What’s happened in AI: July 23rd-30th

By | July 31, 2018

Highlights from the AI world this week include the UAE’s $20bn AI partnership with India. It’s interesting to see how far the UAE is pushing their AI agenda. Just last week the UAE hosted a joint economic forum with China as part of Xi Jingping’s visit to the country. One of the main focal points for the UAE’s bi-lateral relationship with China is AI development.

Company developments:

Uber’s self-driving trucks division is dead, long live Uber self-driving cars – July 30, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • Uber is shuttering its self-driving trucks unit, a beleaguered program borne out of the company’s controversial multi-million acquisition of Otto nearly two years ago. The company said Monday that Uber Advanced Technologies Group will stop development of self-driving trucks and instead focus its efforts on self-driving cars
  • Uber Freight, a business unit that helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies, is unaffected by this decision. Uber Freight, which launched in May 2017, is designed for vetted and approved drivers, who can use it to find nearby available loads and see destination info, distance required and payment upfront. If the drivers like what they see, they can tap to book
  • Uber’s self-driving trucks unit is based in San Francisco, while the team dedicated to self-driving cars is located in Pittsburgh. Uber says it will pivot employees focused on self-driving trucks to other work that supports its ongoing development of self-driving technology. If there isn’t a comparable role, Uber will offer relocation to Pittsburgh or a separation package to support the transition

UPS Is Thinking About a Future With Autonomous Vehicles – July 28, 2018 (The Street)

  • “In autonomous, we are kind of in between,” UPS CFO Richard Peretz tells TheStreet. Peretz says UPS’ autonomous driving efforts are being done in test environments, not on public roads
  • In a blog post on its website, UPS acknowledges the inevitable army of self-driving vehicles likely to disrupt many industries

Canadian Malls Secretly Tracked Shoppers’ Age, Gender Using Facial Recognition Technology – July 27, 2018 (Gizmodo)

  • Canadian outlet CBC reports that the mall’s parent company, Cadillac Fairview, has admitted to using the software without shopper consent, but the company claims they only collect limited data. The software has been in use since June
  • Stunningly, Cadillac Fairview never actually disclosed the surveillance, which was used at two malls in Calgary and others in Canada. A shopper simply happened to notice a window accidentally left open in one of the center’s directories. The recognition software was seemingly running the background. The shopper posted a photo of the window to Reddit
  • It doesn’t appear that the mall actually identified anyone. Face recognition usually works by scanning a person’s face, then matching that against a database of facial images. This appears to be more facial analysis, where people’s faces are scanned and, based on measurements, the people identified as male or female and sorted into certain age categories. It’s worth noting that on both gender classification and age estimates, face recognition is less accurate on women and darker skinned people

Facial Recognition Software Wrongly Identifies 28 Lawmakers As Crime Suspects – July 26, 2018 (NPR)

  • Facial recognition software sold by Amazon mistakenly identified 28 members of Congress as people who had been arrested for crimes, the American Civil Liberties Union announced on Thursday. Amazon Rekognition has been marketed as tool that provides extremely accurate facial analysis through photos and video
  • The ACLU tested that assertion by using the software to scan photos of every current member of the House and Senate in a database that the watchdog built from thousands of publicly available arrest photos
  • The test misidentified people of color at a high rate — 39 percent — even though they made up only 20 percent of Congress. One member falsely cited as a crime suspect was Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who first came to prominence as a civil rights leader

Walmart tests driverless cars for online grocery pickup – July 26, 2018 (Supermarket News)

  • Walmart plans to pilot an online grocery service with self-driving cars that pick up customers at their homes and take them to the store to collect their orders
  • Tom Ward, vice president of digital operations for Walmart U.S., said in a blog post yesterday that Walmart will test the service with Waymo — formerly Google’s self-driving car project — in Chandler, Ariz
  • The service works as follows: Customers participating in the pilot order their groceries at Walmart.com/grocery, choose online grocery pickup and select a pickup time. Personal shoppers gather the items ordered based on the designated pickup times. The Waymo vehicle then picks up customers, brings them to the selected store to get their groceries, and then drives them home

Data Storytelling Platform Nugit Launches Down Under – July 25, 2018 (Bandt)

