All posts by Richy George

Rasa raises $13M led by Accel for its developer-friendly open source approach to chatbots

Posted by on 11 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Conversational AI and the use of chatbots have been through multiple cycles of hype and disillusionment in the tech world. You know the story: first you get a launch from the likes of Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Google or any number of other companies, and then you get the many examples of how their services don’t work as intended at the slightest challenge. But time brings improvements and more focused expectations, and today a startup that has been harnessing all those learnings is announcing funding to take its own approach to conversational AI to the next level.

Rasa, which has built an open source platform for third parties to design and manage their own conversational (text or voice) AI chatbots, is today announcing that it has raised $13 million in a Series A round of funding led by Accel, with participation also from Basis Set Ventures, Greg Brockman (Co-founder & CTO OpenAI), Daniel Dines (Founder & CEO UiPath) and Mitchell Hashimoto (Co-founder & CTO Hashicorp). Rasa was founded in Berlin, but with this round, it be moving its headquarters to San Francisco with a plan to hire more people there in sales, marketing and business development; and to continue its tech development with its roadmap including plans to expand the platform to cover images, too.

The company was founded 2.5 years ago, by co-founder/CEO Alex Weidauer’s own admission “when chatbot hype was at its peak.” Rasa itself was not immune to it, too: “Everyone wanted to automate conversations, and so we set out to build something, too,” he said. “But we quickly realised it was extremely hard to do and that the developer tools were just not there yet.”

Rather than posing an insurmountable roadblock, the shortcomings of chatbots became the problem that Rasa set out to fix.

Alan Nichols, the co-founder who is now the CTO, is an AI PhD, but not in natural language as you might expect, but in machine learning. “What we do is more is address this as a mathematical, machine learning problem rather than one of language,” Weidauer said. Specifically, that means building a model that can be used by any company to tap its own resources to train their bots, in particular with unstructured information, which has been one of the trickier problems to solve in conversational AI.

At a time when many have raised concerns about who might “own” the progress of artificial intelligence, and specifically the data that goes into building these systems, Rasa’s approach is a refreshing one.

Typically, when an organization wants to build an AI chatbot either to interact with customers or to run something in the backend of their business, their developers most commonly opt for third-party cloud APIs that have restrictions on how they can be customized, or they build their own from scratch, but if the organization is not already a large tech company, it will be challenged to have the human or other resources to execute this.

Rasa underscores an emerging trend for a strong third contender. The company has built a stack of tools that it has open sourced, meaning that anyone (and thousands of developers do) use it for free, with a paid enterprise version including extra tools including customer support, testing and training tools, and production container deployment. (It’s priced depending on size of organization and usage.)

Importantly, whichever package is used, the tools run on a company’s own training data; and the company can ultimately host their bots wherever they choose, which have been some of the unique selling points for those using Rasa’s platform, when they are less interested in working with organizations that might also be competitors.

Adobe’s new AI assistant for searching on Adobe Stock, which has some 100 million images, was built on Rasa.

“We wanted to give our users an AI assistant that lets them search with natural language commands,” said Brett Butterfield, director of software development at Adobe, in a statement. “We looked at several online services, and, in the end, Rasa was the clear choice because we were able to host our own servers and protect our user’s data privacy. Being able to automate full conversations and the fact it is open source were key elements for us.” Other customers include Parallon and TalkSpace, Zurich and Allianz, Telekom, and UBS.

Open source has become big business in the last several years, and so a startup that’s built an AI platform that has a very direct application in the enterprise built on it presents an an obvious attraction for VCs.

“Automation is the next battleground for the enterprise, and while this is a very difficult space to win, especially for unstructured information like text and voice, we are confident Rasa has what it takes given their impressive adoption by developers,” said Andrei Brasoveanu, partner at Accel, in a statement. “Existing solutions don’t let in-house developer teams control their own automation destiny. Rasa is applying commercial open source software solutions for AI environments similarly to what open source leaders such as Cloudera, Mulesoft, and Hashicorp have done for others.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Armis nabs $65M Series C as IoT security biz grows in leaps and bounds

Posted by on 11 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Armis is helping companies protect IoT devices on the network without using an agent, and it’s apparently a problem that is resonating with the market, as the startup reports 700 percent growth in the last year. That caught the attention of investors, who awarded them with a $65 million Series C investment to help keep accelerating that growth.

