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White House refuses to endorse the ‘Christchurch Call’ to block extremist content online

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Australia, California, Canada, censorship, Facebook, France, freedom of speech, Google, hate crime, hate speech, New Zealand, Social Media, Software, TC, Terrorism, Twitter, United Kingdom, United States, White House, world wide web | 0 comments

The United States will not join other nations in endorsing the “Christchurch Call” — a global statement that commits governments and private companies to actions that would curb the distribution of violent and extremist content online.

“While the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement, we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the Call. We will continue to engage governments, industry, and civil society to counter terrorist content on the Internet,” the statement from the White House reads.

The “Christchurch Call” is a non-binding statement drafted by foreign ministers from New Zealand and France meant to push internet platforms to take stronger measures against the distribution of violent and extremist content. The initiative originated as an attempt to respond to the March killings of 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchruch and the subsequent spread of the video recording of the massacre and statements from the killer online.

By signing the pledge, companies agree to improve their moderation processes and share more information about the work they’re doing to prevent terrorist content from going viral. Meanwhile, government signatories are agreeing to provide more guidance through legislation that would ban toxic content from social networks.

Already, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and Alphabet — the parent company of Google — have signed on to the pledge, along with the governments of France, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The “Christchurch Call” is consistent with other steps that government agencies are taking to address how to manage the ways in which technology is tearing at the social fabric. Members of the Group of 7 are also meeting today to discuss broader regulatory measures designed to combat toxic combat, protect privacy and ensure better oversight of technology companies.

For its part, the White House seems more concerned about the potential risks to free speech that could stem from any actions taken to staunch the flow of extremist and violent content on technology platforms.

“We continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online while also continuing to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the statement reads.”Further, we maintain that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech, and thus we emphasize the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging.”

Signatories are already taking steps to make it harder for graphic violence or hate speech to proliferate on their platforms.

Last night, Facebook introduced a one-strike policy that would ban users who violate its live-streaming policies after one infraction.

The Christchurch killings are only the latest example of how white supremacist hate groups and terrorist organizations have used online propaganda to create an epidemic of violence at a global scale. Indeed, the alleged shooter in last month’s attack on a synagogue in Poway, Calif., referenced the writings of the Christchurch killer in an explanation for his attack, which he published online.

Critics are already taking shots at the White House for its inability to add the U.S. to a group of nations making a non-binding commitment to ensure that the global community can #BeBest online.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Three Generations of a Canadian Family Died in Ethiopian Plane Crash

Posted by on Mar 13, 2019 in Airlines and Airplanes, Aviation Accidents, Safety and Disasters, Boeing Company, Canada, Deaths (Fatalities), ethiopia, Ethiopian Airlines, Immigration and Emigration, India | 0 comments

“I am not angry, but I am devastated, I have lost everyone,” said Manant Vaidya, whose parents, sister, brother-in-law and two teenage nieces died in the crash.
Source: New York Times

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Nigerian fintech firm TeamApt raises $5M, eyes global expansion

Posted by on Feb 28, 2019 in africa, Asia, Banking, Canada, cellulant, ceo, CFO, Chief Information Officer, consumer finance, economy, engineer, ethiopia, Europe, Finance, flutterwave, Lagos, Mexico, money, Nigeria, online payments, paystack, POS, Series A, TC | 0 comments

Nigerian fintech startup TeamApt has raised $5.5 million in capital in a Series A round led by Quantum Capital Partners.

The Lagos based firm will use the funds to expand its white label digital finance products and pivot to consumer finance with the launch of its AptPay banking app.

Founded by Tosin Eniolorunda, TeamApt supplies financial and payment solutions to Nigeria’s largest commercial banks — including Zenith, UBA, and ALAT.

For Eniolorunda, launching the fintech startup means competing with his former employer, the later stage Nigerian tech company Interswitch.

The TeamApt founder is open about his company going head to head not only with his former employer, but other Nigerian payment gateway startups.

