ARK Disrupt Issue 99: Deep Learning, Fintech, CAR-T, and Driverless Cars

Please enjoy ARK Disrupt Issue 99. This blog series is based on ARK Brainstorming, a weekly discussion between our CEO, Director of Research, thematic analysts, ARK’s theme developers, thought leaders, and investors. It is designed to present you with the most recent innovation takeaways and to keep you engaged in an ongoing discussion on investing in disruptive innovation. To read the previous issue, click here.

1. Deep Learning Can Create Photorealistic Portraits 

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About a year ago, we wrote about Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), a new type of deep learning that can create images of bedrooms, portraits, and natural photographs. The initial results were somewhat strange and blurry but showed that deep learning can be used not only for content classification but also content creation.

This week NVIDIANVDA unveiled an improved GAN that creates high resolution images approaching photorealism. Dubbed a “Progressive GAN”, the network first trains at low resolution, then increases the resolution until it generates a highly detailed image. As shown below, Progressive GAN images produce natural facial structures and fine-grained details whereas previous generation GANs are distorted.

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GANs extend deep learnings’ use cases and addressable market. Graphic design, music creation, video games, and drug discovery are just a few of the natural beneficiaries of this new form of deep learning.

2. Alibaba Is At It Again In The Fintech Space 

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AlibabaBABA continues to introduce new fintech platforms and services to many areas of Chinese life. Recently, Alipay unveiled an intelligent rental platform.

The rental platform utilizes Sesame Credit, a credit scoring system that is part of the Ant Financial family. With an app, Alipay users who have credit scores of 650+ can rent houses on a month to month basis without putting down a deposit. Alipay launched Sesame Credit on October 10, 2017 and already has featured one million apartments in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu, Xi’an and Zhengzhou.

Sesame Credit takes the friction out of interactions between renters and landlords.  Renters sign contracts digitally, and landlords collect rent monthly, via Alipay.  According to Asean, Sesame Credit scores consumers on digital metrics such as online purchases and on-time bill payment.

While initially intended for long-term leases, Sesame Credit could be a game changer in the sharing economy. Seamless exchanges associated with ride- and home-sharing are microcosms of the fintech-enabled economy.

3. Juno May Not Have Been First-In-Class, But It May Become The Best-In-Class CAR-T Company 

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In Juno’sJUNO most recent update, metastatic cancer patients suffering from aggressive non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma had an 80% response rate to its CAT-T therapy. Perhaps more impressive, 73% of patients treated with Juno’s drug were cancer-free at their 3 month follow-up, a profound response rate, especially compared to the 51% remission rate of KiteKITE/Gilead’sGILD recently approved drug, Yescarta.

Furthermore, the safety and tolerability of Juno’s drug were superior to those of previous CAR-T therapies. Two-thirds of the patients had zero side-effects, compared to the cytokine release syndrome and severe neurotoxicity associated with previous CAR-T therapies. Consequently, Juno’s drug is on schedule for approval by early 2019, an example of how “slow and steady” could win the race.

4. Reporters Sized Up Waymo’s Driverless Cars This Week 

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This week, Google’sGOOG Waymo gave reporters an opportunity to ride in its autonomous cars – with no engineers behind the wheel – at its test facility in California. The early reads were that the demos did not take place on public roads with real life driving challenges, and that Waymo had not activated a number of basic car capabilities. For example, Waymo engineers instructed one reporter not to use the “pull over” button. That said, Waymo has incorporated one capability that we believe will be essential for the initial rollout of autonomous taxis, a remote operator center in Phoenix which is now up and running.

Recently The Information reported that Waymo could test its fully driverless taxi service as soon as this year. We have been wondering why Waymo is leaking such aggressive timelines with so much development work undone?

One theory is that Waymo wants to secure more partners for its platform. Fiat isn’t the most reliable automaker and Waymo has had difficulty building on top of the Pacifica minivan platform, according to The Information. Waymo needs a more robust production partner if it is to launch widespread commercial service. Convincing potential partners that its technology is well ahead of peers may help Waymo ink deals. Waymo also may want to move more quickly now that some of its trade secrets have left the company with employees.

ARK believes that Waymo understands the importance of first-to-market as autonomous taxi networks submit to network effects and natural geographic monopolies. ARK Invest believes that, even if its technology has several milestones to reach, Waymo is more advanced than most traditional automakers and will commercialize sooner than many of its peers, even if 2017 is a longshot.

ARK's statements are not an endorsement of any company or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security. For a list of all purchases and sales made by ARK for client accounts during the past year that could be considered by the SEC as recommendations, click here. It should not be assumed that recommendations made in the future will be profitable or will equal the performance of the securities in this list. For full disclosures, click here.