Founder Spotlight: Ori Goshen, AI21 Labs

“At AI21, we are reimagining the way humans read and write, for the better.” Ori Goshen

Because, as A121 Labs sees it, writing hasn’t changed since the 1980s and the advent of personal computers and Microsoft Word. As for reading, nothing has really changed since 1440, when Gutenberg invented the printing press.

“But we are now entering an era where machines can process and generate text at a high quality,” says Ori Goshen, cofounder of AI21 Labs. “At AI21, we are reimagining the way humans read and write, for the better.”

They say two heads are better than one. But AI21 Labs says two heads—one human and one intelligent machine—are the best.

The company has two core products. Wordtune is an AI-powered writing companion that helps users rephrase what they write to say exactly what they mean. People can use the system to rewrite whole sentences, make them more casual, more formal, shorter or longer. Additional features include “tip of the tongue” for finding just the right word and “smart paste,” which seamlessly fuses new text into existing text.

The second product is Wordtune Read, an AI reader that summarizes long documents to help readers understand more, faster. Whether you’re reading a lengthy blog post, analyzing a report or going through an academic paper, Wordtune helps you glean what is important and cut through the word count to find the content that matters most to you.

Today, the two products have more than 3 million users, including high school and college students, professional writers such as journalists and bloggers, and non-native speakers of English who use the products as learning tools.

At the heart of both Wordtune and Wordtune Read is AI21’s revolutionary technology. The company is focused on natural language processing (NLP), which is the ability of machines to understand and generate natural text. The AI21 Labs technology can recognize 250,000 vocabulary items, including expressions, words and phrases, making it one of the world’s largest AI models.

Achieving significant progress in NLP requires considerable scientific and engineering innovation. Toward that end, AI21 recently introduced the next evolution in natural language processing: the Modular Reasoning, Knowledge and Language system, or MRKL (pronounced “miracle”) and Jurassic-X, AI21 Labs’ implementation of it. MRKL includes one or more language models and augments them with external knowledge sources as well as symbolic reasoning experts that can handle tasks that lie beyond the reach of neural models.

An AI all-star team

AI21 Labs is led by a team of all-stars in the AI industry. It includes Goshen and his cofounders, Amnon Shashua and Yoav Shoham.

Shashua is a professor of computer science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and cofounder of Mobileye, a pioneer in autonomous driving technologies that was acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion.

Shoham is a professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University and a world-renowned AI expert. Shoham has founded several AI companies, including TradingDynamics (acquired by Ariba) and Katango and Timeful (both acquired by Google). He also chairs the AI Index initiative, which tracks global AI activity and progress.

Goshen is a serial entrepreneur who previously founded and sold two companies: Crowdx, a next-generation telco analytics firm, and Fring, a popular VoIP and messaging app.

“We each have specific focus areas,” explains Goshen. “Yoav and Amnon are scientists and I’m not, so they are more deeply engaged in the scientific part of the business. But we are all equally involved in the company. It’s amazing to learn from their experience and their understanding of how to build great technology companies.”

He adds that when the three founders started the company, they wanted to create a world-class research lab but they also wanted to make economically viable products that would lead to a meaningful business. “As a company, we are always thinking about the next leap forward,” says Goshen.

What would RBG say?

What makes A121 Labs unique is not just its cutting-edge research and products but the spirit of collaboration and fun that imbues the entire company.

This playful spirit is evident in the company’s latest project, called Ask Ruth Bader Ginsberg. AI21 Labs collected some 600,000 of the late justice’s words—including her legal writings, news interviews and public speeches—and fed them into its AI. It then created a tool that, when asked a question, gives answers based on how RBG would likely have responded. The idea is to give everyone access to the wisdom of such a beloved figure as RBG.

“With projects like this, what we call AI Drops, we can demonstrate to the world the capabilities of AI but also its limitations,” says Goshen. “The reactions we got to the RBG demo were amazing. I think it inspired a lot of creators in fields like gaming and filmmaking to think about how they can use AI models to create entirely new forms of content.”

Working with Walden Catalyst

After raising a $34.5 million round in 2020 led by Pitango First, AI21 Labs secured $20 million in funding led by new investor Walden Catalyst. Much of that financing will go toward creating additional category-defining products in the AI language and writing category.

“We weren’t looking for funding but there was real great chemistry between Walden and AI21 Labs, so we knew they would make a great partner,” says Goshen. “The Walden team shares the same mindset of building innovative technologies and creating long-term businesses. It was obvious to both sides that this partnership makes sense.”