Bots replacing office workers drive big valuations

A lot of people still get paid to sit in offices and do repetitive tasks. In recent years, however, employers have been pushing harder to find ways to outsource that work to machines.

A lot of people still get paid to sit in offices and do repetitive tasks. In recent years, however, employers have been pushing harder to find ways to outsource that work to machines.

Venture and growth investors are doing a lot to speed up the rise of these worker-bots. So far this year, they’ve poured hundreds of millions into developers of robotic process automation technology, the term to describe software used for performing a series of tasks previously carried out by humans.

Process automation funding activity spiked last week with a $225 million Series C round for one of the category leaders, New York-based UiPath. Sequoia Capital and Alphabet’s CapitalG led the financing, which brings total capital raised by the 13-year-old company to more than $400 million, with a most recent valuation of $3 billion.

A Crunchbase News analysis of funding for startups and growth companies involved in robotic process automation indicates this has been a busy year overall for the space, with more than $600 million in aggregate investment across at least seven sizable deals.

Below, we spotlight some of the largest 2018 rounds in the space:1

UiPath, for its part, has a grand vision and an impressive growth rate. Its broad goal, laid out to incoming employees, involves “liberating the human workforce from tedious, repetitive tasks.”

And employers are willing to pay handsomely to liberate their employees. UiPath said that in one 21-month period, it went from $1 million to $100 million in annual recurring revenue, an absolutely astounding growth rate for an enterprise software company.

The other big unicorn in the process automation space, Automation Anywhere, is also in rapid expansion mode. The company said customers have been using its tools across a broad range of industries for tasks including integrating data in electronic medical records, streamlining mortgage applications and completing complex purchase orders.

One might ask: What are employees to do all day now that the bots have freed them of their tiresome tasks? The general refrain from UiPath and others in the process automation space is that their software doesn’t eliminate jobs so much as it gives workers time to focus on higher-value projects.

That may be broadly true, but there is a significant body of employment trend forecasting that predicts widespread job losses stemming from this kind of automation. It could take the form of layoffs, or it might not. Companies may indeed transition bot-displaced existing employees to other, higher-value roles. Even if they do that, however, process automation could enable reduced hiring for future jobs.

That said, there’s plenty of funding and hiring happening at the handful of high-growth companies that could determine whether the rest of us have a job in our futures.

  1. Providing comprehensive funding numbers for robotic process automation proved challenging because many startups list automation as part of a broader suite of offerings, rather than a core focus area. 

How to use the macOS Home app to control your HomeKit accessories

The macOS Home app lets you control lights and other HomeKit-compatible smart devices from your computer. Here’s how to do it.

macOS home app

The macOS Home app lets you control lights and other HomeKit-compatible smart devices from your computer. Although the app is similar to the iOS version, it does have a critical limitation that could make it less than optimal for some users. Here’s how to use it.... Read the rest of this post here


"How to use the macOS Home app to control your HomeKit accessories" is an article by iDownloadBlog.com.
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Call for smart home devices to bake in privacy safeguards for kids

A new research report has raised concerns about how in-home smart devices such as AI virtual voice assistants, smart appliances, and security and monitoring technologies could be gathering and sharing children’s data. It calls for new privacy measures to safeguard kids and make sure age appropriate design code is included with home automation technologies. The […]

A new research report has raised concerns about how in-home smart devices such as AI virtual voice assistants, smart appliances, and security and monitoring technologies could be gathering and sharing children’s data.

It calls for new privacy measures to safeguard kids and make sure age appropriate design code is included with home automation technologies.

The report, entitled Home Life Data and Children’s Privacy, is the work of Dr Veronica Barassi of Goldsmiths, University of London, who leads a research project at the university investigating the impact of big data and AI on family life.

Barassi wants the UK’s data protection agency to launch a review of what she terms “home life data” — meaning the information harvested by smart in-home devices that can end up messily mixing adult data with kids’ information — to consider its impact on children’s privacy, and “put this concept at the heart of future debates about children’s data protection”.

“Debates about the privacy implications of AI home assistants and Internet of Things focus a lot on the the collection and use of personal data. Yet these debates lack a nuanced understanding of the different data flows that emerge from everyday digital practices and interactions in the home and that include the data of children,” she writes in the report.

“When we think about home automation therefore, we need to recognise that much of the data that is being collected by home automation technologies is not only personal (individual) data but home life data… and we need to critically consider the multiple ways in which children’s data traces become intertwined with adult profiles.”

The report gives examples of multi-user functions and aggregated profiles (such as Amazon’s Household Profiles feature) as constituting a potential privacy risk for children’s privacy.

Another example cited is biometric data — a type of information frequently gathered by in-home ‘smart’ technologies (such as via voice or facial recognition tech) yet the report asserts that generic privacy policies often do not differentiate between adults’ and children’s biometric data. So that’s another grey area being critically flagged by Barassi.

