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Discord hires former Xbox exec Elizabeth Hamren as COO

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Discord has hired former Xbox executive Elizabeth Hamren as its new chief operating officer.

She will work with CEO Jason Citron and oversee teams across marketing, business development, and operations as the company continues to introduce millions of people and communities all over the world to its communications service.

Hamren was previously corporate vice president for gaming experiences and platforms, running product and engineering for all of Xbox’s consumer products and services. The hiring is interesting because Microsoft and Discord held talks this year about an acquisition for more than $10 billion, but ultimately the companies called off the deal.

Before Microsoft, she led global marketing and sales for Oculus at Facebook, where she launched the successful Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

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Discord said her extensive management experience at world-class companies, expertise leading  marketing, product and engineering teams, and deep understanding of how software and subscription products are built will be invaluable as Discord grows.

In a statement, Hamren said, “I’ve spent my career in technology with an emphasis on consumer tech products, primarily running product management and marketing. I love launching new categories (consumer VR headsets with the Oculus Rift) or reinventing existing ones (Dropcam as a way better IP camera).”

At Microsoft, Hamren said she led engineering for consumer products and services, including Xbox Game Pass and all hardware such as the next generation consoles Series X|S. Prior to Xbox, she ran marketing and business for Microsoft Devices, including HoloLens and Surface.

She said she was drawn to Discord’s mission and the people behind it — the founders, the employees, and all the people and communities who use the service.

“I discovered Discord working in gaming but then quickly I saw it transition to becoming part of everyday life. From friends to coworkers to people I meet day to day, it seems that all of them are on Discord and it’s become central to how they hang out,” Hamren said. “There is nothing more exciting than working on a product you love, that millions of other people love too, with a charter to help make it even better for all of us.”

Discord is making itself better known.

Above: Discord is making itself better known.

Image Credit: Discord

She added, “Discord’s mission is simple — to create space for everyone to find belonging. But making that a reality is hard, particularly as we continue to scale and grow. I’m thrilled to work with the team to help develop solutions to this challenge, and I’m excited about bringing the magic of Discord to more people around the world. There is so much opportunity for us to continue to evolve the service to be even more useful for even more people and communities, and I can’t wait to get started.”

In her first six months, Hamren plans to get to know her new colleagues. She hopes to combine the deep knowledge and insights within the team with the benefit of hearing and synthesizing them with a fresh set of eyes.

Regarding her learnings, she said, “The biggest thing I have learned is that there is no set formula that will guarantee results. It’s natural to want to apply the same strategies and tactics that worked before to something new, but so much of success is situational. You always have to evaluate why something worked and how it applies to a new situation. This isn’t to say that there aren’t best practices or learnings you can bring – there are many. It’s knowing how and when to use them, when to adapt them, and when to build from scratch.”

She said her job as a leader is to create an environment where everyone can do their best work and grow.

“That means knowing our team, aligning on our goals, and setting up the organization so everyone has the tools they need to drive impact towards those goals,” Hamren said. “Those things are easy to say but hard to do. To help make that a reality, I have found being extremely transparent, always user-focused, and immersed in data (qualitative and quantitative) are critical.”

The COO role at Discord was previously held by Mak Azadi, who left in August. Hamren’s role will include overseeing marketing, which was previously run by Tesa Aragones, who left a month ago.

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Down rounds are still rare by historical standards • TechCrunch

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If you thought that the recent venture capital market was tough, let me tell you about 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

With the first week of December under our belts, we’re not too far away from the end of the year. And that means that 2022’s venture capital story has largely been written. It’s not a single narrative; instead, this year started on a high, with momentum from the monstrous 2021 funding period persisting into the new year. From that point, we’ve seen a slowdown accelerate into what some consider a downturn.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on TechCrunch+ or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Startups raised lots of capital this year. Less, yes, than last year, but more than in nearly any year in recent memory. It’s still a good time to build a tech upstart.

Does that perspective feel too sunny when we hear so much doom and gloom on Twitter regarding startup prospects in a more conservative investing climate?

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Howie Mandel gets a digital twin from DeepBrain AI

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Howie Mandel is stepping into the metaverse. DeepBrain AI has created a pretty realistic AI version of comedian and actor Mandel.

