H20.ai announces $72.5M Series D led by Goldman Sachs

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

H20.ai‘s mission is to democratize AI by providing a set of tools that frees companies from relying on teams of data scientists. Today it got a bushel of money to help. The company announced a $72.5 million Series D round led by Goldman Sachs and Ping An Global Voyager Fund.

Previous investors Wells Fargo, NVIDIA and Nexus Venture Partners also participated. Under the terms of the deal, Jade Mandel from Goldman Sachs will be joining the H2O.ai Board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $147 million.

It’s worth noting that Goldman Sachs isn’t just an investor. It’s also a customer. Company CEO and co-founder Sri Ambati says the fact that customers, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs, have led the last two rounds is a validation for him and his company. “Customers have risen up from the ranks for two consecutive rounds for us. Last time the Series C was led by Wells Fargo where we were their platform of choice. Today’s round was led by Goldman Sachs, which has been a strong customer for us and strong supporters of our technology,” Ambati told TechCrunch.

The company’s main product, H20 Driverless AI, introduced in 2017, gets its name from the fact it provides a way for people who aren’t AI experts to still take advantage of AI without a team of data scientists. “Driverless AI is automatic machine learning, which brings the power of a world class data scientists in the hands of everyone. lt builds models automatically using machine learning algorithms of every kind,” Ambati explained.

They introduced a new recipe concept today, that provides all of the AI ingredients and instructions for building models for different business requirements. H20.ai’s team of data scientists has created and open sourced 100 recipes for things like credit risk scoring, anomaly detection and property valuation.

The company has been growing since its Series C round in 2017 when it had 70 employees. Today it has 175 and has tripled the number of customers since the prior round, although Ambati didn’t discuss an exact number.  The company has its roots in open source and has 20,000 users of its open source products, according to Ambati.

He didn’t want to discuss valuation and wouldn’t say when the company might go public, saying it’s early days for AI and they are working hard to build a company for the long haul.


H20.ai announces .5M Series D led by Goldman Sachs

Join The New Stack for Pancake & Podcast with Q&A at TC Sessions: Enterprise

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

Popular enterprise news and research site The New Stack is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 for a special Pancake & Podcast session with live Q&A, featuring, you guessed it, delicious pancakes and awesome panelists!

Here’s the “short stack” of what’s going to happen:

  • Pancake buffet opens at 7:45 am on Thursday, September 5 at TC Sessions: Enterprise
  • At 8:15 am the panel discussion/podcast kicks off; the topic, “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise
  • After the discussion, the moderators will host a live audience Q&A session with the panelists
  • Once the Q&A is done, attendees will get the chance to win some amazing raffle prizes

You can only take part in this fun pancake-breakfast podcast if you register for a ticket to  TC Sessions: Enterprise. Use the code TNS30 to get 30% off the conference registration price!

Here’s the longer version of what’s going to happen:

At 8:15 a.m., The New Stack founder and publisher Alex Williams takes the stage as the moderator and host of the panel discussion. Our topic: “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise.” We’ll start with intros of our panelists and then dive into the topic with Sid Sijbrandij, founder and CEO at GitLab, and Frederic Lardinois, enterprise reporter and editor at TechCrunch, as our initial panelists. More panelists to come!

Then it’s time for questions. Questions we could see getting asked (hint, hint): Who’s on your team? What makes a great technical team for the enterprise startup? What are the observations a journalist has about how the enterprise is changing? What about when the time comes for AI? Who will I need on my team?

And just before 9 a.m., we’ll pick a ticket out of the hat and announce our raffle winner. It’s the perfect way to start the day.

On a side note, the pancake breakfast discussion will be published as a podcast on The New Stack Analysts

But there’s only one way to get a prize and network with fellow attendees, and that’s by registering for TC Sessions: Enterprise and joining us for a short stack with The New Stack. Tickets are now $349, but you can save 30% with code TNS30.