“Yes, we are in competition with Interswitch,” Eniolorunda said. But he also said that the Nigerian fintech startups Paystack and Flutterwave—both of which facilitate payments for businesses— are competitors as well.

TeamApt, whose name is derivative of aptitude, bootstrapped its way to its Series A by generating revenue project to project working for Nigerian companies, according to CEO Eniolorunda.

“To start, we closed a deal with Computer Warehouse Group to build a payment solution for them and that’s how we started bootstrapping,” he said. A project soon followed for Fidelity Bank Nigeria.

TeamApt now has a developer team of 40 in Lagos, according to Eniolorunda, who spent 6 years at Interswitch as developer and engineer himself, before founding the startup in 2015 .

“The 40 are out of a total staff of about 72 so the firm is a major engineering company. We build all the IP and of course use open source tools,” he said.

TeamApt’s commercial bank product offerings include Moneytor— a digital banking service for financial institutions to track transactions with web and mobile interfaces—and Monnify, an enterprise software suite for small business management.

TeamApt worked with Sterling Bank Nigeria to develop its Sterling Onepay mobile payment app and POS merchant online platform, Sterling Bank’s Chief Information Officer Moronfolu Fasinro told TechCrunch.

On performance, TeamApt claims 26 African bank clients and processes $160 million in monthly transactions, according to company data. Though it does not produce public financial results, TeamApt claimed revenue growth of 4,500 percent over a three year period.

Quantum Capital Partners, a Lagos based investment firm founded by Nigerian banker Jim Ovia, confirmed it verified TeamApt’s numbers.

“Our CFO sat with them for about two weeks,” Elaine Delaney said.

TeamApt’s results and the startup’s global value proposition factored into the fund’s decision to serve as sole-investor in the $5.5 million round.

“The problem that they’re solving might be African but the technology is universal. ‘Can it be applied to any other market?’ of course it can,” said Delaney.

Delaney will take a board seat with TeamApt “as a supportive investor,” she said.

TeamApt plans to develop more business and consumer based offerings. “We’re beginning to pilot into much more merchant and consume facing products where we’re building payment infrastructure to connect these banks to merchants and businesses,” CEO Tosin Eniolorunda said.

Part of this includes the launch of AptPay, which Eniolorunda describes as “a push payment, payment infrastructure” to “centralize…all services currently used on banking mobile apps.”

The company recently received its license from the Nigerian Central Bank to operate as a payment switch in the country.

On new markets, “Nigeria comes first. But we’re also looking at some parts of Europe. Canada is also hot on list,” said Eniolorunda.  He wouldn’t specific a country but said to look for a TeamApt expansion announcement by fourth quarter 2019.

TeamApt joins several fintech firms in Africa that announced significant rounds, expansion, or partnerships over the last year.  As covered by TechCrunch, in September 2018, Nigeria’s Paga raised $10 million and announced possible expansion in Ethiopia, Asia, and Mexico. Kenyan payment company Cellulant raised $53 million in 2018, targeted to boost its presence across Africa. And in January, Flutterwave partnered with Visa to launch the GetBarter global payment product.

The fintech space has also been the source of speculation regarding the continent’s first tech IPO on a major exchange, including Interswitch’s much anticipated and delayed public offering.

TeamApt’s CEO is open about the company’s future intent to list. “The project code name for the recent funding was NASDAQ. We’re clear about becoming a public company,” said Eniolorunda.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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China continues 5G push despite economic slowdown and Huawei setbacks

Posted by on Jan 30, 2019 in 5g, Asia, Australia, Beijing, Canada, China, Government, Huawei, LTE, manufacturing, mobile technology, network technology, spy, telecommunications, Transportation, virtual reality, Wearables, wireless technology | 0 comments

China will fast-track the issuance of commercial licenses for 5G as part of a national plan to boost consumer spending, said a notice published this week by the National Development and Reform Commission. The move appears to be multifaceted, for 5G plays a key role in China’s bid to lead the global technology race and one of its biggest 5G champions, Huawei, has been facing troubles on a global scale.