Deepbrain AI, based in South Korea and Palo Alto, California, calls its creation “AI Howie,” and it’s an interactive virtual human and digital twin for immersive and personalized fan experiences. AI Howie mentions VentureBeat and talks to me in the attached videos.

Unlike the “deepfakes” of Tom Cruise and other actors, the real Howie Mandel cooperated with DeepBrain AI to create the virtual human AI replica of the famous comedian, actor, host, and technology enthusiast. We used “virtual Paris” AI character at our recent MetaBeat event in San Francisco.

“I am equally thrilled, excited, and terrified to finally have the ability of showing up and doing things without going anywhere or doing anything,” said Mandel, in a statement. “Thank you, DeepBrain.”

DeepBrain AI applies deep learning technology to create hyper-realistic virtual humans through its AI Studios and the AI Human platforms. These virtual humans are digital twins of the real person, with the same appearance, voice, gestures, and subtle mannerisms. The AI Studios platform enables script-to-video software that synthesizes dynamic video content in seconds, producing the quickest and most
realistic AI-generated videos. The script-to-video editor makes it easy for customers to select a model and then make it say something based on a script. Within a minute or so the video is made.

This is a powerful communication and marketing tool for celebrities, professional athletes, news anchors, and even politicians. Before working with Howie Mandel, the DeepBrain AI team created digital twins of Premier League soccer superstar Son Heung-Min, multiple news anchors across Asia, and South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol.

Joe Murphy, business development manager for DeepBrain AI, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the virtual Howie is a conversational model that you pepper with questions. DeepBrain AI designs and develops these virtual humans for the purpose of creating digital twins (like Howie Mandel), digital people, and avatars.

It takes about four weeks of machine learning work to create a Howie Mandel digital twin.

“We create models of real people,” Murphy said. “We also have completely synthetic virtual humans. That is what we’ll call digital people. And then avatars are just the basic Roblox type of avatars. But where our technology comes in with the digital twins is we go through a deep learning process to clone the person’s voice, their mannerisms, their face, the way their eyes move, the way their lips move.”

He added, “So we create what we call the digital twin of the real person with all the uniqueness of that person. Our mission is to use this technology that we’ve developed throughout Asia and bring it to America.”

In addition to the script-to-video capabilities, the company provides fully conversational experiences with its AI Human software. The AI Human solution enables fans to interact and engage with AI Howie by simply asking questions. For example, when asked, “What was your favorite act on AGT this season?” the AI Howie model responds in real-time to support interactive, fun, and engaging fan experiences.

AI Humans are available within mobile apps, web browsers, or voice-activated kiosks.

“Our vision is to humanize digital experiences and empower creative teams to generate immersive content at scale,” said Eric Jang, DeepBrain AI CEO. “Working with Howie Mandel was a fun experience, and we are excited to see how the AI Howie collaboration will connect with his fans worldwide.”

DeepBrain AI, (formerly Moneybrain), a conversational AI startup based in Seoul, South Korea, has raised $44 million in a series B round led by Korea Development Bank at a post-money valuation of $180 million. The company started in 2016 and it has raised $54 million to date. The company has 130 employees.

The AI is being used for AI news anchors in South Korea and China at four different television networks. The networks flag that the anchor is an AI avatar so that no one gets confused.

The real Howie Mandel spent about a day shooting video with DeepBrain AI.

While multiple companies are working on virtual humans, DeepBrain AI’s avatars are hyperrealistic. One of Asia’s largest insurance companies is also using it, as is a “brand ambassador” for a soccer team.

“When we worked with Howie Mandel, we went down to his studio in Los Angeles, we provided a script, and fed our training data into our neural network,” Murphy said.

It took about a day to do a video shoot with Mandel and about three to four weeks of machine learning time on the computers to generate the first AI model.

Back in January, DeepBrain AI opened its office in Palo Alto, California, and it is talking to partners in Silicon Valley and the rest of the U.S. Over time, Murphy said that the hope is to create AI avatars in realistic 3D for the metaverse. In South Korea, kiosks are appearing in places like banks with both 2D avatars and 3D avatars.

Over time, Murphy said the avatars have gotten better at mannerisms, lip sync, and subtle gestures. The speed of real-time responses in conversations has also gotten faster. The company is talking about doing more with game companies and major brands.

