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UiPath lands $225M Series C on $3 billion valuation as robotic process automation soars

September 18, 2018 No Comments

UiPath is bringing automation to repetitive processes inside large organizations and it seems to have landed on a huge pain point. Today it announced a massive $ 225 million Series C on a $ 3 billion valuation.

The round was led by CapitalG and Sequoia Capital. Accel, which invested in the companies A and B rounds also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $ 408 million, according to Crunchbase, and comes just months after a $ 153 million Series B we reported on last March. At that time, it had a valuation of over $ 1 billion, meaning the valuation has tripled in less than six months.

There’s a reason this company you might have never heard of is garnering this level of investment so quickly. For starters, it’s growing in leaps in bounds. Consider that it went from $ 1 million to $ 100 million in annual recurring revenue in under 21 months, according to the company. It currently has 1800 enterprise customers and claims to be adding 6 new ones a day, an astonishing rate of customer acquisition.

The company is part of the growing field of robotic process automation or RPA . While the robotics part of the name could be considered a bit of a misnomer, the software helps automate a series of mundane tasks that were typically handled by humans. It allows companies to bring a level of automation to legacy processes like accounts payable, employee onboarding, procurement and reconciliation without actually having to replace legacy systems.

Phil Fersht, CEO and chief analyst at HfS, a firm that watches the RPA market, says RPA isn’t actually that intelligent. “It’s about taking manual work, work-arounds and integrated processes built on legacy technology and finding way to stitch them together,” he told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year.

It isn’t quite as simple as the old macro recorders that used to record a series of tasks and execute them with a keystroke, but it is somewhat analogous to that approach. Today, it’s more akin to a bot that may help you complete a task in Slack. RPA is a bit more sophisticated moving through a workflow in an automated fashion.

Ian Barkin from Symphony Ventures, a firm that used to do outsourcing, has embraced RPA. He says while most organizations have a hard time getting a handle on AI, RPA allows them to institute fundamental change around desktop routines without having to understand AI.

If you’re worrying about this technology replacing humans, it is somewhat valid, but Barkin says the technology is replacing jobs that most humans don’t enjoy doing. “The work people enjoy doing is exceptions and judgment based, which isn’t the sweet spot of RPA. It frees them from mundaneness of routine,” he said in an interview last year.

Whatever it is, it’s resonating inside large organizations and UiPath, is benefiting from the growing need by offering its own flavor of RPA. Today its customers include the likes of Autodesk, BMW Group and Huawei.

As it has grown over the last year, the number of employees has increased 3x  and the company expects to reach 1700 employees by the end of the year.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Drone startup Airware crashes, will shut down after burning $118M

September 15, 2018 No Comments

Drone operating system startup Airware today suddenly informed employees it will cease operations immediately despite having raised $ 118 million from top investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Google’s GV, and Kleiner Perkins. The startup ran out of money after trying to manufacture its own hardware that couldn’t compete with drone giants like China’s DJI. The company at one point had as many as 140 employees, all of which are now out of a job.

A source sent TechCrunch screenshots from the Airware alumni Slack channel detailing how the staff was told this morning that Airware would shut down.

Airware makes a cloud sofware system that helps enterprise customers like construction companies, mining operations, and insurance companies reviewing equipment for damages to use drones to collect and analyze aerial data. That allowed companies to avoid using expensive helicopters or dangerous rigs with humans on harnesses to make inspections and gauge work progress.

One ex-employee asked “How do I get my options sent to me on paper so I can burn them all in a fire?😅

Founded in 2011 by Jonathan Downey, the son of two pilots, Airware first built an autopilot system for programming drones to follow certain routes to collect data. It could help businesses check rooftops for damage, see how much of a raw material was coming out of a mine, or build constantly-updated maps of construction sites. Later it tried to build its own drones before pivoting to consult clients on how to most efficiently apply unmanned aerial vehicles.

