By Donna Loughlin
If things had broken differently for Eric Daimler, he could’ve gotten in on the ground floor at Amazon, risen through the executive ranks and, if he hadn’t already left to run another tech giant, been first in line to succeed Jeff Bezos when he stepped down earlier this year.
For a moment, he had a choice to make that could’ve put him on that—or a similar—path. As a young professional not long out of college, he interviewed with Bezos and a small venture capital firm that no longer exists today. He received offers from both—but chose the latter.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
At the venture firm, Eric was exposed to the capabilities and potential of artificial intelligence and it changed his life. He would go on to launch a number AI-related startups and along the way became one of the most influential thought leaders on artificial intelligence and robotics, even becoming a policy advisor on the subject to former president Barack Obama.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my life,” Eric told me. “I chose the right parents and I’ve had a lot of good opportunities. But I’m also lucky enough to have made good choices along the way and I’ve gotten in a position to use what I’ve learned in the experiences I’ve had to influence this technology and how to help shape it.”
Born and raised in Seattle, Eric discovered technology at an early age. His father was a Boeing engineer and Eric says he grew up with computer parts strewn throughout his house—especially the basement. When he thought about his future, even as a young child, he wanted to be part of the region’s growing tech scene.
“The aspiration was Bill Gates,” he said. “Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mitch Kapor… those were actually three faces I literally had in my locker at school. Those were my heroes.”
He first discovered how to use computers to manipulate an external robotic arm while studying at Carnegie Mellon and he was immediately hooked. But after graduation, he ended up going into finance before landing that fateful job with the venture capital firm that would reunite him with artificial intelligence and robotics and change the course of his career.
By this time, Eric had also begun dabbling in entrepreneurship, having launched a pair of small companies of his own while working toward his doctorate. His new role took him into the heart of Silicon Valley’s startup culture and he started working on ways to merge his interest in AI with his love of building a business from the ground up.
Over the next 15 years, Eric would launch several companies of his own, while investing in and advising for a number of others. He became a go-to voice on all things AI, both as a champion of its capabilities and a pragmatic voice of reason when people raise concerns about the dangers of artificial intelligence.
“AI can either be that utopia that we dream of or it can certainly be the dystopia of Hollywood’s imagination, but it’s with our involvement that we as a society determine where on that spectrum this technology finds its expression,” he said. “That’s where I feel that I can provide the greatest value.”