Starburst acquires data lake analytics accelerator Varada to challenge Snowflake

Starburst, the well-funded data warehouse analytics service and data query engine based on the open-source Trino project, today announced that it has acquired Varada, a Tel Aviv-based startup that focuses on data lake analytics. Using Varada’s proprietary indexing technology, enterprises can easily operationalize their data lakes, a capability that neatly extends Starburst’s query engine. This, Starburst argues, will allow it to better challenge the likes of Snowflake and Databricks in the growing data analytics market.

“With the addition of Varada’s indexing technology, we can help data teams better serve the business, providing the right data right now. This powerful combination couldn’t come at a better time when an uncertain economy is forcing companies to re-evaluate their budgets, as business demands only increase,” explains Starburst CEO Justin Borgman in today’s announcement.

Likewise, Varada co-founder and VP of R&D Roman Vainbrand notes that the combined companies will be able to “deliver the best performance and cost benefits in the analytics query market, enabling organizations to accelerate the time-to-insight, while optimizing infrastructure operations and investments.”

Varada’s engineering and product leadership teams will join Starburst and the two companies expect to be able to launch an integration between their products in the next month, with general availability by fall 2022. The Starburst team believes that the integrated product will allow its users to significantly reduce their cloud compute costs and improve their query response times by up to 7x.

The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition. Varada last raised a $12 million Series A round led by MizMaa Ventures in 2020. The company had some leadership changes over the years, with its co-founder and former CEO and CTO David Krakov leaving the company in late 2021, for example. We didn’t hear much from Varada since its last funding round, but this is definitely an example of the data analytics market starting to consolidate as the underlying technologies mature, usage patterns crystalize and a small number of companies start to emerge as early winners.

Google Cloud opens a new region in Texas

Google Cloud today announced the launch of its new cloud region in Dallas, Texas, as it continues to expand its data center footprint around the world. The new region marks the company’s 11th region in North America. Globally, the company now offers 34 regions, all of which feature three zones for additional redundancy.

With this, Google now offers a local region for the expanding tech ecosystem in Texas and, as always, existing Google Cloud users can now offer lower latency access to their users in the region. The company also noted that the Dallas region will offer existing users additional capacity and flexibility to reach users across the U.S.

The new region will offer access to all of the standard Google Cloud products, including Compute Engine, Google Kubernetes Engine, Cloud Storage, Persistent Disk, CloudSQL and Cloud Identity.

As of now, Google has three additional regions in the works: Tel Aviv, Israel; Damman, Saudi Arabia, and Doha, Qatar.

Image Credits: Google

Dig emerges from stealth to help organizations secure their data in public clouds

Dig, a Tel Aviv-based cloud data security startup, has emerged from stealth with an $11 million investment to help organizations protect data stored in public cloud environments.

It’s no secret that data is often the ultimate target for some cybercriminals, yet so many organizations don’t have visibility, context or control over data stored in public cloud environments — like the ones run by Amazon, Google and Microsoft — according to Dig. That’s why the startup has developed a data detection and response (DDR) solution, which it claims can help enterprises to discover, protect and govern their cloud data in real time.

“Companies don’t know what data they hold in the cloud, where it is, or most importantly how to protect it. They have tools to protect endpoints, networks, APIs but nothing to actively secure their data in public clouds,” Dan Benjamin, Dig’s co-founder and chief executive, tells TechCrunch. Prior to founding Dig in October last year, Benjamin led multi-cloud security at Microsoft and mentored CTOs at Google Cloud for Startups.

“If you speak to data security teams in large organizations today, most of them work with manual reports and run manual scans. We help organizations analyze and understand how that data is being used,” he added.

Dig claims, like unlike existing solutions, it analyzes and responds instantly to threats to cloud data, triggering alerts on suspicious or anomalous activity, stopping attacks, data exfiltration and employee data misuse. The solution — a software-as-a-service app — discovers all data assets across public clouds and brings context to how they are used, and also tracks whether each data source supports compliance like SOC2 and HIPAA.

“Just the other week, we integrated with a large financial public American company, and after five minutes, we had alerts. What we discovered is that they had all financial reports being copied to an external AWS account that doesn’t belong to them,” Benjamin says. “We see stuff like this all of the time because no-one has real visibility into how this data is being used.”