In its statement, the economic regulator calls on local governments to support the promotion and showcase of services utilizing the super-fast network technology. Ultra-high definition TVs, virtual/augmented reality handsets and other futuristic products will be eligible for government subsidies, though the regulator didn’t outline the detailed criteria.

The acceleration of 5G licenses comes as Beijing copes with a weakening national economy, a move that will “drum up demand with upgraded technology experiences across devices, automotive and manufacturing leveraging 5G technology,” said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, to TechCrunch. 5G is on course to generate 6.3 trillion yuan ($947 billion) worth of economic output and 8 million jobs for China by 2030, according to estimates from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

Beijing has been gearing up to be the world leader in the next-generation network tech, pouring resources into 5G research and infrastructure. But it has been hit with a speed bump overseas as western countries grow increasingly wary of spy threat posed by Chinese 5G equipments. A souped-up domestic drive, therefore, could help neutralize some of the global setbacks faced by its 5G crown jewels like Huawei.

The U.S. and Australia have banned local firms from procuring equipment from Huawei, and Canada and the U.K. are currently reviewing whether to continue using 5G parts made by the Chinese telecom equipment giant. Meanwhile, Huawei is facing a list of criminal charges from the U.S. for stealing state secrets and its financial chief Meng is accused of bank fraud.

“Aaccelerating 5G licenses should indirectly help Huawei gain competitive edge for 5G considering it will be supplying solutions to the world’s largest mobile cellular market, China,” observes Counterpoint’s Shah. “This also gives Huawei an early platform to showcase its technology to the world and attract more global business.”

Huawei has continued with its 5G push despite being dogged by a string of global woes. Last week, the Shenzhen-based conglomerate unviled a 5G chipset for multiple commercial uses across smartphones, home and work. The chip, dubbed the Balong 5000, will be launching in February at a Barcelona tech trade show.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Canada’s Telus says partner Huawei is ‘reliable’: reports

Posted by on Jan 21, 2019 in 3g, 5g, Ambassador, Asia, Australia, Beijing, Canada, China, Donald Trump, Huawei, Justin Trudeau, Meng Wanzhou, New Zealand, Policy, Ren Zhengfei, Security, spy, telecommunications, telus, the wall street journal, United Kingdom, United States, vancouver, White House, zte | 0 comments

The US-China tension over Huawei is leaving telecommunications companies around the world at a crossroad, but one spoke out last week. Telus, one of Canada’s largest phone companies showed support for its Chinese partner despite a global backlash against Huawei over cybersecurity threats.

“Clearly, Huawei remains a viable and reliable participant in the Canadian telecommunications space, bolstered by globally leading innovation, comprehensive security measures, and new software upgrades,” said an internal memo signed by a Telus executive that The Globe and Mail obtained.

The Vancouver-based firm is among a handful of Canadian companies that could potentially leverage the Shenzhen-based company to build out 5G systems, the technology that speeds up not just mobile connection but more crucially powers emerging fields like low-latency autonomous driving and 8K video streaming. TechCrunch has contacted Telus for comments and will update the article when more information becomes available.

The United States has long worried that China’s telecom equipment makers could be beholden to Beijing and thus pose espionage risks. As fears heighten, President Donald Trump is reportedly mulling a boycott of Huawei and ZTE this year, according to Reuters. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that US federal prosecutors may bring criminal charges against Huawei for stealing trade secrets.

Australia and New Zealand have both blocked local providers from using Huawei components. The United Kingdom has not officially banned Huawei but its authorities have come under pressure to take sides soon.

Canada, which is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network alongside Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US, is still conducting a security review ahead of its 5G rollout but has been urged by neighboring US to steer clear of Huawei in building the next-gen tech.

China has hit back at spy claims against its tech crown jewel over the past months. Last week, its ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye warned that blocking the world’s largest telecom equipment maker may yield repercussions.

