What’s happened in AI: May 28th-June 3rd

By | June 5, 2018

Special shout out this week to David Vandegrift and Ablorde Ashigbi of 4Degrees, who officially announced their $1mm pre-seed funding round. Very proud of the team they’ve assembled and overall progress of the company.

In general, there was a ton of fundraising news in AI this week. Highlights include Sensetime’s $620mm follow on round, Softbank’s $2.25bn investment in GM’s Cruise, and Emogi’s $12.6mm Series A.

Company developments:

Google reportedly backing out of military contract after public backlash – June 1, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • A controversial Google contract with the U.S. military will not be renewed next year after internal and public outcry against it, Gizmodo reports. The program itself was not particularly distasteful or lucrative, but served as a foot in the door for the company to pursue more government work that may very well have been both
  • Project Maven, as the program was known, essentially had Google working with the military to perform image analysis on sensitive footage like that from drones flying over conflict areas

As Uber and Tesla struggle with driverless cars, Waymo moves forward – June 1, 2018 (ARS Technica)

  • Waymo announced on Thursday that it was ordering 62,000 Pacifica minivans from Fiat Chrysler. It’s the latest sign that Alphabet’s self-driving car company is operating on a different level from the rest of the industry
  • The last few months have had a lot of bad news for fans of self-driving cars. Last December, after news that Volvo and Ford might not achieve ambitious early goals, Wired wrote that self-driving cars were entering a “trough of disillusionment.” Events over the last six months have only deepened that trough

Pymetrics open-sources Audit AI, an algorithm bias detection tool – May 31, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • AI startup Pymetrics today announced it has open-sourced its tool for detecting bias in algorithms. Available for download on GitHub, Audit AI is designed to determine whether a specific statistic or trait fed into an algorithm is being favored or disadvantaged at a statistically significant, systematic rate, leading to adverse impact on people underrepresented in the data set
  • The new tool can audit a variety of algorithms, including those made to predict whether a person will pay back a loan or to assign a credit score to people with no banking history
  • Pymetrics, whose customers include more than 60 companies like Accenture, LinkedIn, Tesla, and Unilever, creates cognitive games for job applicants to play because asking questions like “Do you take risks?” can be answered differently by men and women. “We look at what traits make that population [top performers] unique, and sometimes those traits might be predictive not of job performance but the homogeneity of the people who went through it,” Baker said. “And so we use Audit AI to make sure that we don’t overweight any traits that are actually more predictive of a certain demographic group.”

OpenAI Recruiting Fellows – May 31, 2018 (Iprogrammer)

  • OpenAI is currently accepting applications for the next cohort of OpenAI Fellows, a program which offers 6-month apprenticeships in AI research at OpenAI to those who do not have a formal background in the field
  • Applications are currently being accepted for up to six Fellows who will work at OpenAI’s San Francisco offices for six months starting in September and will be compensated “at the level of selective Bay Area software internships”
  • Those interested are encouraged to apply as soon as possible as the application period may close before the deadline of July 8th at 12AM PST

Sony’s Take on the Crowded Self-Driving Game Is Turning Cars Into Mini-Hospitals – May 30, 2018 (Observer)

  • According to one tech analyst’s estimate, by the time real self-driving arrives, an average car will be equipped with 10 cameras to replace human eyes on the road. If that’s true, at least one of those cameras will serve as a personal doctor to monitor whether you are well during the ride. In a new patent application this month, Sony proposed the idea of a device that can detect the medical conditions of a passenger in a driverless car.
  • The Sony device is set up to receive sensor data from one or multiple sensing devices close to the passenger, such as a cellphone, a smartwatch or a fitness tracker. The device will “diagnose” by analyzing the sensor data against the person’s heath parameters and generate an alert if it finds something out of the ordinary
  • If the passenger is under a medical emergency, the device will communicate the alert with doctors and hospitals nearby, find the most suitable facility, calculate the arrival time of the passenger and coordinate a treatment

VantagePoint Software Now Forecasts for 9 Cryptocurrencies using Artificial Intelligence – May 30, 2018 (Global Newswire)

  • VantagePoint Software using patented Artificial Intelligence technology to predict stock market trends and trend changes made the official announcement today that it has increased the number of cryptocurrencies that traders can use the software to forecast for, totaling 9 different cryptocurrencies
  • At the end of 2017, VantagePoint made the announcement that traders could begin using the software to forecast for cryptocurrencies Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum. Today, VantagePoint released forecasting capabilities for 6 new cryptocurrencies, including Dash, Ethereum Classic, Monero, NEO, Ripple and Zcash, totaling 9 cryptocurrencies
  • As the global markets continue to evolve, so does the VantagePoint Software. Cryptocurrencies represent an incredibly profitable opportunity for traders to make huge profits with these markets. Today, the cryptocurrency markets are trending down, and VantagePoint can tell traders when they will rebound so that they can reap the profits from the software’s ability to predict cryptocurrency trends up to 3 days in advance with up to 86% accuracy

