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The TikTok ban clears key hurdle while Perplexity AI continues to shake up search | TechCrunch


Well, if you are a big TikTok fan and live in the United States, I have some bad news for you: A bill that would force a sale of TikTok or ban it in the United States passed the Senate. And the President is expected to sign it. Given that China has made noise that it will not allow a sale of the social media company that is headquartered in Singapore, but is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, it’s not looking good for TikTok in the States.

But if that has you bummed out, don’t worry, we have lots of pretty positive news to discuss as well. News like two AI startups in Europe that are making a bit of noise that caught our attention. There’s a lot more AI in Europe than just Mistral, of course.

And we had to discuss the latest from Perplexity AI, which just raised money and is shaking up its operating plans by raising even more money. It’s a good time to be an AI startup.

Not that that is the only thing going on. The Framework laptops folks just raised more capital, Pony.AI is considering a U.S. IPO, and Volition Capital is expanding. Hit play, and let’s have a chat!

Equity is TechCrunch’s flagship podcast and posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and you can subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

You also can follow Equity on X and Threads, at @EquityPod.

For the full interview transcript, for those who prefer reading over listening, read on, or check out our full archive of episodes over at Simplecast.




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EXCLUSIVE: Perplexity is raising $250M+ at a $2.5-$3B valuation for its AI search platform, sources say


Perplexity, the AI search engine startup, is a hot property at the moment. TechCrunch has learned that the company is currently raising at least $250 million more at a valuation of between $2.5 billion and $3 billion.

The news comes on the heels of two other big fundraises that have seen company’s valuation leapfrog in the last four months: in January the company raised nearly $74 million at a valuation of $540 million (up from $121 million in April 2023). And at the beginning of March, the company closed $56 million on a valuation of $1 billion — a raise that has been quietly public since then (it was on PitchBook’s database for one), and which Bloomberg highlighted earlier today.

Those two reported rounds are not the full story. We understand from multiple sources close to the company that it is actually also raising a further round to capitalize on the attention it’s getting in the market. NEA and IVP, both previous backers of the company, are among those looking to invest in this larger round, according to sources.

Whether they or other previous backers participate, a source said, may depend on how willing Perplexity is to work with existing investors rather than diversity, expanding its cap table to bring in new investors.

“They are growing very rapidly,” a partner from an existing investor said. “Yes we will look to participate.”

The core of Perplexity’s product is a generative AI-based search engine that provides results using a chatbot-style interface. It’s definitely not the only company in generative AI pursuing the search opportunity: that is essentially how many people are using products like ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing (powered by OpenAI), and Google is making a big push to improve search results with its Gemini LLM.

But Perplexity is building its algorithms incorporating a variety of LLMs, the idea being that this produces a more accurate and richer response.

“Unlike other enterprise tools for knowledge work like Microsoft Copilot, Perplexity Enterprise Pro is also the only enterprise AI offering that offers all the cutting-edge foundation models in the market in one single product: OpenAI GPT-4, Anthropic Claude Opus, Mistral, and more to come,” CEO and co-founder Aravind Srinivas noted earlier today. “This gives customers and users choices to explore and customize their experience depending on their use cases.” That “more to come” may well be including more from Hugging Face and Meta, if Srinivas’s public endorsements and investor lists are anything to go by.

Considering that the company has only been around since 2022, Perplexity’s current investor list is already long, running to 46 names according to PitchBook data.

In addition to IVP and NEA, it includes other notable VCs such as Sequoia, Bessemer and Kindred; strategic backers like Nvidia, Databricks and Bezos Expeditions; and many recognizable individuals such as Jeff Bezos, Meta’s chief AI scientist Yann LeCun, Naval Ravikant, Susan Wojcicki, Elad Gil, Nat Friedman, and Clément Delangue from Hugging Face. A newer backer, Daniel Gross, led the $56 million round from March with other new backers Stanley Druckenmiller, Y Combinator head Garry Tan and Figma’s CEO Dylan Field also participating, among others.

One fundraise coming rapidly on the heels of another is reminiscent of rolling fundraising that we’ve seen from other big startups over the years. In the years leading up to is IPO during a time of rapid growth and major attention, Snap regularly appeared to be raising money on an ongoing basis. These days, it appears to be all about AI, with companies like OpenAI, Anthropic and Mistral all raising at a rapid pace and seeing their valuations skyrocket along with that.

