“AWS DeepComposer is a 32-key, 2-octave keyboard designed for developers to get hands on with Generative AI, with either pretrained models or your own,” AWS’ Julien Simon wrote in a blog post introducing the company’s latest machine learning hardware.
The keyboard is supposed to help developers learn about machine learning in a fun way, and maybe create some music along the way. The area involved in generating creative works in artificial intelligence is called “generative AI.” In other words, it helps you teach machines to generate something creative using “generative adversarial networks.”
“Developers, regardless of their background in ML or music, can get started with Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs). This Generative AI technique pits two different neural networks against each other to produce new and original digital works based on sample inputs. With AWS DeepComposer, you can train and optimize GAN models to create original music,” according to Amazon.
AWS DeepComposer keyboard
Developers can train their own machine learning models or use ones supplied by Amazon to get started. Either way, you create the music based on the model, tweak it in the DeepComposer console on the AWS cloud, then generate your music. If you wish, you can share your machine-generated composition on SoundCloud when you’re done.
This is the third machine learning teaching device from Amazon, joining the DeepLens camera introduced in 2017 and the DeepRacer racing cars introduced last year. It’s worth noting that this is just an announcement. The device isn’t quite ready yet, but Amazon is allowing account holders to sign up for a preview when it is.
Counting billable time in six-minute increments is the most annoying part of being a lawyer. It’s a distracting waste. It leads law firms to conservatively under-bill. And it leaves lawyers stuck manually filling out timesheets after a long day when they want to go home to their families.
Life is already short, as Ping CEO and co-founder Ryan Alshak knows too well. The former lawyer spent years caring for his mother as she battled a brain tumor before her passing. “One minute laughing with her was worth a million doing anything else,” he tells me. “I became obsessed with the idea that we spend too much of our lives on things we have no need to do — especially at work.”
That’s motivated him as he’s built his startup Ping, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically track lawyers’ work and fill out timesheets for them. There’s a massive opportunity to eliminate a core cause of burnout, lift law firm revenue by around 10% and give them fresh insights into labor allocation.
Ping co-founder and CEO Ryan Alshak (Image Credit: Margot Duane)
That’s why today Ping is announcing a $13.2 million Series A led by Upfront Ventures, along with BoxGroup, First Round, Initialized and Ulu Ventures. Adding to Ping’s quiet $3.7 million seed co-led by First Round and Initialized last year, the startup will spend the cash to scale up enterprise distribution and become the new timekeeping standard.
“I was a corporate litigator at Manatt Phelps down in LA and joke that I was voted the world’s worst timekeeper,” Alshak tells me. “I could either get better at doing something I dreaded or I could try and build technology that did it for me.”
The promise of eliminating the hassle could make any lawyer who hears about Ping an advocate for the firm buying the startup’s software, like how Dropbox grew as workers demanded easier file sharing. “I’ve experienced first-hand the grind of filling out timesheets,” writes Initialized partner and former attorney Alda Leu Dennis. “Ping takes away the drudgery of manual timekeeping and gives lawyers back all those precious hours.”
Traditionally, lawyers have to keep track of their time by themselves down to the tenth of an hour — reviewing documents for the Johnson case, preparing a motion to dismiss for the Lee case, a client phone call for the Sriram case. There are timesheets built into legal software suites like MyCase, legal billing software like TimeSolv and one-off tools like Time Miner and iTimeKeep. They typically offer timers that lawyers can manually start and stop on different devices, with some providing tracking of scheduled appointments, call and text logging, and integration with billing systems.
Ping goes a big step further. It uses AI and machine learning to figure out whether an activity is billable, for which client, a description of the activity and its codification beyond just how long it lasted. Instead of merely filling in the minutes, it completes all the logs automatically, with entries like “Writing up a deposition – Jenkins Case – 18 minutes.” Then it presents the timesheet to the user for review before they send it to billing.
