There are few open source projects as complex as OpenStack, which essentially provides large companies with all the tools to run the equivalent of the core AWS services in their own data centers. To build OpenStack’s various systems the team also had to develop some of its own devops tools, and in 2012, that meant developing Zuul, an open source continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) platform. Now, with the release of Zuul v3, the team has decided to decouple Zuul from OpenStack and to run it as an independent project. It’s not quite leaving the OpenStack ecosystem, though, since it will still be hosted by the OpenStack Foundation.
Now all of that may seem a bit complicated, but at this point, the OpenStack Foundation is simply the home of OpenStack and other related infrastructure projects. The first one of those was obviously OpenStack itself, followed by the Kata Containers project late last year. Zuul is simply the third of these projects.
The general concept behind Zuul is to provide developers with a system for automatically merging, building and testing new changes to a project. It’s extensible and supports a number of different development platforms, including GitHub and the Gerrit code review and project management tool.
Current contributors include BMW, GitHub, GoDaddy, Huawei, Red Hat and SUSE. “The wide adoption of CI/CD in our software projects is the foundation to deliver high-quality software in time by automating every integral part of the development cycle from simple commit checks to full release processes,” said BMW software engineer Tobias Henkel. “Our CI/CD development team at BMW is proud to be part of the Zuul community and will continue to be active contributors of the Zuul OSS project.”
The spin-off of Zuul comes at an interesting time in the CI/CD community, which is currently spoiled for choice. With Spinnaker, Google and Netflix are betting on an open source CD platform that solves some of the same problems as Zuul, for example, while Jenkins and similar projects continue to go strong, too. The Zuul project notes that its focus is more strongly on multi-repo gating, which makes it ideal handling very large and complex projects. A number of representatives of all of these open source projects are actually meeting at the OpenDev conference in Vancouver, Canada that’s running in parallel with the semi-annual OpenStack Summit there and my guess is that we’ll hear quite a bit more about all of these projects in the coming days and weeks.
Fueled by last year’s greed-inducing visions of a crypto-currency boom and a stock market largely untethered from classical economics, TradingView, a developer of social networking and data analysis tools for financial markets, has raised millions in new venture funding.
The New York-based company just scored $37 million in funding led by the growth stage investment firm Insight Venture Partners .
There are three payment plans beginning at $15, with a mid-tier at $30 and a high-end $60 per-month premium option.
The company had previously boosted its growth by offering its charting software for free to partner websites like SeekingAlpha, Bitfinex, and the Nasdaq. That strategy helped it grow to 8 million monthly active users with around 61 percent coming from direct traffic as of March of this year.
These days the company derives nearly 75 percent of its revenue from those monthly subscription plans to individual traders. TradingView’s executives think the company still has an opportunity to expand its footprint among those retail investors, but it’s also planning to make a push to serve more institutional clients with its toolkit.
For the past seven years the company has enjoyed consistent growth, according to TradingView co-founder and chief operations officer, Stan Bokov.
For Paul Szurek, a vice-president at Insight Venture Partners, the investment in TradingView is building off of broad consumer interest in amateur speculative trading. Looking at RobinHood, Bux, and eToro as gateways for new investors who eventually move on to more sophisticated tools, Szurek said that TradingView was often their next step into market investing.
“The rise of cryptocurrencies… and trading those assets… has flywheeled into a broader interest in investing across asset classes,” Szurek said.
While TradingView was never crypto-focused, according to Bokov, the company was supportive from the beginning and it’s been a boon to the broader business. “They came for crypto. They stayed for the other stuff,” Bokov said.
And crypto might just be the gateway drug for younger speculative traders to start investing in financial markets more broadly, according to Szurek. “October to January, during the real core of the crypto boom here, there were a lot of users coming in starting out researching that asset class broadly. 80 percent move on to research other asset classes,” he said. “As TradingView kind of pushed through the [first quarter], trends in growth really diverged from what we were seeing in purely crypto-focused business and that’s a testament to users leveraging this one-stop-shop component of the platform.”
Additional investors in the new TradingView include DRW Venture Capital and Jump Capital. The company was a graduate of the 2013 TechStars Chicago batch and was seeded by Irish Angels, TechStars, iTech Capital and undisclosed angel investors.
“TradingView was built for non-professional traders, but its accessible trading tools and powerful-yet-intuitive charting capabilities have attracted the attention of institutional investors,” said Kimberly Trautmann, head of DRW Venture Capital, in a statement. “As an investor, we are excited about the diverse cross section of the industry that TradingView has reached and its rapid growth. As a proprietary trading firm on an institutional level, we’re looking forward to leveraging the platform and contributing to its further development.”
Alibaba is teaming up with SenseTime, the world’s highest-valued AI startup, to launch a not-for-profit artificial intelligence lab in Hong Kong in a bid to make the city a global hub for artificial intelligence.
Alibaba, which is SenseTime’s largest single investor thanks to a recent $600 million round at a valuation of $4.5 billion, is providing financing for the “HKAI Lab” through its Hong Kong entrepreneurship fund. SenseTime said it will contribute too, although the total amount of capital backing the initiative hasn’t been revealed.
The partners of the project — which also includes the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) — said the aim is to “advance the frontiers of AI,” which includes helping startups commercialize their technology, develop ideas and promote knowledge sharing in the AI field.
That’s all fairly general — Alibaba has a track record of politicking through technology investment schemes in Greater China and Southeast Asia — but one tangible project is a six-month accelerator program planned for September which will welcome AI startups to the HKAI Lab. Alibaba’s Cloud business and HKSTP are among the backers who will help the program offer early-stage funding to successful applicants, while Alibaba and SenseTime will help with mentoring and development during the program.
“Alibaba sees AI as a fundamental technology that will make a difference to society,” Alibaba executive vice chairman Joe Tsai said in a statement. “We envision the Hong Kong AI Lab to be an open platform where researchers, startups and industry participants can collaborate and build a culture of innovation.”