Join The New Stack for Pancake & Podcast with Q&A at TC Sessions: Enterprise

The five great reasons to attend TechCrunch’s Enterprise show Sept. 5 in SF

Source: Microsoft more

The vast enterprise tech category is Silicon Valley’s richest, and today it’s poised to change faster than ever before. That’s probably the biggest reason to come to TechCrunch’s first-ever show focused entirely on enterprise. But here are five more reasons to commit to joining TechCrunch’s editors on September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for an outstanding day (agenda here) addressing the tech tsunami sweeping through enterprise. 

#1 Artificial Intelligence.
At once the most consequential and most hyped technology, no one doubts that AI will change business software and increase productivity like few if any, technologies before it. To peek ahead  into that future, TechCrunch will interview Andrew Ng, arguably the world’s most experienced AI practitioner at huge companies (Baidu, Google) as well as at startups. AI will be a theme across every session, but we’ll address again it head-on in a panel with investor Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta), founder Bindu Reddy (Reality Engines) and executive John Ball (Salesforce / Einstein). 

#2. Data, The Cloud and Kubernetes.
If AI is at the dawn of tomorrow, cloud transformation is the high noon of today.  90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and no enterprise can keep its data hoard on-prem forever. Azure’s CTO
Mark Russinovitch (CTO) will discuss Microsft’s vision for the cloud. Leaders in the open-source Kubernetes revolution, Joe Beda (VMWare) and Aparna Sinha (Google) and others will dig into what Kubernetes means to companies making the move to cloud. And last, there is the question of how to find signal in all the data – which will bring three visionary founders to the stage: Benoit Dageville (Snowflake), Ali Ghodsi (Databricks), Murli Thirumale (Portworx). 

#3 Everything else on the main stage!
Let’s start with a fireside chat with
SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Qualtrics Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green.  We have top investors talking where they are making their bets, and security experts talking data and privacy. And then there is quantum,  the technology revolution waiting on the other side of AI: Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort,  Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs, and Krysta Svore, <span style=”font-weight: 400;”> who leads the Microsoft’s quantum effort.

All told, there are 21 programming sessions.

#4 Network and get your questions answered.
There will be two Q&A breakout sessions with top enterprise investors for founders (and anyone else) to query investors directly. Plus, TechCrunch’s unbeatable CrunchMatch app makes it really easy to set up meetings with the other attendees, an
incredible array of folks, plus the  20 early-stage startups exhibiting on the expo floor.

#5 SAP
Enterprise giant SAP is our sponsor for the show, and they are not only bringing a squad of top executives, they are producing four parallel track sessions featuring key SAP Chief Innovation Officer
Max Wessel,  SAP Chief Designer and Futurist  Martin Wezowski and SAP.IO’s managing director Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO) in sessions including, how to scale-up an enterprise startup, how startups win large enterprise customers, and what the enterprise future looks like.

Check out the complete agenda. Don’t miss this show! This line-up is a view into the future like none other. 

Grab your $349 tickets today, and don’t wait till the day of to book because prices go up at the door!

We still have 2 Startup Demo Tables left. Each table comes with 4 tickets and a prime location to demo your startup on the expo floor. Book your demo table now before they’re all gone!


The five great reasons to attend TechCrunch’s Enterprise show Sept. 5 in SF

The five great reasons to attend TechCrunch’s Enterprise show Sept. 5 in SF

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

The vast enterprise tech category is Silicon Valley’s richest, and today it’s poised to change faster than ever before. That’s probably the biggest reason to come to TechCrunch’s first-ever show focused entirely on enterprise. But here are five more reasons to commit to joining TechCrunch’s editors on September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for an outstanding day (agenda here) addressing the tech tsunami sweeping through enterprise. 

No. 1: Artificial intelligence
At once the most consequential and most hyped technology, no one doubts that AI will change business software and increase productivity like few, if any, technologies before it. To peek ahead into that future, TechCrunch will interview Andrew Ng, arguably the world’s most experienced AI practitioner at huge companies (Baidu, Google) as well as at startups. AI will be a theme across every session, but we’ll address it again head-on in a panel with investor Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta), founder Bindu Reddy (Reality Engines) and executive John Ball (Salesforce / Einstein). 