While flying high, Airware launched its own Commercial Drone Fund for investing in the market in 2015, and acquired 38-person drone analytics startup Redbird in 2016. In this pre-crypto, pre-AI boom, Airware scored a ton of hype from us and others as tried to prove drones could be more than war machines. But over time, the software that shipped with commercial drone hardware from other manufacturers was good enough to make Airware irrelevant, and a downward spiral of layoffs began over the past two years, culminating in today’s shutdown. Demonstating how sudden the shut down is, Airware opened a Tokyo headquarters alongside an investment and partnership from Mitsubishi just four days ago.

“Airware was ahead of the game trying to build their software. So far ahead that the drone hardware on the market wasn’t sophisticated enough to actually produce the granularity of data they needed to test out their software/train their algorithms” an ex-employee told TechCrunch (emphasis ours). “So they spent shitloads of money designing bespoke hardware, including two drones in-house, one multi-rotor called an AT-28, and one fixed-wing called Cygnet. Both projects were scuttled as hardware from DJI and Ebee caught up to needs, after sinking tons of engineering time and manufacturing into them.”

Following TechCrunch’s inquiry about the unnannounced news, Airware confirmed the shut down to us with this statement:

“History has taught us how hard it can be to call the timing of a market transition. We have seen this play out first hand in the commercial drone marketplace. We were the pioneers in this market and one of the first to see the power drones could have in the commercial sector. Unfortunately, the market took longer to mature than we expected. As we worked through the various required pivots to position ourselves for long term success, we ran out of financial runway. As a result, it is with a heavy heart that we notified our team, customers, and partners that we will wind down the business.

This is not the business outcome we had worked so hard for over the years and yet we are deeply proud of our company’s accomplishments and our leadership in driving the adoption of drone powered analytics to improve productivity, mitigate risks, and take workers out of harm’s way.

As we close the book of Airware; we want to thank the partners and customers who believed in us and helped us along the way. And, while it is difficult to say goodbye to our team, we want to thank them for all they have contributed to Airware and the industry. We look forward to seeing how they will take their learnings from Airware to fuel continued innovations in the world around us.”

[Update: Since we broke the news, Airware has put up a “thank you” note about the shutdown informing clients that “A representative from the Airware team will be in touch.”]

An Airware-hardware equipped drone

Employees will get one week’s severance, COBRA insurance until November, and payouts for unused paid time off. It appears the startup wasn’t able to raise necessary funding to save the company or secure an acquisition from one of its strategic partners like Catepillar.

Airware will serve as cautionary tale of startup overspending in hopes of finding product-market fit. Had it been more frugal, saved cash to extend its runway, and given corporate clients more time to figure out how to use drones, Airware might have stayed afloat. Sometimes, even having the most prestigious investors can’t save a startup from mismanagement.

Our ex-employee source concludes that “I think having $ 118M in the bank led Airware to charge ahead and sink tons of money into force-it-to-work methods rather than exercise a bit of patience and wait for the inevitable advance of hardware to catch up. They had a knack for hiring extremely talented and expensive people from places like Google, Autodesk, there was even SpaceX and NASA alumni there.

They spared no expense ever.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


PagerDuty raises $90M to wake up more engineers in the middle of the night

September 8, 2018 No Comments

PagerDuty, the popular service that helps businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage incidents and alert engineers when things go sideways, today announced that it has raised a $ 90 million Series D round at a valuation of $ 1.3 billion. With this, PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009, has now raised well over $ 170 million.

The round was led by T. Rowe Price Associates and Wellington Management . Accel, Andreessen Horowitz and Bessemer Venture Partners participated. Given the leads in this round, chances are that PagerDuty is gearing up for an IPO.

“This capital infusion allows us to continue our investments in innovation that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling us to help our customers transform their companies and delight their customers,” said Jennifer Tejada, CEO at PagerDuty in today’s announcement. “From a business standpoint, we can strengthen our investment in and development of our people, our most valuable asset, as we scale our operations globally. We’re well positioned to make the lives of digital workers better by elevating work to the outcomes that matter.”

Currently PagerDuty users include the likes of GE, Capital One, IBM, Spotify and virtually every other software company you’ve ever heard of. In total, more than 10,500 enterprises now use the service. While it’s best known for its alerting capabilities, PagerDuty has expanded well beyond that over the years, though it’s still a core part of its service. Earlier this year, for example, the company announced its new AIOps services that aim to help businesses reduce the amount of noisy and unnecessary alerts. I’m sure there’s a lot of engineers who are quite happy about that (and now sleep better).