China and the U.S. are the two biggest players in the global AI battle, this project alone won’t divert that but it could stir up potential in Hong Kong.
Alibaba maintains tight relationships in Hong Kong, particularly through the fund which is around $130 million in size. While the program is ostensibly aimed at promoting startups in Hong Kong, particularly around AI, it is also sure to galvanize Alibaba’s ties to Hong Kong’s establishment and tech community. Hong Kong is growing as a destination for startups, as a number of the city-state’s key players discussed at a TechCrunch China event last year, but still the issue of talent is a key one and this initiative could benefit Hong Kong in that respect.
HMD Global has been one of the mobile world’s biggest surprise hits in recent years. Founded by former Nokia execs, the Finnish company has made a name for itself reviving the dearly departed brand on Android smartphones to great effect. And it just managed to raise another $100 million, led by Ginko Ventures’ Alpha Ginko VC branch.
The new round puts the company’s valuation at more than $1 billion, according to a HMD. It’s set to use this latest round to push even more “aggressively” into the mobile category with its branded devices, “doubl[ing] down on expanding channel reach in strategic markets while continuing to deliver innovation where it matters most to consumers.”
Not that the company’s been cautious in its push thus far, of course. HMD already has A LOT of options out there for a business that’s essentially been in existence for a year and a half. At MWC back in February, it announced five new phones sporting the legacy brand, including a reboot of the 8110. The company has also been positioning itself in developing markets, where the Nokia name still has a fair amount of cache, by wholeheartedly adopting Google’s Android One program.
It’s a tricky line to walk, between an embrace of retro appreciation and an attempt to offer innovation. Continuing its successful run is going to require more than just playing upon user nostalgia for a bygone brand.
The question moving forward is whether HMD will be able to reassert Nokia as a truly bleeding-edge brand as it continues to flood the market with branded devices. After all, the smartphone market is starting to plateau, and much of the competition has begun to scale back their releases.
U.K.-based security researcher Robert Wiggins has found two exposed TeenSafe servers, leaking the passwords and information of some users of the monitoring service.
According to the report, TeenSafe left two of their servers, which were hosted on AWS, exposed and viewable by anyone. Moreover, the database included information such as the parent’s email address, child’s Apple ID email address, device name, device unique identifier and plaintext passwords for the teenager’s Apple ID.
So… just about everything.
TeenSafe requires that teenagers abstain from using two-factor authentication so parents can keep an eye on their activity, making those teenagers even more vulnerable to malicious actors now that their personal information has been exposed.
TeenSafe claims on its website that it encrypts data so that it wouldn’t be accessible in the case of the breach.
According to ZDNet, the server held at least 10,200 records from the past three months containing customer data. The publication also included that some of those records were duplicates and that one of the servers appeared to store test data.
That said, it’s unclear if there are other leaky servers with exposed data yet to be discovered.
TeenSafe says it has more than 1 million parents using the platform.
“We have taken action to close one of our servers to the public and begun alerting customers that could potentially be impacted,” a TeenSafe spokesperson told ZDNet on Sunday.
We reached out directly to TeenSafe and will update the post if/when we hear back.
Managing, buying and selling commercial real estate is a fairly primitive process. CREXi founder Mike DeGiorgio remembers one experience in 2014 when he was required to fax and mail details about an urgent transaction to the leasing office, a move that made him think he was back in the era of Pogs and MTV’s Real World Season 1.
“There simply was no great industry solution for researching markets, finding comps, transacting, connecting with key stakeholders, purchasing or investing in properties, renting or leasing space, getting a loan, finding partners to purchase properties with, marketing yourself or the properties you own, sell or lease etc.,” he said. “I started thinking about technology solutions for the commercial real estate industry to solve many of these inefficiencies in the CRE space. I could not figure out why it hadn’t been done and set out to build CREXi to help industry stakeholders be more efficient and to make the industry more liquid, transparent and easier to access.”
CREXi — the CRE stands for “commercial real estate” — has been around since 2015, but recently announced an $11 million Series A as well as some interesting user numbers. Key investors include Jackson Square Ventures, Manifest Investment Partners, Lerer Hippeau, Freestyle Capital, TenOneTen Ventures and Founder Collective. The company has managed more than 100,000 “properties brought to market” on its platform and they have 200,000 users per month. They see more than 6,000 properties listed on the site each month.
The service is a suite of tools that streamlines the entire CRE processing.
“We give brokers the ability to find, manage and qualify leads, market their properties with customizable emails, and communicate with interested parties through in-app messaging. Additionally, our features help brokers interact with the industry and its stakeholders; solicit, make, accept, counter and negotiate offers; run competitive bidding processes; run escrow and closing processes; research markets and sold properties etc.,” said DeGiorgio.
While CRE isn’t very sexy, it’s clear that the industry can use all the help it can get. Considering CREXi manages $450 billion in property value, it’s also clear that this is a lucrative market ripe for disruption.
“We are the first platform to take the entire commercial real estate transaction process online with a simple to use and intuitive interface,” said DeGiorgio. “We collaborate with brokers and principals to blend technology with the fundamentals of CRE transactions, addressing the shifting needs of industry professionals to maximize revenue and minimize time spent on administrative tasks.”
Now he just has to get everyone to throw away their postal scales and fax machines and help CRE enter the era of Honey Boo Boo and leave the era of the Olsen Twins.
It was just matter of time, really. Amazon’s push to get its smart assistant on every piece of hardware imaginable now includes Windows 10 laptops, starting with Acer’s Spin 3 and 5 lines. Both include models sporting Alexa, currently available at retail.
Acer looks to be all in with the assistant — Alexa is coming to a number of other PCs from the company, including the Nitro 5 Spin gaming laptop and its all-one-ones, in the coming weeks. Beyond that, the company’s also bring Alexa to a number of existing systems courtesy of a software update, arriving later this week.
