Start Up No.1940: Microsoft and OpenAI fight code copyright claim, Musk’s capricious Twitter, smartphone shipments drop, and more


The Moon may need its own GPS-style universal timing system as more expeditions head there together. CC-licensed photo by Serhio Magpie on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Meta embraces AI as Facebook, Instagram help drive a rebound • WSJ

Jeff Horwitz and Salvador Rodriguez:

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Days before Meta Platforms’s first ever mass layoffs in November, a senior executive shared some good news. The company’s short-form video product, Reels, was getting traction with users, and the threat posed by rival TikTok appeared to be easing.

“Facebook engagement is stronger than people expected,” Tom Alison, head of Facebook, wrote in a memo to his staff. “Our internal data indicates that Meta has grown to a meaningful share of short-form video.”

After the roughest year in Meta’s history, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram is starting to see a path to recovery, internal documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with people familiar with the matter show.

Heavy investment in artificial intelligence tools has enabled the company to improve ad-targeting systems to make better predictions based on less data, according to the interviews and documents. Though Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg declared last year that the company would be “metaverse-first, not Facebook-first,” most of the effort involves optimizing its traditional social-media platforms, especially Facebook.

…for all of Meta’s efforts to rebrand itself, the core Facebook “Blue” app remains its workhorse. While outside financial analysts have generally estimated that Instagram accounts for between 40% to 50% of the company’s ad revenue, internal statistics viewed by the Journal show that Instagram generates a little more than 30%—and it isn’t rapidly catching up.

That leaves Meta’s near-term financial future dependent on the aging Blue app, which accounts for more than two-thirds of total revenue. Meta’s internal statistics show that business has been relatively resilient. Data gathered in the middle of the fourth quarter showed that time spent on the Blue app was up worldwide, including in developed markets, over the course of a year. Time spent on the company’s products overall was up more than 5% to more than 230 million hours a day in the US, which accounts for 40% of Meta’s worldwide revenue.

Much of that increase is due to the growth of Reels. While Reels is often publicly associated with young users and Instagram, Facebook users appear to be the more avid consumers of the short videos.

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The article link should be free to read. There’s a lot of detail about the AI stuff, which is principally around ad formats. But Reels seems, sort of, to be some sort of success.
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Facepalm Pilot: where technology meets stupidity: an interactive guide to ambiguous grammar • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Vijith Assar:

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Depending on whom you ask, the use of the active voice over the passive is arguably the most fundamental writer’s maxim, thought to lend weight, truth, and power to declarative statements. This absolutist view is flawed, however, because language is an art of nuance. From time to time, writers may well find illustrative value in the lightest of phrases, sentences so weightless and feathery that they scarcely even seem to exist at all. These can convey details well beyond the crude thrust of the hulking active voice, and when used strictly as ornamentation, they needn’t actually convey anything at all.

As a thought experiment, let’s examine in extremely close detail a set of iterative changes that can be made to a single simple grammatical structure, turning it from a statement taken at face value into one loaded with unrealized implication. This makes for rich writing which rewards – or even demands – close scrutiny.

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

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By the end, it’s Speed was involved in a jumping-related incident while a fox was brown.

But it’s McSweeney’s, so there is a point, and a bite, to this “guide”. It’s from 2015, yet still turns out true again and again.
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Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI ask court to throw out AI copyright lawsuit • The Verge

Emma Roth:

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programmer and lawyer, Matthew Butterick, teamed up with the legal team at Joseph Saveri Law Firm to file a proposed class action lawsuit last November, alleging the tool relies on “software piracy on an unprecedented scale.” Butterick and his legal team later filed a second proposed class action lawsuit on the behalf of two anonymous software developers on similar grounds, which is the suit Microsoft, GitHub, and OpenAI want dismissed.

As noted in the filing, Microsoft and GitHub say the complaint “fails on two intrinsic defects: lack of injury and lack of an otherwise viable claim,” while OpenAI similarly says the plaintiffs “allege a grab bag of claims that fail to plead violations of cognizable legal rights.” The companies argue that the plaintiffs rely on “hypothetical events” to make their claim, and say they don’t describe how they were personally harmed by the tool.

“Copilot withdraws nothing from the body of open source code available to the public,” Microsoft and GitHub claim in the filing. “Rather, Copilot helps developers write code by generating suggestions based on what it has learned from the entire body of knowledge gleaned from public code.”

Additionally, Microsoft and GitHub go on to claim that the plaintiffs are the ones who “undermine open source principles” by asking for “an injunction and a multi-billion dollar windfall” in relation to the “software that they willingly share as open source.”

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There’s a lot at stake here for Microsoft in particular, because it’s investing all that money in ChatGPT. If it loses here, people will come after ChatGPT for something or other too. Equally, if Microsoft wins, that makes the other lawsuits against generative AI systems tougher to win.
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Twitter’s Trust and Safety head ditches protocol for Musk whims • BNN Bloomberg

Davey Alba and Kurt Wagner:

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Being the head of trust and safety at Twitter has long been a crucial and closely scrutinized job, given the potential impact that person has over speech on one of the world’s most influential platforms. Previous leaders have been tasked with making complicated and controversial decisions, including when to ban accounts when they cross a line, be it by jeopardizing public health in the midst of a pandemic, or by threatening the safety of democratic elections around the world. Twitter’s decisions are often later probed by politicians and regulators, and so they are typically made with careful documentation pointing to specific policy justifications for the action, the current and former employees say. 

But now, internal documentation shows a decision-making process amounting to little more than unilateral directives issued by Twitter’s new owner. In late November, an account belonging to the leftist activist Chad Loder was banned from the platform. In Twitter’s internal system, a note read, “Suspension: direct request from Elon Musk,” according to a screenshot viewed by Bloomberg. On Dec. 11, Jack Sweeney, the creator of a bot tracking Musk’s private plane, posted a screenshot showing [new head of Trust and Safety, Ella] Irwin had sent a Slack message directing employees to restrict visibility to Sweeney’s bot account, @elonjet. On Dec. 15, when Twitter suspended prominent journalists covering Twitter and Musk, the action was accompanied by an internal note: “direction of Ella.” 

Twitter used to have a group called the Global Escalations Team that could be a check on power at the top of the company, overruling executives based on existing policy. Employees say that group has folded, and Irwin and Musk can no longer be challenged through a formal process. In her emailed response, Irwin said that was “not accurate at all,” declining to elaborate.

Still, this month Irwin confirmed more cuts to teams handling global content moderation, hate speech, misinformation policy, global appeals and state media. Nine days later, two Taliban officials briefly gained access to blue checkmarks through Twitter Blue, the platform’s paid subscription tier. Twitter’s moderation research consortium, introduced in late 2021, is now effectively defunct, with no program managers left to oversee the work.

…As Irwin prioritizes supporting Musk, a former company executive said they believed that the platform is on a path to primarily serving the interests of the already-powerful, and those whose ideologies align with him.

“Twitter’s policies and practices in the trust and safety space were built around defending the rights of users around the world, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized communities,” the former executive said. “Since the acquisition, the company’s only actions have been to silence critics of Elon, to expose journalists and others to harm, and to violate basic ethical standards and privacy laws.”

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Smartphone shipments suffer the largest-ever decline with 18.3% drop in the holiday quarter and a 11.3% decline in 2022 • IDC

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Worldwide smartphone shipments declined 18.3% year over year to 300.3m units in the fourth quarter of 2022 (4Q22), according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. The drop marks the largest-ever decline in a single quarter and contributed to a steep 11.3% decline for the year. 2022 ended with shipments of 1.21bn units, which represents the lowest annual shipment total since 2013 due to significantly dampened consumer demand, inflation, and economic uncertainties.

“We have never seen shipments in the holiday quarter come in lower than the previous quarter. However, weakened demand and high inventory caused vendors to cut back drastically on shipments,” said Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team.

…”What this holiday quarter tells us is that rising inflation and growing macro concerns continue to stunt consumer spending even more than expected and push out any possible recovery to the very end of 2023.”

“We continue to witness consumer demand dwindle as refresh rates climb past 40 months in most major markets,” said Anthony Scarsella, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

“With 2022 declining more than 11% for the year, 2023 is set up to be a year of caution as vendors will rethink their portfolio of devices while channels will think twice before taking on excess inventory. However, on a positive note, consumers may find even more generous trade-in offers and promotions continuing well into 2023 as the market will think of new methods to drive upgrades and sell more devices, specifically high-end models.”

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40-month average replacement rates? That’s heading towards three and a half years. (Personally I’m on a three-year replacement rate.)
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Deepfakes for scrawl: with handwriting synthesis, no pen is necessary • Ars Technica

Benj Edwards:

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Calligrapher.ai “draws” each letter as if it were written by a human hand, guided by statistical weights. Those weights come from a recurrent neural network (RNN) that has been trained on the IAM On-Line Handwriting Database, which contains samples of handwriting from 221 individuals digitized from a whiteboard over time. As a result, the Calligrapher.ai handwriting synthesis model is heavily tuned toward English-language writing, and people on Hacker News have reported trouble reproducing diacritical marks that are commonly found in other languages.

Since the algorithm producing the handwriting is statistical in nature, its properties, such as “legibility,” can be adjusted dynamically. Vasquez described how the legibility slider works in a comment on Hacker News in 2020: “Outputs are sampled from a probability distribution, and increasing the legibility effectively concentrates probability density around more likely outcomes. So you’re correct that it’s just altering variation. The general technique is referred to as ‘adjusting the temperature of the sampling distribution.'”

With neural networks now tackling text, speech, pictures, video, and now handwriting, it seems like no corner of human creative output is beyond the reach of generative AI.

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Maybe we can hook it up to ChatGPT and get it to write the output driven by prompts of “compose a letter sacking Nadim Zahawi for his tax affairs while not referring to precisely what he did.
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Heat pumps: the ‘geeks’ obsessing over their new heating systems • BBC News

Chris Baraniuk:

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He’s got heat meters fixed to the pipework. Room temperature monitors. And gadgets tracking how much electricity his solar panels are generating.

The jewel in the crown of this system, though, is a recently installed heat pump.

“It’s like a geek’s paradise, really,” says Mick Wall of his 1930s semi-detached house in Sheffield.

Mr Wall, who works in IT, has made a hobby out of monitoring his household energy consumption and honing his heat pump’s performance in a dogged pursuit of maximum efficiency.

The UK government has set a target of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028.

Builders are moving towards the technology as well. Redrow, which builds more than 5,000 homes in the UK a year, announced that it will fit heat pumps as standard in upcoming housing developments – the first UK builder to make that commitment.

But currently, fewer than 50,000 are fitted in British homes annually and the UK is bottom of the heat pump installation league table in Europe.

There is, however, an intrepid band of pioneers out there. Eager adopters who say the country is ready to go heat pump crazy – and that they can prove it with their own hard data. These are the heat pump geeks.
Mr Wall is one of a small number of enthusiasts who regularly publish data online about how their heat pumps are doing. “I’m putting myself out there to say, ‘This stuff does work, here’s the evidence,'” he says.

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The European heat pump league currently shows Norway, Sweden, Finland and Estonia miles ahead. It shows Hungary (113 per 100k people) is actually behind the UK (412 per 100k). Since you ask, Norway has over 24,000 pumps per 100,000 people.

Also it’s claimed now to be cheaper to run a heat pump than a gas boiler.
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MusicLM • Google Research

Andrea Agostinelli et al:

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We introduce MusicLM, a model generating high-fidelity music from text descriptions such as “a calming violin melody backed by a distorted guitar riff“. MusicLM casts the process of conditional music generation as a hierarchical sequence-to-sequence modeling task, and it generates music at 24 kHz that remains consistent over several minutes.

Our experiments show that MusicLM outperforms previous systems both in audio quality and adherence to the text description. Moreover, we demonstrate that MusicLM can be conditioned on both text and a melody in that it can transform whistled and hummed melodies according to the style described in a text caption. To support future research, we publicly release MusicCaps, a dataset composed of 5.5k music-text pairs, with rich text descriptions provided by human experts.

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It also produces audio from paintings such as Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. Can’t be long before AI is writing all the Muzak in the world.