Benjamin, who founded the startup alongside veteran entrepreneurs Ido Azran and Gad Akuka — the first letters of the co-founders’ names spell “Dig” — tells TechCrunch that Dig currently works with Microsoft Azure and AWS, with support for Google Cloud Platform coming soon. His ultimate goal, however, is to expand beyond public clouds to provide a solution to protect data wherever it sits within an organization.

“Data sits in five main locations for a typical enterprise; endpoints, email, on-premise, SaaS, and public clouds,” Benjamin says. “We only cover public clouds, but I believe that, eventually, customers will want a single platform that protects data wherever it is.”

With its $11 million seed round led by Team8, with participation from CrowdStrike, CyberArk and Merlin Ventures, Dig plans to grow its headcount from 30 to 50 by the end of the year, including in the U.S. It also plans to expand the product, with Benjamin noting that the startup “still has a lot to do” across discovery, context and threat protection.

Classiq raises additional funding for its quantum algorithm design tools

Tel Aviv-based Classiq, a startup that wants to make it easier for developers to build quantum algorithms and applications, today announced that it has raised additional funding for its service by adding HSBC, NTT Finance, and Intesa Sanpaolo as new investors to its $33 million Series B round, which brings the round to $36 million and the company’s total funding to $51 million.

While this is not a huge extension round, it’s still worth an extra look because it shows how these new strategic investors in the financial services industry are placing early bets on quantum computing and Classiq’s ability to make building quantum software easier.

“In this round, it was important for us to bring in strategic money — money is important, funding is important and this is our way to scale — but also, in this market, strategic partners are important. The common thing for all of these strategic investors is that they see quantum computing as a key part of their IT strategy,” Classiq CEO Nir Minerbi told me.

The company now has about 40 employees and is looking to scale that to 80 soon. With both the quantum market in Europe and Japan growing quickly, Classiq is focusing its efforts on these geographies right now, in addition to the United States.

“We sell our platform mainly to enterprises and academia — but mainly enterprises. So what we care about is where the main markets of enterprises that will adopt quantum computing are. If I had to name two, it would be Japan and Germany. You see many Japanese enterprises like Toshiba, NTT, Hitachi and Mizuho — and so many others — opening quantum computing teams,” Minerbi explained.

Image Credits: Classiq

Another focus for Classiq is to scale the overall talent pool. Earlier this week, the company launched its Classiq Coding Competition, for example, which rewards those developers who can create the most efficient quantum circuits while using its tools. Minerbi also noted that the Classiq platform is now used at a number of universities, including Carnegie Mellon, to train the next generation of computer scientists.

It’s obviously still (very) early days for quantum computing, but as Minerbi noted, many enterprises are now starting to think about how they can, eventually, integrate quantum into their overall IT strategy. In addition, while verticals like finance, pharma and automotive have long been interested in quantum, a number of cybersecurity firms are also now starting to investigate how they could potentially use quantum computers (beyond the obvious focus on breaking existing encryption schemes).

“Quantum computing has the potential to overhaul how we operate areas of the bank, like option pricing and risk analysis, which would lead to greater efficiencies and customer service improvements,” said Steve Suarez, global head of innovation, global functions at HSBC. “We look forward to working with Classiq to explore this technology further.”

Bookaway books $35M to scale up its ground transportation booking platform

Travel and tourism are coming back online in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions getting relaxed, and today a startup tackling one part of the equation for getting from home to one’s destination is announcing some funding to capitalize on that. Bookaway, which has built a platform for people to view options for and book their ground transportation — journeys from a long-haul arrival point to a hotel or other final destination, with some 7,000 providers listed in all currently — has raised $35 million.

The Tel Aviv-based startup’s Series C is being led by Red Dot Capital Partners. Menorah, an insurance company based in Tel Aviv, and New York based Tenere Capital, along with previous backers Aleph, Corner Ventures and Entrée Capital are all also participating. The company is not disclosing its valuation but it has raised $81 million to date.

The travel industry sometimes feels like it is in a perpetual state of consolidation: partly because of price pressures due to the slowdown of the last few years; increasing fuel prices; and general competition, companies like Airbnb or Booking, airlines, and hotel groups build more services into their offerings in an attempt to improve their margins and bring more economies of scale into their operations.

But Noam Toister, the CEO and founder of Bookaway, believes that a huge opportunity remains in ground transportation largely because of how offline and fragmented it is, including when it comes to traveling to remote or exotic locations.

