Onit, a workflow software company based in Houston, announced this week that it has acquired 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield alum McCarthyFinch. Onit intends to use the startup’s AI skills to beef up its legal workflow software offerings.
The companies did not share the purchase price.
After evaluating a number of companies in the space, Onit focused on McCarthyFinch, which gives it an artificial intelligence component the company’s legal workflow software had been lacking. “We evaluated about a dozen companies in the AI space and dug in deep on six of them. McCarthyFinch stood out from the pack. They had the strongest technology and the strongest team,” Eric M. Elfman, CEO and co-founder of Onit told TechCrunch.
The company intends to inject that AI into its existing Aptitude workflow platform. “Part of what really got me excited about McCarthyFinch was the very first conversation I had with their CEO, Nick Whitehouse . They considered themselves an AI platform, which complemented our approach and our workflow automation platform, Aptitude,” Elfman said.
McCarthyFinch CEO and co-founder Whitehouse says the startup was considering whether to raise more money or look at being acquired earlier this year when Onit made its interest known. At first, he wasn’t really interested in being acquired and was hoping to go the partner route, but over time that changed.
“I was very much on the partner track, and was probably quite dismissive to begin with because I was quite focused on that partner strategy. But as we talked, all egos aside, it just made sense [to move to acquisition talks],” Whitehouse said.
The talks heated up in May and the deal officially closed last week. With Onit headquartered in Houston and McCarthyFinch in New Zealand the negotiations and meetings all happened on Zoom. The two companies’ principals have never met in person. The plan is for McCarthyFinch to stay in place, even after the pandemic ends. Whitehouse expects to make a trip to Houston whenever it is safe to do so.
Whitehouse says his experience with Battlefield has had a huge influence on him. “Just the insights that we got through Battlefield, the coaching that we got, those things have stuck with me and they’ll stick with me for the rest of my life,” he said.
The company had 45 customers and 17 employees at the time of the acquisition. It raised US$5 million along the way. Now it becomes part of Onit as the journey continues.
How 5G Will Impact Data and Enterprises in 2021
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According to recent research by CCS Insight, there will be almost a quarter of a billion 5G connections worldwide by the end of 2020. They say this number is expected to triple in 2021 and grow to 3.6 billion globally by 2025. 5G will impact the way we live and work today — improving connectivity speeds and services for everyday gadgets like cell phones, tablets, and laptops is only one aspect of what 5G will enable. 5G monetization will go way beyond consumer services, notes mobility giant Ericsson — in their 5G for business (a 2030 market compass report), they state:
“The addressable market increases exponentially with the introduction of faster, extremely low latency mobile networks that will allow enterprises from different business segments to provide new and revolutionary services.”
5G Deployments Gain Steam, Spotlight True Value of 5G
We will see a substantial increase in 5G
trial initiatives by enterprises over the next 12 months, especially in
verticals such as manufacturing, energy, and surveillance, to enable
mission-critical applications that require low latency. In 2021, consumer
handsets will remain the most widely adopted 5G use case, focused on allowing
faster data speeds for users, before being overtaken by enterprise applications
in 2022. These enterprise and industrial deployments will offer more radical
disruptions and significant value-added services and apps associated with
5G. They will utilize new attributes and properties, such as
Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), Massive-Machine Type
Communications (MMTC), and private bands, which are uniquely 5G. (For
example, when a mobile device misses frames while playing a YouTube video, this
will only impact the user in a minor way. However, when an industrial
surveillance drone or autonomous vehicle loses connection or is slow to receive
critical signals, it may crash, endangering safety, or leave field staff vulnerable
to accidents and leading to significant equipment and property damages.)
Efforts like CBRS and O-RAN will allow
enterprises to deploy private 5G networks at lower operating price points,
allow new providers to enter the market, and bridge the digital divide.
We may see traditional consumer 5G vendors
entering the enterprise space, but these companies will struggle to pivot away
from the traditional consumer markets based on available internal resources and
expertise. Incumbents will certainly not ignore the enterprise market; however,
they are not likely to put all their eggs in that basket as newer players will.
Do Not Halt Adoption
Although the ever-changing global
permissions regarding Huawei equipment usage may impact the companies’
investment in innovation and profitability, this trend will not affect overall
5G adoption. Instead, these uncertainties provide an opening for innovative
startups to gain footing in the market. In 2021, driven by the rapidly
increasing demand for 5G, country bans on specific equipment vendors will not
impact 5G adoption or innovation and instead open up the prospect base for
Equally, customer and market innovation of
5G will predicate on innovation at the silicon level. This will give rise
to innovation at both a software and hardware level. Operators and OEMs
will also look for novel solutions that can achieve new levels of performance,
power, and TCO apart from existing traditional merchant silicon offerings.