No. 2: Data, the cloud and Kubernetes
If AI is at the dawn of tomorrow, cloud transformation is the high noon of today. Indeed, 90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and no enterprise can keep its data hoard on-prem forever. Azure’s CTO
Mark Russinovitch will discuss Microsft’s vision for the cloud. Leaders in the open-source Kubernetes revolution — Joe Beda (VMware), Aparna Sinha (Google) and others — will dig into what Kubernetes means to companies making the move to cloud. And last, there is the question of how to find signal in all the data — which will bring three visionary founders to the stage: Benoit Dageville (Snowflake), Ali Ghodsi (Databricks) and Murli Thirumale (Portworx). 

No. 3: Everything else on the main stage!
Let’s start with a fireside chat with
SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Qualtrics Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green. We have top investors talking where they are making their bets, and security experts talking data and privacy. And then there is quantum computing, the technology revolution waiting on the other side of AI: Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort, Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs and Krysta Svore, who leads Microsoft’s quantum effort.

All told, there are 21 programming sessions.

No. 4: Network and get your questions answered
There will be two Q&A breakout sessions with top enterprise investors; this is for founders (and anyone else) to query investors directly. Plus, TechCrunch’s unbeatable CrunchMatch app makes it really easy to set up meetings with the other attendees, an
incredible array of folks, plus the 20 early-stage startups exhibiting on the expo floor.

No. 5: SAP
Enterprise giant SAP is our sponsor for the show, and they are not only bringing a squad of top executives, they are producing four parallel track sessions, featuring key SAP Chief Innovation Officer
Max Wessel, SAP Chief Designer and Futurist Martin Wezowski and SAP.IO’s managing director Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO), in sessions including how to scale-up an enterprise startup, how startups win large enterprise customers, and what the enterprise future looks like.

Check out the complete agenda. Don’t miss this show! This line-up is a view into the future like none other. 

Grab your $349 tickets today, and don’t wait til the day of to book because prices go up at the door!

We still have two Startup Demo Tables left. Each table comes with four tickets and a prime location to demo your startup on the expo floor. Book your demo table now before they’re all gone!


The five great reasons to attend TechCrunch’s Enterprise show Sept. 5 in SF

How ‘ghost work’ in Silicon Valley pressures the workforce, with Mary Gray

Source: Microsoft more

The phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” was originally meant sarcastically.

It’s not actually physically possible to do — especially while wearing Allbirds and having just fallen off a Bird scooter in downtown San Francisco, but I should get to my point.

This week, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services Office, repeatedly referred to the notion of bootstraps in announcing shifts in immigration policy, even going so far as to change the words to Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus:” no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

We’ve come to expect “alternative facts” from this administration, but who could have foreseen alternative poems?

Still, the concept of ‘bootstrapping’ is far from limited to the rhetorical territory of the welfare state and social safety net. It’s also a favorite term of art in Silicon Valley tech and venture capital circles: see for example this excellent (and scary) recent piece by my editor Danny Crichton, in which young VC firms attempt to overcome a lack of the startup capital that is essential to their business model by creating, as perhaps an even more essential feature of their model, impossible working conditions for most everyone involved. Often with predictably disastrous results.

It is in this context of unrealistic expectations about people’s labor, that I want to introduce my most recent interviewee in this series of in-depth conversations about ethics and technology.

Mary L. Gray is a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research. One of the world’s leading experts in the emerging field of ethics in AI, Mary is also an anthropologist who maintains a faculty position at Indiana University. With her co-author Siddharth Suri (a computer scientist), Gray coined the term “ghost work,” as in the title of their extraordinarily important 2019 book, Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. 

a mathiowetz crop 2 768x960

Image via Mary L. Gray / Ghostwork / Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography

Ghost Work is a name for a rising new category of employment that involves people scheduling, managing, shipping, billing, etc. “through some combination of an application programming interface, APIs, the internet and maybe a sprinkle of artificial intelligence,” Gray told me earlier this summer. But what really distinguishes ghost work (and makes Mary’s scholarship around it so important) is the way it is presented and sold to the end consumer as artificial intelligence and the magic of computation.

