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Archivos mensuales:noviembre 2019

The Strange Life and Mysterious Death of a Virtuoso Coder

Jerrold Haas was on the brink of blockchain riches. Then his body was found in the woods of southern Ohio.
Source: Wired

Eigen nabs $37M to help banks and others parse huge documents using natural language and ‘small data’

One of the bigger trends in enterprise software has been the emergence of startups building tools to make the benefits of artificial intelligence technology more accessible to non-tech companies. Today, one that has built a platform to apply power of machine learning and natural language processing to massive documents of unstructured data has closed a round of funding as it finds strong demand for its approach.

Eigen Technologies, a London-based startup whose machine learning engine helps banks and other businesses that need to extract information and insights from large and complex documents like contracts, is today announcing that it has raised $37 million in funding, a Series B that values the company at around $150 million – $180 million.

The round was led by Lakestar and Dawn Capital, with Temasek and Goldman Sachs Growth Equity (which co-led its Series A) also participating. Eigen has now raised $55 million in total.

Eigen today is working primarily in the financial sector — its offices are smack in the middle of The City, London’s financial center — but the plan is to use the funding to continue expanding the scope of the platform to cover other verticals such as insurance and healthcare, two other big areas that deal in large, wordy documentation that is often inconsistent in how its presented, full of essential fine print, and is typically a strain on an organisation’s resources to be handled correctly, and is often a disaster if it is not.

The focus up to now on banks and other financial businesses has had a lot of traction. It says its customer base now includes 25% of the world’s G-SIB institutions (that is, the world’s biggest banks), along with others who work closely with them like Allen & Overy and Deloitte. Since June 2018 (when it closed its Series A round), Eigen has seen recurring revenues grow sixfold with headcount — mostly data scientists and engineers — double. While Eigen doesn’t disclose specific financials, you can the growth direction that contributed to the company’s valuation.

The basic idea behind Eigen is that it focuses what co-founder and CEO Lewis Liu describes as “small data”. The company has devised a way to “teach” an AI to read a specific kind of document — say, a loan contract — by looking at a couple of examples and training on these. The whole process is relatively easy to do for a non-technical person: you figure out what you want to look for and analyse, find the examples using basic search in two or three documents, and create the template which can then be used across hundreds or thousands of the same kind of documents (in this case, a loan contract).

Eigen’s work is notable for two reasons. First, typically machine learning and training and AI requires hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of examples to “teach” a system before it can make decisions that you hope will mimic those of a human. Eigen requires a couple of examples (hence the “small data” approach).

Second, an industry like finance has many pieces of sensitive data (either because its personal data, or because it’s proprietary to a company and its business), and so there is an ongoing issue of working with AI companies that want to “anonymise” and ingest that data. Companies simply don’t want to do that. Eigen’s system essentially only works on what a company provides, and that stays with the company.

Eigen was founded in 2014 by Dr. Lewis Z. Liu (CEO) and Jonathan Feuer (a managing partner at CVC Capital technologies who is the company’s chairman), but its earliest origins go back 15 years earlier, when Liu — a first-generation immigrant who grew up in the US — was working as a “data entry monkey” (his words) at a tire manufacturing plant in New Jersey, where he lived, ahead of starting university at Harvard.

A natural computing whizz who found himself building his own games when his parents refused to buy him a games console, he figured out that the many pages of printouts that he was reading and re-entering into a different computing system could be sped up with a computer program linking up the two. “I put myself out of a job,” he joked.

His educational life epitomises the kind of lateral thinking that often produces the most interesting ideas. Liu went on to Harvard to study not computer science, but physics and art. Doing a double major required working on a thesis that merged the two disciplines together, and Liu built “electrodynamic equations that composed graphical structures on the fly” — basically generating art using algorithms — which he then turned into a “Turing test” to see if people could detect pixelated actual work with that of his program. Distil this, and Liu was still thinking about patterns in analog material that could be re-created using math.

Then came years at McKinsey in London (how he arrived on these shores) during the financial crisis where the results of people either intentionally or mistakenly overlooking crucial text-based data produced stark and catastrophic results. “I would say the problem that we eventually started to solve for at Eigen became for tangible,” Liu said.