Google promises ethical principles to guide development of military AI – May 30, 2018 (The Verge)

  • Google is drawing up a set of guidelines that will steer its involvement in developing AI tools for the military, according to reports from The New York Times and Defense One. What exactly these guidelines will stipulate isn’t clear, but Google told the Times they will include a ban on the use of artificial intelligence in weaponry. The principles are expected to be announced in full in the coming weeks. They are a response to the controversy over the company’s decision to develop AI tools for the Pentagon that analyze drone surveillance footage
  • Although tech companies regularly bid for contracts in the US defense sector, the involvement of Google (a company that once boasted the motto “don’t be evil”) and cutting-edge AI tech has raised eyebrows — both inside and outside the firm. News of the Pentagon contract was first made public by Gizmodo in March, and thousands of Google employees have since signed a petition demanding the company withdraw from all such work. Around a dozen individuals have even resigned
  • Internal emails obtained by the Times show that Google was aware of the upset this news might cause. Chief scientist at Google Cloud, Fei-Fei Li, told colleagues that they should “avoid at ALL COSTS any mention or implication of AI” when announcing the Pentagon contract. “Weaponized AI is probably one of the most sensitized topics of AI — if not THE most. This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google,” said Li

Google launches video doorbell with facial recognition in UK – May 30, 2018 (The Guardian)

  • Initially released in the US in March, Nest Hello is the first of Google’s new home security product lineup to make it to the UK, ahead of its Nest Secure alarm system
  • Nest Hello is a £229 wifi-connected smart doorbell with a wide-angle camera that captures high definition HDR video with night vision after dusk. It will send alerts with pictures from the camera to users’ phones and allows them to talk to visitors through the doorbell from anywhere with an internet connection. Users can also opt to have the doorbell say one of three quick phrases, such as “we’ll be right there”
  • Nest’s big differentiating feature, however, is its machine-learning technology that analyses video from the front door, which Google claims can differentiate between people walking by, visitors or delivery people approaching and loitering burglars, only alerting users when necessary

Nvidia launches colossal HGX-2 cloud server to power HPC and AI – May 30, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • Nvidia launched a monster box yesterday called the HGX-2, and it’s the stuff that geek dreams are made of. It’s a cloud server that is purported to be so powerful it combines high-performance computing with artificial intelligence requirements in one exceptionally compelling package
  • It starts with 16x NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs. That’s good for 2 petaFLOPS for AI with low precision, 250 teraFLOPS for medium precision and 125 teraFLOPS for those times when you need the highest precision. It comes standard with a 1/2 a terabyte of memory and 12 Nvidia NVSwitches, which enable GPU to GPU communications at 300 GB per second. They have doubled the capacity from the HGX-1 released last year
  • Paresh Kharya, group product marketing manager for Nvidia’s Tesla data center products, says this communication speed enables them to treat the GPUs essentially as a one giant, single GPU. “And what that allows [developers] to do is not just access that massive compute power, but also access that half a terabyte of GPU memory as a single memory block in their programs,” he explained

Movyl Technologies launches AI-based social marketing platform – May 29, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • Movyl Technologies is unveiling its artificial intelligence-based social marketing platform to automate labor-intensive tasks such as influencer marketing and help scale social efforts
  • San Francisco-based Movyl Technologies said its smart social marketing platform automates the functions of composing, curating, scheduling, and publishing content; engaging with influencers; listening across channels; and analyzing social campaigns. Over time, the platform learns to do many of these functions itself
  • “We are letting marketers focus on what they do best — strategy and creative vision — rather than the mechanics of creating, publishing, and responding to posts,” said Movyl Technologies CEO Giancarlo Mori, in a statement. “As social continues to grow, companies need to continue making significant investments in manpower, time, and services just to keep up. The pace is unsustainable. We have developed our platform to help companies increase the quality and engagement of their content and improve their results using smaller teams.”

Expert System Advances Artificial Intelligence for the Insurance Sector – May 29, 2018 (PR Newswire)

  • Artificial Intelligence company Expert System continues its growth strategy. By consolidating the position of its Cogito® technology in high-potential vertical markets, the company today released new products for the insurance sector that strengthen the solutions recently adopted by clients such as Zurich Insurance Group, Lloyd’s of London and Generali
  • Digital transformation processes are driving new paths of innovation for the insurance market. Being competitive depends on higher levels of efficiency and a focus not only on the quality of the offer, but also on the ability to reduce costs, simplify compliance and to meet ever-increasing customer demands. It is no coincidence that two of the most relevant insurance processes—which require handling large volumes of data that contain high-risk, unstructured information—are central to digital transformation in the sector: claims management and underwriting
  • To automate these processes, Expert System has developed an offer based entirely on the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to enable the automation of complex, information-rich processes. Thanks to the ability to provide both accurate analysis and text comprehension that distinguishes the cognitive Cogito technology, Expert System supports primary insurance activities where it delivers rapid implementation, easy integration and optimized ROI

We will integrate AI chatbots with our products: Coverfox’s Devendra Rave – May 28, 2018 (TechCircle)

