All posts in “machine learning”

YC grad Oh My Green gets $20M seed investment

In its first institutional funding round, Oh My Green has raised $20 million from Initialized Capital, Powerplant Ventures, Backed VC, ZhenFund, Talis Capital and the Stanford StartX Fund to bring healthier foods to offices around the U.S.

The concierge-style startup, which completed Y Combinator’s startup accelerator in 2016, provides businesses in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, Denver, Boston, New York City and Nashville nutritional snacks and meals. It stocks office snack pantries — a staple at tech startups — caters events, manages cafes and provides wellness programming. Its goal is to be a one-stop shop for corporate nutritional wellness. 

The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2014 by Michael Heinrich. Based off my conversation with him earlier this week, I’m guessing he wouldn’t approve of the TechCrunch snack cupboard, which includes a year-long supply of Skittles, M&Ms and Fruit by the Foot.

“I wanted to do something more meaningful in my life,” Heinrich told TechCrunch. “I had worked in really challenging environments and I found myself really enjoying the people and the problems but looking at the food we had available, a lot of it was ultra-processed and ultra-sugared.”

“When I was sugar crashing and not being productive at work, I realized I should stop complaining and actually make a difference,” he added.

Oh My Green’s tech-enabled service, which relies on machine learning to give its customers personalized recommendations for meals and snacks, has 200 customers today, including Lyft, Apple and Y Combinator. With the investment, the company will expand throughout the U.S. and eventually launch overseas.

Paperspace scores $13M investment for AI-fueled application development platform

Paperspace wants to help developers build artificial intelligence and machine learning applications with a software/hardware development platform powered by GPus and other powerful chips. Today, the Winter 2015 Y Combinator grads announced a $13 million Series A.

Battery Ventures led the round with participation from SineWave Ventures, Intel Capital and Sorenson Ventures. Existing investor Initialized Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total amount to $19 million raised.

Dharmesh Thakker, a general partner with Battery Ventures sees Paperspace as being in the right place at the time. As AI and machine learning take off, developers need a set of tools and GPU-fueled hardware to process it all. “Major silicon, systems and Web-scale computing providers need a cloud-based solution and software ‘glue’ to make deep learning truly consumable by data-driven organizations, and Paperspace is helping to provide that,” Thakker said in a statement.

Paperspace provides its own GPU-powered servers to help in this regard, but co-founder and CEO Dillon Erb says they aren’t trying to compete with the big cloud vendors. They offer more than a hardware solution to customers. Last spring, the company released Gradient, a serverless tool to make it easier to deploy and manage AI and machine learning workloads.

By making Gradient a serverless management tool, customers don’t have to think about the underlying infrastructure. Instead, Paperspace handles all of that for them providing the resources as needed. “We do a lot of GPU compute, but the big focus right now and really where the investors are buying into with this fundraise, is the idea that we are in a really unique position to kind of build out a software layer and abstract a lot of that infrastructure away [for our customers],” Erb told TechCrunch.

He says that building some of the infrastructure was an important early step, but they aren’t trying to compete with the cloud vendors. They are trying to provide a set of tools to help developers build complex AI and machine learning/deep learning applications, whether it’s on their own infrastructure or on the mainstream cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

What’s more, they have moved beyond GPUs to support a range of powerful chips being developed to support AI and machine learning workloads. It’s probably one of the reasons that Intel joined as an investor in this round.

He says the funding is definitely a validation of something they set out to work on when they first started this in 2014 and launched out of Y Combinator in 2015. Back then he had to explain what a GPU was in his pitch decks. He doesn’t have to do that anymore, but there is still plenty of room to grow in this space.

“It’s really a greenfield opportunity, and we want to be the go-to platform that you can start building out into the intelligent applications without thinking about infrastructure.” With $13 million in hand, it’s safe to say that they are on their way.

Journal raises $1.5 million to bring Google-like search to your personal life

In today’s world of Slack, email and a gazillion other web apps and services, it’s become increasingly hard to search for information. Did your boss Slack you or email you that information about your bonus? Or did they share it via a Google Doc? Who knows? Clearly not you, but Journal knows.