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Atlassian acquires OpsGenie, launches Jira Ops for managing incidents

September 4, 2018 No Comments

Atlassian today announced the first beta of a new edition of its flagship Jira project and issue tracking tool that is meant to help ops teams handle incidents faster and more efficiently.

Jira Ops integrates with tools like OpsGenie, PagerDuty, xMatters, Statuspage, Slack and others. Many teams already use these tools when their services go down, but Atlassian argues that most companies currently use a rather ad hoc approach to working with them. Jira Ops aims to be the glue that keeps everybody on the same page and provides visibility into ongoing incidents.

Update: after Atlassian announced Jira Ops, it also announced that it has acquired OpsGenie for $ 295 million.

This is obviously not the first time Atlassian is using Jira to branch out from its core developer audience. Jira Service Desk and Jira Core, for example, aim at a far broader audience. Ops, however, goes after a very specific vertical.

“Service Desk was the first step,” Jens Schumacher, Head of Software Teams at Atlassian, told me. And we were looking at what are the other verticals that we can attack with Jira.” Schumacher also noted that Atlassian built a lot of tools for its internal ops teams over the years to glue together all the different pieces that are necessary to track and manage incidents. With Jira Ops, the company is essentially turning its own playbook into a product.

In a way, though, using Jira Ops adds yet another piece to the puzzle. Schumacher, however, argues that the idea here is to have a single place to manage the process. “The is that when an incident happens, you have a central place where you can go, where you can find out everything about the incident,” he said. “You can see who has been paged and alerted; you can alert more people if you need to right from there; you know what Slack channel the incident is being discussed in.”

Unlike some of Atlassian’s other products, the company doesn’t currently have any plans to launch a self-hosted version of Jira Ops. The argument here is pretty straightforward: if your infrastructure goes down, then Jira Opes could also go do down — and then you don’t have a tool for managing that downtime.

Jira Ops is now available for free for early access beta users. The company expects to launch version 1.0 in early 2019. By then Atlassian will surely also have figured out a pricing plan, something it didn’t announce today.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Amazon is quietly doubling down on cryptographic security

September 1, 2018 No Comments

The growth of cloud services — with on-demand access to IT services over the Internet — has become one of the biggest evolutions in enterprise technology, but with it, so has the threat of security breaches and other cybercriminal activity. Now it appears that one of the leading companies in cloud services is looking for more ways to double down and fight the latter. Amazon’s AWS has been working on a range of new cryptographic and AI-based tools to help manage the security around cloud-based enterprise services, and it currently has over 130 vacancies for engineers with cryptography skills to help build and run it all.

One significant part of the work has been within a division of AWS called the Automated Reasoning Group, which focuses on identifying security issues and developing new tools to fix them for AWS and its customers based on automated reasoning, a branch of artificial intelligence that covers both computer science and mathematical logic and is aimed at helping computers automatically reason completely or nearly completely.

In recent times, Amazon has registered two new trademarks, Quivela and SideTrail, both of which have connections to ARG.

Classified in its patent application as “computer software for cryptographic protocol specification and verification,” Quivela also has a Github repository within AWS Labs’ profile that describes it as a “prototype tool for proving the security of cryptographic protocols,” developed by the AWS Automated Reasoning Group. (The ARG also has as part of its mission to share code and ideas with the community.)

SideTrail is not on Github, but Byron Cook, an academic who is the founder and director of the AWS Automated Reasoning Group, has co-authored a research paper called “SideTrail: Verifying the Time Balancing of Cryptosystems.” However, the link to the paper, describing what this is about, is no longer working.

The trademark application for SideTrail includes a long list of potential applications (as trademark applications often do). The general idea is cryptography-based security services. Among them: “Computer software, namely, software for monitoring, identifying, tracking, logging, analyzing, verifying, and profiling the health and security of cryptosystems; network encryption software; computer network security software,” “Providing access to hosted operating systems and computer applications through the Internet,” and a smattering of consulting potential: “Consultation in the field of cloud computing; research and development in the field of security and encryption for cryptosystems; research and development in the field of software; research and development in the field of information technology; computer systems analysis.”

