Babak Pahlavan: Creating next-gen personal AI for the workplace

With support from SRI, the CEO and founder of NinjaTech AI is creating the next generation of personal AI for work.

Babak Pahlavan, the CEO and founder of NinjaTech AI, is applying advances in conversational assistance, reinforcement learning, and natural language processing from SRI’s Information and Computing Sciences Division to re-think how working professionals handle day-to-day tasks with the use of large language models. NinjaTech AI recently announced the formation of the company, which is working to build the first true next-generation personal assistant since Siri. Here, Pahlavan discusses his lifelong passion for artificial intelligence (AI) and robots, and how they could change the way we work.

My story is truly the American dream. I immigrated to the U.S. with my family in the early 2000s. Shortly after arriving, I was very fortunate to study engineering at UC Berkeley for my undergraduate degree and then went on to Stanford for my master’s. I was always fascinated by AI agents and thought I’d pursue my doctorate in that field, but I realized I was more of a product tinkerer than a deep engineer, so after completing my master’s, I quickly started my entrepreneurial journey by launching and creating Clever Sense, an AI personal assistant focused on personalized recommendations in the real world. The company caught the attention of Google and was acquired in 2011. After the acquisition, I spent 11 great years at Google as a senior director of product management, leading various consumer and enterprise products – all with a particular focus on AI.

Since 2022, co-founder Sam Naghshineh and I have become increasingly excited about combining the power of large language models (LLMs) with personal assistants and focusing the technology on the enterprise – the idea of personal AI for work was born. We’re excited to be collaborating with SRI to move from ChatGPT to TaskGPT and develop a conversational AI-powered executive assistant that can perform administrative tasks and make all of us more productive at work.

Similar to many other entrepreneurs’ stories, how I got here is nonlinear. I loved my time at Google, and I learned a lot about how to build and scale large businesses. But to create NinjaTech AI, I realized I needed technology partners with deep AI technology that was focused on personal assistants and geared towards startups. I remembered that Siri was born out of SRI, so I reached out to Todd Stavish at SRI’s Ventures group. We hit it off immediately; he’s genuine and thoughtful, and we talked it all through. I left Google on October 15, 2022, and joined the Ventures group as an entrepreneur-in-residence on October 17, 2022. In the same month, NinjaTech AI was born. I was passionate to get started.

NinjaTech AI is making easy-to-use, cost-effective digital assistants that help people get more things done autonomously. What makes our AI executive assistant special is that it can partner with you at work to complete tasks by talking to other people on your behalf, in addition to talking to other software.

Working with SRI, I’m in my element and executing on everything I’ve been envisioning. I work with a specialized team, leveraging SRI’s deep technical expertise in generative AI and reinforcement learning, and can engage my own investors. The NinjaTech team has tripled in size since February 2023; all of us are passionately committed to solving the productivity drain of admin tasks using artificial intelligence.

This work inspires me. Working with SRI makes me feel supported, knowing that the team is here to help create speed and momentum and tackle tough challenges to help me lift this company off the ground. We’re at the starting line today, and I’m confident this partnership will last for many years to come.

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