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Ambient.ai aims to provide AI-powered building security, minus bias and privacy pitfalls – TechCrunch

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Security — as in “hey you, you can’t go in there” — quickly becomes a complex, arguably impossible job once you get past a few buildings and cameras. Who can watch everywhere at once, and send someone in time to prevent a problem? Ambient.ai isn’t the first to claim that AI can, but they may be the first to actually pull it off at scale — and they’ve raised $52 million to keep growing.

The problem with today’s processes is the sort of thing anybody can point out. If you’ve got a modern company or school campus with dozens or hundreds of cameras, they produce so much footage and data that even a dedicated security team will have trouble keeping up with it. As a consequence, not only are they likely to miss an important event as it happens, but they’re also up to their ears in false alarms and noise.

“Victims are always looking at the cameras, expecting that someone is coming to help them… but it just isn’t the case,” CEO and co-founder of Ambient.ai, Shikhar Shrestha, told TechCrunch. “Best case is you wait for the incident to happen, you go and pull the video, and you work from there. We have the cameras, we have the sensors, we have the officers — what’s missing is the brain in the middle.”

Obviously Shrestha’s company is looking to provide the brain: a central visual processing unit for live security footage that can tell when something’s going wrong and immediately tell the right people. But without the bias that threatens such endeavors, and no facial recognition.

Others have made inroads on this particular idea before now, but so far none has seen serious adoption. The first generation of automatic image recognition, Shrestha said, was simple motion detection, little more than checking whether pixels were moving around on the screen — with no insight into whether it was a tree or a home invader. Next came the use of deep learning to do object recognition: identifying a gun in hand or a breaking window. This proved useful but limited and somewhat high maintenance, needing lots of scene- and object-specific training.

“The insight was, if you look at what humans do to understand a video, we take lots of other information: is the person sitting or standing? Are they opening a door, are they walking or running? Are they indoors or outdoors, daytime or nighttime? We bring all that together to create a kind of comprehensive understanding of the scene,” Shrestha explained. “We use computer vision intelligence to mine the footage for a whole range of events. We break down every task and call it a primitive: interactions, objects, etc., then we combine those building blocks to create a ‘signature.’”

The Ambient.ai system uses elements of behavior and plugs them into each other to tell whether they’re a problem. Image Credits: Ambient.ai

A signature may be something like “a person sitting in their car for a long time at night,” or “a person standing by a security checkpoint not interacting with anyone,” or any number of things. Some have been tweaked and added by the team, some have been arrived at independently by the model, which Shrestha descrbed as “kind of a managed semi-supervised approach.”

The benefit of using an AI to monitor a hundred video streams at once is plain even if you were to assume that said AI is only, say, 80% as good as a human at spotting something bad happening. With no such shortcomings as distraction, fatigue or only having two eyes, an AI can apply that level of success without limits on time or feed number, meaning the chance of success is actually quite high.

But the same might have been said of a proto-AI system from a few years ago that was only looking for guns. What Ambient.ai is aiming for is something more comprehensive.

“We built the platform around the idea of privacy by design,” Shrestha said. With AI-powered security, “people just assume facial recognition is part of it, but with our approach you have this large number of signature events, and you can have a risk indicator without having to do facial recognition. You don’t just have one image and one model that says what’s happening — we have all these different blocks that allow you to get more descriptive in the system.”

Essentially this is done by keeping each individual recognized activity bias-free to begin with. For instance, whether someone is sitting or standing, or how long they’ve been waiting outside a door — if each of these behaviors can be audited and found to be detected across demographics and groups, then the sum of such inferences must likewise be free of bias. In this way the system structurally reduces bias.

It must, however, be said that bias is insidious and complex, and our ability to recognize it and mitigate it lags behind the state of the art. Nevertheless it seems intuitively true that, as Shrestha put it, “if you don’t have an inference category for something that can be biased, there’s no way for bias to come in that way.” Let’s hope so!

Ambient.ai co-founders Vikesh Khanna (CTO, left) and Shikhar Shrestha (CEO).

Ambient.ai co-founders Vikesh Khanna (CTO, left) and Shikhar Shrestha (CEO). Image Credits: Ambient.ai

We’ve seen a few startups come and go along these lines, so it’s important for these ideas to be demonstrated on the record. And despite keeping relatively quiet about itself, Ambient.ai has a number of active customers that have helped prove out its product hypothesis. Of course the last couple years haven’t exactly been business as usual… but it’s hard to imagine “five of the largest U.S. tech companies by market cap” would be customers (and they are) if it didn’t work.

