Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘AI’ Category

Big Builds, Bigger Dogs

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Yesterday it was AI and agriculture, today it’s AI and construction. Built Robotics is a company looking to make construction equipment autonomous and has raised a $33M Series B round. Recognizing that the industry is facing a labor shortage, Built is building systems that would allow one equipment operator to oversee a fleet of vehicles working autonomously in parallel. 

But there’s plenty more VC money sloshing around where that came from…Wordpress parent Automattic raised $300M in a Series D round from Salesforce Ventures, valuing the company at $3B. Thirty-four percent of the world’s top 10 million websites now run on WordPress. No word yet if that means everyone at the company gets an “automattic” raise! 

There’s also more consolidation on the developer tooling front with GitHub’s acquisition of code analysis tool Semmle. Semmle streamlines security testing and offers developers a query languages to allow researchers to more easily test their code. No price on the deal, but Semmle was born from Oxford just last year and had raised a $21M Series B round led by Accel.

And app performance monitoring firm Datadog raised $648M in its U.S. IPO, valuing the company at $7.83B. Datadog had previously declined a buyout offer from Cisco.

Written by turbotodd

September 19, 2019 at 9:45 am

FarmBots

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If you thought automation was limited to e-commerce warehouses and factory floors, think again. TechCrunch is reporting that a number of robotics and autonomy firms are looking next to agriculture.

From farm to C3P0 to table.

According to a report from TechCrunch, Ag robotics firm FarmWise just raised $14.5M to continue development of an autonomous weeding vehicle.

Though they are currently prototypes, the large machines scan the ground for invasive weeds among crops and carefully pluck them out. 

From the company’s press release on the fund raise: “FarmWise’s autonomous, AI-enabled robots are designed to solve farmers’ most pressing challenges by performing a variety of farming functions — starting with weeding, and providing personalized care to every plant they touch.”

The company suggests that machine learning models, computer vision and high-precision mechanical tools will allow sophisticated robots to cleanly pick weeds from fields, leaving crops with the best opportunity to thrive while eliminating harmful chemical inputs.

FarmWise is supported by a team of 25 farming and AI experts from MIT, Stanford, and Columbia. 

Written by turbotodd

September 18, 2019 at 10:05 am

Shelf Life

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On Tuesday California legislators passed AB5, a landmark bill that requires companies like Uber and Lyft to treat contract workers as employees. Workers must be designated as employees if a company exerts control over how they perform their tasks or if their work is part of a company’s regular business.

Expect Uber and Lyft’s autonomous vehicle efforts to speed up (as well as their lobbying efforts to gain an exception for its drivers to remain contractors). All those pesky humans, demanding rights like fair wages and health insurance!

On the subject of robots, Simbe Robotics has raised $26 million for autonomous inventory robots to inventory grocery shelves. A VentureBeat story indicates the brick-and-mortar automation market will be worth $18.9B by 2023.

Simbe’s robot, Tally, drives around a space to create a store map and then uses computer vision to “see” what products aren’t on a shelf and identify any missing facings, using RFID for its inventory counts.

VentureBeat reports a single robot can scan 15K to 30K products per hour, compared to the 10K-20K an average human employee can do in 20 to 30 hours. Human, 10-20K, 20-30 hours, Tally, 15K-30K per hour.

Humans will still do the restocking…for now. 

We’ll see how long their shelf life is.

Written by turbotodd

September 12, 2019 at 10:10 am

McAutomation

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Ronald McDonald retired around the time of the creepy clown sightings began popping up several years ago. But McDonald’s isn’t resting on its fast food franchise laurels.

Yesterday the company announced it had agreed to acquire voice AI firm Apprente to help the company automate drive-thru orders (which could also cut down on service times).

According to a report from CNBC, Apprente’s employees will be founding members of “McD Tech Labs,” a tech shop embedded in Mickey D’s global tech team.

This move builds on the company’s investment in March of Dynamic Yield, whose ML technology was deployed in more than 8,000 U.S. drive-thrus, and whose tech changes menus based on time of day, weather, traffic, and the customer’s order, with the end goal of upselling.

Today’s Morning Brew suggested this was a “defensive” move by McDonald’s, “ensuring it gets access to key AI tech before Wendy’s and Burger King can get their hands on it.”

There’s a lot at stake in the coming AI burger wars…turnover is inordinately high at fast food chains, and McD’s alone employs over 1.8M workers in 34,000 restaurants worldwide. Those algos don’t complain about low wages, few benefits, and long hours.

So in my best speech-to-text voice, here goes: Would you like fries with that?

Written by turbotodd

September 11, 2019 at 2:11 pm

Closing the Widening Skills Gap

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IBM’s Institute for Business Value released a study on Friday focused on the impact of AI on the workplace.

The study revealed over the next three years, as many as 120 million workers from the world’s largest economies may need to be retrained because of AI advances and intelligent automation.

But less than half of CEOs surveyed said they had the resources needed to close the skills gap brought on by these new technologies. And the time it takes to close a skills gap through training has increased by more than 10X in just four years.

The study also revealed that new skills requirements are quickly emerging, while others are becoming obsolete. In 2018, the two top skills were behavioral: A willingness to be flexible, agile, and adaptable to change, and time management skills and ability to prioritize.

How to close the gap? The core recommendation is to take a more holistic approach by focusing on reskilling our workforce through development that’s multi-modal, personalized to the individual and built on data, learning journeys that are delivered through “experiential learning.”

You can read a summary of the research here.

Written by turbotodd

September 9, 2019 at 3:52 pm

AI Time

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Happy Monday. Reminder that tomorrow’s the big autumn Apple launch event. Keynote starts at 10 a.m. PDT tomorrow and is expected to introduce a range of new products, as well as release info for the company’s various OSes. Oh, and expect a launch date for the Apple Arcade.

Meanwhile, if you’re an AI professor, life has never been so good. A U of Rochester study was conducted that found 153 AI professors in N. American universities left their posts for industry over the past 15 years, with an additional 68 working there while retaining part-time professorial duties.

This has led to graduating students being less likely to build new AI companies, and when they did, attracting smaller amounts of funding. The study argues this AI brain drain could hamper innovation and growth across the economy. Who else is going to teach those self-driving cars to rear-end unsuspecting human drivers??!

A NY Times opinion piece suggests there are larger problems looming on the AI front…namely, that current AI systems don’t grasp basic concepts like time, space and causality. Example they use, via a simple Google search: “Did George Washington own a computer?” None of Google’s first 10 search results gave the correct answer.

I guess asking about the cherry tree is a non starter.

Written by turbotodd

September 9, 2019 at 9:54 am

Deepfake Left On One!

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If you’re concerned about deepfakes, fear not: Facebook, Microsoft, the Partnership on AI coalition, and academics from seven universities have launched a contest to find better ways of identifying deepfakes.

Participants in the Deepface Detection Challenge will be given access to a collection of deepfake videos that Facebook plans to release in December, and will feature professional actors who consented to having their faces used in deepfakes (in other words, out of work actors).

From Facebook’s AI Blog: “‘Deepfake’ techniques, which present realistic AI-generated videos of real people doing and saying fictional things, have significant implications for determining the legitimacy of information presented online. Yet the industry doesn’t have a great data set or benchmark for detecting them.”

“…The goal of the challenge is to produce technology that everyone can use to better detect when AI has been used to alter a video in order to mislead the viewer. The Deepfake Detection Challenge will include a data set and leaderboard, as well as grants and awards, to spur the industry to create new ways of detecting and preventing media manipulated via AI from being used to mislead others.”

Written by turbotodd

September 6, 2019 at 10:05 am

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