Algorithmia raises $25M Series B for its AI automation platform


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Algorithmia, a Seattle-based startup that offers a cloud-agnostic AI automation platform for enterprises, today announced a $25 million Series B funding round led by Norwest Partners. Madrona, Gradient Ventures, Work-Bench, Osage University Partners and Rakuten Ventures also participated in this round.

While the company started out five years ago as a marketplace for algorithms, it now mostly focuses on machine learning and helping enterprises take their models into production.

“It’s actually really hard to productionize machine learning models,” Algorithmia CEO Diego Oppenheimer told me. “It’s hard to help data scientists to not deal with data infrastructure but really being able to build out their machine learning and AI muscle.”

To help them, Algorithmia essentially built out a machine learning DevOps platform that allows data scientists to train their models on the platform and with the framework of their choice, bring it to Algorithmia — a platform that has

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Security lapse exposed a Chinese smart city surveillance system


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Smart cities are designed to make life easier for their residents: better traffic management by clearing routes, making sure the public transport is running on time and having cameras keeping a watchful eye from above.

But what happens when that data leaks? One such database was open for weeks for anyone to look inside.

Security researcher John Wethington found a smart city database accessible from a web browser without a password. He passed details of the database to TechCrunch in an effort to get the data secured.

The database was an Elasticsearch database, storing gigabytes of data — including facial recognition scans on hundreds of people over several months. The data was hosted by Chinese tech giant Alibaba. The customer, which Alibaba did not name, tapped into the tech giant’s artificial intelligence-powered cloud platform, known as City Brain.

“This is a database project created by a customer and hosted on

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Venezuela is losing a generation of tech talent to its humanitarian crisis


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The escalating crisis in Venezuela has seen sky-high hyperinflation, widespread hunger and a large-scale exodus out of the country. The desperate circumstances have led to more than three million Venezuelans leaving the country for a better life. According to recent numbers published by the UN, Latin American countries have doled out around 1.3 million residence permits and other state authorisations to Venezuelans in need.

The impact on the country has been generational and this effect is no different when applied to its tech sector. Once considered one of the centres of wealth and innovation in Latin America, Venezuela’s capital Caracas now stands a shell of its former self, having seen a core of top talent leave for other countries on the continent.

“At the end of the day they’re going to leave,” Daniel Knobelsdorf told us about the situation in Caracas. “Eventually, the market is going to enter

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Shiok Meats takes the cultured meat revolution to the seafood aisle with plans for cultured shrimp


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Rising consumer interest in alternative proteins and meat replacements has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to companies trying to grow or replace beef or chicken, but few companies have turned their attention to developing seafood alternatives.

Now Shiok Meats is looking to change that. The company has raised pre-seed financing from investors like AIM Partners, Boom Capital, and Bryan Bettencourt and is now part of the recent Y Combinator cohort presenting next week.

Co-founders Sandiya Shriram and Ka Yi Ling are both stem cell scientists working at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research who decided to leave their cushy government posts for life in the fast lane of entrepreneurship. 

The two have set themselves a goal of creating a shrimp substitute that would be similar to what’s typically found in the freezer section of most grocery stores — and a minced shrimp-replacement for use in dumplings.

There’s

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Showing the power of startup women’s health brands, P&G buys This is L


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The P&G acquisition of This is L., a startup retailer of period products and prophylactics, shows just how profitable investing in women’s healthcare brands and products can be.

A person with knowledge of the investment put the price tag at roughly $100 million — a healthy outcome for investors and company founder Talia Frankel. But just as important as the financial outcome is the deal’s implications for other mission-driven companies.

This is L launched from Y Combinator in August 2015 with a service distributing condoms in New York and San Francisco and steadily expanded into feminine hygiene products.

Frenkel, a former photojournalist who worked for the United Nations and Red Cross, started the company in 2013 — roughly three years after an assignment in Africa revealed the toll that HIV/AIDs was taking on women and girls on the continent.

“I didn’t realize the No. 1 killer of women was completely preventable

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Japan’s “Society 5.0” initiative is a roadmap for today’s entrepreneurs


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Japan, still suffering the consequences of its ‘Lost Decade’ of economic stagnation, is eyeing a transformation more radical than any the industrialized world has ever seen.

