Cris Valenzuela’s AI Video Platform May Beat Meta and Google to Market

Meta and Google have built AI video generators but have not yet released them to the public.

An image of a living room sits in a web developing application.
Runway’s AI tools are intended to help artists with creation. Runway

Cris Valenzuela’s company began as a thesis project at New York University (NYU) and is now reportedly worth $500 million.

Runway, Valenzuela’s startup that he founded in 2018, provides artists with a suite of tools that use artificial intelligence (AI) to generate and edit media. Its tools can write audio transcripts from existing videos and create variations of existing images from text prompts. Last month, Runway AI announced it is developing a system that can create videos from text prompts and images.

Many companies are experimenting with AI video generators as they race to innovate. Meta (META), Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook (META) and Instagram parent, announced its AI system converting text to videos last year, but it hasn’t yet released the tech for consumers to experiment with. Meta intends to release it to the public but will continue testing it “to ensure that each step of release is safe and intentional,” Meta said on its website. Google (GOOGL) responded by launching a website about its own AI video generator but also hasn’t made it available for use. Google won’t release the model until it can address concerns with social biases and stereotypes, it said on its website.

AI video technology can aid in creating content from an influencer’s social media to Hollywood films. Everything Everywhere All At Once, which won best picture at this year’s Academy Awards, employed Runway’s video editing tools to make the film, according to Variety. But AI can also help bad actors produce disinformation that causes rifts in social and political climates. Deepfakes, or AI-generated videos that depict someone’s likeness, have already become a problem for celebrities and politicians. A deepfake of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, showed the legislator saying Republicans shouldn’t be allowed to vote in the next presidential election. A digital clone of Emma Watson reading the Mein Kampf spread online earlier this year. Innovation is making AI easier to use and more accessible, but the cost is unclear.

Despite the risks, Valenzuela wants to release Runway’s tech to the world, he told the New York Times.

Twenty years ago, academics were debating the ethics of Photoshop to digitally alter photographs, Valenzuela said on Gradient Dissent, a podcast about machine learning technologies. Now, “‘Photoshop’ is a verb that you can use to describe something that’s manipulated,” he said. Like with Photoshop, AI and generated content will become more familiar to consumers over time, he said. 

There’s going to be bad actors, but like similar technologies in the past, it will change the lives of most consumers for the better, he said in the podcast.

“Runway has content moderation tools and safeguards that protect against nefarious uses of its technology,” Brittany Catucci, a spokesperson for the company, said in an email.

Who is Cris Valenzuela?

Valenzuela co-founded Runway alongside Alejandro Matamala and Anastasis Germanidis, who attended the same program at NYU. Valenzuela serves as the chief executive.

He has a background in economics, business and design from a private research university in Chile, where he was born. After exploring the work of artists and programmers that used AI, he became interested in machine learning and AI generation and accepted a scholarship at NYU’s interactive telecommunications program to study more, he said in an interview with Paperspace, a site for AI developers.

“The initial idea behind (Runway) was to create a platform that makes machine learning models accessible to artists,” he told Paperspace.

Runway, alongside a research group at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, developed Stable Diffusion, the system that generates images from text prompts that skyrocketed in popularity over the last year. It now competes with the top AI image generators like DALL-E and Midjourney.

Runway received $50 million in funding in December, bringing its valuation to $500 million, according to Forbes. That’s more than double its value after a funding round the year prior valued it at $200 million.

Cris Valenzuela’s AI Video Platform May Beat Meta and Google to Market