Become Open, While Monolithic Solutions Evolve or Get Left Behind
Similar to what happened in the data center
space, OpenRAN (O-RAN) will become more mainstream, challenging monolithic
solutions of the past. Prior to the open source software trend for data centers,
large companies such as Dell, HP, and IBM dominated in this market. When
companies like Facebook and Google stepped into this space, they popularized
the belief that monolithic solutions are outdated, and companies should instead
disaggregate the hardware from software and use open source software rather
than commercial. Today, as a result of open compute standards, commoditized
hardware, and open source software offerings, the market is much more
democratized, which has resulted in lower costs and increased vendor
competition, more customization, and more room for innovation.
No matter the hype, 5G vendors are still
highly consolidated today. To scale 5G solutions with efficiency, intelligence,
and versatility, the market will prioritize O-RAN solutions rather than
monolithic ones. We will see white box hardware and open source software
elements from different vendors. O-RAN will present the opportunity for a lot
more startups to get a hold in this space. We have already seen big cloud
operations making announcements and investments in open source technology in
2020, and this wave will continue in 2021 and beyond.
at the Edge Brings Manufacturing Back to the U.S.
Enabled by reliable, high-performance 5G connectivity and real-time edge computing capabilities, enterprises will more rapidly implement AI technology to support various use cases across their organizations, including robotic assembly lines, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality training, and more. These intelligent, AI-driven solutions will automate traditional, manual processes to increase performance and visibility while lowering cost.
Traditional manufacturing settings employ a
significant amount of manual labor. To keep operational costs low, many
industries have taken their factories outside of the U.S. By implementing AI
throughout factories, manufacturing can automate many resource-expensive tasks.
For example, Tesla was able to place its factories in one of the world’s most
expensive geographies by automating most of its factory functions. By utilizing
AI to operate their robot workers, there is a massive opportunity for the western
world to reshore or nearshore manufacturing operations. In 2021, manufacturers
will lay the groundwork for company-wide, cost-effective industrial automation.
Over the next five years, we will see these industries completely transform
themselves due to the automating power of real-time AI.
With an overwhelming tsunami of data being generated by more
end devices at the edge, it is even more important to process this data in real-time
as close to the data source as much as possible. I look forward to seeing how
these predictions will become a reality over the next 12-months.
Will Mask-Scanning Tech Help Stop COVID or Create A Privacy Disaster?
Bennat Berger is an entrepreneur, investor, and tech writer.
2021 has arrived and it brought an ever-pressing need for disease tracing and mitigation measures. We face a difficult time; but will the surveillance measures we take to encourage protective behaviors and prevent the spread of disease ultimately expose us to even greater (privacy) risks?
Beyond implementing social distancing and testing measures, health authorities have pressed the general public to wear masks in public settings and when around people not in their household, especially when other social distancing measures (i.e., maintaining a six-foot distance) are difficult to maintain. Doing so has proven benefits; one study in Germany recently found that mask mandates lessened the growth of infections by about 40 percent.
“I think the biggest thing with COVID now that shapes all of this guidance on masks is that we can’t tell who’s infected,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco, recently shared for the University’s news bulletin. “You can’t look in a crowd and say, oh, that person should wear a mask. There’s a lot of asymptomatic infection, so everybody has to wear a mask.”
To that end, some have posited the use of mask-scanning tech as a means to enforce mask-wearing compliance and limit disease spread. In September, National Geographic reported that the San Francisco tech company LeewayHertz had pioneered a mask recognition algorithm that could be used to identify non-compliance and facilitate enforcement efforts.
As reporters for the magazine wrote: “LeewayHertz’s algorithm […] could be used in real-time and integrated with closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. From a given frame in a video, it isolates images and organizes them into two categories, people who are wearing masks and those who are not.”
LeewayHertz’s mask-recognition software has been deployed in “stealth mode” in several settings across the United States and Europe. Several restaurants, hotels, and even one East Coast airport have used the algorithm to ensure that their staff members comply with mask-wearing policies.
The benefits of such technology are evident at a glance. LeewayHertz’s algorithm could lift the burden of identifying maskless shoppers and personnel and allow authorities to better use their time for targeted enforcement efforts. This tactic would empower public health authorities to enforce mask-wearing, limit non-compliance, and minimize disease spread in heavily-trafficked public spaces.
