GovTech Business Watch: Knight and Omidyar Fund Ethical AI, Aclara Acquires Smart Grid Firm

Plus, Taser receives approval to launch a new police body camera.

by / January 13, 2017

GovTech Business Watch is a weekly roundup of news in the government technology market.

Investors Set Up $27m Fund for Artificial Intelligence “In the Public Interest”

The Omidyar Network, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and the Knight Foundation are pitching in $27 million to create a fund meant to make the build-out of artificial intelligence more ethical and human-centered.

Artificial intelligence — one of the more common applications of which is machine learning — is the subject of worldwide investment efforts at the moment, and has the potential to influence the tools government uses to do its work. It could make call centers more efficient, for example, or it could turn pictures into data to help track maintenance needs.

The further AI reaches into everyday life, the more people it will have to serve. The project, called the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, is a way for the partners to make sure that process minimizes harm. In a Jan. 10 statement, Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen described the fund as less of a traditional business prospect and more of a philosophical nudge in the form of money.

“Artificial intelligence agents will impact our lives in every society on Earth,” Ibargüen said in the statement. “Technology and commerce will see to that. Since even algorithms have parents and those parents have values that they instill in their algorithmic progeny, we want to influence the outcome by ensuring ethical behavior, and governance that includes the interests of the diverse communities that will be affected.”

Aclara Buys Third Smart Grid Tech Company in 13 Months

Aclara, a smart meter provider and new addition to the GovTech 100 list, has acquired its third smart grid company since December 2015.

The new company, Smart Grid Solutions, is coming to Aclara from Apex CoVanatage for an undisclosed amount. In the process, Aclara will be gaining two new components — the ProField mobile workforce platform and the consultation wing, Smart Grid Professional Services. ProField is a work and asset management package built specifically for advanced metering projects.

Aclara will rebrand itself as Aclara SGS as a result.

The move follows Aclara’s acquisition of GE Energy Management’s Grid Solutions subdivision in December 2015 and Tollgrade Communication’s smart grid business in August 2016.

Among the customers using Smart Grid Solutions’ ProField platform are Consolidated Edison Company of New York and its sister company Orange and Rockland Utilities. Together, the two are in the midst of a program to install more than 5 million advanced electric and gas meters.

Aclara is operating under the private equity firm Sun Capital Partners, which invested in Aclara in March 2014.

FCC Clears New Taser Body Camera

Taser, the dominant firm providing body cameras to police departments, has received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to begin selling an upgraded version of one of its devices.

That would be the Axon Flex 2. The original Axon Flex was designed to be worn on eyewear, hats or collars, as opposed to body or car-mounted cameras. The second version of the Flex improves on most aspects of the original: The resolution is better — high definition, in fact — it records up to 70 hours of footage compared with 13 in its predecessor, weather and humidity resistance were increased, and the field of view widened from 75 degrees to 120.

According to the company’s website, Taser has sold video solutions to more than 3,500 police agencies across the U.S. Aside from the cameras, the company also offers a video evidence management platform called evidence.com.

Ben Miller Staff Writer

Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.