AI-powered search engine Perplexity AI, now valued at $520M, raises $70M

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As search engine incumbents — specifically Google — amp up their platforms with gen AI tech, startups want to reinvent AI-powered search from the bottom up. It’d appear like a Sisyphean job, going up towards rivals with billions upon billions of customers. However this new breed of search upstarts believes it might carve out a distinct segment, nevertheless small, by delivering a superior expertise.

One among the many cohort, Perplexity AI, this morning introduced that it raised $70 million in a funding spherical led by IVP with extra investments from NEA, Databricks Ventures, former Twitter VP Elad Gil, Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke, ex-GitHub CEO Nat Friedman and Vercel founder Guillermo Rauch. Different individuals within the spherical included Nvidia and — notably — Jeff Bezos. 

Sources acquainted with the matter inform TechCrunch that the spherical values Perplexity at $520 million post-money. That’s chump change within the realm of gen AI startups. However, contemplating that Perplexity’s solely been round since August 2022, it’s a nonetheless spectacular climb.

Perplexity was based by Aravind Srinivas, Denis Yarats, Johnny Ho and Andy Konwinski — engineers with backgrounds in AI, distributed methods, search engines like google and databases. Srinivas, Perplexity’s CEO, beforehand labored at OpenAI, the place he researched language and gen AI fashions alongside the strains of Secure Diffusion and DALL-E 3.

Not like conventional search engines like google, Perplexity presents a chatbot-like interface that permits customers to ask questions in pure language (e.g. “Can we burn energy whereas sleeping?,” “What’s the least visited nation?,” and so forth). The platform’s AI responds with a abstract containing supply citations (largely web sites and articles), at which level customers can ask follow-up inquiries to dive deeper into a specific topic.

Perplexity AI

Performing a search with Perplexity.

“With Perplexity, customers can get prompt … solutions to any query with full sources and citations included,” Srinivas mentioned. “Perplexity is for anybody and everybody who makes use of expertise to seek for data.”

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Underpinning the Perplexity platform is an array of gen AI fashions developed in-house and by third events. Subscribers to Perplexity’s Professional plan ($20 per 30 days) can swap fashions — Google’s Gemini, Mistra 7Bl, Anthropic’s Claude 2.1 and OpenAI’s GPT-4 are within the rotation presently — and unlock options like picture technology; limitless use of Perplexity’s Copilot, which considers private preferences throughout searches; and file uploads, which permits customers to add paperwork together with pictures and have fashions analyze the docs to formulate solutions about them (e.g. “Summarize pages 2 and 4”).

If the expertise sounds corresponding to Google’s Bard, Microsoft’s Copilot and ChatGPT, you’re not incorrect. Even Perplexity’s chat-forward UI is paying homage to immediately’s hottest gen AI instruments.

Past the apparent rivals, the search engine startup You.com presents comparable AI-powered summarizing and source-citing instruments, powered optionally by GPT-4.

Srinivas makes the case that Perplexity presents extra strong search filtering and discovery choices than most, for instance letting customers restrict searches to tutorial papers or browse trending search subjects submitted by different customers on the platform. I’m not satisfied that they’re so differentiated that they couldn’t be replicated — or haven’t already been replicated for that matter. However Perspective has ambitions past search. It’s starting to serve its personal gen AI fashions, which leverage Perplexity’s search index and the general public net for ostensibly improved efficiency, by means of an API accessible to Professional clients.

This reporter is skeptical concerning the longevity of gen AI search instruments for numerous causes, not least of which AI fashions are pricey to run. At one level, OpenAI was spending approximately $700,000 per day to maintain up with the demand for ChatGPT. Microsoft is reportedly losing a median of $20 per person per 30 days on its AI code generator, in the meantime.

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Sources acquainted with the matter inform TechCrunch Perplexity’s annual recurring income is between $5 million and $10 million in the intervening time. That appears pretty wholesome… till you issue within the millions of dollars it usually prices to coach gen AI fashions like Perplexity’s personal.

Perplexity AI

Picture Credit: Perplexity AI

Issues round misuse and misinformation inevitably crop up round gen AI search instruments like Perplexity, as properly — as they properly ought to. AI isn’t the very best summarizer in spite of everything, generally missing key details, misconstruing and exaggerating language or in any other case inventing information very authoritatively. And it’s vulnerable to spewing bias and toxicity — as Perplexity’s personal fashions recently demonstrated.

One more potential velocity bump on Perplexity’s highway to success is copyright. Gen AI fashions “be taught” from examples to craft essays, code, emails, articles and extra, and plenty of distributors — together with Perplexity, presumably — scrape the net for thousands and thousands to billions of those examples so as to add to their coaching information units. Distributors argue truthful use doctrine gives a blanket safety for his or her web-scraping practices, however artists, authors and different copyright holders disagree — and have filed lawsuits looking for compensation.

As a tangentially associated apart, whereas an rising variety of gen AI distributors provide insurance policies defending clients from IP claims towards them, Perplexity doesn’t. In line with the corporate’s terms of service, clients comply with “maintain innocent” Perplexity from claims, damages and liabilities arising from the usage of its companies — which means Perplexity’s off the hook the place it considerations authorized charges.

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Some plaintiffs, like The New York Occasions, have argued gen AI search experiences siphon off publishers’ content material, readers and advert income by means of anticompetitive means. “Anticompetitive” or no, the tech is definitely impacting site visitors. A mannequin from The Atlantic found that if a search engine like Google had been to combine AI into search, it’d reply a person’s question 75% of the time with out requiring a click-through to its web site. (Some distributors, comparable to OpenAI, have inked offers with sure information publishers, however most — together with Perplexity — haven’t.

Srinivas pitches this as a function — not a bug.

“[With Perplexity, there’s] no must click on on totally different hyperlinks, examine solutions, or endlessly dig for data,” he mentioned. “The period of sifting by means of search engine optimisation spam, sponsored hyperlinks and a number of sources shall be changed by a extra environment friendly mannequin of data acquisition and sharing, propelling society into a brand new period of accelerated studying and analysis.”

The numerous uncertainties round Perplexity’s enterprise mannequin — and gen AI and shopper search at massive — don’t seem like deterring its buyers. Thus far, the startup, which claims to have ten million lively month-to-month customers, has raised over $100 million — a lot is which is being put towards increasing its 39-person staff and constructing new product performance, Srinivas says.

“Perplexity is extremely constructing a product able to bringing the ability of AI to billions,” Cack Wilhelm, a common companion at IVP, added through e-mail. “Aravind possesses the distinctive means to uphold a grand, long-term imaginative and prescient whereas transport product relentlessly, necessities to sort out an issue as essential and elementary as search.”

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