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AI-enabled assistant robot returning to the Space Station with improved emotional intelligence

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The Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (or CIMON, for short) recorded a number of firsts on its initial mission to the International Space Station, which took place last November, including becoming the first-ever autonomous free-floating robot to operate aboard the station, and the first-ever smart astronaut assistant. But CIMON is much more than an Alexa for space, and CIMON-2, which launched aboard today’s SpaceX ISS resupply mission, will demonstrate a number of ways the astronaut support robot can help those working in space — from both a practical and an emotional angle.

CIMON is the product of a collaboration between IBM, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and Airbus, and its aim is to design and develop a robotic assistant for use in space that can serve a number of functions, including things as mundane as helping to retrieve information and keep track of tasks astronauts are doing on board the station, and as wild as potentially helping to alleviate or curb the effects of social issues that might arise from settings in which a small team works in close quarters over a long period.

“The goal of mission one was really to commission CIMON and to really understand if he can actually work with the astronauts — if there are experiments that he can support,” explained IBM’s Matthias Biniok, project manager on the Watson AI aspects of the mission. “So that was very successful — the astronauts really liked working with CIMON.”

“Now, we are looking at the next version: CIMON-2,” Biniok continued. “That has more capability. For example, it has better software and better hardware that has been improved based on the outcomes that we had with mission one — and we have also some new features. So for example, on the artificial intelligence side, we have something called emotional intelligence, based on our IBM Watson Tone Analyzer, with we’re trying to understand and analyze the emotions during a conversation between CIMON and the astronauts to see how they’re feeling — if they’re feeling joyful, if something makes them angry, and so on.”

That, Biniok says, could help evolve CIMON into a robotic countermeasure for something called “groupthink,” a phenomenon wherein a group of people who work closely together gradually have all their opinions migrate toward consensus or similarity. A CIMON with proper emotional intelligence could detect when this might be occurring, and react by either providing an objective, neutral view — or even potentially taking on a contrarian or “Devil’s advocate” perspective, Biniok says.

That’s a future aim, but in the near-term CIMON can have a lot of practical benefit simply by freeing up time spent on certain tasks by astronauts themselves.

“Time is super expensive on the International Space Station,” Biniok said. “And it’s very limited, so if we could save some crew time with planning, that would be super helpful to the astronauts. CIMON can also support experiments — imagine that you’re an astronaut up there, you have complex research experiments going on, and there’s a huge amount of documentation for that. And if you are missing some information, or you have a question about it, then you have to look up in this documentation, and that takes time. Instead of doing that, you could actually just ask CIMON — so for example, ‘what’s the next step CIMON?,’ or ‘why am I using Teflon and not any other materials?’ ”

CIMON can also act as a mobile documentarian, using its onboard video camera to record experiments and other activities on the Space Station. It’s able to do so autonomously, too, Biniok notes, so that an astronaut can theoretically ask it to navigate to a specific location, take a photo, then return and show that photo to the astronaut.

This time around, CIMON will be looking to stay on the ISS for a much longer span than version one; up to three years, in fact. Biniok had nothing specific to share on plans beyond that, but did say that long-term, the plan is absolutely to extend CIMON’s mission to include the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/12/05/ai-enabled-assistant-robot-will-return-to-the-space-station-with-improved-emotional-intelligence/

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Two Sigma Ventures raises $288M, complementing its $60B hedge fund parent

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Eight years ago, Two Sigma Investments began an experiment in early-stage investing.

The hedge fund, focused on data-driven quantitative investing, was well on its way to amassing the $60 billion in assets under management that it currently holds, but wanted more exposure to early-stage technology companies, so it created a venture capital arm, Two Sigma Ventures.

At the time of the firm’s launch it made a series of investments, totaling about $70 million, exclusively with internal capital. The second fund was a $150 million vehicle that was backed primarily by the hedge fund, but included a few external limited partners.

Now, eight years and several investments later, the firm has raised $288 million in new funding from outside investors and is pushing to prove out its model, which leverages its parent company’s network of 1,700 data scientists, engineers and industry experts to support development inside its portfolio.

The world is becoming awash in data and there’s continuing advances in the science of computing,” says Two Sigma Ventures co-founder Colin Beirne. “We thought eight years ago when when started, that more and more companies of the future would be tapping into those trends.”

Beirne describes the firm’s investment thesis as being centered on backing data-driven companies across any sector — from consumer technology companies like the social networking monitoring application, Bark, or the high-performance, high-end sports wearable company, Whoop.

Alongside Beirne, Two Sigma Ventures is led by three other partners: Dan Abelon, who co-founded SpeedDate and sold it to IAC; Lindsey Gray, who launched and led NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute; and Villi Iltchev, a former general partner at August Capital.