Then came a physics PhD at Oxford where Liu worked on X-ray lasers that could be used to bring down the complexity and cost of making microchips, cancer treatments and other applications.

While Eigen doesn’t actually use lasers, some of the mathematical equations that Liu came up with for these have also become a part of Eigen’s approach.

“The whole idea [for my PhD] was, ‘how do we make this cheeper and more scalable?’” he said. “We built a new class of X-ray laser apparatus, and we realised the same equations could be used in pattern matching algorithms, specifically around sequential patterns. And out of that, and my existing corporate relationships, that’s how Eigen started.”

Five years on, Eigen has added a lot more into the platform beyond what came from Liu’s original ideas. There are more data scientists and engineers building the engine around the basic idea, and customising it to work with more sectors beyond finance. 

There are a number of AI companies building tools for non-technical business end-users, and one of the areas that comes close to what Eigen is doing is robotic process automation, or RPA. Liu notes that while this is an important area, it’s more about reading forms more readily and providing insights to those. The focus of Eigen in more on unstructured data, and the ability to parse it quickly and securely using just a few samples.

Liu points to companies like IBM (with Watson) as general competitors, while startups like Luminance is another taking a similar approach to Eigen by addressing the issue of parsing unstructured data in a specific sector (in its case, currently, the legal profession).

Stephen Nundy, a partner and the CTO of Lakestar, said that he first came into contact with Eigen when he was at Goldman Sachs, where he was a managing director overseeing technology, and the bank engaged it for work.

“To see what these guys can deliver, it’s to be applauded,” he said. “They’re just picking out names and addresses. We’re talking deep, semantic understanding. Other vendors are trying to be everything to everybody, but Eigen has found market fit in financial services use cases, and it stands up against the competition. You can see when a winner is breaking away from the pack and it’s a great signal for the future.”


Source: TechCrunch

Motorola Razr foldable phone does something the Galaxy Fold can't — it snaps flat – CNET

Motorola shows off a 6.2-inch foldable screen you can flip up, and an innovative hinge design.
Source: CNET

Top 9 Amazon Alexa devices for 2019 – CNET

Which smart home devices play best with your Echo smart speaker? Find out here.
Source: CNET

Top 6 cheap home security devices of 2019 – CNET

These wallet-friendly security solutions will cost you less than $20 a piece.
Source: CNET

2020 Polestar 1: What's the point? | Everyone's a Critic video – Roadshow

With over 600 horsepower and stunning Scandinavian looks it should be a hit, but our readers don’t seem impressed with the 2020 Polestar 1. On the first episode of Everyone’s a Critic, Roadshow responds to your questions and comments..
Source: CNET

2020 Kia Soul: A lovable oddball – Roadshow

With revamped front and rear fascias, the quirky box on wheels is perfectly unorthodox.
Source: CNET

Yodel.io is a digital receptionist for SMBs taking calls

Yodel.io, an Austria-founded startup that’s developed a “digital receptionist” to help SMBs and other small teams handle in and outbound phone-calls, has picked up $1 million in “pre-seed” funding. It brings total funding to just over $1.8 million.

Backing this round is EXF Alpha, the fund of the European Super Angels Club, and various other unnamed European angel investors. This investment will be used to establish a New York office, in addition to the startup’s existing presence in Vienna, London and San Francisco.

In development since 2016 and a Seedcamp alumni, Yodel’s tech acts as a digital phone receptionist that plugs into popular team chat applications such as Slack, Zapier, and Drift to help SMBs handle calls more efficiently. The idea is to provide these small and medium-sized businesses with call-handling technology more akin to that typically available to larger enterprises but at a price they can afford.

It is similar thinking to Google’s recently launched CallJoy, although Yodel argues its product is better and says it is already used by over 2,000 SMBs in 30 languages across 47 countries.

Yodel and CallJoy both offer the ability to transcribe calls, manage inbounds through “human-like” answering, log calls, tag calls and record calls.

