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AI
08 June 2021
Feedzai, Didimo, DefinedCrowd, Unbabel, Talkdesk: AI in Portugal
Sapo Tek

Artificial intelligence is one of the emerging technologies that is making economies "shake up" the most, due to the huge number of companies developing solutions taking advantage of AI, the much research that continues to be done in this field and the billions of euros in public and private investment plans, already presented by several countries.

Some of the technologies that are already changing the world and business, thanks to the power of AI were or are being developed and operated from Portugal. It is Portuguese AI-based technology that supports the fraud detection systems in the financial transactions of 800 million people around the world, including the customers of four of the five largest banks in North America (Feedzai).

It is Portuguese technology, which 1800 companies around the world use when interacting with customers from a platform developed by Talkdesk, strongly supported by AI. As it is also Portuguese technology that helps several Fortune 500 companies to create and train AI models for virtual assistants and other applications (DefinedCrowd), or that helps companies like Booking.com or Logitech to respond faster to the customer, because they can quickly translate support requests into different languages.

This last example refers to Unbabel's technology, which today has innovation hubs in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Portugal and offices here and in several US cities, integrating 175 employees from 26 countries, which they bring to company culture 17 languages.

Unbabel works to eliminate language barriers and does so through a translation platform that combines the power of AI with the rigor of a community of human translators who validate machine translations. The software has been used primarily in customer support services and, according to company data, can help reduce response times fivefold. Its list of clients includes names such as Facebook or Microsoft, PayPal or Under Armor, in addition to those already mentioned above.

Unbabel has innovation hubs in the united states, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Portugal and offices here and in several cities in the United States, integrating 175 employees from 26 countries, who bring 17 languages ​​to the company's culture.

This year, the main objective of the Portuguese technology company is to take the platform to new flights, which is to say, to new areas of business. "Our platform was first used in customer service, but the future will be to expand the offer. This means continuing to develop AI to respond to new challenges and our mission, which is to solve the problem of the language barrier", explains Vasco Pedro.

Didimo is another startup made in Portugal that makes AI the core technology of its business proposal. The company, which is divided between Portugal, United Kingdom, USA and Canada, creates high-fidelity digital models of each person, for online interactions. The technology he developed manages to create a digital human in 90 seconds. How does the technology work and how do you take advantage of AI? Didimo has developed a new approach to extrapolate 3D anatomical data from 2D source images at runtime.

The company has operations in Portugal, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, but it is in Porto that it concentrates more resources, namely the technical, engineering and research teams. 2021 is an important year for the project, which was born in 2016 at the hands of a researcher distinguished for her work in the field of AI. It is the year of the commercialization of the platform, which improves the accumulated work, already tested by companies like Amazon or Sony.

For this year, on the Didimo roadmap, there is the launch of a new version of the Digital Human Generation pipeline, a new generation of digital humans with greater fidelity and more refined in their ability to show similarities with the user. "This new pipeline will establish a platform that will allow us to continuously advance in the fidelity of Didimo and implement new functionalities during the second half of the year", explains João Orvalho.

Talkdesk has become popular globally for its cloud solution for contact centers. In recent years, artificial intelligence has become a key element to maintain product differentiation and is one of the areas where the Portuguese unicorn invests in strength. It has a unit only dedicated to AI which, as Pedro Andrade, Head of Automation at the company explains, "has its own resources, developing its own technology, trained and adapted to the world of contact centers".

Artificial Intelligence is used to solve three types of problems: identifying situations that generate contacts, increasing the self-service capacity of contacts and helping agents to solve problems faster and more correctly. It will be critical to helping the technology achieve its goal of automating 80% of all interactions between brands and customers. Talkdesk now has 1800 people, who are divided into Portugal, United Kingdom, France, United States, Spain and Australia

Artificial intelligence is also the foundation of DefinedCrowd's business. The company founded by Daniela Braga has developed an intelligent platform for collecting, enriching, processing and transforming data for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automatic Learning systems and provides a set of resources to accelerate the creation of AI models that customers can use customize for the most diverse purposes.

With several Fortune 500 companies on the client list, the startup now has offices in Lisbon and Porto, in the United States and in Japan. This year, one of DefinedCrowd's important projects is to continue expanding its databases with new models recognition for European languages, including Portuguese from Portugal.

Feedzai annually invests more than a quarter of its results in innovation, which goes directly to improvements in the fraud detection platform that financial institutions use around the world. The company generates about one patent per month, innovations that it integrates into the product, through several updates throughout the year. In 2021, it wants to keep up the pace and is also working to improve the usability of the platform and the quality of machine learning models, always in a logic of "responsible AI", as Pedro Bizarro underlines, a principle that has earned him notoriety and awards.

Feedzai has developed an algorithm that has already received several awards for being an example of responsible use of AI. It considers the parity between various groups and only admits models that make this balance, managing to do it efficiently, without representing an additional cost in terms of time for the scientist who is creating the model.


New projects on the way: which areas stand out?

Faber manages a fund that has AI - and emerging technologies - as its main area of ​​choice and which it presents as the first fund in Southern Europe specializing in data and AI companies. It was launched in November last year and has already invested in nine startups. It continues with the selection of startups and raising investments up to the estimated 30 million, but in the meantime it has already detailed four investments, which testify to the dynamics of new AI projects in the national market.

Two are startups focused on the data infrastructure component, "that focus on solving the problems of access to quality data, privacy and transparency of algorithms in organizations", explains Sofia Santos, partner at the venture capital company. Ydata and Aprés, the fund had already invested in Sword Health and Emotai.

Sword has developed a concept of digital physiotherapy, based on a patented solution that, with the support of sensors and AI, allows you to follow a treatment program at a distance. The latest Emotai is focused on neurotechnology, with a solution that uses data collected by a proprietary device and algorithms to positively impact human performance in contexts such as high-competition motorsports or burnout in remote work.

"What we find encouraging for the future is to think that today's unicorns are the result of projects started 5-10 years ago (or more) and we currently see a significantly higher volume of early stage projects being launched by highly qualified teams", Sofia Santos, Faber.

Between what it sees in the market and the experience it has accumulated with the companies in which it invests, Faber believes that the most promising AI areas in Portugal go through "innovative applications of machine learning or natural language processing, which is, in fact, for what reason we have analyzed one of the areas where Portugal has the potential for talent and R&D work in academia".

"Other areas such as computer vision, voice recognition and social robotics are also areas of research that we have seen as relevant in the field of academia and talent produced by universities in Portugal", says Sofia Santos.

In terms of industrial application, the potential for AI in Portugal will be mainly in areas that are being more drastically transformed by these technologies, such as industry 4.0, mobility, health or finance.

However, Faber warns: "these transformations are expected to be drastic, but the creation of relevant companies takes time and more than their financial valuation, it is important to create the conditions and have the patient capital to be solid companies in the future and are able to solve the complex challenges they face".

That said, there is also a positive note not to overlook: "What we find encouraging for the future is to think that today's unicorns are the result of projects started 5-10 years ago (or more) and we currently see a significantly higher volume of projects in the initial phase, to be launched by highly qualified teams", emphasizes Sofia Santos.

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