Sequoia Capital led the round with help from new investors Insight Venture Partners and Intermountain Ventures. Returning investors Bain Capital Ventures, Red Dot Capital Partners and Tenaya Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $112 million, according to the company.

The company is solving a hard problem around device management on a network. If you have devices where you cannot apply an agent to track them, how do you manage them? Nadir Izrael, company co-founder and CTO, says you have to do it very carefully because even scanning for ports could be too much for older devices and they could shut down. Instead, he says that Armis takes a passive approach to security, watching and learning and understanding what normal device behavior looks like — a kind of behavioral fingerprinting.

“We observe what devices do on the network. We look at their behavior, and we figure out from that everything we need to know,” Izreal told TechCrunch. He adds, “Armis in a nutshell is a giant device behavior crowdsourcing engine. Basically, every client of Armis is constantly learning how devices behave. And those statistical models, those machine learning models, they get merged into master models.”

Whatever they are doing, they seem to have hit upon a security pain point. They announced a $30 million Series B almost exactly a year ago, and they went back for more because they were growing quickly and needed the capital to hire people to keep up.

That kind of growth is a challenge for any startup. The company expects to double its 125 person work force before the end of the year, but the company is working to put systems in place to incorporate those new people and service all of those new customers.

The company plans to hire more people in sales and marketing, of course, but they will concentrate on customer support and building out partnership programs to get some help from systems integrators, ISVs and MSPs, who can do some of the customer hand-holding for them.

Posted Under: Tech News
With consumer G+ dead, Currents hopes to make waves in the enterprise

Posted by on 10 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Google today announced that Google+ in G Suite, the last remaining remnants of what was once Google’s attempt to rival Facebook and Twitter, will now be called Currents. We don’t need to belabor the fact that Google+ was a flop and that its death was probably long overdue. We’ve done that. Now it’s time to look ahead and talk about what’s next for Currents. To do that, I sat down with David Thacker, the VP of Product Management for G Suite, at Google’s Cloud Next conference.

As Thacker told me, Google has shifted its resources to have the former Google+ team focus on Currents instead. But before we get to what that teams plans to do, let’s talk about the name first. Currents, after all, was also the name of the predecessor of Google Play Newsstand, the app that was the predecessor of the Google News app.

The official line is that “Currents” is meant to evoke the flow of information. Thacker also noted that the team did a lot of research around the name and that it had “very low recognition.” I guess that’s fair. It also allows Google to reuse an old trademark without having to jump through too many hoops. Since the Google+ name obviously now carries some baggage, changing the name makes sense anyway. “The enterprise version is distinct and separate now and it was causing confusion among our customers,” said Thacker.

“This allows us to do new things and move much faster in the enterprise,” Thacker explained. “To run a consumer social network at the scale of consumer G+ requires a lot of resources and efforts, as you can imagine. And that’s partially the reason we decided to sunset that product, as we just didn’t feel it was worth that investment given the user base on that. But it basically frees up that team to focus on the enterprise vision.”

Now, however, with consumer G+ gone, the company is going to invest in Currents. “We’re moving consumer resources into the enterprise,” he said.

The plan here clearly isn’t to just let Currents linger but to improve it for business users. And while Google has never publicly shared user numbers, Thacker argues that those businesses that do use it tend to use it expensively. The hope, though, surely, is to increase that number — whatever it may be — significantly over time. “If you look at our top G Suite customers, most of them use the product actively as a way to connect really broad organizations,” Thacker said.

Thacker also noted that this move now removes a lot of constraints since the team doesn’t have to think about consumer features anymore. “When Google+ was first designed, it was never designed for that [enterprise] use case, but organizations had the same need to break down silos and help spread ideas and knowledge in their company,” Thacker explained. “So while Google+ didn’t succeed as a consumer product, it will certainly live on in the enterprise.”

What will that future look like? As Thacker told me, the team started with revamping the posting workflow, which was heavily focused on image sharing, for example, which isn’t exactly all that important in a business context.

But there are other features the team is planning to launch, too, including better analytics. “Analytics is a really important part of it,” said Thacker. “When people are posting on Currents, whether it’s executives trying to engage their employee base, they want to see how that’s resonating. And so we built in some pretty rich analytics.”

The team also built a new set of administrative controls that help manage how organizations can control and manage their usage of Currents.