However, in addition, Yodel says its tech also allows for customisable canned responses, and that its AI is able to ask for a reason for the call and then process calls accordingly. Other features include call conferencing, and the ability to send and receive SMS messages.

“SMBs are stuck with old school phone systems that lack flexibility,” explain two of Yodel’s co-founders, Nina Hödlmayr and Mike Heininger, in an email. “At the same time, customers of SMBs don’t receive the support they expect via the phone, they want the processes and systems of the multinationals, without considering the backend costs.

The pair argue that by using Yodel, less well-resourced companies can offer voice calls for customers, which they argue is still the most direct channel. “This is an effective way of increasing sales and having fewer unsatisfied customers,” they tell TechCrunch.

Yodel.io Slack integration: waiting inbound call

“The caller receives a better experience by being greeted from a digital voice assistant and getting forwarded to the right team member. The company views all information in one place without needing to switch tools. This is also a main benefit for distributed and modern teams. Each bit of information is shared and can be collaborated on which improves decisions and overall internal knowledge”.

Operating a typical SaaS model, Yodel charges per “seat” per month. This includes a phone number per user, unlimited inbound minutes and call credit for outbound calls. There are additional fees for more outbound minutes and additional phone numbers. Depending on features the subscription is with $25 per month or $35 per month.


Source: TechCrunch

Johannes Reck from GetYourGuide to talk about reaching unicorn status at Disrupt Berlin

Earlier this year, GetYourGuide raised a gigantic $484 million funding round with SoftBank’s Vision Fund leading the round. Now that the German startup has reached a valuation well over the $1 billion mark, it’s time to look back at the company’s impressive trajectory. That’s why I’m excited to announce that GetYourGuide co-founder and CEO Johannes Reck is joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

At first, people started booking flights and train tickets on online platforms. Then, they started booking hotel rooms and Airbnb apartments. But going somewhere is just step one. You also need to figure out what you’re going to do when you arrive in a city you don’t know.

GetYourGuide lets you book experiences, from sightseeing tours to tickets for attractions and others. Behind the scene, the company operates a marketplace that matches third parties with travelers.

But the startup now wants to go one step further and build a catalog of “Originals� tour experiences, such as a ‘GetYourGuide Instagram Tour of Bali’, which is probably a lot more appealing to young travelers compared to traditional travel agencies.

GetYourGuide’s metrics are mindboggling. Back in May, the company offered 50,000 experiences and had sold 25 million tickets in total. And I’m sure those numbers are even higher today.

The startup has a shot at becoming a cultural phenomenon and influence the way we travel — just like Airbnb did with its peer-to-peer rental platform. And I can’t wait to hear Johannes Reck tell us how to grow such a big marketplace with everyone’s best interests in mind.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion — and many others. The conference will take place December 11-12.

In addition to panels and fireside chats, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.

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Johannes Reck is the Chief Executive Officer at GetYourGuide. He leads the company’s long-term vision and strategy.

Johannes co-founded GetYourGuide in 2009 while attending the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and has grown the company into the leading booking platform for incredible travel experiences.

Under Johannes’ leadership, over 30 million tickets have been booked to date via the GetYourGuide website, mobile app, and partnership network. GetYourGuide has raised over $650M from investors such as the SoftBank Vision Fund, Battery Ventures and KKR. Johannes leads GetYourGuide’s 550-person global team from its headquarters in Berlin, Germany.

Johannes originally hails from Cologne, Germany and holds an M.Sc. in Biochemistry from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.


Source: TechCrunch

Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plan told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of the matches, setting a new global record.

However, Hotstar’s monthly userbase plummets below 60 million in weeks following IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics. The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket seasons.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the platform’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.â€�

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox, would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31, the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debut its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed over 10 million subscribers, plans to raise the monthly subscription fee of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen towards the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $30 a year as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said.

Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $2.8 monthly tier in India and $4 in Malaysia.

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from international cable networks and studios Showtime, HBO, and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and large library of Indian titles.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired over 60 engineers and researchers to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.


Source: TechCrunch