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AI21 Labs, co-founded by Amnon Shashua, rolls out AI feature to spice up writing

NLP startup says Wordtune Spices is a generative AI toolbox to help students and professionals enrich their writing with statistical facts, analogies, and jokes

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

AI21 founders (from right to left): Prof. Yoav Shoham, Ori Goshen, and Prof. Amnon Shashua. (Roei Shor Photography)
AI21 founders (from right to left): Prof. Yoav Shoham, Ori Goshen, and Prof. Amnon Shashua. (Roei Shor Photography)

Israeli startup AI21 Labs, a natural language processing (NLP) company, is seeking to “spice” up your writing with the launch of a new generative artificial intelligence-based feature.

Rather than attempting to replace the writer with tech that gives computers the ability to learn, AI21 Labs new Wordtune Spices feature is tailored to play the role of a co-writer to improve and enhance any textual copy with a choice of 12 helping cues such as statistics to bolster an argument, or jokes when writing a wedding speech.

“Our mission at AI21 Labs is to change the way people read and write using AI, while focusing on empowering – not removing or replacing – the writer,” said Ori Goshen, co-founder and co-CEO of AI21 Labs. “Spices is a toolbox that melds the best that both man and machine can offer, working alongside writers as a source of inspiration for better, more efficient and more compelling writing, while ensuring that writers themselves have the space and freedom to best express their thoughts, insights and information.”

NLP is the ability of a computer program to understand human language by speech and by text. With the recent hype over ChatGPT, a so-called large language model that uses deep learning to spit out human-like text, other startups such as AI21 Labs co-founded by Prof. Amnon Shashua, who is also the co-founder of Mobileye (an Intel company), have been quick to come out with competing AI models.

Founded in 2017 by Shashua, Goshen, and Prof. Yoav Shoham, AI21 Labs created a software platform where developers can build text-based applications like recommendation engines, chatbots, and virtual assistants. The company launched a text simplification tool called Wordtune, a Google Chrome extension that helps clients improve or streamline content, and Wordtune Read, a tool that analyzes and summarizes documents. Wordtune has a few million users and hundreds of thousands of paid users, according to the company.

For students writing essays, marketers working on blog posts, or business associates drafting reports, Spices assists with suggestions after typing up some text in Wordtune. To use the feature the writer needs to click on the feature button which prompts a box in the text with a dropdown list of 12 cues, such as explain, give an example, counterargument, statistical fact, give an analogy, and make a joke. The cues provide suggestions in the copy and the author can decide to adopt them or click for other suggestions.

Israeli startup AI21 Labs launches Wordtune Spices to help users enrich their text. (Courtesy)

What is different from ChatGPT, according to the startup, is that Spices is integrated into the writing process and the users have control over what they write.

“Almost all other AI-based models out there (including the use of ChatGPT) leave users with little control over the final outcome. The user needs to learn how to write ‘good prompts’ (i.e., learn how to talk to the system) and then receive a full article, one that doesn’t always capture what he or she wanted to say in the first place,” said Dr. Yoav Levine, co-chief scientist at AI21 Labs.

“It’s a ‘hit or miss’ that tries to replace the human writer,” Levine said. “We wanted to create software that will enhance the writing process itself and empower users to create content that truly reflects their unique voices and styles.”

Another differentiator to competing AI models, according to AI21 Labs, is that content such as statistical or historical facts suggested by Spices also has attribution in the form of a link to the source on which the fact is based on. This can be a news article, a Wikipedia article or any other online source.

“This solves a great problem with large language models that exist today (including ChatGPT), and will allow users to trust the AI suggestions,” Levine added.

When asked about the accuracy of the information, Levine noted that responsibility is shared with the creator of the text.

“We don’t want to be the validators of truth,” Levine said. “We think the writer should decide if he or she trusts the source.”

“This is why we provide them with a link directly to where the information was presented so they can check it out while writing, and make an educated human decision,” he added.

To mitigate the abuse of the language model to generate toxic or biased content, AI21 Labs says it has been working on smart filters and other measures to block any trolling attempts.

“That being said, it isn’t bulletproof, especially because it’s hard to train a model to make sensitive decisions that sometimes even humans struggle with,” Levine conceded. “This is one of the reasons we believe AI shouldn’t replace humans in writing tasks, but rather be a useful tool in the process.”

Going forward, AI21 Labs plans to add specific Spices cues for certain verticals, for example for lawyers or medical professionals, as well as expand the availability of the feature to anywhere users write in a web browser, including email and WhatsApp.

The increasing buzz surrounding generative AI has helped AI21 Labs raise capital. In July, the startup raised $64 million in a Series B funding round led by the UK-based Ahren Innovation Capital Fund with participation from Shashua, Pitango Ventures, Tel Aviv’s TPY Capital, and US billionaire and entrepreneur Mark Leslie, the founder of Veritas Technologies.

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