A legendary figure in the video game industry, Dr. Michael Capps—the CEO of Raleigh-based AI startup Diveplane—previously served as president of Cary’s Epic Games. Epic created two of the most successful blockbuster video games ever offered: Fortnight and Gears of War. Capps’ tenure included a hundred game-of-the-year awards, dozens of conference keynotes, a lifetime achievement award, and a successful free-speech defense of videogames before the U.S. Supreme Court.
He’s survived trending on Twitter, iPhone launch events with Steve Jobs, and raising two toddlers. Michael began his career with postgraduate degrees at UNC, MIT, and the Naval Postgraduate School. He was featured in SIGGRAPH’s historical documentary on computer graphics for his work on virtual reality. He remains a regular host of multiple television series on the Discovery and Science Channels.
1. What is in your pockets?
Right this moment? I have a phone and the Apple iPod case, which I’m using to talk to you now. I always keep a handkerchief in my pocket. Used to be because I would sweat. Now it’s because my kids all need a towel for something. Now it’s a habit. It’s typically a bandana.
2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
Diveplane is an AI startup. We’re focusing on keeping humanity in AI decision-making. And one of the big parts of that is building a transparent decision-making system. And we’ve got some really cool technology for that.
We tend to work in regulated businesses where you can’t have a black box AI making the decision for you. I hope to expand that to all the decisions that are made by computers so they can be made in a human-understandable way. Our first and biggest product right now is GEMENAI, a data-twin generator. We basically take a data set that has private information in it and create a twin that doesn’t have any of the private data, but still has all the knowledge and insights baked into it. So, you can hand it around to your partners without worrying about leaking people’s personal information or financial data.
We’ve gone from building a platform to building products from that platform. It’s a lot faster time to value for clients. Gartner recently put us in four of their Hype Cycle documents. Suddenly we went from being a startup that’s trying to convince enterprises to pay attention to skipping that step because Gartner gave us so many nods.
Personally, I’ve been working hard on the government side trying to focus on the resilience of our country. We just wrapped up a really big project related to it. I can’t wait for it all to be published. It’s about what do we do for the next COVID, the next Katrina. How do we have public and private cooperate together to solve those problems before they happen?
I’m excited. I’m doing a lot of stuff I think is valuable. The neat thing about being sort of retired is that I get to focus on problems I find important, not just the next game that I need to ship because we’ve made a commitment to a publisher or whatever. So, I can do something different, really important.
3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
Right now it’s my house because we can’t leave. But I would say lately it’s Sola up north (in Raleigh) because of the doughnuts that my kids love, but I like Bean Traders in Durham.
4. What keeps you up at night?
I worry about the future of artificial intelligence. I think everybody’s rushing very quickly to build more and more capable AI systems without much thought on what it is that we’re building. I worry about the huge effort that you see our big competitors like China putting into AI at a pace that’s faster and arguably more effective than we’re doing here in the United States.
And right now, I’m worried about my elderly parents being sick. During COVID it’s hard to be worried about much else, other than the thing that’s staring us right in the face.
5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
I’m a huge food nerd and I love being in the Triangle, because there’s such a range you can get. World-class hot dogs as well as get world-class molecular gastronomy. Lunch at Herons over at the Umstead Hotel is pretty hard to beat. Blind Barbour is my favorite hole-in-the-wall whiskey place. The guy there loves, loves, loves whiskey and loves introducing it to people. And Lonerider’s got a couple of tasting rooms around the city. That’s where I go for beer.
6. What is next for you or your organization?
I think we’re right on the cusp of significant growth. There are so many uses for helping organizations move their data around safely without worrying about leaking privacy. So, whether it’s helping a hospital be able to share their data with research, or sell that data to pharma, we help the company do a better job and not have to worry about giving up personal health records.
We’re hiring actively. I’d expect more of that. I can’t wait to start building more products. As a startup, I have to focus. It’s one of the things I hate most about being in an early stage company, is that you have to focus so strongly. I can see all the other things we can do. I want to help different kinds of businesses be successful. We’re doing work with DARPA and other government organizations. I’d like to be able to do more of it, and that means scale it up. That’s what we’ll do.
That’s where the real greatness comes, being able to scale up and take advantage of the structure you’ve built to do more with it. We’re looking forward to that.