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Video chat apps tout ‘inclusive’ AI features

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Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.


(Reuters) — Video conferencing services have for years boasted that their technology is “intuitive” to use or “integrated” to function with other tools, but now vendors such as Google and Cisco can hardly go a blog post without trumpeting a different attribute: “inclusive.”

The latest buzzword, and the product development that accompanies it, shows how tech companies are newly focused on assuring Black users and other persons of color that online chat products will not leave them out in the cold. The changes stem in part from the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement — which has prompted vendors and customers alike to think beyond the needs of a white, English-speaking audience — and the pandemic, which created a large “remote” workforce heavily dependent on technology.

Alphabet’s Google this month plans to deploy an artificial intelligence (AI) feature that addresses the longstanding issue of darker skin tones being under-illuminated in video chats.

Cisco Systems in January launched a gesture-recognition feature to display a thumbs-up in Webex, taking pains to assure that skin tones would not affect performance. LogMeIn’s GoToMeeting, Microsoft’s Teams and Facebook’s Workplace are adding translation or pronunciation options in what they describe as an equity push.

“Technology is fundamentally today just not as inclusive as you want it to be,” said Jeetu Patel, senior vice president and general manager for Cisco security and collaboration. Setting “values and principles that a product should stand for” has become essential, he said.

The tech industry has long been under fire for a poor record on workplace diversity and a failure to recognize the ways in which product design can perpetuate discrimination.

Worries about bias in video conferencing picked up last September after Colin Madland, a doctoral student at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, tweeted a screenshot of a Black colleague appearing headless when deploying a virtual background on Zoom.

Studies of other AI cropping systems have shown they generate more errors with darker skin, in part because the data used to train them mostly included lighter examples.

Zoom’s chief diversity officer, Damien Hooper-Campbell, told Reuters: “Bias was not at play, but rather a combination of the user’s distance from the camera, use of headphones, and seating position.”

Madland said the problem subsided after his colleague purchased a green screen and some “snazzy lighting.”

For Zoom and its rivals, delivering on inclusion could provide an edge while vying for post-pandemic deals with clients — which are facing their own reckonings on diversity.

Global spending on cloud-based conferencing is forecast to reach $5.41 billion this year, up from $5.02 billion in 2020, according to tech consultancy Gartner. It does not track market share, but analysts cite Zoom and Cisco as the leaders.

‘Not equally represented’

The upcoming Google Meet feature tackles the problem of people appearing darker because of their surroundings, for example when sitting in front of a window, said Niklas Blum, a Google product leader involved with Meet.

“Users with dark skin tones are not equally represented, and we want to build products for everyone,” he said.

The AI separates users from their background, determines whether they are underexposed regardless of their skin tone, brightens the picture accordingly, and finally merges the background and foreground.

Meet’s virtual waiting room will prompt users to activate the lighting adjustment when it detects they could benefit from it, said Stéphane Hulaud, product lead for video quality and processing in Meet.

Blum and Hulaud said Meet first identified the representation issues in video when launching a low-light enhancement for mobile calls well before the pandemic. Developing the latest feature took considerable time, but it led Meet to establish product inclusion testing procedures and mandate them for all of its work.

Google is pursuing additional fixes, too. Meet is pitching laptop makers and operating systems on sharing greater control over cameras’ white balance and exposure. Internally, Google adopted minimum light reflectiveness requirements for conference room designs.

At Cisco, the new gesture-recognition option, when turned on, lets users hold up their thumb on camera for about a second to generate a virtual thumbs-up on screen.

Cisco trained its AI to focus on the shape outline and movement of the gesture in time and space, reducing potential issues from variance in skin tone, said Keith Griffin, a distinguished engineer at the company.

Praying hands — for “thank you” — are among possible new gesture options to come, with a feature that interprets sign language an eventual goal. Webex also expects to add skin-tone options beyond yellow for the icons.

Mike Sharp, LogMeIn’s chief product officer for unified communications and collaboration, said education clients have driven some of the company’s “inclusion” updates.

For instance, forthcoming support for Spanish, Mandarin and other languages in voicemail prompts and transcriptions will benefit an unidentified California school district that wanted to better engage with its community, Sharp said.

