Google launches new AI initiatives in Japan

It’s no surprise that Google used its Cloud Next 2018 event in Tokyo today — one of a number of international Cloud Next events that follow its flagship San Francisco conference — to announce a couple of new initiatives that specifically focus on the Japanese market. These announcements include a couple of basic updates like translating its Machine Learning with TensorFlow on Google Cloud Platform Coursera specialization, its Associate Cloud Engineer certification and fifty of its hands-on Qwiklabs into Japanese. In addition, Google is also launching an Advanced Solutions Lab in Tokyo as well. Previously Google opened similar labs in Dublin, Ireland, as well as Sunnyvale and New York. These labs offer a wide range of machine learning-centric training options, collaborative workspaces for teams that are part of the company’s four-week machine learning training program, and access to Google experts.

(Photo by Hitoshi Yamada/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The company also
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Indigo raises $250M, launches marketplace to help farmers get paid for quality grain

Indigo, the startup bringing algorithms and machine learning to the agricultural industry, has raised a $250 million Series E, bringing its total raised to $650 million. The funding values the company at $3.5 billion, according to a source familiar with the deal. That’s a steep increase from its previously reported value: $1.4 billion with a $156 million Series D last September. Existing investors Baillie Gifford, the Alaska Permanent Fund, the Investment Corporation of Dubai and Flagship Pioneering participated in the round. New investors, who Indigo declined to name, also participated. Indigo initially launched in 2014 to help farmers improve the health and productivity of their crops with microbial products that protect against the environment, disease and pest stress. Now, the company is expanding its suite of digital tools with the launch of Indigo Marketplace, which is essentially eBay for farmers. Indigo CEO David Perry, who grew up on
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Mabl announces $20 million Series B to bring automated QA to enterprise customers

Mabl, a Boston-based startup from the folks who brought you Stackdriver, wants to change software testing using machine learning, and today it announced a $20 million Series B investment led by GV (formerly Google Ventures). Existing investors CRV and Amplify Partners also participated. As part of the deal, Karim Faris, general partner at GV will be joining the Mabl board. Today’s investment comes on top of a $10 million Series A announced in February. While it was at it, the company also announced a brand new enterprise product. In fact, part of the reason for going for a hefty Series B so soon after landing the Series A was because it takes some money to service enterprise clients, company founder Izzy Azeri explained. Azeri says that when he and his partner Dan Belcher decided to start a new company after selling Stackdriver to Google in 2014, they
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Microsoft acquires Lobe, a drag-and-drop AI tool

Microsoft today announced that is has acquired Lobe, a startup that lets you build machine learning models with the help of a simple drag-and-drop interface. Microsoft plans to use Lobe, which only launched into beta earlier this year, to build upon its own efforts to make building AI models easier, though, for the time being, Lobe will operate as before. “As part of Microsoft, Lobe will be able to leverage world-class AI research, global infrastructure, and decades of experience building developer tools,” the team writes. “We plan to continue developing Lobe as a standalone service, supporting open source standards and multiple platforms.” Lobe was co-founded by Mike Matas, who previously worked on the iPhone and iPad, as well as Facebook’s Paper and Instant Articles products. The other co-founders are Adam Menges and Markus Beissinger. In addition to Lobe, Microsoft also recently bought Bonsai.ai, a deep
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Nvidia launches the Tesla T4, its fastest data center inferencing platform yet

Nvidia today announced its new GPU for machine learning and inferencing in the data center. The new Tesla T4 GPUs (where the ‘T’ stands for Nvidia’s new Turing architecture) are the successors to the current batch of P4 GPUs that virtually every major cloud computing provider now offers. Google, Nvidia said, will be among the first to bring the new T4 GPUs to its Cloud Platform. Nvidia argues that the T4s are significantly faster than the P4s. For language inferencing, for example, the T4 is 34 times faster than using a CPU and more than 3.5 times faster than the P4. Peak performance for the P4 is 260 TOPS for 4-bit integer operations and 65 TOPS for floating point operations. The T4 sits on a standard low-profile 75 watt PCI-e card. What’s most important, though, is that Nvidia designed these chips specifically for AI inferencing. “What makes Tesla T4 such
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Apple’s new iPhones are powered by the industry’s first 7nm chips

