From 1992 to 2001, Dan Goldin served as the longest-tenured administrator of NASA, overseeing projects like the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor and the redesign of the International Space Station.
After leaving NASA, Goldin spent some time bouncing around and studying robotics before accepting a position as the president of Boston University in 2003. He never officially held the position, however, because the school terminated his contract a day before he was slated to start (though he still got a $1.8 million payout).
And then Goldin mostly vanished from the public eye for over 10 years.
Today, the 75-year-old Goldin has reemerged to reveal what he has been working on for the past decade: KnuEdge, a top-secret startup based in San Diego, with a mission to one-up Google, AMD, and Intel with the “fundamental invention” of the next-generation computer processor.
“I’m not an incrementalist – I wanted to wait for the grand slam,” Goldin tells Business Insider.
KnuEdge is also releasing its first product to the broader business technology market: KnuVerse, an artificial-intelligence-assisted tool that helps identify and clarify voices, even in the noisiest of situations. With that foothold established in the market, Goldin hopes that KnuEdge will come to be the foremost provider of technology for the neural-network-powered artificial brains of the future.
“We don’t want to be on the football field,” Goldin says. “I want to define where the football field is.”
- Dan Winters
Companies like Google, Intel, and AMD are racing to optimize existing processors, especially graphics processors, to better run the neural networks that underpin artificial intelligence. But Goldin and KnuEdge say they are working to leapfrog them entirely.
“I’d like to be, as an American, on top of the pile,” Goldin jokes. “I’ve never done anything easy – I love to suffer.”
Over that 10-year quiet period, Goldin says, KnuEdge racked up $100 million from investors who would prefer to stay unnamed, while also racking up $20 million in lifetime revenues from unnamed customers, many of whom come from the worlds of military, defense, and aerospace.
With both NASA and Boston University in the rear-view mirror, Goldin says, he went on kind of a trek around the country, trying to figure out what to do next.
Goldin decided that the way forward was to go back to an early fascination he had with building computers that could learn the way humans do. His fundamental insight, or “shazam moment,” from this time of pondering: Humans don’t learn by having things explained to them; “we learn by making mistakes and we have to adapt.”
To follow that notion, Goldin knew he would have to expand his scientific expertise, which already included the physical sciences, to include neuroscience. But already in his 60s, Goldin shied away from going back to school.
“I didn’t want to do a Ph.D. program at my very ripe old age,” Goldin says.
And so Goldin tapped into his post-NASA network of scientists and persuaded Nobel Prize-winning biologist Gerald Edelman, who died in 2014, to take him on as a senior fellow for three years.
With that knowledge, and new contacts in the field of neuroscience research, Goldin knew it was time to start his company. But he very purposely didn’t want to come to Silicon Valley, even though that’s where much of the talent is.
San Diego’s ‘patient money’
“I needed patient money and patient coworkers,” Goldin says.
Knowing that KnuEdge would take at least a decade to come to any kind of fruition, Goldin says he resisted the idea of going to Silicon Valley. As much as he respects that Silicon Valley “has magic,” he was afraid of taking on investors and new hires who were looking for quick payouts.
It turned into a boon for KnuEdge in another way, too: Goldin says he was able to hire top-shelf researchers, scientists, and engineers by promising them that they would have all the years they needed to explore their fields, without short-term pressure to make something salable.
“I wanted people to have time to dream, and you can’t dream to schedule,” Goldin said.
‘We live in a world of noise’
KnuVerse, the voice-recognition software, is KnuEdge’s first real commercial product, and it has been tested in “battlefield conditions,” Goldin says.
It uses artificial intelligence to sift out the noise so computers can recognize your voice. The potential is to use the KnuVerse tech to build the best-sounding voice chat app of all time, or even in a police department’s forensics division to clear up recordings from crime scenes.
“We live in a world of noise,” Goldin says.
Going forward, though, KnuEdge’s real focus is the Hermosa processor and Knuboard motherboard, optimized for artificial intelligence. Banks and insurance companies have already been experimenting with the first versions, using them to sift through massive stores of data more efficiently than existing processors.
The Knuboard system can integrate with Intel- and AMD-based systems, Goldin says, which is good considering they’re still the standard. But KnuEdge is super-focused on building that next big step in processors.
Next for KnuEdge, Goldin says, is to keep developing the technology. And he says that later this year KnuEdge will finally come to Silicon Valley for more funding from traditional sources. Regardless, now that he can talk about KnuEdge, Goldin says this is only the beginning.
“The world needs us,” Goldin says.