  • Great Q&A with Coverfox’s Devendra Rave

LG develops AI to deal with nausea in VR – May 28, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • LG engineers are using artificial intelligence to reduce the dizziness and motion sickness experienced by some virtual reality (VR) headset users, according to Business Korea. LG subsidiary LG Display partnered with Sogang University in South Korea to develop technology that cuts down on motion-to-photon latency and motion blur, two common sources of nausea for VR headset wearers
  • One often employed technique involves boosting the display resolution, but that tends to put a strain on headsets’ system resources, which has the effect of increasing latency and motion blur instead of decreasing it. To address this problem, the researchers developed a highly efficient deep learning algorithm that upscales low-resolution images to high-resolution images in real time. At peak performance, it can reduce photon latency and motion blur to “one fifth or less” of the current level, the researchers said
  • The teams also jointly engineered a precision motor that simulates neck muscle movements and an optical system modeled after the human visual cortex, enabling more accurate measurements of the photon latency and motion blur of VR devices.


Maxar’s data analytics division adds jobs to sate U.S. government appetite for artificial intelligence – June 2, 2018 (Space News)

  • Radiant Solutions plans to add 300 data scientists, software developers and geospatial analysts to its workforce of 1,100 over the next year to meet a growing demand for military intelligence and mapping. A division of Maxar Technologies, the Herndon, Virginia-based government contractor, like others in this sector, is benefiting from heightened interest in artificial intelligence both in the public and private sectors
  • Of the company’s $300 million in annual revenue, 90 percent comes from U.S. government contracts with DoD, the intelligence community and U.S. Special Operations Command
  • Pentagon officials have been explicit about their plans to weaponize AI. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told lawmakers DoD will consolidate AI projects into a central program office. Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin has put AI on the list of top technology priorities for future investment

Orange and Google form new partnership to invest in and buy EMEA startups – May 31, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • Google, more recently by way of parent company Alphabet, has been a prolific investor in startups across the globe by way of entities like GV and CapitalG. Today, it announced its newest effort in this area, specifically outside of the US. The search and Android giant is partnering with Orange Digital Ventures, the corporate venture fund of the French carrier Orange, on a new effort to find, fund, and potentially acquire startups in the EMEA region, and specifically in the areas of the internet of things, cybersecurity, cloud services, AI, fintech and connectivity solutions
  • The two are not disclosing a specific fund size, nor are they talking about any financial terms in this deal at this point, except to note that the investments could potentially be made at any stage, from seed to growth, depending on the startup in question
  • To be clear, Google has confirmed to me that this is not an extension of GV or CapitalG but activity out of its corporate development arm, which also makes investments into companies when they are viewed as strategic to Google and a potential route to an acquisition. (One, slightly outsized, example of one these investments in a third party would be Google’s $1.1 billion deal to buy a part of HTC.)

Uber looking to bring Waymo driverless cars to its taxi service – May 31, 2018 (Tech Radar)

  • Speaking at reCode’s Code Conference the recently-appointed Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi admitted the company was in “discussions” with Waymo to bring self-driving cars to its service
  • “I’d welcome Waymo to put cars in our network,” he said, despite the two companies having previously been embroiled in a complex legal battle over alleged theft of trade secrets
  • Any deal with Waymo then would be a matter of “economics” according to Khosrowshahi, what with Uber being the largest ride-sharing service of them all. Eventually, Uber would look to license its own self driving technology to third-party services

Doctors in China turn to AI to help detect cancer – May 29, 2018 (CGTN)

  • Dr. Xu Guoliang, a top endoscopy specialist working at one of the largest cancer treatment centers in southern China, told CGTN that five years ago, there were only about 29,000 qualified endoscopy doctors in China. But according to their estimates, there are 120 million patients that need to do endoscopy each year. That means China has to increase the number of doctors some 50 times to meet that demand. Clearly “that’s almost impossible,” Xu said
  • Dr. Xu has turned to artificial intelligence for help. His hospitals have been working with Internet giant Tencent, hoping to develop an AI clinical diagnostic system called Miying. According to Xu, each endoscopy examination will produce 48 images that’ll be simultaneously sent to Tencent’s database. The AI system will give feedback in four seconds. Based on a huge pool of data, it’ll suggest which position could be a cancer lesion
  • Xu said AI’s accuracy in diagnosing some types of cancer early is as high as 90-percent, and AI’s accuracy is still improving. Patients in China’s first-tier cities may still prefer human doctors at the best hospitals, but for the one billion or so people living in less-developed areas with limited medical resources, AI promises huge benefits

Nuance’s conversational AI platform powers revolutionary Mercedes Benz user experience – May 29, 2018 (Automotive World)