She’s submitted the report to the ICO in response to its call for evidence and views on an Age Appropriate Design Code it will be drafting. This code is a component of the UK’s new data protection legislation intended to support and supplement rules on the handling of children’s data contained within pan-EU privacy regulation — by providing additional guidance on design standards for online information services that process personal data and are “likely to be accessed by children”.

And it’s very clear that devices like smart speakers intended to be installed in homes where families live are very likely to be accessed by children.

The report concludes:

There is no acknowledgement so far of the complexity of home life data, and much of the privacy debates seem to be evolving around personal (individual) data. It seems that companies are not recognizing the privacy implications involved in children’s daily interactions with home automation technologies that are not designed for or targeted at them. Yet they make sure to include children in the advertising of their home technologies. Much of the responsibility of protecting children is in the hands of parents, who struggle to navigate Terms and Conditions even after changes such as GDPR [the European Union’s new privacy framework]. It is for this reason that we need to find new measures and solutions to safeguard children and to make sure that age appropriate design code is included within home automation technologies.

“We’ve seen privacy concerns raised about smart toys and AI virtual assistants aimed at children, but so far there has been very little debate about home hubs and smart technologies aimed at adults that children encounter and that collect their personal data,” adds Barassi commenting in a statement.

“The very newness of the home automation environment means we do not know what algorithms are doing with this ‘messy’ data that includes children’s data. Firms currently fail to recognise the privacy implications of children’s daily interactions with home automation technologies that are not designed or targeted at them.

“Despite GDPR, it’s left up to parents to protect their children’s privacy and navigate a confusing array of terms and conditions.”

The report also includes a critical case study of Amazon’s Household Profiles — a feature that allows Amazon services to be shared by members of a family — with Barassi saying she was unable to locate any information on Amazon’s US or UK privacy policies on how the company uses children’s “home life data” (e.g. information that might have been passively recorded about kids via products such as Amazon’s Alexa AI virtual assistant).

“It is clear that the company recognizes that children interact with the virtual assistants or can create their own profiles connected to the adults. Yet I can’t find an exhaustive description or explanation of the ways in which their data is used,” she writes in the report. “I can’t tell at all how this company archives and sells my home life data, and the data of my children.”

Amazon does make this disclosure on children’s privacy — though it does not specifically state what it does in instances where children’s data might have been passively recorded (i.e. as a result of one of its smart devices operating inside a family home.)

Barassi also points out there’s no link to its children’s data privacy policy on the ‘Create your Amazon Household Profile’ page — where the company informs users they can add up to four children to a profile, noting there is only a tiny generic link to its privacy policy at the very bottom of the page.

We asked Amazon to clarify its handling of children’s data but at the time of writing the company had not responded to multiple requests for comment.

The EU’s new GDPR framework does require data processors to take special care in handling children’s data.

In its guidance on this aspect of the regulation the ICO writes: “You should write clear privacy notices for children so that they are able to understand what will happen to their personal data, and what rights they have.”

The ICO also warns: “The GDPR also states explicitly that specific protection is required where children’s personal data is used for marketing purposes or creating personality or user profiles. So you need to take particular care in these circumstances.”

UiPath lands $225M Series C on $3 billion valuation as robotic process automation soars

UiPath is bringing automation to repetitive processes inside large organizations and it seems to have landed on a huge pain point. Today it announced a massive $225 million Series C on a $3 billion valuation. The round was led by CapitalG and Sequoia Capital. Accel, which invested in the companies A and B rounds also […]

UiPath is bringing automation to repetitive processes inside large organizations and it seems to have landed on a huge pain point. Today it announced a massive $225 million Series C on a $3 billion valuation.

The round was led by CapitalG and Sequoia Capital. Accel, which invested in the companies A and B rounds also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $408 million, according to Crunchbase, and comes just months after a $153 million Series B we reported on last March. At that time, it had a valuation of over $1 billion, meaning the valuation has tripled in less than six months.

There’s a reason this company you might have never heard of is garnering this level of investment so quickly. For starters, it’s growing in leaps in bounds. Consider that it went from $1 million to $100 million in annual recurring revenue in under 21 months, according to the company. It currently has 1800 enterprise customers and claims to be adding 6 new ones a day, an astonishing rate of customer acquisition.

The company is part of the growing field of robotic process automation or RPA . While the robotics part of the name could be considered a bit of a misnomer, the software helps automate a series of mundane tasks that were typically handled by humans. It allows companies to bring a level of automation to legacy processes like accounts payable, employee onboarding, procurement and reconciliation without actually having to replace legacy systems.

Phil Fersht, CEO and chief analyst at HfS, a firm that watches the RPA market, says RPA isn’t actually that intelligent. “It’s about taking manual work, work-arounds and integrated processes built on legacy technology and finding way to stitch them together,” he told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year.

