Dubai-based Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, $1.1 Billion Startup Reforming Education in the Arab World
Maysa Jalbout is working on two problems that many other foundation executives could never even imagine. She has a ton of cash to work with — $1.1 billion — but it won’t be nearly enough. And that means that her focus needs to be on leverage: finding partners, and using technology that can scale. The new CEO of one of the world’s largest education foundations — its size puts it in the same league as the Gates Foundation’s commitment to education — faces these two realities:
First, the Middle East has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. There’s a big mismatch between the skills graduates have and the needs of employers.
And second, and even more dire: conflict in the region has forced 13 million children out of school, according to a 2015 UNICEF report. Overall, in the region, 80% of the children who are out of school are out of school because of the conflict.
“We are going to be tackling the challenges that the Arab world faces very much systemically,” says Jalbout, the first CEO of the Dubai-based Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education. “We are going to be using technology to accelerate that reform process. And access to education for some populations is a huge issue.” The Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education has pledged to donate $1.1 billion over 10 years to education in the Arab world. By way of comparison, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent $5 billion on U.S. schools from 2000 to 2015. Al Ghurair, one of the scions of a prominent Dubai business family, has a net worth of $5 billion, according to the Forbes list. The foundation is making an investment in STEM, offering 15,000 scholarships to underserved students up to age 30 to attend four universities in the region. Jalbout, previously the founding CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation. said the foundation intends to expand the program to enable students to attend universities elsewhere in the world, too. The four universities are American University of Sharjah and Khalifa University, the American University of Beirut and the American University of Cairo.
It’s also looking for academic institutions that will help it develop programs to support those students as they move through tertiarty degrees. Jalbout is very aware of a problem that I’ve also heard education thinkers and university board members in the United States talk about for decades: the questions of soft skills and class structures that keep even smart kids from succeeding when they arrive at competitive schools. It’s also opening the door for academic institutions to submit grant proposals for innovative partnerships that will help it reach those underserved populations — including refugees. That probably means tech platforms and creating a lot of online content, though the Foundation will need to work to make sure that online education is accredited, Jalbout said.
Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft form nonprofit Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society
On 28th September, a new nonprofit organization called the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society announced its establishment. Participants include Amazon, Google (and Google’s DeepMind), Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft. Those companies will put up money and research resources (that could mean talent, open source code, or data). Company representatives will sit on the organization’s board alongside people from academia, the nonprofit world, and policy and ethics experts, according to a statement. Plans call for discussions, studies, reports, best practices, and public outreach in general. “The objective of the Partnership on AI is to address opportunities and challenges with AI technologies to benefit people and society,” the statement said. “Together, the organization’s members will conduct research, recommend best practices, and publish research under an open license in areas such as ethics, fairness, and inclusivity; transparency, privacy, and interoperability; collaboration between people and AI systems; and the trustworthiness, reliability, and robustness of the technology. It does not intend to lobby government or other policymaking bodies.”
The stated purpose, “to benefit people and society,” clearly shows a position when it comes to implementing artificial intelligence into all sorts of applications. The involved companies, and others, like Apple, Baidu, and Pinterest, have been active in this area. Aside from software, artificial intelligence can also be used to improve the performance of hardware systems like self-driving cars and robots. The participating companies are looking to ensure that artificial intelligence remains primarily helpful, not hurtful. Some people think first of the Terminator when they hear about the latest advancements in artificial intelligence, and so the positioning is a response of sorts to that. “Through rigorous research, the development of best practices, and an open and transparent dialogue, the founding members of the Partnership on AI hope to maximize this potential and ensure it benefits as many people as possible,” the statement said.
The organization also has tenets. “We believe that artificial intelligence technologies hold great promise for raising the quality of people’s lives and can be leveraged to help humanity address important global challenges such as climate change, food, inequality, health, and education,” the organization says on its homepage. The formation of the group comes almost a year after the announcement of OpenAI, a nonprofit with financial backing from Sam Altman, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and others. The Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society (or PAI, for short) is in talks with outside organizations such as the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, according to the statement. Current members of the PAI include Google Research senior scientist Greg Corrado, Amazon director of machine learning Ralf Herbrich, Microsoft technical fellow Eric Horvitz, Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) group head Yann LeCun, IBM research scientist Francesca Rossi, and Google DeepMind cofounder and head of applied artificial intelligence Mustafa Suleyman.
A.I. can cure click fraud’s $100 million problem, and it won’t steal your job
IBM Watson isn’t just about beating humans at Jeopardy or recognizing English conversational speech with a meager 6.9 percent word error rate. It is part of a new breed of A.I. solutions that could change the way we do business forever. Fresh from the stage at NASDAQ Marketsite — as part of AdWeek New York — Steve Gold, CMO at IBM Watson, spoke with me about the future of A.I., machine-to-human interaction, and advertising technology. The first question most people ask about A.I. is, “Will it replace humans?” “What’s interesting about job displacement, not only in A.I. but in technology in general, is it’s the same conversation we’ve been having since the dawn of the computing age,” Gold told me. “IBM mainframes created jobs, rather than removing them.”