  • Nuance Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: NUAN), the pioneer and leader in conversational AI innovations, today announced it has collaborated with Daimler AG to develop and power the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) multimedia system. This latest advancement in infotainment systems transforms the driver experience in the cockpit through a fully customized automotive assistant, built specifically for the new A-Class and other future Mercedes models. Powered by Nuance’s state-of-the-art conversational AI technology, MBUX leverages the Nuance Dragon Drive platform to understand and continuously learn the needs and preferences of both drivers and passengers over time to provide an increasingly personalized and connected experience
  • Analysts have predicted that by 2020, there will be 24 billion IoT devices installed globally1 and more than 200 million connected cars on the road2. As these connected, autonomous, shared, and electric vehicles become increasingly standard, the expectations drivers and passengers will have for in-car interactions will continue to evolve

Fundraising / investments:

Bessemer launches a seed fund for startups applying machine learning to health – June 1, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • Seeing a tremendous opportunity to leverage machine learning technologies in the healthcare industry, Bessemer Venture Partners is launching a $10 million early-stage seed program to back new startups
  • Led by the firm’s celebrity healthcare investor, Steve Kraus (seriously: the guy has his own podcast), and its head of investments in Israel, Adam Fisher, the Deep Health Seed Program will place bets of anywhere between $100,000 and $2 million into early-stage companies using machine learning to solve problems in healthcare
  • Bessemer has already placed several bets on this hypothesis, including its investment in Qventus (a hospital management service that we’d covered last month). And the firm has a long history of investing in healthcare, including early bets on companies like Allena Pharmaceuticals, Docent Health and publicly traded companies including OvaScience, Verastem and Flex Pharma

GM nets $2.25B SoftBank investment for self-driving cars – May 31, 2018 (Road Show by CNET)

  • A fund related to the SoftBank Group of Japan has pledged to invest $2.25 billion into GM Cruise Holdings, the Detroit automaker’s autonomous technology division. According to GM, the investment will come from The SoftBank Vision Fund in two stages. SoftBank will invest an initial tranche of $900 million, and it has pledged a further $1.35 billion when GM’s Cruise driverless vehicles are “ready for commercial deployment,” having received regulatory approval
  • Once completed, the deal will mean that SoftBank Vision will own a 19.6-percent stake in GM Cruise, at an estimated value of $11.5 billion. SoftBank Vision, a technology investment fund, also has significant stakes in ride-hailing firm Uber, as well as Santa Clara, CA chipmaker and Tier One automotive supplier Nvidia
  • As disclosed in a GM statement, the companies are anticipating commercialization at scale beginning in 2019, but it’s not clear yet what that means. It appears highly unlikely that GM will be able to push for retail-saleable new vehicles with fully automated drive tech by anywhere near that timeframe, but a ride-hailing service or other select-location deployment may be possible

NTT DOCOMO Ventures Makes Strategic Investment in Inbenta – May 31, 2018 (PR Newswire)

  • NTT DOCOMO Ventures, the venture capital arm of NTT DOCOMO, has made a strategic investment in Inbenta Technologies, a global leader in artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) products. Inbenta plans to use the funds to enhance its product suite and accelerate business growth
  • Founded in Barcelona and now headquartered in Silicon Valley, Inbenta has doubled in size over the past two years. Inbenta’s patented software based on the Meaning-Text Theory (MTT) is deployed by over 250 large enterprises across 6 continents for a variety of use cases in banking, insurance, telecom, retail, travel, technology, and transportation. Inbenta, with its integrated offering of six enterprise-grade AI and NLP-driven products — the Inbenta Chatbot, Semantic Search, E-Commerce Search, Knowledge Management, Case Management, and Live Chat, automates over 300+ million real-time customer interactions per year across the web, mobile, social, and SMS channels, and natively supports 30 languages servicing a number of multinationals and diverse support organizations

Japan’s Deepcore launches $55m AI fund, makes debut investment in VAAK – May 31, 2018 (Deal Street Asia)

  • Deepcore, a Japanese artificial intelligence-focused incubator set up by SoftBank last year, on Thursday announced the launch of a JPY6 billion ($55 million) fund targeting seed and early-stage AI startups
    The company also announced that the fund, Deepcore Tokyo I, has made its maiden investment in Tokyp-based VAAK Inc, last month. VAAK uses image analysis for crime prevention
  • With the new fund, Deepcore will set up a co-working space “KERNEL” (in Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo) this summer, and seeks to build an AI technology-driven community that enables joint projects with companies and startups. The fund will be open for additional LPs until December this year when its final closing is expected to be completed

Weights & Biases raises $5M to build development tools for machine learning – May 31, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • Lukas Biewald and Chris Van Pelt, plus former Google engineer Shawn Lewis, have now started a new company called Weights & Biases to build new tools for machine learning developers. They’ve also raised $5 million in Series A funding from Trinity Ventures and Bloomberg Beta
  • “Artificial Intelligence has so much potential, but few companies are implementing it yet because the development process is too complicated for all but a small number of highly trained engineers,” said Trinity’s Dan Scholnick, who’s joining the startup’s board of directors. (Scholnick previously backed CrowdFlower.) “W&B aims to dramatically streamline the machine learning software development process so that AI benefits can be unlocked across industries and no longer restricted to the few firms able to hire extremely skilled and extraordinarily expensive AI developers today.”
  • The eventual goal is to create a whole suite of development tools, but Weights & Biases’ first product records and visualizes the process of training a machine learning algorithm. Biewald explained that this makes it possible for developers to go back and see what they were doing, say, a month ago and to share that information with teammates. And it’s already being used by the nonprofit research company OpenAI

