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AI21 Labs Emerges from Stealth with the First 'AI-based Writing Companion'

An Israel-based startup, AI21 Labs, co-founded by two artificial intelligence (AI) luminaries and veterans of the elite technology unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), came out of stealth mode this week and launched its first product, Wordtune, billed as the first AI-based writing companion that understands context and meaning.

AI21 Labs is on a mission to build AI systems "with an unprecedented capacity to understand and generate natural language." Wordtune goes beyond the capabilities of other writing assistants, which are typically limited to finding errors in grammar and spelling. It leverages machine learning (ML) models trained on large datasets of properly written text from the Web. The suggestions Wordtune makes are based on patterns learned from this data. The tool "captures thoughts and offers ways to translate them into quality text, so that the writing is authentic, clear, and compelling," the company says.

Wordtune actually helps users translate their ideas into writing by offering completely new phrasing aimed at improving personal expression. It uses AI technology to rewrite the user's original sentence in new ways. It's a collaborative tool designed to surface "smart possibilities" and encourage users to explore and consider them.

Wordtune is a Chrome extension that works with Gmail, Google Docs, Outlook (web version), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WhatsApp (web version), Slack, and others. It's currently available for the desktop only, and it supports English only.

"Wordtune ushers in a new writing paradigm, where humans and machines work iteratively together to distill thoughts and shape them into words," said Yoav Shoham, co-founder and co-CEO of AI21 Labs, in a statement. "We want to provide a co-writer, not just a copyeditor, so that we're using technology to reduce the gap between your thoughts and what you end up writing."

Shoham is a former Stanford University artificial intelligence researcher who sold two previous startups to Google and worked for the search giant for two years. He founded AI21 Labs in 2018 with Ori Goshen, a former member of the IDF's 8200 tech unit, which is responsible for collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption; and Amnon Shashua, a computer scientist at Hebrew University who is also the chief executive at Mobileye, a subsidiary of Intel that makes AI software for self-driving cars and the automotive industry. Shai Shalev-Shwartz, a well-known Israeli machine learning researcher at Hebrew University, also does work for the company. Other leading AI professors from around the world also serve AI21 Labs in various capacities, the company says.

"We have an unparalleled group of AI talent," Shashua said in a statement. "Our deep scientific knowledge and previous industry experience has allowed us to craft this innovative tool, build new markets, and foster a dynamic company that will make a lasting impact on the AI industry."

Wordtune is available for download from the Chrome Web store.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of Converge360.com sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at jwaters@converge360.com.


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