Last week, Collective Hub visited the Dreamforce Conference, hosted by Salesforce in San Francisco, which brought together an incredible line-up of mind-expanding speakers to discuss the future of work, equality and how to build products for purpose. Inspired by Dreamforce speaker will.i.am, born William Adams, who took to the stage to reveal his new venture, Omega, we ask – are celebrities really the future of tech disruption?
Something big is happening. Many of the world’s big celebrities and athletes are getting into tech. Jessica Alba, Ashton Kutcher and Joe Montana have all made their way into the tech sector through investments and their own startups. One of the celebs-turned-techies leading the charge is will.i.am who, after exploring wireless headphones and 3D printing, has just launched an AI voice assistant, Omega (after raising $117 million in venture funding, with the bulk – $89 million – raised by Salesforce Ventures).
“People always tell me to stick to music… but tech is the future,” says the pop star, who aims to “break down walls, cut down obstacles and blaze trails” with his tech ventures.
The new artificial intelligence product, similar to Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, employs about 300 people and is promising big things.
Described on its website as a “voice-first AI platform that delivers natural and engaging user experiences for organisations of any size,” there’s a video which shows Omega in action. You can send data reports to colleagues, do inventors reports, respond to emails and confirm meetings – without touching a keypad.
Its creator says his focus is customer service. “One of those things is handling hundreds of thousands of customers’ inquiries about their data plans simultaneously,” he says. “If it can do that, your imagination’s the limit.”
The future is here. It’s not a robot, it’s intelligent voice, and its pioneer is one of the great communicators of our time – will.i.am.
So, who are the other celebs mixing the stage and screen with software?
Another Dreamforce speaker, Ashton Kutcher is the cofounder of Sound Ventures, after previously founding A-Grade Investments that supported tech like Spotify, Foursquare, Airbnb and Uber. According to Techcrunch, the investment firm has slowed down with “only” 25 investments over the last year. Through his organisation, Thorn, Ashton is also using technology to combat child exploitation.
In 2015, Jessica Alba’s e-commerce startup, Honest Company, which sells mostly baby-related products, reached unicorn status when it was valued at $1.7 billion after raising more than $222 million from venture capitalists. Its success is a mixture of e-tail and traditional retail. According to reports, 40 per cent of sales come from offline stores, such as Costco, Target and Whole Foods.
Robert Downey Jr.
Iron Man is an avid tech investor. The actor, who once said he’d love to be the voice of Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual assistant, has put money into the subscription box service, Loot Crate, which caters to comic book fans (it’s so cultish there’s an entire Reddit feed dedicated to people sharing their Loot Crate hauls). He also invested in Masterclass, a website that curates video courses taught by famous athletes, singers and actors.
With a personal fortune estimated to be $800 million, the rapper and producer has a lot of money to invest. Having previously backed JetSmarter, the private jet startup, Jay Z also owns his own music streaming startup, Tidal, which has over 45 million users and, according to multiple reports, is valued at over $600 million. He bought the music platform from the Swedish company Aspiro in 2015 for $56 million.
She’s been called the “most powerful person in tech”, not because she’s supported tech companies, but because she’s forced them to make changes. In 2015, the singer-songwriter took on Apple – and won – after arguing that artists should be financially compensated when their music is streamed, even when the listener is on free trial. With Spotify, she’s compromised and released her new album on the streaming site a week after it went on sale. How long before the singer launches her own artist-empowering platform?
Image via will.i.am