The big challenge now for Alshak and the team he’s assembled is to grow up. They need to go from cat-in-sunglasses logo Ping to mature wordmark Ping. “We have to graduate from being a startup to being an enterprise software company,” the CEO tells me. That means learning to sell to C-suites and IT teams, rather than just build a solid product. In the relationship-driven world of law, that’s a very different skill set. Ping will have to convince clients it’s worth switching to not just for the time savings and revenue boost, but for deep data on how they could run a more efficient firm.
Along the way, Ping has to avoid any embarrassing data breaches or concerns about how its scanning technology could violate attorney-client privilege. If it can win this lucrative first business in legal, it could barge into the consulting and accounting verticals next to grow truly huge.
With eager customers, a massive market, a weak status quo and a driven founder, Ping just needs to avoid getting in over its heads with all its new cash. Spent well, the startup could leap ahead of the less tech-savvy competition.
Alshak seems determined to get it right. “We have an opportunity to build a company that gives people back their most valuable resource — time — to spend more time with their loved ones because they spent less time working,” he tells me. “My mom will live forever because she taught me the value of time. I am deeply motivated to build something that lasts . . . and do so in her name.”
Larry Page and Sergey Brin have handed over control of Alphabet to Sundar Pichai
Twenty-one years after founding Google in a messy garage in Menlo Park, California, Larry Page and Sergey Brin have stepped down from day-to-day management of the company to assume the role of proud parents offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!
Page and Brins decision to hand over control of Google, and its parent company Alphabet, to long-standing lieutenant Sundar Pichai is the end of an era for the search engine giant, which had been built in their image and followed their personal values.
Their exit from the executive suite is the biggest change at the top of a US technology powerhouse since Steve Jobs resigned as chief executive of Apple shortly before he died from cancer in 2011, or when Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, stood down as chief executive in 2000. Amazons Jeff Bezos is now the only founder-chief executive from that period to still be in day-to-day control of his company.
Today, in 2019, if the company was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost, Googles founders wrote in a public letter on Tuesday. While it has been a tremendous privilege to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the company for so long, we believe its time to assume the role of proud parents offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!
Weve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think theres a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a president.
Pichai, 47, who was previously chief executive of Google, will take on all of those roles as Alphabets chief executive. He owns about 0.1% of Alphabets shares.
Im excited about Alphabets long-term focus on tackling big challenges through technology, Pichai, who has worked at the company since 2004, said on Twitter. Thanks to Larry & Sergey, we have a timeless mission, enduring values and a culture of collaboration & exploration a strong foundation well continue to build on.
Brin and Page, both 46, said they would remain actively involved as board members and major shareholders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics were passionate about, they said.
Page had been chief executive of Alphabet since the parent company was created in 2015 to manage all of Googles disparate moonshoot ventures, including flying cars and technology to disrupt the ageing process.
Brin had been president of Alphabet and had already distanced himself from day-to-day management. For a time, Brin had moved his desk to X, the self-described moonshot factory where engineers worked on projects that were expected to fail but had big potential if they didnt.
Together, Brin and Page control 51% of a special class of Alphabets voting shares, giving them ultimate control of the companys future direction. They own 11.4% of the company, worth $101bn (77bn). Alphabets total stock market value is $912bn and has increased by almost 25% so far this year.
Page and Brin are ranked the seventh- and tenth-richest people in the world, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index with estimated fortunes of $62.7bn and $60.9bn respectively.
Under Page and Brin, Googles motto had been: Dont be evil but it was changed to: Do the right thing when Alphabet was created in 2015.
The company has recently faced a growing number of complaints and allegations from politicians and its own workforce. Last year Page was called before the US Senate Intelligence Committee investigating foreign powers influence in elections, but he didnt show up.
Thousands of employees walked out of Google offices around the world last year to protest against a $90m payoff to the former Android boss Andy Rubin, despite finding sexual misconduct claims against him to be credible. The board has since opened an investigation into how executives handle claims of sexual misconduct.