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These are the 12 big bets of future disruptive technologies

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The 12 big bets on future technologies as per Nasscom report

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) and Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) have identified 12 big bet technologies that can potentially disrupt markets in the next 3-5 years.

A report titled “Sandboxing into the Future: Decoding Technology’s Biggest Bets”, has identified these technologies of the future: autonomous analytics, Artificial Reality and Virtual Reality, autonomous driving, computer vision, deep learning, distributed ledger, edge computing, sensortech, smart robots, spacetech, sustainability tech, and 5G/6G.

AR VR concept image

The report noted that these 12 technologies will unravel in diverse ways, giving way to regional and vertical-specific big bets. While buyers in North America and Europe are betting on technologies such as autonomous analytics, APAC is likely to focus more on 5G/6G technologies, sensortech and smart robotics. Overall, technology buyers anticipate that investments in emerging technologies will account for 70%- 80% of tech spending by 2030.

“Going forward, it will be interesting to see how businesses will put their bets on emerging technologies and how they would be taking ahead the tech revolution for the larger good of the society,” said NASSCOM President Debjani Ghosh.

Cognizant acquires Utegration

Leading technology services company Cognizant has said it bought Houston-based Utegration LLC, a full-service consulting and solutions provider specializing in SAP  technology and SAP-certified products for the energy and utilities sectors.

Cognizant will gain approximately 350 employees in North America and India upon the close of this acquisition.

“We believe Utegration’s rich industry expertise and differentiated portfolio of energy and utilities-focused products and accelerators is a perfect complement to our SAP practice,” said Rob Vatter, Executive Vice President of Cognizant’s Enterprise Platform Services.

Utegration serves over 50 North America-based clients in the energy and utilities sector with solutions across four domains aligned to market needs: customer experience, billing and advanced metering infrastructure, managed services, data science and analytics, and finance and asset performance management.

HCLTech partners with Intel and Mavenir for 5G solutions

HCLTech, a leading Indian technology services company revealed a new collaboration with Intel Corporation and Mavenir to develop and provide scalable private 5G network solutions for communication service providers (CSP) and broader cross-vertical enterprises.

Through this new collaboration, the companies will work closely on a range of projects and activities across enablement, go-to-market and sales acceleration, with the goal of delivering more 5G solutions to CSPs, Internet of Things (IoT) and enterprise verticals, a statement said.

HCL

The three companies will work cross-functionally to add new offerings and help generate greater value for enterprises. The companies will develop a cloud-native enterprise-to-enterprise (E2E) architecture of an Intel Xeon processor-based 5G solution leveraging Mavenir RAN, Intel SmartEdge and HCLTech’s management, orchestration and automation services.

“There is currently a great need for scalable, reliable 5G solutions across nearly every enterprise and industry,” said Kalyan Kumar, Chief Technology Officer, HCLTech. “This need represents a major opportunity to innovate and deliver solutions that will have a major impact on business operations and outcomes.”

Collins Aerospace to expand operations in India

Collins Aerospace, which is part of Raytheon Technologies has announced that it will be expanding its operations in India. The company inaugurated its Global Engineering & Tech Centre and a new India Operations Centre to mark its 25th year in Bengaluru.

Collins Aerospace has also pledged significant capital and manpower investments over the next five years given that the Indian aerospace & defence (A&D) market is projected to reach $70 billion by 2030.

The team at Collins India is actively collaborating with Indian R&D organisations like NAL, CMTI, DRDO for study into materials, additive manufacturing, pre-qualification tests and other important projects.

Wipro bags top honour for workplace inclusion

Wipro Limited, a leading Indian technology services and consulting company, has been recognised as a ‘Gold’ employer by the India Workplace Equality Index (IWEI) 2022.

Awarded to the top employers by IWEI, the gold employer is the highest of 3 levels, where an organisation is credited with ‘embedding inclusion in the workplace.’ Highlights of Wipro’s efforts in this journey include recognition of Wipro’s leadership in India to advance LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace, from organisational policies to external communications.

wipro

It also demonstrates a long-term and in-depth commitment towards LGBTQ+ inclusion, where Wipro has implemented several initiatives enabling its employees to become active allies for the community.

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