Facebook Workplace, a suite of business communication tools, last month said video town hall hosts soon would see name pronunciations for workers posing written questions.

Product head Ujjwal Singh said the pointers, which are AI-generated but editable, aimed to help executives at clients including Nestle SA and Booking Holdings Inc properly address colleagues and promote inclusion.

“I don’t want to mispronounce it to thousands of employees and look like I’m not in touch with the company,” he said.

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Source: https://venturebeat.com/2021/06/07/video-chat-apps-tout-inclusive-ai-features/

Artificial Intelligence

Extra Crunch roundup: TC Mobility recaps, Nubank EC-1, farewell to browser cookies

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What, exactly, are investors looking for?

Early-stage founders, usually first-timers, often tie themselves in knots as they try to project the qualities they hope investors are seeking. In reality, few entrepreneurs have the acting skills required to convince someone that they’re patient, dedicated or hard-working.

Johan Brenner, general partner at Creandum, was an early backer of Klarna, Spotify and several other European startups. Over the last two decades, he’s identified five key traits shared by people who create billion-dollar companies.


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“A true unicorn founder doesn’t need to have all of those capabilities on Day One,” says Brenner, “but they should already be thinking big while executing small and demonstrating that they understand how to scale a company.”

Drawing from observations gleaned from working with founders like Spotify’s Daniel Ek, Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna, and iZettle’s Jacob de Geer and Magnus Nilsson, Brenner explains where “VC FOMO” comes from and how it drives dealmaking.

We’re running a series of posts that recap conversations from last week’s virtual TC Mobility conference, including an interview with Refraction AI’s Matthew Johnson, a look at how autonomous delivery startups are navigating the regulatory and competitive landscape, and much more. There are many more recaps to come; click here to find them all.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

How contrarian hires and a pitch deck started Nubank’s $30 billion fintech empire

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Founded in 2013 and based in São Paulo, Brazil, Nubank serves more than 34 million customers, making it Latin America’s largest neobank.

Reporter Marcella McCarthy spoke to CEO David Velez to learn about his efforts to connect with consumers and overcome entrenched opposition from established players who were friendly with regulators.

In the first of a series of stories for Nubank’s EC-1, she interviewed Velez about his early fundraising efforts. For a balanced perspective, she also spoke to early Nubank investors at Sequoia and Kaszek Ventures, Latin America’s largest venture fund, to find out why they funded the startup while it was still pre-product.

“There are people you come across in life that within the first hour of meeting with them, you know you want to work with them,” said Doug Leone, a global managing partner at Sequoia who’d recruited Velez after he graduated from grad school at Stanford.

Marcella also interviewed members of Nubank’s founding team to better understand why they decided to take a chance on a startup that faced such long odds of success.

“I left banking to make a fifth of my salary, and back then, about $5,000 in equity,” said Vitor Olivier, Nubank’s VP of operations and platforms.

“Financially, it didn’t really make sense, so I really had to believe that it was really going to work, and that it would be big.”

Despite flat growth, ride-hailing colossus Didi’s US IPO could reach $70B

Image Credits: Didi

In his last dispatch before a week’s vacation, Alex Wilhelm waded through the numbers in Didi’s SEC filing. The big takeaways?

“While Didi managed an impressive GTV recovery in China, its aggregate numbers are flatter, and recent quarterly trends are not incredibly attractive,” he writes.

However, “Didi is not as unprofitable as we might have anticipated. That’s a nice surprise. But the company’s regular business has never made money, and it’s losing more lately than historically, which is also pretty rough.”

What’s driving the rise of robotaxis in China with AutoX, Momenta and WeRide

AutoX, Momenta and WeRide took the stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss the state of robotaxi startups in China and their relationships with local governments in the country.

They also talked about overseas expansion — a common trajectory for China’s top autonomous vehicle startups — and shed light on the challenges and opportunities for foreign AV companies eyeing the massive Chinese market.

The air taxi market prepares to take flight

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

“As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors,” Aria Alamalhodaei writes. “A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead.”

But while some electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) companies have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — valuations are skyrocketing.

“Electric air mobility is gaining elevation,” she writes. “But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead.”