And while some jobs will be replaced, just as they have been throughout the course of time, new roles appear every year. What is more interesting is whether A.I. can elevate existing positions and make us all better at what we do. “Let’s take consumer interactions as an example,” Gold said. “Only half of inbound calls are resolved within the first contact. Why? Because there is variability in the quality of the agent, the training they received, the breadth of their knowledge, and their understanding of the problem. Virtual agents can improve the process by qualifying the incoming call — or chat — before handing it over to exactly the right agent at the right time.” In other words, we can train A.I. to look after the part of the process that is repetitive, enabling support agents to focus on what is important.
So A.I. becomes a tool to enhance our careers. “It’s really about working out how we extend the individual,” Gold said. “How do we make you a better journalist?” That’s a question many have asked. But what happens when the machines start talking to the machines, and what if they start to lie to each other to get the best deal for their owners? Are we facing an accelerated race to the bottom in every aspect of business? “When it comes to machine-to-machine interaction. A.I. isn’t the natural accelerant here,” Gold said. “A.I. is much more aligned with human-to-machine interaction, firstly, but there is also an inherent issue with attempting malevolence — machine learning and big data. These systems live without bias — they’re not taught to be immoral. They’re taught based on outcomes and new information.”
Gold then gives an example that might pique the interest of rapper B.o.B. “I could teach A.I. that the world is flat,” Gold said. “But A.I. can infer from other statements and data that this learning just isn’t right. It’s like influencing a child early on in life. As they’re schooled, they overcome those learnings and gain a better understanding of what is right through data, peers, and their environment.” So with A.I.’s ability to understand what is true and what isn’t and to discover patterns, could it be used as a potential answer to the problem of click fraud, something that is costing app marketers alone $100 million this year? “The ability to discover patterns is important here,” Gold said. “By determining what click fraud looks like, and understanding those trends, we can fix the problem.”
Advertising is already being enhanced by IBM Watson via its new Ads solution, which offers interactive advertisements that allow the consumer to ask questions. As A.I. becomes more prevalent in adtech, we’ll start to see ads that look less like a brash interruption and more like an assistant, providing us with just what we need, when we need it, and with the ability to answer our queries directly. It’s a brave new world, and IBM Watson is helping write an exciting chapter in cognitive computing.
Cybersecurity startup Shape Security closes $40 million round from HPE, GV, Eric Schmidt, others
Shape-security, a shape-shifting Cybersecurity startup that helps websites and apps prevent automated attacks through constantly changing their source code, revealed it has now closed a $40 million funding round, which includes a strategic investment from Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) Hewlett Packard Pathfinder program. The Series D round was announced back in January — originally at $25 million — with some well-known investors on board, including GV (Google Ventures) and Eric Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures. In addition to HPE, one more investor got on board in the intervening months — EDBI, the investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board. Other investors announced previously include Baseline Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, NVP, Venrock, and Northern Light Ventures.
Founded out of Mountain View, California, in 2011, Shape Security has some notable people at the helm, including cofounder and VP of product Sumit Agarwal, who served in a number of positions at Google from 2003 until 2009, after which he was appointed by President Obama as deputy assistant secretary of defense and then senior advisor for cyber innovation. Also on board is CTO Shuman Ghosemajumder, who spent seven years as the “click-fraud czar” at Google, where he worked to protect the internet giant’s advertising services from click-fraud. For the uninitiated, many online insecurities are due to known existing vulnerabilities, which is why cyberattackers are able to use bots to automate many of the processes involved in hacking online accounts and services — it’s easier to achieve scale this way than to seek weaknesses manually. And this practice is essentially what Shape Security has set out to thwart, by allowing apps and websites to embrace polymorphism.
One of Shape Security’s products is ShapeShifter, which serves to make a website’s source code appear different each time it’s viewed. This helps deflect the prying eyes of botnets, malware, and rogue scripts. It’s worth noting here that nothing visibly changes for the user, it all happens under the hood. But it’s not just about thwarting brute force attacks against online accounts. Shape Security promises the smarts to prevent other activities, such as “credential stuffing,” whereby account details garnered from breached accounts are used to gain access to other accounts where people have re-used the same passwords; content scraping; Man the in Browser (MitB); and Application DDoS.
Shape Security claims it has prevented more than $1 billion in fraud losses for its customers, which include governments and Fortune 500 firms. The company has now raised a total of $106 million and says it will use its new-found cash to expedite its growth in the Asia-Pacific region, which perhaps partly explains the involvement of EDBI as an investor. Shape Security also participated in the Hewlett Packard Pathfinder program, which included a sales partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), who will now offer Shape’s technology to its own customers around the world. “Shape, in partnership with HPE, offers enterprise customers worldwide the best defense against automated attacks on their critical web and mobile applications,” said Shape Security CEO Derek Smith. “We change the economics of cyber attacks, shifting the cost burden from the enterprise to the attacker, by making it economically unattractive to launch automated attacks.”