GIF and sticker platform Emogi gets $12.6M as the battle of GIF startups continues to heat up – May 30, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • It looks like the capital continues to flow into startups looking to provide some easy way for users to share GIFs, with another startup called Emogi announcing today that it’s raised $12.6 million in a new financing round
  • Already there’s enormous activity in the GIF space, of all things. Google earlier this year acquired Tenor, a GIF platform that supplies a GIF search engine across multiple messaging channels (the company recently added LINE as one service). Tenor earlier had said it had around 12 billion GIF searches every month. Meanwhile, Gfycat, which focuses on creator tools, says it has around 180 million monthly active users with more than 500 million views every month. Giphy, one of the other largest GIF platforms, says it has around 300 million daily active users (and we hear recently held talks for a massive funding round)
  • “We were looking at the behavior of consumers [in our previous app and] we realized they weren’t even reading the content,” founder Travis Montaque said. “They were literally reacting with emoji, and that’s it. That behavior was interesting to us. At the time it was me, a team of several engineers and data scientists, and we decided this way of expressing yourself could increase engagement. We decided we should take a look at how the environment is treating these types of formats, and that caused us to transition the business to being Emogi, working with lead investors to provide richer content experiences across their apps — whether that’s in the camera or the keyboard.”

China’s SenseTime, the world’s highest-valued AI startup, closes $620M follow-on round – May 30, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • SenseTime, the world’s highest-valued AI company with a valuation of over $4.5 billion, is back in the money again. The company raised $600 million in an Alibaba-led financing round announced last month, and now it has added a further $620 million to that with a “Series C+” round announced today
  • Alibaba led the previous deal, and this time around the investors include more traditional names such as Fidelity International, Hopu Capital, Silver Lake and Tiger Global. Qualcomm, which previously backed the firm, was also in this round, SenseTime confirmed
  • The new money takes SenseTime to $1.6 billion from investors to date. The valuation has remained “over” $4.5 billion across both of these recent rounds, according to the company. It was previously valued at $1.5 billion when it raised a $410 million Series B last year

Alpha raises $10 million to automate product validation with AI – May 30, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • For large-scale corporations, predicting how users will react to an app redesign or a new website feature is a months-long, intensive process that requires commissioning a study, recruiting participants for said study, and poring over the results before making a final decision. It’s a labor-intensive undertaking, and one New York-based Alpha aims to streamline with the help of artificial intelligence
  • Alpha, which this week announced a $10 million funding round led by Crosslink Capital Ventures, Calibrate Ventures, Spider Capital, and Cendana Capital, is an insights platform that helps app developers, media companies, retailers, and others chart product roadmaps quickly and easily
  • “Ours is the first on-demand product to deliver insights for any sort of business platform,” founder and CEO Thor Ernstsson told VentureBeat in a phone interview. Ernstsson, a former lead architect at mobile games company Zynga and CTO of UnitedHealth subsidiary Audax Health, has experienced the benefits of rapid experimentation firsthand and sought to distill those gains into a highly scalable product

Alibaba Makes Delivery Investment& Unveils Voice System That Lets Customers Correct Their Orders – May 30, 2018 (Retail Tech News)

  • The e-commerce giant said it has led a team of investors, including its logistics arm Cainiao Network, to fork out USD$1.38bn (£1.04bn) for a 10% equity stake in Shanghai-based ZTO Express. The move aimed to beef up first- and last-mile delivery services to support Alibaba’s New Retail focus, which melded both offline and online retail experiences
  • To drive this strategy, and improve experience for consumers as well as merchants, it pointed to the need for further investment in smart supply chain, retail technologies, advanced logistics, and mobile payments. The investment also would help build up Cainiao and ZTO’s warehouse management, cross-border logistics, and smart technology offerings
  • ZTO’s founder, chairman, and CEO Lai Meisong said: “The growth of e-commerce and New Retail in China demands more efficient express delivery and expanded logistics services. This partnership will enable us to expand our selection of high-quality service offerings both in China and internationally.”

Ex-Pritzker VCs get $1 million for startup – May 29, 2018 (Crain’s Chicago)

  • 4Degrees, which was part of last year’s Techstars Chicago class, has lined up more than a dozen customers for its software, most venture-capital and private-equity investors. The software scours your contacts, inbox and calendar, determining not only who you know but how often you interact. The goal is to allow people to answer a seemingly simple question: Who do I know who can help with a particular topic? Initially, it’s being aimed at professionals in businesses, such as venture capital, where who you know is as important as what you know
  • Most people jam it into spreadsheets or (customer relationship management software), or they do it off the top of their heads,” says CEO Ablorde Ashigbi, who co-founded the company with David Vandegrift. Both were associates at Pritzker Group Venture Capital
  • Tony Wilkins, a Chicago angel investor with Standing Oaks Venture Partners, is an early customer. “It keeps track of contacts and relationships, and it does a great job of offering up suggested contacts. It sets a reminder to connect with people who I should check in with, so I don’t have to put anything on my calendar.”