Unsurprisingly, Apple today announced its newest generation of iPhones. And with that, it also announced its new chips: the A12 Bionic. What makes the A12 Bionic stand out is that it’s built using a 7nm process. While it’s hard to compare these numbers given that every chip manufacturer seems to have its own way of measuring them, 7nm is very much the state of the art. Indeed, Apple claims this is the industry’s first 7nm chip. It features a total of 6.96 billion transistors. more iPhone Event 2018 coverage “What the team has done is truly, truly a breakthrough,” Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing, said in today’s keynote. “The A12 bionic is the industry’s first 7nm chip.” The A12 Bionic, which was designed by Apple, features a 6-core CPU and a 4-Core GPU, as well as Apple’s Neural Engine for running machine learning workloads. What’s interesting here is that the chip
more iPhone Event 2018 coverage
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Integrate.ai pulls in $30M to help businesses make better customer-centric decisions

Helping businesses bring more firepower to the fight against AI-fuelled disruptors is the name of the game for Integrate.ai, a Canadian startup that’s announcing a $30M Series A today. The round is led by Portag3 Ventures . Other VCs include Georgian Partners, Real Ventures, plus other (unnamed) individual investors also participating. The funding will be used for a big push in the U.S. market. Integrate.ai’s early focus has been on retail banking, retail and telcos, says founder Steve Irvine, along with some startups which have data but aren’t necessarily awash with AI expertise to throw at it. (Not least because tech giants continue to hoover up talent.) Its SaaS platform targets consumer-centric businesses — offering to plug paying customers into a range of AI technologies and techniques to optimize their decision-making so they can respond more savvily to their customers. Aka turning “high volume consumer funnels”
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Adobe supercharges Photoshop’s content-aware fill so you have more options, fewer AI fails

Everyone went nuts for Adobe’s “content-aware fill” in Photoshop when it came out. The boring-sounding feature is in fact an incredibly useful tool, essentially an AI-powered clone stamp that intelligently brought in other pieces of the image to replace your selection. But it still failed in hilarious ways that only an AI is capable of. That should happen a lot less with the hot new tools Adobe is shipping soon. Teased in a sneak peek video today, the new content-aware fill has a ton of new settings that shooters will love playing with. Photographers love tweaking things — that’s just a fact — and the more things they have to tweak, the better. So, what used to look like this… …and would occasionally produce results like this… …now has a whole right-hand menu full of lovely options to choose from. The most important difference is certainly the ability to
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SETI neural networks spot dozens of new mysterious signals emanating from distant galaxy

The perennial optimists at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, have joined the rest of the world in deploying AI to help manage huge data sets — and their efforts almost instantly bore fruit. Seventy-two new “fast radio bursts” from a mysteriously noisy galaxy 3 billion miles away were discovered in previously analyzed data by using a custom machine learning model. To be clear, this isn’t Morse code or encrypted instructions to build a teleporter, à la Contact, or at least not that we know of. But these fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are poorly understood and may very well represent, at the very least, some hitherto unobserved cosmic phenomenon. FRB 121102 is the only stellar object known to give off the signals regularly, and so is the target of continued observation. The data comes from the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia (above), which was pointed toward this
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Video Of The Week: Elon Musk on Joe Rogan Experience

I have never been as obsessed with Elon Musk as many are in the tech sector. We own two Tesla cars. We pre-ordered Tesla’s solar roof tiles several years ago but have not yet received delivery of them. I appreciate his ingenuity and creativity and we like the Tesla products we own. We are not and have never been shareholders of Tesla or SpaceX. With all of that disclosure, I want to share the video of Elon’s appearance on Joe Rogan Experience as the video of this week. Much has been made of Elon’s decision to take a puff on a tobacco/weed joint on the show. I don’t make too much of that. I’ve been around people smoking pot since I was a teenager and I think it is a lot like alcohol. I believe it is fine if it is done responsibly and appropriately and I am pleased that
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The reality of quantum computing could be just three years away

