Lightmatter, a startup using light to accelerate artificial intelligence, wins the 2017 MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition

Entrepreneurs / 22nd May 2017

Lightmatter, a startup using light to calculate faster and more efficiently than existing artificial intelligence hardware, took home the Robert P. Goldberg $100,000 grand prize last week after beating out seven teams of finalists during the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition’s Launch Finale held on the MIT campus.

A panel of judges made up of seasoned entrepreneurs and industry professionals said they chose Lightmatter based on the strength of their technology, business plan, pitch, and team composition.

To power the next generation of artificial intelligence, say the MIT PhD students behind Lightmatter, a new kind of computing hardware is needed.

“While big datasets and the steady advancement of electronic computing hardware have enabled the artificial intelligence revolution, progress in electronics is slowing as the transistor—the workhorse of modern computers—approaches its fundamental size limit,” says Nicholas Harris, co-inventor of the startup’s optical neural network technology. “At Lightmatter, we’re using light to accelerate artificial intelligence. By computing with light, rather than electrical signals, Lightmatter’s systems are able to calculate faster and more efficiently than existing artificial intelligence hardware.”

Team members are:

Nick Harris: An EECS PhD candidate and National Science Foundation Fellow studying optical quantum computing and artificial intelligence at MIT.

Yichen Shen: A postdoctoral associate at MIT, he joined the MIT Physics department to study nanophotonics and artificial intelligence. He earned his Ph.D. from MIT in 2016 and is co-inventor of Lightmatter’s optical neural network technology.

Darius Bunandar: Developed software that visualizes night skies that have been distorted by black holes. The blockbuster movie Interstellar recently used this software to create scientifically accurate images. After enrolling in the Physics PhD program at MIT, he joined the quantum photonics lab to investigate artificial intelligence in the context of quantum computation and communication.

Thomas Graham: Currently pursuing his MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management. He previously held business strategy and business development roles at Google and Google X.

“Over the past century, human progress and computational power have been inextricably linked,” says Shen. “Our goal is to power the next generation of computing to build the tools that will move humanity forward.”

Additional awards presented at last week’s finale include the $10,000 Booze Allen Hamilton Data Analytics Prize. The winner, Pipeguard, noted that approximately 20% of all clean water produced around the world leaks from distribution pipes. Their offering is a robot named Daisy that can locate leaks with her innovative skirt sensor while traveling inside the water pipes, accurately locating leaks that are too small for current technology to detect.

changeWATER, whose next generation portable toilet vaporizes off-line sewage, won the $5K Audience Choice Award. changeWATER is targeting the 2.6 billion people around the world who lack access to safe, dignified sanitation due to a lack of access to power or plumbing.

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