“I always have concerns that Canada may make the same decision as the US, Australia and New Zealand did. And I believe such decisions are not fair because their accusations are groundless,” Lu said at a press conference. “As for the consequences of banning Huawei from 5G network, I am not sure yet what kind of consequences will be, but I surely believe there will be consequences.”

Last week also saw Huawei chief executive officer Ren Zhengfei appear in a rare interview with international media. At the roundtable, he denied security charges against the firm he founded in 1987 and cautioned the exclusion of Chinese firms may delay plans in the US to deliver ultra-high-speed networks to rural populations — including to the rich.

“If Huawei is not involved in this, these districts may have to pay very high prices in order to enjoy that level of experience,” argued Ren. “Those countries may voluntarily approach Huawei and ask Huawei to sell them 5G products rather than banning Huawei from selling 5G systems.”

The Huawei controversy comes as the US and China are locked in a trade war that’s sending reverberations across countries that rely on the US for security protection and China for investment and increasingly skilled — not just cheap — labor.

Canada got caught between the feuding giants after it arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who’s also Ren’s daughter, at the request of US authorities. The White House is now facing a deadline at the end of January to extradite Meng. Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Trump are urging Beijing to release two Canadian citizens who Beijing detained following Meng’s arrest.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Huawei CFO accused of fraud is granted $7.5M bail

Posted by on Dec 11, 2018 in Asia, Canada, Huawei, Meng Wanzhou, Policy, Ren Zhengfei, TC | 0 comments

The Canadian government has granted bail to Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, 10 days after her arrest in Vancouver. The decision concludes a three-day-long court hearing in which the judge and the public prosecutor debated whether Wanzhou would breach her bail conditions.

Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, has been accused of fraud with a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. She was arrested by Canadian officials at the request of the U.S. government on Dec. 1 while changing planes on her way to Mexico. As part of her bail conditions, the court has ordered her to pay C$10 million — about $7.5 million — and await U.S. extradition from her Vancouver home. According to reports, Wanzhou must relinquish her passport, wear an ankle bracelet and remain at home between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges Wanzhou misled American financial institutions and allowed an unofficial Huawei subsidiary, called SkyCom, to do business in Iran despite U.S. sanctions.

Huawei didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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UrbanClap, India’s largest home services startup, raises $50M

Posted by on Nov 30, 2018 in Amazon, Asia, Canada, ceo, Dubai, eCommerce, funding, Fundings & Exits, India, Steadview Capital, United Arab Emirates, United States, UrbanClap, Vy capital | 0 comments

UrbanClap, a four-year-old startup that offers home services across India, has closed a $50 million Series D round for expansion.

The round was led by Steadview Capital, a hedge fund with more than $1 billion under management, and existing investor Vy Capital. It takes UrbanClap to $110 million raised to date, according to data from Crunchbase.

Via its platform, UrbanClap matches service people, such as cleaners, repair staff or beauticians, with customers across 10 cities in India. Co-founder and CEO Abhiraj Bhal told TechCrunch that the business supports 15,000 “micro-franchisees” with around 450,000 transactions taking place each month.

“Micro-franchisees” is an interesting term — I’ve not heard it used much, even in the buzzword-heavy world of tech startups — but Bhal explained his vision to enable service workers to earn more and enjoy greater control of their work and, consequently, overall life.

For example, he said, the typical salary for an offline service worker might be in the region of 10-15,000 INR (up to $215) while, for those operating independently, their flow of work would be tied to a middleman, store or word of mouth networks. UrbanClap offers a more direct model, with workers keeping 80 percent of the cost of their jobs. That, Bhal said, means workers can earn multiples more and manage their own working hours.

“The UrbanClap model really allows them to become service entrepreneurs,” he said. “Their earnings will shoot up two or three-fold, and it isn’t uncommon to see it rise as much as 8X — it’s a life-changing experience.”

