the company focuses on algorithms learning to extract information from text like a human does. According to Crunchbase, Kemvi raised an undisclosed amount of venture funding in the summer of 2016. Investors include Rob May, CEO and co-founder of Talla.


This startup uses a combination of AI technologies (computer vision, big data and augmented reality) to provide customers with makeup suggestions. That’s right, girls: makeup. The final product is what the company calls a “magic mirror:” a photorealistic, real-time virtual simulation of how your face looks with a particular eyeshadow, lipstick and blusher. “We believe that virtual makeup application should not be a form of entertainment, but a virtual sampling tool for accurate decision-making,” the company said on its website. Giaran was created by Raymond Fu, an associate professor at Northeastern University, and it said it has already filed a patent for its technology. In 2016, it was a finalist at the MIT-CHIEF Business Plan Contest. According to Linkedin, Giaran was founded in 2016 and has less than 10 employees.
This is the second story in our AI in Boston series, which is running several stories on artificial intelligence the week of May 15.