“Our group was born during the COVID-19 pandemic, based on a shared belief that the ground transport industry will better meet the needs of travelers when it is united, not fragmented,” he said. The company has already made four acquisitions underscoring how some of that de-fragmentation will come in consolidation within the specific area of ground transportation itself. Founded originally to provide services in Asia as, when bookings collapsed, it started to raise money to buy up other similarly-challenged businesses to shore up for a time when the tide would turn: 12Go and GetByBus acquisitions followed to expand in Asia Pacific and the Balkans, and then Plataforma 10 in Argentina followed.

In all, the company has knitted together thousands of providers — most of them independent and very local businesses — on a platform that travelers can use to book their journeys ahead of time, with providers including busses, ferries, trains, private transportation options and more. Digitizing that experience in itself is a big undertaking and shift: some 95% of ground transportation providers are “offline” according to Toister, and there are some 10,000 globally in what is collectively a $157 billion annual market. “If you are traveling in the world you book flights and hotels, but most destinations still don’t have a airport,” he said, meaning transportation from the airport to the hotel is a trek, “and it’s hard to book transport currently.”

He notes that Uber and companies like it are not currently seen as competitors although Uber has recently started to wade into this market, representing a potential threat, or perhaps a partner. “It’s heavy lifting to connect with 7,000 transport companies globally,” Toister said. 

“This is an experienced management team that have grown successful travel-tech companies before,” said Barak Saloman, managing partner, Red Dot Capital Partners, in a statement. “With a complex task like globalizing ground transport you need local knowledge, technology expertise and industry experience. Bookaway Group has all three and they’re committed to winning this market.”

ARMO raises $30M to build an end-to-end open source Kubernetes security platform

ARMO, the Tel Aviv-based company behind Kubescape, the popular open source Kubernetes security platform, today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series A funding round led by Tiger Global. New investor Hyperwise Ventures as well as existing investors Pitango First and Peled Ventures also participated in this round.

Kubescape, which developers can access through a command line interface or a browser-based UI, helps businesses scan their Kubernetes clusters, YAML files and HELM charts for misconfigurations, potential vulnerabilities and issues with their user configurations. The platform also supports multiple security and compliance frameworks like NSA and MITRE, but it also allows businesses to create their own customized frameworks. What’s maybe just as important as finding those issues is that Kubescape then also shows these teams why a certain control failed — allowing them, in some cases, to make the changes right in the Kubescape UI if they want to do so — and how to fix them.

Image Credits: ARMO

ARMO CEO and co-founder Shauli Rozen told me that the plan for the company is to build an end-to-end solution for Kubernetes security and keep that open source. Today, a lot of companies either stitch together multiple open source solutions, which quickly becomes hard to manage, or they have to use proprietary systems that can be hard to adapt to their specific use cases.

That’s something Tiger Global partner John Curtius also noted. “Kubernetes is open source, and Kubernetes security should be open source too, following the same culture of transparency and collaboration,” he said. “ARMO is unique because they’re committed to a complete open source security solution for Kubernetes, so everyone can benefit from — and contribute to — the most secure platform available.”

ARMO’s business plan is to offer a hosted version of Kubescape, with pricing starting at $59 per worker node/month and three months of data retention (and discounts for annual plans). For users who only use up to 10 worker nodes, there is also a free plan with one month of data retention. Larger enterprises, of course, can negotiate an enterprise plan with the company, too.

“Kubernetes just keeps growing; securing Kubernetes means securing the infrastructure on which all modern microservice applications depend,” said Nathan Shuchami, managing partner with Hyperwise Ventures. “But it also means critical misconfigurations and potential vulnerabilities at many different levels. Kubernetes security is a complex problem. ARMO’s commitment to an open source, end to end solution to the entire challenge made it stand out, and Kubescape’s success just shows how much it’s needed.”

Here’s why we’re about to see an explosion of hyperreal artificial humans online

Synthetically generated versions of real people that can be can be programmed to say anything sounds like a scenario from the latest episode of “Black Mirror.”

But in fact, production-grade video-based characters based on real people — which can talk about any product or subject at all, in a hyperlifelike manner — are arguably going to be part of the next wave in areas like e-commerce and remote learning. Further, a Hollywood celebrity could simply license out their avatar to explain products, at a scale that would make it impossible to physically film. But perhaps more realistically, “digital twins” like this make much more convincing videos than invented characters, because of their humanlike qualities.