One test at an unnamed “Fortune 500 Technology Company” was looking to reduce “tailgating,” where someone enters a secured area right behind another person authorized to do so. If you think no one does this, well, they identified 2,000 incidents the first week. But by sending GIFs of the events in near real time to security, who presumably went and wagged their fingers at the offenders, that number was reduced to 200 a week. Now it’s 10 a week, probably by people like me.

Illustration of ambient.ai's interface, showing detected events like falls and active shooters.

Image Credits: Ambient.ai

In another test case Ambient.ai documented, a school’s security cameras caught someone scaling the fence after hours. The security head was sent the footage immediately and called the cops. Turns out the guy had priors. The point I take here is not that we need to lock down our school campuses, and this will help do that, but something else mentioned in the document, which is that the system can combine the knowledge of “someone is climbing a fence” with other stuff, like “this happens a lot a bit before 8:45,” so kids taking a shortcut don’t get the cops called on them. And the AI could also discern between climbing, falling and loitering, which in different circumstances might matter, or not.

Ambient.ai claims that part of the system’s flexibility is in all these “primitives” being easy to rearrange depending on the needs of the site — maybe you truly don’t care if someone climbs a fence, unless they fall — as well as being able to learn new situations: “Ah, so this is what it looks like when someone is cutting a fence.” The team currently has about 100 suspicious behavior “signatures” and hopes to double that over the next year.

Making the existing security personnel more effective by giving them more control over what blows up their phone or radio saves time and improves outcomes (Ambient.ai says it reduces the number of common alarms in general by 85-90%). And AI-powered categorization of footage helps with records and archives as well. Saying “download all footage of people climbing a fence at night” is a lot easier than scrubbing through 5,000 hours manually.

The $52 million round was led by a16z, but there’s also a bit of a who’s-who in the individual investor pile: Ron Conway, Ali Rowghani from Y Combinator, Okta co-founder Frederic Kerrest, CrowdStrike CEO George Kurtz, Microsoft CVP Charles Dietrich, and several others who know of what they invest in.

“It’s a unique time; security practitioners are expected to do a lot more. The basic proposal of not having to have someone watching all these feeds is universal,” said Shrestha. “We spend so much money on security, $120 billion… it’s crazy that the outcomes aren’t there — we don’t prevent incidents. It feels like all roads are leading to convergence. We want to be a platform that an organization can adopt and future-proof their security.”

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LastPass hacked, OpenAI opens access to ChatGPT, and Kanye gets suspended from Twitter (again) • TechCrunch

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Aaaaand we’re back! With our Thanksgiving mini-hiatus behind us, it’s time for another edition of Week in Review — the newsletter where we quickly wrap up the most read TechCrunch stories from the past seven(ish) days. No matter how busy you are, it should give you a pretty good idea of what people were talking about in tech this week.

Want it in your inbox every Saturday morning? Sign up here.

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Instafest goes instaviral: You’ve probably been to a great music festival before. But have you been to one made just for you? Probably not. Instafest, a web app that went super viral this week, helps you daydream about what that festival might look like. Sign in with your Spotify credentials and it’ll generate a promo poster for a pretend festival based on your listening habits.

LastPass breached (again): “Password manager LastPass said it’s investigating a security incident after its systems were compromised for the second time this year,” writes Zack Whittaker. Investigations are still underway, which unfortunately means it’s not super clear what (and whose) data might’ve been accessed.

ChatGPT opens up: This week, OpenAI widely opened up access to ChatGPT, which lets you interact with their new language-generation AI through a simple chat-style interface. In other words, it lets you generate (sometimes scarily well-written) passages of text by chatting with a robot. Darrell used it to instantly write the Pokémon cheat sheet he’s always wanted.

AWS re:Invents: This week, Amazon Web Services hosted its annual re:Invent conference, where the company shows off what’s next for the cloud computing platform that powers a massive chunk of the internet. This year’s highlights? A low-code tool for serverless apps, a pledge to give AWS customers control over where in the world their data is stored (to help navigate increasingly complicated government policies), and a tool to run “city-sized simulations” in the cloud.

Twitter suspends Kanye (again): “Elon Musk has suspended Kanye West’s (aka Ye) Twitter account after the latter posted antisemitic tweets and violated the platform’s rules,” writes Ivan Mehta.

