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Altera Closes $9M Seed Round to Build Digital Human Beings and Redefine AI Agents

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After shutting their MIT lab, founders raise $11.1 million in first five months of company's inception

LOS ANGELES, Calif., May 8, 2024-- Altera, the company pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence by creating digital human beings, today announced it has closed a $9 million seed round. This brings total funding to $11.1 million since the company's inception in December 2023. Patron and First Spark Ventures co-led the round, joining a prestigious list of investors that includes a16z SPEEDRUN, gaming industry veteran and investor Mitch Lasky, co-founder of Valorant Stephen Lim, Supercell executive board member Greg Harper, Duolingo CBO Bob Meese, Vertex Pharma co-founder Rich Aldrich, Vamos Ventures, Alumni Ventures and more. With this funding, Altera is poised to bring real human qualities to artificial intelligence, offering empathy, friendship and fun at an unprecedented scale-starting with innovative agent friends who can play any game and are always online, a first-of-its-kind development in the fast-moving AI agent landscape.

"The human brain is the only example of a high-functioning agent that we know of-able to learn and perform tasks autonomously for days and weeks," said Dr. Robert Yang, former MIT neuroscience professor, and co-founder and CEO of Altera. "The end state for AI products will not require back-and-forth conversation every 20 seconds. We need AI agents who can cooperate to solve complex tasks that may take time and who understand and care enough about us to solve problems we may not have articulated yet."

In February 2024, Altera created the first ever agent to play Minecraft with others, just like a friend. The Altera Agent then achieved the famous "Voyager" paper benchmarks set by the NVIDIA Research Lab by getting to the diamond pickaxe milestone with zero prompt iteration and a significantly cheaper model.

"As an investor, it's not often you come across a startup demo that fundamentally shifts your perspective on human-computer interaction," said Brian Cho, co-founder and general partner at Patron. "The talented team at Altera has developed an extraordinary AI agent tech that has the potential to go beyond its gaming origins and impact numerous industries. We are thrilled to be part of their journey from the outset."

As Accenture highlighted in its 2024 Trends Report, the next few years will usher in the rise of entire agent ecosystems, evolving from solitary-role assistance into automated systems that will make decisions and take actions on their own. Altera is focused on building multi-agent worlds, creating digital humans that are not only highly capable but can be autonomous in the long term.

"There exists a massive opportunity to create AI companions that engage in all areas of our lives. However, today's AI lacks critical traits like empathy, embodiment and personal goals, which prevent it from forming real, lasting connections with people," said Aaron Sisto, partner at First Spark Ventures. "Robert and the team at Altera are leveraging deep expertise in computational neuroscience and LLMs to build radically new types of AI agents that are fun, unique and persistent across platforms. We are thrilled to be a part of their journey."

Altera's founders boast a broad range of experience across AI and business. Yang is a computational neuroscientist and former tenure-track chaired assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, world-renowned for his research on deep neural network models of the brain. He and the company's other three co-founders, CSO Dr. Andrew Ahn, CTO Shuying Luo and CBO Nico Christie, shut down their applied research lab at MIT to launch Altera. Dr. Ahn holds an MIT math PhD, where he focused on theoretical deep learning. Luo spent eight years at Google; the last four were at Google Workspace AI, where he focused on building the first consumer features on early large language models. Christie is a previous entrepreneur whose first startup has scaled to millions in revenue; he dropped out of his MBA at MIT to launch Altera.

"The Altera team brings a rare combination of proprietary research capabilities, strong commercial instincts and fast product velocity to a massive opportunity space in AI agents," said Jonathan Lai, General Partner at A16Z GAMES. "We had the privilege to watch them build 24/7 during SPEEDRUN and couldn't be more excited to continue supporting them in their vision to build new kinds of digital human beings."

About Altera

Founded in December 2023 by a team with experience at MIT and Google, Altera's mission is to build digital human beings that live, love and grow with us. Altera believes digital human beings have the potential to be the most beneficial invention in human history if crafted with a strong pro-human framework. Its first product is an AI agent capable of playing one of the world's best-selling games, "Minecraft," alongside human players. For more information, please visit altera.al.

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