The market for this technology is expanding. Key players in the space include SoulMachines (which has raised $135 million) and Synthesia (raised $66.6 million).

Back in 2020 we reported how Hour One, a New York and Tel Aviv startup which creates AI-driven synthetic characters based on real humans, had closed a $5 million seed funding round.

It’s now raised a $20 million Series A funding round led by Insight Partners. Also participating in the round was Galaxy Interactive, Remagine Ventures, Kindred Ventures, Semble Ventures, Cerca Partners, Digital-Horizon and Eynat Guez.

The startup plans to expand its Reals platform, a self-service platform allowing businesses “to create human-led video automatically, from just text, in a matter of minutes” said the company in a statement.

This, says the firm, converts people into virtual human characters for commercial and professional use cases. The human is first captured on video, then Hour One’s AI generates a virtual twin. This could be a virtual receptionist, salesperson, HR representative or language teacher, for example.

To some extent, Hour Pen’s view that the shift to remote work has meant video and more immersive media — such as for educational content — has become much more important, is correct. Therefore this kind of video people will be expanded.

Hour One CEO and Founder Oren Aharon said in a statement: “Very soon, any person will be able to have a virtual twin for professional use that can deliver content on their behalf, speak in any language, and scale their productivity in ways previously unimaginable.”

“The power and accuracy of generative AI continues to improve at an extremely rapid pace, and Hour One is at the vanguard,” added Lonne Jaffe, managing director at Insight Partners. “You just type in some text, and behind the scenes the incredibly scalable Hour One infrastructure creates a fluid and realistic video of an avatar talking along with matching voice and graphics. The team’s grand vision is to be able to embed this extraordinary capability within any software product or allow it to be invoked in real-time via API.”

Berlitz, the language and culture training giant, now uses Hour One to generate video, featuring virtual instructors across thousands of its videos. Hour One has also partnered with NBCUniversal, DreamWorks and Cameo, the latter of which allows celebrities to record paid videos for fans.

The appearance of the likes of SoulMachines, Synthesia and Hour One raises questions about how this technology might well also be abused. Watermarking videos as “artificial” might be one way to prevent this, but we are still swimming in uncharted waters here. Hour One says it has an ethical policy code for how its technology is used.

We are definitely going to see some “interesting” scenarios appear around this technology, which is proliferating much faster than the startups themselves.

Ex-Apple employee takes Face ID privacy complaint to Europe

Privacy watchdogs in Europe are considering a complaint against Apple made by a former employee, Ashley Gjøvik, who alleges the company fired her after she raised a number of concerns, internally and publicly, including over the safety of the workplace.

Gjøvik, a former senior engineering program manager at Apple, was fired from the company last September after she had also raised concerns about her employer’s approach towards staff privacy, some of which were covered by the Verge in a report in August 2021.

At the time, Gjøvik had been placed on administrative leave by Apple after raising concerns about sexism in the workplace, and a hostile and unsafe working environment which it had said it was investigating. She subsequently filed complaints against Apple with the US National Labor Relations Board.

Those earlier complaints link to the privacy complaint she’s sent to international oversight bodies now because Gjøvik says she wants scrutiny of Apple’s privacy practices after it formally told the US government its reasons for firing her — and “felt comfortable admitting they’d fire employees for protesting invasions of privacy”, as she puts it — accusing Apple of using her concerns over its approach to staff privacy as a pretext to terminate her for reporting wider safety concerns and organizing with other employees about labor concerns.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Offie (ICO) and France’s CNIL both confirmed receipt of Gjøvik’s privacy complaint against Apple.

A spokesperson for the ICO told TechCrunch: “We are aware of this matter and we will assess the information provided.”

France’s CNIL also sent confirmation that it’s looking at Gjøvik’s complaint.

“We have received this complaint which it is currently being investigated,” a CNIL spokesperson told us, adding: “I cannot communicate any further details at this time.”

The development was first covered by the Telegraph — which reported yesterday that it’s thought to be the first time Gjøvik has sought to press her privacy complaint against Apple in the UK. 

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), which is Apple’s main data protection regulator in the European Union for the pan-EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — and which would, under the regulation’s one-stop-shop mechanism, likely take a lead role on any inquiry related to a GDPR complaint that’s also been lodged with other EU privacy regulators (such as France’s CNIL) — declined to comment. Nor would the DPC confirm or deny receiving Gjøvik’s complaint.