  • Nugit pulls in data from multiple sources into one stream, using artificial intelligence – including natural language generation, trend detection, and narrative development – to convert these streams into business content so information is instantly available to all stakeholders
  • The platform integrates directly with 25 marketing tools including Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, DoubleClick for Publishers, MOAT, Instagram and LinkedIn
  • With customers in 18 countries, the start-up monitors over 340,000 campaigns from over 61,000 unique data sources. Nugit has raised US$8 million in funding from venture capital firms such as Sequoia Capital and Wavemaker. The platform’s global clients include Facebook, Samsung, Audi, IBM, Sanofi, GSK, and Johnson & Johnson, with an Australian client set to be announced shortly

eBay’s new visual search tool lets you drag-and-drop images to find similar items – July 25, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • The ecommerce giant has been doubling down on its AI investments in recent times — it recently hired Jan Pedersen from Twitter to spearhead its broader AI efforts. And last year it rolled out a new computer vision search tool to help shoppers find items using photos either from their camera roll or other websites. Its latest feature adopts a similar reverse image search ethos, except now the eBay mobile app will let you drag-and-drop photos of goods that you like from eBay into the search bar to find others just like that
  • It’s an incremental advance on what eBay is already doing in the computer vision realm, but it’s further evidence of the increasing role that computer vision is playing across industries. Visual search has infiltrated many search-based platforms, including social networks and stock photography websites
  • eBay’s new visual shopping feature will begin rolling out to eBay’s Android and iOS app from August in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Australia

Google announces AutoML Vision, Natural Language, Translation, and Contact Center AI – July 24, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • Starting this week, AutoML Vision, a graphical drag-and-drop tool that lets users leverage Google’s cloud computing backend to train self-learning object recognition and image detection models, is exiting alpha and entering public beta
  • The idea behind it and Cloud AutoML, its umbrella service, is to provide organizations, researchers, and businesses who require custom machine learning models a simple, no-frills way to train them, Google said. To that end, it’s expanding AutoML to natural language processing (with AutoML Natural Language) and translation (with AutoML Translate)
  • “AI is empowerment, and we want to democratize that power for everyone and every business — from retail to agriculture, education to healthcare,” Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist of Google AI, said in a statement. “AI is no longer a niche in the tech world — it’s the differentiator for businesses in every industry. And we’re committed to delivering the tools that will revolutionize them.”

Ford plans to spend $4 billion on autonomous vehicles by 2023 – July 24, 2018 (TechCrunch)

  • The automaker announced Tuesday it has created Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC, which will house the company’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous-vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams. The $4 billion spending plan includes a $1 billion investment in startup Argo AI
  • Sherif Marakby, who heads up Ford’s autonomous vehicles and electrification division, has been appointed CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC. He’ll report to a board of directors chaired by Marcy Klevorn, Ford’s executive vice president and president of mobility, a larger department that also houses Ford Smart Mobility LLC

Waymo self-driving cars are now covering 25,000 miles a day – July 23, 2018 (Digital Trends)

  • Waymo’s test fleet of self-driving cars continues to rack up mileage on public roads as the Google division works toward launching a commercial ride-hailing service. The Waymo fleet recently reached 8 million miles driven, and is now covering 25,000 miles a day, CEO John Krafcik said on Twitter
  • The 8-million-mile mark was reached roughly a month after Waymo’s fleet hit 7 million miles. The fleet has doubled its mileage in just eight months, having hit 4 million miles in November 2017. In addition to testing on public roads, Krafcik said Waymo has covered 5 billion miles in simulations
  • Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans are currently the backbone of Waymo’s fleet. The company has inked a deal to purchase up to 62,000 Pacificas over the next few years, representing a rare spot of good news for the Chrysler brand these days. Waymo also has a deal to purchase up to 20,000 Jaguar I-Pace electric SUVs. CEO Krafcik believes Waymo’s autonomous-driving system can be fitted to different vehicles for different jobs, just as a human driver can transition from vehicle to vehicle


Xilinx Buys DeePhi Technology to Slim Down Machine Learning – July 24, 2018 (Electronic Design)

  • The arms race for accelerators that power machine learning tasks like facial recognition and voice processing is intensifying. Xilinx announced that it would buy Chinese startup DeePhi Technology to expand into software tools that run through the building blocks of machine learning more efficiently by mapping them onto the type of programmable chips Xilinx designs
  • The deal dovetails with other machine learning investments at the San Jose, California-based supplier of field-programmable gate arrays. Xilinx has partnered with Daimler to build driverless car systems based on its chips—more commonly known as FPGAs. Over the last four years, the company poured more than a billion dollars into the development of its new server chip architecture targeting big data and machine learning
  • DeePhi can translate the algorithms into Xilinx FGPAs, giving them an edge over Nvidia’s graphics chips, which are the current gold standard for training neural networks but have less command of applying what they have learned—a process called inferencing. DeePhi can also reduce the number of computations required for inference, giving battery-powered surveillance cameras and drones the ability to run machine learning locally instead of tagging in data centers, where training occurs

Fundraising / investment:

China smart location service startup Wayz.ai raises $80 million in Series A round – July 26, 2018 (Gasgoo)

