Connect with us

Tech

Want to improve your public speaking? This startup’s AI tool aims to give you a silver tongue

Published

on

A screenshot shows the interface for the Yoodli AI platform. (Yoodli Photo)

If you’re intimidated by the prospect of giving a speech, going through a job interview or doing a wedding toast, a Seattle startup called Yoodli might have just the thing: an AI-enabled software platform that analyzes your delivery and gives you tips for improvement — in a  non-judgmental way.

Today the venture is coming out of stealth mode and opening up early access to their beta product, and also announcing a $1 million pre-seed funding round from Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Madrona Venture Group.

Two of the founders — Varun Puri and Esha Joshi — are entrepreneurs-in-residence at the institute, also known as AI2. The third founder is Ehsan Hoque, co-director of the Rochester Human Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Rochester.

All three are drawing upon their personal experience as they take the leap into the startup world. Puri, for example, grew up in India, ran special projects at Alphabet and led Africa operations for a GoogleX connectivity initiative. He saw plenty of instances where whip-smart techies didn’t get the recognition they deserved because they struggled to communicate effectively.

Advertisement
Yoodli's founders with Seattle skyline in background
Yoodli’s founders are Ehsan Hoque, Esha Joshi and Varun Puri. (Yoodli Photo)

“The reason I started this was to help that kid back home in India or in Kenya get access to the opportunities that they may not otherwise get access to because of the way they speak or how they present something, regardless of their technical skills,” he told GeekWire. “That’s definitely the North Star goal.”

Joshi said the issue can be particularly daunting for women in tech.

“As a female engineer in a male-dominated industry, I felt like I had to try even harder for people to take me seriously,” Joshi, who spent several years at Apple and is Yoodli’s chief technology officer, said in a news release. “The nerves and doubt before a presentation can be crushing, and the feeling of successfully expressing yourself in front of an audience is a huge confidence booster. Our platform takes you from the nerves to the confident persona you need to achieve your goals.”

Hoque has decades of research experience building AI interfaces to improve workforce skills. One project that’s particularly pertinent to Yoodli uses AI to help healthcare professionals prepare for end-of-life conversations with patients.

Yoodli’s software platform records users as they deliver their presentations, and then points out where they could speak more clearly, cut back on the “ums” and other filler words, and improve their use of eye contact and gestures. Users can also solicit feedback from colleagues and get connected to an expert coach.

Advertisement

Versions of the software can be customized for a wide range of applications. “They help people prepare for any conversation of substance, be it to speak with a journalist, a salary negotiation, a job interview or a tough date,” Puri said.

Puri acknowledged that he used the software to prepare for his interview with GeekWire. “It gives me a lot of feedback on my verbal and non-verbal communication: my posture, gestures, tone, pitch, intonation, when I go a little fast, where I emphasize things and so forth.,” he said. “We are still testing out various elements of speech that would be worthwhile giving feedback on.”

Until now, the Yoodli team has been testing early prototypes with just a few users. As of today, the team is opening up the wait list for people to sign up for the beta test. “Right now, we’re just trying to optimize for the learnings and experimentation,” Puri said. He expects a commercial product to become available in early 2022.

Yoodli may sound suspiciously like Hooli, the fictitious tech company from the HBO series “Silicon Valley” — but Puri cites a different source for the name..

“Yoodli is a play on ‘yodel,’ which is a voice exercise used by most speech coaches,” he said in an email. “We think Yoodli has a fun and catchy ring and represents our playful company culture (try saying Yoodli quickly three times, you’ll end up smiling). We’re helping people overcome their biggest fear, so the brand has to sound and feel welcoming. In fact, we call our employees yoodlers.”

Advertisement

And the ranks of the yoodlers are growing, thanks in part to the $1 million boost. “I won’t get into numbers, because people are still in the middle of joining,” Puri said.

“We’re trying to find amazing AI engineers and full-stack developers,” he said, “and if they’re at all interested in working at the intersection of NLP [natural language processing], speech and computer vision, we’re a small, scrappy and very quickly growing team that’s backed by some big players in the Pacific Northwest.”

Matt McIlwain, Madrona’s managing director, said Yoodli offers “a tremendous opportunity to use AI as a way to improve human social and cognitive skills.”

“We like to back exciting teams from Day One, and this team has the passion, technical and industry experience that inspires us to come to work every day,” McIlwain said. “And give presentations!’

Advertisement

Source: Geek Wire

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tech

Gates Foundation commits up to $120M to support access to new COVID-19 pill

Published

on

Capsules of Merck’s new investigational COVID-19 drug molnupiravir. (Merck Photo)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will provide up to $120 million to help lower-income countries access a new pill to treat COVID-19, the foundation announced Tuesday.

Molnupiravir cuts the risk of hospitalization or death of newly diagnosed patients by about one half, according to initial clinical trial data released by pharma giant Merck early this month. Merck collaborated with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to develop the pill, which was tested in high-risk patients.

Merck is seeking emergency use authorization for the pill from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and regulatory agencies in other countries will also be weighing in. The pill has been widely heralded as the first oral, easy-to-use potential treatment for COVID-19.