Note that the page is very data-heavy and, for me, takes forever to load. So you might not be able to hear the samples.
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What time is it on the Moon? • Nature

Elizabeth Gibney:

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It’s not obvious what form a universal lunar time would take. Clocks on Earth and the Moon naturally tick at different speeds, because of the differing gravitational fields of the two bodies. Official lunar time could be based on a clock system designed to synchronize with UTC, or it could be independent of Earth time.

Representatives of space agencies and academic organizations worldwide met in November 2022 to start drafting recommendations on how to define lunar time at the European Space Research and Technology Centre of the European Space Agency (ESA) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

Decisions must be made soon, says Patrizia Tavella, who leads the time department at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France. If an official lunar time is not established, space agencies and private companies will come up with their own solutions, she says. “This is why we want to raise an alert now, saying let’s work together to take a common decision.”

The most pressing need for lunar time comes from plans to create a dedicated global satellite navigation system (GNSS) for the Moon, similar to how GPS and other satellite navigation networks enable precise location tracking on Earth. Space agencies plan to install this lunar GNSS from around 2030. ESA approved a lunar satellite navigation project called Moonlight at its ministerial council meeting on 22 and 23 November 2022 in Paris, and NASA established a similar project, called Lunar Communications Relay and Navigation Systems, last January.

Until now, Moon missions have pinpointed their locations using radio signals sent to large antennas on Earth at scheduled times. But with dozens of missions planned, “there’s just not enough resources to cover everybody”, says Joel Parker, an engineer who works on lunar navigation at the Goddard Center.

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Filed under: problems you didn’t think would ever arise, but actually need dealing with.
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The AirPods Pro 2nd gen as smart hearables puts a smile on my face • Stacey on IoT

Kevin Tofel:

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In 2020, I bought a set of Nuheara IQ Buds Max earbuds. Like the Apple AirPods Pro, the Nuheara product isn’t FDA classified as a hearing aid. Instead, these are PSAPs, or personal sound amplification products. Although they helped improve my hearing, I eventually stopped using the Nuheara’s. The main issue was unexpected, ear-splitting feedback at times, particularly when charging.

So, are the Apple AirPods Pro a better choice? For me, so far, yes. I’ve only had a handful of minor feedback issues and none of them were as jarring as what I used to experience. I also have many more controls to fine tune my sound based on different scenarios.

That’s likely due to more modern technology in Apple’s newer product.

For example, the custom Apple H2 headphone chip, samples external sounds 48,000 times per second (compared to 700 times per second for Phonak’s certified hearing aids) and supports Bluetooth 5.3. This second generation hearable also improves upon the first version by adding sound augmentation for media playback; a feature not available in the original model when tested. And the sound processing, all done lightning fast locally on the earbuds, is customized for my mild to moderate hearing loss.

Using a third-party hearing test app, I was able to upload my audiogram to my iPhone and have the sound tailored based on my test results.

The Mimi app shows how much hearing loss I’ve experienced and at which frequencies. In my case, the upper frequencies are a challenge. Since my wife doesn’t have a low-range voice like Morgan Freeman, that explains why I often struggle to hear her.

Armed with my audiogram, I shared it with my iPhone and then hit the Accessibility settings in iOS. There’s an entire section here for the AirPods Pro that’s chock full o’ options and features…

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The dividing line between consumer tech and specialist tech gets narrower all the time.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1939: pol gives job to ChatGPT, scientists “make” a black hole, Buzzfeed hires AI “writers”, Intel slumps to loss, and more


If rich people get us to Mars, and own the means of survival, what will life in the colony be like – as you won’t be able to escape? CC-licensed photo by Kevin Gill on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


It’s Friday, so there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.


A selection of 10 links for you. Speech! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Member of Congress reads AI-generated speech on House floor • Associated Press via ABC News

Steve LeBlanc:

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When U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss decided to deliver a speech on a bill that would create a US-Israel artificial intelligence center, he opted to let the AI do the talking.

The brief two-paragragh speech read by the Massachusetts Democrat on the floor of the US House on Wednesday was generated by the online AI chatbot ChatGPT. His staff said they believe it’s the first time an AI-written speech was read in Congress.

Auchincloss said he prompted the system in part to “write 100 words to deliver on the floor of the House of Representatives” about the legislation. Auchincloss said he had to refine the prompt several times to produce the text he ultimately read.

The bill, which Auchincloss is refiling, would establish a joint U.S.-Israel AI Center in the United States to serve as a hub for AI research and development in the public, private and education sectors.

Auchincloss said part of the decision to read a ChatGPT-generated text was to help spur debate on AI and the challenges and opportunities created by it. He said he doesn’t want to see a repeat of the advent of social media, which started small and ballooned faster than Congress could react.

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Pretty soon we can cut out the middleman, can’t we, and get ChatGPT to generate the speech, and then it gets automatically read into the record by a system, and the humans can get on with something important?
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Ending suspension of Trump’s accounts with new guardrails to deter repeat offenses • Meta

Nick Clegg:

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To assess whether the serious risk to public safety that existed in January 2021 has sufficiently receded, we have evaluated the current environment according to our Crisis Policy Protocol, which included looking at the conduct of the US 2022 midterm elections, and expert assessments on the current security environment. Our determination is that the risk has sufficiently receded, and that we should therefore adhere to the two-year timeline we set out. As such, we will be reinstating Mr. Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks. However, we are doing so with new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses.

Like any other Facebook or Instagram user, Mr. Trump is subject to our Community Standards. In light of his violations, he now also faces heightened penalties for repeat offenses — penalties which will apply to other public figures whose accounts are reinstated from suspensions related to civil unrest under our updated protocol. In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation.

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Had anyone, anywhere, ever heard of the Crisis Policy Protocol before this post? It’s like a matryoshka of protocols and policies and assessments – layer after embedded layer of newly revealed reasons for doing something or other.
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Trump and Facebook’s mutual decay • The Atlantic

Charlie Warzel on how things have changed:

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some of the thunder [of Trump’s reinstatement, after two years, on Facebook and Instagram] was stolen by Twitter, which reinstated his account late last year, although Trump hasn’t resumed posting there.

There is also the mutual decay of both Trump and Facebook. Each thrives by hijacking attention and monetizing outrage, and they’ve benefited each other: The Trump campaign spent millions of dollars on more than 289,000 Facebook ads over the span of just a few months in 2020, according to an analysis by The Markup. But lately, both appear to have lost the juice. Many people still support Trump, and many people still use Facebook products, but the shine is gone—and that matters.

Facebook’s ad business was kneecapped last year by changes Apple made to limit tracking on its devices. It faces steep competition from insurgent apps such as TikTok. And there is a sense, looking at the company’s transparency reports, which detail the most popular content on its platform, that Facebook has become a vast wasteland of recycled memes and scammy, spammy clickbait.

Meanwhile, Trump’s 2024 campaign has been, to date, almost nonexistent. His kickoff announcement was roundly mocked as “low energy,” and some cable news networks didn’t bother to air it in full. Trump and his team have been sloppy and clearly grasping for relevance. And although I wouldn’t downplay the former president’s chances in the 2024 contest, he certainly doesn’t appear as invincible in primary politics as he once did.

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BREAKING🚨: scientists have just created a black hole in the lab, and it has unexpectedly started to glow • Physics-Astronomy Blog

Umer Abrar:

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Stephen Hawking postulated in 1974 that the event horizon’s disruption of quantum fluctuations results in a kind of radiation very similar to thermal radiation.

Even if it does, it is now too weak for us to detect. We may never be able to separate it from the hissing static of the universe. But by making black hole replicas in a lab, we can examine its characteristics.

Despite the fact that this has been done previously, a team lead by Lotte Mertens from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands has created something brand-new.

Electrons ‘hopped’ from one location to another along a one-dimensional chain of atoms. The scientists were able to make some qualities disappear by adjusting how easily this hopping could take place. This resulted in the formation of an event horizon that interfered with the electrons’ ability to behave like waves.

Only when a portion of the chain stretched beyond the event horizon did the impact of this fictitious event horizon result in a temperature increase that matched theoretical predictions of an analogous black hole system, the scientists said.

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This site is fascinating, and I mean fascinating. The headlines are like the one above, or “BREAKING 🚨: An extremely rare green comet will visit Earth for the first time in 50,000 years on February 1”. It’s breaking news! How can you ignore it? But the wild GLOWING BLACK HOLE IN A LAB story is really a come-on for a really solid writeup of a complex physics story that wouldn’t disgrace most newspapers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author’s name is some sort of anagram, since s/he seems to have written all the stories.
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BuzzFeed will start using AI to write quizzes and other content • Nieman Journalism Lab

Sarah Scire:

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Nothing like a spokesperson issuing assurances that BuzzFeed “remains focused on human-generated journalism” to make you feel good about the future of the news industry, right?

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday on a staff memo at BuzzFeed that laid out plans for the digital media company to use OpenAI — creator of ChatGPT — to help write quizzes and other content. In the memo, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti wrote AI will play a role in both editorial and business operations at BuzzFeed within the next year.

“For example, a quiz to create a personal romantic comedy movie pitch might ask questions like, ‘Pick a trope for your rom-com,’ and ‘Tell us an endearing flaw you have,’” the Journal’s Alexandra Bruell reported. “The quiz would produce a unique, shareable write-up based on the individual’s responses, BuzzFeed said.”

But, hey! Humans will still provide “cultural currency” and “inspired prompts,” according to Peretti’s memo.
“If the past 15 years of the internet have been defined by algorithmic feeds that curate and recommend content, the next 15 years will be defined by AI and data helping create, personalize, and animate the content itself,” Peretti wrote.

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Here’s the thing, though: Buzzfeed’s share price pretty much doubled on this news, allied with a $10m deal with Meta where Buzzfeed will make content for Facebook and Instagram and “train creators to grow their presence online”. Pretty good 48 hours for Buzzfeed, the company, if not for Buzzfeed, the investigative newsroom.
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Quintessence: a link aggregator for your Mastodon account

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Quintessence shows you the top links that the people that you follow on Mastodon tooted or boosted in the last 24 hours.

In order to work it just needs read permissions for your account.

You can allow this by specifying your instance in the text box below and clicking “Authorize”.

Quintessence is a static site, all its code runs on the device that you are using to read these lines. No data leaves your browser nor is being shared with anyone.

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On Twitter there was a tool called Nuzzel, which Twitter bought and effectively killed by rolling it into Twitter Blue, that did the same as this. Quintessence is pretty neat.
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Intel slumps on disappointing earnings amid PC weakness • WSJ

Asa Fitch:

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Intel, which remains America’s largest chip maker by revenue, on Thursday reported a $664m loss for the final period of the year on a 32% decrease in sales to $14bn. The figure came short of Wall Street forecasts for a $278m loss on sales of $14.49bn, according to analysts surveyed by FactSet.

The company also said sales in the current quarter would come at around $10.5bn to $11.5bn, well below Wall Street’s forecast of $13.9bn. Shipments of PCs will be at the low end of its forecast range of 270m to 295m this year, the company said in a presentation.

Shares in Intel fell more than 7% in after-hours trading Thursday.

The sales slump reflects, in part, the sharp downturn the personal-computer market has been experiencing over recent months. PC shipments fell 28.5% in the final quarter of last year, research firm Gartner said, the worst retreat since it began tracking the market in the 1990s. Consumer spending has been hit by central banks raising interest rates to combat soaring inflation and growing fears of a possible recession. 

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Intel’s PC chip sales are usually a leading indicator (OEMs buy chips they’ll put in PCs over the coming months), and they fell 36% in value – worse than analysts forecast – which suggests bad things for the PC market. But Intel, which is trying to turn its whole business around, really has a problem now.
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Indian teenagers from small towns are taking YouTube Shorts by storm • Rest of World

Nilesh Christopher:

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In a remarkably short time, RG Factboy became one of the world’s most popular YouTube Shorts channels. The creator behind it is Rohit Gupta, a 17-year-old student based in the remote Indian town of Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh. Gupta’s Shorts had sensational Hindi voice-overs to viral videos of other creators, and ended on a plea for viewers to subscribe.

The channel, created in April 2022, had 11 million subscribers before it was abruptly deleted on January 11 for violating YouTube’s rules. Unlike viral YouTubers who thrive on long-form videos, RG Factboy only posted YouTube Shorts: vertical-format videos with a maximum length of 60 seconds. “YouTube is working hard to promote Shorts,” Gupta told Rest of World. “They want audiences to move from Instagram to YouTube. Because of this, creators are active on Shorts day in and day out.” Between November 1 and January 11, RG Factboy had gained 4 million subscribers, according to social media analytics company SocialBlade.

