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Salesforce Launches Fund For Artificial Intelligence Start-ups

September 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The venture arm of Salesforce.com Inc is launching a $50 million fund to invest in start-ups employing artificial intelligence, the cloud computing firm told Reuters.

Salesforce, whose software helps businesses sell, market and track customer activity, has been increasing its use of AI since launching its ‘Einstein’ technology a year ago, which uses automation and data-driven features.

“There’s a tremendous surge in companies who are providing unique AI innovations,” said John Somorjai, executive vice president of Salesforce Ventures. “We want more of those companies to do these innovations on Salesforce’s platform.”

Salesforce revenues and income have grown rapidly in recent quarters, and it has boosted spending on research and development in the face of tough competition from rivals such as Oracle Group and Microsoft Corp.

Venture capital investment in AI start-ups is rising quickly. For 2017, global financing for AI start-ups is projected to surpass $10.8 billion – nearly double the $5.6 billion spent in 2016, according to research firm CB Insights.

Since its founding in 2009, Salesforce Ventures has deployed more than $700 million in funding to over 250 start-ups, Somorjai said. With its new fund, Salesforce is hoping to attract more developers to build AI apps that work in tandem with its products.

“What we’re doing with this fund is really doubling down on that commitment to bring more AI-centric solutions to our customers,” Somorjai said.

The company said that it was also expanding the number of AI tasks employed by its ‘Einstein’ technology.

Rovio To Move Forward With IPO

September 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Finnish mobile games giant Rovio has confirmed plans to publicly offer its shares through the Helsinki arm of NASDAQ.

The Angry Birds firm released a statement detailing its intentions, revealing that it is planning “a share issue of approximately €30m”, which equates to $36m. Shares will also be sold by Trema International Holdings – currently the firm’s largest shareholder – and “certain other shareholders”.

This confirms ongoing reports that Rovio would consider an IPO, something the studio said was a possibility back in June. Last month, the rumours strengthened with suggestions that the IPO could raise $400m, valuing the company at $2bn.

The aim of the IPO is to enable Rovio to continue its growth, give it access to capital markets and “broaden its ownership base”, as well as build on the company’s brand awareness.

Throughout the statement Rovio refers to itself as a games-first entertainment company, although it also draws attention to the success of last year’s film The Angry Birds Movie and its ongoing merchandise business.

Rovio also notes that, as of June 2017, its games have been downloaded more than 3.7bn times, with an average monthly active userbase of 80m during the second quarter of this year.

CEO Kati Levoranta reiterated that the studio’s most recent releases – Angry Birds Evolution, Battle Bay and Angry Birds Match – have also outperformed all previously launched titles in select key performance indicators, giving Rovio cause to be optimistic about the IPO. Last month, Rovio revealed these releases had helped double its quarterly earnings year-on-year.

“Today, Rovio is stronger than ever and is well positioned in the fast growing mobile gaming market with our diversified games portfolio, proven game development talent and operational excellence as well as our large existing user base.  I am confident in our games-first strategy,” said Levoranta.

“The contemplated IPO and listing are an important milestone in developing Rovio into an even stronger games-first entertainment company.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is The Market For A.I. Chips Getting Hot

September 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

It is starting to look like the AI chipmarket is going to be a battle ground for chip development.

The AI market will be worth an estimated $59.8 billion by 2025 — up from just $1.4 billion last year. Nearly all major players in the IT industry have joined the race to develop AI chips and applications with the aim of establishing an early presence.

Currently mainstream products in the AI chip markets are those applied to machine learning and deep neural networks, including ASICs, GPU, FPGA and CPU chipsets. These have involved Nvidia, Intel, Qualcomm, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and IBM, Samsung, Huawei, Baidu and Tencent.

Nvidia is doing rather well with its GPU chipset series and has its foot on the development of a larger slice of development architectures. This includes Tesla Accelerator applied to cloud and supercomputers, Jetson fitted in robots and drones, and Drive PX adopted in automobiles. All of them share the same architecture to enable algorithm acceleration for deep learning.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said that his company has kept improving the design, system architecture, compiler and algorithm of its GPU solutions, and the deep neural network velocity has been already boosted by 50 fold within three years as a result, much faster than the time frame set by the Moore’s Law.