Boldly identified as “Society 5.0” Japan describes its initiative as a purposeful effort to create a new social contract and economic model by fully incorporating the technological innovations of the fourth industrial revolution. It envisions embedding these innovations into every corner of its ageing society. Underpinning this effort is a mandate for sustainability, bound tightly to the new United Nations global goals, the SDG’s. Japan wants to create, in its own words, a ‘super-smart’ society, and one that will serve as a roadmap for the rest of the world.

Japan hosts its first ever G20 summit in 2019 and this grand initiative will be on the agenda at the

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Facebook removes hundreds of accounts linked to fake news group in Indonesia


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Facebook said today it has removed hundreds of Facebook and Instagram counts with links to an organization that peddled fake news.

The world’s fourth largest country with a population of over 260 million, Indonesia is in election year alongside Southeast Asia neighbors Thailand and the Philippines. Facebook said this week it has set up an ‘election integrity’ team in Singapore, its APAC HQ, as it tries to prevent its social network being misused in the lead-up to voting as happened in the U.S.

This Indonesia bust is the first move announced since that task force was put in place, and it sees 207 Facebook Pages, 800 Facebook accounts, 546 Facebook Groups, and 208 Instagram accounts removed for “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

“About 170,000 people followed at least one of these Facebook Pages, and more than 65,000 followed at least one of these Instagram accounts,” Facebook said of the reach

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Mark Zuckerberg is ‘proud’ of how Facebook handled its scandals this year


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After the year Mark Zuckerberg’s had, you’d think he’d struggle to appear so chipper.

“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made,” he said in an end-of-year note posted on his Facebook page for everyone to see. Acknowledging that the social network played its part in the spread of hate speech, election interference and misinformation, Zuckerberg’s note seemed more upbeat about his response to the hurricane of hurt caused by the company’s laissez-faire attitude to world affairs and less concerned about showing contrition and empathy for the harm Facebook caused in the past year — including its inability to keep its users’ data safe and, above all else, its failure to prevent its site from being used to incite ethnic violence and genocide.

Zuckerberg’s tone-deaf remarks read like 1,000 words of patting himself on the back.

But where the Facebook co-founder pledged to “focus on addressing some of the most important

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Facebook purges more ‘bad actors’ in Myanmar but it still won’t commit to a local office


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As Facebook continues to grasp the severity of the situation in Myanmar, where the UN has concluded that its social network plays “determining role” in inciting genocide, the U.S. tech giant has completed a third sweep in recent months to remove bad actors from its platform.

Facebook said late Tuesday U.S. time that it has removed a total of 135 Facebook accounts, 425 Pages, 17 Groups and an additional 15 Instagram accounts with this latest piece of action.

Facebook has around 20 million users in Myanmar — that’s nearly all of the country’s internet users and nearly 40 percent of the population — and it gave some stats on the reach that it has now nullified:

UN warns over human rights impact of a ‘digital welfare state’


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The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has raised concerns about the UK’s rush to apply digital technologies and data tools to socially re-engineer the delivery of public services at scale, warning in a statement today that the impact of a digital welfare state on vulnerable people will be “immense”.

He has also called for stronger laws and enforcement of a rights-based legal framework to ensure that the use of technologies like AI for public service provision does not end up harming people.

“There are few places in government where these developments are more tangible than in the benefit system,” writes professor Philip Alston. “We are witnessing the gradual disappearance of the postwar British welfare state behind a webpage and an algorithm. In its place, a digital welfare state is emerging. The impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK will be immense.

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Where’s the accountability Facebook?


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Facebook has yet again declined an invitation for its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to answer international politicians’ questions about how disinformation spreads on his platform and undermines democratic processes.

But policymakers aren’t giving up — and have upped the ante by issuing a fresh invitation signed by representatives from another three national parliaments. So the call for global accountability is getting louder.

Now representatives from a full five parliaments have signed up to an international grand committee calling for answers from Zuckerberg, with Argentina, Australia and Ireland joining the UK and Canada to try to pile political pressure on Facebook.

The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee has been asking for Facebook’s CEO to attend its multi-month enquiry for the best part of this year, without success…

In its

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This is not fine


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A UN report compiled by a coalition of international climate experts has warned that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are required if global warming is to be limited to just 1.5°C.

The report also sets out some of the dire consequences for both humanity and life on Earth if that threshold is exceeded, and points out that, conversely, limiting global warming would give people and ecosystems “more room to adapt and remain below relevant risk thresholds”.