Spotify Wraps it up: Each year in December, Spotify ships “Wrapped” — an interactive feature that takes your Spotify listening data for the year and presents it in a super visual way. This year it’s got the straightforward stuff like how many minutes you streamed, but it’s also branching out with ideas like “listening personalities” — a Myers-Briggs-inspired system that puts each user into one of 16 camps, like “the Adventurer” or “the Replayer.”

DoorDash layoffs: I was hoping to go a week without a layoffs story cracking the list. Alas, DoorDash confirmed this week that it’s laying off 1,250 people, with CEO Tony Xu explaining that they hired too quickly during the pandemic.

Salesforce co-CEO steps down: “In one week last December, [Bret Taylor] was named board chair at Twitter and co-CEO at Salesforce,” writes Ron Miller. “One year later, he doesn’t have either job.” Taylor says he has “decided to return to [his] entrepreneurial roots.”

audio roundup

I expected things to be a little quiet in TC Podcast land last week because of the holiday, but we somehow still had great shows! Ron Miller and Rita Liao joined Darrell Etherington on The TechCrunch Podcast to talk about the departure of Salesforce’s co-CEO and China’s “great wall of porn”; Team Chain Reaction shared an interview with Nikil Viswanathan, CEO of web3 development platform Alchemy; and the ever-lovely Equity crew talked about everything from Sam Bankman-Fried’s wild interview at DealBook to why all three of the co-founders at financing startup Pipe stepped down simultaneously.

TechCrunch+

What lies behind the TC+ members-only paywall? Here’s what TC+ members were reading most this week:

Lessons for raising $10M without giving up a board seat: Reclaim.ai has raised $10 million over the last two years, all “without giving up a single board seat.” How? Reclaim.ai co-founder Henry Shapiro shares his insights.

Consultants are the new nontraditional VC: “Why are so many consultant-led venture capital funds launching now?” asks Rebecca Szkutak.

Fundraising in times of greater VC scrutiny: “Founders may be discouraged in this environment, but they need to remember that they have ‘currency,’ too,” writes DocSend co-founder and former CEO Russ Heddleston.

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Building global, scalable metaverse applications

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Previously we talked about the trillion-dollar infrastructure opportunity that comes with building the metaverse — and it is indeed very large. But what about the applications that will run on top of this new infrastructure?

Metaverse applications will be very different from the traditional web or mobile apps that we are used to today. For one, they will be much more immersive and interactive, blurring the lines between the virtual and physical worlds. And because of the distributed nature of the metaverse, they will also need to be able to scale globally — something that has never been done before at this level.

In this article, we will take a developer’s perspective and explore what it will take to build global, scalable metaverse applications.

As you are aware, the metaverse will work very differently from the web or mobile apps we have today. For one, it is distributed, meaning there is no central server that controls everything. This has a number of implications for developers:

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  • They will need to be able to deal with data that is spread out across many different servers (or “nodes”) in a decentralized manner.
  • They will need to be able to deal with users that are also spread out across many different servers.
  • They will need to be able to deal with the fact that each user may have a different experience of the metaverse, based on their location and the devices they are using due to the fact not everyone has the same tech setup, and this plays a pivotal role in how the metaverse is experienced by each user.

These challenges are not insurmountable, but they do require a different way of thinking about application development. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Data control and manipulation

In a traditional web or mobile app, all the data is stored on a central server. This makes it easy for developers to query and manipulate that data because everything is in one place.

In a distributed metaverse, however, data is spread out across many different servers. This means that developers will need to find new ways to query and manipulate data that is not centrally located.

One way to do this is through the blockchain itself. This distributed ledger, as you know, is spread out across many different servers and allows developers to query and manipulate data in a decentralized manner.

Another way to deal with the challenge of data is through what is known as “content delivery networks” (CDNs). These are networks of servers that are designed to deliver content to users in a fast and efficient manner.

CDNs are often used to deliver web content, but they can also be used to deliver metaverse content. This is because CDNs are designed to deal with large amounts of data that need to be delivered quickly and efficiently — something that is essential for metaverse applications.

Users and devices

Another challenge that developers will need to face is the fact that users and devices are also spread out across many different servers. This means that developers will need to find ways to deliver content to users in a way that is efficient and effective.

One way to do this is through the use of “mirrors.” Mirrors are copies of the content that are stored on different servers. When a user requests content, they are redirected to the nearest mirror, which helps to improve performance and reduce latency.