In other words, just as we have long enjoyed telling ourselves that it’s possible to hoist ourselves up in life without help from anyone else (I like to think anyone who talks seriously about “bootstrapping” should be legally required to rephrase as “raising oneself from infancy”), we now attempt to convince ourselves and others that it’s possible, at scale, to get computers and robots to do work that only humans can actually do.

Ghost Work’s purpose, as I understand it, is to elevate the value of what the computers are doing (a minority of the work) and make us forget, as much as possible, about the actual messy human beings contributing to the services we use. Well, except for the founders, and maybe the occasional COO.

Facebook now has far more employees than Harvard has students, but many of us still talk about it as if it were little more than Mark Zuckerberg, Cheryl Sandberg, and a bunch of circuit boards.

But if working people are supposed to be ghosts, then when they speak up or otherwise make themselves visible, they are “haunting” us. And maybe it can be haunting to be reminded that you didn’t “bootstrap” yourself to billions or even to hundreds of thousands of dollars of net worth.

Sure, you worked hard. Sure, your circumstances may well have stunk. Most people’s do.

But none of us rise without help, without cooperation, without goodwill, both from those who look and think like us and those who do not. Not to mention dumb luck, even if only our incredible good fortune of being born with a relatively healthy mind and body, in a position to learn and grow, here on this planet, fourteen billion years or so after the Big Bang.

I’ll now turn to the conversation I recently had with Gray, which turned out to be surprisingly more hopeful than perhaps this introduction has made it seem.

Greg Epstein: One of the most central and least understood features of ghost work is the way it revolves around people constantly making themselves available to do it.

Mary Gray: Yes, [What Siddarth Suri and I call ghost work] values having a supply of people available, literally on demand. Their contributions are collective contributions.

It’s not one person you’re hiring to take you to the airport every day, or to confirm the identity of the driver, or to clean that data set. Unless we’re valuing that availability of a person, to participate in the moment of need, it can quickly slip into ghost work conditions.

Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich will join us for TC Sessions: Enterprise on September 5

Source: Microsoft more

Being the CTO for one of the three major hyperclouds providers may seem like enough of a job for most people, but Mark Russinovich, the CTO of Microsoft Azure, has a few other talents in his back pocket. Russinovich, who will join us for a fireside chat at our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event in San Francisco on September 5 (p.s. early-bird sale ends Friday), is also an accomplished novelist who has published four novels, all of which center around tech and cybersecurity.

At our event, though, we won’t focus on his literary accomplishments (except for maybe his books about Windows Server) as much as on the trends he’s seeing in enterprise cloud adoption. Microsoft, maybe more so than its competitors, always made enterprise customers and their needs the focus of its cloud initiatives from the outset. Today, as the majority of enterprises is looking to move at least some of their legacy workloads into the cloud, they are often stumped by the sheer complexity of that undertaking.

In our fireside chat, we’ll talk about what Microsoft is doing to reduce this complexity and how enterprises can maximize their current investments into the cloud, both for running new cloud-native applications and for bringing legacy applications into the future. We’ll also talk about new technologies that can make the move to the cloud more attractive to enterprises, including the current buzz around edge computing, IoT, AI and more.

Before joining Microsoft, Russinovich, who has a Ph.D. in computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon, was the co-founder and chief architect of Winternals Software, which Microsoft acquired in 2006. During his time at Winternals, Russinovich discovered the infamous Sony rootkit. Over his 13 years at Microsoft, he moved from Technical Fellow up to the CTO position for Azure, which continues to grow at a rapid clip as it looks to challenge AWS’s leadership in total cloud revenue.

Tomorrow, Friday, August 16 is your last day to save $100 on tickets before prices go up. Book your early-bird tickets now and keep that Benjamin in your pocket.

If you’re an early-stage startup, we only have 3 demo table packages left! Each demo package comes with 4 tickets and a great location for your company to get in front of attendees. Book your demo package today before we sell out!


Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich will join us for TC Sessions: Enterprise on September 5

Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich will join us for TC Sessions: Enterprise on September 5

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

Being the CTO for one of the three major hypercloud providers may seem like enough of a job for most people, but Mark Russinovich, the CTO of Microsoft Azure, has a few other talents in his back pocket. Russinovich, who will join us for a fireside chat at our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event in San Francisco on September 5 (p.s. early-bird sale ends Friday), is also an accomplished novelist who has published four novels, all of which center around tech and cybersecurity.