Of course, anyone remotely concerned with data privacy would also immediately wonder how invasive such technology could be. The answer? Not very – at least, not yet.
The loophole is that mask recognition software doesn’t identify faces, only whether or not that face is covered. In fact, research indicates that masks can drastically limit the efficacy of facial recognition technology. According to one study by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), masks cause the most-used facial recognition algorithms’ error rates to spike to between 5 percent and 50 percent.
Technically, mask recognition sidesteps the privacy issue quagmire by not identifying those it flags – for now.
We find ourselves in an awkward spot. On the one hand, the idea of sending enforcers after non-compliant shoppers or staff when flagged by mask-recognition-empowered CCTV surveillance feels a little too close to an Orwellian dystopia for comfort. On the other, the sheer scale of the pandemic compels public health authorities to do what they can to limit the spread of potentially deadly diseases.
“There’s a willingness to relax the rules when it comes to anything related to COVID,” James Lewis, the director of the Technology Policy Program for the Center of Strategic and International Studies, recently told reporters. “The issue is, when this is over, will we go back?”
Lewis raises an important question if only because while mask recognition does not currently identify faces, the capability is already undergoing research and development. In August, CNN Business reported that the California-based company Trueface is presently working on tailoring their facial recognition technology to focus on the upper (unmasked) part of the face. They hope that in doing so, the tech will be better able to identify a masked subject. As of the time of the CNN article’s publication, the company’s research team planned on rolling out its advancements within two months — that is, around now.
With this in mind, it is possible to envision a world in which our already-deployed mask-recognition technology gains an identification capability. This is problematic, given previous attempts to ban some aspects of authority-deployed technology while keeping others.
In 2019, Wired reported that when San Francisco’s anti-surveillance laws and facial recognition ban were proposed, police officials for the city claimed that they had shelved all facial recognition testing as of 2017. What the authorities didn’t publicly mention, however, is that the police department had contracted with a facial recognition firm that same year to maintain a mug shot database, facial recognition software, and a facial recognition server through the summer of 2020.
After the ban took effect, the department rushed to dismantle the software; however, the notion that the city’s police force could deploy facial recognition technology without public oversight is troubling and stands as a concerning case study.
Of course, you could argue that mask-recognition tech lacks the privacy concerns that facial-recognition tech poses. Some cities already have made a case to this effect. This August, Portland, Oregon became the first US city to ban the public and private use of facial recognition – however, according to National Geographic, “Hector Dominguez, the Smart City Open Data Coordinator for Portland, sees mask recognition as different from facial recognition with regards to its privacy risks.”
This argument orients mask recognition software as an exception to the facial recognition bans’ rule — and does so with both merit and cause. After all, the technology does not currently pose privacy risks and could serve a valuable purpose in limiting disease spread via mask-wearing enforcement. However, it also creates a pattern of public tracking – and our experiences in San Francisco and Oregon inform us that we may press the moral boundaries of such technology if it is made available.
Suppose we accept mask recognition software as a (temporary) means to identify non-compliance during COVID-19. In that case, it becomes easy to argue that applying newly-developed facial-recognition capabilities to that software would help public health authorities find and identify virus-exposed people during contact tracing efforts. It would be a logical, helpful move. However, at that point of acceptance, we establish a precedent – intended or not – of surveillance and tracking people “for their own good.”
The slippery slope very nearly speaks for itself. Mask-recognition software presents a short-term public health opportunity that could open the door to a long-term privacy nightmare. Our fears around COVID-19 are warranted and deserve addressing, but the measures we take to protect ourselves shouldn’t expose us to privacy ills.
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Artificial Intelligence Creates Tremendous Changes for the Direction of Marketing
Artificial intelligence (AI) powered solutions have popped up across numerous industries. From healthcare to transportation, it has found applications in a vast number of things and business marketing is no different.
Loads of business marketing solutions are available today that come with the power of AI. These include chatbots, video creation tools, and so much more.
So, that begs the question – how is AI transforming business marketing?
To understand that, let’s take a look at some of the most important AI-powered marketing solutions that brands are using.
Applications of AI in Business Marketing
Here are the main places where AI finds applications in business marketing and is revolutionizing it:
Chatbots have emerged as one of the best ways of improving your customer service, and, as a result, customer experience. They are affordable, available round the clock, and can communicate with numerous customers at the same time.
This not only helps serve your customers faster but also helps you reduce your costs drastically. However, normal chatbots can’t understand complex user queries. They only answer based on the flows that you set up.