A spokesperson for the DPC said: “The DPC cannot comment on individual cases. All queries that come before the DPC are assessed and progressed in line with the DPC’s complaint-handling functions, where it is appropriate to do so.”

Ireland has a number of GDPR probes ongoing into Apple data processing practices — including into the company’s privacy policies — but the DPC has not yet issued any decisions in relation to those multi-year long investigations.

Were the DPC to decide this complaint merits opening a fresh investigation into Apple, it would likely take years to reach a public outcome given the Irish regulator’s extensive GDPR case file backlog.

In a conclusion to the complaint, Gjøvik urges the regulators to “investigate the matters I raised and open a larger investigation into these topics within Apple’s corporate offices globally”, further alleging: “Apple claims that human rights do not differ based on geographic location, yet Apple also admits that French and German governments would never allow it to do what it is doing in Cupertino, California and elsewhere.”

Face ID Gobbler app

The 54-page “privacy invasion complaint”, which Gjøvik says was submitted to European regulators earlier this month, takes issues with the company’s approach to employee privacy — raising concerns about a number of practices including an internal program by Apple to gather biometrics data from staff using an app called “Gobbler” (later “Glimmer”), apparently as part of the product development process for Face ID.

More broadly, the complaint centers on the breadth of Apple’s secrecy and “anti-employee privacy” policies, as well as what Gjøvik alleges to be “unlawfully restrictive” NDAs.

Apple was contacted for comment on the complaint but at the time of writing the company had not responded.

The tech giant’s approach to inviting employees to engage in product testing which involved capturing biometrics at times left Gjøvik feeling that her participation was mandatory, per the complaint, and — in one instance that she details — she describes responding to what she thought was a “mandatory social event” which turned out to involve manually testing Face ID using the Gobbler app while being penned into a secure outdoor compound in full sunshine.

According to the complaint, information Apple provided internally to staff about Gobbler urged employees to upload data from the app captured in their homes.

“Apple was pressuring employees to upload their ‘faceprint data’ to Apple internal servers, capturing secret photographs and videos of employees, and told employees that face-related logs were automatically uploaded from their iPhones daily,” Gjøvik alleges. 

It was extraordinarily unclear what data was being automatically uploaded, how and when,” she also claims. “My open questions included whether my personal data was being backed up on employee iCloud backups, synced via iCloud, and/or accessed/copied by Apple’s corporate MDM profiles – or other Global Security surveillance of employee phones. It also disturbed me that the app was taking photos/videos without any notification (sound, signal, etc), which made me think that Apple, if it wanted to, could activate my device cameras and watch me without me knowing at any time as well. I talked to other employees, including managers, with similar concerns.”

Gjøvik cites a public statement by Apple that more than one billion images were used in the development of its Face ID algorithm — claiming the company never answered questions raised by Senator Al Franken who had asked it where those images came from following the launch of Face ID. “What [Apple VP Craig] Federighi did not say is that those images came from employees just like me, whether I wanted to share them or not,” she suggests. 

Per the complaint, Apple informed staff of restrictions on employees uploading data to Gobbler in countries outside the US — although the complaint also cites an email from a Apple manager which states that one such study was being conducted in “the USA, Brazil, Tel Aviv,” and the EU “but not France or Germany”.

“I also saw in notes that the app was forbidden to be used in Japan and China, but then at some point, Apple decided to gather some logs there anyways,” Gjøvik further suggests.

Apple does have offices in Europe — including in the UK, France, Ireland and elsewhere in the region — so it’s at least possible that employees at those locations used the Gobbler app to upload their biometric data. If that happened, it could engage data protection considerations, such as over the legal ground Apple would be able to rely on for processing this data. But whether or not the European regulators who have received her complaint decide there’s something here for them to investigate remains to be seen.

Under the GDPR, consent is one of several possible legal grounds for processing personal data. However for consent to be a valid legal basis, it must be informed, specific and freely given — and, even setting aside questions over whether staff were provided with adequate information on what would be done with their biometric data, an employer-employee power dynamic might undermine their ability to freely consent (i.e. vs feeling they must participate in such testing because it’s their employer asking). So there could be reasons for closer scrutiny.

Gjøvik’s complaint has also been addressed to the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), although a spokesman for the body confirmed the EDPS would not investigate such a matter as its oversight function is focused on the EU’s own institutions, bodies or agencies.

