GiantOtter receives NSF R&D grant to democratize AI

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., February 26, 2015 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Startup venture Giant Otter Technologies ( announced today that it has been awarded a highly selective Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant from the National Science Foundation.  The two-year $750,000 grant will support GiantOtter’s mission to collect world’s most comprehensive database of human behavior.  “Wikipedia collects the sum of human knowledge, but today’s intelligent applications need to understand how people interact and converse, moment to moment,” says GiantOtter co-founder Jeff Orkin.

Members of the GiantOtter community generate data by playing games together, conversing and roleplaying in 3D virtual environments.  GiantOtter turns this data into products, initially focusing on applications for practicing social and communications skills, where players converse with intelligent characters powered by a massive database of recorded human dialogue and behavior.  SchoolLifefacilitates social emotional learning through playing roles in a virtual school, while RestaurantLife allows practicing English as a second language in everyday situations.  

GiantOtter is pioneering a game development process that transforms the complex problem of artificial intelligence (AI) into many simple tasks, accessible to anyone in the general public.  Members of the community can participate in this process, and those who do will share a portion of the revenues generated by the products they help produce.  This unique collaborative development model enables the company to cost-effectively deliver products with advanced artificial intelligence that address underserved niches.  Co-founder Geoff Marietta explains, “As kids spend more time in front of screens, it’s increasingly important that applications exhibit social intelligence. Bringing sophisticated AI to educational titles was previously prohibitively expensive, if possible at all.”

In their PhD research, co-founders Marietta and Orkin found that simulated roleplaying captures authentic interactions that can be measured and reproduced.  At MIT, Orkin recorded 16,000 people in a virtual restaurant, and demonstrated how this data can be leveraged to understand the meaning of spoken language.  Marietta’s research at Harvard showed how walking in the shoes of a bullying victim and bystander in a virtual world increased empathy in the real world.  In addition to PhDs, GiantOtter’s team includes MBAs from Harvard and MIT, and game industry veterans behind the King’s QuestNo One Lives ForeverFEAR, and Fieldrunners franchises.

GiantOtter’s unique data is garnering external interest as well.  Google is leveraging a subset of the GiantOtter database to train deep learning algorithms to better understand human dialogue.  GiantOtter is also running pilot tests with game development studios to explore enabling players to create user-generated content from gameplay data, extending the lifecycle of major releases.

GiantOtter plans to offer beta memberships to join their online community in June, 2015.  For details, follow @giantottertech on Twitter.  The company will be attending the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco next week.  Developers interested in the technology can find more information, or contact Orkin at

The complete National Science Foundation SBIR grant abstract is available at:


Giant Otter Technologies ( was founded by two Jeffs in 2013 with a vision of building intelligent applications, by the people, for the people.  Its 3D virtual environments are capturing the world’s most comprehensive database of human behavior, complemented by tools and APIs to deploy this data in intelligent applications for education and entertainment.  GiantOtter is a Harvard I-Lab Resident, MassChallenge Finalist, and was a winner at both the Harvard Education Innovation Contest and President’s Challenge.  The company's products have been featured in New Scientist, The Boston Herald and on New England Cable News (NECN).

Media Contact: Geoff Marietta, Giant Otter Technologies, Inc., 1-617-777-3364,

Original press release online at: