PitchBook senior financial writer Mikey Tom (@mikeytom) is at TechCrunch's Disrupt conference this week covering the latest in venture capital and startups. Here are a couple of themes he picked up on throughout the second day:
The wide applications of artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence continued to be brought up in almost every talk throughout the day. While on Monday some of the speakers were a bit bearish on the current state of the technology, Day 2 featured panels and discussions that had an air of optimism about the future of AI and its applications.
Danny Lange, head of machine learning at Uber, emphasized how the company is not only using the technology to build its self-driving car software but applying it in other areas, as well—for example, estimating the time until an Uber picks you up, as well as the time until your UberEATS order is dropped off. Lange argued that while AI as a technology may not see a huge Cambrian explosion in the near future, it can be used to empower a variety of teams within an organization.
CEO and co-founder of Affectiva Rana el Kaliouby outlined how her company is using AI to teach software to better understand human emotions. She pointed out that our interactions with apps and services are becoming more relational, and as this continues to develop, it will be crucial that emotional intelligence is programmed in. While onstage Kaliouby announced that, in an effort to enable more companies to apply emotional intelligence to their services, Affectiva will be opening up its SDK for free to companies with under $1 million in annual revenue.
So, although certain products that use AI may be less than satisfactory as of now (i.e. bots), there's a lot of opportunity for the technology to be applied in variety of sectors.
A future with self-driving cars
Very much going hand-in-hand with artificial intelligence conversations, self-driving cars were a hot topic throughout the day. The $1 billion acquisition of Cruise by GM earlier this year, along with a wave of investments and acquisitions by Ford and Uber, has captured everyone’s attention. Clearly the old-guard automotive manufacturers are taking this sector very seriously.
But is it too late for a startup to get into the game?
Reid Hoffman of Greylock Partners argued no, but it’s not a space for everyone. To be really successful, a company needs to either have a unique advantage in technology or talent. This isn’t an industry that any college grad can just jump into, start a company and be successful. That said, it's an exciting area that Greylock is actively investing in.
It also depends on how an entrepreneur plans on taking advantage of the self-driving car phenomena. Although starting an autonomous car company may take a very specific set of technological skills, founders could focus on other industries that will be disrupted by widespread adoption of the tech. Sebastian Thrun of Udacity postulated that many sectors will be affected by the proliferation of autonomous vehicles. Insurance models will need to be modified, for example, and parking lots will be less necessary, possibly carrying implications for the real estate industry.