The complaint also lists the Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner as another body to which it has been submitted, along with digital rights groups EFF and Big Brother Watch.

Beyond the Gobbler/Glimmer app, Gjøvik raises concerns about the potential for Apple’s software development ticket/bug reporting system to harvest personal data without staff being properly aware — claiming that the system defaults to sharing reports to all of the company’s software engineering function (potentially tens of thousands of people). It also says these tickets could ask employees to include diagnostic files — which Gjøvik suggests could result in additional personal data from an employee’s personal device, such as their iMessages for example, being passed to Apple without the employee fully realizing it.

In the Verge’s article last year, which quoted Gjøvik and a number of other Apple employees, it was reported that staffers at the company were routinely told to link their personal Apple ID to their work account.

“The blurring of personal and work accounts has resulted in some unusual situations, including Gjøvik allegedly being forced to hand compromising photos of herself to Apple lawyers when her team became involved in an unrelated legal dispute,” the Verge reported, before referencing what it described as a “stringent employment agreement that gives Apple the right to conduct extensive employee surveillance, including ‘physical, video, or electronic surveillance’ as well as the ability to ‘search your workspace such as file cabinets, desks, and offices (even if locked), review phone records, or search any non-Apple property (such as backpacks, purses) on company premises'”.

Another Apple policy the Verge’s report highlighted was a ban on staff wiping any devices before returning them to the company, including if/when they leave Apple — suggesting employees who have linked their personal Apple ID to their work accounts are potentially exposing privacy data to the company when they hand back corporate devices.

Run:ai raises $75M for its AI platform

Tel Aviv-based Run:ai, a startup that makes it easier for developers and operations teams to manage and optimize their AI infrastructure, today announced that it has raised a $75 million Series C funding round led by Tiger Global Management and Insight partners, which also led the company’s $30 million Series B round in 2021. Previous investors TLV Partners and S Capital VC also participated in this round, which brings Run:ai’s total funding to $118 million.

Run:ai’s Atlas platform helps its users virtualize and orchestrate their AI workloads with a focus on optimizing their GPU resources, no matter whether they are on-premises or in the cloud. It abstracts all of this hardware away, while developers can still interact with the pooled resources through standard tools like Jupyter notebooks and IT teams can get better insights into how these resources are being used.

The new round comes at a time of fast growth for the company. Its annual recurring revenue grew 9x in the last year, while its staff more than tripled, the company tells me. Run:ai CEO Omri Geller attributes this to a number of factors, including the company’s ability to build a global partner network to accelerate its growth and the overall momentum for the technology within the enterprise. “As organizations leave the incubation stage and start scaling their AI initiatives, they are unable to meet their expected pace of AI innovation due to severe challenges managing their AI infrastructure,” he said.

Image Credits: Run:ai

He also noted that he believes Run:ai has an advantage because as enterprises are modernizing their infrastructure, Run:ai’s cloud-native AI orchestration platform that plugs into Kubernetes environments fits in nicely into this overall trend. Geller noted that these customers are increasingly moving from experiments to production — and that’s where the need for an MLOps platform with a focus on optimizing GPU utilization like Run:ai quickly becomes apparent.

“As part of the development of our product, we added unique features to help them efficiently manage their AI production clusters and easily deploy inference at scale. Inference workloads require maximum throughput and extremely low latency,” he said. “With Run:ai coordinating job scheduling on inference servers, maximal throughput and low latency are maintained while optimizing GPU utilization to nearly 100%.”

The company plans to use the new funding to grow its team, but Geller also noted that the company will consider strategic acquisitions to enhance its overall platform. “Our approach will always be to develop in-house and we do not have a specific area in mind for acquisition. However, if the opportunity presents itself for a strategic acquisition of a technology that will accelerate our time to market and help speed up market dominance, we will definitely seize the opportunity,” he said.

“As enterprises in every industry reimagine themselves to become learning systems powered by AI and human talent, there has been a global surge in demand for AI hardware chipsets such as GPUs,” said Lonne Jaffe, Managing Director at Insight Partners. “As the Forrester Wave AI Infrastructure report recently highlighted, Run:ai creates extraordinary value by bringing advanced virtualization and orchestration capabilities to AI chipsets, making training and inference systems run both much faster and more cost-effectively. Because of explosive demand since 2020, Run:ai has almost quadrupled its customer base, and we couldn’t be more excited to double down on our partnership with Omri and the incredible Run:AI team as they lean into their momentum and Scale Up.”


