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Mental health chatbot Woebot gets $90m boost

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Irish-founded Woebot built a chatbot that can bond with users and help them reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Irish-founded tech company Woebot Health has raised $90m in Series B funding, bringing the total investment in the company to $114m.

The company hopes to use the investment to expand its services to meet rising global demand for mental health care post-pandemic.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Woebot was founded by University College Dublin graduate Dr Alison Darcy. Digital treatment development caught her eye when she studied psychology at the university in the late 1990s.

“I always thought that technology would be able to solve some of the problems we have with access because most people aren’t getting in front of a clinician or a doctor when they need help,” she told Siliconrepublic.com last year.

Darcy went on to found Woebot in 2017. Using the power of AI, the company developed a chatbot that attempts to create a therapeutic bond with users and help them learn strategies to improve their mental health.

The company’s latest investment round was co-led by San Francisco-based Jazz Venture Partners and Singapore-based Temasek. The round also saw participation from VC firms BlackRock and Owl Ventures, among others.

Woebot said it will use the proceeds to accelerate further development of its relational platform and expand its team.

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“We’re at a moment when mental health issues are front and centre in a global conversation, and there’s incredible momentum to apply cutting-edge approaches to help solve real human problems,” Woebot CEO Michael Evers said.

“It’s gratifying that some of the world’s leading investment groups see the same potential for relational technologies to deeply engage people in their mental health at scale, and to transform care. We’re thrilled they are aligned on our core vision and energised by their commitment to advance the next frontier of technology-enabled mental health care.”

Ian Chiu, managing director at Owl Ventures, said that the stress of the pandemic has made an existing mental health crisis even more alarming. “We’re seeing this first-hand in adolescents in classrooms across the [US] and in adults who are reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression at a rate four times pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

Chiu said that Woebot’s innovative technology is well-positioned to meet increasing global demand for accessible mental health care as it continues to bring new digital therapies to the market.

Meghan Reynolds, a partner at Jazz Venture Partners, said that at a time when many people around the world lack critical mental health support, Woebot’s work to deliver accessible and quality care has been impressive.

“With this new funding accelerating growth, it will be easier than ever for people to get the on-demand support they need and deserve,” Reynolds said.

In May, Woebot’s digital therapeutic solution, WB001, was granted breakthrough device designation by the US Food and Drug Administration. WB001 combines cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy to reduce symptoms of postpartum depression. Patients interact with the digital therapeutic via a smartphone.

Woebot also published a study which provided evidence that its chatbot establishes a therapeutic bond with users, countering the notion that this can only be achieved in the human-to-human domain.

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NUIG to spend €5m on research to help address global issues

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Several key research areas have been identified by NUI Galway to work towards for 2026.

NUI Galway’s recently launched research and innovation strategy includes a €5m investment on support for its multi-disciplinary research teams as they grapple with several global issues.

The strategy, which lays out plans for the university’s next five years of research, focuses on six areas: antimicrobial resistance, decarbonisation, democracy and its future, food security, human-centred data and ocean and coastal health.

“As a public university, we have a special responsibility to direct our research toward the most pressing questions and the most difficult issues,” said to Prof Jim Livesey, VP for research and innovation at NUI Galway.

“As we look into the future, we face uncertainty about the number and nature of challenges we will face, but we know that we will rely on our research capacity as we work together to overcome them,” Livesey added.

The plan focuses on creating the conditions to intensify the quality, scale and scope of research in the university into the future. This includes identifying areas with genuine potential to achieve international recognition for NUI Galway. It also aims to continue to cultivate a supportive and diverse environment within its research community.

NUI Galway has research collaborations with 3,267 international institutions in 114 different countries. The university also has five research institutes on its Galway city campus, including the Data Science Institute, the Whitaker Institute for social change and innovation and the Ryan Institute for marine research.

Its research centres in the medtech area include Science Foundation Ireland’s Cúram and the Corrib Research Centre for Advanced Imaging and Core Lab.

The university will also continue to involve the public with its research and innovation plans through various education and outreach initiatives. It is leading the Public Patient Involvement Ignite network, which it claims, will “bring the public into the heart of research initiatives”.

Another key area identified in the strategy report is the development of partnerships with industry stakeholders. NUI Galway has spun out many successful companies in recent years, including medtechs such as AuriGen Medical, Atrian, Vetex Medical and Neurent.

According to MedTech Europe, Ireland has the highest number of medtech employees per capita in Europe along with Switzerland.

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France hails victory as Facebook agrees to pay newspapers for content | France

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France has hailed a victory in its long-running quest for fairer action from tech companies after Facebook reached an agreement with a group of national and regional newspapers to pay for content shared by its users.

Facebook on Thursday announced a licensing agreement with the APIG alliance of French national and regional newspapers, which includes Le Parisien and Ouest-France as well as smaller titles. It said this meant “people on Facebook will be able to continue uploading and sharing news stories freely amongst their communities, whilst also ensuring that the copyright of our publishing partners is protected”.

France had been battling for two years to protect the publishing rights and revenue of its press and news agencies against what it termed the domination of powerful tech companies that share news content or show news stories in web searches.

In 2019 France became the first EU country to enact a directive on the publishing rights of media companies and news agencies, called “neighbouring rights”, which required large tech platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for use of news content. But it has taken long negotiations to reach agreements on paying publishers for content.

No detail was given of the exact amount agreed by Facebook and the APIG.

Pierre Louette, the head of the media group Les Echos-Le Parisien, led the alliance of newspapers who negotiated as a group with Facebook. He said the agreement was “the result of an outspoken and fruitful dialogue between publishers and a leading digital platform”. He said the terms agreed would allow Facebook to implement French law “while generating significant funding” for news publishers, notably the smallest ones.

Other newspapers, such as the national daily Le Monde, have negotiated their own deals in recent months. News agencies have also negotiated separately.

After the 2019 French directive to protect publishers’ rights, a copyright spat raged for more than a year in which French media groups sought to find common ground with international tech firms. Google initially refused to comply, saying media groups already benefited by receiving millions of visits to their websites. News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions complained about not receiving a cut of the millions made from ads displayed alongside news stories, particularly on Google.

But this year Google announced it had reached a draft agreement with the APIG to pay publishers for a selection of content shown in its searches.

Facebook said that besides paying for French content, it would also launch a French news service, Facebook News, in January – a follow-up to similar services in the US and UK – to “give people a dedicated space to access content from trusted and reputable news sources”.

Facebook reached deals with most of Australia’s largest media companies earlier this year. Nine Entertainment, which includes the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, said in its annual report that it was expecting “strong growth in the short-term” from its deals with Facebook and Google.

British newspapers including the Guardian signed up last year to a programme in which Facebook pays to license articles that appear on a dedicated news section on the social media site. Separately, in July Guardian Australia struck a deal with Facebook to license news content.

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Flight Simulator says Windows 11 has been downloaded on Xbox • The Register

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Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, designed to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, will not fly until the first half of next year at the earliest, as the manufacturing giant continues to tackle an issue with the spacecraft’s valves.

Things have not gone smoothly for Boeing. Its Starliner program has suffered numerous setbacks and delays. Just in August, a second unmanned test flight was scrapped after 13 of 24 valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system jammed. In a briefing this week, Michelle Parker, chief engineer of space and launch at Boeing, shed more light on the errant components.

Boeing believes the valves malfunctioned due to weather issues, we were told. Florida, home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where the Starliner is being assembled and tested, is known for hot, humid summers. Parker explained that the chemicals from the spacecraft’s oxidizer reacted with water condensation inside the valves to form nitric acid. The acidity corroded the valves, causing them to stick.

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