In a press release, Alexa VP Steve Rabichin says the company is “delighted” to be working with Acer. Well, yeah. The PC space was a pretty clear next step for Amazon, having already established a strong foothold in the smarthome space and slowly attacking the mobile market through third-party partnerships.
The company will, of course, be competing directly with Cortana. Microsoft’s assistant has attempted to establish Windows 10 as its primary stronghold. Apple, of course, brought Siri to MacOS some time back, while Google has been flirting with the form factor on its own devices like the Pixelbook.
From the sound of it, basic functionality doesn’t stray to far from what you’re already getting on the Echo, including things like the weather and smarthome control. In order to really assert its presence, however, Alexa is going to have offer some unique functionality that makes the laptops more than just an auxiliary smart speaker.
In Silicon Valley, venture firms with a track record of success find themselves awash in money thanks to the growing number of institutions that want to invest more of their capital in tech. In March, an SEC filing showed that General Catalyst had closed a $1.375 billion fund, the biggest vehicle in its 18-year history. Battery Ventures also closed on two funds earlier this year that are the 35-year-old firm’s biggest to date. Sequoia Capital, meanwhile, is reportedly out raising $12 billion across a series of funds, a move that’s unprecedented for the firm — or any U.S.-based venture firm, for that matter.
Fifteen-year-old Emergence Capital could easily follow the same path. Emergence funds early stage ventures that are focused on enterprise and SaaS applications, and it does this very well. Its bets include the storage company Box (now public), the social networking company Yammer (sold for $1.2 billion to Microsoft in 2012), and Veeva Systems, the company that’s generally known for its customer relations software for the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries, though envious investors recognize Veeva as the company that produced a more than 300x return for Emergence when it went public in 2013. (Emergence had invested just $6.5 million in the outfit and owned 31 percent of it going into the IPO. It was also Veeva’s sole venture backer.)
Still, when it came time to raise its fifth fund, Emergence did not raise a billion-dollar fund, as it surely could have. Instead, the San Mateo, Ca., firm, which closed its fourth fund with $335 million in 2015, opted to increase the fund by 30 percent, closing its new vehicle this past Friday with $435 million.
We talked the other day with firm cofounder Jason Green, who is one of four general partners, about the firm’s trajectory. Specifically, we asked why — like almost every other firm in Silicon Valley — it didn’t close its newest fund with exponentially more in capital commitments than its last fund. The answer, said Green: “Our sweet spot is on early market fit, with a core team we can work around.” Because that hasn’t changed, neither has the size of the funds it raises, he said.
There have been some changes. In 2016, Emergence promoted Joe Floyd to partner three years after Floyd had joined the firm from Kaufman Fellows, which is a two-year development program for venture capitalists. As notably, cofounder Brian Jacobs will not be helping to invest this new fund. Asked if Jacobs is leaving to do crypto investing (a popular move at the moment), Green said Jacobs is moving “toward more philanthropic activities” instead.
Emergence, whose first investment was in Salesforce and whose other wins include the sale of ServiceMax to GE for $915 million in 2016 and Intacct’s sale to Sage Group for $850 million last year, only invests in five to seven new companies each year. Before we let Green go, we asked how the firm decides which handful of companies to pursue at any one time.
He said that Emergence is very “thematic oriented” and that though it has been SaaS and cloud and horizontal applications and industries from the outset, it now plans to focus on a couple of related but more specific areas. The first of these he called “coaching networks,” which is another way of describing machine learning applied to the enterprise. Seattle-based Textio, for example, an Emergence portfolio company, uses AI-powered tools to augment business writing. Another portfolio company, Chorus, analyzes voice recordings of sales interactions to give sales teams real-time feedback about what’s working or not. Green says he sees these as “coaching networks” because they’re making people better at their jobs, rather than aiming to replace them.
Emergence is also focusing on the deskless workforce, meaning the 80 percent of the global workforce that doesn’t sit in front of a desk. It’s not a new trend, concedes Green, but he calls it “early innings,” with related technologies just “starting to infuse the operations of teams around the globe.” (An early investment in the fast-growing video communications company Zoom could probably be tucked into this category.)
Green dodged a question about what size checks the firm likes to write. He did say that like most traditional VCs, the firm looks to own 20 percent or more of the companies it backs, and it typically supports companies at the “Series A, all the way through” to an eventual exit.
Asked if Emergence allowed any new investors into its newest fund, Green said the firm “hand selected a handful of new LPs who we felt strongly were going to use the returns for good — foundations and endowments that we feel are doing really great work.”
It has “become more rare,” not raising a giant fund in today’s climate, Green said. “It does take a lot of restraint. It’s very easy right now to raise lots of capital and spread your wings, and I’m proud that we’ve been able to maintain our focus and discipline.”
It “gets back to what you enjoy,” he continued. “We’re not just trying to place bets. We really do love getting our hands dirty.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Chinese bike-sharing startup Mobike, which was recently acquired in a $3 billion deal, was already present in India. The company went on an aggressive global expansion spree in 2017, India wasn’t on the radar then but that’ll soon be rectified with a launch expected in early June.
Mobike has bold plans for India, where it freely admits that there isn’t currently a strong culture of biking. The goal is to work with municipal governments and town planners to do what Mobike (and rival Ofo did in China) which is to help cut down city congestion and provide new last-mile transit options.
“We’ve had great responses from many cities around how they see bike sharing in general and Mobike specifically,” Sujith Nair, Mobike India’s Chief Business Officer, told TechCrunch in an interview.
Ofo landed in India earlier this year and local Uber rival Ola started a service on a small scale last year so Mobike isn’t the first mover here. Nair said the company plans to launch its service in early June — or potentially before the end of May — but for now he isn’t saying which cities will be first.
“We’re talking to all the big cities, such as Bangalore and Delhi,” he added. “Our intent is to grow rapidly and we’re looking at partnerships to help accelerate that.”