ForwardX raises $10 million for AI-powered luggage that follows you – May 29, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • Autonomous luggage maker ForwardX Robotics today announced it has raised $10 million to bring its suitcase Ovis to market. At $399, the luggage can move a maximum 6.2 miles per hour and will ship to its first customers in late 2018. ForwardX was founded in 2016, but its luggage initially grabbed the world’s attention in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 in Las Vegas
  • The 9.9 lb suitcase is made of polypropylene and carbon fiber and is able to follow you by deploying computer vision that tracks your body and face, even if you are momentarily out of sight. Though Ovis has been tested and found to be useful in environments outside airports, like city streets, its battery only lasts for four hours of use, and it must be switched to the old-fashioned manual mode on escalators since it cannot yet handle moving stairs
  • ForwardX intends to focus initially on luggage, but the company is also exploring the creation of mobility machines for last-mile deliveries, like the kind Marble uses for restaurant deliveries and Starship Technologies uses on corporate and university campuses. ForwardX is also in talks with ecommerce companies like JD.com and DHL to make robots capable of carrying 100 kilograms and following factory workers, Guan said. The $10 million round was led by CDH Fund with participation from Eastern Bell Venture Capital

Flock raises £2.25M for its on-demand drone insurance – May 29, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • Flock, a London-based startup that has created a data-driven insurance product for drones, has picked up £2.25 million in seed funding. Leading the round is fintech and insurtech VC fund Anthemis, with participation from Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play, Seed and Speed, and previous backer Downing Ventures. A number of unnamed angel investors also took part
  • Describing itself as “pioneering the use of real-time data in insurance,” Flock’s drone insurance has its roots in the academic studies of founder Antton Pena. He wrote his thesis on the use of real-time data to quantify drone flight risks, and began building the first version of the Flock platform at the Data Science Institute at Imperial College London with help from a post-doctoral researcher in artificial intelligence
  • Likewise, while studying at Cambridge University, Flock CEO Ed Leon Klinger focused on the future of the autonomous world, writing and publishing papers on driverless vehicles, AI safety, and autonomous drones. This included a paper on the future of the drone industry in which he identified the same solution that Antton had already begun building: the idea that real-time data could be leveraged to identify and quantify the risks of drone flights

Former TechCrunch Editor Alexia Bonatsos Launches Venture Fund – May 28, 2018 (Sludge Feed)

  • Alexia Bonatsos, the former editor of TechCrunch, has unveiled her new venture fund, Dream Machine. The new firm is described as an “opportunistic seed fund, interested in AI, voice, AR, VR, IoT, and blockchain”
  • Dream Machine is currently raising a $25 million fund and has already made 7 investments, 3 of which were referenced in the TechCrunch article announcing the new fund. The first major investment was in TruStory, which was founded by Preethi Kasireddy, a former member of both Coinbase and Andreessen Horowitz
  • TruStory is building a platform that allows users “to discover and validate claims that people make online, whether in a blog post, whitepaper, website, or social media post,” an idea similar to the ‘Yelp for Journalists’ concept Elon Musk pitched on Twitter last week that was met with mixed opinions and significant criticism in the media

China’s Sinovation Ventures sets up $391m AI fund in Guangzhou – May 29, 2018 (Deal Street Asia)

  • Chinese venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures has established an RMB2.5 billion ($391 million) artificial intelligence fund in Guangzhou. The fund will invest in AI-related projects, as well as Big Data, education, consumption upgrade and business-to-business initiatives. The firm will also help Guangzhou to develop its AI ecosystem, said Sinovation Ventures on its WeChat account
  • To help Guangzhou accelerate its AI development, Sinovation Ventures will also set up its AI subsidiary – Chuangxin Qizhi – and a research centre in the city. Chuangxin Qizhi was established in March this year and has completed its angel financing round of over RMB 100 million ($15.6 million) led by Chengwei Ventures and joined by Sinovation Ventures as well as other investors. It will focus on AI and B2B, as well as providing AI products and solutions for enterprises. Sinovation Ventures AI Institute will add another centre in Guangzhou to focus on new retail, manufacturing and finance in China’s southeast region
  • Last week, Sinovation Ventures also announced its exit from San Francisco-based AI startup WriteLab to New York-listed education company Chegg Inc following a $15 million acquisition. Just yesterday, Sinovation Ventures announced its investment in the supply chain and logistics subsidiary of Shanghai-listed Chinese supermarket giant Yonghui Superstores, Yonghui Yunchuang

Studies / research:

Chinese researchers develop AI technology for screening diabetic retinopathy – June 2, 2018 (Xinhua Net)

