Get ready for one of the most jam-packed weekly tech highlights so far. There are several major tech stories that happened last week and that have a huge impact on the current tech world in terms of IPOs, regulatory scrutiny, AI breakthroughs and more. We will talk about Alibaba receiving one of the largest antitrust fines ever given globally, a big breakthrough for Elon Musk’s neurotech company Neuralink, another 7 companies that were blacklisted by the US, and Microsoft potentially preparing for the second-biggest deal in their M&A history. What else has been happening? After a week of harsh critique, Apple executive decided he will testify in the app antitrust case, Chinese tech startups are canceling their IPO plans due to regulatory scrutiny, and AI experts urge the public to stop calling everything for AI, and IBM released a new set of modules that will improve ML in their open-source quantum software.
IBM announced that it is releasing Qiksit Machine Learning which is a set of new application modules that are expanding its open-source quantum software. This information comes as IBM is attempting to get deeper into the field of quantum computers.
According to a blog post released by IBM, the new modules will optimize machine learning by using quantum computers.
“Quantum computation offers another potential avenue to increase the power of machine learning models, and the corresponding literature is growing at an incredible pace,” the team wrote. “Quantum machine learning (QML) proposes new types of models that leverage quantum computers’ unique capabilities to, for example, work in exponentially higher-dimensional feature spaces to improve the accuracy of models, ” the post says.
Last year, IBM introduced their open-source quantum programming software Quiskit to speed up some applications by approximately 100 times and have a series of positive results for the organization.
Klevu, a Finish startup that develops AI products that personalize eCommerce search announced that they have successfully raised $12 million in their series A round. The latest investment puts the total amount the startup has raised to over $17.5 million
Cofounded in 2013 by Ilay Oza, Niraj Aswani, and Jyrki Kontio, Klevu is allowing the customers to connect with the products they want to buy, with the help of AI technology.
Alfvén & Didrikson led Klevu’s latest funding round, with participation from existing investors such as EVLI Growth Partners, Jerry Pruttz Holding, and Jonas Dromberg.
Klevu’s product can plug into eCommerce platforms like Shopify, and optimize the results by learning from the interactions of the customers.
“Text mining is all about analyzing a piece of text and identifying hidden meaningful information from within it. At Klevu, several AI techniques are used to make this happen in the eCommerce domain,” a spokesperson told VentureBeat via email. “Our objective is to enrich the catalog with the information, originally missing in the catalog, that the shoppers may search for … In our training data, we have millions of products from 45 different industries and in 30 different languages. The product data is systematically organized with various product attributes and images associated with each product. This data is then further enhanced, automatically, with an average of 10 million shopping signals collected daily directly from the high-intent shoppers to understand how they search, locate products, and use them.”
One of Klevu’s customers, Puma, admitted that they saw 50% in search-led conversions on one of their websites after adopting Klevu platform.
“Amazon is well known for product discovery, and Google is known for its content,” Oza told VentureBeat via email. “Klevu marries these two together to provide a seamless shopping journey, ensuring the consumer is served the most relevant products and stays highly engaged. With this investment, we are well-positioned toward our mission of democratizing discovery in online retail. We will further invest into strengthening our leadership in machine learning- and natural language processing-led innovations for online retail that bring data-driven business success for our customers.”
Michael I. Jordan, a professor in the department of electrical engineering and computer science, and department of statistics, at the University of California, Berkeley and a pioneer in machine learning said that people have to stop calling everything AI as it creates conduction over the true meaning of the concept.
“There’s not been enough focus on the real problem, which is building planetary-scale machine learning-based systems that actually work, deliver value to humans, and do not amplify inequities,” said Jordan, in an article from IEEE Spectrum author Kathy Pretz. “Just as humans built buildings and bridges before there was civil engineering, humans are proceeding with the building of societal-scale, inference-and-decision-making systems that involve machines, humans, and the environment,” the article noted. “Just as early buildings and bridges sometimes fell to the ground – in unforeseen ways and with tragic consequences – many of our early systems are already exposing serious conceptual flaws.”
Jordan emphasizes the difference between AI and machine learning and claims that most of what is labeled as AI in the public sphere is actually ML.
“People are getting confused about the meaning of AI in discussions of technology trends – that there is some kind of intelligent thought in computers that is responsible for the progress and which is competing with humans,” Jordan added. “We don’t have that, but people are talking as if we do.”
Last year, we were writing about Elon Musk’s Neuralink and what opportunities it presents. On Friday, Neuralink released video footage that shows a monkey playing a videogame after getting the Neuralink implants.
“First @Neuralink product will enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs,” Musk tweeted on Thursday.
“Later versions will be able to shunt signals from Neuralinks in brain to Neuralinks in body motor/sensory neuron clusters, thus enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again. The device is implanted flush with skull & charges wirelessly, so you look & feel totally normal.”
Co-founded by Musk in 2016, Neutalink works on implementing wireless brain-computer chips to help treating neurological conditions with artificial intelligence.
On Thursday, the U.S Commerce Department announced that seven new Chinese supercomputing companies would be added to the U.S. economic blacklist.