While there have been infamous photos of piles of bikes in China, and stories of bikes dumped in trees or canals in other parts of the world, Nair said that the government agencies he’s spoken to haven’t expressed concern at a deluge of cycles. Instead, he said, conversations has focused around the practical potential of easing congestion and enabling short trips.
“It’s a great way to jump-start a sustainable transport ecosystem,” he said. “With the local government throwing in advocacy and communication to drive awareness. They’re investing in cycling tracks and infrastructure… we can always deal with excess later, it’s not a huge concern.”
Nair suggested that Mobike will look to grow to 10-12 cities in India over the next 18 months but the company “aspires” to grow even more rapidly than that since there are over 25 cities with a population of over one million people.
Initially, the focus is on the core dockless bike service, which — in most countries — lets a customer get a ride for around $1 after they scan a vacant bike’s QR code via the Mobike app. Mobike has spoken very publicly about its desire to get into other verticals, based around its bike fleet and adjacent transportation verticals too, and Nair said he expects to have “opportunities to look at other options” for the India-based business once that core service is up and running at some scale.
To help grease the wheels, Mobike is aiming to strike partnerships with major payment players. Typically, Mobike users worldwide bind a credit or debit card to their app to enable payment, but Nair suggested Mobike will have deals to integrate India’s mobile wallet services and the government-backed UPI payment initiative to help make its bikes open to as many of the population as possible.
Ofo, Mobike’s key ally, tied up with Paytm to go beyond payments and help drive users to its service, but it doesn’t seem like Mobike has a similar strategy in mind.
MEPs had been angered by the original closed door format of the meeting, which was announced by the EU parliament’s president last week. But on Friday a majority of the political groups in the parliament had pushed for it to be broadcast online.
This morning president Antonio Tajani confirmed that Facebook had agreed to the 1hr 15 minute hearing being livestreamed.
I have personally discussed with Facebook CEO Mr Zuckerberg the possibilty of webstreaming meeting with him. I am glad to announce that he has accepted this new request. Great news for EU citizens. I thank him for the respect shown towards EP. Meeting tomorrow from 18:15 to 19:30
— Antonio Tajani (@EP_President) May 21, 2018
A Facebook spokesperson also sent us this short statement today: “We’re looking forward to the meeting and happy for it to be live streamed.”
When is the meeting?
The meeting will take place on Tuesday May 22 at 18.15 to 19.30CET. If you want to tune in from the US the meeting is scheduled to start at 9.15PT /12.15ET.
Tajani’s announcement last week said it would start earlier, at 17.45CET, so the meeting appears to have been bumped on by half an hour. We’ve asked Facebook whether Zuckerberg will meet in private with the parliament’s Conference of Presidents prior to the livestream being switched on and will update this story with any response.
Where to watch it online?
According to Tajani’s spokesperson, the meeting will be broadcast on the EU parliament’s website. At the time of writing it’s not yet listed in the EPTV schedule — but we’re expecting it to be viewable here.
Who will be meeting with Zuckerberg?
The Facebook founder will meet with EU parliament president Tajani, along with leaders of the parliament’s eight political groups, and with Claude Moraes, the chair of the EU parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee.
It’s worth noting that the meeting is not a formal hearing, such as the sessions with Zuckerberg in the US Senate and Congress last month. Nor is it a full Libe committee hearing — discussions remain ongoing for Facebook representatives to meet with the full Libe committee at a later date.
What will Zuckerberg be asked about?
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal, MEPs are keen to discuss concerns related to social media’s impact on election processes with Zuckerberg.
Indeed, the impact of social media spread online disinformation is also the topic of an ongoing enquiry by the UK parliament’s DCMS committee which spent some five hours grilling Facebook’s CTO last month. Although Zuckerberg has thrice declined the committee’s summons — preferring to meet with EU parliamentarians instead.
Other topics on the agenda will include privacy and data protection — with Moraes likely to ask about how Facebook’s business model impacts EU citizens’ fundamental rights, and how EU regulations might need to evolve to keep pace, as he explained to us on Friday.
Ahead of the @EUparliament mtg with Zuckerberg Tuesday – GDPR is not the panacea to deal with the "Facebook issue". Creates the highest standards of privacy & data protection in the world but need to look at elements of E-privacy to deal with the Facebook & other business models. https://t.co/LeV35mWOFI
— Claude Moraes MEP (@Claude_Moraes) May 19, 2018
Some of the political group leaders are also likely to bring up concerns around freedom of expression as pressure in the region has ramped up on online platforms to get faster at policing hate speech.
Startups, TechCrunch Tel Aviv 2018 is coming for you in just 2 weeks! As you may know, we’re hosting our first inaugural day long conference at the Tel Aviv Convention Center on 7 June. The event will feature TechCrunch’s signature stellar programming on Mobility, and we will also have new expo area called Startup Alley, where hundreds of rockstar startups from ALL verticals demo their products to attendees. Check out the current list of startups that will be at the event!
Want to be part of this awesome lineup of startups? For 1700 ILS, you’ll get one full day to exhibit, two tickets to TechCrunch Tel Aviv 2018, a demo table, wifi, power, linens, and a branded table-top sign. You can secure your exhibit spot here.
Remember, TechCrunch events are the ideal place to show off your company to prospective customers, gain media attention, meet investors, and take your startup to the next level. If you’re a pre-Series A, early-age startup, we want to see you on our showcase floor.
Whisk, the U.K. startup that has built a B2B data platform to power various food apps, including making online recipes ‘shoppable’, has acquired Avocando, a competitor based in Germany.
The exact financial terms of the deal remain undisclosed, although TechCrunch understands it was all-cash and that Whisk is acquiring the tech, customer base, integrations, and team. Related to this, Avocando’s founders are joining Whisk.
“The team is joining Whisk to help scale a joint global vision to help leading businesses create integrated and meaningful digital food experiences using cutting-edge technology,” says Whisk in a statement.
To that end, Whisk’s “smart food platform” enables app developers, publishers and online supermarkets/grocery stories to do a number of interesting things.
