Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

Cohere, ChatGPT made in Canada that wants to change the world of work

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Cohere's offices occupy two floors of a brick building in downtown Toronto.

  • Yasmine Mehdi (View profile)Yasmine Mehdi

Speech synthesis, based on artificial intelligence, makes it possible to generate spoken text from written text.

“We're a pretty big player,” says Nick Frosst, smirking. The young company he co-founded in 2020 is today a multinational valued at more than $2 billion. Enough to allow Cohere to establish itself as a serious competitor to OpenAI – the American company behind ChatGPT.

Mr. Frosst is not offended when Cohere is compared to OpenAI. We use the same technology, he explains from his company's offices. The atmosphere is relaxed: employees wear slippers and dogs are allowed. It feels like San Francisco, but Cohere's head office is in Toronto.

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Nick Frosst grew up in Ottawa. He studied at the University of Toronto.

Like OpenAI, Cohere has created a conversational robot – or chatbot – which uses large language models to answer its users’ questions.

But unlike ChatGPT, Coral (Cohere's chatbot) is not aimed at the general public. The young company has instead chosen to target companies to solve problems specific to the world of work, says the boss. Cohere now has hundreds of customers around the world, including giants like Oracle, Spotify and McKenzie.

I think a similar shift happened when companies realized they needed to create websites or apps for smartphones.

A quote from Nick Frosst, co-founder of Cohere

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Unlike ChatGPT, therefore, Coral doesn't just search for answers on the Internet. The software can be directly integrated into its clients' servers, which makes it possible to generate personalized responses while ensuring data confidentiality.

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Servers in a data center

If we want this technology to be useful, it must have access to the same information as a company's employees [internal documents, databases, emails , etc.], explains Nick Frosst. The entrepreneur says he used Coral to obtain the Wi-Fi password for Cohere's London offices during a recent business trip.

Coral can also be used to summarize documents, classify data, sort resumes, write computer code, or moderate comments. In other words, automating boring and repetitive daily tasks, summarizes Mr. Frosst, who believes that his technology will profoundly change the world of work without eliminating jobs.

Jordan Jacobs was Cohere's first investor. We wrote them a check on the first day, says the co-founder of Radical Ventures. The Torontonian has been gravitating in the spheres of AI for years. In 2017, he launched a venture capital firm to identify and finance the most promising young startups.

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Jordan Jacobs believes that Canada has the means to become a world leader in artificial intelligence.

It's extremely rare to be faced with something very small, a tiny idea, that could become a company the size of Google. This is the case for Cohere, says Jordan, who does not hesitate to compare AI to the industrial revolution or the invention of electricity.

In addition to being Canadian, the three founders of Cohere attended the University of Toronto. Nick Frosst and Aidan Gomez worked in the laboratory of Professor Geoffrey Hinton, often described as the founding father of AI. Many of his students have become Silicon Valley stars.

One of the reasons researchers [like Geoffrey Hinton] came to Canada was because their research was funded by agencies like the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, says Jordan, who hopes Canada will continue to carve out a place as a leader in AI.

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Nick Frosst also believes that Cohere will be part of this revolution. With more than 200 employees and offices in Toronto, London, Palo Alto and San Francisco, the Canadian company looks set to get a piece of the pie.

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