When a user’s device is not able to connect to the server that is hosting the content, another way to deliver content is through “proxies.” Proxies are servers that act on behalf of the user’s device and fetch the content from the server that is hosting it.

This can be done in a number of ways, but one common way is through the use of a “reverse proxy.” In this case, the proxy server is located between the user’s device and the server that is hosting the content. The proxy fetches the content from the server and then delivers it to the user’s device.

Location and devices

As we mentioned before, each user’s experience of the metaverse will be different based on their location and the devices they are using. This is because not everyone has the same tech setup, and this plays a pivotal role in how the metaverse is experienced by each user.

For example, someone who is using a virtual reality headset will have a completely different experience than someone who is just using a desktop computer. And someone who is located in Europe will have a different experience than someone who is located in Asia.

Though it may not be obvious why geographical location would play a part in something that is meant to be boundless, think of it this way. The internet is a physical infrastructure that is spread out across the world. And although the metaverse is not bound by the same physical limitations, it still relies on this infrastructure to function.

This means that developers will need to take into account the different geographical locations of their users and devices and design their applications accordingly. They will need to be able to deliver content quickly and efficiently to users all over the world, regardless of their location.

Different geographical locations also have different laws and regulations. This is something that developers will need to be aware of when designing applications for the metaverse. They will need to make sure that their applications are compliant with all applicable laws and regulations.

Application development

Now that we’ve looked at some of the challenges that developers will need to face, let’s take a look at how they can develop metaverse applications. Since the metaverse is virtual, the type of development that is required is different from traditional application development.

The first thing that developers will need to do is to create a “space”. A space is a virtual environment that is used to host applications.

Spaces are created using a variety of different tools, but the most popular tool currently is Unity, a game engine used to create 3D environments.

Once a space has been created, developers will need to populate it with content. This content can be anything from 3D models to audio files.

The next step is to publish the space. This means that the space will be made available to other users, who will be able to access the space through a variety of different devices, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Finally, developers will need to promote their space. This means that they will need to market their space to users.

Getting applications to scale

Since web 3.0 is decentralized, scalability is usually the biggest challenge because traditional servers are almost impossible to use. IPFS is one solution that can help with this problem.

IPFS is a distributed file system used to store and share files. IPFS is similar to BitTorrent, but it is designed to be used for file storage rather than file sharing.

IPFS is a peer-to-peer system, which means that there is no central server. This makes IPFS very scalable because there is no single point of failure.

To use IPFS, developers will need to install it on their computer and add their space to the network. Then, other users will be able to access it.

The bottom line on building global, scalable metaverse applications

To finish off, the technology to build scalable metaverse applications already exists; but a lot of creativity is still required to make it all work together in a user-friendly way. The key is to keep the following concepts in mind:

  • The metaverse is global and decentralized
  • Users will access the metaverse through a variety of devices
  • Location and device management are important
  • Application development is different from traditional development
  • Scalability is a challenge, but IPFS can help

Clearly, we can’t have an article series about building the metaverse without discussing NFTs. In fact, these might be the key to making a global, decentralized, metaverse work. In our next article, we will explore how NFTs can be used in the metaverse.

By keeping these concepts in mind, developers will be able to create metaverse applications that are both user-friendly and scalable.

Daniel Saito is CEO and cofounder of StrongNode

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7 Secrets of Truly Successful Personal Brands

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The choice to launch your brand is noticeable. But creating a solid brand is essential. Authenticity, consistency, initiative, confidence, courage, and time are required to complete everything.

Personal branding is not a thing to do because social media says so. Today it’s an essential element in your communication strategy, used by not only famous and influential people and big businesses but also every individual that wants to be seen, heard and ultimately valued.

Globally, everyday people are already creating their own brands. The corporate branding machine enslavement is too much, so many professionals are leaving employment. It is crucial to build your brand authority because other than leading to commercial and reputational opportunities, it’s also positive for your self-expression.

Better clientele, industry recognition and financial gains result from it. Due to declining trust in our institutions, customers trust individuals more than businesses; therefore, you should concentrate on establishing your personal (and business) brand as part of your elevation strategy.

Check out these seven personal branding success secrets:

1. Find and curate your “A-Team”

A new brand’s path can be pretty tricky and resemble an endless race of overcoming technical, emotional and personal obstacles. A key component of overcoming these obstacles is finding and building a solid team that shares your vision and mission.

Co-founders, workers, advisers, consultants, mentors, coaches and even dependable family members may be a part of your team — link your team selection to your values and ideals and favor compatibility above competence.