The first relates to making recipes shoppable i.e. making it incredibly easy to order the ingredients needed to cook a recipe listed online or in an app. Specifically, Whisk’s platform parses ingredients in a recipe, and matches it to products at local grocery stores based on user preferences (e.g. “50g of butter, cubed” matched to “250g Tesco Salted Butter”). It then interfaces with the store to fill the users basket with the needed items.
The second is recipe personalisation. Based on user preferences (e.g. disliked ingredients, diet, previous behaviour, deals at a favourite store, and trending recipes based on location), Whisk is able to create personalised recipe feeds, search results, and meal plans.
The third aspect is an Internet-of-Things play. This is seeing Whisk’s data power experiences that connect IoT devices with different parts of a user’s journey. Think: smart fridges connected to recipes.
“As the e-commerce grocery market quickly accelerates across Europe, players are increasingly looking for ways to connect recipe content to grocery retailers and provide consumers with personalized nutrition, planning and purchase options right from the comfort of their kitchen,” says the startup.
Whisk says its platform powers experiences for over 100,000,000 monthly users through the applications of its clients. They include retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Instacart, and Tesco who use Whisk to enable online grocery shopping via recipes. On the IoT front, Samsung is using Whisk to build smart food applications that take user preferences, what’s in their fridge, what offers are in the supermarket, and recommends recipes. Other customers include publishers, such as the BBC, and food brands like McCormick, Nestle, Unilever, and General Mills.
Meanwhile, Whisk says it is currently focused on the U.S., U.K. and Australia, and with today’s acquisition will expand services across Europe. “Together, Germany, France and Spain represent a larger e-commerce grocery market than both the U.S. and U.K. individually, with the largest online recipe usage per capita figures in the world,” adds the company.
While the cryptocurrency world continues to swirl around in a daze of troughs and highs, startups are continuing to make use of the fundamental underlying strengths of blockchain technology.
A new entrant in this race is Tradeshift, a leading players in supply-chain payments and marketplaces, which is today launching its new service which enables supports blockchain-based finance, or writing all transactions to a public ledger in order to create transparency and securing a record.
While this doesn’t involve the use of currencies like actual Bitcoin or Ethereum, “having the transactions on a public ledger ensures full transparency and the ability for companies to prove that they have legit transactions,” says CEO and cofounder Christian Lanng.
SO what this all means is that Tradeshift’s cloud platform will bring supply chain payments, supply chain finance, and blockchain-based early payments together into one unified end-to-end solution, called “Tradeshift Pay”.
They are aiming at a $9 trillion problem, which is the capital trapped in “accounts receivable” as a result of old-fashioned payment practices and the disconnection between large business buyers and their suppliers.
In other words, this could be a boon for small suppliers who find it hard to get paid when their invoices aren’t mapped to a ledger as strong as a blockchain.
With this single unified wallet, buyers can use several payment options, including virtual card payments of invoices and purchase orders, dynamic discounting, supply chain finance through bank partners, or blockchain-based payments.
Hey, this message goes out to all you early-stage startup founders with the drive and determination to take your company all the way to the land of the unicorns. Now’s the time to apply to TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield competition — the world’s best start-up pitch competition going down at Disrupt San Francisco 2018 on September 5-7. If you require incentive, consider this: we bumped the top prize this year to a very cool $100,000. That sure would help your bottom line, now wouldn’t it?
If you’re not tuned in to how Startup Battlefield works, we’ll break it down for you. Seasoned TechCrunch editors review all applications in a highly-competitive vetting process. How competitive? The acceptance rate ranges from 3 to 6 percent. Factors that influence the decision include the team, the product and the market potential. Anywhere from 15-30 pre-Series A startups will make the final cut. This is a good time to point out that competing in Startup Battlefield doesn’t cost a thing, and that TechCrunch does not charge startups any fees or take any equity.
All competing teams receive free expert pitch training from the Startup Battlefield team who, trust us, have seen it all when it comes to startup pitch competitions. You’ll be primed and ready for round one where you’ll deliver a six-minute pitch and demo to a panel of expert judges — and then answer any questions they may have. The cream of the crop — roughly five teams — will advance to round two for a repeat pitch performance in front of a fresh set of judges.
Every exciting, heart-pounding minute takes place in front of a live audience numbering in the thousands, and we live-stream it to the world on TechCrunch.com, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. And it’ll be available later on-demand.
But the benefits of competing go far beyond winning the $100,000 cash prize. More than 400 media outlets will attend Disrupt SF’18, and an intense media spotlight will shine brightly on all Startup Battlefield contestants. Just making it into the initial Startup Battlefield cohort can draw significant investor interest. Aircall, a cloud-based call center solution, stands as a prime example.
The French startup competed in round one of Startup Battlefield SF 2015. It didn’t make the finals, but the company just received another round of funding to the tune of $29 million. Since its debut at Startup Battlefield three years ago, the company has gone on to raise a total of $40.5 million. Not too shabby for an “also-ran.”
All startups who compete will join the ranks of the Startup Battlefield alumni community. This impressive group of over 800 companies has collectively raised more than $8 billion in funding and produced more than 100 exits. Companies like Mint, Dropbox, Yammer, Fitbit, Getaround and Cloudflare — just to drop a few names. Networking as part of this community has its advantages.
So many reasons to apply, and we haven’t even talked about all the other fabulous happenings at Disrupt SF. More than 10,000 attendees will stream through Startup Alley, home to more than 1,200 of the best early-stage startups around. Twelve different tech tracks, four stages of unique programming, speakers, Q & A Sessions, after parties and world-class networking — made even easier with CrunchMatch, our curated investor-to-startup matching platform.
TechCrunch is headed to Germany yet again to host Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 29-30. We simply love this city’s startup scene, one of the most innovative and fastest-growing in Europe. If you’re a founder, investor, hacker or tech leader, you can’t afford to miss Disrupt Berlin. You also can’t afford to miss our limited-time offer on Innovator passes: two for €695. Sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll notify you when we release them into the wild.