The new funding from the Gates Foundation will support the development and manufacture of generic versions of the molnupiravir. The foundation, for instance, has provided $2.4 million in grants to companies to expedite readiness for manufacture, and $1.3 million to develop low-cost manufacturing processes.

Advertisement

“Today’s commitment will ensure that more people in more countries get access to the promising drug molnupiravir,” said Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the foundation, in a statement. She also called on other donors to act, including foundations and governments.

The new effort brings the Gates Foundation’s total funding commitment for pandemic-related measures to $1.9 billion. The foundation has supported the development, manufacturing and delivery of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.

Distribution and access to Molnupiravir are high on government official’s minds.

Advertisement

The U.S. government in June signed a $1.2 billion deal with Merck for 1.7 million doses, which breaks down to $712 for a five-day treatment course. Other countries are also rapidly placing orders for the drug.

By early October, Merck had forged licensing agreements with eight large generic makers. India’s generic manufacturers will sell the pills at a lower price in poorer countries, but many nations with low vaccination rates are not part of such agreements, according to The New York Times.

Efforts to ensure access to molnupiravir are taking place against a backdrop of slow vaccine distribution to low-income countries.

98% of people in low-income countries have not been vaccinated, and the international group charged with the effort, COVAX, had shipped only 330 million out of 2 billion planned doses, reports STAT News. COVAX is led by the World Health Organization and two Gates-funded groups, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

In a recent editorial, Bill Gates maintained that manufacturing roadblocks, not intellectual property restrictions, have been the major impediment to vaccination.

Advertisement

“The world learned the hard way with COVID-19 vaccines that unless we are willing to invest at-risk and at-scale as soon as promising technologies emerge – and ideally before – then there will be limited access for some time, even when need and demand are clear,” said a Gates Foundation spokesperson in an email, referring to the risk of investing in a product before regulatory approval. “We are aiming to do our part to ensure resources are not a barrier to equitable access to molnupiravir.”

An FDA panel will meet Nov. 30 to discuss the safety and effectiveness of the new pill, with a decision on emergency use expected soon after.



Source: Geek Wire

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Tech

Facebook is reportedly getting a new name — what’s your best guess?

Published

on

Facebook’s Arbor Blocks office in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Face? Metaverse? Horizon?

Facebook is getting a new company name, according to a report from The Verge, which noted that the rebrand will likely be similar to how Google created the umbrella company Alphabet in 2015. Facebook would be grouped among Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and others underneath the new name.

The apparent name change comes as Facebook faces heightened scrutiny over its social media platform. Earlier this month 60 Minutes revealed a former Facebook product manager who shared internal documents used by The Wall Street Journal in its recent “The Facebook Files” reports. The stories uncovered how Facebook knows “that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands.”

The Verge reports that the new name will reflect Facebook’s vision of building the “metaverse.”

Advertisement

So, what’s your best guess for Facebook’s new name? Tweet us @geekwire.



Source: Geek Wire

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Tech

Boeing says valve investigation will force Starliner space taxi’s test flight into 2022

Published

on

Boeing says its next attempt to send an uncrewed Starliner space taxi to the International Space Station will take place no earlier than the first half of 2022, due to the time needed to fix a valve problem that led to the last-minute cancellation of an August test flight.

Engineers say the problem in August was apparently caused by moisture that got into the spacecraft and reacted with oxidizer in the propulsion system, resulting in corrosion that gummed up the valves. To make sure, two of the valves will undergo CT scans at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The fix could involve installing extra heaters to dissipate moisture, or loading propellant during a later stage of pre-launch preparations, Boeing officials said today during a NASA news briefing.

The uncrewed Orbital Flight Test, or OFT-2, will be a rerun of an unsuccessful test flight that took place in December 2019. Boeing has set aside $410 million to pay for the reflight. The current plan calls for Starliner’s first crewed mission to take place about six months after a successful uncrewed test. In the meantime, NASA is relying on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon (and Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft) to transport astronauts.

Advertisement

Source: Geek Wire

Continue Reading

Tech

Bots reportedly swoop up pre-orders for Xbox mini-fridges, which sell out in under a minute

Published

on

(Microsoft Image)

Microsoft opened pre-orders for its new Xbox Series X-themed mini-refrigerator early on Tuesday morning, and according to some reports on social media, they sold out within 30 seconds.

As was announced late last week, pre-orders for the mini-fridge went live early on Tuesday morning, at 6 a.m. PST, through Microsoft’s retail partners Target and GAME. By 6:01 a.m., the handful of customers that managed to get to checkout found that pre-orders had already sold out.

This is less of a testament to the Xbox’s brand popularity, however, than the currently rabid state of the secondary market for collectibles. While Microsoft hasn’t publicly stated how many pre-orders would be available to the public, a significant number of them were grabbed by automated resellers. One boasted on Twitter of using an automated e-commerce bot to scoop up over 160 pre-orders.