That’s where AI chatbots shine. Armed with the power of machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP), these AI-powered chatbots can understand user queries with ease.
They can answer them well too without the need to define a particular flow for the chatbot. All you have to do is feed them data from your website and other sources and they’ll be able to answer questions well.
And that’s not all…
They can take your business marketing to the next level as you can send out notifications and promote your products through them.
2. PPC Marketing
PPC marketing is an important part of any marketing strategy. Effectively leveraging it can help you drive targeted traffic to your website and boost your lead generation efforts and sales. You can do this on both social media platforms and the search engines.
When you’re running PPC campaigns, there are loads of parameters that come into play. These include your ad copy, audience, keywords, negative keywords, CPC bid, and more. To optimize these, you need to conduct numerous A/B tests.
All of these operations require that you have an agency or a dedicated team for PPC within your business. AI can help you remove these requirements.
Numerous AI-powered tools help you manage PPC campaigns without any human interference now. They can even optimize your campaigns for you.
Albert is one such tool. It helps you create and optimize campaigns and works autonomously so that you can concentrate on other important tasks.
3. Content Creation
Content is essential for promoting any business and without content marketing, you can’t expect to get anywhere with your business marketing efforts. Creating such content requires skilled content writers and copywriting experts.
And that’s not all.
Content creation is also a time-consuming process as the writers need time to come up with stellar content. It is also usually expensive.
Using AI-powered content creation tools, you can speed up the content curation and creation process. Many tools can come up with unique content for your brand while others can also assist the writers with their work. This way, you’ll be able to quickly put out high-quality content and market your business well.
4. Video Creation
Videos are an essential part of any smart brand’s marketing strategy. Easier and affordable internet access has skyrocketed the consumption and production of video content.
In fact, social media platforms are also prioritizing such content. Facebook has a dedicated section for videos called “Watch” and Instagram has launched Reels and IGTV for that reason too.
So, it makes sense to create high-quality videos regularly to market your brand.
That’s where things get tricky…
Video creation is a time-consuming process and also requires a dedicated team. You need to shoot or curate videos and then edit them as well.
You could use apps to edit videos if you’ve got the time to develop them. However, all of this can get in the way of publishing videos regularly.
This is where AI can help you. AI-powered video makers can seamlessly create videos for you in minutes. All you need to do is select the video clips and the tool will help you design the video with ease.
For instance, Lumen5 helps you develop great videos with minimal inputs.
5. Website Design
Your website serves as the digital identity of your business. Once you’ve chosen a reliable web hosting platform, selected the type of web hosting (from available options such as cloud hosting, WordPress hosting, and Magento hosting), and bought a domain name, you need to start designing your website.
To develop your website, you might need to hire professionals who have experience doing so. However, this could be a costly affair as the developers may charge a fixed or hourly fee to design your website based on your preferences.
So, what can you do?
You could use a website builder if you’ve got the time to design your website from scratch. But the fastest way? Use an AI-powered website builder.
These builders can develop stunning websites based on a few inputs. Once you’ve entered the information, the builder creates the website for you automatically.
One of the best website builders that runs on AI is Wix ADI. This builder asks you a few questions about your website and then based on your answers, it builds one for you quickly. It pre-populates most of the things like your logo and contact information so that your website is ready in minutes.
6. Customer Insights
One of the most important parts of marketing is that of understanding how your customers are reacting to your marketing efforts. This is why it’s important to understand your customer insights.
You might be collecting a great amount of data about their behavior. However, making sense of it can be challenging. AI can help you with that as well. It can make sense of the data and deliver powerful insights that you can use to make business decisions.
There are numerous applications of AI when it comes to business marketing. From website design to creating content and videos, it simplifies numerous tasks that would otherwise require a lot of effort.
You can use chatbots to serve your customers better, use AI website designers to develop websites quickly, and also improve your PPC marketing using these platforms.
It’s also possible to create content quickly using AI. Finally, it also helps deliver powerful customer insights using which you can improve your marketing strategy.
Do you have any questions about how AI is transforming business marketing? Let me know in the comments section.
GM CEO Barra Outlines an “All-Electric Future” with AI On Board at CES
By John P. Desmond, AI Trends Editor
Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO of General Motors outlined GM’s move into all-electric vehicles including autonomous self-driving cars, in a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronic Show held virtually this week.
While global market penetration of all-electric vehicles stands at about three percent today, “We believe that is all about to change. We see an inflection point,” Barra said. “We are transitioning to an all-electric future.”