Employees also protested against the companys contract with the US Department of Defence for artificial intelligence work, arguing that Google should not be in the business of war. Google said last year it would not renew the contract.
Google was fined 1.5bn (1.3bn) by the European commission earlier this year for abusive practices in its AdSense platform by blocking rivals Microsoft and Yahoo from selling ads in Google search results pages. This followed a $5bn fine for anti-competitive behaviour associated with its Android mobile operating system in 2018 and a 2.4bn fine for ecommerce violations in 2017.
The pairs reference to becoming proud parents is a knowing nod to the parental supervision they brought to the company when they appointed the Silicon Valley veteran Eric Schmidt as Googles chief executive in 2001, when Page and Brin were still in their 20s and the company was growing rapidly.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?
This week we look at how the Black Friday weekend played out on mobile (including which non-shopping category that saw a boost in revenue!), as well as a few security-related stories, TikTok’s latest bad press, plus Apple and Google’s best and most downloaded apps of 2019, and more.
80% of Android apps are encrypting traffic by default
Google gave an update on Android security this week, noting that 80% of Android applications were encrypting traffic by default, and that percentage was higher for apps targeting Android 9 or higher, with 90% of them encrypting traffic by default. Android protects the traffic entering or leaving the devices with TLS (Transport Layer Security). Its new statistics are related to Android 7’s introduction of the Network Security Configuration in 2016, which allows app developers to configure the network security policy for their app through a declarative configuration file. Apps targeting Android 9 (API level 28) or higher automatically have a policy set by default that prevents unencrypted traffic for every domain. And since Nov. 1, 2019, all apps (including app updates) must target at least Android 9, Google says. That means the percentages will improve as more apps roll out their next updates.
Black Friday boosted mobile game revenue to a record $70M
U.S. sales holiday Black Friday wasn’t just good for online shoppers, who spent a record $7.4 billion in sales, $2.9 billion from smartphones. It also boosted iOS and Android mobile game revenue to a single-day record of $69.7 million in the U.S., according to Sensor Tower. This was the most revenue ever generated in a single day for the category, and it represents a 25% increase over 2018. Marvel Contest of Champions from Kabam led the day with approximately $2.7 million in player spending. Two titles from Playrix — Gardenscapes and Homescapes — also won big, with $1 million and $969,000 in revenue, respectively.
These increases indicate that consumers are looking for all kinds of deals on Black Friday, not just those related to holiday gift-giving. They’re also happy to spend on themselves in games. Mobile publishers caught on to this trend and offered special in-game deals on Black Friday which really paid off.
Did Walmart beat Amazon’s app on Black Friday?
Sensor Tower and Apptopia said it did. App Annie also said it did, but then later took it back (see update). In any event, it must have been a close race. According to Sensor Tower, Walmart’s app reached No.1 on the U.S. App Store on Black Friday with 113,000 new downloads, a year-over-year increase of 23%. Amazon had 102,000 downloads, making it No. 2.
Arguably, many Amazon shoppers already have the app installed, so this is more about Walmart’s e-commerce growth more so than some ding on Amazon.
More broadly, mobile shopping is still huge on Black Friday. The top 10 shopping apps grew their new installs by 11% over last year on Black Friday, to reach a combined 527,000 installs.
Report: Android Advanced Protection Program could prevent sideloading
Google’s Advanced Protection Program protects the accounts of those at risks of targeted attacks — like journalists, activists, business leaders, and political campaign teams. This week, 9to5Google found the program may get a new protection feature with the ability to block sideloading of apps, according to an APK breakdown. What’s not yet clear is if program members will have the option to disable the protection, but there are some indications that may be the case. Another feature the report uncovered appears to show that Play Protect will automatically scan all apps, including those from outside the Play Store. This won’t affect the majority of Android users, of course, but it is an indication of where Google believes security risks may be found: sideloaded apps.
Bug hunter suggests Security.plist standard for apps