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Airchat Is Silicon Valley’s Latest Obsession

Ravikant said most of the funding for Airchat has come from his own fund, as well as from Jeff Fagnan, a founding partner at Accomplice Ventures. “[OpenAI CEO] Sam Altman threw in a check, kind of blindly,” Ravikant said. He communicated all of this to me in a public response on Airchat, after politely declining to respond to my DMs and insisting our conversation should happen in public. “It can’t be a side-channel, DM-based interview. That’s the old world that we are leaving behind,” he told me. (In the old world, as in the new world, conducting an interview synchronously is almost always … preferable.)

So far the Airchat feed appears to be filled with tech enthusiasts, early adopters, venture capitalists, and journalists. There’s lots of Bitcoin posting. Winefluencer Gary Vaynerchuk is on the app. So is Y Combinator CEO Garry Tan. This weekend Tan posted, “Breakfast is the first step to greatness. What are you eating this morning?” So far it has more than 96 audio responses. Social media is back, baby.

Airchat has AI. What doesn’t? The app’s deployment, though, is quietly sensible. The transcripts for each Airchat voice note appear almost immediately, and they’re good. Pronounced “Ums” appear within the transcript, but other slight pauses and filler words are edited out. When I used the word “Airchat” in a voice note, it first showed as “error chat,” then quickly self-corrected. The app appears to be able to recognize and transcribe other languages, too; one user spoke in Russian and the transcript appeared in Cyrillic, while another spoke in Moroccan Arabic, known as darija, and then marveled in a follow-up voice note at how good the transcription was.

So what will happen to all of this voice data? Ravikant claimed that the creators of Airchat have no intention of training a large language model on user voices and making “weird synthetic clones of you.” He also said he wouldn’t sell Airchat data to another company building AI models, especially given how relatively small the app is and how uncategorized its data. Airchat will, however, likely use people’s voice data to train a model that improves its own audio and transcription functions. If you’re in, you’ve opted in.

I asked Ravikant about whether some AI company might still scrape Airchat data without a formal agreement. He replied, “We’ll block them, we’ll sue them, and then, if I have a battery of orbital satellites, we’d nuke them from orbit.”

Airchat’s monetization plans are less clear. Navikant hasn’t said anything about charging for access. The current format seems to lend itself to audio ads, but there’s always the risk of making the app unlistenable.

There’s also the issue of content moderation when people’s unfiltered sound bytes are posted to a timeline the moment they release the virtual microphone. One troll seemed to be pushing the boundaries of it on Sunday, cursing the app’s founders, calling the app “fucking trash,” and in as many words telling the founders to, uh, perform fellatio. The voice note is still there. So is a thread where two users go back and forth telling a story about “gay Jewish teens” and “neo-Nazi killers.”