Intel is stepping up its AI blueprints ranging from network edges to datacenters, with AI chip platforms including Xeon, Xeon Phi processors and EPGA accelerators supporting the optimization of specific data load. The company has completed tests of its Lake Crest AI chipset designed to perfect neural network operation to improve deep learning efficiency.

Intel has its Myriad X, which can be applied to drones, smart cameras or AR (augmented reality) devices to sense and understand fast-changing external environments and facilitate interactions and learning.

The other force is Qualcomm with its newly released its Neural Processing Engine (NPE), with its software development kit (SDK) able to help developers optimise the AI performance on the firm’s Snapdragon 600, 800 series processors and support such AI architectures as Tensoflow, Caffe and Caffe 2.

NPE can manage image recognition, scene detection, camera filtration, and photo retouching. Facebook now uses it to accelerate the execution of the AR function of photos and real-time films through smartphone apps.

Google has its Tensor Process Unit (TPU) chipset for deep learning and algorithm, targeting AI developers and open for commercial and academic users through cloud services. Huawei has recently unveiled its Kirin 970 SoC, which is claimed to be the world’s first AI mobile chip fitted with neural processing unit (NPU).

The firm’s new-generation flagship smartphone models Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro, set to hit the market in October, will carry Kirin 970 chipset, marking Huawei’s official entry into the AI arena. Baidu and Tencent are also actively developing customised AI chips.

AMD meanwhile has Vega to run cutting-edge artificial intelligence and machine learning tasks—the kinds that fuel Siri and Alexa and are used by corporate giants like GE to analyze “big data” streams.

While investors are certainly optimistic about AMD, there’s little proof that the company can overtake NVIDIA in the AI at the moment. NVIDIA is already a self-driving car tech leader, is the go-to GPU maker for many AI servers, and has a clear understanding of its market potential in the AI space.

Courtesy-Fud

IBM Donates $240 million For New AI Research Lab At MIT

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

IBM has gifted $240 million to MIT for a new joint laboratory to research artificial intelligence, instantly producing one of the richest academic-industry efforts in the world. Anantha Chandrakasan, MIT’s new dean of engineering, told Axios that the 10-year IBM grant is the result of discussions that began only in the summer, and will result in the establishment of the MIT–IBM Watson AI Lab.

The lab, to involve more than 100 AI scientists from both IBM and MIT, will conduct fundamental research and encourage faculty and students to spin out companies from discoveries they develop.

The lab’s establishment comes amid an AI research-and-commercialization frenzy at universities, in Silicon Valley and in tech companies around the world, all attempting to capture part of what is seen as an inflection point in the next economy — the shift to intelligent products. In 2015, for instance, Toyota announced more than $1 billion in funding for its own center, plus research at both MIT and Stanford.

In Yet Another Twist, Western Digital Agrees To Drop Bid For Toshiba

September 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

 Western Digital Corp has proposed to end its bid for Toshiba Corp’s lucrative semiconductor unit after their talks stalled, seeking instead a stronger position in the two companies’ chip joint venture, according to two knowledgeable sources.

The move may help Toshiba finally seal a deal to sell its prized unit after months of delays, providing it with funds to cover billions of dollars in liabilities linked to its failed U.S. nuclear business Westinghouse.

A consortium including Western Digital, U.S. private equity firm KKR & Co, the state-backed Innovation Network of Japan and Development Bank of Japan were previously offering around 1.9 trillion yen ($17.4 billion) for Toshiba’s chip business, according to people familiar with the talks.

 Those talks had stalled in recent weeks, however, as the two sides struggled to come to an agreement over Western Digital’s stake in the business, which the Japanese company wanted to limit in an attempt to avoid prolonged antitrust reviews, sources have said.

To help close the deal, California-based Western Digital has told Toshiba it is prepared to pull out of a consortium bidding for the business in order to address such concerns, said the sources, one with direct knowledge of the transaction and one who was briefed on this development.

In return, Western Digital is seeking to strengthen its position in the joint venture operations, they said.

Toshiba’s board is due to meet on Wednesday to discuss the deal, the sources said.

Toshiba and Western Digital, which jointly invest in Toshiba’s key plant in central Japan, failed to seal a deal by a previously-planned deadline last week due to disagreement over the U.S. firm’s future stake in the business, sources have said.