Journal, a machine learning and natural language processing-powered platform designed to search across all your web services and tools, today announced a $1.5 million seed round led by Social Capital. Since receiving the funding about a year ago, Journal has been able to launch a beta community of users. Today, Journal is publicly launching its Mac app, web app and Chrome extension.

“We’re passionate about helping people use information effectively,” Journal co-founder and CEO Samiur Rahman told TechCrunch. “In this case, we want to help people manage their knowledge. So we want to help individuals to leverage all of the places that they have information right now.”

It was that thesis that led Rahman and his team to land on wanting to build a suite of tools that “acts as a second brain for people. That’s obviously a long way away but that’s what our long-term vision is.”

Based on the demo Rahman showed me, Journal looks pretty darn useful. I had an opportunity to install it, but I was hesitant to do so. That’s because Journal requires viewing permissions to your email, apps and other services with which you sync Journal.

That’s scary for a couple of reasons — the main one being privacy. For example, what happens if Journal gets hacked? Or if the government requests data from Journal?

Well, Journal uses zero-knowledge encryption that ensures Journal employees can’t read or decrypt the information of the user. Here’s a bit more information on how Journal handles security:

Journal asks for view permission to the apps a user integrates so that we can enable search across their apps.

To keep users’ information safe, all data in Journal is encrypted both in transit and at rest.

Data such as the contents of files, emails, messages, etc. are encrypted using the Fernet symmetric encryption method, which uses AES-128 in CBC mode + HMAC-SHA-256 with a random IV. This means that the data can’t be decrypted without the secret key. Our file systems where the conceptual index is stored is encrypted using Amazon KMS, which uses AES-256 in GCM mode.

The secret key is a combination of a hash from the OAuth access key for the account you’ve integrated and a Journal secret key. If our database gets hacked somehow, the hacker would need to also be able to get access to our separate authentication store and our secret key to decrypt your information.

I’m not a security expert, so I asked my colleague, TC Security Editor Zack Whittaker, for some insight. He told me Rahman’s explanation makes sense, further explaining that what Journal does is essentially split the private keys needed to access your data. Whittaker said that’s smart, but that he’s more concerned about general trust.

Journal has access to a treasure trove of data — much of which would be very valuable to advertisers. Right now, advertising is not part of Journal’s revenue plans, but that could change.

“I can’t say for certainty that we won’t, but I think ad-based revenue ends up creating some really bad incentives, Especially when you’ve got all this really private data about people and their usage patterns. The very likely route is that we end up going through companies that pay for teams to use.”

As with most tech products these days, it comes down to how much do you trust the company and how much do you care about your data?

And depending on who you are, you may have a stronger threat model — that is, what threats you face based on who you are. Black communities, for example, are at a greater risk of surveillance by the government than white communities. So you adjust your behavior based on your personal threats.

Privacy concerns aside, Journal looks like a really useful product. But we’ll see if I get around to setting it up.

A fictional Facebook Portal videochat with Mark Zuckerberg

TechCrunch: Hey Portal, dial Mark

Portal: Do you mean Mark Zuckerberg?

TC: Yes

Portal: Dialling Mark…


TC: Hi Mark! Nice choice of grey t-shirt.

MZ: Uh, new phone who dis? — oh, hi, er, TechCrunch…

TC: Thanks for agreeing to this entirely fictional interview, Mark!

MZ: Sure — anytime. But you don’t mind if I tape over the camera do you? You see I’m a bit concerned about my privacy here at, like, home

TC: We feel you, go ahead.

As you can see, we already took the precaution of wearing this large rubber face mask of, well, of yourself Mark. And covering the contents of our bedroom with these paint-splattered decorator sheets.

MZ: Yeah, I saw that. It’s a bit creepy tbh

TC: Go on and get all taped up. We’ll wait.

[sound of Mark calling Priscilla to bring the tape dispenser]

[Portal’s camera jumps out to assimilate Priscilla Chan into the domestic scene, showing a generous vista of the Zuckerbergs’ living room, complete with kids playing in the corner. Priscilla, clad in an oversized dressing gown and with her hair wrapped in a big fluffy towel, can be seen gesticulating at the camera. She is also coughing]

Priscilla to Mark: I already told you — there’s a camera cover built into into Portal. You don’t need to use tape now

MZ: Oh, right, right!