…After Rest of World sent YouTube a list of questions about the rapid rise of fact channels and some of them being banned due to copyright issues, the platform investigated the trend. YouTube then confirmed that many of these channels were in fact terminated due to multiple or severe violations of its policies against spam, deceptive practices, misleading content, or other Terms of Service violations. YouTube pointed out that their policy does not allow content selling engagement metrics, such as views, likes, comments, or any other metric.

YouTube purged RG Factboy’s account on January 11, a day after Rest of World inquired about the channel’s rapid growth. @MrFactVoice22’s channel also met with a similar fate the same day, although it was unclear why or for what duration of time. YouTube told Rest of World that many of these “fact channels” add voice-overs to content belonging to other creators, and that it is important for creators to only upload videos they have made or are authorized to use. YouTube added that when a copyright holder notifies them of a video infringing on their copyright, they remove the content in accordance with the law, and terminate accounts of repeat offenders.

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Seems like India’s connected youth don’t really think of copyright in the same way that YouTube’s people do. Which is a problem, both for the youth and for YouTube.

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We tried to run a social media site and it was awful • Financial Times

Bryce Elder:

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A few months ago, FT Alphaville thought it might be fun to host a Mastodon server. Boy, were we wrong!

It is therefore with relief and regret that we announce the shutdown of Alphaville.club, this blog’s completely unofficial home on the Fediverse. Our reasons are listed below in full but, to summarise, Mastodon has proved more hassle than it’s worth.

…• Compliance, security and reputational risks are substantial and evergrowing in unpredictable ways. Though largely hypothetical, these risks were judged serious enough to exercise management at the highest levels. Those people have better things to do than to clean up our mess.
• The legal side is all that again times a thousand. Take, for instance, the UK Investigatory Powers Act 2016. Diligent people have spent years figuring out how its imprecise wordings apply to media organisations. Do these same conclusions hold for a sort-of-but-not-really decentralised silo of user generated content? Dunno. The only place to find out for sure would be in court, and we’d really rather not.
• Do Mastodon server owners wear any responsibility for their users’ defamations? It’s unlikely but, because libel involves judges, not impossible. Again, the value in finding out is outweighed by the cost of finding out.
• Mastodon administrators have access to everyone’s direct messages by default. FT Alphaville has no interest in sliding uninvited into anyone’s DMs and the best way to prove it is to remove all opportunity.
• Everything above is written from a UK perspective but lawyers are literally everywhere. There’s probably one behind you right now.

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And that’s only half the list. A number of people on social media were very critical and said that they should have known this ahead of time, but Mastodon was sold as your plastic pal – well, social media service – that’s fun to play with. But then you discover the lawyers.
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Why Elon Musk and the billionaire space bros want to put people in space cages forever • Against Mars

MANU:

»

There is no way around it. In those “containment shelters on Mars,” many will have to needlessly die, including children, who would have otherwise been perfectly fine on Earth. Thankfully, this will allow “survival of the fittest” to “kick in.” Finally we can go back to the good, old-fashioned, guided rectification of the species — also known as eugenics — which is impeded on Earth by all sorts of cumbersome interdicts and laws.

Set asides eugenics for a moment (I know, it’s a tall order). One way to look at [former Nasa staff, and author of a piece about space colonisation, Christopher] Wanjek’s speculations is to clap in unison with the rest of the crowd, the tech press, the robber barons, the scientific establishment and the military-industrial complex. Another way to look at it, no doubt unpopular, is to marvel at how one could qualify as progress or “destiny” medical experiments on captive human populations. Furthermore, the earnest glee of it all, given that it’s pure science-fiction at this point, gives off very strong Dr. Strangelove vibes.

As for eugenics, you may applaud it down here on Earth. You are free to be illiterate or sociopathic. We’ll revisit when you, or your children, are the ones forcibly sterilized or euthanized by the local Martian government.

That said, I disagree with Mr. Wanjek: it requires much more than libertarian naiveté to colonize space. Parking humans in containment shelters, on Mars or elsewhere, so as to breed them and select them like cattle — that requires malice.

Surely this can’t be what Elon Musk and his fellow space billionaires want for humanity?

Wrong.

…Any human inside these habitats will have to be trained, disciplined and coerced and so will their children and their great-grandchildren. Machines that keep you alive have a way to extract immediate and complete compliance from you. If you’ve ever tried scuba diving, you’ll know what I mean.

«

This is a strong argument that if the rich get us to space, things up there will be awful for the poor.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1938: why platforms die, podcasts exit walled gardens, War Thunder leakers, Twitter’s money trouble, and more


A middle-aged tech bro is spending $2m per year to make his body younger (by some measure). Money well spent, or better invested in having a good time? CC-licensed photo by Boston Public LibraryBoston Public Library on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. (I hope.) Free signup.


A selection of 10 links for you. Staying tusky. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter, and on Mastodon at http://newsie.social/@charlesarthur. Observations and links welcome.


The enshittification of TikTok • WIRED

Cory Doctorow:

»

Searching Amazon doesn’t produce a list of the products that most closely match your search, it brings up a list of products whose sellers have paid the most to be at the top of that search. Those fees are built into the cost you pay for the product, and Amazon’s “Most Favored Nation” requirement for sellers means that they can’t sell more cheaply elsewhere, so Amazon has driven prices at every retailer.

Search Amazon for “cat beds” and the entire first screen is ads, including ads for products Amazon cloned from its own sellers, putting them out of business (third parties have to pay 45% in junk fees to Amazon, but Amazon doesn’t charge itself these fees). All told, the first five screens of results for “cat bed” are 50% ads.

This is enshittification: surpluses are first directed to users; then, once they’re locked in, surpluses go to suppliers; then once they’re locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit. From mobile app stores to Steam, from Facebook to Twitter, this is the enshittification lifecycle.

This is why—as Cat Valente wrote in her magisterial pre-Christmas essay—platforms like Prodigy transformed themselves overnight, from a place where you went for social connection to a place where you were expected to “stop talking to each other and start buying things.”

This shell-game with surpluses is what happened to Facebook. First, Facebook was good to you: It showed you the things the people you loved and cared about had to say. This created a kind of mutual hostage-taking: Once a critical mass of people you cared about were on Facebook, it became effectively impossible to leave, because you’d have to convince all of them to leave too, and agree on where to go. You may love your friends, but half the time you can’t agree on what movie to see and where to go for dinner. Forget it.

…Today, Facebook is terminally enshittified, a terrible place to be whether you’re a user, a media company, or an advertiser. It’s a company that deliberately demolished a huge fraction of the publishers it relied on, defrauding them into a “pivot to video” based on false claims of the popularity of video among Facebook users. Companies threw billions into the pivot, but the viewers never materialized, and media outlets folded in droves.

«

Doctorow writes amazing, compelling rants. I once spoke on the same bill as him at a conference; in the green room beforehand, he was typing away at something or other while also carrying out a conversation with me. And then he gave his talk, which held the audience spellbound. (I think it was about DRM, which was a big thing at the time.)
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Podcast exclusivity is quickly becoming an outdated strategy • Variety

Tyler Aquilina:

»

If it’s still too early to declare platform-exclusive podcast deals dead as we move into 2023, it’s becoming ever clearer that this business model is likely not long for this world.

Spotify in particular has spent the past few years building up its arsenal of exclusive podcast content, shelling out more than $1bn to acquire studios, lock down popular shows and secure marquee names. Those include podcasting behemoth Joe Rogan, former Presidential couple the Obamas (through their Higher Ground media company) and even the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

But the tide is turning as we enter what many observers project to be a difficult year for the podcasting industry. As in the streaming video space, the major audio players are reportedly reining in their spending amid economic pressures, bringing the booming market of the last several years toward a close.

…as the digital ad market continues to sag in the months ahead, competition for podcast ad dollars is going to intensify further — bad news for any creator whose show is limited to a single platform.

Despite exponential growth in the number of shows available to listeners — on Spotify alone, that number grew from around 700,000 at the end of 2019 to 4.7 million in September 2022, per company reports — the podcast ad market, while still growing, has not expanded nearly as rapidly. Spotify’s US podcast ad revenue is projected to steadily increase by about 40% year-over-year through 2024, far down from the explosive growth rates of 2020 and 2021 as its podcast operations expanded.

«

The number of new podcasts is down significantly from last year, which isn’t really surprising: you can’t keep getting new podcasts. We’d all be obliged to have one, and guest on each other’s.
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Two days, two leaks: sensitive F-15 data posted by War Thunder fan • AeroTime

Valius Venckunas:

»

War Thunder – an online game in which players use various military vehicles to fight each other – has been known for its players sharing sensitive information online. 

The users usually obtain and post the materials in an attempt to convince the game’s developers to tweak the performance of the vehicles represented in the game.  

Restricted manuals and other documents about Challenger, Leclerc and Type 99 tanks, the Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopter, and other types of real-life military tech have been posted on the game’s forums. 

In most cases the documents have been available elsewhere on the internet and reposted by War Thunder users.  

The game’s forum rules forbid publishing any kind of restricted material, so in all aforementioned cases the documents were removed by the moderators or the game developers. 

The developers also do not base the in-game representations of vehicles on such materials, Anton Yudintsev, the founder of Gaijin Entertainment, said in a comment to AeroTime.

«

An amazing avenue for sort-of espionage: people in the armed forces who care so much about the vehicles in a game being accurate that they leak restricted manuals in forums. Priorities completely out of whack.
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Bryan Johnson, 45, ‘spends $2m annually to get 18-year-old body’ • NY Post

Ariel Zilber:

»

A middle-age software developer worth nine figures says he spends around $2m each year to bio-hack his body into regaining its youth.

Bryan Johnson, 45, who made his fortune in his 30s when he sold his payment processing company Braintree Payment Solutions to EBay for $800m in cash, is touting a daily routine that he says has given him the heart of a 37-year-old, the skin of a 28-year-old, and the lung capacity and fitness of an 18-year-old.

Johnson has a team of 30 doctors and regenerative health experts overseeing his regimen, he told Bloomberg News.

His goal is to eventually have all of his major organs — including his brain, liver, kidneys, teeth, skin, hair, penis and rectum — functioning as they were in his late teens, Johnson said.

The initiative, known as Project Blueprint, requires Johnson to abide by a strict vegan diet amounting to 1,977 calories per day, a daily exercise regimen that lasts an hour, high-intensity exercise three times a week, and going to bed every night at the same time.

“What I do may sound extreme, but I’m trying to prove that self-harm and decay are not inevitable,” Johnson told the outlet.

«

Same time to bed every night? Definitely someone in his 40s. This is like the old joke – “Will I live longer if I give up wine and chocolate and other things I like?” “No, but it will feel longer.”
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Why Google is facing its most serious antitrust challenge to date • The Verge

Casey Newton and Zoe Schiffer on the DOJ lawsuit against Google’s display (not search) advertising business:

»

This is not a bunch of liberals sitting around trying to redefine antitrust law around some unrelated beef about Google. This is a bunch of Democratic appointees, building on the work of their Republican predecessors, arguing that: a market got too consolidated, prices went up, and users were harmed.

Of course, the case will drag on for years, the ad industry will continue to evolve, and whatever relief consumers (and publishers) may experience if the government wins remains an open question. It would have been far preferable to me had Congress, which spent the past half-decade debating what to do about tech giants in an endless series of theatrical hearings, passed new laws regulating the terms on which companies like Google could compete.

But they didn’t, and so we live in a world where publishers are paying 30% of their revenue to Google for every ad served. You don’t have to be a progressive firebrand to wonder what sort of web we might have, and what kind of digital publishing might be sustainable, in a world where they got to keep 80% or even 90% of the money they took in.

I hope we find out. The government has filed its share of weak antitrust cases in recent years, but at first blush this doesn’t look to be one of them. Google has managed to swat away other regulators for years now with relative ease. But with the Justice Department now trained on its ad business, the company may be facing its most serious challenge yet.