In explaining their decision, the Commerce Department said that the entities involved were “involved with building supercomputers used by China’s military actors, its destabilizing military modernization efforts, and/or weapons of mass destruction programs.”
The companies that will be blacklisted are Tianjin Phytium Information Technology, Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center, Sunway Microelectronics, the National Supercomputing Center Jinan, the National Supercomputing Center Shenzhen, the National Supercomputing Center Wuxi, and the National Supercomputing Center Zhengzhou.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing will take “necessary measures” to protect its companies’ rights and interests.
“U.S. containment and suppression cannot hold back the march of China’s scientific and technological development,” he said.
“Supercomputing capabilities are vital for the development of many – perhaps almost all – modern weapons and national security systems, such as nuclear weapons and hypersonic weapons, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.
On Saturday, it was announced by the Chinese regulators that Alibaba Group Holding Ltd would be fined with a record $2.75 billion for antitrust violations. Now, experts on the matter speak to Reuters about it and comment the decision that comes as more and more big techs are being curbed by the regulators.
Liu Xu, a researchers at The National Strategy Institute of Tsinghua University believes that although the fine is the largest domestic fine ever given by the Chinese regulators, it will be a symbolic amount for Alibaba and the implications for other tech giants will be limited.
“A true enhancement of China’s antitrust efforts will depend on persistent determination from the central government and a more transparent, fair mechanism to help the antitrust forces to get rid of various kinds of interference during their investigations and enforcement,”he says.
Similarly, Dickie Wong, the Kingston Securities Executive Director says, “It may not be a bad thing after all. Alibaba has been under the regulators’ spotlight since the derailment of the Ant Group IPO. In the short term, the share price may face pressure. It will not only be Alibaba but also all other Chinese internet big guys, including Tencent, and the market will start to speculate which company will be the next target.”
While some believe that the fine will not bear many implications for Alibaba or the other tech giants, other experts disagree. We Ge, the Director at the Beijing Zhongwen Law firm believes that the fine sends a clear message to internet platform, urging them to create real value for customers and obey the law.
“It should not be treated as a carnival for the public, as the fines will be eventually transferred to consumers,” He says. “Government’s antitrust fines against major monopoly platforms will definitely not end here – rather it is a starting point. There will be more fines coming. It will be a trend in the near future.”
Do you want to know more about Alibaba, the regulatory scrutiny, and curbing the Tech giants?
As the regulatory scrutiny of IPO applicants grows in China, an increasing number of tech startups are cancelling their plans to list on Nasdaq-style markets and go public in Hong Kong instead.
More than 100 companies have withdrawn applications to list on Shanghai’s STAR Market and Shenzhen’s ChiNext since Ant’s termination of its initial public offering (IPO) in November, according to Reuters.
If such a trend continues, China’s plans to compete with global listing venues like Hong Kong or New York would be damaged. However, it is hard to expect the applicants to continue their IPO plans in a face of bigger and bigger regulatory scrutiny.
“Regulators are demanding more stringent due diligence from underwriters,” said the banker, who declined to be identified.
“There’s a tech bubble in China,” said Yiming Feng, partner at Atom Venture Capital. “It’s time for a clean-up.”
In the past week, a series of criticism fell on Apple after the company refused to show up and testify before the U.S. Senate on the antitrust issues. Now, a senior Apple executive says that he will, indeed, testify.
In a letter that was sent to Senators, Apple informs that the Chief Compliance Officer, Kyle Andeer, will testify at the April 21 hearing.
Microsoft is in the late-stage talks with the AI and speech technology company Nuance Communications. The deal is suspected to be worth approximately $16 billion.
The agreement could be officially unfolded by the two companies as soon as this week.
Nuance’s voice recognition technology is one of the key companies behind Apple’s voice assistant Siri. The Massachusetts-based company provides software for different sectors, from healthcare to automotive.
If the deal comes through at the suspected amount, it will be second-biggest acquisition by Microsoft, after they bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016.
Microsoft and Nuance did not immediately comment on the reports.
Today, the CEO of Alibaba, Daniel Zhang, said that the company was not expecting any material impact from the giant $2.75 billion fine for abusing market dominance, given by Chinese market regulations.
The company will introduce measures to lower entry barriers and business costs faced by merchants on its platforms, Zhang told an online conference for media and analysts. The company said that they are confident that despite the fine, they still have government’s support.
“They are affirming our business model,” said Alibaba executive vice-chairman Joe Tsai. “We feel comfortable that there’s nothing wrong with our fundamental business model as a platform company.”
“Now the penalty is determined, the market’s uncertainty about Alibaba will be reduced,” Everbright Sun Hung Kai analyst Kenny Ng said. “Alibaba’s stock price has lagged behind the overall emerging economy stocks for some time in the past. The implementation of this penalty is expected to allow Alibaba’s stock price to regain market attention.”
“The required corrective measures will likely limit Alibaba’s revenue growth as a further expansion in market share will be constrained,” said Lina Choi, Senior Vice President at Moody’s Investors Service. “Investments to retain merchants and upgrade products and services will also reduce its profit margins.”