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Startups target employment with AI and engagement tools – TechCrunch

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If you have a job today, there’s a good chance you personally reached out to your employer and interviewed with other humans to get it. Now that you’ve been there a while, it’s also likely the workday feels more like a long slog than the fulfilling career move you had envisioned.

But if today’s early-stage startups have their way, your next employment experience could be quite different.

First, forget the networking and interview gauntlet. Instead, let an AI-enabled screening program reach out about a job you don’t seem obviously qualified to do. Or, rather than talk to a company’s employees, wait for them to play some online games instead. If you play similarly, they may decide to hire you.

Once you have the job, software will also make you more efficient and happier at your work.

An AI-driven software platform will deliver regular “nudges,” offering customized suggestions to make you a more effective worker. If you’re feeling burned out, head online to text or video chat with a coach or therapist. Or perhaps you’ll just be happier in your job now that your employer is delivering regular tokens of appreciation.

Those are a few of the ways early-stage startups are looking to change the status quo of job-seeking and employment. While employment is a broad category, an analysis of Crunchbase funding data for the space shows a high concentration of activity in two key areas: AI-driven hiring software and tools to improve employee engagement.

Below, we look at where the money’s going and how today’s early-stage startups could play a role in transforming the work experience of tomorrow.

Artificial intelligence

To begin, let us reflect that we are at a strange inflection point for AI and employment. Our artificially intelligent overlords are not smart enough to actually do our jobs. Nonetheless, they have strong opinions about whether we’re qualified to do them ourselves.

It is at this peculiar point that the alchemic mix of AI software, recruiting-based business models and venture capital are coming together to build startups.

In 2018, at least 43 companies applying AI or machine learning to some facet of employment have raised seed or early-stage funding, according to Crunchbase data. In the chart below, we look at a few startups that have secured rounds, along with their backers and respective business models:

At present, even AI boosters don’t tout the technology as a cure-all for troubles plaguing the talent recruitment space. While it’s true humans are biased and flawed when it comes to evaluating job candidates, artificially intelligent software suffers from many of the same bugs. For instance, Amazon scrapped its AI recruiting tool developed in-house because it exhibited bias against women.

That said, it’s still early innings. Over the next few years, startups will be actively tweaking their software to improve performance and reduce bias.

Happiness and engagement

Once the goal of recruiting the best people is achieved, the next step is ensuring they stay and thrive.

Usually, a paycheck goes a long way to accomplishing the goal of staying. But in case that’s not enough, startups are busily devising a host of tools for employers to boost engagement and fight the scourge of burnout.

In the chart below, we look at a few of the companies that received early-stage funding this year to build out software platforms and services aimed at making people happier and more effective at work:

The most heavily funded of the early-stage crop looks to be Peakon, which offers a software platform for measuring employee engagement and collecting feedback. The Danish firm has raised $33 million to date to fund its expansion.

London-based BioBeats is another up-and-comer aimed at the “corporate wellness” market, with digital tools to help employees track stress levels and other health-related metrics. The company has raised $7 million to date to help keep those stress levels in check.

Early-stage indicators

Early-stage funding activity tends to be an indicator of areas with somewhat low adoption rates today that are poised to take off dramatically. For employment, that means we can likely expect to see AI-based recruitment and software-driven engagement tools become more widespread in the coming years.

What does that mean for job seekers and paycheck toilers? Expect to spend more of your time interfacing with intelligent software. Apparently, it’ll make you more employable, and happier, too.

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Android 12 might finally have native support for app cloning

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There was a time when it was almost normal to find out that people had two phones in their possession. The need to keep personal and professional lives separate on that level still exists in this age of dual SIM phones, especially since apps don’t always support handling multiple accounts. Different manufacturers have applied different and inconsistent implementations, but it seems that Google is laying the groundwork for having multiple copies of some apps installed on the same Android user profile.

There are times when you want to use the same app or service but for different accounts or use cases. Some apps like Twitter, Gmail, and Telegram support the ability to log into and switch between different accounts. Most, however, don’t, and sometimes users have to look for workarounds to get what they want, often by installing a third-party and sometimes potentially harmful app.