At our event, though, we won’t focus on his literary accomplishments (except for maybe his books about Windows Server) as much as on the trends he’s seeing in enterprise cloud adoption. Microsoft, maybe more so than its competitors, always made enterprise customers and their needs the focus of its cloud initiatives from the outset. Today, as the majority of enterprises is looking to move at least some of their legacy workloads into the cloud, they are often stumped by the sheer complexity of that undertaking.

In our fireside chat, we’ll talk about what Microsoft is doing to reduce this complexity and how enterprises can maximize their current investments into the cloud, both for running new cloud-native applications and for bringing legacy applications into the future. We’ll also talk about new technologies that can make the move to the cloud more attractive to enterprises, including the current buzz around edge computing, IoT, AI and more.

Before joining Microsoft, Russinovich, who has a Ph.D. in computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon, was the co-founder and chief architect of Winternals Software, which Microsoft acquired in 2006. During his time at Winternals, Russinovich discovered the infamous Sony rootkit. Over his 13 years at Microsoft, he moved from Technical Fellow up to the CTO position for Azure, which continues to grow at a rapid clip as it looks to challenge AWS’s leadership in total cloud revenue.

Tomorrow, Friday, August 16 is your last day to save $100 on tickets before prices go up. Book your early-bird tickets now and keep that Benjamin in your pocket.

If you’re an early-stage startup, we only have three demo table packages left! Each demo package comes with four tickets and a great location for your company to get in front of attendees. Book your demo package today before we sell out!


Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich will join us for TC Sessions: Enterprise on September 5

Microsoft tweaks privacy policy to admit humans can listen to Skype Translator and Cortana audio

Source: Microsoft more

Microsoft is the latest tech giant to amend its privacy policy after media reports revealed it uses human contractors to review audio recordings of Skype and Cortana users.

A section in the policy on how the company uses personal data now reads (emphasis ours):

Our processing of personal data for these purposes includes both automated and manual (human) methods of processing. Our automated methods often are related to and supported by our manual methods. For example, our automated methods include artificial intelligence (AI), which we think of as a set of technologies that enable computers to perceive, learn, reason, and assist in decision-making to solve problems in ways that are similar to what people do. To build, train, and improve the accuracy of our automated methods of processing (including AI), we manually review some of the predictions and inferences produced by the automated methods against the underlying data from which the predictions and inferences were made. For example, we manually review short snippets of a small sampling of voice data we have taken steps to de-identify to improve our speech services, such as recognition and translation.

The tweaks to the privacy policy of Microsoft’s Skype VoIP software and its Cortana voice AI were spotted by Motherboard — which was also first to report that contractors working for Microsoft are listening to personal conversations of Skype users conducted through the app’s translation service, and to audio snippets captured by the Cortana voice assistant.

Asked about the privacy policy changes, Microsoft told Motherboard: “We realized, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job specifying that humans sometimes review this content.”

Multiple tech giants’ use of human workers to review users’ audio across a number of products involving AI has grabbed headlines in recent weeks after journalists exposed a practice that had not been clearly conveyed to users in terms and conditions — despite European privacy law requiring clarity about how people’s data is used.

Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have all been called out for failing to make it clear that a portion of audio recordings will be accessed by human contractors.

Such workers are typically employed to improve the performance of AI systems by verifying translations and speech in different accents. But, again, this human review component within AI systems has generally been buried rather than transparently disclosed.

Earlier this month a German privacy watchdog told Google it intended to use EU privacy law to order it to halt human reviews of audio captured by its Google Assistant AI in Europe — after press had obtained leaked audio snippets and being able to re-identify some of the people in the recordings.

On learning of the regulator’s planned intervention Google suspended reviews.

Apple also announced it was suspending human reviews of Siri snippets globally, again after a newspaper reported that its contractors could access audio and routinely heard sensitive stuff.

Facebook also said it was pausing human reviews of a speech-to-text AI feature offered in its Messenger app — again after concerns had been raised by journalists.

