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AI21 Labs just closed a $25 million Series A funding round. Here's why one of its cofounders say the startup's AI writing assistant Wordtune surpasses existing tools.

Published by Business Insider on Sun, 22 Nov 2020

<p><img src="https://static4.businessinsider.com/image/5fb58c5650e71a00115560a4-1968/Wordtune image 3.png" border="0" alt="Wordtune image 3" data-mce-source="AI21 Labs" data-mce-caption="AI21 Labs recently released AI-backed writing assistant Wordtune."></p><p></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><p>Tel Aviv-based startup AI21 Labs raised $25 million in Series A funding, according to an announcement Thursday, as the startup looks to scale its <a href="https://www.google.com/search'q=wordtune&amp;source=lnms&amp;tbm=nws&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=2ahUKEwjK9qfWgI3tAhXJjp4KHZ2kDrMQ_AUoBHoECAQQBg&amp;biw=1373&amp;bih=559">artificial intelligence-backed writing companion</a>.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>The round was led by Pitango First, the unit within Israel venture capital giant Pitango that focuses on early-stage funding. AI21 Labs did not disclose the valuation after this round, but PitchBook listed it as $18 million following the startup's seed round in 2019. Overall, it has raised $34.5 million in outside funding.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>AI21 came out of stealth mode in October with WordTune, an AI-backed writing assistant that helps users improve their text. It's led by noted machine learning researchers Ori Goshen and Yoav Shoham who both have a long histories as entrepreneurs. Shoham, for example, sold two companies to Google: Katango in 2013 and <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2015/05/05/google-acquires-timeful-to-help-schedule-your-life.html">Timeful in 2015</a>, both for undisclosed sums. After the last sale, he came onboard with Google as a principal scientist until 2017.&nbsp;</p><p>As someone who has been involved with artificial intelligence technology from its boom through the early 1980s, to the so-called winter in the 1990s, and again to the <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/c3ai-billionaire-founder-tom-siebel-ai-projects-fail-startup-accelerating-2020-11">surge in interest happening now</a>, Shoham sees an opportunity for AI to finally fulfill many of the promises that researchers have made over the past few decades.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Back then, "there wasn't rich data," he told Business Insider. "There certainly wasn't the compute power of today. The methods were quite crude. And so there were over-promises and the backlash that followed. Now, it's the mirror image. There's endless compute power, and a ton of data, and zero semantics."&nbsp;</p><p>At AI21, the duo is helping to perfect natural language processing &nbsp;what Shoham calls the "next frontier" of AI. It's one of the industry's hottest fields that aims to replicate how humans read, speak, and write. Alongside WordTune, there are startups that help <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-this-secretive-ai-startup-is-helping-call-center-employees-2020-4">automate operations like customer service</a> or more quickly scan <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/tom-siebel-adobe-microsoft-c3ai-salesforce-crm-ai-2020-11">documents like analyst notes</a> for pertinent information.&nbsp;</p><p>It's also an area that is seeing major activity from the open source community. LexisNexis has <a href="https://fortune.com/2020/10/27/data-sheet-ai-artificial-intelligence-teaching-education/">an AI tool for legal research</a>, for example, based on Google's open-source language model known as BERT. And OpenAI <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/openai-gpt-3-language-generation-model-important-breakthrough-2020-7">made waves earlier this year</a> when it released, <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/07/20/1005454/openai-machine-learning-language-generator-gpt-3-nlp/">to much fanfare</a>, a new language generator called GPT-3 that is now being used as a foundation for new startups like OthersideAI.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>GPT-3 "is very good for what it does," said Shoham. But "as soon as you try to do something real with it, you fall flat."&nbsp;</p><p>With WordTune, AI21 Labs is trying to fill the current gaps its founders see in the market. While language models have been effective in helping users writethink Grammarly, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/waymo-palantir-databricks-samsara-zoox-most-valuable-ai-startups-pitchbook-2020-7#grammarly-23-billion-16">an AI-backed browser plug-in</a> that can aids users in word choice and tone, among other use cases &nbsp;Shoham says that hasn't evolved enough to provide deeper, more intelligent assistance.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/5fb58bd632f2170011f6fe21-640/Wordtune Gif 3.gif" border="0" alt="Wordtune Gif 3" data-mce-source="AI21 Labs" data-mce-caption="A snapshot of Wordtune."></p><p>WordTune provides samples of alternative ways that sentences can be written with the same meaning, which could give users options they never considered. It can also provide substitutes that are adjusted for tonelike formal or casual. Users can even paste in information and the system can offer phrases that logically combine that with an existing sentence.&nbsp;</p><p><img src="https://static5.businessinsider.com/image/5fb58c0750e71a00115560a1-640/Wordtune Gif 2.gif" border="0" alt="Wordtune Gif 2" data-mce-source="AI21 Labs" data-mce-caption="Another snapshot of Wordtune."></p><p>Like Grammarly, it's offered as a Chrome extension and works with platforms like Google Docs. While there's a free offering, a more robust version sells for $9.99 per month or $24.99. The current offering is a "first step," according to Shoham. "We have a very comprehensive product vision that'll take us a couple of years to realize."&nbsp;</p><p>"Systems such as a Grammarly are focused, but not deep. Whereas GPT-3 is deep, but not focused," he added. "We are really a thought partner to help you think through things."</p><p><strong>SEE ALSO:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/bayer-and-blockapps-launch-blockchain-initiative-traceharvest-network-2020-11" >Why it was a 'no brainer' for ag giant Bayer to launch the industry's first blockchain initiative to track crops from seed-to-sale with startup partner BlockApps</a></strong></p><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/ai21-labs-wordtune-grammarly-gpt-3-ai-series-a-fundraising-2020-11#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p> <p>NOW WATCH: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/pikes-peak-hill-climb-colorado-most-dangerous-racetrack-2020-2">Why Pikes Peak is the most dangerous racetrack in America</a></p>
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