Beyond helping workers with their job, UrbanClap also provides training, credit, basic banking and more. Bhal said that around 20-25 percent of applicants are accepted into the platform, that’s a decision based on in-person meetings, background and criminal checks, as well as a “skills” test. Workers are encouraged to work exclusively — though it isn’t a requirement — and they wear UrbanClap outfits and represent the brand with customers.

While there is encouragement, there is also a level of monitoring. If a worker’s average review for their last 30/50 jobs (dependent on vertical) drops below 4.0, the system stops sending them work. There is an opportunity to appeal, retrain and return to the platform, except in cases of poor attitude, misconduct and other serious misdemeanors, Bhal said. He declined to provide numbers for dropouts but said that the retention rate is “healthy.”

UrbanClap founders (left to right) Abhiraj Bhal, Raghav Chandra and Varun Khaitan started the business in 2014

UrbanClap expanded to Dubai, UAE, six months ago, so it would be logical to think this new capital will go toward further expansions. No so, according to Bhal. The company is instead going after tier-two cities in India and working to deepen its position in its existing locations. In short, there’s no additional overseas plan at this point.

“In many ways, we think about the Dubai move as an extension of India [Dubai has a strong presence of Indian and South Asia nationals] rather than an international expansion — a little like a U.S. company going into Canada,” Bhal explained. “We believe we have enough headroom to grow in India and Dubai; these are fairly unpenetrated markets.”

Elaborating on that thinking, Bhal said that online is just a small component of all local service jobs in India.

“We need to get to double digital penetration of the offline market,” he said. “We think we could grow 10, 20 or 100 times from where we are right now.”

The company isn’t profitable yet and Bhal isn’t sharing revenue details, other than the fairly hazy detail that revenue is growing 3X per year. Rival Housejoy, which includes Amazon among its shareholders, went through some fairly well-publicized issues this year resulting in layoffs and, according to reports, efforts to sell the business.

Bhal didn’t comment directly on those reports, but he did say that if the company did do an acquisition, it would be focused on “adjacent spaces we aren’t in yet” as opposed to a direct competitor for growth.

He was somewhat more forthcoming on the future exit plan for UrbanClap, which did allow some secondary sales within this Series D round. Bhal said he fully intends to take the company public but he said that there’s no firm plan on when, or indeed where, that might happen.

“Eventually we will look to go public,” he said. “But we’re a few years away from that — we need to earn the right, which means being a scalable and profitable company.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Integrate.ai pulls in $30M to help businesses make better customer-centric decisions

Posted by on Sep 12, 2018 in Advertising Tech, Artificial Intelligence, bias, business intelligence, Canada, deep learning, ethics, Facebook, fairness, Fundings & Exits, Georgian Partners, InfoSum, Integrate.ai, machine learning, Portag3 Ventures, Privacy, Real Ventures, SaaS, social web, TC, toronto | 3 comments

Helping businesses bring more firepower to the fight against AI-fuelled disruptors is the name of the game for Integrate.ai, a Canadian startup that’s announcing a $30M Series A today.

The round is led by Portag3 Ventures . Other VCs include Georgian Partners, Real Ventures, plus other (unnamed) individual investors also participating. The funding will be used for a big push in the U.S. market.

Integrate.ai’s early focus has been on retail banking, retail and telcos, says founder Steve Irvine, along with some startups which have data but aren’t necessarily awash with AI expertise to throw at it. (Not least because tech giants continue to hoover up talent.)

Its SaaS platform targets consumer-centric businesses — offering to plug paying customers into a range of AI technologies and techniques to optimize their decision-making so they can respond more savvily to their customers. Aka turning “high volume consumer funnels” into “flywheels”, if that’s a mental image that works for you.

In short it’s selling AI pattern spotting insights as a service via a “cloud-based AI intelligence platform” — helping businesses move from “largely rules-based decisioning” to “more machine learning-based decisioning boosted by this trusted signals exchange of data”, as he puts it.