Quantum computing has moved out of the realm of theoretical physics and into the real world, but its potential and promise are still years away. Onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, a powerhouse in the world of quantum research and a young upstart in the field presented visions for the future of the industry that illustrated both how far the industry has come and how far the technology has to go. For both Dario Gil, the chief operating officer of IBM Research and the company’s vice president of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and Chad Rigetti, a former IBM researcher who founded Rigetti Computing and serves as its chief executive, the moment that a quantum computer will be able to perform operations better than a classical computer is only three years away. “[It’s] generating a solution that is better, faster or cheaper than you can do otherwise,” said Rigetti. “Quantum computing
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PagerDuty raises $90M to wake up more engineers in the middle of the night

PagerDuty, the popular service that helps businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage incidents and alert engineers when things go sideways, today announced that it has raised a $90 million Series D round at a valuation of $1.3 billion. With this, PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009, has now raised well over $170 million. The round was led by T. Rowe Price Associates and Wellington Management . Accel, Andreessen Horowitz and Bessemer Venture Partners participated. Given the leads in this round, chances are that PagerDuty is gearing up for an IPO. “This capital infusion allows us to continue our investments in innovation that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling us to help our customers transform their companies and delight their customers,” said Jennifer Tejada, CEO at PagerDuty in today’s announcement. “From a business standpoint, we can strengthen our investment in and development of our people, our most valuable asset,
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Lockheed Martin teams up with drone racers to add AI

Lockheed Martin and the Drone Racing League are working together to make driverless drones much, much smarter. The project, aimed at bringing AI to commercial drone flyers, is “challenging teams to develop artificial intelligence (AI) technology that will enable an autonomous drone to race a pilot-operated drone – and win.” The racers can win up to $2 million in prizes. Lockheed Martin Chief Technology Officer Keoki Jackson announced the challenge at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco today. “At Lockheed Martin, we are working to pioneer state-of-the-art, AI-enabled technologies that can help solve some of the world’s most complex challenges – from fighting wildfires and saving lives during natural disasters to exploring the farthest reaches of deep space,” said Jackson. “Now, we are inviting the next generation of AI innovators to join us with our AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge. Competitors will have an opportunity to define the future of autonomy and
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Clinc expands to automotive, releases SaaS platform for its voice AI assistant

Clinc co-founder and CEO Jason Mars just announced the company is expanding to a third vertical: Automotive. The company, which started in fintech and recently unveiled a product for drive-thru restaurants, is aiming its voice AI service at the automotive industry. The idea is to give automakers a platform that they can integrate into their vehicles that will allow drivers to control and interact with their vehicles through natural language. Launching alongside the new product, Clinc also revealed a platform to give developers access to the conversational AI. The company says it’s easy enough for developers with little to no experience in machine learning to build with Clinc’s products. Clinc’s conversational AI is fantastic and the company’s products in other verticals show that if it’s used by automakers, the technology could usher in a new wave of user interfaces. This is not Siri.

Avrios has quietly raised $14M for an AI-fueled fleet management platform

Swiss startup Avrios reckons business mobility is going to get a whole lot more interesting as companies adopt more tailored mobility solutions, rather than sticking with the traditional one car per person model. And at the same time as businesses are seeking to accelerate their progressive cred by moving away from combustion cars to greener alternatives, new urban mobility choices are starting to spring up to offer consumers a multi-modal spectrum of personal transport choice. So the days of businesses offering staff just a few choices of car model are numbered, is the thesis. But with increased choice to balance, the job of the fleet manager looks set to get more challenging — both when it comes to negotiating with (more and smaller) suppliers; understanding costs and utility; and intelligently matching transportation solutions with business needs and staff desires, argues Avrios. Hence it believes AI will be a key aid to manage
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Storage provider Cloudian raises $94M