What can you expect at Disrupt Berlin? We pack a lot of amazing programming into our two-day conference. For starters, there’s Startup Alley, the exhibition floor where, last year, more than 400 early-stage startups displayed an incredible array of tech products, services and talent. With more than 2,600 attendees passing through the Alley, you won’t find a better way to get your company in front of investors, potential partners, customers and the media. Who knows, attendees might even choose your startup as a WildCard company, which means you get to compete in the Startup Battlefield.
You know Startup Battlefield, right? That’s where you go head-to-head against 15-30 pre-Series A startups and compete for the coveted Disrupt Cup, bragging rights, massive media exposure, investor attention and, oh yeah, a $50,000 equity-free grand prize. Keep checking our site or — even better — sign up for our newsletter so you’ll know the minute we open applications to compete in Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin.
We’re in the process of building out our roster of speakers and, as always, it promises to be an exciting array of European and international tech luminaries, VC experts, movers, makers and shakers determined to push the boundaries of technology. Want to recommend someone as a speaker or a judge? Check out our speaker nomination page.
What do you get with a Disrupt Berlin Innovator pass? We’re so glad you asked. You’ll have access to three distinct stages of content: The Main Stage, the Next Stage and the Q&A Stage. You’ll have full use of the Disrupt attendee list and be able to contact attendees via the Disrupt Mobile App. Plus, you can attend interactive workshops, explore Startup Alley and cut loose (or get down to fun networking) at our TC After Party. And, after the event, you’ll have access to our library of event video content.
Disrupt Berlin takes place on November 29-30, 2018 at the Arena Berlin. We’re releasing a very limited number of two-for-one Innovator passes for €695, but that special price won’t stick around for long. If you want to get the best deal, sign up for the newsletter and we’ll let you know when these passes become available. Come join us in Berlin!
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Microsoft announced today that it has acquired Semantic Machines, a Berkeley-based startup that wants to solve one of the biggest challenges in conversational AI: making chatbots sound more human and less like, well, bots.
In a blog post, Microsoft AI & Research chief technology officer David Ku wrote that “with the acquisition of Semantic Machines, we will establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces.”
According to Crunchbase, Semantic Machines was founded in 2014 and raised about $20.9 million in funding from investors including General Catalyst and Bain Capital Ventures.
In a 2016 profile, co-founder and chief scientist Dan Klein told TechCrunch that “today’s dialog technology is mostly orthogonal. You want a conversational system to be contextual so when you interpret a sentence things don’t stand in isolation.” By focusing on memory, Semantic Machines’ AI can produce conversations that not only answer or predict questions more accurately, but also flow naturally.
Instead of building its own consumer products, Semantic Machines focused on enterprise customers. This means it will fit in well with Microsoft’s conversational AI-based products, including Microsoft Cognitive Services and Azure Bot Service, which are used by one million and 300,000 developers, respectively, and virtual assistants Cortana and Xiaolce.
A team of progressive advocacy groups, including MoveOn and Demand Progress, are asking the Federal Trade Commission to “make Facebook safe for democracy.” According to Axios, the campaign, called Freedom From Facebook, is set to launch a six-figure ad campaign on Monday that will run on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, among other platforms.
The other advocacy groups behind the campaign are Citizens Against Monopoly, Content Creators Coalition, Jewish Voice for Peace, Mpower Change, Open Markets Institute and SumOfUs. Together they are calling on the FTC to “break up Facebook’s monopoly” by forcing it to spin off Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger into separate, competing companies. They also want the FTC to require interoperability so users can communicate across competing social networks and strengthen privacy regulations.
Freedom From Facebook’s site also includes an online petition and privacy guide that links to FB Purity and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger, browser extensions that help users streamline their Facebook ad preferences and block online trackers, respectively.
The FTC recently gained a new chairman after President Donald Trump’s pick for the position Joseph Simons was sworn in early this month, along with four new commissioners also nominated by Trump. Simons is an antitrust lawyer who has represented large tech firms like Microsoft and Sony. The FTC is currently investigating whether or not Facebook’s involvement with Cambridge Analytica violated a previous legal agreement it had with the commission, but many people are wondering if it and other federal agencies are capable of regulating tech companies, especially after many lawmakers seemed confused about how social media works during Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional hearing last month.
Despite its data privacy and regulatory issues, Facebook is still doing well from a financial perspective. Its first-quarter earnings report showed strong user growth and revenue above Wall Street’s expectations.
TechCrunch has contacted Freedom From Facebook and Facebook for comment.
As Facebook shapes our access to information, Twitter dictates public opinion, and Tinder influences our dating decisions, the algorithms we’ve developed to help us navigate choice are now actively driving every aspect of our lives.
But as we increasingly rely on them for everything from how we seek out news to how we relate to the people around us, have we automated the way we behave? Is human thinking beginning to mimic algorithmic processes? And is the Cambridge Analytica debacle a warning sign of what’s to come–and of happens when algorithms hack into our collective thoughts?
It wasn’t supposed to go this way. Overwhelmed by choice–in products, people, and the sheer abundance of information coming at us at all times–we’ve programmed a better, faster, easier way to navigate the world around us. Using clear parameters and a set of simple rules, algorithms help us make sense of complex issues. They’re our digital companions, solving real-world problems we encounter at every step, and optimizing the way we make decisions. What’s the best restaurant in my neighborhood? Google knows it. How do I get to my destination? Apple Maps to the rescue. What’s the latest Trump scandal making the headlines? Facebook may or may not tell you.
Wouldn’t it be nice if code and algorithms knew us so well — our likes, our dislikes, our preferences — that they could anticipate our every need and desire? That way, we wouldn’t have to waste any time thinking about it: We could just read the one article that’s best suited to reinforce our opinions, date whoever meets our personalized criteria, and revel in the thrill of familiar surprise. Imagine all the time we’d free up, so we could focus on what truly matters: carefully curating our digital personas and projecting our identities on Instagram.