Roku Prepares For Initial Public Offering

September 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Roku is gearing up to go public.

The streaming device maker is seeking $100 million in its initial public offering, according to a filing Friday with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The company will be listed on NASDAQ under the ticker ROKU.

Roku, which makes popular streaming devices like the Roku PremiereRoku Express+ and Roku Streaming Stick, said it’s seizing on the cord-cutting trend. “TV streaming’s disruptive content distribution model is shifting billions of dollars of economic value. Roku is capitalizing on this large economic opportunity,” reads the filing.

Roku may not be as recognizable a name as some of its streaming box competitors, which are all monolithic tech companies like Apple, Google and Amazon, but its products routinely slay in CNET reviews and in sales.

In the filing, Roku said it had more than 15 million active accounts, and that its users streamed over 6.7 billion hours of content on its platform in the first half of this year, a 62 percent increase from the first half of 2016. Earlier reports hinted that Roku planned to go public this year.

Roku declined to comment beyond the filing.

Is HTC Gearing Up To Go On The Auction Block?

August 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Signs are emerging that HTC may be in trouble.

The Taiwanese company is exploring its strategic options, according to a report by Bloomberg. That’s business code for shopping itself around because of financial woes. The options range from selling or spinning off its VR arm into a separate business to actually selling the entire company outright, with Google as a possible suitor.

It’s been a long and steady fall for HTC, which was one of the early pioneers of Android phones and a major player in the mobile business. But with Apple and Samsung nudging the competition on premium phones and upstarts like OnePlus and Xiaomi introducing slick budget phones, it’s getting hard to stay interested in HTC phones.

HTC’s newest bet was on virtual reality and its Vive VR system, a partnership with gaming company Steam. But that doesn’t even seem to be working out.

The Vive on Monday got a $200 price cut to boost sales. IDC estimates HTC has sold about 190,000 units in the first quarter, placing it in third place in the VR market behind Samsung (489,000 in the same period) and Sony (429,000 units).

Google, which has pushed its Daydream software as its platform for VR, could use HTC’s hardware know-how. But the search giant previously attempted to run a mobile hardware company in Motorola and ultimately sold it to Chinese PC giant Lenovo.

HTC and Google declined to comment on this report.

Tesla’s Electric Commercial Freight Truck Coming In September

August 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been teasing for a while now that the electric car company will unveil what he refers to as the “Tesla Semi truck” this September. The company even released a rendering of what it would look like.

Now, a report by Reuters says that the truck’s electric drive system will give it a range of 200 to 300 miles. That range makes it suitable for regional freight delivery, short of the long-haul trucks that travel the interstates.

Tesla will also test its autonomous driving technology for the freight truck.

The trucking industry represents a new opportunity for electric vehicles. With lower maintenance and fueling costs, electric trucks offer substantial benefits to fleet operators. Initial costs may prove prohibitive, but mass production of an electric truck holds the potential to rein that investment in.

Meanwhile, new electric vehicle start-up Chanje is betting that its electric vehicles will prove attractive for daily freight delivery in an urban setting, with limited competition in the niche. Tesla would be facing more entrenched competition from the likes of Kenworth and Daimler-owned Freightliner.

As Tesla has disrupted the passenger car market to some degree, it may do the same for a segment of commercial freight delivery.

Fujitsu Looking To Exit Mobile Phone Operations, Sell Unit

August 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Fujitsu Ltd is looking to sell off its mobile operations as the Japanese information technology company faces stiff competition from bigger rivals in a highly lucrative mobile phone market, the Nikkei business daily reported.

The company, which spun off its mobile phone operations into a separate company last February, has drawn interest from investment funds including Tokyo-based Polaris Capital Group and Britain’s CVC Capital Partners Ltd, as well as Chinese personal computer maker Lenovo Group Ltd, the Japanese newspaper added.

First-round bidding could open as soon as September, and is expected to bring offers in the tens of billions of yen (hundreds of millions of dollars), Nikkei reported.

Tokyo-based Fujitsu would stop developing and manufacturing mobile phones, but looks to keep a minority stake in the business and keep its mobile phone brand alive, the report said.

Angry Bird’s Rovio Returns To Profit, Possible IPO

August 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Finnish mobile games and animation studio Rovio Entertainment Ltd announced that its sales in the first half of the year nearly doubled following the success of “The Angry Birds Movie.”