Irvine gives the example of a large insurance aggregator the startup is working with to optimize the distribution of gift cards and incentive discounts to potential customers — with the aim of maximizing conversions.

“Obviously they’ve got a finite amount of budget for those — they need to find a way to be able to best deploy those… And the challenge that they have is they don’t have a lot of information on people as they start through this funnel — and so they have what is a classic ‘cold start’ problem in machine learning. And they have a tough time allocating those resources most effectively.”

“One of the things that we’ve been able to help them with is to, essentially, find the likelihood of those people to be able to convert earlier by being able to bring in some interesting new signal for them,” he continues. “Which allows them to not focus a lot of their revenue or a lot of those incentives on people who either have a low likelihood of conversion or are most likely to convert. And they can direct all of those resources at the people in the middle of the distribution — where that type of a nudge, that discount, might be the difference between them converting or not.”

He says feedback from early customers suggests the approach has boosted profitability by around 30% on average for targeted business areas — so the pitch is businesses are easily seeing the SaaS easily paying for itself. (In the cited case of the insurer, he says they saw a 23% boost in performance — against what he couches as already “a pretty optimized funnel”.)

“We find pretty consistent [results] across a lot of the companies that we’re working with,” he adds. “Most of these decisions today are made by a CRM system or some other more deterministic software system that tends to over attribute people that are already going to convert. So if you can do a better job of understanding people’s behaviour earlier you can do a better job at directing those resources in a way that’s going to drive up conversion.”

The former Facebook marketing exec, who between 2014 and 2017 ran a couple of global marketing partner programs at Facebook and Instagram, left the social network at the start of last year to found the business — raising $9.6M in seed funding in two tranches, according to Crunchbase.

The eighteen-month-old Toronto based AI startup now touts itself as one of the fastest growing companies in Canadian history, with a headcount of around 40 at this point, and a plan to grow staff 3x to 4x over the next 12 months. Irvine is also targeting growing revenue 10x, with the new funding in place — gunning to carve out a leadership position in the North American market.

One key aspect of Integrate.ai’s platform approach means its customers aren’t only being helped to extract more and better intel from their own data holdings, via processes such as structuring the data for AI processing (though Irvine says it’s also doing that).

The idea is they also benefit from the wider network, deriving relevant insights across Integrate.ai’s pooled base of customers — in a way that does not trample over privacy in the process. At least, that’s the claim.

(It’s worth noting Integrate.ai’s network is not a huge one yet, with customers numbering in the “tens” at this point — the platform only launched in alpha around 12 months ago and remains in beta now. Named customers include the likes of Telus, Scotiabank, and Corus.)

So the idea is to offer an alternative route to boost business intelligence vs the “traditional” route of data-sharing by simply expanding databases — because, as Irvine points out, literal data pooling is “coming under fire right now — because it is not in the best interests, necessarily, of consumers; there’s some big privacy concerns; there’s a lot of security risk which we’re seeing show up”.

What exactly is Integrate.ai doing with the data then? Irvine says its Trusted Signals Exchange platform uses some “pretty advanced techniques in deep learning and other areas of machine learning to be able to transfer signals or insights that we can gain from different companies such that all the companies on our platform can benefit by delivering more personalized, relevant experiences”.

“But we don’t need to ever, kind of, connect data in a more traditional way,” he also claims. “Or pull personally identifiable information to be able to enable it. So it becomes very privacy-safe and secure for consumers which we think is really important.”

He further couches the approach as “pretty unique”, adding it “wouldn’t even have been possible probably a couple of years ago”.

From Irvine’s description the approach sounds similar to the data linking (via mathematical modelling) route being pursued by another startup, UK-based InfoSum — which has built a platform that extracts insights from linked customer databases while holding the actual data in separate silos. (And InfoSum, which was founded in 2016, also has a founder with a behind-the-scenes’ view on the inners workings of the social web — in the form of Datasift’s Nic Halstead.)

