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Not content to sit on the sidelines in the AI race, Dropbox today launched Dropbox Ventures, a new $50 million venture fund focused on AI startups.
The company’s first venture arm, Dropbox Ventures, will provide mentorship as well as financial support to build AI products that “shape the future of work,” Dropbox VP and GM Sateesh Srinivasan told TechCrunch in an email interview.
“We want to grow the AI ecosystem and support the next generation of startups that are taking the lead in shaping the modern work experience with the power of AI,” he said. “Dropbox started as a startup with a simple idea that turned into a service used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, so we have a unique perspective on what it takes to help these types of businesses get to the next stage of growth and make an impact.”
VCs have steadily increased their position in AI in recent years, spurred more recently by the growth of next-generation AI. According to GlobalData, AI startups received over $52 billion in funding in more than 3,300 deals last year alone.
Corporate initiatives are a major source of that funding. For example, Salesforce Ventures, the VC arm of Salesforce, plans to pour $500 million into startups developing next-generation AI technologies. Workday recently added $250 million to its existing VC fund specifically to support artificial intelligence and machine learning startups. And OpenAI, the company behind the viral chatbot ChatGPT, has raised a $175 million fund to invest in AI startups.
“We have invested in AI and machine learning for a long time and started implementing machine learning in our products as far back as 2016 to make work more efficient for our customers and help them save time,” said Srinivasan. “In just the last few months, recent advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning have opened up a new world of possibilities that we believe will help us accelerate our … mission to design more informed ways of working.”
New AI-powered features
Putting its money where its mouth is, Dropbox today announced new AI additions to its flagship cloud storage product.
The first, called Dropbox Dash, is a “universal” search bar that can cross third-party tools, content, and apps, including Google Workspace, Microsoft Outlook, Salesforce, and Notion. Designed to help find and organize various types of content, Dash will “learn, evolve and improve” as more customers use it, Dropbox says.
“Soon, Dash will be able to mine your information and your company’s information to answer questions and display relevant content using creative artificial intelligence,” the company wrote in a blog post. “You won’t have to sift through all of your company’s internal links and pages to find out when the next company holiday is – you’ll just be able to ask Dash and get an answer, fast.”
In addition to publishing content, Dash can create collections – Stacks – of links, providing a way to save, organize and retrieve URLs. Stacks are accessible from the new home page, which also hosts shortcuts to recently opened projects in Dropbox and the Dash search bar.
Another new AI innovation from Dropbox is Dropbox AI, which summarizes and extracts information from files stored in a Dropbox account.
Dropbox AI – powered by an OpenAI model via OpenAI’s API – can view and create document summaries as well as video previews. And it can answer questions in a chatbot-like way, based on the content of research papers, contracts, meeting recordings and more.
At startup, Dropbox AI works with file previews. But it will soon expand to folders and entire Dropbox accounts.
“Dash and Dropbox AI are just the latest examples of how artificial intelligence and machine learning can improve the way our customers work,” said Srinivasan. “It’s clear that customers need more personal AI, and we see applications across our portfolio to really reimagine that experience … We think the cloud world is missing a layer of organization across the board, and we think Dropbox is uniquely suited to be that self-organizing digital container.”
Given AI’s tendency to go off the rails, one might wonder about the accuracy of Dropbox’s AI summaries. Are they consistent? Can they be trusted?
To ease concerns, Dropbox reaffirmed its commitment to building AI technology “so that it’s as fair and reliable as possible.” Of course, the words of a limited company do not carry the same weight as, for example, an independent audit, but take them for what they are worth.
“In this next era of AI, it’s more important than ever that we protect our customers’ privacy, act transparently, and limit bias in our AI technology,” Dropbox wrote.
Dropbox Dash is now available in English to select beta customers. Dropbox AI for file previews is in alpha and available in the US to all Dropbox Pro customers before opting in to the Dropbox team.
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