The demise of browser cookies could create a Golden Age of digital marketing

Though some may say the doomsday clock is ticking toward catastrophe for digital marketing, Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, which does away with automatic opt-ins for data collection, and Google’s plan to phase out third-party cookies do not signal a death knell for digital advertisers.

“With a few changes to short-term strategy — and a longer-term plan that takes into account the fact that people are awakening to the value of their online data — advertisers can form a new type of relationship with consumers,” Permission.io CTO Hunter Jensen writes in a guest column. “It can be built upon trust and open exchange of value.”

If offered the right incentives, Jensen predicts, “consumers will happily consent to data collection because advertisers will be offering them something they value in return.”

How autonomous delivery startups are navigating policy, partnerships and post-pandemic operations

Nuro second gen R2 delivery vehicle

Image Credits: Nuro

We kicked off this year’s TC Sessions: Mobility with a talk featuring three leading players in the field of autonomous delivery. Gatik co-founder and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat, Nuro head of operations Amy Jones Satrom, and Starship Technologies co-founder and CTO Ahti Heinla joined us to discuss their companies’ unique approaches to the category.

The trio discussed government regulation on autonomous driving, partnerships with big corporations like Walmart and Domino’s, and the ongoing impact the pandemic has had on interest in the space.

Waabi’s Raquel Urtasun explains why it was the right time to launch an AV technology startup

Image Credits: Waabi via Natalia Dola

Raquel Urtasun, the former chief scientist at Uber ATG, is the founder and CEO of Waabi, an autonomous vehicle startup that came out of stealth mode last week. The Toronto-based company, which will focus on trucking, raised an impressive $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures.

Urtasun joined Mobility 2021 to talk about her new venture, the challenges facing the self-driving vehicle industry and how her approach to AI can be used to advance the commercialization of AVs.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/15/extra-crunch-roundup-tc-mobility-recaps-nubank-ec-1-farewell-to-browser-cookies/

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Artificial Intelligence

Solar concentration startup Heliogen basks in $108M of new funding

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Sunlight is a great source of energy, but it rarely gets hot enough to fry an egg, let alone melt steel. Heliogen aims to change that with its high-tech concentrated solar technique, and has raised more than a hundred million dollars to test its 1,000-degree solar furnace to a few game mines and refineries.

We covered Heliogen when it first made its debut in 2019, and the details in that article still get at the core of the company’s tech. Computer vision techniques are used to carefully control a large set of mirrors, which reflect and concentrate the sun’s light to the extent that it can reach in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, almost twice what previous solar concentrators could do. “It’s like a death ray,” founder Bill Gross explained then.

That lets the system replace fossil fuels and other legacy systems in many applications where such temperatures are required, for example mining and smelting operations. By using a Heliogen concentrator, they could run on sunlight during much of the day and only rely on other sources at night, potentially halving their fuel expenditure and consequently both saving money and stepping toward a greener future.

Both goals hint at why utilities and a major mining and steel-making company are now investors. Heliogen raised a $25M A-2, led by Prime Movers Lab, but soon also pulled together a much larger “bridge extension round” in their terminology of $83M that brought in the miner ArcelorMittal, Edison International, Ocgrow Ventures, A.T. Gekko, and more.

The money will be used both to continue development of the “Sunlight Refinery,” as Heliogen calls it, and deploy some actual on-site installations that would work in real production workflows at scale. “We are constantly making design and cost improvements to increase efficiency and decrease costs,” a representative of the company told me.

One of those pilot sites will be in Boron, CA, where Rio Tinto operates a borates mine and will include Heliogen’s tech as part of its usual on-site processes, according to an MOU signed in March. Another MOU with ArcelorMittal will “evaluate the potential of Heliogen’s products in several of ArcelorMittal’s steel plants.” Facilities are planned in the U.S., MENA, and Asia Pacific areas.

Beyond mining and smelting, the technique could be used to generate hydrogen in a zero-carbon way. That would be a big step towards building a working hydrogen infrastructure for next-generation fuel supply, since current methods make it difficult to do without relying on fossil fuels in the first place. And no doubt there are other industrial processes that could benefit from a free and zero-carbon source of high heat.