It isn’t quite as simple as the old macro recorders that used to record a series of tasks and execute them with a keystroke, but it is somewhat analogous to that approach. Today, it’s more akin to a bot that may help you complete a task in Slack. RPA is a bit more sophisticated moving through a workflow in an automated fashion.

Ian Barkin from Symphony Ventures, a firm that used to do outsourcing, has embraced RPA. He says while most organizations have a hard time getting a handle on AI, RPA allows them to institute fundamental change around desktop routines without having to understand AI.

If you’re worrying about this technology replacing humans, it is somewhat valid, but Barkin says the technology is replacing jobs that most humans don’t enjoy doing. “The work people enjoy doing is exceptions and judgment based, which isn’t the sweet spot of RPA. It frees them from mundaneness of routine,” he said in an interview last year.

Whatever it is, it’s resonating inside large organizations and UiPath, is benefiting from the growing need by offering its own flavor of RPA. Today its customers include the likes of Autodesk, BMW Group and Huawei.

As it has grown over the last year, the number of employees has increased 3x  and the company expects to reach 1700 employees by the end of the year.

Apple is late to a self driving milestone — its first test car accident

Apple’s secretive self-driving vehicle program has disclosed its first accident, according to a report filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The low speed accident, which occurred August 24, is a milestone of sorts for the company, albeit not one that is being celebrated. These days, as more companies head out onto public streets […]

Apple’s secretive self-driving vehicle program has disclosed its first accident, according to a report filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The low speed accident, which occurred August 24, is a milestone of sorts for the company, albeit not one that is being celebrated. These days, as more companies head out onto public streets to test their autonomous vehicle systems, accidents have become more common. The vast majority are minor, low-speed incidents.

There was just one accident involving a self-driving vehicle (that one was owned by Delphi) reported to the DMV in 2014. So far this year, there have been more than 40 accidents involving self-driving cars reported to CA DMV.

The first fatal autonomous vehicle accident, which involved an Uber self-driving vehicle striking a pedestrian, occurred in March in Arizona.

The Apple test car was attempting to merge onto an expressway near its headquarters in Cupertino, California, and traveling about 1 mile per hour, when it was rear-ended by a Nissan Leaf, according to the report. There were no injuries reported. Both parties reported moderate damage to their vehicles.

Apple doesn’t talk about its self-driving vehicle program. The tech company’s permit with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency responsible for monitoring AVs in the state, is the only official acknowledgment that it even has a program. Apple’s self-driving program has been considered an open secret in Silicon Valley. And more recently, CEO Tim Cook has made references to the company’s interest in autonomous systems. In an interview with Bloomberg, he called it the mother of all AI projects. But the company doesn’t talk about its program or its ultimate product plans.

The accident report doesn’t reveal much, beyond the make and model of Apple’s test vehicle. The self-driving test vehicle involved in the accident was a 2016i Lexus RX450H. This the same make and model that Google used to test its self-driving system.

Apple is late to a self driving milestone — its first test car accident

Apple’s secretive self-driving vehicle program has disclosed its first accident, according to a report filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The low speed accident, which occurred August 24, is a milestone of sorts for the company, albeit not one that is being celebrated. These days, as more companies head out onto public streets […]

Apple’s secretive self-driving vehicle program has disclosed its first accident, according to a report filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The low speed accident, which occurred August 24, is a milestone of sorts for the company, albeit not one that is being celebrated. These days, as more companies head out onto public streets to test their autonomous vehicle systems, accidents have become more common. The vast majority are minor, low-speed incidents.

There was just one accident involving a self-driving vehicle (that one was owned by Delphi) reported to the DMV in 2014. So far this year, there have been more than 40 accidents involving self-driving cars reported to CA DMV.

The first fatal autonomous vehicle accident, which involved an Uber self-driving vehicle striking a pedestrian, occurred in March in Arizona.

The Apple test car was attempting to merge onto an expressway near its headquarters in Cupertino, California, and traveling about 1 mile per hour, when it was rear-ended by a Nissan Leaf, according to the report. There were no injuries reported. Both parties reported moderate damage to their vehicles.

Apple doesn’t talk about its self-driving vehicle program. The tech company’s permit with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency responsible for monitoring AVs in the state, is the only official acknowledgment that it even has a program. Apple’s self-driving program has been considered an open secret in Silicon Valley. And more recently, CEO Tim Cook has made references to the company’s interest in autonomous systems. In an interview with Bloomberg, he called it the mother of all AI projects. But the company doesn’t talk about its program or its ultimate product plans.

The accident report doesn’t reveal much, beyond the make and model of Apple’s test vehicle. The self-driving test vehicle involved in the accident was a 2016i Lexus RX450H. This the same make and model that Google used to test its self-driving system.