Facebook’s own custom audiences product, which lets advertisers upload and link their customer databases with the social network’s data holdings for marketing purposes is the likely inspiration behind all these scenes.

Irvine says he spotted the opportunity to build this line of business having been privy to a market overview in his role at Facebook, meeting with scores of companies in his marketing partner role and getting to hear high level concerns about competing with tech giants. He says the Facebook job also afforded him an overview on startup innovation — and there he spied a gap for Integrate.ai to plug in.

“My team was in 22 offices around the world, and all the major tech hubs, and so we got a chance to see any of the interesting startups that were getting traction pretty quickly,” he tells TechCrunch. “That allowed us to see the gaps that existed in the market. And the biggest gap that I saw… was these big consumer enterprises needed a way to use the power of AI and needed access to third party data signals or insights to be able to enabled them to transition to this more customer-centric operating model to have any hope of competing with the large digital disruptors like Amazon.

“That was kind of the push to get me out of Facebook, back from California to Toronto, Canada, to start this company.”

Again on the privacy front, Irvine is a bit coy about going into exact details about the approach. But is unequivocal and emphatic about how ad tech players are stepping over the line — having seen into that pandora’s box for years — so his rational to want to do things differently at least looks clear.

“A lot of the techniques that we’re using are in the field of deep learning and transfer learning,” he says. “If you think about the ultimate consumer of this data-sharing, that is insight sharing, it is at the end these AI systems or models. Meaning that it doesn’t need to be legible to people as an output — all we’re really trying to do is increase the map; make a better probabilistic decision in these circumstances where we might have little data or not the right data that we need to be able to make the right decision. So we’re applying some of the newer techniques in those areas to be able to essentially kind of abstract away from some of the more sensitive areas, create representations of people and patterns that we see between businesses and individuals, and then use that as a way to deliver a more personalized predictions — without ever having to know the individual’s personally identifiable information.”

“We do do some work with differential privacy,” he adds when pressed further on the specific techniques being used. “There’s some other areas that are just a little bit more sensitive in terms of the work that we’re doing — but a lot of work around representative learning and transfer learning.”

Integrate.ai has published a whitepaper — for a framework to “operationalize ethics in machine learning systems” — and Irvine says it’s been called in to meet and “share perspectives” with regulators based on that.

“I think we’re very GDPR-friendly based on the way that we have thought through and constructed the platform,” he also says when asked whether the approach would be compliant with the European Union’s tough new privacy framework (which also places some restrictions on entirely automated decisions when they could have a significant impact on individuals).

“I think you’ll see GDPR and other regulations like that push more towards these type of privacy preserving platforms,” he adds. “And hopefully away from a lot of the really creepy, weird stuff that is happening out there with consumer data that I think we all hope gets eradicated.”

For the record, Irvine denies any suggestion that he was thinking of his old employer when he referred to “creepy, weird stuff” done with people’s data — saying: “No, no, no!”

“What I did observe when I was there in ad tech in general, I think if you look at that landscape, I think there are many, many… worse examples of what is happening out there with data than I think the ones that we’re seeing covered in the press. And I think as the light shines on more of that ecosystem of players, I think we will start to see that the ways they’ve thought about data, about collection, permissioning, usage, I think will change drastically,” he adds.

“And the technology is there to be able to do it in a much more effective way without having to compromise results in too big a way. And I really hope that that sea change has already started — and I hope that it continues at a much more rapid pace than we’ve seen.”

But while privacy concerns might be reduced by the use of an alternative to traditional data-pooling, depending on the exact techniques being used, additional ethical considerations are clearly being dialled sharply into view if companies are seeking to supercharge their profits by automating decision making in sensitive and impactful areas such as discounts (meaning some users stand to gain more than others).

The point is an AI system that’s expert at spotting the lowest hanging fruit (in conversion terms) could start selectively distributing discounts to a narrow sub-section of users only — meaning other people might never even be offered discounts.