So far Apple, Google and Facebook have suspended or partially suspended human reviews in response to media disclosures and/or regulatory attention.

While the lead privacy regulator for all three, Ireland’s DPC, has started asking questions.

In response to the rising privacy scrutiny of what tech giants nonetheless claim is a widespread industry practice, Amazon also recently amended the Alexa privacy policy to disclose that it employs humans to review some audio. It also quietly added an option for uses to opt-out of the possibility of someone listening to their Alexa recordings. Amazon’s lead EU privacy regulator is also now seeking answers.

Microsoft told Motherboard it is not suspending human reviews at this stage.

Users of Microsoft’s voice assistant can delete recordings — but such deletions require action from the user and would be required on a rolling basis as long as the product continues being use. So it’s not the same as having a full and blanket opt out.

We’ve asked Microsoft whether it intends to offer Skype or Cortana users an opt out of their recordings being reviewed by humans.

The company told Motherboard it will “continue to examine further steps we might be able to take”.


Microsoft tweaks privacy policy to admit humans can listen to Skype Translator and Cortana audio

Facebook’s human-AI blend for audio transcription is now facing privacy scrutiny in Europe

Source: Microsoft more

Facebook’s lead privacy regulator in Europe is now asking the company for detailed information about the operation of a voice-to-text feature in Facebook’s Messenger app and how it complies with EU law.

Yesterday Bloomberg reported that Facebook uses human contractors to transcribe app users’ audio messages — yet its privacy policy makes no clear mention of the fact that actual people might listen to your recordings.

A page on Facebook’s help center also includes a “note” saying “Voice to Text uses machine learning” — but does not say the feature is also powered by people working for Facebook listening in.

A spokesperson for Irish Data Protection Commission told us: “Further to our ongoing engagement with Google, Apple and Microsoft in relation to the processing of personal data in the context of the manual transcription of audio recordings, we are now seeking detailed information from Facebook on the processing in question and how Facebook believes that such processing of data is compliant with their GDPR obligations.”

Bloomberg’s report follows similar revelations about AI assistant technologies offered by other tech giants, including Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft — which have also attracted attention from European privacy regulators in recent weeks.

What this tells us is that the hype around AI voice assistants is still glossing over a far less high tech backend. Even as lashings of machine learning marketing guff have been used to cloak the ‘mechanical turk’ components (i.e. humans) required for the tech to live up to the claims.

This is a very old story indeed. To wit: A full decade ago, a UK startup called Spinvox, which had claimed to have advanced voice recognition technology for converting voicemails to text messages, was reported to be leaning very heavily on call centers in South Africa and the Philippines… staffed by, yep, actual humans.

Returning to present day ‘cutting-edge’ tech, following Bloomberg’s report Facebook said it suspended human transcriptions earlier this month — joining Apple and Google in halting manual reviews of audio snippets for their respective voice AIs. (Amazon has since added an opt out to the Alexa app’s settings.)

We asked Facebook where in the Messenger app it had been informing users that human contractors might be used to transcribe their voice chats/audio messages; and how it collected Messenger users’ consent to this form of data processing — prior to suspending human reviews.

The company did not respond to our questions. Instead a spokesperson provided us with the following statement: “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago.”

Facebook also described the audio snippets that it sent to contractors as masked and de-identified; said they were only collected when users had opted in to transcription on Messenger; and were only used for improving the transcription performance of the AI.

It also reiterated a long-standing rebuttal by the company to user concerns about general eavesdropping by Facebook, saying it never listens to people’s microphones without device permission nor without explicit activation by users.

How Facebook gathers permission to process data is a key question, though.

The company has recently, for example, used a manipulative consent flow in order to nudge users in Europe to switch on facial recognition technology — rolling back its previous stance, adopted in response to earlier regulatory intervention, of switching the tech off across the bloc.

So a lot rests on how exactly Facebook has described the data processing at any point it is asking users to consent to their voice messages being reviewed by humans (assuming it’s relying on consent as its legal basis for processing this data).

Bundling consent into general T&Cs for using the product is also unlikely to be compliant under EU privacy law, given that the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation requires consent to be purpose limited, as well as fully informed and freely given.