“We’re being granted the resources to do more projects that address the most carbon-intensive human activities and work toward our goals of lowering the price and emissions of energy for everyone on the planet,” Gross said in a release announcing the round(s). “We thank all of our investors for enabling us to pursue our mission and offer the world technology that will allow it to achieve a post-carbon economy.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/15/solar-concentration-startup-heliogen-basks-in-108m-of-new-funding/

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Elisity raises $26M Series A to scale its AI cybersecurity platform

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Elisity, a self-styled innovator that provides behavior-based enterprise cybersecurity, has raised $26 million in Series A funding.

The funding round was co-led by Two Bear Capital and AllegisCyber Capital, the latter of which has invested in a number of cybersecurity startups, including Panaseer, with previous seed investor Atlantic Bridge also participating.

Elisity, which is led by industry veterans from Cisco, Qualys and Viptela, says the funding will help it meet growing enterprise demand for its cloud-delivered Cognitive Trust platform, which it claims is the only platform intelligent enough to understand how assets and people connect beyond corporate perimeters.

The platform looks to help organizations transition from legacy access approaches to zero trust, a security model based on maintaining strict access controls and not trusting anyone — even employees — by default, across their entire digital footprint. This enables organizations to adopt a “work-from-anywhere” model, according to the company, which notes that most companies today continue to rely on security and policies based on physical location or low-level networking constructs, such as VLAN, IP and MAC addresses, and VPNs.

Cognitive Trust, the company claims, can analyze the unique identity and context of people, apps and devices, including Internet of Things (IoT) and operational technology (OT), wherever they’re working. The company says through its AI-driven behavioral intelligence, the platform can also continuously assess risk and instantly optimize access, connectivity and protection policies.

“CISOs are facing ever-increasing attack surfaces caused by the shift to remote work, reliance on cloud-based services (and often multi-cloud) and the convergence of IT/OT networks,” said Mike Goguen, founder and managing partner at Two Bear Capital. “Elisity addresses all of these problems by not only enacting a zero trust model, but by doing so at the edge and within the behavioral context of each interaction. We are excited to partner with the CEO, James Winebrenner, and his team as they expand the reach of their revolutionary approach to enterprise security.”

Founded in 2018, Elisity — whose competitors include the likes of Vectra AI and Lastline closed a $7.5 million seed round in August that same year, led by Atlantic Bridge. With its seed round, Elisity began scaling its engineering, sales and marketing teams to ramp up ahead of the platform’s launch. 

Now it’s looking to scale in order to meet growing enterprise demand, which comes as many organizations move to a hybrid working model and seek the tools to help them secure distributed workforces. 

“When the security perimeter is no longer the network, we see an incredible opportunity to evolve the way enterprises connect and protect their people and their assets, moving away from strict network constructs to identity and context as the basis for secure access,” said Winebrenner. 

“With Elisity, customers can dispense with the complexity, cost and protracted timeline enterprises usually encounter. We can onboard a new customer in as little as 45 minutes, rather than months or years, moving them to an identity-based access policy, and expanding to their cloud and on-prem[ise] footprints over time without having to rip and replace existing identity providers and network infrastructure investments. We do this without making tradeoffs between productivity for employees and the network security posture.”

Elisity, which is based in California, currently employs around 30 staff. However, it currently has no women in its leadership team, nor on its board of directors. 

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/15/elisity-raises-26m-series-a-to-scale-its-ai-cybersecurity-platform/

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Natural Language Generation (NLG, branch of AI) is Helping Scientists and Clinicians Improve Patient Outcomes and Automatically Generate Regulatory Reports

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pangaea

Natural Language Generation (NLG) is a branch of AI, which enables a computer to generate coherent sentences. This white paper discusses the application of NLG through Pangaea’s pioneering work, which has shown to help clinicians and scientists improve patient outcomes and focus on their priorities by automatically summarizing electronic health records, creating synthetic data and generating regulatory reports.

DOWNLOAD

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Source: https://www.aitrends.com/ai-trends-whitepapers-2021/natural-language-generation-nlg-branch-of-ai-is-helping-scientists-and-clinicians-improve-patient-outcomes-and-automatically-generate-regulatory-reports/

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