Deepbrain AI (formerly Moneybrain), a conversational AI startup based in Seoul, South Korea, has raised $44 million in a series B round led by Korea Development Bank at a post-money valuation of $180 million. The capital will be used to expand the company’s customer base and operations globally, CEO Eric Jang said in a statement, with a particular emphasis on the U.S.
Deepbrain provides a range of AI-powered customer service products, but its focus is on “synthetic humans,” or human-like avatars that respond to natural language questions. Because the pandemic makes online meetups a regular occurrence, the concept of “virtual people” is gaining steam. Startups including Soul Machines, Brud, Wave, Samsung-backed STAR Labs, the AI Foundation, and Deepbrain aim to will a sort of “metaverse” into existence by pursuing AI techniques that can mimic the experience of speaking with a human being (for example, a support agent).
Founded in 2016, Deepbrain offers video and speech synthesis and chatbot solutions to 22 enterprise customers including MBN, Metro News, and LG HelloVision as well as KB Kookmin Bank and education service provider Kyowon. Using a combination of AI technologies, Deepbrain creates what it calls “AI humans,” or avatars that can respond to questions in a person’s voice.
To create an “AI human,” Deepbrain captures video of a human model in a studio and trains a machine learning system. The model is given a script to read, enabling the system to generate an avatar of the model with synchronized, true-to-life lip, mouth, and head movements.
Jang points out that Deepbrain’s technology can improve virtual experiences while minimizing the need for costly video production. For example, the company is working with an education provider to build “AI human” tutors that will give lectures and answer students’ questions. Separately, Deepbrain says it’s collaborating with a financial organization to create “AI bankers” that can direct customers to the right human bank personnel, potentially reducing employees’ workloads.
DeepBrain’s annual recurring revenue was $2.5 million in 2020. This year, it expects that number to double to $5 million.
“[Our investors] understand the opportunity we have to enhance the customer experience and lead the growing contactless industry brought on by the pandemic,” Jang said in a press release. “This new investment is validation of our technology, strong business opportunity, and customer traction in key customer service-driven industries.”
Some experts have expressed concern that tools like these could be used to create deepfakes, or AI-generated videos that take a person in an existing video and replace them with someone else’s likeness. The fear is that these fakes might be used to do things like sway opinion during an election or implicate a person in a crime. Deepfakes have already been abused to generate pornographic material of actors and defraud a major energy producer.
Deepbrain doesn’t make clear what protections it has in place to prevent abuse. We’ve reached out to the company for comment.
Beyond Korea Development Bank, Deepbrain counts as investors IDG Capital China, CH & Partners, Donghun Investment, L&S Venture Capital, and Posco Tech Investment. The series B brings the 100-employee company’s total raised to $52 million to date.