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Dropbox launches $50M AI-focused venture fund, intros AI features

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Dropbox logo on smartphone
Image Credits: TechCrunch

Not content to sit on the sidelines of the generative AI race, Dropbox today launched Dropbox Ventures, a new $50 million venture fund focused on startups in the AI space.

The company’s first venture arm, Dropbox Ventures will provide mentorship in addition to financial support to build AI-powered products that “shape the future of work,” Dropbox VP and GM Sateesh Srinivasan told TechCrunch in an email interview.

“We want to advance the AI ecosystem and support the next generation of startups who are taking the lead in shaping the modern work experience through the power of AI,” he said. “Dropbox began as an early-stage startup with a simple idea that grew to 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 companies get to the next phase of growth and make an impact.”

VCs have steadily increased their positions in AI over the past few years, spurred recently by the growth in generative AI. According to GlobalData, AI startups received over $52 billion in funding across more than 3,300 deals in the last year alone.

Corporate initiatives are a major source of that funding. For example, Salesforce Ventures, Salesforce’s VC division, plans to pour $500 million into startups developing generative AI technologies. Workday recently added $250 million to its existing VC fund specifically to back AI 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’ve been investing in AI and machine learning for a long time and started incorporating machine learning across our products as far back as 2016 to make work more efficient for our customers’ and help them save time,” Srinivasan said. “In just the last few months, recent advancements in AI and machine learning have opened up a new world of possibilities that we think will help us accelerate … our mission to design a more enlightened way of working.”

New AI-powered features

Putting its money where its mouth is, Dropbox today announced new AI-powered additions to its flagship cloud storage product.

The first, called Dropbox Dash, is a “universal” search bar that can canvas across tools, content and apps from third-party platforms including Google Workspace, Microsoft Outlook, Salesforce and Notion. Designed to help find and organize various types of content, Dash will “learn, evolve and improve” the more customers use it, Dropbox says.

Dropbox AI
Dropbox Dash. Image Credits: Dropbox

“Soon, Dash will be able to pull from your information and your company’s information to answer questions and surface relevant content using generative AI,” the company wrote in a blog post. “You won’t need to sift through all 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 surfacing content, Dash can create collections — Stacks — for links, offering a way to save, organize and retrieve URLs. Stacks are accessible from the new Start Page, which also hosts shortcuts to recently accessed work in Dropbox and the Dash search bar.

Dropbox AI
The new Start Page in Dropbox. Image Credits: Dropbox

Dropbox’s other new AI innovation 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 review and generate summaries from documents as well as video previews. And it can answer questions in a chatbot-like fashion, drawing from the contents of research papers, contracts, meeting recordings and more.

At launch, Dropbox AI works with file previews. But it’ll soon expand to folders and entire Dropbox accounts.

“Dash and Dropbox AI are just the latest examples of how AI and machine learning can improve the way our customers work,” Srinivasan said. “It’s clear that customers need more personalized AI, and we see applications across our entire portfolio to truly reimagine those experiences … We believe the cloud world is missing an organizational layer across everything and we believe 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 AI’s summaries. Are they consistent? Can they be trusted?

To allay concerns, Dropbox reaffirmed its commitment to building AI technologies “so that they’re as fair and reliable as possible.” Of course, the words of a corporation don’t carry the same weight as, say, an independent audit, but take them for what they’re 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 technologies,” Dropbox wrote.

Dropbox Dash is currently available in English to select customers in beta. Dropbox AI for file previews is in Alpha, and available in the U.S. to all Dropbox Pro customers ahead of a rollout to select Dropbox Teams.

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