Related: I’ve Interviewed and Hired Thousands of People. Here’s What to Keep in Mind Before Offering the Job.

2. Tap into future trends and needs

Adapting based on future trends and customer needs is pivotal because the world is evolving daily. For example, if Jeff Bezos tried setting up an online bookstore today, he would most possibly fail miserably. However, his foresight to know what customers need drove Amazon to a global ecommerce store today. Timing is everything!

Likewise, knowing the market’s future can help your brand make the right moves and become successful. But it doesn’t imply it’s impossible to foresee how the corporate world will develop. What matters most is how analytically sound you are and how well-equipped you are to anticipate future events.

Even though it won’t always be exact to a tee, this will give you a solid idea of where things are going. Making assumptions about future trends carries some calculated risk, but staying safe will never help you or your brand grow.

Related: Looking for a New Business Idea? Here’s How to Identify What People Really Need

3. Unlearn outdated trends to make way for the new

For a brand to flourish, it is vital to unlearn in business. We can only build something fresh and distinctive if we let go of our outdated attitudes and practices—discovering a new project or closing a transaction with unexpected customers results from curiosity.

Unlearning is a systematic strategy to advance and overcome barriers one at a time.

Entrepreneurship success is composed of 20% learning and 80% unlearning. Remove the restrictive presumptions to make room for helpful information.

4. Think fast for solutions and act fast

One of the secrets to a great brand is having the capacity to think and respond quickly. Since environmental issues are worsening, the brand must move soon, seek eco-alternatives and sustainable solutions that reduce their adverse effects, and convey the concept of conscious living to the next generation as quickly as possible.

Simply acting quickly and moving quickly to find answers can give you a competitive edge. If you are not in a technology-dominant business-like distribution, manufacturing, or something not typically controlled by technology firms, your rivals are probably advancing slowly. We must make many daily decisions, but some are more crucial than others.

For example, eating is essential, but whether you choose a salad, chicken or a Big Mac is less important at the moment. You can think more rapidly if you can swiftly pick what to eat. Even if your choice weren’t the best, the effects would be minimal in the short term.

5. Be adaptable and flexible

Being an entrepreneur entails weighing possibilities and dangers equally. This will help you create a distinct brand and ensure its long-term survival and competitiveness. Many new brands tend to concentrate on a single item or service.

Meanwhile, they frequently need to see the value of brand creation right away. Startup brands often think that the benefits of their products are evident and that the brand can speak for itself. You can only place that much faith in some potential consumers.

You must include the development of your brand skills in your content strategy and make sure that the visuals reflect this.

You must evaluate new items in light of your company values as you grow. Check to see if your objectives are compatible, and if not, make any necessary modifications.

6. Become an autodidact

After college, education for most people typically comes to an end. However, your reputation will continue to rise if you develop a passion for studying and being an autodidact.

However, in this day and age of information overload and many online distractions, being an effective autodidact can be taxing. Therefore, staying focused on your mission is more crucial than ever.

Some people contend that the age of the autodidact, or self-directed learning, is currently upon us. After all, the internet is brimming with tools for self-learning that you can utilize to build your brand. However, beware that some may lack substance and are merely shiny bells and whistles.

Related: 6 Little-Known Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs

7. Be street smart

Being “street smart,” or able to foresee and handle unexpected everyday business issues, is generally seen as a crucial ability for brand owners and entrepreneurs.

Most investors claim to be able to spot this capacity when they see it, but the experience is necessary to describe it. To be a street-smart person, you need to comprehend your brand’s surroundings or condition well.

You are consciously aware of your surroundings. Moreover, you can see what’s happening around you even when you can’t see it. You can form opinions about the situation based on lived experience, the environment and the people in it, giving you the confidence to put your faith in these opinions.

Related: Are You ‘Intelligent’ Enough to Be an Entrepreneur?

Conclusion

To succeed at personal branding, you must be a brand new, evolving you. In a world full of imitators, be genuine and authentic to yourself.

Authentic personal branding is more than simply self-promotion and marketing commonly seen online. It focuses more on making a courageous difference in people’s lives and inspiring them to live better lives. It can also be about inspiring humanity to do good. After 33 years in this game, I believe and practice that “doing good” is all possible.

You must invest time and effort to be the “go-to” authority in your chosen area. All things worth doing must be done well; therefore, it’s better to make the most of that time and effort!

Applying the seven tips above will help you create an authentic personal brand that is true to you and enjoy the success that will inevitably follow.

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