«

Could take years before it reaches court though: a similar lawsuit filed in the US in 2020 is expected to reach the courts this year.
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Elon Musk explores raising up to $3bn to help pay off Twitter debt • WSJ

Berber Jin and Alexander Saeedy:

»

Elon Musk‘s team has been exploring using as much as $3bn in potential new fundraising to help repay some of the $13bn in debt tacked onto Twitter for his buyout of the company, people familiar with the matter said.

In December, Mr. Musk’s representatives discussed selling up to $3bn in new Twitter shares, people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Musk’s team has said to people familiar with the finances of the company that an equity raise, if successful, could be used to pay down an unsecured portion of the debt that carries the highest interest rate within the $13bn Twitter loan package, people familiar with the matter said.

Paying off the debt would provide welcome financial relief to Twitter, which has struggled to keep advertisers on the platform. In November, Mr. Musk said Twitter had suffered “a massive drop in revenue” and was losing over $4m a day. He also said that month that bankruptcy was a possibility for the company, although Mr. Musk later shared more upbeat prospects for the company, saying he expects Twitter to be roughly cash-flow break-even in 2023 as he has slashed some 6,000 jobs.

«

The most expensive debt is the unsecured bridge loan of $3bn, which had a rate of 10% plus base rate – which has moved up now to 4.3%. Pricey.
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Twitter sued by landlord at San Francisco HQ after alleged $6.8m in missed rent payments • SF Chronicle

Roland Li:

»

The landlord of Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters sued the social media company on Friday after it allegedly failed to pay almost $6.8m in rent in December and January.

SRI Nine Market Square LLC alleges that Twitter did not pay rent after being served with a notice of default in December and breached its lease in a suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court. The landlord said it drew from most of Twitter’s letter of credit security deposit of $3.6m to satisfy the December rent payment, but Twitter still owes $3.1m in unpaid rent from January.

The landlord is also seeking to increase Twitter’s line of credit to $10m, based on a clause in its lease triggered by transfer of control of the company, but said Twitter has refused to do so. Elon Musk bought the company in late October for $44bn.

…Multiple landlords are now suing Twitter over alleged nonpayment of rent, including the owner of 650 California St. in San Francisco, which alleged Twitter owes $136,260 in back rent last month.

The Crown Estate, which manages property for King Charles III of the United Kingdom, also sued Twitter for alleged unpaid rent in a London office, the Telegraph reported on Monday. And Twitter was sued by its landlord over alleged unpaid rent after vacating its Seattle office.

The New York Times reported last month that Twitter stopped paying rent at all its offices in an effort to renegotiate leases and cut costs.

«

London offices are £2.6m++ per year. Not small change.
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The rise of Esther Crawford in Elon Musk’s ‘hardcore’ Twitter • Financial Times

Hannah Murphy:

»

A philosophy graduate with a masters degree in international relations, she also held product marketing roles at several Silicon Valley start-ups, and became an avid Twitter user, posting personal reflections on her life growing up in a Christian “cult” and the timing of her contractions as she gave birth.

On joining Twitter as an employee, she would be responsible for finding ways for influencers to make money from the platform, and exploring opportunities around crypto, as head of its early-stage bets.

Initially, she directed research into what creators want from the platform, according to two colleagues, one of whom said the results were “sobering” because the company had failed to adequately cater to creators by this point. Crawford then worked on plans to address their demands, which included focusing on the audio feature Spaces, one of Twitter’s most successful updates, and on creator subscriptions.

Several current and former colleagues describe her as empathetic and diplomatic: her calendar is typically open for all to see, and she buys customised mugs for team members. Her charm, combined with a start-up mentality, has earned her Musk’s trust, according to three people who have worked with her, one of whom said that she was able to influence him by challenging him tactfully behind closed doors rather than publicly.

Crawford was responsible for smoothing tensions over at Apple, two of the people said, including after Musk publicly harangued chief executive Tim Cook over fees the tech group charges developers of its app store.

Her ideas have not always been welcomed. Crawford was among the proponents for Twitter’s controversial and now-halted plan to introduce a feature that would allow users to offer videos of adult content behind a paywall similar to that posted on subscriptions site OnlyFans, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Many former staffers, meanwhile, resent her embrace of the spotlight. She regularly posts a mix of Twitter business updates and inspirational corporate speak to her 50,000 followers.

«

Resentment is a strong emotion which often blinds people to reality. Seems to me Crawford is making the best of what she’s been handed – which is an absolute dog’s dinner.
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Open rates and keywords are dead: here’s why · One Man & His Blog

Adam Tinworth:

»

Giving things up is never easy, but it’s deeply beneficial to us. Whether it’s letting go of past slights, decluttering our homes — or finally abandoning publishing recieved wisdom that is dragging you backwards in 2023.

So, here’s either a late set of New Year’s Resolutions or an early list of things publishers should give up for Lent — and for the foreseeable future, too. And they’re all based on mistakes I’ve seen publishers making over the last year or so.

«

“Open rates” – how many people bothered to look at your missive – is a particular one he criticises, along with SEO keywords, Twitter, TikTok (controversial!) and Google Analytics. His explanations for why are a good overview of how the web is shifting.
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GoTo security breach update confirms hackers stole customer backups – The Verge

Umar Shakir:

»

The company, which was formerly known as LogMeIn, is updating its blog post about the breach for the first time since November 30th, when GoTo confirmed “unusual activity” within its development environment and cloud storage service.

Many of GoTo’s enterprise products were affected, including Central, Pro, join.me, Hamachi, and RemotelyAnywhere. GoTo CEO Paddy Srinivasan writes that a hacker “exfiltrated encrypted backups from a third-party cloud storage service” and acquired the encryption key for a portion of them — nearly two months ago. The information taken varies by product but “may include account usernames, salted and hashed passwords, a portion of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) settings, as well as some product settings and licensing information.”

Encrypted databases for the more well-known GoToMyPC remote computer software and Rescue were not taken by the attackers; however, “MFA settings of a small subset of their customers were impacted.”

GoTo is apparently contacting affected customers directly to provide additional info as well as support for what actions to take. Passwords for their accounts will be reset “out of an abundance of caution,” and MFA will also be reauthorized. Srinivasan also wrote that affected accounts will be migrated to a different Identity Management Platform for additional security, one with “more robust authentication and login-based security options.”

«

All the writeups I’ve seen have, as grizzled news writers say, buried the intro (“lede” in the US): the hackers got the encryption key for a chunk of the customer backups, which means they have probably already decrypted them. And if you’re a LastPass customer, there’s no way to know if you’re one of the people in that chunk. Which means, if you’re a LastPass customer, it’s time to change all your passwords – and, of course, stop using LastPass.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1937: Ivory (a great iOS Mastodon app) arrives, Microsoft putting billions in ChatGPT, virality dissected, and more


An antitrust suit filed by the DoJ in the US aims to break Google’s hold on advertising there – a case that echoes the case against Microsoft in the 1990s. CC-licensed photo by felipe rivera on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.


A selection of 10 links for you. Tusk! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


DOJ sues Google over ad technology • The New York Times

David McCabe and Nico Grant:

»

The Justice Department and a group of eight states sued Google on Tuesday, accusing it of illegally abusing a monopoly over the technology that powers online advertising, in the agency’s first antitrust lawsuit against a tech giant under President Biden and an escalation in legal pressure on one of the world’s biggest internet companies.

The lawsuit said Google had “corrupted legitimate competition in the ad tech industry by engaging in a systematic campaign to seize control of the wide swath of high-tech tools used by publishers, advertisers and brokers to facilitate digital advertising.”

The lawsuit asked U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to force Google to sell much of its suite of ad technology products, which include software for buying and selling ads, a marketplace to complete the transactions and a service for showcasing the ads across the internet. The lawsuit also asked the court to stop the company from engaging in allegedly anticompetitive practices.

…The lawsuit on Tuesday describes a campaign by Google to monopolize advertising technology and then abuse that dominance, to the detriment of publishers, advertisers and ultimately consumers.

The Justice Department and the states, which include New York and California, said Google had built its monopoly by buying up crucial tools that delivered ads to publishers. As a result, advertisers paid more for space on the internet and publishers made less money, as Google took its cut, they said.

“Each time a threat has emerged, Google has used its market power in one or more of these ad tech tools to quash the threat,” the lawsuit said. “The result: Google’s plan for durable, industrywide dominance has succeeded.”

«

Potentially very big (as in Microsoft-DoJ 1998-big), though the precise mechanics of what Google is accused of doing are very, very complicated. Google says the DoJ’s argument is flawed and “would slow innovation, raise advertising fees and make it harder for thousands of small businesses and publishers to grow.”

One point of interest: the French antitrust agency, the CNIL, in June 2021 fined Google for what sounds like exactly the same thing – controlling both the buying and selling side of the market – and Google simply accepted the €200m fine. Why didn’t Google fight it?
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Ivory for Mastodon review: Tapbots reborn • MacStories

Federico Viticci:

»

Ever since we at MacStories decided to abandon Twitter, we’ve gone all-in on Mastodon and, broadly speaking, we want to embrace the idea of decentralized and federated social media. Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen hundreds of other people I used to follow on Twitter do the same. I believe we’re witnessing the beginning of a new social networking era, and even though Mastodon has been around for a few years, many of us (myself included) are only realizing now that we should have paid attention to this kind of technology years ago.

For the second time since I started MacStories in 2009, I can observe developers imagining what interfaces for reading and posting status updates on the web should look like. New conventions are being created as we speak, and we are, once again, witnessing the rise of a vibrant ecosystem of third-party apps designed for different needs, platforms, and people. Only, this time, there is no single company that controls the fate of all this.

So that’s the something that makes the release of Ivory a special one in the Apple community. More than a reactionary “what if Tweetbot, but for Mastodon” move, Ivory marks a new beginning for Tapbots in a way that Netbot never was. (If you know, you know.) We’re living in new and exciting times for indie apps, and I think that you can feel it when the creator of an app feels the same way. Ivory exudes enthusiasm. Even though it’s not the most feature-rich client I’m testing right now, it’s the one I’m constantly drawn towards. Ivory is going to establish a baseline for quality and polish on iOS and iPadOS; it’s the app future Mastodon clients for iPhone and iPad (and, hopefully soon, Mac) will have to measure up against.

«

I just paid an annual subscription for Ivory within seconds of downloading it. The interface, the feel – it’s as though Twitter never went away. It’s also a brutal counterpoint to how bad Twitter’s own app is.
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Microsoft confirms it’s investing billions in ChatGPT creator OpenAI • CNN Business

Samantha Murphy Kelly:

»

Microsoft on Monday confirmed it is making a “multibillion dollar” investment in OpenAI, the company behind the viral new AI chatbot tool called ChatGPT.

Microsoft, an early investor in OpenAI, said it plans to expand its existing partnership with the company as part of a greater effort to add more artificial intelligence to its suite of products. In a separate blog post, OpenAI said the multi-year investment will be used to “develop AI that is increasingly safe, useful, and powerful.”

“We formed our partnership with OpenAI around a shared ambition to responsibly advance cutting-edge AI research and democratize AI as a new technology platform,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, said in a statement.

The deepening partnership between the two companies has the potential to supercharge OpenAI’s ambitious projects, including ChatGPT, which has captured the attention of – and sometimes sparked concerns from – academics, business leaders and tech enthusiasts with its ability to create provide lengthy and thorough responses to user prompts and questions.

The investment could also catapult Microsoft as an AI leader and ultimately pave the way for the company to incorporate ChatGPT into some of its hallmark applications, such as Word, PowerPoint and Outlook.

«

Quite how many billions Microsoft is putting in varies depending on who you read. Bloomberg says it’s $10bn, but others are wary of committing to that size of number. Even so, billions of dollars, just after laying off 10,000 staff.

But having seen how Google beat Microsoft in search the first time round, you have to wonder: is Microsoft thinking that (search engine) revenge is a dish best served cold, from a prompt?
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Microsoft’s bigg ass table: a Microsoft Surface parody • YouTube

With those coming ChatGPT billions on the way, a reminder that companies keep pushing technology just because they can make it but with no idea of how people will use it is one for the ages. (Via John Gruber.) The commentary is parody, but absolutely accurate about the “why would you even do that?” behaviour common to so many tech demos. The video itself, by Microsoft, for its real product, dates from May 2007 – after the iPhone was shown off, but a month before it was in the public’s hands and changed what people would do in their hands forever.