In the case of Perplexity, the startup is standing out in the market for a couple of reasons. Most obviously, it’s one of the ambitious, albeit smaller, hopefuls in the race to build generative AI services. Its unique position in the market is that it’s not focused on the race to build multi-purpose large language models. Instead, taking a page from one of the biggest technology companies in the world today, it is tacking one specific product, at least for now: search.

Perplexity is not the only startup in AI that is building on very focused opportunities and by targeting enterprise. Synthesia in the UK is taking a similar approach with AI video tools, aiming them specifically at the business market, for the building of training and customer support video content.

In the case of Perplexity, the startup offers its tools on free and enterprise, paid tiers, and so far its processed 75 million queries this year and is currently on ARR of $20 million, according to Bloomberg.

Its reason for raising again so soon? Yes, perhaps to capitalize on customer and investor interest at what one investor described as a “zeitgeist moment” for the startup. But also because of the mechanics of building any kind of AI service right now.

“Compute is very expensive, so they may need to raise” for that reason alone, one said.

We have reached out to Srivinivas for comment and will update this post as we learn more.




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Meta adds its AI chatbot, powered by Llama 3, to the search bar across its apps | TechCrunch


Meta’s making several big moves today to promote its AI services across its platform. The company has upgraded its AI chatbot with its newest large language model, Llama 3, and it is now running it in the search bar of its four major apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp) across multiple countries. Alongside this, the company launched other new features, such as faster image generation and access to web search results.

This confirms and extends a test that TechCrunch reported on last week, when we spotted that the company had started testing Meta AI on Instagram’s search bar.

Additionally, the company is also launching a new meta.ai site for users to access the chatbot.

The news underscores Meta’s efforts to stake out a position as a mover and shaker amid the current hype for generative AI tools among consumers. Chasing after other popular services in the market such as those from OpenAI, Mark Zuckerberg claimed today that Meta AI is possibly the “most intelligent AI assistant that you can freely use.”

Meta first rolled out Meta AI in the U.S. last year. It is now expanding the chatbot in the English language in over a dozen countries, including Australia, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Malawi, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The company last week started testing Meta AI in countries like India and Nigeria, but notably, India was missing from today’s announcement. Meta said that it plans to keep Meta AI in test mode in the country at the moment.

“We continue to learn from our users tests in India. As we do with many of our AI products and features, we test them publicly in varying phases and in a limited capacity,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

New features

Users could already ask Meta AI for writing or recipe suggestions. Now, they can also ask for web-related results powered by Google and Bing.

Image Credits: Meta

The company said that it is also making image generation faster. Plus, users can ask Meta AI to animate an image or turn an image into a GIF. Users can see the AI tool modifying the image in real time as they type. The company has also worked on making image quality of AI-generated photos better.

Image Credits: Meta

AI-powered image-generation tools have been bad at spelling out words. Meta claims that its new model has also shown improvements in this area.

All AI things everywhere at once

Meta is adopting the approach of having Meta AI available in as many places as it can. It is making the bot available on the search bar, in individual and group chats and even in the feed.

Image Credits: Meta

The company said that you can ask questions related to posts in your Facebook feed. For example, if you see a photo of the aurora borealis, you could ask Meta AI for suggestions about what is the best time to visit Iceland to see northern lights.

Image Credits: Meta

Meta AI is already available on the Ray-Ban smart glasses, and the company said that soon it will be available on the Meta Quest headset, too.

There are downsides to having AI in so many places. Specifically, the models can “hallucinate” and make up random, often non-sensical responses, so using them across multiple platforms could end up presenting a content moderation nightmare. Earlier this week, 404 Media reported that Meta AI, chatting in a parents group, said that it had a gifted and academically challenged child who attended a particular school in New York. (Parents spotted the odd message, and Meta eventually also weighed in and removed the answer, saying that the company would continue to work on improving these systems.)

“We share information within the features themselves to help people understand that AI might return inaccurate or inappropriate outputs. Since we launched, we’ve constantly released updates and improvements to our models, and we’re continuing to work on making them better,” Meta told 404 Media.


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Brave Search is adopting AI to answer your queries | TechCrunch


Privacy-focused search engine Brave announced Wednesday that it is revamping its answer engine to return AI-powered synthesized answers. The new feature is available to users across the globe.

The new “Answer with AI” feature returns neatly formatted answers for questions like “People who walked on the moon,” “List of all actors who played Batman” or “How to descale Nespresso pixie.” It can also summarize reviews and salient points of a restaurant, for example.