In short, it risks the platform creating unfair and/or biased outcomes.

Integrate.ai has recognized the ethical pitfalls, and appears to be trying to get ahead of them — hence its aforementioned ‘Responsible AI in Consumer Enterprise’ whitepaper.

Irvine also says that raising awareness around issues of bias and “ethical AI” — and promoting “more responsible use and implementation” of its platform is another priority over the next twelve months.

“The biggest concern is the unethical treatment of people in a lot of common, day-to-day decisions that companies are going to be making,” he says of problems attached to AI. “And they’re going to do it without understanding, and probably without bad intent, but the reality is the results will be the same — which is perpetuating a lot of biases and stereotypes of the past. Which would be really unfortunate.

“So hopefully we can continue to carve out a name, on that front, and shift the industry more to practices that we think are consistent with the world that we want to live in vs the one we might get stuck in.”

The whitepaper was produced by a dedicated internal team, which he says focuses on AI ethics and fairness issues, and is headed up by VP of product & strategy, Kathryn Hume.

“We’re doing a lot of research now with the Vector Institute for AI… on fairness in our AI models, because what we’ve seen so far is that — if left unattended, if all we did was run these models and not adjust for some of the ethical considerations — we would just perpetuate biases that we’ve seen in the historical data,” he adds.

“We would pick up patterns that are more commonly associated with maybe reinforcing particular stereotypes… so we’re putting a really dedicated effort — probably abnormally large, given our size and stage — towards leading in this space, and making sure that that’s not the outcome that gets delivered through effective use of a platform like ours. But actually, hopefully, the total opposite: You have a better understanding of where those biases might creep in and they could be adjusted for in the models.”

Combating unfairness in this type of AI tool would mean a company having to optimize conversion performance a bit less than it otherwise could.

Though Irvine suggests that’s likely just in the short term. Over the longer term he argues you’re laying the foundations for greater growth — because you’re building a more inclusive business, saying: “We have this conversational a lot. “I think it’s good for business, it’s just the time horizon that you might think about.”

“We’ve got this window of time right now, that I think is a really precious window, where people are moving over from more deterministic software systems to these more probabilistic, AI-first platforms… They just operate much more effectively, and they learn much more effectively, so there will be a boost in performance no matter what. If we can get them moved over right off the bat onto a platform like ours that has more of an ethical safeguard, then they won’t notice a drop off in performance — because it’ll actually be better performance. Even if it’s not optimized fully for short term profitability,” he adds.

“And we think, over the long term it’s just better business if you’re socially conscious, ethical company. We think, over time, especially this new generation of consumers, they start to look out for those things more… So we really hope that we’re on the right side of this.”

He also suggests that the wider visibility afforded by having AI doing the probabilistic pattern spotting (vs just using a set of rules) could even help companies identify unfairnesses they don’t even realize might be holding their businesses back.

“We talk a lot about this concept of mutual lifetime value — which is how do we start to pull in the signals that show that people are getting value in being treated well, and can we use those signals as part of the optimization. And maybe you don’t have all the signal you need on that front, and that’s where being able to access a broader pool can actually start to highlight those biases more.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Trump’s Tariffs on Canadian Newsprint Are Overturned

Posted by on Aug 29, 2018 in Canada, Customs (Tariff), International Trade and World Market, Newspapers, Paper and Pulp, United States International Trade Commission, United States Politics and Government | 0 comments

The decision by the United States International Trade Commission is a win for small- and medium-size newspapers, which have struggled to absorb higher newsprint costs.
Source: New York Times

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Canada’s Strong Words on Climate Face a Test in Trump’s Nafta Makeover

Posted by on Aug 29, 2018 in Canada, Freeland, Chrystia, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Mexico, North America, North American Free Trade Agreement, Trudeau, Justin, United States Politics and Government | 0 comments

The Canadian government in the past said that any revised Nafta should address climate change. This week’s deal between Mexico and the United States could force the issue.
Source: New York Times

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