What’s happened in AI: January 15 – 22

By | January 23, 2018

This past week has featured a lot of developments in autonomous vehicles. Also noteworthy to highlight Congressman John K. Delaney’s open letter to congress to start working on AI policy.

Fundraising / investment

Self-driving car startup Pony.ai raises over $100 million – (01/17/18)

  • Pony.ai, a year-old California-based self-driving car startup, announced it recently completed a $112 million Series A funding round at an undisclosed valuation, according to TechCrunch.
  • Morningside Venture Capital and Legend Capital, two Chinese venture firms, led the round, and were joined by eight other venture firms, including Comcast Ventures, IDG Capital Partners, Polaris Capital Group, and Sequoia Capital.
  • Pony.ai is working on a platform that it claims can link self-driving cars’ disparate technologies to help power the vehicles. Its platform aims to connect a self-driving car’s sensors, software, cameras, and other technologies to create a system capable of Level 4 autonomy. A vehicle equipped with Pony.ai’stem would be able to operate on its own under certain confined scenarios, but still feature a steering wheel and pedals, making it similar to the systems auto supplier Aptiv is building

Storytelling app Wattpad raises $51M at a $398M valuation – (01/17/18)

  • Wattpad, a storytelling and reading/viewing app that combines crowdsourced content with professionally produced material, has picked up another $51 million (C$61.25 million) in venture funding”
  • “It plans to use the money to invest in its tech (such as the machine learning that helps match its creators with consumers, and which identifies stories that are ‘trending’ and worth revisiting for more creative writing and video shooting around them as themes); and in its expansion into more formats”
  • “The company has raised $117.8 million (US) to date, and while it’s not publicly disclosing its valuation, according to PitchBook (which I’ve found is very reliable), post-money it is valued at just under $398 million”

AI voice assistant developer Rokid raises $100M Series B extension to build its US presence – (01/18/18)

  • Rokid, a Chinese startup that makes an AI voice assistant and smart devices, just raised a Series B extension round led by Temasek Holdings, with participation from Credit Suisse, IDG Capital and CDIB Capital. The size of the round was not released, but a source familiar with the deal told TechCrunch that it is $100 million”
  • “The company’s previous funding was its Series B round, which was announced in November 2016. Founder and chief executive officer Mingming Zhu says Rokid raised a Series B+ instead of a C round because the company, which is based in Hangzhou, China with research centers in Beijing and San Francisco that develop its proprietary natural language processing, image processing, face recognition and robotics technology, is still in its early stages”
  • The company’s product lineup already includes smart speakers called Rokid Pebble and Alien, which are currently sold in China. During CES, Rokid debuted its newest offering, Rokid Glass, augmented glasses created specifically for consumer use, as well as an open-source platform, called the Rokid Full Stack Open Platform (created in partnership with Alibaba)

Company developments

Google’s AutoML lets you train custom machine learning models without having to code – (01/17/18)

  • “Google plans to expand this custom ML model builder under the AutoML brand to other areas, the service for now only supports computer vision models, but you can expect the company to launch similar versions of AutoML for all the standard ML building blocks in its repertoire (think speech, translation, video, natural language recognition, etc.)”
  • “The basic idea here, Google says, is to allow virtually anybody to bring their images, upload them (and import their tags or create them in the app) and then have Google’s systems automatically create a customer machine learning model for them”

Waymo heads to Atlanta to test its self-driving cars – (01/22/18)

  • Its test cars in cities outside of Arizona still have safety drivers at the wheel, but the more places it can get its Pacificas with autonomous tech on roads, the better for building an autonomous driving “brain” that can handle anything it encounters.
  • Atlanta has some specific challenges, including bad traffic (commute and traffic issues are ranked among the worst locations in the U.S.) and one of the more dense greater metro areas in the U.S., and temperatures that regularly reach a humid 80+ degrees Fahrenheit
  • Metro Atlanta marks Waymo’s 25th test city in total, including its recent return to San Francisco. Its testing so far has consisted of mapping the city with manually driven Waymo vehicles ahead of launching its testing program in full.


Lyft and Aptiv extend their self-driving taxi pilot in Las Vegas – (01/22/18)

  • “At the Detroit Auto Show, Aptiv CEO Glen De Vos said the fleet of semi-autonomous BMWs would continue picking up and dropping off passengers in and around the city, despite the fact that the annual electronics show ended on January 12th.”
  • “During CES, Lyft and Aptiv’s robot taxis provided more than 400 rides to the 20 or so pre-programmed destinations. The companies say that 99 percent of the miles driven were done so autonomously, and that the trips earned an average rating of 4.997 stars (out of a possible 5).”

Government / policy

Crime-predicting Algorithms may not fare much better than untrained humans – (01/17/18)

  • These so-called risk assessment algorithms, currently used in states from California to New Jersey, crunch data about a defendant’s history—things like age, gender, and prior convictions—to help courts decide who gets bail, who goes to jail, and who goes free
  • “There was essentially no difference between people responding to an online survey for a buck and this commercial software being used in the courts,” says Farid, who teaches computer science at Dartmouth. “If this software is only as accurate as untrained people responding to an online survey, I think the courts should consider that when trying to decide how much weight to put on them in making decisions.”

It’s time for Washington to start working on artificial intelligence – (01/17/18)

  • This is an open letter written by Congressman John K. Delaney. It’s a real good read and should definitely be checked out
  • “As the founder of the Artificial Intelligence Caucus, I’ve been working to start a new dialogue on Capitol Hill that is focused on the future. Recently, I introduced the House version of the FUTURE of AI Act that would create a formal process for both Congress and the Executive Branch to start looking at AI seriously, asking hard questions and consulting experts on what the next steps should be”

UK and France join forces to speed up AI development – (01/19/18)

  • Ministers from the two county’s governments made the decision to join forces on Thursday in hope that the arrangement will foster cross-Channel collaboration between academics, industry and government and thus “help both countries seize the economic and social benefits of fast-developing tech such as AI”.
  • The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary minister, Matt Hancock pioneered the initiative and to get the ball rolling on the deal, met his French counterpart, Françoise Nyssen, at the UK France Summit. It was hosted by the prime minister and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, at Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst
  • Hancock said the two countries will establish “cutting-edge digital conference” as part of the new pact, which will take place later this year and “see our world-leading experts in cybersecurity, digital skills, artificial intelligence, data and digital government share their talent and knowledge”


CNN Special: Our Driverless Future

  • Great video series by CNN on the future of driverless vehicles