Certain innovations shaping the world today owe their existence to the ingenuity of Black inventors.

Among these notable figures stands the luminary Garrett Morgan, whose groundbreaking invention of the three-light traffic signal revolutionized urban transportation safety. Marie Van Brittan Brown’s pioneering work was developing one of the earliest home security systems. Additionally, Alexander Miles’ creation of automatic elevator doors is proof of the profound impact of Black inventors, alongside countless others who have left their mark on various fields.

Sometimes the work of these heroes goes unnoticed in society. Black History Month serves as an annual reminder to amplify the voices of these changemakers, a mission that has become paramount for Kobie Fuller, a general partner at Upfront Ventures since 2016.

Work In Venture Capital

His work in amplifying Black voices has been a constant across his more-than-20-year career in venture capital, which began one year after he finished his studies at Harvard University.

“We need to make sure that Black founders have that same opportunity where they’re able to skip first base, go out with material amounts of capital, achieve real progress momentum where that Series A is right around the corner three to six months later,” Fuller said during a 2022 panel discussion with Google on “Closing The Racial Wealth Gap.” “Instead, you’re seeing more founders are piecing together $1 million, $2 million seed rounds at best and are being hamstrung with regards to their ability to show enough progress to cross that chasm to that Series A round. It’s just a point now in time where we just need to get larger checks in the hands of talented Black founders who are going after both traditional enterprise software use cases and consumer tech, as well as problems within their own communities because the stakes are incredibly high.”

He continued, “But also it’s a very, very, very good business to do from a venture perspective. So that’s the way I look at the issue and the dynamic, and it’s one from where we stand at Upfront. We’re being very deliberate with regards to making sure that we’re not only talking the talk but walking the walk, and writing those types of checks behind those types of founders.”

Generative AI To Spotlight Black Inventors

Fuller is finding new mediums to amplify the Black community beyond the world of VC — by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to spotlight Black inventors. He views the arrival of generative AI as a pivotal moment ushering in new potentialities. The tool can be most accurately characterized as a deep-learning model capable of generating images, texts, and content derived from the data it was trained on, per IBM.

It now serves as Fuller’s personal playground and a medium to educate society.

“What I chose to do is instead of waiting for these companies to pitch me and I choose which ones to invest in — which that’s part of my job — was to roll up my sleeves and have a better understanding with regards to how some of this technology works and how I could be prototyping some of my own experiences. It is an experiment for pushing out interesting and interactive chat bots,” Fuller told AFROTECH in an interview.

Considering Black History Month, Fuller has developed an AI chatbot offering information about Black Inventors such as Lewis Howard Latimer, the engineer credited with enabling the reliability and affordability of light bulbs by patenting a carbon filament production method in 1881, or Thomas Elkins, who patented a refrigerating apparatus, which led to the refrigerators many people have today.

To begin, users of the chatbot will receive a prompt that reads, “Lets get ready to have some fun and learn about the impact Black inventors have had on society. What’s your name?” After the introduction, they will have a chance to learn from a pool of more than 100 Black inventors.

“What I decided to do for Black History Month was to use AI as a means to communicate and share knowledge. It is a really cool way to teach people about aspects of Black history and make it more personalized and enlightening,” Fuller shared.

Photo Credit: Kobie Fuller

He has launched other chatbots through his Kobie.ai, including “JIM AI,” which amplifies diversity, equity, and inclusion leader Jim Lowry, as well as “athletes and activism,” which sheds light on athletes and their contributions to society.

The intention for Fuller is to make knowledge he deems valuable to society more accessible to the masses.

“Kobie.ai is better connecting highly valuable knowledge and information that, in many cases, does not sit within these foundational models built by companies like OpenAI, and bringing them to life,” he mentioned. “This is done through the power of what’s now simple techniques like retrieval augmented generation (RAG) and [large language models], LLMs, to create a magical personalized experience.”

He continued, “My vision for the future is that we will live in a world of embodied AI where we can curate whatever knowledge we value to create an overlay to life that is an intelligent assistant informing and guiding our daily activities.”