Decisions made by world leaders today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, the authors warn.

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, co-chair of one of

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Facebook is hiring a director of human rights policy to work on “conflict prevention” and “peace-building”


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Facebook is advertising for a human rights policy director to join its business, located either at its Menlo Park HQ or in Washington DC — with “conflict prevention” and “peace-building” among the listed responsibilities.

In the job ad, Facebook writes that as the reach and impact of its various products continues to grow “so does the responsibility we have to respect the individual and human rights of the members of our diverse global community”, saying it’s:

… looking for a Director of Human Rights Policy to coordinate our company-wide effort to address human rights abuses, including by both state and non-state actors. This role will be responsible for: (1) Working with product teams to ensure that Facebook is a positive force for human rights and apply the lessons we learn from our investigations, (2) representing Facebook with key stakeholders in civil society, government, international institutions, and industry, (3) driving our

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African experiments with drone technologies could leapfrog decades of infrastructure neglect


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A drone revolution is coming to sub-Saharan Africa.

Countries across the continent are experimenting with this 21st century technology as a way to leapfrog decades of neglect of 20th century infrastructure.

Over the last two years, San Francisco-based startup Zipline launched a national UAV delivery program in East Africa; South Africa passed commercial drone legislation to train and license pilots; and Malawi even opened a Drone Test Corridor to African and its global partners. 

In

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Facebook bans Myanmar military accounts for ‘enabling human rights abuses’


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Facebook is cracking down on the military leadership in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian country where the social network has been identified as a factor contributing to ethnic tension and violence.

The U.S. company said today that it removed accounts belonging to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the military-owned Myawady television network.

In total, the purge has swept up 18 Facebook accounts, 52 Facebook Pages and an Instagram account after the company “found evidence that many of these individuals and organizations committed or enabled serious human rights abuses in the country.”

Some 30 million of Myanmar’s 50 million population is estimated to use Facebook, making it a hugely effective broadcast network. But with wide reach comes the potential with misuse, as has been most evident in the U.S.

But the Facebook effect is also huge far from the U.S. A report

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Fake news inquiry calls for social media levy to defend democracy


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A UK parliamentary committee which has been running a multi-month investigation into the impact of online disinformation on political campaigning — and on democracy itself — has published a preliminary report highlighting what it describes as “significant concerns” over the risks to “shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions”.

It’s calling for “urgent action” from government and regulatory bodies to “build resilience against misinformation and disinformation into our democratic system”.

“We are faced with a crisis concerning the use of data, the manipulation of our data, and the targeting of pernicious views,” the DCMS committee warns. “In particular, we heard evidence of Russian state-sponsored attempts to influence elections in the US and the UK through social media, of the efforts of private companies to do the same, and of law-breaking by certain Leave campaign groups in the UK’s EU Referendum in their use of social media.”

The

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Papua New Guinea threatens to close Facebook for a month to investigate its harmful impact


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Facebook is proving problematic for many governments worldwide, but few would think to shut it down entirely.

That’s exactly the approach that Papua New Guinea, the Pacific sea island nation located near Australia, is proposing to take with a new measure that could see the social network closed off for a month. During that period, the government plans to investigate the impact of fake accounts, pornography and false news and information which it said are rife on the social network in the country.

The prospect of a month-long ban was announced by Papua New Guinea’s communications minister Sam Basil who told Post Courier that the government “cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country.”

Internet penetration in the country is thought to be less than 15 percent, which suggests at face value that Facebook isn’t particularly mainstream. However, that may not be an accurate measure of how many

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The UN plans to go to space in 2021


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snc-technicians-inspect-dream-chaser-eta The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs has been kicking around in one form or another since the late 50s, becoming fully official in 1962, when it was established under the Department of Political and Security Council Affairs as the wonderfully named Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. But, as anyone who’s ever hung out in a planetarium will happily tell you,… Read More

Hacking poverty through mobile tech and social entrepreneurship


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India, West Bengal, Kolkata, Calcutta, building courtyard, boy playing football In Silicon Valley the term “hacker” has evolved to connote high praise for someone particularly creative, ingenious and adept at finding clever new ways to accomplish a difficult task. And it’s with that framework in mind, rather than some of the other meanings that “hack” has represented over time, that I suggested during my recent TEDx talk that Pope Francis and… Read More