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This week, I thought a lot about the impact of artificial intelligence. One of the most vulnerable pieces of this puzzle is the training data. We already know that you can see if your images are used for training datasets, and there are many training datasets. . . False at best. Some startups are trying to build datasets trained specifically on licensed data, and when big-name studios use AI to create art, human artists are pretty grumpy.
In an interesting twist, the researchers found that Mechanical Turk workers (theoretically, they are human workers who perform tasks that machines cannot do) are reportedly using AI tools, so even evaluating the training data can be challenging. That’s fine for some tasks, but not so great if the text they generate is intended to be used as a standard against which AI-generated text tools are measured. The old computing adage “garbage in, garbage out” still holds true. If you can’t trust the training data, you can’t trust the output (TC+).
From a startup perspective, AI is continuing to thrive — Amazon’s AWS is providing no small amount of support for this emerging trend, launching a $100 million program to fund generative AI initiatives.
Transportation highs and lows
It’s been a bad week, with a submersible missing, followed by a flurry of reports suggesting the company may not have the most solid safety record. The submarine imploded under the intense pressure of the ocean, killing five passengers and raising new questions about the whistleblower’s role in the start-up. The operations director-turned-whistleblower claimed that the carbon-fiber hulls used on OceanGate’s underwater vessels were “not suitable for the depths of the Titanic”. This suggests that while startups have a reputation for “moving fast and breaking things,” that principle may not fully extend to life-and-death devices.
One of the highlights in transportation this week was a breakthrough in battery manufacturing. It turns out that half the energy needed to make a lithium-ion battery is used in the process of drying some of the components of the battery cell. Volkswagen has just come up with a new process (TC+) that eliminates this requirement, drastically reducing the cost and time required to manufacture electric vehicle power batteries.
hackers will hack
Whether in startups or otherwise, we’ve seen a huge shift in security news over the past few weeks. We’ve seen plenty of reports on Reddit about the social media giant’s new API fees that were introduced a while ago. But one story I particularly want to highlight is that of hackers threatening to publish confidential data stolen from Reddit unless the company pays the ransom and reverses its controversial API price hike. It might seem odd for hackers to ask for policy changes and cash. Given one or the other, I wonder which they’ll choose — and what that says about the power of hacktivism.
Malicious hacks have been in the news for a long time, but I find it particularly interesting that we’re seeing more and more startups trying to help solve this problem, whether it’s hardening API security, data security at origin, or IoT devices. As hackers become more sophisticated, computer security hole-hunting becomes more common (just last week, a ransomware gang listed the first victims of MOVEit’s massive hack, which included Bank of America and universities), opportunities for start-ups have also increased. However, as Alex recently explored, it seems like a misstep that VCs are not queuing around blockchain (TC+) to fund contemporary cybersecurity companies.
You’re so rich and you don’t know
Fintech, what are we going to do to you? Even in an industry where everything is about money, investment in verticals continues to explode. Paro raises $25M to connect independent financial experts with companies; open-banking fintech Volt just raised a mega-round at a valuation of over $350M; US immigration digital bank Majority raises as it expands in Texas nearly $10 million in funding.
It’s not sexy, but investors know that fintech — once a company has gained massive traction and a clientele — can be interesting for two reasons: money never goes out of style, and there are multinationals hungry for mergers and acquisitions. Giants stand still. Acquire a company that is on the rise. On the startup scale, the most recent example is Robinhood’s just acquisition of credit card startup X1 for $95 million. Nasdaq announced plans to acquire financial services software company Adenza for $10.5 billion, and the scale is quite different indeed.
It seems that there is money in the money tree.
- Wait, who am I paying?: Catherine reports that Notarize launched Proof and doubled down on ensuring safe(r)online transactions.
- That’s it, you’re not cheated anymore: Mary Ann reports that Plaid has launched a new collaborative network designed to share fraud intelligence.
Top reads on TechCrunch this week
If you’re having trouble raising capital, investors could be one of three reasons why investors keep snubbing you: the market might be too small, the team isn’t good enough, or your plan simply doesn’t make sense. In my latest article on TechCrunch+, I break down in detail how VCs evaluate these things, and how to fight back.
If you can’t beat ’em with a tablet…: You can think outside the box. Brian reviews the new Google Pixel tablet and concludes it’s all about the dock. It will compete with Apple’s entry-level iPad in the form of the iPad Pro.
Welcome to Flowberry: A Netflix doppelganger tailored to your worst nightmares. Lauren reports that Netflix has launched a website based on the fictional streaming service of “Black Mirror.” On that note, don’t miss my post on how technology is unlocking the Netflix business model (TC+).
leap into the quantum realm: Frederic reports that Microsoft expects to build a quantum supercomputer within 10 years. Maybe that’s why they need a fusion reactor?
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