Added to this, in July, a customer of AWS started testing out two other new cryptographic tools developed by the ARG also for improving an organization’s cybersecurity — with the tools originally released the previous August (2017). Tiros and Zelkova, as the two tools are called, are math-based techniques that variously evaluate access control schemes, security configurations and feedback based on different setups to help troubleshoot and prove the effectiveness of security systems across storage (S3) buckets.

Amazon has not trademarked Tiros and Zelkova. A Zelkova trademark, for financial services, appears to be registered as an LLC called “Zelkova Acquisition” in Las Vegas, while there is no active trademark listed for Tiros.

Amazon declined to respond to our questions about the trademarks. A selection of people we contacted associated with the projects did not respond to requests for comment.

More generally, cryptography is a central part of how IT services are secured: Amazon’s Automated Reasoning Group has been around since 2014 working in this area. But Amazon appears to be doing more now both to ramp up the tools it produces and consider how it can be applied across the wider business. A quick look on open vacancies at the company shows that there are currently 132 openings at Amazon for people with cryptography skills.

“Cloud is the new computer, the Earth is the motherboard and data centers are the cards,” Cook said in a lecture he delivered recently describing AWS and the work that the ARG is doing to help AWS grow. “The challenge is that as [AWS] scales it needs to be ever more secure… How does AWS continue to scale quickly and securely?

“AWS has made a big bet on our community,” he continued, as one answer to that question. That’s led to an expansion of the group’s activities in areas like formal verification and beyond, as a way of working with customers and encouraging them to move more data to the cloud.

Amazon is also making some key acquisitions also to build up its cloud security footprint, such as Sqrrl and Harvest.ai, two AI-based security startups whose founding teams both happen to have worked at the NSA.

Amazon’s AWS division pulled in over $ 6 billion in revenues last quarter with $ 1.6 billion in operating income, a healthy margin that underscores the shift that businesses and other organizations are making to cloud-based services.

Security is an essential component of how that business will continue to grow for Amazon and the wider industry: more trust in the infrastructure, and more proofs that cloud architectures can work better than using and scaling the legacy systems that businesses use today, will bolster the business. And it’s also essential, given the rise of breaches and ever more sophisticated cyber crimes. Gartner estimates that cloud-based security services will be a $ 6.9 billion market this year, rising to nearly $ 9 billion by 2020.

Automated tools that help human security specialists do their jobs better is an area that others like Microsoft are also eyeing up. Last year, it acquired Israeli security firm Hexadite, which offers remediation services to complement and bolster the work done by enterprise security specialists.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Very Good Security makes data ‘unhackable’ with $8.5M from Andreessen

August 28, 2018 No Comments

“You can’t hack what isn’t there,” Very Good Security co-founder Mahmoud Abdelkader tells me. His startup assumes the liability of storing sensitive data for other companies, substituting dummy credit card or Social Security numbers for the real ones. Then when the data needs to be moved or operated on, VGS injects the original info without clients having to change their code.

It’s essentially a data bank that allows businesses to stop storing confidential info under their unsecured mattress. Or you could think of it as Amazon Web Services for data instead of servers. Given all the high-profile breaches of late, it’s clear that many companies can’t be trusted to house sensitive data. Andreessen Horowitz is betting that they’d rather leave it to an expert.

That’s why the famous venture firm is leading an $ 8.5 million Series A for VGS, and its partner Alex Rampell is joining the board. The round also includes NYCA, Vertex Ventures, Slow Ventures and PayPal mafioso Max Levchin. The cash builds on VGS’ $ 1.4 million seed round, and will pay for its first big marketing initiative and more salespeople.

“Hey! Stop doing this yourself!,” Abdelkader asserts. “Put it on VGS and we’ll let you operate on your data as if you possess it with none of the liability.” While no data is ever 100 percent unhackable, putting it in VGS’ meticulously secured vaults means clients don’t have to become security geniuses themselves and instead can focus on what’s unique to their business.