If Facebook is relying on legitimate interests to process Messenger users’ audio snippets in order to enhance its AI’s performance it would need to balance its own interests against any risk to people’s privacy.

Voice AIs are especially problematic in this respect because audio recordings may capture the personal data of non-users too — given that people in the vicinity of a device (or indeed a person on the other end of the phone line who’s leaving you a message) could have their personal data captured without ever having had the chance to consent to Facebook contractors getting to hear it.

Leaks of Google Assistant snippets to the Belgian press recently highlighted both the sensitive nature of recordings and the risk of reidentification posed by such recordings — with journalists able to identify some of the people in the recordings.

Multiple press reports have also suggested contractors employed by tech giants are routinely overhearing intimate details captured via a range of products that include the ability to record audio and stream this personal data to the cloud for processing.


Facebook’s human-AI blend for audio transcription is now facing privacy scrutiny in Europe

Polarity raises $8.1M for its AI software that constantly analyzes employee screens and highlights key info

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

Reference docs and spreadsheets seemingly make the world go ’round, but what if employees could just close those tabs for good without losing that knowledge?

One startup is taking on that complicated challenge. Predictably, the solution is quite complicated as well from a tech perspective, involving an AI solution that analyzes everything on your PC screen — all the time — and highlights text onscreen that you could use a little bit more context on. The team at Polarity wants its tech to help teams lower the knowledge barrier to getting stuff done and allow people to focus more on procedure and strategy then memorizing file numbers, IP addresses and jargon.

The Connecticut startup just closed an $8.1 million “AA” round led by TechOperators, with Shasta Ventures, Strategic Cyber Ventures, Gula Tech Adventures and Kaiser Permanente Ventures also participating in the round. The startup closed its $3.5 million Series A in early 2017.

Interestingly, the enterprise-centric startup pitches itself as an AR company, augmenting what’s happening on your laptop screen much like a pair of AR glasses could.

The startup’s computer vision software that uses character recognition to analyze what’s on a user’s screen can be helpful for enterprise teams importing things like a company rolodex so that bios are always collectively a click away but the real utility comes from team-wide flagging of things like suspicious IP addresses that will allow entire teams to learn about new threats and issues at the same time without having to constantly check-in with their co-workers. The startup’s current product has a big focus on analysts and security teams.

Polarity before and after two

via Polarity

Using character recognition to analyze a screen for specific keywords is useful in itself, but that’s also largely a solved computer vision problem.

Polarity’s big advance has been getting these processes to occur consistently on-device without crushing a device’s CPU. Battista says that for the average customer, Polarity’s software generally eats up about 3-6% of their computer’s processing power though it can spike much higher if the system is getting fed a ton of new information at once.

“We spent years building the tech to accomplish [efficiency], readjusting how people think of [object character recognition] and then doing it in real time.” CEO Paul Battista tells me. “The more data that you have onscreen, the more power you use. So it does use a significant percentage of the CPU.”

Why bother with all of this AI trickery and CPU efficiency when you could pull this functionality off in certain apps with an API? The whole deliverable here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re working in Chrome, or Excel or pulling up a scanned document, the software is analyzing what’s actually being rendered onscreen, not what the individual app is communicating.

When it comes to a piece of software analyzing everything on your screen at all times, there are certainly some privacy concerns not only from the employee’s perspective but from a company’s security perspective.

Battista says the intent with this product isn’t to be some piece of corporate spyware, and that it won’t be something running in the background — it’s an app that users will launch. “If [companies] wanted to they could collect all of the data on everybody’s screens, but we don’t have any customers doing that.. The software is built to have a user interface for users to interact with so if the user didn’t choose to subscribe or turn on a metric, then [the company] wouldn’t be able to force them to collect it in the current product.”

Battista says that teams at seven Fortune 100 companies are currently paying for Polarity, with many more in pilot programs. The team is currently around 20 people and with this latest fundraise, Battista wants to double the size of the team in the next 18 months as they look to scale to larger rollouts at major companies.


Polarity raises .1M for its AI software that constantly analyzes employee screens and highlights key info