  • Wayz.ai, a Chinese smart location and mapping service startup announced that it has raised nearly $80 million in the Series A funding round, which was invested by BlueRun Ventures, Lightspeed China Partners, as well as the startup’s founder Vincent Tao, etc
  • Wayz.ai was founded in 2017 by Vincent Tao, former CEO of the Chinese online TV provider PPTV. It is committed to providing complete location intelligence service solutions with the location-based service as a gateway, combining AI technologies with precision positioning, high-definition map (HD map), safety testing as well as location cloud platforms
  • Reportedly, the mass-produced maps developed by the startup are mainly applied in L2 or L3 autonomous vehicles. In addition, Wayz.ai offers high-definition map systems for complex urban traffic scenarios, which are available for L2, L3 and L4 autonomous vehicles. Limited by technical difficulties and high cost, only a small number of map providers in China are developing L4 HD map

Alibaba joins US$600 million fundraising round for AI start-up Megvii, sources say – July 23, 2018 (South China Morning Post)

  • The Beijing-based company, which already counts billionaire Jack Ma Yun’s Ant Financial Services and one of China’s largest state-backed venture funds as investors, will close this round of funding within weeks, the people said, asking not to be named because the matter is private. The company will then seek a second tranche of funding, the people said
  • Megvii provides face-scanning systems to companies including Lenovo Group and Ant Financial, the payments company that underpins Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms. It is competing with SenseTime, another start-up backed by Alibaba, for market share in sectors such as retail, finance, smartphones and public security that could use facial recognition
  • Megvii will use a significant proportion of funding from this round to support retail initiatives, including applying its technology in unmanned stores, the people said. New backer Boyu Capital is a private equity firm co-founded by a grandson of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin

Cogito raises $37 million to analyze call center data with AI – July 23, 2018 (VentureBeat)

  • Boston-based call center analytics company Cogito today announced a $37 million funding round led by Goldman Sachs Growth Equity, Salesforce Ventures, and OpenView. Cogito will use the infusion of capital to improve its software’s customization options and make its user guidance “richer” and “more contextually aware,” cofounder and CEO Joshua Feast said
  • The startup, which was cofounded by MIT computer scientist Alex Pentland, develops software that performs emotional and sentiment analysis on call center conversations using natural language processing. It measures energy level, pace, tone of speech, and other factors in real time to capture and interpret speakers’ intents, helping them recognize mistakes and make corrections on the fly. (For example, if an agent is speaking too quickly, Cogito’s software might suggest that they slow down or engage the customer with a question
  • “It’s clearly great for consumers, because we’re helping provide them better experiences,” Feast told VentureBeat in an interview. “It’s also good for the rep because it allows them to be valued for their soft skills. And it’s better for organizations because it helps them provide better customer experience.”


Ada and Zendesk Unite to Improve Chatbot Experience for Customer Service – July 26, 2018 (Mar Tech Series)

  • Ada, the leading provider of artificial intelligence (AI) customer service chatbots, along with Zendesk, a customer service and engagement platform, announced a deep integration that will greatly improve customer and agent experiences by enabling a symbiotic relationship between AI and human agents
  • The integration between Ada and Zendesk Chat involves the use of Ada’s AI technology to train chatbots to fulfill simple tasks while also identifying when a user needs to be transferred to a live agent. The bot-to-live-agent handoff occurs when more complex or sensitive issues arise, and the chatbot will direct the user to a customer support representative, providing the agent with the full bot conversation history to ensure a seamless transition. For example, if a customer is seeking to cancel their account, the chatbot will direct them to a live agent to increase the probability of retaining the customer

Research / studies:

Artificial intelligence can predict your personality … simply by tracking your eyes – July 27, 2018 (Eurek Alert)

  • Developed by the University of South Australia in partnership with the University of Stuttgart, Flinders University and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany, the research uses state-of-the-art machine-learning algorithms to demonstrate a link between personality and eye movements
  • Findings show that people’s eye movements reveal whether they are sociable, conscientious or curious, with the algorithm software reliably recognising four of the Big Five personality traits: neuroticism, extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness
  • Researchers tracked the eye movements of 42 participants as they undertook everyday tasks around a university campus, and subsequently assessed their personality traits using well-established questionnaires

Brookings survey finds only 21 percent willing to ride in a self-driving car – July 23, 2018 (Brookings)

  • Recent fatalities involving self-driving vehicles appear to be making people nervous about self-driving vehicles. When asked in a survey undertaken by researchers at the Brookings Institution how likely they are to ride in a self-driving car, only 21 percent of adult internet users said they are inclined to do so, compared to 61 percent who are not
  • The support for self-driving cars is down a bit from other surveys over the past year. For example, Northeastern University/Gallup undertook a mail survey of 3,297 U.S. adults from September 15 to October 10, 2017 and found 25 percent were likely to ride in a self-driving car and 54 percent were unlikely
  • In January 2018, Reuters/Ipsos completed a survey of 2,592 adults, finding 27 percent were comfortable riding in a self-driving car and two-thirds were uncomfortable

AI is hurting people of color and the poor. Experts want to fix that – July 23, 2018 (CNN)

  • “We need technologists who understand history, who understand economics, who are in conversations with philosophers,” said Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future. “We need to have this conversation because our technologists are no longer just developing apps, they’re developing political and economic systems.”

