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    Should we fear AI? Auto tech founders say we’ll learn to live with it
    • June 12, 2024

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the talk of the tech world and has become the dominant new kid on the block in the world of Silicon Valley startups.

    AI has also taken to the streets as fully autonomous robotaxis have been roaming San Francisco since last August — and are expected to expand to the rest of the Peninsula soon.

    Founded in 2017 in Mountain View, Applied Intuition is among the companies that have emerged at the forefront of developing driver-assisted and automated-driving technologies.

    Applied Intuition has Detroit roots, but co-founders Qasar Younis and Peter Ludwig say the company is Silicon Valley through and through, and have no plans of following the supposed “tech exodus” to other states such as Texas or Florida.

    In April, Applied Intuition reached an agreement with Audi to develop automated driving systems for its vehicles. A deal with Porsche was also recently signed where Applied Intuition would develop software for the luxury carmaker.

    While the company is less than seven years old, Applied Intuition landed a $6 billion valuation earlier this year with a $250 million series E investment bagged last March.

    We chat with Younis, the former chief operating officer of famed startup accelerator Y Combinator, and Ludwig, who previously led engineering work at Android Automotive for Google. The founders talk about their confidence in autonomous vehicles, fears around artificial intelligence and why they won’t leave the Bay Area.

    Q: What is Applied Intuition?

    Younis: We build software and AI products that ultimately help people who are in the vehicle industry (whether private or commercial vehicles).

    Q: What interested you in developing AI for vehicles?

    Younis: So I went to the General Motors Institute for undergrad and I worked at General Motors. And Peter has multiple generations of General Motors alums in his family. We’re both from Detroit.

    We grew up there (Peter and I) and we’ve lived out here now for 10 plus years. But within the automotive industry, we realized very quickly that General Motors actually doesn’t make all the stuff that goes in the car.

    We recently launched a vehicle platform. So the platform is in the physical vehicle that runs the software and helps you run the applications in the vehicle.

    And then we are in the (military) defense business, which is doing some off-road autonomy.

    So you can summarize that as we’re like a vehicle software supplier. We supply software that goes on vehicles and to engineers who are building vehicles.

    Q: Safety concerns have been raised over autonomous driving in recent months. How does Applied Intuition address these concerns?

    Ludwig: The safety (of autonomous vehicles) does vary depending on the company that’s working on the technology.

    One of our big focuses is we actually enable companies to make these systems more safe with a variety of tools and infrastructure that we provide. In general, companies try extremely hard to make these systems very safe.

    These are systems that meaningfully are generally safer than human drivers, and I think in the long term, these systems will be much, much safer than human drivers.

    But right now there is this differentiation between what’s called driver assistance versus a robot taxi.

    Q: You announced a partnership with Porsche recently — does this mean we’ll be seeing Porsche autonomous cars on the road anytime soon?

    Younis: I can’t speak for Porsche, but I can talk about us — and yes — you will see our software on many, many vehicles. We’re already a supplier to 18 of the top 20 global automotive makers.

    Q: Can you describe your company culture and philosophy?

    Younis: We’re as Bay Area of a company as you get. Most of our employees are located here in fourbuildings in Mountain View. Most of our employees are software engineers and all are partners of the company.

    That’s a very Silicon Valley thing. And we’re a venture-backed company, and the vast majority of our investors, around 90% or more, come from the Bay Area. I mean it is a Bay Area company that is funded by Bay Area investors, and is an employee base which is software engineers, who basically built their lives around here. So in that sense, we’re as traditional Silicon Valley as you get.

    It is just also the ethos of the company — as a Silicon Valley company in all the ways that a Silicon Valley company is defined. We’re a business that functions off of our revenues. We are cash flow positive, and do not operate off of investor dollars.

    Q: AI has been the talk of the town, and of the world, over the past year or longer. Are the fears people have over AI warranted?

    Younis: Any time there’s a new technology, there’s a lack of understanding.

    We’re always with new technology entering uncharted territory. And so you always have to be thoughtful about how we approach it.

    Take the example of self driving. There is no debate that it will save lives, because the system is always attentive. It has more sensors than human eyes, and it consistently improves.

    Some people are going to be afraid of its capabilities, but that’s because they don’t understand the capabilities. They understand that technology works, but not always the “how.”

    When cell phones started coming in, there was a pretty big backlash on cell phones. Remember those bumper stickers that would say no cell phones in the car? Now, if you get in a car with someone who doesn’t have a cell phone, you’ll be like, “Are you crazy? How are we going to get where we’re going if you don’t have Google maps?”

    Over the arc of human progress, we will learn how to live with AI and use it for our maximal advantage.

    Q: With all the conversations over a supposed “tech exodus” to states like Texas and Florida, will you stay in the Bay Area?

    Younis: I think the thing that is very hard to find outside of the Bay Area is frankly the number of software engineers that exist here that have precisely the right skills and, two, engineers who understand the value of equity.

    It’s easier to explain equity to somebody who’s in the Bay Area. But these are some of the reasons the Bay Area is compelling — lots of people who kind of understand startup life and not only big company life.

    Name: Qasar Younis Position: Co-Founder & CEO Education: M.B.A., Harvard University Residence: Bay Area

    Name: Peter Ludwig Position: Co-Founder & Chief Technical Officer Education: Master of Science in Engineering & Computer Science, University of Michigan Residence: Bay Area

    Five things about Qasar and Peter

    — Younis and Ludwig are Michiganders— Their parents live a quarter mile from each other— Their families both worked at GM— Younis was COO of YCombinator in 2015— Younis and Ludwig, along with the Applied Intuition team, take off their shoes and wear slippers when in the office.

    ​ Orange County Register