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This visual recognition startup has poached AI talent from Twitter

New York-based Clarifai has picked up a former Google Brain engineer and four members of Twitter’s Cortex machine learning team.

Clarifai website Screenshot

Clarifai, a startup that creates visual recognition software, has hired four members of Twitter’s machine learning team, Cortex, as well as an engineer formerly with Google Brain, the search giant’s research group focused on artificial intelligence.

Founded in 2013 by computer science PhD Matthew Zeiler after he did an internship with the Google research team, Clarifai licenses customizable software that can automatically organize and filter images. The startup’s clients include BuzzFeed, travel site Trivago and consumer-packaged goods giant Unilever.

The 40-employee startup (including new hires) has raised $41 million, including $30 million in a Series B round led by Menlo Ventures. The round included contributions from Union Square Ventures, Lux Capital and Qualcomm Ventures.

Andrea Frome, who used to be with Google Brain, has taken over as head of research at Clarifai. Her last gig was with the tech team for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. She is based in Clarifai’s new San Francisco office.

Matt Molinari is also joining Clarifai as its VP of business development, from Indeed.

The new hires from Twitter Cortex — Claire Geist, Karen Herder, Minh Tran and Michael Tolbert — worked on curating data used to train machine learning algorithms while they were at the social media company, according to the startup.

One of Cortex's key responsibilities is developing software to automatically categorize and filter certain content on Twitter. This includes identification of images for purposes such as filtering out porn and performing sentiment analysis on tweets.

Venture Beat reported in November that a handful of additional artificial intelligence researchers were leaving Cortex.

Silicon Valley tech companies, led primarily by Google and Facebook, are all racing to scoop up AI talent.

Twitter is also part of that race, though a smaller player. The company acquired image-recognition startup Magic Pony last June, bringing employees from the startup on to the Cortex team. In 2015, Twitter also acquired machine learning startup Whetlab, a five-person startup.

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