10 AI Startups Coming for White-Collar Jobs
In the future we may all be hooked up to stationary bicycles, like hamsters on a wheel, generating electricity for the Matrix, earning credits for food and lodging while watching reality TV game shows, reruns of Black Mirror and porn. Doesn’t sound half-bad really. There are no lack of stories foretelling the impending employment Armageddon thanks to artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation. We’re told that up to 80 percent of the service workforce is at risk of being replaced by technology someday. Everything from trucking to burger flipping is on the chopping block:
While blue-collar jobs seem like an easy target for automation, those who take a shower at the beginning of the day rather than the end are no more secure. The bright minds at CB Insights recently put together a list of categories where AI is coming after white-collar jobs, what they refer to as Expert Automation & Augmentation Software (EAAS). The market map below from CB Insights highlights more than 40 companies, what the firm calls “insurgent startup technology leaders.”
What we’ve done below is profile one startup that we haven’t covered previously in each category based on which one has received the most funding. Unless the category includes a company listed in CB Insights AI 100, then we default to the highest funded startup from that list. We also combined Investment Managers and Traders into one category.
Can I Expense That?
Speaking of creative math: AppZen out of Silicon Valley has raised $16 million for its AI-powered expense report system. Founded in 2012, AppZen’s most recent round was a $13 million Series A last November, and its investors include Redpoint, Bloomberg, and MasterCard, among others. The company claims its software can save customers up to 80 percent on audits, which gels with our own estimates that about 80 percent of our travel expenses are related to booze. This cute cartoon robot tells you how they do it:
The platform employs computer vision, deep learning, and natural language processing to extract data from both reports and the web to provide context for each expense for every employee. For instance, it can scan a receipt image and might flag a charge from Kitty’s Bar and Grill for further follow-up by an auditor opposed to eating burgers while watching pole dancers.
Also see previous Nanalyze article on AI Auditors and Accountants.
Did You Catch That?
It’s a slippery slope from an employee fudging expense reports to releasing potentially compromising documents, such as audits of employees frequenting Kitty’s Bar and Grill. That’s where New York-based Text IQ comes in. The startup, founded in 2014, has raised $3 million and made it on the AI 100 list this year. An academic spin-off originally funded by government grants, including the shadowy agency DARPA, Text IQ helps its clients identify privileged, sensitive and relevant documents related to litigation, among other services. For example, Forbes reported that Text IQ can “deduce links between parties that aren’t spelled out in the text. That could be 10 medical documents that when combined allow a reader to reasonably infer the identity of the individual involved.” Or everyone at Kitty’s Bar and Grill.
Also see previous Nanalyze article on 9 Regulatory and Compliance Regtech Startups.
Talk to My Lawyer
On the topic of litigation: Who has time to read contracts? These days we all just click “Accept” and move on with our less private lives. Founded in 2014, Israel-based LawGeex uses artificial intelligence to review contracts. The company has raised $9.5 million, including a $7 million Series A last year. LawGeex AI platform analyzes contracts and suggests edits based on a company’s pre-defined legal policies. Anything not up to snuff is kicked up to the guys and gals in power suits. LawGeex says it can save 90 percent of the costs of a manual review and do it in just a fifth of the time.
Just Ask the Bot
Sure, everyone has it out for lawyers, so we like to reserve our vitriol for Human Resources. While many AI startups pushing HR solutions focus on recruitment, Massachusetts company Talla specializes on employee orientation and training through a chatbot. Talla has raised more than $12 million, including an $8.3 million Series A last year. It’s all about saving time:
The company has expanded its services since its founding in 2015 to include an IT help desk bot, and just released blockchain for bots called, predictably enough, BotChain. The idea is that when an AI bot takes action, such as sharing meeting information, the activity is hashed to a ledger in the event of an audit. Not sure how pole dancing figures in. Yet.
Also see previous Nanalyze article on 7 Artificial Intelligence Startups in Recruiting.