It was Karl Marx who first said our thoughts are determined by our machinery, an idea that Ellen Ullman references in her 1997 book, Close to the Machine, which predicts many of the challenges we’re grappling with today. Beginning with the invention of the Internet, the algorithms we’ve built to make our lives easier have ended up programming the way we behave.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Lightspring
Here are three algorithmic processes and the ways in which they’ve hacked their way into human thinking, hijacking our behavior.
1. Product Comparison: From Online Shopping to Dating
Amazon’s algorithm allows us to browse and compare products, save them for later, and eventually make our purchase. But what started as a tool designed to improve our e-commerce experience now extends much beyond that. We’ve internalized this algorithm and are applying it to other areas of our lives–like relationships.
Dating today is much like online shopping. Enabled by social platforms and apps, we browse endless options, compare their features, and select the one that taps into our desires and perfectly fits our exact personal preferences. Or just endlessly save it for later, as we navigate the illusion of choice that permeates both the world of e-commerce and the digital dating universe.
Online, the world becomes an infinite supply of products, and now, people. “The web opens access to an unprecedented range of goods and services from which you can select the one thing that will please you the most,” Ullman explains in Life in Code. “[There is the idea] that from that choice comes happiness. A sea of empty, illusory, misery-inducing choice.”
We all like to think that our needs are completely unique–and there’s a certain sense of seduction and pleasure that we derive from the promise of finding the one thing that will perfectly match our desires.
Whether it’s shopping or dating, we’ve been programmed to constantly search, evaluate and compare. Driven by algorithms, and in a larger sense, by web design and code, we’re always browsing for more options. In Ullman’s words, the web reinforces the idea that “you are special, your needs are unique, and [the algorithm] will help you find the one thing that perfectly meets your unique need and desire.”
In short, the way we go about our lives mimics the way we engage with the Internet. Algorithms are an easy way out, because they allow us to take the messiness of human life, the tangled web of relationships and potential matches, and do one of two things: Apply a clear, algorithmic framework to deal with it, or just let the actual algorithm make the choice for us. We’re forced to adapt to and work around algorithms, rather than use technology on our terms.
Which leads us to another real-life phenomenon that started with a simple digital act: rating products and experiences.
2. Quantifying People: Ratings & Reviews
As with all other well-meaning algorithms, this one is designed with you and only you in mind. Using your feedback, companies can better serve your needs, provide targeted recommendations just for you, and serve you more of what you’ve historically shown to like, so you can carry on mindlessly consuming it.
From your Uber ride to your Postmate delivery to your Handy cleaning appointment, nearly every real-life interaction is rated on a scale of 1-5 and reduced to a digital score.
As a society we’ve never been more concerned with how we’re perceived, how we perform, and how we compare to others’ expectations. We’re suddenly able to quantify something as subjective as our Airbnb host’s design taste or cleanliness. And the sense of urgency with which we do it is incredible — you’re barely out of your Uber car when you neurotically tap all five stars, tipping with wild abandon in a quest to improve your passenger rating. And the rush of being reviewed in return! It just fills you with utmost joy.
Yes, you might be thinking of that dystopian Black Mirror scenario, or that oddly relatable Portlandia sketch, but we’re not too far off from a world where our digital score simultaneously replaces and drives all meaning in our lives.
We’ve automated the way we interact with people, where we’re constantly measuring and optimizing those interactions in an endless cycle of self-improvement. It started with an algorithm, but it’s now second nature.
As Jaron Lainier wrote in his introduction to Close to the Machine, “We create programs using ideas we can feed into them, but then [as] we live through the program. . .we accept the ideas embedded in it as facts of nature.”
That’s because technology makes abstract and often elusive, desirable qualities quantifiable. Through algorithms, trust translates into ratings and reviews, popularity equals likes, and social status means followers. Algorithms create a sort of Baudrillardian simulation, where each rating has completely replaced the reality it refers to, and where the digital review feels more real, and certainly more meaningful, than the actual, real-life experience.
In facing the complexity and chaos of real life, algorithms help us find ways to simplify it; to take the awkwardness out of social interaction and the insecurity that comes with opinions and real-life feedback, and make it all fit neatly into a ratings box.
But as we adopt programming language, code, and algorithms as part of our own thinking, are human nature and artificial intelligence merging into one? We’re used to think of AI as an external force, something we have little control over. What if the most immediate threat of AI is less about robots taking over the world, and more about technology becoming more embedded into our consciousness and subjectivity?
In the same way that smartphones became extensions of our senses and our bodies, as Marshall McLuhan might say, algorithms are essentially becoming extensions of our thoughts. But what do we do when when they replace the very qualities that make us human?
And, as Lainier asks, “As computers mediate human language more and more over time, will language itself start to change?”
3. Automating Language: Keywords and Buzzwords
Google indexes search results based on keywords. SEO makes websites rise to the top of search results, based on specific tactics. To achieve this, we work around the algorithm, figure out what makes it tick, and sprinkle websites with keywords that make it more likely to stand out in Google’s eyes.
But much like Google’s algorithm, our mind prioritizes information based on keywords, repetition, and quick cues.
It started as a strategy we built around technology, but it now seeps into everything we do–from the the way we write headlines to how we generate “engagement” with our tweets to how we express ourselves in business and everyday life.
Take the buzzword mania that dominates both the media landscape and the startup scene. A quick look at some of the top startups out there will show that the best way to capture people’s attention–and investors’ money–is to add “AI,” “crypto” or “blockchain” into your company manifesto.
Companies are being valuated based on what they’re signifying to the world through keywords. The buzzier the keywords in the pitch deck, the higher the chances a distracted investor will throw some money at it. Similarly, a headline that contains buzzwords is far more likely to be clicked on, so the buzzwords start outweighing the actual content. Clickbait being one symptom of that.
Where do we go from here?
