What’s happened in AI: January 23-31

By | February 1, 2018

Company developments:

Chinese Rideshare Unicorn DiDi Launches AI Lab in Beijing – Jan. 27, 2018 (Medium)

  • “The new AI lab expands on the DiDi Research Institute and DiDi Labs, and will cluster over 200 AI scientists and engineers to “improve user experience and transportation efficiency and further enhance [the] intelligent transportation ecosystem,” according to a company press release. Didi AI Labs will be led by company Vice President Professor Jieping Ye”
  • “DiDi Labs focuses on big data and smart traffic and conducts AI research on NLP, computer vision for operations research, deep learning, statistics, etc. Research cases include predicting user destination, suggesting pick-up points, intelligent order dispatching, estimated time of arrival (ETA), and routing optimization”

Voicelabs launches Alpine to bring retailers to the voice shopping ecosystem – Jan. 30, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • “The company is today launching its latest product out of stealth: Alpine.AI, a solution that builds voice shopping apps for retailers by importing their catalog, then layering AI technology on top to better answer consumers’ voice queries, and ultimately convert those queries to purchases”
  • “In a matter of days, Alpine can digest the retailer’s website and CMS, then automatically create a voice app using that data. The app is then enhanced by machine learning technology, which learns from incoming consumer queries how to best respond to questions”

Two ex-Google engineers built an entirely different kind of self-driving car – Jan. 30, 2018 (The Verge)

  • “Nuro is focused on deliveries, specifically the kind that are low-speed, local, and last-mile: groceries, laundry, or your take-out order from Seamless. The startup thinks that automating these services could help shoulder the sharp increase in last-mile deliveries, while also reducing traffic accidents and boosting local businesses who are looking for ways to thrive and compete in the age of Amazon”
  • “Nuro is using a fleet of six self-driving cars to collect data and optimize routes, which then gets fed into its prototype vehicles. Nuro has received a permit from the California DMV and plans to start testing on public roads later this year. But the company will need sign-off from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before it can operate in states where regulation prohibits completely human-free driving”

Ford files a patent for an autonomous police car – Jan. 26, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • The patent, first spotted by Motor1, describes an autonomous police vehicle that would be able to detect infractions performed by another vehicle, either on its own or in conjunction with surveillance cameras and/or road-side sensors
  • “The AI-powered police car could then remotely issue citations or pursue the vehicle. Or (and this is where it gets really creepy), “the method may further involve the processor remotely executing one or more actions with respect to the first vehicle,” according to the patent”

Trueface.ai integrates with IFTTT as the latest test-case of its facial recognition tech – Jan. 25, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • “Chief executive Shaun Moore tells me that the integration with IFTTT represents the first time that facial recognition technology will be made available to the masses without the need to understand complex code”
  • “Focusing on digital identification and verification tools, Trueface.ai sells technology that it says can be used to verify a request to open a bank account or for digital document notarization. “We can do that remotely and verify proof of possession and identity,” says Moore”


American Express Acquires Mezi – Jan. 30, 2018 (Amex Press Release)

  • “Founded in 2015, Mezi uses artificial intelligence (AI) and human expertise to personalize the online travel discovery and booking experience. By learning travelers’ preferences and understanding the way customers make requests using natural language, Mezi gets smarter and more efficient over time”
  • “The acquisition of Mezi follows an investment made in 2016 by American Express Ventures, the strategic investment arm of American Express, as well as a successful pilot with American Express Card Members. For those currently already enrolled in the AskAmex pilot, it will continue to run through the first half of 2018”

Sotheby’s acquires Thread Genius to build its image recognition and recommendation tech – Jan. 25, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • “Sotheby’s has bought Thread Genius, which has built a set of algorithms that can both instantly identify objects and then recommend images of similar objects to the viewer”
  • “Sotheby’s’ said it is not disclosing the value of the deal but said it was non-material to the company. Thread Genius was a relatively young company, founded in 2015 and making a debut last year as part of TechStars New York’s Winter 2017 cohort. Co-founders Andrew Shum and Ahmad Qamar, who were also Thread Genius’s only two employees, were both engineering alums from Spotify. They are joining the auction house along with Richard Vibert, another data scientist it has hired”

Non-profits / Universities:

Allen Institute for AI sets up CTO residency program to link engineers with mentors – Jan. 23, 2018 (GeekWire)

  • “Google has DeepMind, Facebook has FAIR, Microsoft has Microsoft Research AI,” Jacob Colker, managing director of the AI2 Incubator, told GeekWire. “But AI2 is one of the few places where entrepreneurs and early-stage startups can access the same kind of talent that’s available to the big guys.”
  • “Residents will learn about the latest in artificial intelligence and deep learning from mentors on AI2’s team of about 75 researchers and engineers. They’ll also work with three seasoned Seattle entrepreneurs (T.A McCann, Guarav Oberoi and Kirby Winfield)”

Fundraising / investment:

AI researcher Ng launches $175 million investment fund – Jan. 29, 2018 (Fast Company)

  • “Ng will serve as the incubator’s general partner and will guide the AI Fund’s direction, while Eva Wang will serve as a partner and COO, with funds like Greylock Partners, New Enterprise Associates, Sequoia Capital, and SoftBank Group providing the dolla dolla bills”

ContentSquare lands $42 million so AI can track how you click, touch, and interact with brands – Jan. 29, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • “SaaS digital experience insights company ContentSquare announced today that it has raised a $42 million Series B funding round, led by Canaan, the VC firm that previously invested in Lending Club, Ebates, and Match.com”
  • “ContentSquare computes billions of touch and mouse movements each day and provides insights and analytics to help brands understand, hypothesize, and update their digital properties”
  • “Its tool, which currently operates in more than 190 countries, takes interaction data and turns it into insights and actions that help brands increase engagement, reduce costs, and maximize conversion rates

Transforming IT Through AI-Driven Automation, Astound Launches and Announces $11.5 Million in Funding – Jan. 30, 2018 (PR Newswire)

  • “Astound, an enterprise software company applying machine learning and natural language processing to automate service and support, today announced its launch and $11.5 Million in Series A funding, co-led by Vertex Ventures and Pelion Venture Partners with participation from The Hive, Slack Fund, and Moment Ventures”
  • “Its AI platform uses machine learning and natural language processing to automate answers to common questions to reduce call volume up to 70 percent. In addition, this automation reduces mean time to resolution by up to 60 percent and cost per ticket from an average of $25 to $1.50.”

Downstream.ai Announces $1.5m in Seed Funding Led by London Venture Partners, Launches Beta for Turnkey Mobile Programmatic Ad Platform – Jan. 30, 2018 (Global Newswire)

  • “Downstream.ai, a San Francisco and New York-based company building the most scalable, self-serve mobile programmatic advertising platform, announced that it has raised $1.5m in seed funding led by London Venture Partners and today is launching its beta program”
  • “Olive Tree Capital, Otter Consulting, Gramercy Fund, Ride Ventures, Rising Tide, and a short list of prominent industry angels contributed to the seed round, which has allowed Downstream’s team to build out its turnkey platform”
  • “The integration of Downstream’s intuitive dashboard allows agencies and in-house marketing teams to directly access inventory on major ad exchanges, leverage first and third-party data securely, target more accurately and use proprietary auto-optimization software and a dynamic bidding algorithm”

Trifacta nabs $48M from Google and others for its AI-based approach to ordering data – Jan. 31, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • Trifacta, a big-data startup that is building tools to help businesses structure and analyse data that gets generated in their networks through customer interactions and other actions, is today announcing that it has closed out its Series D round at $48 million, with a notable list of strategic and financial investors that includes Google, Ericsson, the Deutsche Börse, Accel and more”
  • “The funding brings the total raised by Trifacta to $124 million, and while it is not disclosing its valuation, this puts the company’s valuation at $258 million, based on figures from PitchBook. The company did not dispute that figure when I asked about it”
  • “The company plans to use the funding to expand globally as well as add more firepower to its platform. The company has tripled its customers in the last year, although it’s not releasing any hard numbers about how many customers it has, or its revenues”

Nexar Raises $30 Million in Series B Funding, Leveraging AI to Create Safer Roads for the Future – Jan. 24, 2018 (PR Newswire)

  • Nexar, a technology company building the world’s largest safe driving network, announced it closed a $30 million round of financing led by Ibex Investors, with participation from Alibaba Innovation Ventures, US-based Nationwide, and previous investors Aleph, Mosaic Ventures, Slow Ventures, True Ventures, and Tusk Ventures”
  • “The company, which provides consumers, insurance companies, and automakers with sophisticated safe driving tools that detect, record, and warn drivers of real-time road hazards, also announced the appointments of Yoad Shraybom, a former Disney executive, as Chief Financial Officer, and veteran technology executive Marc Gaffan as Chief Business Officer”
  • “Nexar will use the funding to further its mission of eliminating car crashes and expand its vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) network by working with insurers, cities, and automakers”


NVIDIA and Baker Hughes, a GE Company, Pump AI into Oil & Gas Industry – Jan. 29, 2018 (Nvidia Press Release)

  • “NVIDIA and Baker Hughes, a GE company (BHGE), are partnering to use AI and GPU-accelerated computing to help the oil and gas industry distill this data in real time — and dramatically reduce the cost of finding, extracting, processing and delivering oil”
  • “NVIDIA and BHGE’s collaboration spans the operations of oil companies. And it does so using the full breadth of our AI solutions. This includes NVIDIA DGX-1 AI supercomputers in data centers for model training; NVIDIA DGX Stations for supercomputing at the deskside — or even on remote offshore platforms where bandwidth is limited; and NVIDIA Jetson AI supercomputers-on-a-module for real-time, continuous deep learning and inferencing at the edge”