Going forward then, we may actually see a bit of innovation in Currents — something that was sorely lacking from Google+ while it was lingering in limbo. Google Cloud’s CEO Thomas Kurian told me that he wants to make collaboration one of his focus areas. Currents is an obvious fit there, and there are plenty of ways to integrate it with the rest of G Suite still.

Posted Under: Tech News
InVision announces new integrations with Jira

Posted by on 10 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Today InVision announced even deeper integrations with Jira, letting users embed actual InVision prototypes right within a Jira ticket. The company also announced the Jira app for InVision Studio, letting designers in Studio see interactive Jira tickets in real time.

InVision has already had lighter integrations with Atlassian products, including Jira, Confluence and Trello. It’s also worth noting that Atlassian participated in InVision’s $115 million Series F funding round.

The partnership makes sense. Atlassian provides a parallel product to InVision, except instead of serving designers, Atlassian serves engineers.

But it brings up an interesting challenge for InVision, last valued at $1.9 billion. The company went from creating its own market with a paid prototyping and collaboration tool to competing with giants and startups alike as it introduced new products.

InVision Studio, for instance, is meant to compete with the likes of Adobe XD, Sketch, and Figma, among others.

At the same time, InVision’s strategy has always been to become a connective tissue for the broader design landscape. CEO Clark Valberg has said in the past that he sees InVision becoming the Salesforce of the design world, with a broad array of partnerships and integrations across the industry to handle each, nuanced fraction of the process in a single, fluid place.

“Up until now we’ve been a fairly horizontal player,” said VP of Product Mike Davidson. “We created the market for prototyping. There was no paid market for a prototyping tool until InVision came along. Now that you see us provide a more vertical stack of tools, we don’t want to lose the great thing we’ve built with the InVision Prototyping tool. It’s been more popular than we could have ever imagined.”

Davidson added that InVision now serves 100 of the Fortune 100 companies.

And since its launch in 2011, InVision has maintained that original strategic course of staying open, particularly with Atlassian. But InVision isn’t just friendly with Atlassian. The company also introduced an App Store and Asset Store in InVision Studio (partnerships include Slack, Dribbble, and Getty), with plans to launch a developer API so anyone can build apps for InVision Studio. Plus, InVision has made a handful of acquisitions, and launched the Design Forward Fund, which allocates $5 million toward investing in design startups.

VP of Partnerships and Community Mike Davidson believes that balancing this open garden philosophy with the desire to provide the very best products across the entire process (automatically putting InVision in competition with other design startups) is one of the company’s greatest challenges.

“We want to provide a first-cclass experience from beginning to end but we also want to provide a system that’s open enough where you can use your tool of choice for any one of the particular functions,” said Davidson. “It’s a difficult balance. We want to allow for designers and developers to choose which tools they use for whatever job they’re trying to do, but we also want to be the best choice for each one of those functions.”

Posted Under: Tech News
The right way to do AI in security

Posted by on 10 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Artificial intelligence applied to information security can engender images of a benevolent Skynet, sagely analyzing more data than imaginable and making decisions at lightspeed, saving organizations from devastating attacks. In such a world, humans are barely needed to run security programs, their jobs largely automated out of existence, relegating them to a role as the button-pusher on particularly critical changes proposed by the otherwise omnipotent AI.

Such a vision is still in the realm of science fiction. AI in information security is more like an eager, callow puppy attempting to learn new tricks – minus the disappointment written on their faces when they consistently fail. No one’s job is in danger of being replaced by security AI; if anything, a larger staff is required to ensure security AI stays firmly leashed.

Arguably, AI’s highest use case currently is to add futuristic sheen to traditional security tools, rebranding timeworn approaches as trailblazing sorcery that will revolutionize enterprise cybersecurity as we know it. The current hype cycle for AI appears to be the roaring, ferocious crest at the end of a decade that began with bubbly excitement around the promise of “big data” in information security.

But what lies beneath the marketing gloss and quixotic lust for an AI revolution in security? How did AL ascend to supplant the lustrous zest around machine learning (“ML”) that dominated headlines in recent years? Where is there true potential to enrich information security strategy for the better – and where is it simply an entrancing distraction from more useful goals? And, naturally, how will attackers plot to circumvent security AI to continue their nefarious schemes?

How did AI grow out of this stony rubbish?