“Privacy is a part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. We should be able to build innovative applications without sacrificing our privacy and security,” says Abdelkader. He got his start in the industry by reverse-engineering games like StarCraft to build cheats and trainer software. But after studying discrete mathematics, cryptology and number theory, he craved a headier challenge.

Abdelkader co-founded Y Combinator-backed payment system Balanced in 2010, which also raised cash from Andreessen. But out-muscled by Stripe, Balanced shut down in 2015. While transitioning customers over to fellow YC alumni Stripe, Balanced received interest from other companies wanting it to store their data so they could be PCI-compliant.

Very Good Security co-founder and CEO Mahmoud Abdelkader

Now Abdelkader and his VP from Balanced, Marshall Jones, have returned with VGS to sell that as a service. It’s targeting startups that handle data like payment card information, Social Security numbers and medical info, though eventually it could invade the larger enterprise market. It can quickly help these clients achieve compliance certifications for PCI, SOC2, EI3PA, HIPAA and other standards.

VGS’ innovation comes in replacing this data with “format preserving aliases” that are privacy safe. “Your app code doesn’t know the difference between this and actually sensitive data,” Abdelkader explains. In 30 minutes of integration, apps can be reworked to route traffic through VGS without ever talking to a salesperson. VGS locks up the real strings and sends the aliases to you instead, then intercepts those aliases and swaps them with the originals when necessary.

“We don’t actually see your data that you vault on VGS,” Abdelkader tells me. “It’s basically modeled after prison. The valuables are stored in isolation.” That means a business’ differentiator is their business logic, not the way they store data.

For example, fintech startup LendUp works with VGS to issue virtual credit card numbers that are replaced with fake numbers in LendUp’s databases. That way if it’s hacked, users’ don’t get their cards stolen. But when those card numbers are sent to a processor to actually make a payment, the real card numbers are subbed in last-minute.

VGS charges per data record and operation, with the first 500 records and 100,000 sensitive API calls free; $ 20 a month gets clients double that, and then they pay 4 cent per record and 2 cents per operation. VGS provides access to insurance too, working with a variety of underwriters. It starts with $ 1 million policies that can be much larger for Fortune 500s and other big companies, which might want $ 20 million per incident.

Obviously, VGS has to be obsessive about its own security. A breach of its vaults could kill its brand. “I don’t sleep. I worry I’ll miss something. Are we a giant honey pot?,” Abdelkader wonders. “We’ve invested a significant amount of our money into 24/7 monitoring for intrusions.”

Beyond the threat of hackers, VGS also has to battle with others picking away at part of its stack or trying to compete with the whole, like TokenEx, HP’s Voltage, Thales’ Vormetric, Oracle and more. But it’s do-it-yourself security that’s the status quo and what VGS is really trying to disrupt.

But VGS has a big accruing advantage. Each time it works with a clients’ partners like Experian or TransUnion for a company working with credit checks, it already has a relationship with them the next time another clients has to connect with these partners. Abdelkader hopes that, “Effectively, we become a standard of data security and privacy. All the institutions will just say ‘why don’t you use VGS?’”

That standard only works if it’s constantly evolving to win the cat-and-mouse game versus attackers. While a company is worrying about the particular value it adds to the world, these intelligent human adversaries can find a weak link in their security — costing them a fortune and ruining their relationships. “I’m selling trust,” Abdelkader concludes. That peace of mind is often worth the price.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Mixmax launches IFTTT-like rules to help you manage your inbox

August 25, 2018 No Comments

Mixmax, a service that aims to make email and other outbound communications more usable and effective, today announced the official launch of its new IFTTT-like rules for automating many of the most repetitive aspects of your daily email workflow.

On the one hand, this new feature is a bit like your standard email filter on steroids (and with connections to third-party tools like Slack, Salesforce, DocuSign, Greenhouse and Pipedrive). Thanks to this, you can now receive an SMS when a customer who spends more than $ 5,000 a month emails you, for example.

But rules also can be triggered by any of the third-party services the company currently supports. Maybe you want to send out a meeting reminder based on your calendar entries, for example. You can then set up a rule that always emails a reminder a day before the meeting, together with all the standard info you’d want to send in that email.