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ChatGPT users report $42 a month pricing for ‘pro’ access but no official announcement yet • The Verge

James Vincent:

»

OpenAI hasn’t confirmed this is an official test or made any announcements. We’ve contacted the company for more info, but in the meantime remember that features and pricing could change before ChatGPT Professional launches for real. As OpenAI said earlier this month: “Please keep in mind that this is an early experimental program that is subject to change, and we are not making paid pro access generally available at this time.”

With that in mind, what does $42 a month get you? According to screenshots shared by users given early access, you get faster response speed, more reliable access (because ChatGPT is down a lot), and “priority access to new features” (whatever they turn out to be).

Zahid Khawaja, a developer who works on a number of AI projects, shared video of the pro tier working on both desktop and mobile (as well as a screenshot of his payment to OpenAI as proof). As Khawaja notes, the system definitely responds faster than the free version.

The thornier question, though, is cost. On the official ChatGPT Discord, many users expressed anger and disappointment over the $42 pricetag.

“If it made me money i could justify the 42/mo but in my country this is a good percentage of the minimum wage,” said one user.

«

Pricing always discriminates in this way. (Advertising-based methods essentially discriminate in reverse, by monetising users in richer countries well, and those in poorer countries badly.)
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I’m a copywriter. I’m pretty sure artificial intelligence is going to take my job • The Guardian

Henry Williams:

»

“Write an article on ‘What is payment gateway?’” I recently typed into a ChatGPT window. ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence-powered writing generator, quickly obliged.

The result was impressive. Sure, the tone was inhuman and the structure as sophisticated as a college essay, but the key points, the grammar and the syntax were all spot on. After a bit of a punch-up, it was perfectly passable as a sponsored content article designed to drum up business leads for a software provider – an article like the one that I, a professional copywriter, had just spent hours writing.

My amusement quickly turned to horror: it had taken ChatGPT roughly 30 seconds to create, for free, an article that I charged £500 for. The artificial intelligence software is by no means perfect – yet. For businesses that rely on churning out reams of fresh copy, however, it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

…In the near term, writers and editors will still be needed, but fewer of them. A human will prompt AI to generate mountains of copy, only intervening again to fact-check, amend and approve. But how long before the model learns to spot commercial opportunities, generate ideas and put perfect content live without any human involvement?

What does this mean for you? PriceWaterhouseCooper predicts that AI will produce a $15tn boost to GDP by 2030. Fantastic, but it also predicts that 3% of jobs are already at risk from AI. By the mid-2030s, this proportion will jump to 30% – 44% among workers with low education. That’s a lot of people who will need to “upskill”, retrain or drop out of the workforce.

«

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The anatomy of a viral tweet: the “rehashing old news” variant • Weaponized Spaces

Caroline Orr Bueno:

»

I recently asked my Twitter followers if they’d be interested in reading a breakdown of why certain tweets go viral, and the answer was a resounding “YES!” So today, I’m introducing the first piece in a series that will answer the question, “Why did that tweet go viral?”

Before we look at today’s tweet, I should note that I’m not using a strict definition of “viral.” In general, the term takes into account both engagement and time — so, a tweet that is said to “go viral” is generally one that has garnered a certain number of interactions within a specified time frame. In this series, I’m mainly interested in looking at tweets with high engagement, particularly retweets, so I am considering any tweet with more than 1,000 retweets in 24 hours to be a “viral” tweet. I also want to make sure that the focus of this series stays on the content and tactics, not the person behind the account. These articles aren’t an attack on the person who wrote the tweet, nor are they a reason for anyone to go harass the account owner.

With that said, let’s look at today’s tweet, which at the time of writing had more than half a million views, 1,125 retweets, 398 quote-tweets, and 2,449 likes. (Update: More than 2,000 retweets now).

“BREAKING: The Chicago Police Department officer who is involved with the Proud Boys and lied about it will not be fired by city officials,” the tweet read.

«

And so she does. It’s worthwhile, because understanding this process (and what gets amplified) is so useful in the modern media landscape.
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Japan was the future but it’s stuck in the past • BBC News

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes is leaving Japan after a decade as the BBC’s correspondent there:

»

Last year, I discovered the story behind the stunning manhole covers in a little town in the Japanese Alps. In 1924, the fossilised bones of an ancient elephant species were found in the nearby lake. It became a symbol of the town – and a few years ago, someone decided to have all the manhole covers replaced with new ones that would have an image of the famous elephant cast in the top.

This has been happening all over Japan. There is now a Japan Society for Manhole Covers that claims there are 6,000 different designs. I understand why people love the covers. They are works of art. But each one costs up to $900.

It’s a clue to how Japan has ended up with the world’s largest mountain of public debt. And the ballooning bill isn’t helped by an ageing population that cannot retire because of the pressure on healthcare and pensions.

When I renewed my Japanese driving licence, the exquisitely polite staff shuttled me from eye test to photo booth to fee payment and then asked me to report to “lecture room 28”. These “safety” lectures are compulsory for anyone who’s had a traffic infraction in the previous five years.

Inside I found a group of disconsolate-looking souls waiting for our punishment to begin. A smartly-dressed man walked in and told us our “lecture” would begin in 10 minutes and last two hours!

You are not required to even understand the lecture. Much of it was lost on me. As it droned in to its second hour several of my classmates fell asleep. The man next to me completed a rather fine sketch of Tokyo tower. I sat bored and resentful, the clock on the wall mocking me.

“What’s the point of it?” I asked my Japanese colleague when I got back to the office. “It’s punishment, right?”

“No,” she said laughing. “It’s a job creation scheme for retired traffic cops.”

«

It’s a fantastic essay.
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LG, Whirlpool target customers disconnected from ‘smart’ appliances • WSJ

Isabelle Bousquette:

»

LG Electronics said that less than half of the smart appliances it has sold stay connected to the internet—a number it is actively working to increase, according to Henry Kim, the U.S. director of ThinQ, an LG platform primarily aimed at helping products leverage advanced technology.

Whirlpool said that more than half of its smart appliances remain connected, but the company declined to be more specific.

Amid pressure from weaker demand and rising materials costs, internet-connected appliances, including dishwashers and ovens that link to a customer’s home Wi-Fi network, could help manufacturers such as LG and Whirlpool recast what has traditionally been a one-time purchase business model into ongoing relationships with customers. 

Internet-connected appliances provide manufacturers with data and insights about how customers are using their products, allowing them to sell relevant replacement parts or subscription services. They also enable manufacturers to send over-the-air updates that enhance the functionality of appliances. 

…Whirlpool said that last year it rolled out a leak-detection feature on its Maytag smart washing machines and an air-frying feature to its Whirlpool-branded smart ovens.

Mr. Kim said LG was able to gather data about how much water was passing through filters in customers’ refrigerators and then notify them via app that it was time for a filter replacement. The company saw an incremental increase in water-filter sales from those who had refrigerators connected compared with those who didn’t, Mr. Kim said.

While LG customers don’t have the opportunity to opt in or out on whether data from their WiFi connected devices is shared, Mr. Kim said all data is anonymized.

«

I suspect some of those licences wouldn’t survive contact with the GDPR, it’s hard not to feel that this is just companies looking for upselling opportunities.
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I tried lab-grown meat made from animals without killing them – is this the future of ethical eating? • The Guardian

Oliver Milman:

»

“A harmless sample from one pig can produce many millions of tons of product without requiring us to raise and slaughter an animal each time,” said Eitan Fischer, founder of Mission Barns, a maker of cultivated meat that invited the Guardian to a taste test in an upscale Manhattan hotel. The meatball was succulent, the bacon was crisp and, even to a vegetarian, both had the undeniable quality of meat.

“We got that sample from Dawn [a pig] and she’s living freely and happily,” said Fischer, whose company has identified a “donor” cow, chicken and duck for future cultivated meat ranges. “This industry will absolutely be transformative to our food system as people move toward consuming these types of products.”

Mission Barns is one of about 80 startup companies based around San Francisco’s Bay Area now jostling for position after one of their number, Upside Foods, became the first in the country to be granted approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November, a key step in allowing the sale of cultivated meat in the US. On Monday, Upside said it aims to start selling its cultivated chicken in restaurants this year, and in grocery stores by 2028.

More than $2bn has been invested in the sector since 2020 and many of the new ventures aren’t waiting for regulatory approval before building facilities. In December, a company called Believer Meats broke ground on a $123m facility in North Carolina it claims will be the largest “cultivated meat” plant in the world, set to churn out 10,000 tons of product once operational.

«

Really interesting if, as pointed out, it’s more efficient in converting calories to meat, doesn’t need antibiotics, and doesn’t take huge amounts of farmland.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1936: Apple’s headset details (maybe) leak, AI plagiarism-bot?, the trouble with insulating homes, and more


If you were looking for something you can put on hot chips andon hot chips, we have good news. CC-licensed photo by jeffreyw on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Yes, you put it on chips. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


How Apple’s upcoming mixed-reality headset will work • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Mark Gurman:

»

Apple’s long-anticipated mixed-reality headset is an ambitious attempt to create a 3D version of the iPhone’s operating system, with eye- and hand-tracking systems that could set the technology apart from rival products.

The roughly $3,000 device, due later this year under the likely name of Reality Pro, will take a novel approach to virtual meetings and immersive video, aiming to shake up a VR industry currently dominated by Meta Platforms Inc. It’s a high-stakes gambit for Apple, which is expanding into its first major new product category since releasing a smartwatch in 2015, and the company needs to wow consumers.

Apple is pushing into an uncertain market with a premium-priced product. The company’s 1,000-person-plus Technology Development Group has spent more than seven years on the project, and Apple is counting on it to become a new revenue source — especially with sales growth poised to stall this year.

But virtual reality has proven a challenge for the biggest titans of technology. Though some projections have the industry topping $100 billion by the decade’s end, headsets are still seen as niche items — and Meta has lost billions on its efforts.

Apple’s goal is to bring something new to the table. The eye- and hand-tracking capabilities will be a major selling point for the device, according to people familiar with the product, which is expected to cost roughly twice the price of rival devices. Its core features will include advanced FaceTime-based videoconferencing and meeting rooms.

The headset also will be able to show immersive video content, serve as an external display for a connected Mac, and replicate many functions of iPhones and iPads.

«

Lots more detail about how it will work (external cameras, hand sensors). Still find it hard to believe the price tag, and that Apple really thinks there’s enough demand to make this even halfway viable.
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CNET’s AI journalist appears to have committed extensive plagiarism • Futurism

Jon Christian:

»

a new Futurism investigation found extensive evidence that the CNET AI’s work has demonstrated deep structural and phrasing similarities to articles previously published elsewhere, without giving credit. In other words, it looks like the bot directly plagiarized the work of Red Ventures competitors, as well as human writers at Bankrate and even CNET itself.

Jeff Schatten, a professor at Washington and Lee University who has been examining the rise of AI-enabled misconduct, reviewed numerous examples of the bot’s apparent cribbing that we provided. He found that they “clearly” rose to the level of plagiarism.

We asked Schatten what would happen if a student turned in an essay with a comparable number of similarities to existing documents with no attribution.

“They would be sent to the student-run ethics council and given the repeated nature of the behavior would almost certainly be expelled from the university,” he replied.

The bot’s misbehavior ranges from verbatim copying to moderate edits to significant rephrasings, all without properly crediting the original. In at least some of its articles, it appears that virtually every sentence maps directly onto something previously published elsewhere.

«

To be honest, though it would be nice if it were blatant, this is pretty thin gruel. The topics and sentences that they pick are the sort where you would be able to feel your soul draining away out of your ears. “How to sign up for low-balance alerts.” “How to avoid overdraft and NSF fees.” I say it’s good to make computers write this sort of junk to save humans the psychic pain.

But I understand the motivation to stomp on CNet’s private equity owners by any means available.
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M2 Max: under the hood with the latest Apple Silicon • Creative Strategies

Ben Bajarin:

»

Throughout these past five days, and using a tool to monitor M2 Max’s wattage use and frequency of the (efficiency) e-cores and (performance) p-cores, I believe Apple made two subtle changes. First, they made high-performance cores more efficient. When designing chips to be more efficient, and thus draw less power, one goal is to optimize to perform their workload and then get to a zero state as quickly as possible. While monitoring my Mac with M2 Max and my old Mac with M1 Max, I noticed the high-performance cores reach a zero state, and interestingly the M1 Max cores do not.