MyHeritage and D-ID partner to bring photos to life with both animations and voice

Last year, genealogy service MyHeritage went viral after introducing a new “deepfake” feature that allowed users to animate the faces of loved ones in still photos. TikTok users posted videos reacting to the technology, called “Deep Nostalgia,” as they brought back relatives they never got to meet or those whose loss they still grieved. To date, more than 100 million photos have been animated with the feature. Now comes the next iteration. Today, MyHeritage along with technology partner D-ID is expanding upon “Deep Nostalgia,” with the launch of “LiveStory,” a feature that doesn’t just bring the people in photos to life with movement, but actually has them speak.

MyHeritage licensed the new technology from D-ID, a Tel Aviv-based startup that works to create patented video reenactment technology powered by AI and deep learning techniques.

D-ID’s technologies, available to developers through APIs, have been used by a range of licensees, across media, education, marketing and more. Warner Bros., for instance, worked with D-ID to allow users to personalize a movie trailer with animated photos and for a Harry Potter exhibition. Mondelēz International, advertising agency Publicis and Digitas Vietnam partnered with D-ID on marketing efforts for a local festival. India’s short-form video app Josh integrated the facial animation tech as a creative tool. Nonprofits and governments have also used the technology in various public awareness campaigns.

With the debut of LiveStory, MyHeritage is bringing the latest AI tech from D-ID directly to consumers.

To use the feature, consumers can create a free MyHeritage account, which allows them to try out the tech for free several times. Beyond that, they’ll need to upgrade to a paid subscription plan for unlimited use of LiveStory.

The technology works to create an animated video narrative of an ancestor’s life, so they can tell their own story. This is powered by D-ID’s patent-pending Speaking Portrait Technology, which generates a narrated video based on an uploaded photo, then combines it with a synthetic voice generator. The story’s narration comes from text input by the user.

To make the lips match the words, D-ID trained a neural network on a database of videos of people speaking. Its technology is able to work with any language, the company says. The MyHeritage implementation, however, supports 31 languages, including dozens of dialects, with both male and female voice options.

“The technology is so good that you don’t need a driver video,” notes D-ID’s co-founder and CEO Gil Perry — meaning, the tech doesn’t require a video of a real person’s movements which are then mapped to a still image. “You input only text and the photo and then you get the person to speak,” he says. The technology is not perfect, Perry admits, likening it instead to “really good lip-syncing.”

After the LiveStory is created, users can watch it, share it with friends or post it to social media. They also can customize the story further by editing the text, choosing a different voice or even uploading their own audio recording.

Image Credits: D-ID

Longer-term, D-ID envisions how this technology could be used in a metaverse environment, where digital avatars of people could be animated with AI — and not just faces, but full-body movement in 3D worlds. Perry imagines how users could upload their own childhood photos, those of family members or even historical figures, then animate them in the metaverse, and have conversations.

“Our children will want to converse ourselves with Albert Einstein and learn and hear him and ask him questions,” he says. “And he will answer us.” (And when universal translation is available, he could even answer in the user’s own language.)

This technology, of course, is several years down the road, but it will be built on concepts being developed today — like Deep Nostalgia and LiveStory — when and if it eventually comes to pass.

In the meantime, there’s MyHeritage and, soon, D-ID’s own consumer app that will help to demonstrate its technology in a different way. The app will arrive in the “coming weeks,” D-ID says.

The MyHeritage LiveStory feature was announced today at the RootsTech family-history tech conference. It will work on desktop, mobile web and in the MyHeritage mobile app.

“LiveStory takes storytelling to the next level,” said Gilad Japhet, founder and CEO of MyHeritage, in a statement about the launch. “With this latest viral feature, MyHeritage continues to lead the world of online family history in both vision and innovation. Our use of AI to breathe new life into historical photos is unique and is helping millions of people cultivate a renewed emotional connection with their ancestors and deceased loved ones. Genealogy is all about telling and preserving our family stories. We keep showing the world how fun and compelling genealogy can be.”

D-ID, which was also co-founded by Sella Blondheim and Eliran Kuta, is a team of 32 and plans to double by hiring across positions in the U.S., U.K., Singapore and Israel.