“One way we think about Mixmax is that we want to do for externally facing teams and people who talk a lot of customers what GitHub did for engineering and what Slack did for internal team communication,” Mixmax co-founder and CEO Olof Mathé told me. “That’s what we do for external communication.”

While the service started out as a basic Chrome extension for Gmail, it’s now a full-blown email automation system that offers everything from easy calendar sharing to tracking when recipients open an email and, now, building rules around that. Mathé likened it to an executive assistant, but he stressed that he doesn’t think Mixmax is taking anybody’s jobs away. “We’re not here to replace other people,” he said. “We amplify what you are able to do as an individual and give you superpowers so you can become your own personal chief of staff so you get more time.”

The new rules feature takes this to the next level and Mathé and his team plan to build this out more over time. He teased a new feature called “beast mode” that’s coming in the near future and that will see Mixmax propose actions you can take across different applications, for example.

Many of the new rules and connectors will be available to all paying users, though some features, like access to your Salesforce account, will only be available to those on higher-tier plans.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Talla builds a smarter customer knowledge base

August 21, 2018 No Comments

Talla is taking aim at the customer service industry with its latest release, an AI-infused knowledge base. Today, the company released version 2.0 of the Talla Intelligent Knowledge Base.

The company also announced that Paula Long, most recently CEO at Data Gravity, has joined the company as SVP of engineering.

This tool combines customer content with automation, chatbots and machine learning. It’s designed to help teams who work directly with customers get at the information they need faster and the machine learning element should allow it to improve over time.

You can deploy the product as a widget on your website to give customers direct access to the information, but Rob May, company founder and CEO says the most common use case involves helping sales, customer service and customer success teams get access to the most relevant and current information, whether that’s maintenance or pricing.

The information can get into the knowledge base in several ways. First of all you can enter elements like product pages and FAQs directly in the Talla product as with any knowledge base. Secondly if an employee asks a questions and there isn’t an adequate answer, it exposes the gaps in information.

Talla Knowledge Base gap list. Screenshot: Talla

“It really shows you the unknown unknowns in your business. What are the questions people are asking that you didn’t realize you don’t have content for or you don’t have answers for. And so that allows you to write new content and better content,” May explained.

Finally, the company can import information into the knowledge base from Salesforce, ServiceNow, Jira or wherever it happens to live, and that can be added to a new page or incorporated into existing page as appropriate.

Employees interact with the system by asking a bot questions and it supplies the answers if one exists. It works with Slack, Microsoft Teams or Talla Chat.

Talla bot in action in Talla Chat. Screenshot: Talla

Customer service remains a major pain point for many companies. It is the direct link to customers when they are having issues. A single bad experience can taint a person’s view of a brand, and chances are when a customer is unhappy they let their friends know on social media, making an isolated incident much bigger. Having quicker access to more accurate information could help limit negative experiences.

Today’s announcement builds on an earlier version of the product that took aim at IT help desks. Talla found customers kept asking for a solution that provided similar functionality with customer-facing information and they have tuned it for that.

May launched Talla in 2015 after selling his former startup Backupify to Datto in 2014. The company, which is based near Boston, has raised $ 12.3 million.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Incentivai launches to simulate how hackers break blockchains

August 18, 2018 No Comments

Cryptocurrency projects can crash and burn if developers don’t predict how humans will abuse their blockchains. Once a decentralized digital economy is released into the wild and the coins start to fly, it’s tough to implement fixes to the smart contracts that govern them. That’s why Incentivai is coming out of stealth today with its artificial intelligence simulations that test not just for security holes, but for how greedy or illogical humans can crater a blockchain community. Crypto developers can use Incentivai’s service to fix their systems before they go live.

“There are many ways to check the code of a smart contract, but there’s no way to make sure the economy you’ve created works as expected,” says Incentivai’s solo founder Piotr Grudzień. “I came up with the idea to build a simulation with machine learning agents that behave like humans so you can look into the future and see what your system is likely to behave like.”