Okay, going dark! Wow, that feels better already

[sound of knuckles cracking]

TC: So, Mark, let’s talk hardware! What’s your favorite Amazon Echo?

MZ: Uh, well…

TC: We’d guess one with all the bells & whistles, right? There’s definitely something more than a little Echo Show-y about Portal

MZ: Sure, I mean. We think Alexa is a great product

TC: Mhmm. Do you remember when digital photo frames first came out? They were this shiny new thing about, like, a decade ago? One of those gadgets your parents buy you around Thanksgiving, which ends up stuck in a drawer forever?

MZ: Yeah! I think someone gave me one once with a photo of me playing beer pong on it. We had it hanging in the downstairs rest room for the longest time. But then we got an Android tablet with a Wi-Fi connection for in there, so…

TC: Now here we are a decade or so later with Portal advancing the vision of what digital photo frames can be!

MZ: Yeah! I mean, you don’t even have to pick the pictures! It’s pretty awesome. This one here — oh, right you can’t see me but let me describe it for you — this one here is of a Halloween party I went to one year. Someone was dressed as SpongeBob. I think they might have been called Bob, actually… And this is, like, some other Facebook friends doing some other fun stuff. Pretty amazing.

You can also look at album art

TC: But not YouTube, right? But let’s talk about video calling

MZ: It’s an amazing technology

TC: It sure is. Skype, FaceTime… live filters, effects, animoji…

MZ: We’re building on a truly great technology foundation. Portal autozooming means you don’t even have to think about watching the person you’re talking to! You can just be doing stuff in your room and the camera will always be adjusting to capture everything you’re doing! Pretty amazing.

TC: Doing what Mark? Actually, let’s not go there

MZ: Portal will even suggest people for you to call! We think this will be a huge help for our mission to promote Being Well — uh, I mean Time Well Spent because our expert machine learning algorithms will be nudging you to talk to people you should really be talking to

TC: Like my therapist?

MZ: Uh, well, it depends. But our AI can suggest personalized meaningful interactions by suggesting Messenger contacts to call up

TC: It’s not going to suggest I videchat my ex is it?

MZ: Haha! Hopefully not. But maybe your mom? Or your grandma?

TC: Sounds incredibly useful. Well, assuming they didn’t already #deletefacebook.

But let’s talk about kids

MZ: Kids! Yeah we love them. Portal is going to be amazing for kids

TC: You have this storybook thing going on, right? Absent grandparents using Portal to read kids bedtime stories and what not…

MZ: Right! We think kids are going to love it. And grandparents! We’ve got these animal masks if you get bored of looking at your actual family members. It’s good, clean, innovative fun for all the family!

TC: Yeah, although, I mean, nothing beats reading from an actual kid’s book, right?

MZ: Well…

TC: If you do want to involve a device in your kid’s bedtime there are quite a lot of digital ebook apps for that already. Apple has a whole iBooks library of the things with read-aloud narration, for example.

And, maybe you missed this — but quite a few years ago there was a big bunch of indie apps and services all having a good go at selling the same sort of idea of ‘interactive remote reading experiences’ for families with kids. Though not many appear to have gone the distance. Which does sort of suggest there isn’t a huge unmet need for extra stuff beyond, well, actual children’s books and videochat apps like Skype and FaceTime.

Also, I mean, children’s story reading apps and interactive kids’ e-books are pretty much as old as the hills in Internet terms at this point. So, er, you’re not really moving fast and breaking things are you!?

MZ: Actually we’re more focused on stable infrastructure these days

TC: And hardware too, apparently. Which is a pretty radical departure for Facebook. All those years everyone thought you were going to do a Facebook phone but you left it to Amazon to flop into that pit… Who needs hardware when you can put apps and tracker pixels on everything, right?!

But here you are now, kinda working with Amazon for Portal — while also competing with Alexa hardware by selling your own countertop device… Aren’t you at all nervous about screwing this up? Hardware IS hard. And homes have curtains for a reason…

MZ: We’re definitely confident kids aren’t going to try swivelling around on the Portal Plus like it’s a climbing frame, if that’s what you mean. Well, hopefully not anyway

TC: But about you, Facebook Inc, putting an all-seeing-eye-cum-Internet-connected-listening-post into people’s living rooms and kids’ bedrooms…

MZ: What about it?