Those of us from the United States are lucky that the lingua franca of the world is English, forcing the billions of non-native speakers to learn the vagaries of our mother tongue. Shanghai-based Liulishuo, aka LingoChamp, has developed an AI-powered app to help Chinese and others around the world to learn Engrish. The company had a $100 million mega Series C last summer but all other rounds were undisclosed, and it recently earned a place among the AI 100 for its smart app, which claims to reduce the time required to learn English by two-thirds compared to human teachers (sorry American backpackers working under the table in Chengdu). The app reputedly has 50 million registered users and more than 600,000 paying customers, shelling out about $15 per month. Liulishuo announced it would be using some of its new cash to open an AI lab in Silicon Valley.
Also see previous Nanalyze article on AI and education.
Stop the Presses
Another member of the AI 100 Club and Unicorn Club is ByteDance, reportedly valued at $20 billion, after raising at least $3 billion last year from the likes of Sequoia Capital. The Beijing-based company, founded in 2012, uses AI to curate a user’s news feed on its platform called Toutiao. Meanwhile, it’s robo reporters can generate news articles using natural language generation, producing 400 briefs for the Rio Olympics. The company has also used some of its warchest to make some big acquisitions, including Musical.ly, a lip-syncing video platform.
Unfortunately, China takes a dim view of press freedom and recently shut down Toutiao for about 24 hours due to some unspecified offense, according to TechCrunch, throwing the company into a bit of uncertainty moving forward.
Also see previous Nanalyze article on robo journalists and NLG.
We’ve talked before about how anyone in the Matrix, aka the internet, is producing data fumes at every mouse click that companies can use to customize your every online experience, particularly when it comes to shopping. Meet New York-based Dynamic Yield, which has raised about $45 million for its AI-powered personalization engine, customized messaging and more. Its machine learning platform can take data from across the web, along with purchase history and other behaviors, to rank products in real-time to “craft” an experience for each customer.
That strategy helped Hallmark increase views per user by 43 percent, while beauty retailer Sephora realized a six-fold return on investment. And it’s another AI 100 poster child.
Update 3/26/2019: McDonald’s will acquire Dynamic Yield to use their technology for customizing their drive-through menu to take into account specials, weather, and other external factors. Tech Crunch sources put the price of the acquisition at more than $300 million making it their biggest acquisition in 20 years.
Just Ask the Chatbot II
Shenzhen, China-based ZhuiYi Technology has raised $20.6 million in disclosed funding, including from heavyweight VC firms like Banyan Capital, GGV Capital, and Morningside. In sum: It builds AI bots, primarily for customer service, in industries ranging from tourism and retail to real estate and education. Customers include riding sharing company Didi Chuxing, bike sharing firm ofo, smartphone developer Xiaomi Inc. and China Merchants Bank, according to China Money Market.
Also see previous Nanalyze article on AI and chatbots.
Stand the Test of Time
Founded in 2013, Applitools uses computer vision technology to ensure that an application appears correctly and functions properly on all mobile devices, browsers, operating systems and screen sizes. It does that job well enough to have earned a spot on the AI 100. Applitools has raised $10.75 million, including an $8 million Series C last July, from venerable investors like Bessemer Venture Partners. Its AI-powered computer vision algorithms emulate the human eye, detecting and reporting perceptible anomalies. One customer, TransUnion, went from spending 30 hours per week manually testing a software release to just two hours. Intuit says it saves 40 hours per week on software testing.
Founded in 2008, Wealthfront out of Silicon Valley just closed a $75 million Series E this month, bringing total funding to $204.5 million, which might very well have pushed it into Unicorn Club territory considering it was valued at $700 million in 2014. Wealthfront offers financial planning through an automated platform called Path. It has more than $9 billion under management, and particularly appeals to the younger crowd: About 85 percent of its customers are reportedly under the age of 45. It charges a flat fee of 0.25 percent per year.
Investment managers are among the most at risk of losing their jobs to AI, according to CB Insights, with private market investors putting nearly $2 billion into a ton of robo-advisors since 2013 (see above).
The reality, however, is that unemployment in the United States sits at around 4.1 percent and the labor market is so tight we’re even giving jobs to criminals, so perhaps it’s a bit early to hit the hamster wheel just yet. But keep in mind we’re really only in the early days of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, even if it seems we’ve been hearing about AI and job disruption for years. U.S. investments in AI hit $5 billion for the first time last year, a nearly 10-fold increase since 2012, according to CB Insights. What will the next five years bring? More to come from Kitty’s Bar and Grill.
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