Image Credits: Brave

The company launched an AI-powered summarization feature in March 2023. The startup said that its new AI-powered search is a big upgrade of that.

Brave said that informational queries, such as the one listed about the new answer engine, will automatically rely on AI to present information in a summarized format. For other queries, users can trigger an AI search manually.

Image Credits: Brave

The company, which switched to using its own index for search queries last year, said that its “Answer with AI” feature uses a combination of large language models (LLMs) and reliable data. Brave said it uses a combination of Mixtral 8x7B and Mistral 7B as primary models along with custom transformer models for semantic matching and answering.

“The user only needs to enter a query as they are used to doing with a regular search engine. The query will then be internally converted to an LLM prompt using the data from search results as context to the prompt, with typical RAG (retrieval augmented generation),” the company’s head of search, Josep Pujol, told TechCrunch via email.

Image Credits: Brave

Multiple reports have pointed out that AI-powered search could have grave effects on the future of the web. Brave, which serves over 10 billion queries a year, said that while users are demanding AI-augmented answers and new methods of content consumption, the company is aware that this approach might be detrimental to publishers putting out content on the web.

“This challenge is not unique to Brave Search but present across most AI-powered answer engines and chatbots, premium or open. Brave, as both a browser and search engine, is aware of these challenges. Consequently, we will be monitoring and quantifying the impact of AI-generated content on site visits, and eventually will address the disruptions that the drop in traffic could cause,” the company said.

Other search engines, such as Google and Bing, have also adopted AI-powered answers through different experiments. Meanwhile, startups like Perplexity and You.com are also vying to be the answer engine of choice for users.


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Threads is finally testing a recent filter for search results | TechCrunch


Meta-owned social network Threads is finally testing a “Recent” filter to sort search results by the latest. Instagram head Adam Mosseri noted Monday that this is a limited test, and the feature is available to only a few people.

“We’re starting to test this with a small number of people, so it’s easier to find relevant search results in real-time,” he said in a reply to a user.

A user part of the test posted that they could see “Top” and “Recent” filters on the search results screen. They noted that the “Recent” filter isn’t strictly chronological, but it shows the latest posts better than the “Top” filter.

Earlier this year, the company accidentally rolled out the option to sort search results by the latest. At that time, the company said it was an “internal prototype available for a small number of people.”

Last November, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said that Threads didn’t have a feature to search for real-time results, as it could create a “safety loophole.”

“To clarify, having a comprehensive list of *every* post with a specific word in chronological order inevitably means spammers and other bad actors pummel the view with content by simply adding the relevant words or tags. And before you ask why we don’t take down that bad content, understand there’s a lot more content that people don’t want to see than we can or should take down.” Mosseri said at that time, explaining why Threads didn’t have an option to sort search results.


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Meta is testing an AI-powered search bar in Instagram | TechCrunch


Meta is pushing ahead with its efforts to make its generative AI-powered products available to more users. Apart from testing Meta AI chatbot with users in countries like India on WhatsApp, the company is also experimenting with putting Meta AI in the Instagram search bar for both chat with AI and content discovery.

The search query in the search bar leads you to a conversation in DM with Meta AI, where you can ask questions or use one of the pre-loaded prompts. The design of the prompt screen prompted Perplexity AI’s CEO, Aravind Srinivas, to point out that the interface uses a design similar to the startup’s search screen.

But beyond that, it could also help you discover new content on Instagram. For instance, a video on Threads posted by a user indicates that you can tap on a prompt like “Beautiful Maui sunset Reels” to search for Reels related to that topic.

Separately, a few users TechCrunch talked to were able to ask Meta AI to search for Reels suggestions.

Screenshot

This means that Meta plans to tap the power of generative AI beyond text generation and use it for surfacing new content from network like Instagram.

Meta confirmed its Meta AI experiment on Instagram with TechCrunch. However, the company didn’t specify if it is using generative AI tech in search.

“Our generative AI-powered experiences are under development in varying phases, and we’re testing a range of them publicly in a limited capacity,” a Meta spokesperson told TechCrunch.

You can find a ton of posts about the quality of Instagram search. So, it would not be surprising if Meta wants to use generative AI to improve search.

Also, Meta would want Instagram to have better discoverability than TikTok. Last year, Google introduced a new perspectives feature to surface results from Reddit and TikTok. Earlier this week, reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi noted on X that Instagram is working on an option called “Visibility off Instagram” to possibly show posts as part of search engine results.




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