  • A research team with Hunan University has successfully developed an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that can swiftly detect diabetic retinopathy. The algorithm enables doctors to find signs of diabetic retinopathy from pictures with the help of a supercomputer center
  • “After analyzing more than 80,000 retinal images, we found that the AI algorithm had a 91 percent accuracy rate of detecting diabetic retinopathy, which is on par with an ophthalmologist,” said Xi Ziwei, a member of the research team
  • “AI detection takes only one thirtieth of the time used by an ophthalmologist, enabling it to screen more cases and reduce human error,” Xi said, adding that ophthalmologists are in short supply in China, particularly at the community level

University of Toronto researchers develop AI that can defeat facial recognition systems – May 31, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • Their algorithm, which was trained on a dataset of 600 faces, spits out a real-time filter that can be applied to any picture. Because it targets highly specific, individual pixels in the image, it’s almost imperceptible to the human eye
  • The two researchers employed adversarial training, a form of AI that comprises two neural networks — a “generator” that produces outputs from data and a “discriminator” that detects fake data fabricated by the generator — to train the network. Aarabi and Bose’s system uses the generator to identify faces and the discriminator to disrupt the facial recognition
  • In the research paper, which is due to be published at the 2018 IEEE International Workshop on Multimedia Signal Processing, Bose and Aarabi claim that their algorithm reduces the proportion of detected faces in facial recognition systems to 0.5 percent

AI could predict violent protests through Twitter analysis – May 29, 2018 (Engadget)

  • Twitter has long been a cornerstone for organizing protests, but once demonstrators hit the streets, there’s always a possibility that violence can erupt between activists and authorities. To help cut down on such battles, researchers from the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute are using artificial intelligence to try and predict when protests will turn violent
  • They used machine learning to analyze 18 million tweets posted during Baltimore protests in 2015, which broke out after Freddie Gray fell into a coma on a police transport and later died. The team explored the association between arrest rates (a metric often used to signal violent incidents) and moral tweets (i.e. those related to issues the posters could deem as right or wrong). The number of arrests during the demonstrations correlated with the number of moral tweets posted in the hours leading up to a protest — the number of tweets containing moral language almost doubled on days with violent clashes between police and protesters
  • The researchers found that when people moralize the issue they’re protesting, they’re more likely to endorse violence. There’s an echo chamber effect too — the study (published in Nature Human Behavior) showed when some people were confident others in their social circle shared their moral views, the more likely they were to consider violent attacks on opponents

Government / policy:

Chinese police use facial recognition to catch man accused of stealing £12,000 worth of potatoes at concert of 20,000 people – June 3, 2018 (Evening Standard)

  • The technology managed to locate Mr Yu who was wanted for allegedly stealing £12,711 worth of potatoes as he attended a Jacky Cheung concert
  • Shen Yueguang from the Nanhu District Public Security Bureau said: “A few minutes after he passed through the security checkpoint, our system issued a warning that he was a wanted person.”

California will allow certain driverless cars to carry passengers – June 1, 2018 (CNET)

  • California regulators have announced two pilot programs that allow transportation companies operating autonomous vehicles to provide rides to members of the public. These programs apply to any companies that use self-driving vehicles that have been approved by the California Department of Motor Vehicles and California Public Utilities Commissio
  • According to a statement issued by the CPUC, the first pilot program “authorizes Transportation Charter-Party Carrier (TCP) permit-holders to use test autonomous vehicles to provide passenger service, as long as the TCP permit-holder also holds an ‘Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program Manufacturer’s Testing Permit’ issued by the DMV.” In these cases, a driver is required to be in the vehicle, and the company is not allowed to charge passengers for the ride
  • The second program “allows TCP permit-holders that hold a ‘DMV Manufacturer’s Testing Permit – Driverless Vehicles’ to operate autonomous vehicles without a driver in the vehicle,” according to the CPUC statement, though the California DMV requires these vehicles be remotely monitored. Companies that wish to participate in this program are “not allowed to operate from or within airports; must limit the use of the vehicle to one chartering party at any given time (i.e., fare-splitting is not permitted); must ensure that the service can only be chartered by adults 18 years and older; and may not accept monetary compensation for the ride,” according to the CPUC statement

Singapore invites China to test artificial intelligence solutions – June 1, 2018 (Channel News Asia)

  • Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat made this invitation at the first Sino-Singapore Artificial Intelligence Forum in Nanjing on Friday (Jun 1), which was attended by about 350 AI experts from both countries
  • “For example, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has a financial technology (Fintech) sandbox for companies to develop new financial solutions before launching them in the market,” said Mr Heng, who is also in China for a series of meetings. Sandboxes are platforms that allow software to be securely tested in an environment where legal and regulatory requirements are relaxed. The Land Transport Authority is also testing driverless vehicle systems in such sandboxes in Singapore, Mr Heng said.
  • The first Sino-Singapore Artificial Intelligence Forum was jointly organised by the Nanjing Municipal Bureau of Commerce as well as Singapore Press Holding’s Chinese paper Lianhe Zaobao

