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Inside AI (Jan 16th, 2020)

1. Apple has confirmed that it bought the Seattle-based AI software startup Xnor.ai, in a deal worth up to $200 million. Xnor.ai was the second startup to spin out of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence's incubator, which was founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The startup, which has 54 employees, specializes in AI software - specifically low-power on-device machine learning tools - that can run on-device rather than through the cloud. As today's Inside Apple points out, its technology was used in the people detection feature on popular Wyze cameras. Geekwire was able to visit Xnor.ai’s headquarters after the announcement and said a relocation was "clearly in progress," most likely to Apple’s Seattle offices. Apple only had this to say about the acquisition: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” In a tweet posted Thursday, senior economist David Nguyen (@d_vidnguyen) wrote that the future of AI "is clearly at the edge and Apple appears to see it that way too." - CNBC

2. In related news, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence's Incubator has expanded with a $10 million pre-seed fund, backed by high-profile VC institutions such as Sequoia Capital, Two Sigma, Kleiner Perkins, and Madrona Venture Group. Others who are affiliated include Drive.ai co-founder Carol Reiley, Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke, and Tableau Software CEO Adam Selipsky, according to GeekWire. AI2’s CEO Oren Etzioni told the publication that it's not a VC fund, "but rocket fuel for the AI2 Incubator.” In addition to Xnor.ai, other AI startups that have spun out of the Incubator include Blue Canoe, WellSaid Labs, and Lexion. - TECHCRUNCH

3. Several U.S. Senators introduced a bill this week that would funnel billions of dollars toward federal R&D research in AI and other so-called "industries of the future." The sponsors of the Industries of the Future Act are Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Gary Peters, (D-Mich.) The bill asks the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to report back to Congress with investment baseline figures in areas of the future, which is listed as "AI, QIS, biotechnology, next-generation wireless networks and infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, and synthetic biology." The office would then be tasked with doubling these baseline investments in AI and quantum information science by the fiscal year 2022. “American leadership in AI is crucial to maintaining our economic and national security,” Wicker said. - MERITALK

4. DeepMind researchers have released a paper revealing links between distributional reinforcement learning, a type of machine learning, and the way human brains release dopamine. Through the research that studied dopamine neurons in mice, DeepMind scientist Will Dabney and his colleagues found evidence suggesting that our brains use distributional reward predictions - where individual dopamine neurons vary in their levels of response - to strengthen their learning algorithms. As Dabney explains in New Scientist, scientists previously thought that dopamine neurons would respond identically to rewards, "kind of like a choir but where everyone’s singing the exact same note,” he said. Instead, it's “more like a choir all singing different notes, harmonizing together,” Dabney said. Distributional reinforcement learning has been used by AIs to play games like Starcraft II and Go. In a tweet posted Wednesday, Dabney thanked his colleagues and noted that the work all started three years ago, through co-authored research about distributional reinforcement learning. - DEEPMIND BLOG

5. Phenom People has raised $30 million for its HR platform, which uses AI to help companies attract and find new hires. The system uses natural language processing to locate positions through understanding what a job seeker is looking for, VentureBeat reports. The Series C round was led by WestBridge Capital, with participation from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s VC firm Omidyar Ventures, Sierra Ventures, AXA Venture Partners, Sigma Prime Ventures, Karlani Capital, and a fund of AllianceBernstein. The added funds, coupled with the $29 million that it raised previously, will help Phenom People scale beyond its 500-person workforce. - VENTUREBEAT

6. iHeartMedia cited its own investments in AI technology as one of the reasons for laying off many workers this week. On Wednesday, the company said it started making the layoffs largely to its stations in small and medium-sized markets. While the company hasn't specified how many workers were let go, a source told Rolling Stone it's believed to be around 850 employees. In an internal memo, iHeartMedia called it an “unfortunate price we pay to modernize the company.” It pointed to "a new organizational structure" for its Markets Group as it makes advances to capitalize on "significant investments it has made in technology and artificial intelligence (AI)." - DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

7. Philadelphia International Airport is rolling out a pilot program next week that will scan a small percentage of passengers using facial recognition. For 45 days starting next Tuesday, the airport will scan the faces of certain passengers at three gates, under the program that's designed to help the U.S. Customs and Border Protection expedite boarding. It will only apply to international passengers traveling on flights from British Airways, Qatar, Lufthansa, and American Airlines. Right now, 26 U.S airports use facial recognition for people leaving the U.S. - PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

Written and curated by Beth Duckett, a former reporter for The Arizona Republic who wrote a book about the solar industry and frequently covers hobby and commercial drones. You can follow her tweets here.

Check out our Twitter list of the top AI startups right now, as well as this Inside AI Experts List.

Edited by Sheena Vasani, Inside Dev editor.

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