Technology gives us clear patterns; online shopping offers simple ways to navigate an abundance of choice. Therefore there’s no need to think — we just operate under the assumption that algorithms know best. We don’t exactly understand how they work, and that’s because code is hidden: we can’t see it, the algorithm just magically presents results and solutions. As Ullman warns in Life in Code, “When we allow complexity to be hidden and handled for us, we should at least notice what we are giving up. We risk becoming users of components. . .[as we] work with mechanisms that we do not understand in crucial ways. This not-knowing is fine while everything works as expected. But when something breaks or goes wrong or needs fundamental change, what will we do except stand helpless in the face of our own creations?”
Cue fake news, misinformation, and social media targeting in the age of Trump.
Image courtesy of Intellectual Take Out.
So how do we encourage critical thinking, how do we spark more interest in programming, how do we bring back good old-fashioned debate and disagreement? What can we do to foster difference of opinion, let it thrive, and allow it to challenge our views?
When we operate within the bubble of distraction that technology creates around us, and when our social media feeds consist of people who think just like us, how can we expect social change? What ends up happening is we operate exactly as the algorithm intended us to. The alternative is questioning the status quo, analyzing the facts and arriving at our own conclusions. But no one has time for that. So we become cogs in the Facebook machine, more susceptible to propaganda, blissfully unaware of the algorithm at work–and of all the ways in which it has inserted itself into our thought processes.
As users of algorithms rather than programmers or architects of our own decisions, our own intelligence become artificial. It’s “program or be programmed” as Douglas Rushkoff would say. If we’ve learned anything from Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 U.S. elections, it’s that it is surprisingly easy to reverse-engineer public opinion, to influence outcomes, and to create a world where data, targeting, and bots lead to a false sense of consensus.
What’s even more disturbing is that the algorithms we trust so much–the ones that are deeply embedded in the fabric of our lives, driving our most personal choices–continue to hack into our thought processes, in increasingly bigger and more significant ways. And they will ultimately prevail in shaping the future of our society, unless we reclaim our role as programmers, rather than users of algorithms.
Industrial robots are typically all about repeating a well-defined task over and over again. Usually, that means performing those tasks a safe distance away from the fragile humans that programmed them. More and more, however, researchers are now thinking about how robots and humans can work in close proximity to humans and even learn from them. In part, that’s what Nvidia’s new robotics lab in Seattle focuses on and the company’s research team today presented some of its most recent work around teaching robots by observing humans at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), in Brisbane, Australia.
Nvidia’s director of robotics research Dieter Fox.
As Dieter Fox, the senior director of robotics research at Nvidia (and a professor at the University of Washington), told me, the team wants to enable this next generation of robots that can safely work in close proximity to humans. But to do that, those robots need to be able to detect people, tracker their activities and learn how they can help people. That may be in small-scale industrial setting or in somebody’s home.
While it’s possible to train an algorithm to successfully play a video game by rote repetition and teaching it to learn from its mistakes, Fox argues that the decision space for training robots that way is far too large to do this efficiently. Instead, a team of Nvidia researchers led by Stan Birchfield and Jonathan Tremblay, developed a system that allows them to teach a robot to perform new tasks by simply observing a human.
The tasks in this example are pretty straightforward and involve nothing more than stacking a few colored cubes. But it’s also an important step in this overall journey to enable us to quickly teach a robot new tasks.
The researchers first trained a sequence of neural networks to detect objects, infer the relationship between them and then generate a program to repeat the steps it witnessed the human perform. The researchers say this new system allowed them to train their robot to perform this stacking task with a single demonstration in the real world.
One nifty aspect of this system is that it generates a human-readable description of the steps it’s performing. That way, it’s easier for the researchers to figure out what happened when things go wrong.
Nvidia’s Stan Birchfield tells me that the team aimed to make training the robot easy for a non-expert — and few things are easier to do than to demonstrate a basic task like stacking blocks. In the example the team presented in Brisbane, a camera watches the scene and the human simply walks up, picks up the blocks and stacks them. Then the robot repeats the task. Sounds easy enough, but it’s a massively difficult task for a robot.
To train the core models, the team mostly used synthetic data from a simulated environment. As both Birchfield and Fox stressed, it’s these simulations that allow for quickly training robots. Training in the real world would take far longer, after all, and can also be more far more dangerous. And for most of these tasks, there is no labeled training data available to begin with.
“We think using simulation is a powerful paradigm going forward to train robots do things that weren’t possible before,” Birchfield noted. Fox echoed this and noted that this need for simulations is one of the reasons why Nvidia thinks that its hardware and software is ideally suited for this kind of research. There is a very strong visual aspect to this training process, after all, and Nvidia’s background in graphics hardware surely helps.
Fox admitted that there’s still a lot of research left to do be done here (most of the simulations aren’t photorealistic yet, after all), but that the core foundations for this are now in place.
Going forward, the team plans to expand the range of tasks that the robots can learn and the vocabulary necessary to describe those tasks.
Wake up in the wee hours of the morning on the East Coast, and you might get a chance to watch a rocket launch more than three tons of cargo for the International Space Station. Set for a 4:39 ET liftoff from NASA’s facility on Wallops Island, West Virginia, if the weather holds, this will be Orbital ATK’s ninth cargo delivery to the ISS.
The Antares launch, which is the company’s first since November, was initially scheduled for today, but was ultimately pushed back in favor of inspections and better weather. The ship will carry supplies, parts, gear and a trio of CubeSats (mini-satellites), designed for ISS science studies. CBS notes one particular quantum physics study that “will attempt to cool atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.”
If you’re already up that early on the East Coast and have a decent vantage point, look up. Things will start off small and build to something potentially spectacular. Space.com describes it as akin to a shooting star at first, building to something more like a comet, with the sun catching the rocket’s smoky trail around four and a half minutes after liftoff.
The launch is one of 11 planned under a NASA contract, with potential to add six more supply missions for the ISS. SpaceX, for its part, is currently under contract for 20 such missions.