Mary Meeker: China’s AI expertise is ‘focused and organized and gaining’ – May 30, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • Mary Meeker released her annual Internet Trends Report today to highlight a broad range of subjects influencing the future of technology, ranging from the proliferation of artificial intelligence to flat growth for smartphone sales in 2017, the first time since the advent of the smartphone
  • Like the 2018 Tech Trends Report from futurist Amy Webb released in March, Meeker’s report highlights Chinese momentum in the creation of complex artificial intelligence systems and the government’s forward-looking plan for the creation of AI innovation systems and increased cooperation between civilian and military AI initiatives
  • While the U.S. is still ahead, the report refers to China as “focused and organized and gaining,” highlighting that with a quote from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt that predicts China and the United States could be equal in AI prowess within the next five years

In Artificial Intelligence, Young Ethiopians Eye a Fertile Future – May 30, 2018 (Undark)

  • Great article on the role AI can play in developing Ethiopia. Special focus on Getnet Assefa, founder and chief executive of iCog which is the first artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Ethiopia, and a stone’s throw from the home of Lucy. iCog Labs launched in 2013 with $50,000 and just four programmers
  • An earlier prototype of Sophia, a widely recognized humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics (she appeared with late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon last year) sits in Assefa’s lab. Arguably the world’s most famous robot of her kind, Sophia’s software was partly developed here in Ethiopia’s capital
  • Assefa hopes to place artificial intelligence at the heart of Ethiopia’s rapid development, but he receives little backing from the government, which has been encouraging investment in the manufacturing sector. “They think that advanced technologies are a luxury,” he sighs, as we sit in the Lucy-themed restaurant next door to the museum. “It’s not a luxury, it is crucial.”

Australia to draft new laws allowing autonomous vehicles – May 30, 2018 (ZD Net)

  • NTC chief executive Paul Retter said the legislation, to be in place by 2020, is expected to help automated vehicle manufacturers, as well as the public, understand the legal framework they are operating in, and accelerate the introduction of autonomous vehicles in Australia
  • “With automated vehicles, there will be times when an automated driving system [ADS], rather than a human, will be in control of the vehicle. We need a nationally consistent law to know who is in control of a motor vehicle at any point in time,” Retter said
  • According to the Changing driving laws to support automated vehicles: Policy paper [PDF], the key problem to be resolved through the reform is that Australian transport law currently assumes there is a human driver. “It does not envisage a situation in which an ADS, rather than a human driver, is in control of the dynamic driving task,” the paper says. “Obligations relating to driving and road safety through complying with traffic laws are placed on a human driver, and the human driver is responsible for the consequences of noncompliance. “The Australian community cannot gain the benefits of automated vehicles, including safety, productivity, environmental, and mobility benefits, unless barriers in transport legislation applying to automated vehicles are removed.”

Driverless cars ‘will cost lives’ at first – May 29, 2018 (BBC)

  • Lives will be lost during the testing of autonomous cars, the former head of road safety in the United States has warned. Dr Mark Rosekind served as administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under President Obama. He told BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours that people will inevitably be killed

China’s schools are quietly using AI to mark students’ essays … but do the robots make the grade? – May 28, 2018 (South China Morning Post)

  • One in every four schools in China is quietly testing a powerful machine that uses artificial intelligence to mark pupils’ work, according to scientists involved in the government programme
  • The technology is designed to understand the general logic and meaning of the text and make a reasonable, human-like judgment about the essay’s overall quality. It then grades the work, adding recommended improvements in areas such as writing style, structure and theme. The technology, which is being used in around 60,000 schools, is supposed to “think” more deeply and do more than a standard spellchecker
  • It could help to reduce the amount of time teachers spend on grading essays and help them avoid inconsistencies caused by human errors such as lapses in attention or unconscious bias. It could also help more students, especially those in remote areas with limited access to resources, improve their writing skills more quickly. The machine is similar to the e-rater, an automated system used by the Education Testing Service in the US to grade prospective postgraduate students’ essays. But unlike the e-rater, it can read both Chinese and English


UMass to host Commission on the Future of Transportation for driverless cars discussion – May 29, 2018 (WWLP)

  • Topics discussed will include “Framing the Future of Automated Vehicles,” “Human Factor Needs in an Autonomous Vehicle World,” Strategic Planning for Autonomous and Connected Vehicles,” and “Autonomous Vehicles for Ride Sharing”
  • The Commission on the Future of Transportation was established in January to advise the Baker-Polito administration on future transportation needs and challenges

SIGGRAPH 2018 Technical Papers Program to Present Computer Graphics Innovations from 38 Countries – May 29, 2018 (OA Online)

  • SIGGRAPH 2018, the world’s leading annual interdisciplinary educational event showcasing the latest in computer graphics and interactive techniques, will present 128 cutting-edge Technical Papers from around the world, showcasing significant, scholarly new work. The 45th SIGGRAPH conference will take place 12–16 August at the Vancouver Convention Centre. To register for the conference, visit s2018.SIGGRAPH.org