Incentivai will graduate from Y Combinator next week and already has a few customers. They can either pay Incentivai to audit their project and produce a report, or they can host the AI simulation tool like a software-as-a-service. The first deployments of blockchains it’s checked will go out in a few months, and the startup has released some case studies to prove its worth.

“People do theoretical work or logic to prove that under certain conditions, this is the optimal strategy for the user. But users are not rational. There’s lots of unpredictable behavior that’s difficult to model,” Grudzień explains. Incentivai explores those illogical trading strategies so developers don’t have to tear out their hair trying to imagine them.

Protecting crypto from the human x-factor

There’s no rewind button in the blockchain world. The immutable and irreversible qualities of this decentralized technology prevent inventors from meddling with it once in use, for better or worse. If developers don’t foresee how users could make false claims and bribe others to approve them, or take other actions to screw over the system, they might not be able to thwart the attack. But given the right open-ended incentives (hence the startup’s name), AI agents will try everything they can to earn the most money, exposing the conceptual flaws in the project’s architecture.

“The strategy is the same as what DeepMind does with AlphaGo, testing different strategies,” Grudzień explains. He developed his AI chops earning a masters at Cambridge before working on natural language processing research for Microsoft.

Here’s how Incentivai works. First a developer writes the smart contracts they want to test for a product like selling insurance on the blockchain. Incentivai tells its AI agents what to optimize for and lays out all the possible actions they could take. The agents can have different identities, like a hacker trying to grab as much money as they can, a faker filing false claims or a speculator that cares about maximizing coin price while ignoring its functionality.

Incentivai then tweaks these agents to make them more or less risk averse, or care more or less about whether they disrupt the blockchain system in its totality. The startup monitors the agents and pulls out insights about how to change the system.

For example, Incentivai might learn that uneven token distribution leads to pump and dump schemes, so the developer should more evenly divide tokens and give fewer to early users. Or it might find that an insurance product where users vote on what claims should be approved needs to increase its bond price that voters pay for verifying a false claim so that it’s not profitable for voters to take bribes from fraudsters.

Grudzień has done some predictions about his own startup too. He thinks that if the use of decentralized apps rises, there will be a lot of startups trying to copy his approach to security services. He says there are already some doing token engineering audits, incentive design and consultancy, but he hasn’t seen anyone else with a functional simulation product that’s produced case studies. “As the industry matures, I think we’ll see more and more complex economic systems that need this.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


New Uber feature uses machine learning to sort business and personal rides

August 14, 2018 No Comments

Uber announced a new program today called Profile Recommendations that takes advantage of machine intelligence to reduce user error when switching between personal and business accounts.

It’s not unusual for a person to have both types of accounts. When you’re out and about, it’s easy to forget to switch between them when appropriate. Uber wants to help by recommending the correct one.

“Using machine learning, Uber can predict which profile and corresponding payment method an employee should be using, and make the appropriate recommendation,” Ronnie Gurion, GM and Global Head of Uber for Business wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.

Uber has been analyzing a dizzying amount of trip data for so long, it can now (mostly) understand the purpose of a given trip based on the details of your request. While it’s certainly not perfect because it’s not always obvious what the purpose is, Uber believes it can determine the correct intention 80 percent of the time. For that remaining 20 percent, when it doesn’t get it right, Uber is hoping to simplify corrections too.

Photo: Uber

Business users can now also assign trip reviewers — managers or other employees who understand the employee’s usage patterns, and can flag questionable rides. Instead of starting an email thread or complicated bureaucratic process to resolve an issue, the employee can now see these flagged rides and resolve them right in the app. “This new feature not only saves the employee’s and administrator’s time, but it also cuts down on delays associated with closing out reports,” Gurion wrote in the blog post announcement.

Uber also announced that it’s supporting a slew of new expense reporting software to simplify integration with these systems. They currently have integrations with Certify, Chrome River, Concur and Expensify. They will be adding support for Expensya, Happay, Rydoo, Zeno by Serko and Zoho Expense starting in September.

All of this should help business account holders deal with Uber expenses more efficiently, while integrating with many of the leading expense programs to move data smoothly from Uber to a company’s regular record-keeping systems.


Enterprise – TechCrunch