Madefire, a digital comics startup with an eye on virtual reality, raises $6.5M
Just in time for New York Comic Con, Madefire is announcing that it has raised $6.5 million in Series B funding. Madefire co-founder and CEO Ben Wolstenholme said the funding — which was led by Santa Monica-based Plus Capital — will help his company build more connections with the media and entertainment world. It’s not that Madefire (which previously raised $6.3 million from investors including True Ventures) was totally lacking in those relationships before, but Wolstenholme said the company is “moving from being all about building technology” to building up a big content library as well. The firm connected Madefire with some of the other big names who ended up investing in the Series B, including Kevin Spacey (!) and Drake (!!). Visual effects studio Framestore also participated in the round — Wolstenholme said Framestore will be building Madefire-specific content.
“I think the Madefire team are visionaries, building a platform that creates impact ways to tell stories,” said Plus Capital founder and managing partner Adam Lilling in a statement. “At Plus, we believe Madefire has one of the best platforms for creators to introduce and experiment with their IP, and scale their audience so creators can have more control over their future.” While Comixology (now owned by Amazon) remains the best-known platform for digital comics, Madefire is trying to do something a bit different. Instead of just bringing print comics to digital formats with minimal changes, it adds animation, sound effects and music to the mix. The company describes the resulting product as a motion book — not exactly the same thing as the motion comics that publishers have experimented with in the past. Wolstenholme emphasized that despite the multimedia bells and whistles, Madefire’s motion books should still be an active reading experience, not a passive viewing one, the key distinction being that the text isn’t just replaced with voiceover.
“We want to be the best book, not the worst video,” he said. Madefire started out by publishing its own titles (including Wolstenholme’s own book, Mono), but it’s now working with well-known comics publishers like DC, IDW and Kodansha — Wolstenholme said it’s on track to have more than 40,000 books in the store by the end of the year. Madefire also launched a product called the Motion Book Publisher, allowing comics publishers to create their own storefronts and apps, and it’s even worked with Apple to create a comic book explaining the new App Store review guidelines. Wolstenholme added that the broader goal is to create a “native digital experience,” whether that’s on phones, tablets or internet-connected TVs. In fact, the new money is intended, in part, to fund an expansion into virtual reality and augmented reality, although Wolstenholme said it’s too soon to offer any details.
Spotify and Apple Music get unofficial mixes, the best part of SoundCloud
SoundCloud’s big differentiator is its offering of unofficial, user-uploaded content that the major labels don’t release and that isn’t on Spotify or Apple Music. Or at least they weren’t. The first unofficial single-track remixes just went live on Spotify and Apple Music thanks to their partnerships with music rights management service Dubset. Apple struck a deal with Dubset in March, and Spotify did in May, BPMSupreme reported. But the remixes are finally beginning to stream today, starting with this DJ Jazzy Jeff remix of Anderson .Paak. We’ve reached out to Spotify and Apple for comment. Still missing are the multi-song mixsets DJs often share from their gigs. But Dubset is also equipped to distribute royalties from those and its deals permit them. Dubset CEO Stephen White tells me “Mixes are coming next!” Dubset works by scanning an entire mix and matching every part of the track to its Mixbank of snippets of official songs based on Gracenote’s audio fingerprinting database. Dubset matches the samples in a mix to these snippets, then distributes royalties for the play evenly to the original rights holders. In this case, Anderson Paak’s rights holders would get paid because his music is the basis of Jazzy Jeff’s remix.
White says 700 million people listen to mixed content a month, making it a big opportunity. But record labels have historically fought against unofficial mixes because they considered them piracy since they weren’t getting paid. Dubset gives them a fair share, so they’ll permit remixes and mix sets to stream on the major platforms. Royalty revenue from the platform is shared with rights holders while Dubset gets a cut. “Content owners have been very supportive. The publishing and label deals we have under license provides a large catalog to work with” White tells me. This “allows some of the content that until now has only been on YouTube and SoundCloud to come to these great paid services where content owners will get paid!” The fact that unofficial content is now going live on Spotify and Apple Music could reduce the acquisition potential for SoundCloud, which the Financial Times says is in late-stage negotiations to be bought by Spotify. TechCrunch’s sources confirm the two have recently been talking about M&A. But if Spotify can get the best of SoundCloud’s content without coughing up a ton of money for a broken company that’s been struggling for years.
Without the legal grey area of music as a differentiator, Spotify and Apple Music will end up competing on product features Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist and Apple’s Beats 1 live radio station, as well as on exclusives and early access to big releases from top artists. The real winners here, though, are the artists and listeners. Original rights owners will get paid, remix producers and mixset DJs can share their creativity without being pirates, and listeners can hear the music they want no matter how it got made.