[MZ speaking to someone else in the room] Does the speaker have an off switch? How do I mute this thing?

TC: Hello? Mark?

[silence]

[sound comes back on briefly and a snatch of conversation can be heard between Mark and Priscilla about the need to buy more diapers. Mark is then heard shouting across the room that his Shake Shack order of a triple cheeseburger and fries plus butterscotch malt is late again]

[silence] 

[crackle and a congested throat clearing sound. A child is heard in the background asking for Legos]

MZ: Not now okay honey. Okay hon-, uh, hello — what were you saying?

TC: Will you be putting a Portal in Max’s room?

MZ: Haha! She’d probably prefer Legos

TC: August?

MZ: She’s only just turned one

TC: Okay, let’s try a more direct question. Do you at all think that you, Facebook Inc,

might have a problem selling a $200+ piece of Internet-connected hardware when your company is known for creeping on people to sell ads?

MZ: Oh no, no! — we’ve, like, totally thought of that!

Let me read you what marketing came up with. Hang on, it’s around here somewhere…

[sound of paper rustling]

Here we go [reading]:

Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.

For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are.

Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, ‘Hey Portal.’ You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.

Pretty cool, huh!

TC: Just to return to your stable infrastructure point for a second, Mark — did you mean Facebook is focused on security too? Because, well, your company keeps leaking personal data like a sieve holds water

MZ: We think of infrastructure as a more holistic concept. And, uh, as a word that sounds reassuring

TC: Okay, so of course you can’t 100% guarantee Portal against hacking risks, though you’re taking precautions by encrypting calls. But Portal might also ‘accidentally’ record stuff adults and kids say in the home — i.e. if its ‘Hey Portal’ local listening function gets triggered when it shouldn’t. And it will then be 100% up to a responsible adult to find their way through Facebook’s labyrinthine settings and delete those wiretaps, won’t it?

MZ: You can control all your information, yes

TC: The marketing bumpf also doesn’t spell out what Facebook does with ‘Hey Portal’ voice recordings, or the personal insights your company is able to glean from them, but Facebook is in the business of profiling people for ad targeting purposes so we must assume that any and all voice commands and interactions, with the sole exception of the contents of videocalls, will go into feeding that beast.

So the metadata of who you talk to via Portal, what you listen to and look at (minus any Alexa-related interactions that you’ve agreed to hand off to Amazon for its own product targeting purposes), and potentially much more besides is all there for Facebook’s taking — given the kinds of things that an always-on listening device located in a domestic setting could be accidentally privy to.

Then, as more services get added to Portal, more personal behavioral data will be generated and can be processed by Facebook for selling ads.

MZ: Well, I mean, like I told that Senator we do sell ads

TC: And smart home hardware too now, apparently.

One more thing, Mark: In Europe, Facebook didn’t used to have face recognition technology switched on did it?

MZ: We had it on pause for a while

TC: But you switched it back on earlier this year right?

MZ: Facebook users in Europe can choose to use it, yes

TC: And who’s in charge of framing that choice?

MZ: Uh, well we are obviously

TC: We’d like you to tap on the Portal screen now, Mark. Tap on the face you can see to make the camera zoom right in on this mask of your own visage. Can you do that for us?

MZ: Uh, sure

[sound of a finger thudding against glass]

MZ: Are you seeing this? It really is pretty creepy!

Or — I mean — it would be if it wasn’t so, like, familiar…

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

[sound of a child crying]

Priscilla to Mark: Eeeew! Turn that thing off!

TC: Thanks Mark. We’ll leave you guys to it.

Enjoy your Shake Shack. Again.


Portal: Thanks for calling Mark, TechCrunch! Did you enjoy your Time Well Spent?

Pixel 2 vs Pixel 3: Should you upgrade?

If you’re considering making the jump to Google’s newly announced Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, you’re in the right place. Whether you’re a Pixel 2 owner eyeing greener pastures or a bargain type hunting for a last-gen smartphone that’s still top of the line, comparing new and old is often useful.

