Rebecca Gorman, founder of Aligned AI
Since building her first AI 20 years ago, she now focuses on the tension, especially between AI and human preferences, and how to disentangle the two so that humans are still fully in control. She is an outspoken advocate and activist for more responsible and aligned AI, and has published papers and articles on how companies and policymakers can create safer AI systems. Gorman co-developed the core IP, including several advanced methods for AI alignment – ACE, EquitAI, ClassifAI – which have become IP, patents, and products for the company. She was named to REWork’s Top 100 Women Advancing AI in 2023.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I grew up in Silicon Valley and had the privilege of meeting and learning from technologists from Xerox PARC and major tech companies from an early age. I learned to program at age 8 and made my first AI 20 years ago. I enjoyed starting small businesses throughout my childhood and by the age of 14 my dream was to have my entrepreneurial triumphs detailed in Forbes magazine someday. I went on to study business, marketing, sales, and philosophy, both academically and experientially, to prepare myself for this role.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
To connect the dots between what the world needs and what you uniquely can offer it.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I started with identifying a need – AI we’ve developed over the last 20 years has become increasingly dangerous, and this needs to change. The question then became: What can we do to make AI safer, and how can we introduce this technology to the marketplace in a way that makes sense for a commercial venture?
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
1. Follow your core authentic passion – that’s what investors are looking for and what it takes to have the energy to go all the way.
2. Communicate your vision – that’s also what investors are looking for, and what it takes to bring together and motivate a team.
3. Understand your domain – otherwise you won’t translate your passion into a coherent vision with strong marketability.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The opportunity to make a big difference for the better.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Apple – they transformed our relationship with computers and amplified what we believed we could accomplish with computing, e.g. expanded our concept of human potential.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would personally ask for advice on communicating with the world that human potential can be amplified rather than replaced by new computing paradigms.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
It has been gratifying whenever we’ve brought another impressive individual onto the team, such as Dr Stuart Armstrong formerly of Oxford’s FHI and Sophia Metz, founder of Meltdown and current Oxford EMBA student.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Not taking full leadership at times slowed us down. When I know what the company needs to do, it’s important to communicate in full with the team and get full buy-in from all members so we can all pull together in the same direction efficiently.
How have you funded your ideas?
Through bootstrapping and angel investments.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Great intellectual environment. Not as many founders and funders as in London or Silicon Valley.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Unai and Ryan at the Business and IP Centre in Oxford.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Yes. Specifically, I’ve experienced investors making moves on me after expressing interest in investment. The only useful response is to set boundaries, explain that this is harmful behaviour for women’s access to the startup ecosystem, and choosing not to work with that investor.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Prioritise the support of other women, and don’t work with men who push your boundaries.
Any last words of advice?
You can do it.