Through its partnership with LG Chem called Ultium announced last year, GM is producing lithium-ion batteries that increase the vehicle driving range, lower the cost and reduce battery weight, said Mei Cai, GM technical fellow and Lab Group Manager for GM. “The foundation of our platform approach is the single, common cell design that can be used across our vehicles,” she said.
The design allows for horizontal stacking in the bottom of the chassis, accommodating six, eight, 10 or up to 24 battery modules in a pack, depending on the power requirements of the vehicle. The chassis design provides a degree of protection for the batteries.
A software layer, called the Vehicle Intelligence Platform (VIP), keeps everything working “It is capable of managing 45 terabytes of data processing power per hour, a five-fold increase over the current architecture,” Cai said. Plans are to roll out the VIP software architecture worldwide by 2023.
GM has offered the OnStar over-the-air vehicle communication system for 25 years, giving it a leg up. GM receives 150,000 OnStar-related calls per day and 120,000 remote vehicle unlock requests per month, said Travis Hester, Chief EV Officer for GM.
The SuperCruise driver-assist system, announced for Cadillacs last year, includes a driver attention system that monitors the driver’s attention with a camera to ensure eyes stay on the road. Software is updated remotely. Some 85% of Cadillac customers with experience said they will only buy a vehicle with SuperCruise on it, Hester said. The 2022 Chevrolet Bolt electric utility vehicle (EUV) is expected to be the first Chevy vehicle to come equipped with the SuperCruise system.
Barra said GM will have invested more than $27 billion in its electric programs by 2025.
GM will have 30 new electric vehicles available globally in the next five years, said Michael Simcoe, VP of Global Design for GM. The Bolt EV and electric utility vehicle (EUV) will be in dealerships this summer, he said. Full-size electric pickups are coming as well.
Barra returned to the screen and announced BrightDrop, aimed at helping delivery and logistics companies to move goods more efficiently. “BrightDrop offers a smarter way to deliver goods and services,” she said. GM has estimated that by 2025, the market for parcel, food delivery and reverse logistics in the US will be over $850 billion. The World Economic Forum has projected demand for urban last-mile delivery, field by e-commerce, is expected to grow 78% by 2030, leading to a 36% increase in delivery vehicles in the world’s top 1-0 cities. The increase is expected to cause delivery-related carbon emission to rise by nearly one-third.
New BrightDrop EV Venture Aims to Support Delivery Logistics
Enter GM with its electric vehicles. The BrightDrop EV1 is an electric pallet that will help to reduce package touchpoints and physical strain on delivery drivers. It has a speed of up to three miles per hour, walking speed. It can hold 23 cubic feet of cargo of up to 200 pounds. The BrightDrop EV600 is an all-electric light commercial vehicle built for the delivery of goods and services over long ranges. It has an estimated range of 250 miles on a full charge. A demo video showed the side door flipping up and the EV1s rolling out on their own. The first EV600s are planned to be delivered by the end of 2021, GM said.
GM is conducting a pilot program with FedEX Express to test the EV600s and EV1s. FedEx couriers were able to handle 25% more packages per day during the pilot, according to FedEx. The pandemic of 2020 has accelerated growth in e-commerce deliveries to levels not expected for another three to five years, said Richard Smith, FedEx Express regional president of the Americas. “We expect US deliveries to reach 100 million per day by 2023, three years early,” he said. “BrightDrop is an example of an innovation we are hoping will help us handle the unprecedented demand, while reducing the environmental impact,” he said.
A second pilot is taking place this quarter, he said.
Cruise Self-Driving Car Company Beginning to Deliver on GM’s Investment
Barra returned and said, “Electrification will be a catalyst for a range of new experiences.” She then introduced Kyle Vogt, the cofounder and CTO of Cruise, the self-driving car company based in San Francisco that GM acquired in 2016. Cruise recently announced its first autonomous vehicle for ridesharing and food delivery, to be built at Factory Zero, the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center for all-electric vehicles. A pilot program with Walmart for delivering groceries in Scottsdale, Ariz., was announced last year.
Cruise is providing driver control algorithms and AI for the Chevy Bolt electric vehicle being manufactured in the Orion Township assembly plant in Michigan. “We have plenty of work to do in 2021,” Vogt said. “We burned down a lot of the technology that was holding us back in 2020. Our mission is to build a form of transportation that is cleaner, and we are on the verge of doing that by virtue of our partnership with GM,” he said.
Read coverage of GM’s announcements at CES 2021 in the Detroit News.
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