With the expansion of voice command within smart devices, the need to ensure users' privacy and grant them agency is one that Mycroft AI, Inc. CEO Joshua Montgomery has made his company's central mission. As an ascending player in a market dominated by the giants of Silicon Valley, Mycroft AI supports a technological future that is transparent, open, and free from third party interference.
As the world's first open source voice assistant, Mycroft provides users with an AI system that is completely customizable and designed to simulate human interaction. Although Mycroft can operate on any system such as a personal computer or an automobile, the company has developed two products, the Mark 1 and the soon-to-be-released Mark II, in order to offer an open source alternative to existing smart speakers that collect and mine customer data.
Powered by the Raspberry Pi 3, the Mark 1 is an open software and hardware device geared toward the hacker and developer communities. According to Joshua, "the idea behind the Mark 1 was to empower makers and hackers and developers to help to advance the state of the art of this technology by engaging in creative activities with it." Unlike other AIs, Mycroft features a limitless set of skills that are being continuously developed and refined by its own user base.
After presenting the Mark 1 as an advanced prototype primarily intended for hackers, the company is marketing the Mark II as a polished smart speaker that will appeal to both consumers and makers. Utilizing the same open source approach as its predecessor, the Mark II features a Xilinx quad-core processor, a far-field six microphone array designed by Aaware, beamforming and noise reduction functionalities, and a MicroSD card slot, among other specifications.
"Mycroft brings an open source approach to AI that is a good fit with our community of makers, developers and hackers. It is great to see their evolution from the days of the Mark I," says Hari Kalyanaraman, Global Head of Emerging Businesses at element14.
When developing both of the Mark products, Joshua recognized that in order to be competitive within the market, it was "important that we get the types of economies of scale that are available to companies that would be shipping vastly greater quantity." In pursuit of this goal, he collaborated with element14, Avnet, and Aaware in order to "access a supply chain that small companies like us would never be able to build on our own at pricing that's very competitive to what a big tech company would pay."
Joshua also attributes much of his success to his decision to take his initial vision for Mycroft to market without feeling pressured to build anything beforehand. According to Joshua, "the biggest wasted resource in our country is entrepreneurs who are chasing problems that nobody's willing to pay to have solved." He advises other entrepreneurs to first engage in market research with an idea rather than a physical product. The act of successfully preselling a product that does not yet exist, with the promise of later delivering the physical product is crucial to a company's overall success.
In Mycroft's case, the company has currently raised over $400,000 for the Mark II, with the finished product expected to ship by the end of the year. Those interested in supporting the company can do so via the Mark II Kickstarter or Mark II Indiegogo page.
Looking ahead, Joshua expressed his enthusiasm for building a product that will allow people to effortlessly accomplish both simple and complex tasks within environments that they inhabit in their everyday lives. His is a vision for a future where "the users control their experience, they control their data, they're able to customize it, and they're able to keep their private information, private." He can't help but be excited about the prospect of developing a ubiquitous AI that runs anywhere and responds exactly like a person.
Or, as Joshua says, "We're building J.A.R.V.I.S. from Iron Man. Who doesn't want to work on that project?"
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