The year AI debuted as the “It Girl” in information security was 2017. The year prior, MIT completed their study showing “human-in-the-loop” AI out-performed AI and humans individually in attack detection. Likewise, DARPA conducted the Cyber Grand Challenge, a battle testing AI systems’ offensive and defensive capabilities. Until this point, security AI was imprisoned in the contrived halls of academia and government. Yet, the history of two vendors exhibits how enthusiasm surrounding security AI was driven more by growth marketing than user needs.

Posted Under: Tech News
Daily Crunch: Meet the new CEO of Google Cloud

Posted by on 10 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Google Cloud’s new CEO on gaining customers, startups, supporting open source and more

Thomas Kurian, who came to Google Cloud after 22 years at Oracle, said the team is rolling out new contracts and plans to simplify pricing.

Most importantly, though, Google will go on a hiring spree: “A number of customers told us ‘we just need more people from you to help us.’ So that’s what we’ll do.”

2. Walmart to expand in-store tech, including Pickup Towers for online orders and robots

Walmart is doubling down on technology in its brick-and-mortar stores in an effort to better compete with Amazon. The retailer says it will add to its U.S. stores 1,500 new autonomous floor cleaners, 300 more shelf scanners, 1,200 more FAST Unloaders and 900 new Pickup Towers.

3. Udacity restructures operations, lays off 20 percent of its workforce

The objective is to do more than simply keep the company afloat, according to co-founder Sebastian Thrun. Instead, Thrun says these measures will allow Udacity to move from a money-losing operation to a “break-even or profitable company by next quarter and then moving forward.”

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

4. The government is about to permanently bar the IRS from creating a free electronic filing system

That’s right, members of Congress are working to prohibit a branch of the federal government from providing a much-needed service that would make the lives of all of their constituents much easier.

5. Here’s the first image of a black hole

Say hello to the black hole deep inside the Messier 87, a galaxy located in the Virgo cluster some 55 million light years away.

6. Movo grabs $22.5M to get more cities in LatAm scooting

The Spanish startup targets cities in its home market and in markets across Latin America, offering last-mile mobility via rentable electric scooters.

7. Uber, Lyft and the challenge of transportation startup profits

An article arguing that everything you know about the cost of transportation is wrong. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Posted Under: Tech News
Google Cloud takes aim at verticals starting with new set of tools for retailers

Posted by on 10 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Google might not be Adobe or Salesforce, but it has a particular set of skills, which fit nicely with retailer requirements and can over time help improve the customer experience, even if that means just simply making sure the website or app is running, even on peak demand. Today, at Google Cloud Next, the company showed off a package of solutions as an example its vertical strategy.

Just this morning, the company announced a new phase of its partnership with Salesforce, where it’s using its contact center AI tools and chatbot technology in combination with Salesforce data to produce a product that plays to each company’s strengths and helps improve the customer service experience.

But Google didn’t stop with a high profile partnership. It has a few tricks of its own for retailers, starting with the classic retailer Black Friday kind of scenario. The easiest way to explain the value of cloud scaling is to look at a retail event like Black Friday when you know servers are going to be bombarded with traffic.

The cloud has always been good at scaling up for those kind of events, but it’s not perfect, as Amazon learned last year when it slowed down on Prime Day. Google wants to help companies avoid those kinds of disasters because a slow or down website translates into lots of lost revenue.

The company offers eCommerce Hosting, designed specifically for online retailers, and it is offering a special premium program, so retailers get “white glove treatment with technical architecture reviews and peak season operations support…” according to the company. In other words, it wants to help these companies avoid disastrous, money-losing results when a site goes down due to demand.

In addition, Google is offering real-time inventory tools, so customers and clerks can know exactly what stock is on hand, and it’s applying its AI expertise to this, as well with tools like Google Contact Center AI solution to help deliver better customer service experiences or Cloud Vision technology to help customers point their cameras at a product and see similar or related products. They also offer Recommendations AI, a tool, that says, if you bought these things, you might like this too, among other tools.

The company counts retail customers like Shopify and Ikea. In addition, the company is working with SI partners like Accenture, CapGemini and Deloitte and software partners like Salesforce, SAP and Tableau.

All of this is about creating a set of services created specifically for a given vertical to help that industry take advantage of the cloud. It’s one more way for Google Cloud to bring solutions to market and help increase its marketshare.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google Cloud announces Traffic Director, a networking management tool for service mesh

Posted by on 10 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

With each new set of technologies comes a new set of terms. In the containerized world, applications are broken down into discrete pieces or micro services. As these services proliferate, it creates a service mesh, a network of services and the interactions that take place as they interact. For each new technology like this, it requires a management layer, especially for the network administrators to understand and control the new concept, in this case, the service mesh.

