BluSmart Close to Raising $250 Million From Investors Including BP Ventures, CEO Says
By Reuters | Updated: 15 July 2022
The chief executive of Indian ride-hailing start-up BluSmart Electric Mobility has said it is close to raising $250 million (roughly Rs. 2,000 crore) from investors including BP’s venture capital division.
BluSmart, which runs an all-electric vehicle (EV) fleet, was expecting to finalise deals with impact funds and private equity investors within the next two months, Anmol Jaggi said.
“Bp Ventures already has a stake in BluSmart and will be one of the lead investors in this round as well. Most of the other funding will come from global investors based in the US and Europe,” he told Reuters on Wednesday.
Jaggi did not disclose the valuation at which money is being raised but said ride-hailing companies such as BluSmart are typically valued at 15-18 times their annual revenue run rate.
Bp Ventures did not respond to an email requesting comment.
The British oil company’s investment arm in September invested $13 million (roughly Rs. 105 crore) in BluSmart as part of a $25 million (roughly Rs. 200 crore) round, its first deal in India. Bp Ventures has said it is scouting for more opportunities in areas such as EV charging infrastructure, battery swapping and energy storage.
BluSmart, which competes with ride-hailing giant Uber and domestic rival Ola – which is backed by Japan’s Softbank Group, says it owns a fleet of 1,800 electric cars, mostly bought from Tata Motors.
The company will use the funds to buy more EVs, expand its charging infrastructure, invest in technology and launch the service in more Indian cities, Jaggi said.
BluSmart has said it has a total of 13,500 electric cars on order with Tata Motors. Its fleet also includes EVs from MG Motors, owned by Chinese automaker SAIC, and China’s BYD, Jaggi said.
India is pushing automakers to build EVs and wants at least 30 percent of new car sales to be electric by 2030 – a shift it believes can be led by fleet operators. EVs currently make up a fraction of sales mainly due to high battery costs and a lack of charging infrastructure.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Elon Musk’s Neuralink Worth $5 Billion Based on Private Stock Trades
By Reuters | Updated: 5 June 2023
Elon Musk’s brain implant startup Neuralink, which was valued at close to $2 billion (roughly Rs. 16,500 crore) in a private fundraising round two years ago, is now worth around $5 billion (roughly Rs. 41,300 crore) based on privately executed stock trades described to Reuters by five sources with knowledge of the matter.
Some purchases by bullish investors boosted the valuation in recent months, ahead of Neuralink’s May 25 announcement that U.S. regulators had approved a human trial on its brain chip, the sources said.
Experts have said it could take several years for Neuralink to secure commercial use clearance. Kip Ludwig, former program director for neural engineering at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), said he “optimistically” expected Neuralink to take at least 10 more years to commercialize its brain implant. The company also faces other challenges that include federal probes into its handling of animal research.
Following the trial’s approval, however, Neuralink shares were marketed privately to investors in recent days at a $7 billion (roughly Rs. 57,900 crore) valuation, equivalent to $55 (roughly Rs. 4,500) per share, according to an email seen by Reuters. Reuters could not establish whether the seller found buyers for that price. The email cited the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the clinical trial as grounds for the deal being “sweeter.”
Neuralink executives and Musk did not respond to requests for comment.
Musk has expressed grand ambitions for Neuralink, saying its chip would allow healthy and disabled people alike to pop into neighbourhood facilities for speedy surgical insertions of devices to treat obesity, autism, depression and schizophrenia. He even sees them being used for web-surfing and telepathy. A Neuralink executive recently gave more modest short-term objectives, such as helping paralyzed patients communicate through computerized text without typing.
The stock transactions at a valuation of around $5 billion (roughly Rs. 41,300 crore) have been carried out by shareholders such as employees and the company’s early backers, rather than Neuralink selling new shares to investors. Such so-called secondary trades are an imperfect gauge of a company’s value; their volume is thin and they lack the wider market consensus of a fundraising round or initial public offering (IPO).
Neuralink’s valuation jump in secondary trades is in sharp contrast to other startups. About 85percent of pre-IPO companies are currently valued in secondary trades at an average discount of 47 percent to their last funding round, according to data provider Caplight.
In Neuralink’s last known fundraising in 2021, it raised $205 million (roughly Rs. 1,700 crore) at an approximately $2 billion (roughly Rs. 16,500 crore) valuation, according to data provider Pitchbook.
Many of the recent stock sales have been to relatively small investors, who typically focus more on getting a slice of a company owned by Musk than scrutinizing its valuation. The maximum amount sought for the Neuralink shares marketed for sale at a $7 billion (roughly Rs. 57,900 crore) valuation was just $500,000, according to the email seen by Reuters.
Sim Desai, chief executive of Hiive, an online platform where the shares are traded, said demand for Neuralink stock has been “tremendous.” He pegged the valuation that buyers are willing to pay at around $4.5 billion (roughly Rs. 37,200 crore).
Some biomedical experts are skeptical. Arun Sridhar, a scientist and entrepreneur who specializes in neuromodulation, called Neuralink’s valuation “bonkers” based on how early the brain implant is in its clinical development.
“A study to assess safety and tolerability is in no shape or form valid to justify a $5 billion (roughly Rs. 41,300 crore) valuation,” said Sridhar, who helped launch Galvani Bioelectronics, a developer of implants backed by GSK Plc and Alphabet Inc’s Verily Life Sciences. Galvani is not a competitor of Neuralink because its implants under development will be installed in an artery to the spleen to help treat rheumatoid arthritis, rather than the brain.
The FDA initially rejected Neuralink’s request for a human trial last year, citing safety reasons, Reuters has reported. Even after securing approval, the company faces several challenges.
Neuralink has come under scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers after Reuters reported in May that its animal-research board may have violated conflict-of-interest regulations. Neuralink employees who sat on that board, which oversees the welfare of the animals that were being tested, also stood to benefit from the implant’s quick development. Neuralink stock that some of the employees hold has jumped around 150 percent in value in just two years, based on the secondary trades.
The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been investigating Neuralink for potential animal-welfare violations. Neuralink staff told Reuters last year that the company was rushing and botching surgeries on monkeys, pigs and sheep, resulting in far more animal deaths than necessary, as Musk pressured staff to receive FDA approval.
The Department of Transportation is separately probing whether Neuralink illegally transported dangerous pathogens on chips removed from monkey brains without proper containment measures.
Neither Musk nor Neuralink have responded to multiple requests for comment on the probes or the Reuters reports.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Fans Rejoice in AI-Generated Beatles Music as Music Studios File Copyright Claims
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 June 2023
When the Beatles broke up more than 50 years ago, devastated fans were left yearning for more. Now, artificial intelligence is offering just that. From ‘re-uniting’ the Fab Four on songs from their solo careers, to re-imagining surviving superstar Paul McCartney’s later works with his voice restored to its youthful peak, the new creations show off how far this technology has come — and raise a host of ethical and legal questions.
“I’m sobbing! This is so beautiful!!!”, wrote a listener in a typical YouTube comment for a fan-created AI cover of McCartney’s 2013 single, New, which features de-aged vocals and a bridge part ‘sung’ by his great songwriting partner and friend, the late John Lennon.
Equally impressive is a version of Grow Old With Me, one of the last songs penned by Lennon, which was posthumously released after his 1980 murder and recently remade by an AI creator who goes by Dae Lims.
With enhanced audio quality, an orchestral arrangement and harmonised backing vocals that evoke the Liverpudlian rockers’ heyday, the song’s most stirring moment comes when McCartney croons over a soaring melody with poignant lyrics about ageing. “When I hear this, I lose it. I start crying,” said music YouTuber Steve Onotera, who goes by ‘SamuraiGuitarist’ and has a million followers, in a recent video discussing the new works’ unforeseen sentimental resonance.
After the most influential band in history parted ways acrimoniously, fans were deprived of a final “happy ending,” he said. “So when we do get that reunion artificially yet convincingly created by AI, well, it’s surprisingly emotional.”
AI here, there and everywhere
Like an earlier track called Heart on a Sleeve which featured AI-generated vocals of Drake and The Weeknd and racked up millions of hits on TikTok and other platforms, these covers use scraping technology that analyzes and captures the nuances of a particular voice. The creators would have probably then sung the parts themselves and then applied the cloned voice, in a manner similar to placing a filter on a photograph..
While the results can be astonishing, getting there isn’t simple and requires skilled human operators combining new AI tools with extensive knowledge of traditional music processing software, Zohaib Ahmed, the CEO of Resemble AI, a Toronto-based voice cloning company, told AFP. “I think we’re still seeing a very small percentage of the population that can even access these tools,” he said. They need to “jump through hoops, read documentation, have the right computer, and then put it all together.”
Ahmed’s company is one of several offering a platform that can make the technology more accessible to clients in the entertainment sector — and counts a recent Netflix documentary series “narrated” by late art icon Andy Warhol using its technology as an early success.
For Patricia Alessandrini, a composer and assistant professor at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, the recent spate of AI tracks represents a coming-of-age for a technology that has been advancing exponentially — yet largely out of public view over the past decade..
“This is a great example of what AI does very well, which is anything that’s resemblance: to train it on something existing,” she told AFP. But, she added, it flounders when it comes to new ideas. “There’s really no expectation that it’s going to replace the rich history of humans originating art and culture.”
For the music industry, the ramifications are enormous. As the technology progresses, software that will easily allow people to transform their vocals into one of their favourite singers is likely not far away.
“If they’re getting paid for their vocal license, hey, everyone’s happy,” said Onotera. “But what if they’re long since passed away? Is it up to their estate?” AI is already proving a helter-skelter impact on the copyright world.
In the case of Heart on a Sleeve, Universal Music Group was quick to assert copyright claims and have the track pulled down from streaming services, but that hasn’t stopped it from popping back up on small accounts.
Marc Ostrow, a New York-based music copyright lawyer, told AFP AI-generated music is a “grey area.”
Copyright can be asserted both by songwriters whose material is used, as well as the holders of the master recordings.
On the other hand, AI creators can argue it falls under “fair use” citing a 2015 court ruling that said Google was permitted to archive the world’s books because it wasn’t competing with sellers and was displaying only snippets.
Last month, however, the US Supreme Court tipped the balance back the other way in ruling a Warhol print of the late pop star Prince violated the copyright of the photographer who took the original image.
Add to the mix that celebrities can protect their likeness under the “right to publicity,” established when Bette Midler successfully sued Ford Motor Company in the late 1980s for using a singer that sounded like her in an ad.
Ultimately, “I think there may be voluntary industry standards… or it’s going to be done by litigation,” said Ostrow. Rights holders will also need to think about the negative PR that could come with suing over works that are clearly fan-created tributes and not intended to be monetized.
Paytm UPI App Records 35 Percent YoY Merchant Growth to Rs. 2.65 Lakh Crore in April-May 2023
By ANI | Updated: 5 June 2023
India’s leading payments and financial services company Paytm on Monday announced its business operating performance for the two months ended May 2023 and that its consumer engagement on the Paytm Super App continues to see a robust expansion of its consumer base.
The consumer base has seen an average Monthly Transacting Users (MTU) for the two months ended May 2023 at 9.2 crore, registering a growth of 24 percent year-on-year.
As it strengthens its leadership in offline payments, the QR pioneer said it achieved a new milestone with 75 lakh devices deployed, an increase of 4 lakh devices in the month of May.
“With our subscription as a service model, the strong adoption of devices drives subscription revenues and higher payment volumes, while increasing the funnel for our merchant loan distribution,” the company said.
Paytm is seeing consistent growth in merchant payments volume with the total merchant Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) processed through the platform for the two months ended May 2023 aggregating to Rs. 2.65 lakh crore, marking a year-on-year growth of 35 percent.
“Our focus over the past few quarters continues to be on payment volumes that generate profitability for us, either through net payments margin or from direct upsell potential,” added Paytm.
The fintech giant’s loan distribution business, in partnership with top lenders, continues to witness accelerated growth with disbursements through the platform for the two months ended May 2023 growing 169 percent year-on-year to Rs. 9,618 crore.
The number of loans disbursed in the two months surged 54 percent to 85 lakh loans.
Paytm said that it currently has seven large lending partners and aims to onboard 3-4 partners in FY24 while it continues to work with lenders to remain focused on the quality of the book.
The company further added that the earlier mentioned system upgrade is now done and its lending partner has resumed disbursing merchant loans, with some pent-up demand from April being met in May.
In its recently announced January-March quarter (Q4FY23) results, Paytm reported a 51 percent Year Over Year (YoY) growth in revenue from operations to Rs. 2,334 crore, driven by growth in payments and loan distribution business.
The company reported an operating profit for the second straight quarter. It reported EBITDA before ESOP cost of Rs. 234 crore, including the full-year UPI incentive. In the previous quarter, Paytm achieved its milestone of operating profitability, much ahead of its September 2023 guidance.
ChatGPT-Maker OpenAI CEO Sam Altman to Visit India This Week
By Agencies | Updated: 5 June 2023
OpenAI Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman is set to visit India this week. Altman, whose company deals with artificial intelligence technologies and has created ChatGPT, will be on a six-nation tour.
Altman tweeted on Sunday (local time) he was excited to visit India, Israel, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE, and South Korea this week.
excited to visit israel, jordan, qatar, the uae, india, and south korea this week!— Sam Altman (@sama) June 4, 2023
His day-to-day itinerary was not immediately known.
Given India’s strong IT industry and a large set of data, AI-based utilities can leverage huge potential in the country. Though AI is still in its early stages.
The government quoting NASSCOM data in February this year said the overall AI employment in India is estimated at about 416,000 professionals. The growth rate for the sector is estimated at about 20-25 percent.
Further, AI is expected to contribute an additional $957 billion (roughly Rs. 79,00,300 crore) to India’s economy by 2035.
