The Week in Tech: Atom’s £149m raise, Amazon’s Alexa ‘goes rogue’ and more

Hello and welcome to The Week in Tech – our roundup of the top technology news from across the UK and the rest of the world.

Atom Bank raises £149m

In investment news, UK digital bank Atom has raised an additional £149m in a round led by Spain’s BBVA and Tosca Fund.

As part of the financing round, BBVA poured £85.4m into the Durham-based business, bringing its stake to almost 40%.

Atom Bank has raised £400m to date and says it will use the cash to continue developing its products and grow its user base.

“This further significant injection of capital secures the bank’s place as a disruptive force in the mainstream of UK banking,” said CEO Mark Mullen. “We will continue to invest in growth, in our technology and in our products as we continue to push ahead with the support of our investors.”

“We are fully aligned with the vision of banking that Atom is pursuing, and the disruption it is already bringing to the UK financial services sector,” added Carlos Torres Villa, CEO of BBVA.

A blockchain startup’s $1.5m raise

Luther Systems, a London-based enterprise blockchain company, received $1.5m from a host of European investors.

The round was led by Brent Hoberman’s Firstminute Capital alongside Henry Ritchotte, former COO and board Member of Deutsche Bank; Martin Bartlam, global co-chair finance and projects at DLA Piper; Arnaud Massenet, founding partner Net-a-Porter Group and LUMA; Serge Chiaramonte, former managing director, Credit Suisse; Andrew Mullinger, co-Founder of Funding Circle; and Stephen Ciesinski, private investor and president of SRI International.

Luther Systems was born out of Founders Factory’s FinTech accelerator programme. Henry Lane Fox, CEO and co-founder of Founders Factory, joined the startup as a board director.

Currently in stealth, Luther Systems will leverage blockchain tech and smart contract based products in a bid to solve business inefficiencies across a wide range of industries. The cash will enable the company to scale its product offering and support the company’s marketing and expansion efforts.

Luther Systems was co-founded in 2016 by Hossein Kakavand (PhD Stanford, ex-Funding Circle) and Sam Wood (Ex-Tesla and Apple engineer).

Kakavand, co-founder and CEO said: “This investment illustrates the huge potential for the proprietary blockchain technology Luther Systems have built, which is applicable across a wide variety of sectors. We are excited to announce the projects we have been working on over the next few months, where our products are delivering real value to business critical operations. We look forward to growing and scaling our business and technology with this new support.”

Hoberman, co-founder at Founders Factory and Firstminute capital, added: “We’ve evaluated hundreds of investments in the blockchain space and believe that the proprietary modular infrastructure that Luther Systems are developing sets them apart from the competition.

“Their technology offers enterprise customers the fastest, most secure and scalable route to streamline complex business processes using distributed ledger technology. We are delighted to be supporting the team in this exciting period of growth.”

CyLon expands to Singapore

In other news, cybersecurity startup accelerator CyLon its launching its first ever programme in Asia.

The London-based accelerator partnered with Singtel Innov8 – the corporate venture capital arm of Singtel – and the National University of Singapore.

Participating startups will receive investment from ICE71 as well as access to CyLon’s global mentor network.

Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP, UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, welcomed the announcement: “CyLon is an innovative leader in the cybersecurity ecosystem, providing pioneering support to startups building cyber businesses in the UK.  I visited Singapore International Cyber Week last year and have followed the development of CyLon Singapore closely. I welcome this announcement as further evidence of UK leadership in this field, and of our fantastic and ever-strengthening relationship with our partners in Singapore.”

Grace Cassy, co-Founder of CyLon, added: “2018 is an exciting year for CyLon, and we are thrilled to announce this partnership with ICE71, and to bring our programme to Singapore.  It is CyLon’s foundational belief that there is enormous untapped cyber security potential in both Europe and Asia, and our programmes are designed to find, support, and supercharge that talent.  We can’t wait to welcome our first group of startups and entrepreneurs onto the CyLon Singapore programme at ICE71.”

Amazon’s Alexa ‘goes rogue’

It’s been an interesting week for Amazon.

The company’s best-selling voice assistant, Alexa, has been freaking users out by letting out an unprompted and creepy cackle.

Described by some as “witch like”, the laugh was reportedly happening even though the device was not fully activated. Other users said the laugh would take place when they asked Alexa to perform a task.

Amazon said in a statement that it was aware of the situation and working to fix it.

“In rare circumstances, Alexa can mistakenly hear the phrase ‘Alexa, laugh’.

“We are changing that phrase to be ‘Alexa, can you laugh?’ which is less likely to have false positives, and we are disabling the short utterance ‘Alexa, laugh’.

“We are also changing Alexa’s response from simply laughter to ‘sure, I can laugh’ followed by laughter.”

The spread of fake news

In other news, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have conducted a study, which found that 126,000 rumours and fake news stories published on Twitter throughout a period of 11 years spread faster and reached more people than truth.

According to the study, fake news is more commonly re-tweeted by humans as opposed to bots, with the most common subject matter being fake political news.

Other commonly spread topics include business, terrorism, science and natural disasters.

Twitter, which facilitated the data for the study, told the BBC that it was already engaged with trying to devise a “health check” to measure its contribution to public conversation.