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The Week in Tech: Google’s virtual assistant mimics humans, a $20m raise and more

Hello and welcome to the Week in Tech, your weekly roundup of the top technology news stories from across the globe.

This week, we bring you the latest UK tech investment news, Microsoft boss Satya Nadella’s privacy boast and much more.


Fuse Universal lands $20m

EdTech company Fuse Universal raised $20m (£14.79m) in growth capital from Eight Roads Ventures to grow its workplace learning platform.

Fuse Universal has built a platform for employees to take part in shared learning, knowledge and communication tasks.

The platform can function alone as an individual learning management system (“LMS”) or integrate with existing providers.

Since it launched in 2011, Fuse now works with over 100 enterprises including, EY, The Prince’s Trust, Spotify, Vodafone and more.

The company will use this fresh funding to advance its work in areas such as machine learning and augmented reality. It will also be used to support global expansion and to accelerate its charity arm, FuseSchool.  

Trussle’s £13.6m Series B

Trussle, a UK-based online mortgage broker, landed £13.6m in a Series B round led by Goldman Sachs’ investment arm, Goldman Sachs Principal Strategic Investments.

San Francisco-based Propel Venture Partners, Finch Capital and Seedcamp – which has invested in companies such as TransferWise and Revolut – also contributed.

This funding follows a period of high growth for the company. Since it was founded in 2016, the company has gone from employing 14 to 70 people.

It offers a mortgage monitoring service, which constantly monitors the market and alerts a customer when money could be saved by switching to another deal.

Airsorted crowdfunds millions 

‘Hassle-free hosting’ firm Airsorted upped its total funding amount by raising £2.1m, through a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs.

This fresh money injection will be added to the £5m that Airsorted raised from investors Atami Capital, Concentric, Maxfield Capital and Pi Labs back in March 2018.

With the £7m in total, Airsorted aims to expand into 38 new cities globally, by the end of 2019. It will also be used to develop its automation technology, including smart scheduling, chatbot and API integrated channel management.

Airsorted was founded in 2015 by ex-Airbnb host James Jenkins-Yates, and offers services to hosts including professional photography, maintenance and laundry, restocking of household items and 24/7 guest support.

Satya Nadella positions Microsoft as privacy champions

Microsoft boss Satya Nadella shared his thoughts on trust and privacy, whilst speaking at Build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference in Seattle. He said:

“Privacy is a human right. We at Microsoft have enshrined a set of principles that ensure we protect this human right.”

Privacy is a hot topic at the moment; following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and with GDPR coming into force later this month. Nadella said he was a fan of the upcoming data protection regulation.

He noted: “We have a responsibility as the tech industry to build trust in technology” and cautioned companies’ about building AI without considering the ethics.

In a separate interview with CNBC, he argued that trust rather than better technology in Microsoft’s cloud platform will set it apart from Amazon’s AWS and Google Cloud; saying that the two tech giants are “fantastic at being able to rig transactions”.

Facial recognition software comes up short

In other news, The Guardian revealed that facial recognition software used by the South Wales Police force incorrectly identified 2,000 people as potential criminals during the 2017 Champions League final in Cardiff.

The force have defended the use of the technology, saying that no such software can be 100% effective, but it has resulted in 450 correct arrests since they started trialling the tech back in June 2017.

The tech works by scanning faces in a crowd and comparing them against a database of custody images.

The force blamed the high number of false positives at the football final on “poor quality images”.

Google’s virtual assistant can make phone calls

Google made headlines this week after it unveiled a new functionality which sees its virtual assistant make phone calls on behalf of users. The robotic assistant, which has a life-like voice, can schedule appointments, make reservations and get holiday hours.

Surprisingly, the assistant’s speech includes natural affirmations and hesitations such as “er” and “mmmhmm”, making it difficult for the other person at the end of the phone to distinguish it from a real human’s voice.

The feature will be released to the public later this year and leverages a technology called Google Duplex.

Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, showed off the functionality on stage during the tech giant’s annual developer conference, I/O.

Startup investor L Marks’ expansion

Last but not least, early-stage investor L Marks has announced its expansion into the US. The London-based company has opened a new operations centre in Columbus, Ohio to try and establish the Midwest as a hub of innovation.

This expansion comes just a month after L Marks announced it was launching in Japan. The aim is to pursue innovative tech startups in the US market, as the area is home to headquarters including retail companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and Wendy’s. 

This US expansion comes alongside the launch of the BMW Financial Services US Collaboration Lab 2018; as part of a partnership which was announced earlier this year.