First-half revenue rose to 152.6 million euros ($179.7 million) from 78.5 million a year earlier, while adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization increased to 41.8 million euros from 11.0 million a year ago.

Following years of falling earnings, job cuts and restructuring, Rovio returned to profit in 2016 as the 3D Hollywood movie release revived the Angry Birds brand and gave a boost to game sales.

First-half revenue from games increased by 76 percent to 117.9 million euros. Rovio’s main titles include “Angry Birds 2,” “Angry Birds Friends” and the new multiplayer game “Battle Bay.”

This year’s growth is also due to movie revenues that had not shown in Rovio’s numbers previously.

The company is now planning a sequel to the Angry Birds movie with Columbia Pictures, scheduled for release in 2019.

Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg reported earlier this week that Rovio was planning a possible initial public offering.

Rovio, which had earlier said a listing could be possible in the future, declined to comment.

SoundCloud Receives Funding, Lives To See Another Day

August 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

SoundCloud, the world’s most popular streaming music app, but one that has been plagued by money-losing strategies, said it received new funding on Friday, insulating it from potentially running out of cash this year.

The company, which laid off 40 percent of its staff in July, said in a blog post that the financing was raised from media-focused investment bank Raine Group of New York and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek.

It did not disclose the amount or its terms. Raine and Temasek were not immediately available for comment.

One source familiar with the investment said it amounted to around $170 million (144 million euros), as reported on Thursday by online news site Axios, which had obtained the deal’s term sheet.

The company said that as part of the new investment, digital media veterans Kerry Trainor and Michael Weissman, respectively the former chief executive and chief operating officer of online video service Vimeo, would take the same roles at SoundCloud.

The arrival of the former leaders of Vimeo – one of the biggest online video rivals to Google’s YouTube and Facebook- raises the prospect SoundCloud may evolve beyond audio streaming in a more music video-oriented direction.

SoundCloud founder and former CEO Alexander Ljung has agreed to step aside to become chairman of the board, it said. Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Eric Wahlross will remain at the company as chief product officer.

In July, SoundCloud fired 173 employees and closed its London and San Francisco offices to focus on Berlin and New York. A spokeswoman for SoundCloud said last month it remained fully funded into the fourth quarter while declining to comment on what lay beyond.

“The investment will ensure a strong, independent future for SoundCloud, funding deeper development and marketing of its core tools used by millions of audio creators – musicians, DJs, producers, labels, managers and podcasters,” SoundCloud said.

Payment Firm Vantiv To Acquire Rival Worldpay

August 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

U.S. credit card processor Vantiv locked up a deal to acquire British-based rival Worldpay for 8 billion pounds ($10.4 billion) on Wednesday in a bid to create a $29 billion global payments powerhouse.

Vantiv’s  move, one of the biggest takeovers of a British firm since last year’s Brexit vote, is part of a wave of payments company mergers as consumers move away from cash transactions to digital payments.

Companies such as Vantiv with a strong presence in the United States are scrambling to establish a global footprint in the fast-evolving payments industry.

Once a backwater of banking, the sector is now both lucrative and fast-growing, but also faces competition from newcomers trying to disrupt the way merchants are paid.

Shares in Worldpay, Britain’s biggest payment provider, closed 1.28 percent higher at 388.5 pence after Wednesday’s announcement of the deal, which marks the second biggest takeover of a British company this year after China Investment Corporation’s $13.8 billion purchase in June of London-based warehouse firm Logicor.

Other recent deals in the payment sector include Britain’s Paysafe Group backing a 3 billion pound takeover offer from a consortium of Blackstone BX. and CVC Capital Partners and French payments specialist Ingenico making a 1.5 billion euro swoop on Swedish rival Bambora.

Although Vantiv’s deal was first announced on July 5, it has taken several weeks to conclude, with the deadline for a formal offer extended twice as Vantiv and Worldpay haggled over governance and safeguarding British jobs.

The combined Worldpay and Vantiv, which were both spun out of banks and have thrived in their home markets, will be called “Worldpay” and headquartered in Cincinnati, with a primary listing in New York and a secondary one in London.

Worldpay said that Vantiv has offered 55 pence in cash, 0.0672 of a new Vantiv share, an interim dividend of 0.8 pence per Worldpay share and a special 4.2 pence dividend, valuing the former RBS business at 397 pence per share.

