One-Line Bio

I'm an AI Researcher, Technology Visionary, Product Strategist, Entrepreneur and Connector, with broad intellectual, social, athletic and artistic interests.

Professional Biography

Dr. Barney Pell is currently Founder and CEO of Powerset, a San-Francisco startup company that is building a search engine based on natural language processing technology.

Prior to founding Powerset, Barney was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Mayfield, a Venture Capital Firm based in Silicon Valley. In this role, Dr. Pell generated and helped evaluate potential investments in early to mid-stage companies. Focus areas included information management (advanced search and navigation, information integration, multi-modal interfaces), social software (social networks, blogs, wikis, P2P), and intelligent agents, with applications to internet search, business intelligence, ecommerce, productivity and collaboration. Dr. Pell formulated an investment thesis on the future of search and played a key role facilitating the firm's investment in SNAP. Dr. Pell was also an Advisor to Mayfield's consumer internet portfolio, including Tribe, Pluck, Snap, and BlackArrow.

Prior to joining Mayfield, Barney was Technical Area Manager for the 80-person Collaborative and Assistant Systems (CAS) area within the Computational Sciences Division at NASA Ames Research Center.

In this role Dr. Pell provided technical and strategic leadership and personnel management for an 80-person research and development organization called Collaborative Assistant Systems (CAS). CAS research areas include intelligent agents, software architecture, human-centered computing, search, collaborative knowledge management, distributed databases, information integration, spoken dialog systems, and semantic web. Customers/missions include Mars Exploration Rovers mission (JPL), Shuttle, International Space Station, FAA, and NASA Astrobiology Institute.

A recognized expert on Autonomous Agents and Human/Agent Interaction, Dr. Pell has published over 30 technical papers on topics related to information retrieval, knowledge management, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and scheduling systems.

Dr. Pell received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Cambridge University in 1993, where he was a Marshall Scholar, and his B.S. degree in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University in 1989, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was a National Merit Scholar.

From 1993-1998, Dr. Pell worked as a Principal Investigator and Senior Computer Scientist at NASA Ames, where he conducted advanced research and development of autonomous control software for NASA's deep space missions. Dr. Pell was the Architect for the Remote Agent and the Project Lead for the Executive component of the Remote Agent Experiment (RAX), the first intelligent executive to fly onboard and control a spacecraft (the Deep Space One mission). Remote Agent is widely considered one of the top achievements in the history of Artificial Intelligence and was awarded NASA's "software of the year" award in 1999. Dr. Pell was also Co-Lead for the Autonomy Integrated Product Development Team for NASA’s New Millennium Program, responsible for planning and managing technology maturation and demonstration of autonomous systems technology for future use by NASA.

Dr. Pell returned to NASA in December 2002 after spending 4 years in startup companies. From 1998 to 2000, Dr. Pell was Chief Strategist and Vice-President of Business Development for, a provider of internet-based stock-market analysis tools. Dr. Pell helped grow from $500,000 to $5 million in revenue in 2 years, when the company was acquired by Red Herring Communications in July, 2000. From 2000 to 2002, Dr. Pell was Vice President of Strategy for Whizbang! Labs. a provider of advanced text processing and search engine software. Whizbang created Flipdog, an online recruiting site that automatically built the world's largest jobs database extracted directly from corporate websites, which was acquired by

Dr. Pell is also Owner of Decision Theory, a research and consulting company specializing in product strategy and business development for applications of advanced computer science (e.g. search, information management, natural language processing, and optimization). Customers include technology providers looking to grow their business, financial investors seeking to evaluate technology segments, and established companies looking to deploy advanced technologies in their products.

Companies I advise



I am a natural networker. I have broad interests and enjoy meeting people and brainstorming ideas. I believe I can help make the world a better place through connecting the excellent people I know. I have presence on most social networking sites. The one I use most actively (and also advise the company) is Linked In. Here is my profile on LinkedIn.


I volunteer for two non-profits involved in youth development.
  • QuestBridge addresses the lack of meritocracy in higher education in the U.S. For the top 150 colleges in the U.S., only 3% of the enrolled students are from the lowest 25% income bracket, and only 9% of the students are from the lowest 50%. A major part of the reason is that many bright low-income high school students (and their families) don't realize that the top colleges want them and have financial aid that can fully support them. QuestBridge reaches out to these bright low-income students and enables them to apply to top colleges with a single college application. For qualified students who get accepted, colleges guarantee full funding for 4 years. In the pilot year alone, QuestBridge increased the low-income students accepted to the top colleges by several % points. For Williams University alone, this program doubled the proportion of low-income students they admitted. For the most elite low-income students, QuestBridge also offers the Quest Scholars program, an intensive residential education program that provides high school students with life skills, support and scientific/environmental projects. QuestBridge was founded by my good friend Michael McCullough, a Rhodes Scholar and Ashoka Fellow.
  • The Future Leaders Institute (The FLI) provides builds bold humanitarian leaders by providing inspiration, guidance, and educational reform to help young people transform their passions into social and environmental solutions.
Other important educational programs I have encountered recently include:
  • College Summit, founded by J.B. Schramm, another Ashoka Fellow.
  • Think MTV: Education, a joint effort by MTV and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Empower Young People to Graduate from High School Ready for College. Ian Rowe at MTV is a friend of my friend Teri Elniski.

Ballroom Dancing

I learned ballroom dancing when I lived in Cambridge and have been dancing ever since. My favorite dances are waltz and polka. Below are pointers to a few resources for dancing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Interests by Keyword

strategy, AI, natural language processing, search, robots, space exploration, evolution, social entrepreneurship, ecology, ballroom dancing, ultimate frisbee, games, chess, hiking, acapella music, barbershop, travel, technology, vision, social networking, conversation, philosophy, movies, reading