Perhaps more to the point, the same observation can be made while M2 Max handles a more robust workload. You can see the high-performance cores during the performance benchmark both reach a higher frequency of ~3.5 GHz and drop to a zero state whereas the M1 Max performance cores do not throttle as high or as low. This appears to be the first time Apple M-series silicon was designed to have the high-performance cores reach a zero state.

Apple didn’t stop at just making M2 Pro/Max high-performance cores more performant AND more efficient. They also made the efficiency cores more performant! I didn’t notice it until I looked at the above image more closely, and looked at the log files of core frequency more closely over the course of my working day.  The efficiency cores on M2 Max can operate at a higher frequency than M1 Max.  In the above image, during a GeekBench CPU benchmark, the efficiency cores throttled to ~2.5 GHz on M2 Max. While M1 Max, during the same workload, the efficiency cores throttled to ~2.0 GHz.

These subtle generational improvements in the M2 CPU design are the reasons I think Apple is able to tout around an hour of battery life increase over previous M1 Apple Silicon.

«

Doesn’t this mean that eventually the performance and efficiency cores will meet in the middle, at the nirvana of performant efficiency and efficient performance?
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Insulation only provides short-term reduction in household gas consumption • University of Cambridge

»

Insulating the lofts and cavity walls of existing UK housing stock only reduces gas consumption for the first year or two, with all energy savings vanishing by the fourth year after a retrofit, according to research from policy experts at the University of Cambridge.

The latest study is the first to track in detail household gas use across England and Wales for at least five years both before and after insulation installation.

Researchers analysed gas consumption patterns of more than 55,000 dwellings over twelve years (2005-2017), and found that cavity wall insulation led to an average 7% drop in gas during the first year. This shrank to 2.7% in the second, and by the fourth year, any energy savings were negligible.   

Loft insulation was half as effective as cavity wall, with an initial fall in gas consumption of around 4% on average, dropping to 1.8% after one year and becoming insignificant by the second year. For households with conservatories*, any gains in energy efficiency disappeared after the first year.  

The findings suggests that when it comes to home insulation there may be a significant ‘rebound effect’: any savings through energy efficiency get cancelled out by a steady increase in energy use.**

The UK Treasury recently announced some £6 billion in funding to reduce the energy consumption of buildings and industry by 15% over the next eight years, with a major focus on insulation retrofits across the residential sector. 

Researchers behind the study, published in the journal Energy Economics, say it is extremely difficult to identify specific causes of the ‘rebound effect’ they found, but behaviours such as turning up the heating, opening windows in stuffy rooms or building extensions may all contribute.

«

We like to be comfortable, and get used to it! Though this is the most perverse, disheartening news of the day.
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Twitter drops from “tiny” to “tinier” as a referral source for news publishers • Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:

»

“The big, scary, existential question is, will social media continue to be a traffic source for a news organization? Or will it become just a storytelling platform or just a marketing platform?”

That’s the question that one publisher asked in a Digiday piece about how Twitter is declining as a traffic source for publishers.

The question was recently echoed — and answered — by Semafor editor-in-chief Ben Smith. “When you get beyond the drama of Twitter and the flickers of life on your Facebook feed, what we’re seeing is the end of the whole social media age in news,” he wrote on Christmas Eve 2022.

Twitter never drove much traffic to news publishers. Back in 2016, social analytics firm Parse.ly (which was acquired by Automattic in 2021) found that “Twitter generates 1.5% of traffic for typical news organizations.”

«

And the drop has been pretty dramatic, mostly from Twitter getting rid of the (human-curated) Moments feature. This from the Digiday piece:

»

Twitter referral traffic to a dozen major publishers’ websites declined, on average, by 12% in December 2022 compared to November 2022, according to an analysis by Similarweb, a data analytics company that monitors web traffic. Some publishers — such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, the BBC and Yahoo — each saw referral traffic from Twitter fall between 10% and 18% month over month.

«

All this can be true, and yet Twitter’s relevance isn’t about the traffic it drives, but the discussion it ferments. Nadhim Zahawi’s peculiar tax returns gained notoriety on Twitter in a matter of a few days, as did Boris Johnson’s arrangements for a loan with a chum who then got a plum job at the BBC. Twitter’s value, such as it is, is in being the market square where the news gets discussed, rather than made.
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I’m a noted music critic. can AI do my job? • TIDAL Magazine

Simon Reynolds:

»

I made the instructions [to ChatGPT] as simple and straightforward as possible:

Write an essay in the style of music critic Simon Reynolds that expresses skeptical views about A.I. taking over the role of the music critic.

Within seconds, the program served up 200 words of disconcertingly clear and well-organized argument. The effect was at once mind-blowing and underwhelming. Although millions of my own sentences can be found on the internet, the program proved unable to duplicate any stylistic mannerisms. The argument itself struck me as averagely intelligent, making entry-level points about how A.I.-generated prose is necessarily deficient in empathy and nuance, and how it would lack the unique and personal perspective of a human critic. (I had to give the chatbot points for self-awareness, at least.) Similar formulations on the same topic, substituting the names of music journalists with highly individual prose voices, produced equally neutral and characterless results.

The program is addictive, with tremendous scope for time-suck. You keep thinking that if you bang away at it, trying out ever more outlandish approaches or finely tuned commands, it’ll suddenly and dramatically improve. But I found that the “voice” remained consistent: earnest, plodding, attuned to bland generalities rather than arresting specifics, and irritatingly fair-minded. Not promising attributes for a critic! 

The even-handedness is probably the most significant defect, when it comes to the prospect of a chatbot usurping people like me. Asked to compose a fierce critique of a particular record, it produced the prim rejoinder “I am not programmed to write negative reviews …  my primary goal is to be helpful and supportive.” This is not the primary goal or proper role of a critic: brutal honesty, to the point of unkindness, is closer. But the truth is that ChatGPT is just as incapable of writing a rave review. Instead, it surveys the range of existing viewpoints and gathers a balanced array of pros and cons. It sits on the fence.

«

It also makes stuff up, which isn’t really what you want. When it starts getting all its facts right, watch out. Until then, it’s going to make things much worse.
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GPU cooler tested with ketchup, potatoes, and cheese as thermal paste • Tom’s Hardware

Aaron Klotz:

»

The test system used a Radeon R7 240 with a 30W TDP, with temperature readings from a five-minute run of Furmark. As such, these tests aren’t a great indicator of the long-term feasibility of using a potato to cool your chip, so here’s a statement of the obvious: Don’t try this at home.

The user shared a spreadsheet showing the findings, including 22 different tested thermal “paste” materials. The list includes several standard thermal pads of different sizes, including Arctic TP2 0.5mm, 1mm, 1.5mm, Arctic TP3 1mm, 1.5mm, EC360 Blue 0.5mm, EC360 Gold 1mm, 0.5mm EKWB, and Thermal Grizzly Minus 8 thermal pads.

With those relatively safe choices out of the way, next up is the unusual substances not designed for thermal conductivity in a GPU application, including double-sided aluminum copper tape, cheese slices, potato slices, ketchup, copper paste, and Penaten Creme for diaper rashes. The enthusiast also used a broad range of toothpastes, including a few brands you might not recognize, like Amasan T12, Silber Wl.paste, Kupferpaste, and a no-named toothpaste with no branding. 

«

The ketchup did really quite well: as well as some of the commercial products.
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The chess world’s new villain: a cat named Mittens • WSJ

Andrew Beaton and Joshua Robinson:

»

Mittens—or technically the chess bot known as Mittens—might look cute. Her listed chess rating of a single point seems innocuous. But her play over the past few weeks, which has bedeviled regular pawn-pushers, grandmasters, and champions who could play for the world title, is downright terrifying. And as it turns out, people are gluttons for punishment.

Since Chess.com introduced this bot with the avatar of a cuddly, big-eyed kitten on Jan. 1, the obsession with playing her has been astonishing. Mittens has crashed the website through its sheer popularity and helped drive more people to play chess than even “The Queen’s Gambit.” Chess.com has averaged 27.5 million games played per day in January and is on track for more than 850 million games this month—40% more than any month in the company’s history. A video that American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura posted to YouTube titled “Mittens The Chess Bot Will Make You Quit Chess” has already racked up more than three million views. 

“This bot is a psycho,” the streamer and International Master Levy Rozman tweeted after a vicious checkmate this month. A day later, he added, “The chess world has to unite against Mittens.” He was joking, mostly. 

Mittens is a meme, a piece of artificial intelligence and a super grandmaster who also happens to reflect the broader evolution in modern chess. The game is no longer old, stuffy and dominated by theoretical conversations about different lines of a d5 opening. It’s young, buzzy and proof that cats still rule the internet.

…Mittens is designed to be skillful enough to beat the best chess players on the planet but uses particularly grueling tactics. Becker thought it would be “way more demoralizing and funny” if, instead of simply smashing opponents, Mittens grinded down opponents through painstaking positional battles, similar to the tactics Russian grandmaster Anatoly Karpov used to become world champion.

It hasn’t been difficult for Becker to see the reactions to his masterpiece. Nakamura, who could manage only a draw against Mittens, bluntly said in a video, “This cat is extremely patient, which is kind of annoying. I’m not going to lie.”

«

Masochism and high-level chess go together well, it seems.
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Is life in the UK really as bad as the numbers suggest? Yes, it is • Financial Times

Tim Harford:

»

if the forecasts are bad, it is the scene in the rear-view mirror that is truly horrifying. The British economy is in a generation-long slough of despond, a slow-burning economic catastrophe. Real household disposable income per capita has barely increased for 15 years.

This is not normal. Since 1948, this measure of spending power reliably increased in the UK, doubling every 30 years. It was about twice as high in 1978 as in 1948 and was in touching distance of doubling again by 2008, before the financial crisis intervened. Today, it’s back at those pre-crisis levels.

It’s worth lingering on this point because it is so extraordinary. Had the pre-crisis trend continued, the typical Brit would by now be 40% richer. Instead, no progress has been made at all. No wonder the Institute for Fiscal Studies is now talking of a second lost decade.

Go back and look for historical precedents for this, and you will not find much. In the National Institute Economic Review, economic historians Nick Crafts and Terence Mills examined the growth in labour productivity over the very long run. (This is defined as the total output of the UK economy divided by the total number of hours worked; labour productivity is closely connected to material standards of living.) They do find worse runs of performance — 1760 to 1800 was not much fun — but none within living memory. Nowhere in 260 years of data do they find a sharper shortfall from the previous trend. The past 15 years have been a disappointment on a scale that previous generations of British economists could hardly have imagined.

«

What Harford doesn’t explain is why things are so bad. Brexit is a significant part of it, and the conditions that led people to vote that way are another. The absurd imbalance towards the financial services industry has to be another.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1935: Google calls in Page and Brin over ChatGPT, CNet pauses AI writers, Amazon cuts drone team, teeny Twitter, and more


The latest job cuts at Microsoft are hitting the HoloLens team. Strange how the mixed-reality headset hasn’t caught on. CC-licensed photo by sndrv on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Google calls in Larry Page and Sergey Brin to tackle ChatGPT and AI chatbots • The New York Times

Nico Grant:

»

Last month, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s founders, held several meetings with company executives. The topic: a rival’s new chatbot, a clever A.I. product that looked as if it could be the first notable threat in decades to Google’s $149bn search business.

Mr. Page and Mr. Brin, who had not spent much time at Google since they left their daily roles with the company in 2019, reviewed Google’s artificial intelligence product strategy, according to two people with knowledge of the meetings who were not allowed to discuss them. They approved plans and pitched ideas to put more chatbot features into Google’s search engine. And they offered advice to company leaders, who have put A.I. front and center in their plans.

The re-engagement of Google’s founders, at the invitation of the company’s current chief executive, Sundar Pichai, emphasized the urgency felt among many Google executives about artificial intelligence and that chatbot, ChatGPT.

…The new A.I. technology has shaken Google out of its routine. Mr. Pichai declared a “code red,” upending existing plans and jump-starting A.I. development. Google now intends to unveil more than 20 new products and demonstrate a version of its search engine with chatbot features this year, according to a slide presentation reviewed by The New York Times and two people with knowledge of the plans who were not authorized to discuss them.

