Starburst becomes latest enterprise data unicorn
Boston, Massachusetts-based Starburst is a data analytics company specialising in accessing data anywhere it resides.
The company is attempting to overthrow the well worn notion of a single source of truth as unachievable in the modern age, thanks to the array of sources and data management systems present in the modern world. Instead, it offers a “single point of access”, powered by technology known as Trino that allows for the quick querying and analysis of data no matter what database it resides in, thus simplifying data infrastructure. Its customers include the likes of Tableau, Comcast and Condé Nast.
Since its 2017 foundation, the company $164mn across three funding rounds. Its latest round, announced yesterday, saw the company raise $100mn, propelling it to a tech unicorn valuation of $1.2bn. The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, alongside Coatue, Index Ventures and Salesforce Ventures.
In , Justin Borgman, CEO and co-founder of Starburst, said: “Today, the only constant is change, and organizations need to make faster and better decisions in order to adapt. Starburst is changing the game by allowing you to query the data wherever it lives. We provide high-performance data warehousing analytics across data you never had access to before.”
The company said it would use the funds to fuel growth as organisations change their approach to data analytics.
“To succeed in today’s digital economy, organizations need to break through the limits previously experienced when accessing their most critical asset – their data,” said David George, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “With its disciplined approach, long-term vision, and workhorse mentality, Starburst is building the technology required to unlock the value of all data. By enabling organizations to access data wherever it resides, Starburst is providing the foundation for the future of the data-driven enterprise.”
Chinese Firm Taigusys Launches Emotion-Recognition System
In a detailed investigative report, the Guardian reported that Chinese tech company Taigusys can now monitor facial expressions. The company claims that it can track fake smiles, chart genuine emotions, and help police curtail security threats. ‘Ordinary people here in China aren’t happy about this technology, but they have no choice. If the police say there have to be cameras in a community, people will just have to live with it’, said Chen Wei, company founder and chairman. ‘There’s always that demand, and we’re here to fulfil it’.
Who Will Use the Data?
As of right now, the emotion-recognition market is supposed to be worth US$36bn by 2023—which hints at rapid global adoption. Taigusys counts Huawei, China Mobile, China Unicom, and PetroChina among its 36 clients, but none of them has yet revealed if they’ve purchased the new AI. In addition, Taigusys will likely implement the technology in Chinese prisons, schools, and nursing homes.
It’s not likely that emotion-recognition AI will stay within the realm of private enterprise. President Xi Jinping has promoted ‘positive energy’ among citizens and intimated that negative expressions are no good for a healthy society. If the Chinese central government continues to gain control over private companies’ tech data, national officials could use emotional data for ideological purposes—and target ‘unhappy’ or ‘suspicious’ citizens.
How Does It Work?
Taigusys’s AI will track facial muscle movements, body motions, and other biometric data to infer how a person is feeling, collecting massive amounts of personal data for machine learning purposes. If an individual displays too much negative emotion, the platform can recommend him or her for what’s termed ‘emotional support’—and what may end up being much worse.
Can We Really Detect Human Emotions?
This is still up for debate, but many critics say no. Psychologists still debate whether human emotions can be separated into basic emotions such as fear, joy, and surprise across cultures or whether something more complex is at stake. Many claim that AI emotion-reading technology is not only unethical but inaccurate since facial expressions don’t necessarily indicate someone’s true emotional state.
In addition, Taigusys’s facial tracking system could promote racial bias. One of the company’s systems classes faces as ‘yellow, white, or black’; another distinguishes between Uyghur and Han Chinese; and sometimes, the technology picks up certain ethnic features better than others.
Is China the Only One?
Not a chance. Other countries have also tried to decode and use emotions. In 2007, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a heavily contested training programme (SPOT) that taught airport personnel to monitor passengers for signs of stress, deception, and fear. But China as a nation rarely discusses bias, and as a result, its AI-based discrimination could be more dangerous.
‘That Chinese conceptions of race are going to be built into technology and exported to other parts of the world is troubling, particularly since there isn’t the kind of critical discourse [about racism and ethnicity in China] that we’re having in the United States’, said Shazeda Ahmed, an AI researcher at New York University (NYU).
Taigusys’s founder points out, on the other hand, that its system can help prevent tragic violence, citing a 2020 stabbing of 41 people in Guangxi Province. Yet top academics remain unconvinced. As Sandra Wachter, associate professor and senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, said: ‘[If this continues], we will see a clash with fundamental human rights, such as free expression and the right to privacy’.