Manufacturers like Samsung, OnePlus, and Xiaomi have “Dual Messenger” features that are limited to a specific set of messaging apps. Some have a sort of secure mode or folder, where they can run separate copies of any installed app, but they have to authenticate each and every time they switch between apps. Finally, Android itself has support for a separate “work profile,” which is complicated to set up and use.

XDA’s Mishaal Rahman discovered hints about a “Clone profile” in Android 12, something that could enable app cloning on an OS level rather than resorting to workarounds. Even better than existing solutions, it might even support having three instances of the same app rather than just two. This could finally put an end to one OEM modification and make those custom Android experiences a bit lighter and easier to upgrade.

Unfortunately, a lot of this Clone profile functionality is still shrouded in mystery and isn’t even working properly. It could simply be the foundation for a future Android future that will hopefully make it easier for users to juggle their digital personas and roles on the same phone.

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Pixel Pass introduces Google’s new way to buy its phones

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Many consumers, especially in the US, prefer to buy their phones from their mobile carriers, not really out of loyalty to the network. More often than not, it’s the subsidies and financing options that soften the blow when buying a new and more expensive smartphone. Manufacturers have, of course, started offering such options to convince people to buy phones directly for them, and Google’s new Pixel Pass takes that idea a bit further by putting Pixel 6 buyers knee-deep in its services for a long time.

As leaked before, Pixel Pass is Google’s answer to Apple One, but it comes with a unique twist. Both subscription programs revolve around each company’s services covering music streaming, gaming, and cloud storage. The difference is that Google is throwing in a Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro with that subscription.

Of course, another way of seeing it is that Google is offering its services as a bundle for buying a Pixel phone under a financing option. Pixel Pass lets you get a Pixel 6 for $45 a month or a Pixel 6 Pro for $55 per month, with an option to upgrade to a new phone after two years. In a way, this mirrors Apple’s own iPhone upgrade program, though, for 24 months instead of Apple’s 12.

The services that are included in Pixel Pass pretty much bundle Google’s most notable subscription offerings. There’s a 200GB Google One tier, both YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Premium, and Google Play Pass (which might be too easy to confuse with Pixel Pass). There’s also device protection courtesy of Preferred Care coverage.

Pixel Pass is available on Google Store, where you can get an unlocked Pixel 6 to use on any network. Alternatively, buyers can also get it through Google Fi with a phone plan and get a $5 discount on the monthly fee. Pixel Pass subscribers can cancel anytime, but they will have to pay the remaining value of the Pixel phone at its regular price.

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Pixel 6 Magic Eraser removes uninvited people from photos

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A few years ago, Google teased the almost magical ability that would allow people to remove “distracting objects” from photos, whether they be a fence or innocent bystanders. While that functionality has been available on some photo editing software like Photoshop, it was far from automatic nor convenient for mere mortals. It took more than four years for that moment to finally come, and Pixel 6 owners can now confidently take photos even when they know there are people or things lurking in the background.

Almost everyone who has tried to take a photo with a smartphone or a digital camera will have experienced the photobombing phenomenon at one point or another. It doesn’t even have to be people, even, as power lines and animals can sometimes get in the way of a perfect shot. A lot of the time, we’re unable to move these objects or wait for them to step out of the frame, but a Pixel 6 can now let you magically remove those after the fact.

It couldn’t be easier than simply loading up the photo in Google Photos and letting the app suggest what objects to remove from the background. You could also manually select the Magic Eraser tool and circle or brush over specific objects you want to be exorcised from the photo. All it takes is a few taps and doesn’t require any photo editing skills at all.

Of course, the secret sauce is Google’s favorite machine learning, which predicts what pixels would have looked like without those obstacles. It then tries to fill those in and erase distracting objects and people to produce what should have been the perfect moment. This seemingly magical ability does require some heavy ML and AI processing, which is why Google had to wait for its Tensor chip to become a reality in order to bring it to its Pixel phones.

That is also why Google Photos’ Magic Eraser is available only the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro starting October 28. The good news is that it will work on any photo you give it, including old ones taken using non-Pixel phones.

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