…“This is a moment of significant vulnerability for Google,” said D. Sivakumar, a former Google research director who helped found a start-up called Tonita, which makes search technology for e-commerce companies. “ChatGPT has put a stake in the ground, saying, ‘Here’s what a compelling new search experience could look like.’”

«

If Chat GPT were actually accurate, sure, it could be a search experience. But it’s not. However the fact that Page and Brin have dragged themselves back into the office is very notable indeed. Google is worried.
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CNET pauses publishing AI-written stories after disclosure controversy • The Verge

Mia Sato:

»

CNET will pause publication of stories generated using artificial intelligence “for now,” the site’s leadership told employees on a staff call Friday.

The call, which lasted under an hour, was held a week after CNET came under fire for its use of AI tools on stories and one day after The Verge reported that AI tools had been in use for months, with little transparency to readers or staff. CNET hadn’t formally announced the use of AI until readers noticed a small disclosure.

“We didn’t do it in secret,” CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo told the group. “We did it quietly.”

CNET, owned by private equity firm Red Ventures, is among several websites that have been publishing articles written using AI. Other sites like Bankrate and CreditCards.com would also pause AI stories, executives on the call said.

Futurism noted that CNET and Bankrate appeared to have stopped running AI stories as early as Wednesday.

…The AI, which is as of yet unnamed, is a proprietary tool built by Red Ventures, according to Davis. AI editors are able to choose domains and domain-level sections from which to pull data from and generate stories; editors can also use a combination of AI-generated text and their own writing or reporting.

Turrentine declined to answer staff questions about the dataset used to train AI in today’s meeting as well as around plagiarism concerns but said more information would be available next week and that some staff would get a preview of the tool.

Leadership also differentiated between the unnamed internal tool and other automated technology Red Ventures uses on its sites to auto-insert numbers into mortgage rate and refinance rate stories, which The Verge reported had been in use for far longer but that the company didn’t disclose.

«

I love “we didn’t do it in secret, we did it quietly.” One for the ages. I suspect that the private equity company will be restarting the AI writing in se.. quietly, and fairly soon. When did a private equity company ever turn down a chance to cut costs?
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Amazon drone unit hit with layoffs as long-awaited program launches • CNBC

Annie Palmer:

»

In 2013, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to reveal a futuristic plan his company had been secretly pursuing to deliver packages by drone in 30 minutes. 

A pre-recorded demo showed an Amazon-branded “octocopter” carrying a small package off a conveyor belt and into the skies to a customer’s home, landing smoothly in the backyard, dropping off the item and then whizzing away. Bezos predicted a fleet of Amazon drones could take to the skies within five years and said, “it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

A decade later, Amazon is finally starting to launch drone deliveries in two small markets through a program called Prime Air. But just as it’s finally getting off the ground, the drone program is running squarely into a sputtering economy and CEO Andy Jassy’s widespread cost-cutting efforts.

…Jassy has resorted to trimming Amazon’s headcount, which grew massively during the Covid-19 pandemic, as he looks for ways to curtail expenses across the company. As part of his review, Jassy has zeroed in on some of Amazon’s more unproven bets, such as its Alexa, physical stores and robotics divisions. Now Prime Air is being added to the list of targets.

For Bezos, the staff reductions mark the latest setback in an ambitious project that’s been plagued with challenges.

«

The detailed timeline of how this has been hugely hyped and then quietly walked back is reminiscent of the whole metaverse thing. Speaking of which…
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Microsoft has laid off entire teams behind Virtual, Mixed Reality, and HoloLens • Windows Central

Jez Corden:

»

Despite having acquired AltSpaceVR back in 2017, Microsoft culled the entire team behind the virtual reality workspace project this past week. As a result, AltSpaceVR will shutter for good in March, effectively ending Microsoft’s “metaverse” efforts with it. Supposedly, Microsoft Mesh will be AltSpaceVR’s successor, but it remains to be seen just how serious the company is about the so-called “metaverse,” despite CEO Satya Nadella’s buzzword-laden speeches on the topic at recent events. 

In addition to the death of AltSpaceVR, Microsoft has also culled the entire team behind the popular MRTK framework. MRTK (opens in new tab) is Microsoft’s “Mixed Reality Took Kit,” which is a cross-platform framework for spatial anchors in virtual reality spaces. MRTK was built for Unity VR integrations, and works with Meta’s headsets with a focus on HoloLens. 

HoloLens has been scaled back already in recent years following the departure of its chief architect Alex Kipman. Microsoft has been pursuing a HoloLens contract with the U.S. military, which was recently scaled back by the U.S. Congress, owing to reported problems with the program. 

For Microsoft to cull the entire team behind MRTK, which was due to release a new version just next month, it paints a picture of a company that perhaps no longer believes in virtual reality. There are many who believe the “metaverse” represents the next big opportunity in human-computer interfacing, but even Facebook, who rebranded its entire company to Meta in the belief of this technology, is scaling back in this area as well — laying off 11,000 staff back in November. 

«

How wrong I was to wonder last week about the future of the Surface line. That looks eminently safe. The metaverse/ARverse is still one of those things that looks technology-led, not user-need-led.
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Deepfakes in the courts • Counsel, the law magazine

Lilian Edwards:

»

Three years ago, I suggested in a lecture for the Alan Turing Institute that although political deepfakes grab the headlines, deepfaked evidence in quite low-level legal cases – such as parking appeals, insurance claims or family tussles – might become a problem very quickly. We are now at the beginning of living in that future.

Much of what is written has concentrated on video evidence but audio may be a frontrunner growth area. In 2019, a lawyer acting in a UK custody dispute for the father resident in Dubai successfully challenged audio evidence apparently portraying the father as violent and aggressive. By gaining access to the audio files, forensic experts were able to point to the recording being a ‘deepfake’, which the mother had put together using online help fora.

Audio evidence is still relatively quick and easy to fake convincingly compared to video and photos and high-quality mass-market apps are already freely available to create ‘voice clones’. Videos variously claim that a voice can be cloned using only five minutes of recorded speech or even five seconds. Combine this tech with apps like Google Duplex designed to let you have an AI make calls for you, and audio deception becomes extremely simple. Audio deepfake detection is also advancing; however, it probably lags behind image detection (see Almutairi, Zaynab and Hebah Elgibreen, 2022. ‘A Review of Modern Audio Deepfake Detection Methods: Challenges and Future Directions’ Algorithms 15, no. 5: 155).

… in criminal cases, a provision under PACE [the Police and Criminal Evidence Act] requiring certification of computer evidence was abolished in 1999 and replaced by the common law presumption that a computer operates correctly in producing electronic evidence. This provision has become controversial, especially since the Post Office postmasters’ scandal, but its potentially important application to deepfake evidence has been little discussed. It is possible it sets up a presumption that video evidence is legitimate even where a deepfake is suspected.

«

We’re going to need independently sourced duplicates of everything.
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“Gamification” • Soren’s Substack

Soren Iverson:

»

I saw someone tweet about a company who intentionally made their unsubscribe flow difficult in an attempt to retain customers. Unfortunately, dark patterns like this are not uncommon.

As I was thinking about this I started wondering, “what would happen if trying to unsubscribe became a game?”

Taking this to the extreme, what if there was a Minesweeper app where you had to beat Minesweeper to unsubscribe? Better yet, what if you added the constraint of only having one chance to beat the game each day?

By taking the nuance of dark patterns and pushing them to an absurd level, it highlights how wild the idea of designing friction into a process really is. It demonstrates the power of both good and bad design.

«

Scarily possible. The New York Times lets you sign up online, but of course you have to phone them up during their work hours, and they make it really hard. They’d probably like this idea.
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‘Nightmare’: collapse of leading crypto lender traps investors • Financial Times

Nikou Asgari:

»

David [not his real name] is constantly lying to his mother. When she asks about the savings he is managing for her, he tells her not to worry. In reality, the $100,000 “nest egg” from the sale of her house is trapped at a crypto lending company.

“If I tell her, she’s going to have a heart attack,” says the 37-year-old from New York. “This was her everything.”

Eager to avoid rising inflation eroding his mother’s life savings, the television director last year placed the money with Gemini, the crypto exchange founded by the Winklevoss twins.

Gemini, run by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, offered a product called Earn that appeared to be an attractive haven for investors to leave their cash. Investors could earn more than 7% a year from the scheme when rates at traditional banks were close to zero.

David is now one of 340,000 Gemini Earn customers whose funds have been locked up after the group’s lending partner was wrongfooted by shockwaves that cascaded through the crypto market following the failure of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange in November. Their plight has underscored the patchwork of often confusing regulations governing crypto in the US.

The Financial Times spoke to five users who said they believed it was similar to a savings account; in reality the product was a risky crypto lending strategy. “I thought I was just parking the money in a high-yield savings account and I can get it out anytime,” David said.

In exchange for the high interest rates, the Earn product lent out customers’ crypto coins. From February 2021, Gemini took retail investors’ funds and lent them out to crypto broker Genesis, which in turn loaned them to other digital asset market participants.

When FTX imploded, nervous investors rushed to pull their money from Genesis. The broker was unable to meet clients’ $827m worth of withdrawal requests, forcing it to suspend withdrawals from its lending business. On Friday, Genesis’ lending unit filed for bankruptcy.

«

At some point “David” is surely going to have to have a hard conversation with his mother, because that money isn’t coming back. Strange what a very large number of customers were sure that Gemini was as risk-free as a bank. Wonder how they came by that belief.
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Britishvolt bankruptcy exposes Britain’s battery bluff • POLITICO

Joshua Posaner:

»

The EU — still a top destination for British auto exports — has agreed a zero-emissions mandate for cars and vans from 2035, and other major global markets are going the same way, starting with the US state of California.

While subsidies totalling more than €20 billion have been used to kickstart cell factory projects across the Continent, with similar amounts now flowing in the US under the Inflation Reduction Act green cash splurge, far less has been forthcoming in the UK.

The UK’s so-called Automotive Transformation Fund has earmarked just £1bn for all kinds of industry projects.

“These [cell] factories are being built in competitor countries,” Labour’s Reynolds said this week. “That is because they have governments with the vision and commitment to be the partner that private firms need to turn these factories from plans on paper into a reality.”

The UK government said it had committed “significant support” to Britishvolt in the form of a £100m investment that was contingent on management hitting certain milestones. That didn’t happen [the company has just filed for bankruptcy], so no public funds were spent on the project, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said.

The search is now on for another company to take over the site.

With battery-makers sniffing around for subsidies and qualified staff for new plants to serve surging demand from electric carmakers, juicier incentives from the UK government could attract interest.

For example, Sweden’s Northvolt is in talks with the German government about a plant near Hamburg, while Slovakia’s InoBat has plans for expansion. The world’s biggest battery player, China’s CATL, has global ambitions beyond its projects in Germany and Hungary. The UK could fit into that picture.

“The UK’s promise as an EV battery production location remains, with strong demand, a skilled workforce, and attractive manufacturing sites, all providing a compelling investment proposition,” said industry lobbyist Hawes.

«

You’d think serious questions would be asked about why Britain is so uniquely bad at this sort of thing. But people don’t want to engage with the problems.
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Diffchecker: compare text online to find the difference between two text files

»

Diffchecker will compare text to find the difference between two text files.

Just paste your files and click Find Difference

«

One for the bookmarks. Programmers will be familiar with diffs, as they can show where things have been changed in large chunks of code.

The most recent use of this I saw was to compare the old version of Twitter’s developer agreement with its newer one, which indeed had been silently updated since its previous public version to ban third-party apps.

(Obviously, don’t paste files with sensitive content.)
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Twitter is down to fewer than 550 full-time engineers • CNBC

Lora Kolodny:

»

Twitter’s full-time headcount has dwindled to approximately 1,300 employees, including fewer than 550 full-time engineers by title, according to internal records viewed by CNBC. Around 75 of the company’s 1,300 employees are on leave including about 40 engineers.

The company’s trust and safety team, which makes policy recommendations, design and product changes with the aim of keeping all of Twitter’s users safe, is down to fewer than 20 full-time employees.

…Before Musk led a $44bn leveraged buyout of Twitter last year, Twitter’s headcount stood at about 7,500 employees. Layoffs were rumored internally and expected to take place whether Musk’s takeover went through or not. However, Musk has cut Twitter personnel far more than many expected — or by about 80% according to the internal records and two recent employees who spoke with CNBC.

