TechNation: Israeli Researcher Gets Grant From WhatsApp to Study Fake News

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A logo of WhatsApp is pictured on a T-shirt worn by a WhatsApp-Reliance Jio representative during a drive by the two companies to educate users, on the outskirts of Kolkata, India, October 9, 2018.
A logo of WhatsApp is pictured on a T-shirt worn by a WhatsApp-Reliance Jio representative during a drive by the two companies to educate users, on the outskirts of Kolkata, India, October 9, 2018.Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Habana raises $75 million for AI-designed chips

Habana Labs, an artificial intelligence startup that only emerged from stealth mode two months ago, said Thursday it had secured $75 million from a group of blue chip investors led by Intel Capital. Intel was joined by WRV Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Battery Ventures and others, including existing investors. Since its founding, two years ago, the company has raised a total of $120 million. Habana Labs uses AI to improve the processing performance of chips and lower their costs and power consumption for use in cloud data centers, autonomous vehicles, factory and warehouse robots, high-end drones and other applications. Production and delivery has already begun on the company’s first inference processor. “Among all AI semiconductor startups, Habana Labs is the first, and still the only one, which introduced a production-ready AI processor,” said Lip-Bu Tan, a partner at WRV Capital. (Irad Atzmon Schmayer)

Hippo pulls in $70 million for online insurance 

Hippo Insurance, which sells home insurance policies online, said Wednesday it had raised $70 million from investors led by Felicis Ventures and the home construction company Lennar Corporation. Founded in 2015 by Israelis Assaf Wand and Eyal Navon, Hippo debuted in the insurance marketplace in April 2017 and has raised $109 million. The company claims that homeowners can get a quote from it online and purchase a policy in 60 seconds or less, saving up to 25% compared with traditional insurers. Its competitors include Lemonade, another insurance startup founded by Israelis to provide home and renters insurance. Among Hippo’s innovations is reassessing insured properties automatically, said Wand. “For instance, if you replaced your roof, you’ll get an 8% discount even if you haven’t notified us. On the other hand, if you put in a swimming pool, we’ll get in touch with you and ask if you want third-party liability coverage,” he explained. (Irad Atzmon Schmayer)

Israeli researcher gets grant from WhatsApp to study misinformation

A researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was one of 20 awarded a combined $1 million from Facebook’s WhatsApp unit to investigate how misinformation spreads on its platform. Selected from more than 600 applicants, the grants come after a call for research about fake news stories, out-of-context photos and rumors on WhatsApp, which have plagued users in countries such as Brazil and India, its largest markets.

Dr. Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, of Hebrew University’s communications and journalism department, is getting $50,000 to work on a research proposal entitled “Talking politics on WhatsApp: How Groups Afford Civil Cross-Cutting Talk.” WhatsApp will not provide any user data to researchers, who are meeting at the company’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters this week for a workshop on how the platform works internally. “These studies will help us build upon recent changes we have made within WhatsApp and support broad education campaigns to help keep people safe,” Mrinalini Rao, lead researcher at WhatsApp, said in a statement. (Sagi Cohen)

Technology investment firm Vintage completes first closing for $290 million fund

The Israeli technology investment firm Vintage Investment Partners said Wednesday it completed the first closing of $290 million in commitments to its fifth venture capital fund of funds and 11th fund overall. The closing of the new fund of funds brings Vintage’s assets under management to $1.8 billion across Israel, Europe and the United States. Vintage’s new fund of funds will invest in U.S. and European venture funds over $100 million, an emerging fund and an Israel fund that invests in leading Israeli venture funds, it said. Based in Herzliya, Vintage’s general partners are Alan Feld, Abe Finkelstein, Amit Frenkel and Ehud Hai, who lead a staff of 34. (Reuters)

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