Many nations the world over have been using AI technologies for better service delivery and to reduce human intervention but fears of job cuts remain as the technology evolves.
Meanwhile, the boss of OpenAI said last week that his firm’s technology would not destroy the job market as he sought to calm fears about the march of artificial intelligence (AI).
Altman, on a global tour to charm national leaders and powerbrokers, said in Paris that AI would not — as some have warned — wipe out whole sectors of the workforce through automation.
“This idea that AI is going to progress to a point where humans don’t have any work to do or don’t have any purpose has never resonated with me,” he said.
Asked about the media industry, where several outlets already use AI to generate stories, Altman said ChatGPT should instead be like giving a journalist 100 assistants to help them research and come up with ideas.
Apple Likely to Unveil AR/VR Mixed Reality Headset at WWDC 2023: What to Expect
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 June 2023
Apple on Monday is expected to show off pricy mixed-reality headgear at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, challenging Facebook-owner Meta in a market that has yet to sizzle.
The iPhone maker has remained mum on reports that it is poised to unveil a headset for augmented or virtual reality experiences at its annual jamboree for developers and app designers.
The release would be the most significant product launch by the iconic iPhone maker since it unveiled the Apple Watch in 2015.
It could also invite more tensions between Apple CEO Tim Cook and Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg who have feuded over the handling of their sprawling tech empires, especially over data issues and China ties.
Expectations are high that Apple will use the WWDC stage to spotlight a “Reality Pro” headset priced around $3,000 (roughly Rs. 2,47,600), along with custom-made software for the gear, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors.
“We believe Apple’s Reality Pro will come with many apps and use cases,” Ives said.
Cook is also expected to talk about the company’s strategy when it comes to artificial intelligence, which has been in the spotlight since startup OpenAI released ChatGPT late last year.
The headset has been in development at Cupertino-based Apple for years, and will focus on gaming, streaming video and conferencing, as well as health and fitness, according to Ives.
It is also expected to synch closely with other Apple devices, following the company’s strategy of using premium hardware to lock customers into other products and services.
“From all reports, Apple hoped to release a product that felt more like designer glasses than a gaming headset, but it’s releasing something much bulkier,” said Insider Intelligence principal analyst Yory Wurmser.
“It wants to get its device into the hands of early adopters and developers, who will start to build a (mixed reality) ecosystem around Apple software.”
A report by Bloomberg described the headset as a high-tech pair of ski googles that would project a wearer’s eyes and facial expressions on an external screen.
Just days before Apple’s event, Meta ramped up its line of Quest virtual reality headgear.
A new-generation Quest 3 with improved performance and slimmed design will be available later this year at a starting price of $500 (roughly Rs. 41,300), Zuckerberg said.
The Facebook founder described the coming model as Meta’s “most powerful headset yet” and promised it would provide the best wireless way to experience virtual reality.
Zuckerberg has been adamant that Meta remains devoted to building for a future in which internet life plays out in virtual worlds referred to as the metaverse.
“Meta has been the dominant VR manufacturer over the past several years, thanks to its cheap Quest devices,” Wurmser said.
But Meta’s experience with the metaverse has been humbling despite it being a leader in the emergent sector and many questioned whether Apple would in the end jump in.
And less than two years after changing its name to Meta to reflect a metaverse priority, the Facebook giant has fired tens of thousands of staff and promised to get back to its social media basics.
Meta’s false start follows the failure of Google Glass, the search engine giant’s decade long effort that was mothballed for good in March.
Twitter Hires Former NBCUniversal Executive Joe Benarroch to Handle Business Operations
By Reuters | Updated: 5 June 2023
Former NBCUniversal executive Joe Benarroch will join Twitter on Monday, in a role focusing on business operations, he told Reuters.
Benarroch said in an email that he was looking forward to working with the company’s team to “build Twitter 2.0 together.”
“Welcome to the flock, @benarroch_joe! From one bird to the next,” tweeted incoming Twitter Chief Executive Linda Yaccarino, who was appointed in May. She did not mention the position Benarroch will be taking.
Welcome to the flock, @benarroch_joe! From one bird to the next.
Let’s get to work @Twitter! #timetofly
— Linda Yaccarino (@lindayacc) June 4, 2023
At Comcast’s NBCUniversal, Benarroch oversaw communication strategy for its Advertising and Partnerships division, reporting to Yaccarino, who was advertising chief there before joining Twitter.
Benarroch is being appointed following the departure of a number of executives, adding to Yaccarino’s challenges.
Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, said on Thursday that she has resigned from the social media company.
On Friday, Reuters reported that the head of brand safety and ad quality, A.J. Brown, has decided to leave.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Benarroch’s appointment on Sunday.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
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