Recent investments in the firm’s portfolio include Firedome, an endpoint security company; NewtonX, which provides a database of experts; Radar, a location-based data analysis company; and Terray Therapeutics, which uses machine learning for drug discovery.

Other companies in the firm’s portfolio are farther afield. These include the New York-based Amper Music, which uses machine learning to make new music; and Zymergen, which uses machine learning and big data to identify genetic variations useful in pharmaceutical and industrial manufacturing.

Currently, the firm’s portfolio is divided between enterprise investments, consumer-facing deals and healthcare-focused technologies. The biggest bucket is enterprise software companies, which Beirne estimates represents about 65% of the portfolio. He expects the firm to become more active in healthcare investments going forward.

“We really think that the intersection of data and biology is going to change how healthcare is delivered,” Beirne says. “That looks dramatically different a decade from now.”

To seed the market for investments, the firm’s partners have also backed the Allen Institute’s investment fund for artificial intelligence startups.

Together with Sequoia, KPCB and Madrona, Two Sigma recently invested in a $10 million financing to seed companies that are working with AI. “This is a strategic investment from partner capital,” says Beirne.

Typically startups can expect Two Sigma to invest between $5 million and $10 million with its initial commitment. The firm will commit up to roughly $15 million in its portfolio companies over time.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/22/two-sigma-ventures-raises-288-million-complementing-its-60-billion-hedge-fund-parent/

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German football league Bundesliga teams with AWS to improve fan experience

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Germany’s top soccer (football) league, Bundesliga, announced today it is partnering with AWS to use artificial intelligence to enhance the fan experience during games.

Andreas Heyden, executive vice president for digital sports at the Deutsche Fußball Liga, the entity that runs Bundesliga, says that this could take many forms, depending on whether the fan is watching a broadcast of the game or interacting online.

“We try to use technology in a way to excite a fan more, to engage a fan more, to really take the fan experience to the next level, to show relevant stats at the relevant time through broadcasting, in apps and on the web to personalize the customer experience,” Heyden said.

This could involve delivering personalized content. “In times like this when attention spans are shrinking, when a user opens up the app the first message should be the most relevant message in that context in that time for the specific user,” he said.

It also can help provide advanced statistics to fans in real time, even going so far as to predict the probability of a goal being scored at any particular moment in a game that would have an impact on your team. Heyden thinks of it as telling a story with numbers, rather than reporting what happened after the fact.

“We want to, with the help of technology, tell stories that could not have been told without the technology. There’s no chance that a reporter could come up with a number of what the probability of a shot [scoring in a given moment]. AWS can,” he said.

Werner Vogels, CTO at Amazon, says this about using machine learning and other technologies on the AWS platform to add to the experience of watching the game, which should help attract younger fans, regardless of the sport. “All of these kind of augmented customer fan experiences are crucial in engaging a whole new generation of fans,” Vogels told TechCrunch.

He adds that this kind of experience simply wasn’t possible until recently because the technology didn’t exist. “These things were impossible five or 10 years ago, mostly because now with all the machine learning software, as well as how the [pace of technology] has accelerated at such a [rate] at AWS, we’re now able to do these things in real time for sports fans.”

Bundesliga is not just any football league. It is the second biggest in the world in terms of revenue, and boasts the highest stadium attendance of all football teams worldwide. Today’s announcement is an extension of an ongoing relationship between DFL and AWS, which started in 2015 when Heyden helped move the league’s operations to the cloud on AWS.

Heyden says that it’s not a coincidence he ended up using AWS instead of another cloud company. He has known Vogels (who also happens to be a huge soccer fan) for many years, and has been using AWS for more than a decade, even well before he joined the DFL. Today’s announcement is an extension of that long-term relationship.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/24/german-football-league-bundesliga-teams-with-aws-to-improve-fan-experience/

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Delta Air Lines startup partnerships are fueling innovation

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For the first time, this year Delta Air Lines had a large presence at CES. The carrier used much of its space to highlight the “parallel reality” screens developed by Misapplied Sciences and Sarcos Robotics, which brought its latest Guardian exoskeleton. At the show, I sat down with COO Gil West, an industry veteran with years of experience at a number of airlines and airplane manufacturers, to talk about how the company works with these startups.

Like all large companies, Delta has gone through a bit of a digital transformation in recent years by rebuilding a lot of the technical infrastructure that powers its internal and external services (though like all airlines, it also still has plenty of legacy tech that is hard to replace). This work enabled the company to move faster, rethink a lot of its processes and heightened the reality that a lot of this innovation has to come from outside the company.

“If you think about where we are as a world right now, it’s a Renaissance period for transportation,” West said. “Now, fortunately, we’re right in the middle of it, but if you think about the different modes of transportation and autonomous and electrification — and the technologies like AI and ML — everything is converging. There’s truly, I think, a transportation revolution — and we’ll play in it.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/14/delta-air-lines-startup-partnerships-are-fueling-innovation/

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