At time of writing, over 150 listings for the Xbox mini-fridge are already up on the U.S. eBay site, offering prices between $150 and $1,000 to any buyer who’d like to take over the pre-order. An American customer who’d simply been able to buy their own would’ve only paid $99.99 before tax. The UK version of eBay is similarly flooded with fridge pre-orders at a comparable markup.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that would-be Xbox fridge owners are out of luck. Microsoft had already promised that it would continue to “expand regional availability” in 2022, and the official Xbox Twitter said this morning that another wave of pre-orders will go up in December.

It’s likely to go the same way without proactive anti-bot measures, however. This is the obnoxious status quo for anything even remotely collectible, including the forthcoming Xbox 20th Anniversary Edition controller and the Series X|S itself.

If you’ve tried to buy a new console or video card this year, you know the pain; resellers use bots to get around vendors’ 1-to-a-customer rules, then throw the gear up on auction sites for 200% MSRP. It’s not impossible to break through the bots and grab products like this for yourself, but it’s usually down to sheer dumb luck.

While Microsoft is likely happy with this, as it just sold through its quirkily random product offering, customers are less so. As a result, the mini-fridge page on Target is currently being review-bombed, with 77% one-star ratings out of over 500.

Advertisement

The Xbox fridge was produced by the Las Vegas-based merchandise firm Ukonic. It began as a joke gift for Snoop Dogg last October, and was subsequently made reality as a reward for voters after Xbox won a “Brand Bracket” challenge on Twitter in April.

The official mini-fridge is made to look like an Xbox Series X, complete with a mock-up cooling vent on top and a glowing LED diode that mimics the Series X’s power button. It comes with a USB port on front so you can use the fridge to charge compatible devices, such as an Xbox Elite controller.

The fridge measures 18″ x 9″ x 9″ (462mm x 232mm x 232mm), with a 13.8″ x 6.8″ x 6.8″ (352.3mm x 174mm x 175mm) interior compartment. Fun fact: if you remove the fridge’s two interior shelves, this is big enough that an actual Series X console fits inside the Series X fridge.



Source: Geek Wire

Advertisement

Continue Reading

Tech

Potential Starbucks partnership shows Amazon’s ambitions for its cashierless retail technology

Published

on

A “Just Walk Out” sign at an Amazon Fresh store in Bellevue, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Could Starbucks give Amazon’s retail technology a jolt?

A report this afternoon by the Insider news site, citing an internal document, says the Seattle companies have discussed creating a new style of coffee shop featuring Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology. The co-branded stores would let people buy beverages, baked goods and hot foods without going through a traditional checkout, the report says.

“The initial layout of the store shows Amazon Go’s food section within a cafe that has a lounge seating area,” writes Insider’s Eugene Kim. “Customers would have to use separate apps for pay — Starbucks’s app for drinks and Amazon’s app for food — though the companies eventually want to build an integrated solution. The store was expected to have a newly created brand.”

The report cautions that the partnership might not happen, noting that it includes milestones for the rollout that subsequently haven’t been met.

Advertisement

However, the reported talks reflect Amazon’s ambitions to take the technology well beyond its own stores and initial third-party implementations. Starbucks’ apparent interest also shows the potential value of the technology to other retailers and venues, noting that Starbucks considered it “a top ten initiative” at the time, supporting its goal of eliminating lines.

Just Walk Out, which debuted in Amazon Go stores in 2018, lets shoppers scan a code or their palm when they walk in, then take items from the shelf and leave without going through a traditional check-out. It uses scales, cameras and sensors to detect which items shoppers take, charging their accounts after they leave the store.

Others using the technology include Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, Hudson Nonstop at Chicago Midway International Airport, and some of Amazon’s own Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh stores.

Responding to an inquiry from GeekWire, Amazon said it doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation. Starbucks declined to comment, as well.

Advertisement

Source: Geek Wire

Continue Reading

Tech

Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy pledges $276M to match UK funding for climate innovations

Published

on

Bill Gates authored “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” and spoke to GeekWire about the book in February 2021. 

Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Catalyst has pledged an investment of $276 million in climate innovation in the United Kingdom, matching that country’s commitment to scale up a suite of clean technologies.

Gates and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the partnership totaling $552 million on Tuesday at the Global Investment Summit. The investments will be deployed over the next 10 years.

Catalyst is a program within the Microsoft co-founder’s Breakthrough Energy umbrella organization. Its objective is to bring together governments, philanthropists and companies to invest in climate technologies. The program’s focus is on quickly developing and deploying green hydrogen, batteries and energy storage, sustainable aviation fuels and direct air capture of carbon.

Advertisement

“In order to achieve net-zero emissions, we need to reduce the costs of clean technologies so they can compete with and replace the high-emitting products we use today — I call this difference in price the Green Premium,” Gates said in a statement.

The matching dollars don’t come only from Gates. Investors and businesses working with Catalyst will contribute to the investment, according to the organization.

The U.K. investment is part of that country’s broader £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio.

The announcement of the partnership comes weeks before the start of the COP26 climate talks.

Advertisement



Source: Geek Wire

Continue Reading

Trending