Cloudian, a company that specializes in helping businesses store petabytes of data, today announced that it has raised a $94 million Series E funding round. Investors in this round, which is one of the largest we have seen for a storage vendor, include Digital Alpha, Fidelity Eight Roads, Goldman Sachs, INCJ, JPIC (Japan Post Investment Corporation), NTT DOCOMO Ventures and WS Investments. This round includes a $25 million investment from Digital Alpha, which was first announced earlier this year. With this, the seven-year-old company has now raised a total of $174 million. As the company told me, it now has about 160 employees and 240 enterprise customers. Cloudian has found its sweet spot in managing the large video archives of entertainment companies, but its customers also include healthcare companies, automobile manufacturers and Formula One teams. What’s important to stress here is that Cloudian’s focus is on on-premise storage, not cloud storage,
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Yahoo still scans your emails for ads — even if its rivals won’t

You’re not the only one reading your emails. A deep dive in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday dug out new details on a massive email scanning operation by Oath, the Verizon-owned subsidiary that’s the combined business of AOL and Yahoo. The email scanning program analyzes over 200 million AOL and Yahoo inboxes for data that can be sold to advertisers. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon by way of Oath.) The logic goes that by learning about its users, the internet giant can hone its ad targeting effort to display the most relevant ads. But where other major email providers have bailed from email scanning amid privacy scandals and security issues, Oath remains the outlier. Google ended its ad-targeting email scanning operation across its consumer Gmail service last year — a decision lauded after facing criticism for years over the practice — though the company still uses machine
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Google updates its speech services for developers

Google Cloud’s Text-to-Speech and Speech-to-Text APIs are getting a bunch of updates today that introduce support for more languages, make it easier to hear auto-generated voices on different speakers and that promise better transcripts thanks to improved tools for speaker recognition, among other things. With this update, the Cloud Text-to-Speech API is now also generally available. Let’s look at the details. The highlight of the release for many developers is probably the launch of the 17 new WaveNet-based voices in a number of new languages. WaveNet is Google’s technology for using machine learning to create these text-to-speech audio files. The result of this is a more natural sounding voice. With this update, the Text-to-Speech API now supports 14 languages and variants and features a total of 30 standard voices and 26 WaveNet voices. If you want to try out the new voices, you can use Google’s demo with your own
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Amazon opens its second Amazon Go convenience store

Amazon this morning announced the opening of its second Amazon Go convenience store, which is again located in the retailer’s hometown of Seattle. The new store is 1,450 square feet in size – a bit smaller than the first store’s 1800 square feet – and will be located at 5th and Marion in Seattle. It will feature a range of ready-to-eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options, as well as Amazon’s Meal Kits. The food options will be made by Amazon chefs and various local kitchens and bakeries, the retailer notes. For example, it will stock quick snacks like chips, bars, candy and locally made chocolates, along with lunch options like salads, sandwiches, and wraps. For dinner, the Amazon Meal Kits offer all the ingredients for a home-cooked meal for two that takes about 30 minutes to prepare. This is a smaller selection than available at the flagship Amazon Go
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TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 dives deep into artificial intelligence and machine learning

As fields of research, machine learning and artificial intelligence both date back to the 50s. More than half a century later, the disciplines have graduated from the theoretical to practical, real world applications. We’ll have some of the top minds in both categories to discuss the latest advances and future of AI and ML on stage and Disrupt San Francisco in early September. For the first time, Disrupt SF will be held in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. It’s a huge space, which meant we could dramatically increase the amount of programming offered to attendees. And we did. Here’s the agenda. Tickets are still available even though the show is less than two weeks away. Grab one here. The show features the themes currently facing the technology world including artificial intelligence and machine learning. Some of the top minds in AI and ML are speaking on several stages and some are
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