Today at Google Cloud Next, the company announced the Beta of Traffic Director for open service mesh, specifically to help network managers understand what’s happening in their service mesh.

“To accelerate adoption and reduce the toil of managing service mesh, we’re excited to introduce Traffic Director, our new GCP-managed, enterprise-ready configuration and traffic control plane for service mesh that enables global resiliency, intelligent load balancing, and advanced traffic control capabilities like canary deployments,” Brad Calder, VP of engineering for technical infrastructure at Google Cloud, wrote in a blog post introducing the tool.

Traffic Director provides a way for operations to deploy a service mesh on their networks and have more control over how it works and interacts with the rest of the system. The tool works with Virtual Machines, Compute Engine on GCP, or in a containerized approach, GKE on GCP.

The product is just launching into Beta today, but the road map includes additional security features and support for hybrid environments, and eventually integration with Anthos, the hybrid management tool the company introduced yesterday at Google Cloud Next.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google launches new security tools for G Suite users

Posted by on 10 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Google today launched a number of security updates to G Suite, its online productivity and collaboration platform. The focus of these updates is on protecting a company’s data inside G Suite, both through controlling who can access it and through providing new tools for prevening phishing and malware attacks.

To do this, Google is announcing the beta launch of its advanced phishing and malware protection, for example. This is meant to help admins protect users from malicious attachment and inbound email spoofing, among other things.

The most interesting feature here, though, is the new security sandbox, another beta feature for G Suite enterprise users. The sandbox allows admins to add an extra layer of protection on top of the standard attachment scans for known viruses and malware. Those existing tools can’t fully protect you against zero-day ransomware or sophisticated malware, though. So instead of just letting you open the attachment, this tool executes the attachment in a sandbox environment to check if there are any security issues.

With today’s launch, Google is announcing the beta launch of its new security and alert center for admins. These tools are meant to create a single services that features best practice recommendations, but also a unified notifications center and tools to triage and take actions against threats, all with focus on collaboration among admins. Also new is a security investigation tool that mostly focuses on allowing admins to create automated workflows for sending notifications or assigning ownership to security investigations.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google launches its coldest storage service yet

Posted by on 10 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

At its Cloud Next conference, Google today launched a new archival cold storage service. This new service, which doesn’t seem to have a fancy name, will complement the company’s existing Nearline and Coldline services for storing vast amounts of infrequently used data at an affordable low cost.

The new archive class takes this one step further, though. It’s cheap, with prices starting at $0.0012 per gigabyte and month. That’s $1.23 per terabyte and month.

The new service will become available later this year.

What makes Google cold storage different from the likes of AWS S3 Glacier, for example, is that the data is immediately available, without millisecond latency. Glacier and similar service typically make you wait a significant amount of time before the data can be used. Indeed, in a thinly veiled swipe at AWS, Google directors of product management Dominic Preuss and Dave Nettleton note that “unlike tape and other glacially slow equivalents, we have taken an approach that eliminates the need for a separate retrieval process and provides immediate, low-latency access to your content.”

To put that into context, a gigabyte stored in AWS Glacier will set you back $0.004 per month. AWS, however, has also pre-announced a Deep Archive storage class, too, though the pricing for that service hasn’t been announced yet and the promised retrival time here is “within 12 hours.”

Google’s new object storage service uses the same APIs as Google’s other storage classes and Google promises that the data is always redundantly stored across availability zones, with eleven 9’s of annual durability.

In a press conference ahead of today’s official announcement, Preuss noted that this service mostly a replacement for on-premise tape backups, but now that many enterprises try to keep as much data as they can to then later train their machine learning models, for example, the amounts of fresh data that needs to be stored for the long term continues to increase rapidly, too.

With low latency and the promise of high availability, there obviously has to be a drawback here, otherwise Google wouldn’t (and couldn’t) offer this service at this price. “Just like when you’re going from our standard [storage] class to Nearline or Coldline, there’s a committed amount of time that you have to remain in that class,” Preuss explained. “So basically, to get a lower price you are committing to keep the data in the Google Cloud Storage bucket for a period of time.”

Posted Under: Tech News
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