Government / policy:

UAE, India sign deal to seek $20bn artificial intelligence benefits – July 28, 2018 (Arabian Business)

  • The UAE and India have signed a bilateral Artificial Intelligence Bridge agreement that seeks to create economic benefits worth $20 billion during the next decade
  • Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, and Deepak Bagla, managing director and CEO of Invest India, the country’s investment promotion agency, on Saturday signed a memorandum of understanding
  • The collaboration will focus on open bilateral engagement through a joint working group, WAM said, adding that there is potential to work together with governments, technology start-ups, academia and industry associations to understand how technology is evolving and how its adoption can be accelerated

Rights group launches legal challenge over London cops’ use of facial recognition tech – July 26, 2018 (The Register)

  • A campaign group has issued a legal challenge against the London Metropolitan Police’s use of facial recognition technology. ig Brother Watch, which has been crowdfunding the costs of the case, yesterday requested permission from the High Court to proceed with the judicial review
  • The group’s co-claimant in the case, launched against UK home secretary Sajid Javid and Met commissioner Cressida Dick, is Green peer Jenny Jones
  • A recent report found the Met’s use of the tech had a 98 per cent false positive rate, and had led to zero arrests. There were also concerns that it would dissuade people from peaceful protests

China’s AI focus will leave US in the dust, says top university professor – July 25, 2018 (Nikkei Asia Review)

  • China is leading the global race for supremacy in artificial intelligence and financial technologies, a professor at one of the country’s top universities said, as the private and public sectors join forces to capture the next big waves of innovation and pump vast resources into the industry
  • “Research institutes, universities, private companies and the government all working together in a broad area … I haven’t seen anything like it,” Steven White, an associate professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management, said during a recent interview in Tokyo. “China is committed to becoming leader in AI, and the U.S. will lose because they don’t have the resources.”
  • White earned a doctorate in management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology before moving to Tsinghua in 2010. He is an associate director at Tsinghua’s x-lab, an “education platform” that teaches students and alumni the nuts and bolts of running a startup. Managers offer free support ranging from running workshops on setting up a company to introducing a student to an industry veteran who can give feedback on product design

DARPA pushes for AI that can explain its decisions – July 23, 2018 (Engadget)

  • DARPA thinks it can move AI forward, though. It’s launching an Artificial Intelligence Exploration program that will invest in new AI concepts, including “third wave” AI with contextual adaptation and an ability to explain its decisions in ways that make sense. If it identified a cat, for instance, it could explain that it detected fur, paws and whiskers in a familiar cat shape
  • Importantly, DARPA also hopes to step up the pace. It’s promising “streamlined” processes that will lead to projects starting three months after a funding opportunity shows up, with feasibility becoming clear about 18 months after a team wins its contract. You might not have to wait several years or more just to witness an AI breakthrough


When AI becomes conscious: Talking with Bina48, an African-American robot – July 27, 2018 (ZD Net)

  • Artist Stephanie Dinkins tells a fascinating story about her work with an AI robot made to look like an African-American woman and at times sensing some type of consciousness in the machine. She was speaking at the de Young Museum’s Thinking Machines conversation series, along with anthropologist Tobias Rees, Director of Transformation with the Humans Program at the American Institute
  • She says Bina48 does not represent African-American women — nor does it understand racism — even though Bina48’s creators at the Terasem Movement Foundation modeled her on a living African-American woman. Dinkins said she would prefer Bina48 to incorporate more than one person’s experience and that her conversation was “homogeneous.”

Event will focus on autonomous vehicles and their potential impact on mobility in the Inland Empire – July 23, 2018 (Fontana Herald News)

  • The Leonard Transportation Center at Cal State San Bernardino will be presenting the fourth in a series of six dialogues on topics relevant to the future of transportation in the Inland Empire
  • The series is open to the public and sponsored by HNTB Corporation, an infrastructure solutions firm
  • In this session, titled “Autonomous and Connected Vehicles — Will They Make Things Better or Worse?” attendees will hear from noted autonomous vehicle and connected vehicle experts including: James Barbaresso, internationally recognized expert on automated and connected vehicles, senior vice president and national ITS practice leader with HNTB Corporation; and Brian Simi, chief, Office of Technology, Innovation and Deployment, Caltrans