Israeli start-up AI21 Labs, headed by MobilEye and OrCam founder Prof. Amnon Shashua, along with Prof. Yoav Shoham and Uri Goshen, announced on Thursday that it had close an initial funding round of $25 million, led by Pitango First, Pitango Venture’s seed fund. together with TPY Capital.
Along with the Round A announcement, the company reported that it had raised $9.5 million in its seed funding round. In total, the company, which employs about 40 people, has raised $34.5 million. AI21 Labs declined to comment on its post-funding plans for expansion, or on future product development.
AI21 Labs was founded by artificial intelligence experts and graduates of the IDF’s elite technological unit, with the aim of building AI-based systems for understanding and creating a natural language. According to the company’s announcement, the company’s first product, Wordtune, launched about three weeks ago in both free and for-pay premium versions “is the first AI-based writing tool able to understand context and meaning.”
Following the funding round, Pitango First managing partner Eyal Niv and director of AI21 Labs, said, “AI21 Labs is a great company whose team is a dream team. They’re focused on creating artificial intelligence solutions whose impact on human communication might be comparable to the Gutenberg printing press. That’s a mission we want to promote and be part of.”
Along with computerized vision, natural language comprehension is one the hottest fields in artificial intelligence today and top-flight technology players are engaged in it, from tech giants or small start-ups. AI21 Labs’ activity is part of a trend: the transition from translating words, sentence fragments or complete sentences, to analyzing whole texts, with the aim of understanding and acting within the correct context.
The vision: Redefining the reading and writing experience
Speaking with “Globes”, Prof. Shoham described the company as “A strange beast for Israel, because it has two heads. There’s a research laboratory with world-class scientific capabilities, at the highest level you would find at the tech giants, but we are also committed to developing solutions and products.” Nonetheless, although the company’s vision is to develop tools that will help employees perform tasks that include a significant amount of writing, the company’s initial product is being marketed through the company’s website to individual users, and not to enterprises.
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Prof. Shoham defines Wordtune as a “writing assistant”, and the company’s vision as “Redefining the writing and reading experience. Because the way we write now is like a Microsoft product manager in 1980.” Current innovations in the field of natural language comprehension, such as Google Translate or its autocomplete engine, do not fundamentally change the writing and reading experience, he says. “It’s true that there are solutions for spelling and grammar errors, but they’re pretty generic, and don’t require super heavy technology,” he says, explaining that “At AI21, we believe that in the modern world it is possible to turn the computer into a true writing assistant, that not only helps to correct words here and there, but also helps you to think and refine your ideas towards creating a text that expresses them well.”
“Until thoughts are expressed in written form, until they’re refined into a sentence, much is lost,” Prof. Shoham continues. “Our goal is to minimize the gap between the depth and richness of your thoughts – and what you write in the end.” That is exactly what the company’s product tries to do, and – according to reviews posted online by experts – it also does impressively. Ha’aretz in English, for example, published an article about the company, and on its website, published the text after it had been fed into the AI21 system and undergone enhancement.
Prof. Shoham emphasizes that this is not a linguistic editor. “This is co-writing, not co-editing. Just as a newspaper editor or literary editor doesn’t look at a word here or a there, but gives general assistance,” he explains. AI21’s system offers whole sentences in various forms, so that writers will feel, ‘Wow, that wasn’t exactly what I said, but that’s what I meant.’ Of course, the system can offer ways to write grammatically correct text, but that’s a ‘nice to have,’ it’s not the main feature. “
Another feature allows for smart text integration. “Much of today’s writing is based on existing content that the writer copies from one place and incorporates in another,” explains Prof. Shoham. “Therefore, we offer the possibility to adjust the meaning of these combined texts, automatically. Suppose someone wrote a paragraph and wants to incorporate a sentence from another paragraph. The added sentence will probably not fit in perfectly. So, we do that automatically, and change it for you. Either the same sentence or the one preceding it, or both. That’s because many times a sentence relates to what came before it, and doesn’t exist independently. For this reason, what is written must be understood, so that you can integrate the new text in a coherent way.”
Another interesting feature, Prof. Shoham calls, “On the tip of my tongue.” If a writer feels stuck, at some point he or she can ask the system to suggest the continuation, and even give it clues as to the sought-after word. Although the system currently operates only in English, Shoham says it able to process such hints in other languages as well, including Hebrew.
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on November 22, 2020
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