“Our combined company will have unparalleled scale, a comprehensive suite of solutions, and the worldwide reach to make us the payments industry global partner of choice,” Vantiv’s president and CEO Charles Drucker said, adding that the deal will bring benefits in terms of size and technology.

NBC To Host Daily News Show On Snapchat

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Comcast Corp’s NBC News plans to offer a twice-per-day news show on Snapchat, the company said on Wednesday, part of its push to attract younger viewers who tend to watch TV on mobile devices.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal invested $500 million in Snapchat owner Snap Inc  during its initial public offering as it seeks to boost its digital offering.

Broadcast news outlets like NBC News face an aging audience. The median age of NBC Nightly News, for example, is 64 years old, according to the Nielsen ratings agency. That is much older than the 18-to-34-year-old demographic that advertisers covet.

Last month, NBC News launched a digital video service, called “NBC Left Field” featuring short documentaries to appeal to social media users.

“This is a concerted effort that is crucial to our future,” said Nick Ascheim, head of digital at NBC News.

“Stay Tuned” will focus on issues of the day and will air at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. EDT on weekdays and 1 p.m. EDT on weekends. The show will also air for specific breaking news events.

The launch of the daily news show comes amid increasing investor skepticism about Snap’s ability to grow and compete with Facebook Inc’s Instagram.

Google’s Gradient Ventures To Focus On Artificial Intelligence Startups

July 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google officially announced Gradient Ventures, its artificial intelligence venture capital project that will make investments in early-stage AI startups.

The new company, which formally launched on Tuesday, underscores Silicon Valley’s growing interest in AI, a field that has been dominated by big tech companies. Google, Facebook and other companies have been busy developing machines, computers or other types of systems that can exhibit humanlike intelligence. The goal is to create machines that can perceive their environment and complete a wide array of everyday tasks previously performed by humans.

Google’s interest in AI is evident in its Google.ai project, which aims to leverage AI across all the products in its portfolio.

“Through Gradient, we’ll provide portfolio companies with capital, resources, and dedicated access to experts and bootcamps in AI,” according to a blog post by Anna Patterson, founder and managing partner of the operation.

The company has already made investments in a handful of AI startups, according to its portfolio page. Those include Aurima, Cape and Cogniac. Another startup, Alogrithmia, revealed last month it had received backing from Google’s AI venture project, although the name of Google’s group had not been revealed at the time.

Spotify Inks Licensing Deal With Sony Music

July 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Spotify has pulled together a licensing deal with a second major label, Sony Music Entertainment, according to media reports, setting the stage for a U.S. stock market listing by the music streaming leader.

Recently valued at $13 billion, Sweden’s Spotify is planning a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange later this year or in early 2018, sources told Reuters in May.

Sony agreed to reduce royalties that Spotify must pay in return for the streaming service restricting new albums to paying subscribers for two weeks before offering access to free users, the Financial Times reported, citing a single source.

Sony’s top artists include Adele, Beyonce and Shakira.

Spotify is also in talks with Warner Music Group , Billboard reported.

Favorable royalty terms are crucial for Spotify to attain profitability and to make it a viable long-term holding for investors.

The company reported a 349 million euro ($400 million) operating loss, a 47 percent increase on a year earlier, even as revenue grew 50 percent to 2.93 billion euros.

In April, it signed a multi-year licensing deal with Vivendi’s Universal Music Group, with a similar two-week release window for new albums and a break on the royalties Spotify pays Universal.

It also signed up digital agency Merlin, on behalf of more than 20,000 independent labels.

Last year, Universal held a 28.9 percent share of global music label revenue, Sony Music generated 22.4 percent and Warner 17.4 percent. Independent labels made up the remaining 31.3 percent, MIDiA Research data showed.

Spotify has fended off competition from rival Apple Music, with nearly double the number of paying subscribers.

In March, Spotify said it had more than 50 million paying subscribers and 140 million active users, including free listeners. Apple reported 27 million music subscribers last month, up from 20 million in December.

The company has faced boycotts from some top music artists who have complained its free services undercut the value of their work but the major label licensing deals have gone some way toward easing these tensions, according to analysts.

Spotify declined to comment. Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group did not respond to requests for immediate comment.

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