On specs alone, the Pixel 3 shares most of its DNA with the Pixel 2, but there are a handful of meaningful differences and they’re not all obvious. What is obvious: The Pixel 3’s AMOLED screen is now 5.5 inches compared to the Pixel 2’s 5 inch display. The Pixel 3 XL now offers a 6.3 inch display, up .3 inches from the Pixel 2 XL.

The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL upgrade the Pixel 2’s processor slightly and add an additional front-facing camera for some of the device’s newest tricks. The primary camera also gets an under-the-hood upgrade to its visual co-processing chip, called Visual Core. The Visual Core chip update is what powers some of the new camera features that we’ll get into in just a bit.

Pixel 3 XL

Beyond that, the hardware looks very similar for the most part, though the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL do offer some changes in screen size, like we mentioned. Most noticeably, the Pixel 3 XL has an iPhone-like notch this time around while the notchless Pixel 3 offers a reduced bezel but no edge-to-edge screen.

Pixel 2 XL

The Pixel 3 starts at $799 (64GB of storage) while the base model Pixel 2 is currently priced at $649, though more price drops could be in store. The Pixel 3 XL starts at $899 for 64GB of storage and offers 128GB for $999. The Pixel 2 XL is more deeply discounted than its smaller sibling at the moment with a 64GB base option on sale for $699. If it sounds complicated, it’s not really. Each Pixel comes in two sizes: 64GB or 128GB and more storage costs $100 bucks extra.

The black and white Pixel 2 XL

With the Pixel 3, Google has unified the color scheme across both sizes of device, offering “Just Black,” “Clearly White” with an eye-catching seafoam colored button and a very Apple-like “Not Pink” that comes with a coral colored button.

Google’s Pixel 2 also came in black and white but also a muted greyish blue color, which was cool. The Pixel 2 XL came in all black or black and white with a brightly colored power button, so we’re a little sad to see that colorway go. Google also noted in its launch event that the new phones feel more comfortable to hold, though we’d have to try that out with the Pixel 3 XL to see if that really holds true.

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Like we said, if you’re not vehemently anti-notch the hardware isn’t that different. The dual front-facing camera is the most substantial change. But since we’re talking about Google phones what we’re really talking about is software and when it comes to software Google has held some substantial perks exclusive to the Pixel 3.

We spoke to Google to clarify what features won’t be coming to the Pixel 2, at least not yet:

  • Photobooth: The hands-free selfie mode that snaps photos when you smile
  • Top Shot: Burst photo mode that picks your best shots.
  • Super Res Zoom: A new machine learning-powered camera mode that merges many burst images to fill in additional details.
  • Wide angle selfies: That extra front-facing camera wasn’t for nothing. Mark my words, this is the Pixel 3’s real killer feature, even if it takes a while to catch on.
  • Motion Auto focus: A camera mode that allows you to tap a subject once and track it while it moves.
  • Lens Suggestions: A new mode for Google Lens.
  • Titan M: A new security chip with a cool name that Google touts for providing enterprise-level security.
  • Wireless charging: Either a big deal to you or it’s not.

Thrift-minded shoppers and fairly content Pixel 2 owners fear not. There are plenty of new features that don’t rely on hardware improvements and will be coming to vintage Pixels. Those include Call Screen, Night Sight, Playground (the AR sticker thing) and Digital Wellbeing, already available in beta.

So, do you need to upgrade? Well, as always, that’s a very personal and often very nitpickily detail-oriented question. Are you dying for a slight but not unsubstantial bump in screen real estate? Does Google’s very solid lineup of cool new camera modes entice you? Is wireless charging an absolute dealmaker?

As for me, I’m perfectly happy with the Pixel 2 for now, but as someone who regularly takes front-facing photos with more than one human in them, that extra-wide group selfie mode does beckon. If I were still using a first generation Pixel I’d be all over the Pixel 3, but my device has a ton of life left in it.

A Google spokesperson emphasized that as always with its flagship smartphone line, the company will “try to bring as many features as possible to existing phones so they keep getting better over time.”

The Pixel 2 is still one of the best smartphones ever made and it’s more affordable now than before. Even with last-gen hardware — often the best deal for smartphone shoppers — you can rest easy knowing that Google won’t abandon the Pixel 2.