According to an engineer who resigned from the company, the loss of employees and reduced headcount will make it harder to maintain the service reliably while still building new features.

«

Ghost town in the office, increasingly a ghost town on the site. The loss of third-party app access and the user-hostility of the native app has driven people away. When Mastodon gets some proper apps, Twitter will have a problem. (Elon Musk responded to a tweet about this to say Twitter has about 2,300 employees, “hundreds” working on Trust & Safety and “several thousand” contractors.)
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The lights have been on at a Massachusetts school for over a year because no one can turn them off • NBC News

Corky Siemaszko:

»

The lighting system was installed at Minnechaug Regional High School when it was built over a decade ago and was intended to save money and energy. But ever since the software that runs it failed on Aug. 24, 2021, the lights in the Springfield suburbs school have been on continuously, costing taxpayers a small fortune.

“We are very much aware this is costing taxpayers a significant amount of money,” Aaron Osborne, the assistant superintendent of finance at the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, told NBC News. “And we have been doing everything we can to get this problem solved.”

Osborne said it’s difficult to say how much money it’s costing because during the pandemic and in its aftermath, energy costs have fluctuated wildly.

“I would say the net impact is in the thousands of dollars per month on average, but not in the tens of thousands,” Osborne said. That, in part, is because the high school uses highly efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs, he said. And, when possible, teachers have manually removed bulbs from fixtures in classrooms while staffers have shut off breakers not connected to the main system to douse some of the exterior lights.

…Minnechaug is the only high school in its district and serves 1,200 students from the towns of Wilbraham and Hampden. The original high school building, which dates back to 1959, was replaced with the current 248,000-square foot structure in 2012.

One of the cost-saving measures the school board insisted on was a “green lighting system” run on software installed by a company called 5th Light to control the lights in the building. The system was designed to save energy — and thus save money — by automatically adjusting the lights as needed.

But in August 2021, staffers at the school noticed that the lights were not dimming in the daytime and burning brightly through the night. “The lighting system went into default,” said Osborne. “And the default position for the lighting system is for the lights to be on.” Osborne said they immediately reached out to the original installer of the system only to discover that the company had changed hands several times since the high school was built.

«

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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1934: CNet’s AI bodysnatchers, Amazon frowns on Smile, Musk and the ‘self-driving’ Tesla, NFT auctions, and more


The UK loses a lot of electricity generated by wind farms in Scotland due to insufficient electricity infrastructure. What’s the solution? CC-licensed photo by Michael Coghlan on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s another post coming at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time, looking at the question of whether social media does influence elections. Or get it in your inbox! Free signup.


A selection of 10 links for you. Me, a bot? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Inside CNET’s AI-powered SEO money machine • The Verge

Mia Sato and James Vincent:

»

Beyond the small CNET Money team, few people at the outlet know specific details about the AI tools — or the human workflow around them — that outraged readers last week, according to current and former staffers who spoke to The Verge on the condition that they remain anonymous. Under the two-year-old management of a private equity company called Red Ventures, CNET’s editorial staff has often been left wondering: was this story written by AI or a co-worker? Even today, they’re still not sure.

CNET was once a high-flying powerhouse of tech reporting that commanded a $1.8bn purchase price when it was acquired by CBS in 2008. Since then, it has fallen victim to the same disruptions and business model shifts as the rest of the media industry, resulting in CBS flipping the property to Red Ventures for just $500m in 2020.

Red Ventures’ business model is straightforward and explicit: it publishes content designed to rank highly in Google search for “high-intent” queries and then monetizes that traffic with lucrative affiliate links. Specifically, Red Ventures has found a major niche in credit cards and other finance products. In addition to CNET, Red Ventures owns The Points Guy, Bankrate, and CreditCards.com, all of which monetize through credit card affiliate fees.

The CNET AI stories at the center of the controversy are straightforward examples of this strategy: “Can You Buy a Gift Card With a Credit Card?” and “What Is Zelle and How Does It Work?” are obviously designed to rank highly in searches for those topics. Like CNET, Bankrate and CreditCards.com have also published AI-written articles about credit cards with ads for opening cards nestled within. Both Bankrate and CreditCards.com directed questions about the use of AI to Lance Davis, the vice president of content at Red Ventures; CNET’s disclosure also included Davis as a point of contact until last week.

This type of SEO farming can be massively lucrative.

«

There’s a big story here, and Sato and Vincent poke at it effectively: the writers aren’t quite sure what stuff is generated by bots, but it’s a growing amount. Basically, a journalistic version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
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Amazon’s Smile: gone after 10 years • Motley Fool via MSN

Anders Bylund on Amazon’s decision to shut down its charitable giving system:

»

let’s look at data from fiscal year 2020 — the latest period for which I found documentation of Amazon Smile’s actual donations. The parent company’s online retail operations generated $216bn of sales that year. A 0.5% cut of that massive revenue flow amounts to $1.08bn. But the AmazonSmile Foundation’s Form 990 tax filing showed just $73.6m in revenue that year.

In other words, roughly 0.03% of Amazon’s total sales passed through the Smile filter in 2020. So the Smile program sounds generous at first blush, thanks to Amazon’s ginormous scale, but the company never put its back into this effort. The resulting charitable contributions are reportedly hardly worth the paperwork and promotional work the charities have to put in.

All told, Amazon Smile has generated donations of $449m in 10 years. That’s commendable, but $40m a year is just a rounding error on Amazon’s income statement.

Critics of the program have lambasted Amazon for setting up a donation system that isn’t active by default, gives donation-based tax credits to Amazon instead of the shopper, and requires charities to promote Amazon’s shopping portal if they want people to send their Smile contributions to a specific cause.

Again, it’s not like a few million dollars of donation credits per year makes much of a difference to Amazon’s tax bills. In the example year of 2020, Amazon sent $1.71bn of cash to Uncle Sam and other income tax authorities. You could add back the Amazon Smile credits and you would barely notice the difference.

«

Once again, this shows the power of defaults. You had to go hunting for Smile, especially on the phone app. As the calculation shows, if Smile had been the default and you had to opt out, it would have generated a colossal amount of money.
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Musk oversaw video that exaggerated Tesla’s self-driving capabilities • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Dana Hull and Sean O’Kane:

»

Elon Musk oversaw the creation of a 2016 video that exaggerated the abilities of Tesla Inc.’s driver-assistance system Autopilot, even dictating the opening text that claimed the company’s car drove itself, according to internal emails viewed by Bloomberg.

Musk wrote to Tesla’s Autopilot team after 2 a.m. California time in October 2016 to emphasize the importance of a demonstration drive to promote the system, which the chief executive officer made a splashy announcement about a week later. In an Oct. 19 call with reporters and blog post, Tesla said that all its cars from that day forward would ship with the hardware necessary for full self-driving capability.

“Just want to be absolutely clear that everyone’s top priority is achieving an amazing Autopilot demo drive,” Musk said in the email. “Since this is a demo, it is fine to hardcode some of it, since we will backfill with production code later in an OTA update,” he wrote, referring to using temporary code and updating it later using an over-the-air [OTA] software update.

“I will be telling the world that this is what the car *will* be able to do,” Musk continued, “not that it can do this upon receipt.”

The email sheds light on Musk’s mindset before he and Tesla then made claims about capabilities that have yet to materialize more than six years later. After cycling through several different iterations of hardware, the company to this day tells customers using Autopilot and the system it markets as Full Self-Driving to keep their hands on the wheel and be prepared to take over at any moment.

…Nine days later, after Tesla staffers shared a fourth version of the video, Musk replied that there were still too many jump cuts, and that the demo footage “needs to feel like one continuous take.”

While Musk had written in the earlier email that he would be clear Tesla was demonstrating what its cars would be able to do in the future, he then instructed staffers to open the video with a black screen and three sentences referring to the present.

«

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What happens when AI has read everything? • The Atlantic

Ross Andersen:

»

Writing has allowed human beings to capture and store a great many more of our words. But like most new technologies, writing was expensive at first, which is why it was initially used primarily for accounting. It took time to bake and dampen clay for your stylus, to cut papyrus into strips fit to be latticed, to house and feed the monks who inked calligraphy onto vellum. These resource-intensive techniques could preserve only a small sampling of humanity’s cultural output.

Not until the printing press began machine-gunning books into the world did our collective textual memory achieve industrial scale. Researchers at Google Books estimate that since Gutenberg, humans have published more than 125 million titles, collecting laws, poems, myths, essays, histories, treatises, and novels. The Epoch team estimates that 10 million to 30 million of these books have already been digitized, giving AIs a reading feast of hundreds of billions of, if not more than a trillion, words.

Those numbers may sound impressive, but they’re within range of the 500 billion words that trained the model that powers ChatGPT. Its successor, GPT-4, might be trained on tens of trillions of words. Rumors suggest that when GPT-4 is released later this year, it will be able to generate a 60,000-word novel from a single prompt.

Ten trillion words is enough to encompass all of humanity’s digitized books, all of our digitized scientific papers, and much of the blogosphere. That’s not to say that GPT-4 will have read all of that material, only that doing so is well within its technical reach. You could imagine its AI successors absorbing our entire deep-time textual record across their first few months, and then topping up with a two-hour reading vacation each January, during which they could mainline every book and scientific paper published the previous year.

«

The thing about generating novels from a single prompt is concerning. You can imagine that Amazon’s Kindle Store is about to become overwhelmed. Well, even more overwhelmed.
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Supreme Court poised to reconsider key tenets of online speech • The New York Times

David McCabe:

»

On Friday, the Supreme Court is expected to discuss whether to hear two cases that challenge laws in Texas and Florida barring online platforms from taking down certain political content. Next month, the court is scheduled to hear a case that questions Section 230, a 1996 statute that protects the platforms from liability for the content posted by their users.

The cases could eventually alter the hands-off legal position that the United States has largely taken toward online speech, potentially upending the businesses of TikTok, Twitter, Snap and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.

“It’s a moment when everything might change,” said Daphne Keller, a former lawyer for Google who directs a program at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center.

The cases are part of a growing global battle over how to handle harmful speech online. In recent years, as Facebook and other sites attracted billions of users and became influential communications conduits, the power they wielded came under increasing scrutiny. Questions arose over how the social networks might have unduly affected elections, genocides, wars and political debates.

In some parts of the world, lawmakers have moved to rein in the platforms’ influence over speech. Last year, European legislators approved rules that require internet companies to carry out procedures for taking down illicit content and to be more transparent about how they recommend content to people.

In the United States, where freedom of speech is enshrined in the First Amendment, there has been less legislative action. While lawmakers in Washington have grilled the chief executives of the tech giants over the past three years about the content they take down, proposals to regulate harmful content haven’t gotten traction.

Partisanship has made the logjam worse. Republicans, some of whom have accused Facebook, Twitter and other sites of censoring them, have pressured the platforms to leave more content up. In contrast, Democrats have said the platforms should remove more content, like health misinformation.

«

Arguably it’s the partisanship that has been saving Section 230. Quite what the social media landscape will look like if it’s repealed is anyone’s guess. Much messier, for sure.
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Why Mastodon feels a lot like early Twitter • Fast Company

Jared Newman:

»

Twitter had a lot of problems in its early years. The site was notoriously unreliable, to the point that major news events, such as Michael Jackson’s death in June 2009 and the World Cup 2010, would crash the site. Hashtags and retweets were initially bolted on by users and didn’t become official features until July and November 2009, respectively. Twitter didn’t even have its own iPhone app until April 2010, when it acquired the popular third-party client, Tweetie.

The parallels to Mastodon should be obvious by now. Mastodon servers—particularly the major ones—have struggled to meet demand during usage spikes, and the official Mastodon apps are worse than third-party alternatives. Key Mastodon concepts, such as servers, local timelines, and content warnings, also can seem alien in the same way hashtags and retweets used to be.

The site also has other challenges to address. The onboarding experience really needs improvement, and the network would benefit by leaning into local timelines as a standout feature. More importantly, its moderators must get better at welcoming Blacks and marginalized groups—and at recognizing threats against them by bad actors.

It’s natural, then, for some portion of new users to not immediately understand the value of “not Twitter” and go back to their old habits. But having spent an increasing amount of time on Mastodon over the past couple of months—mostly at the expense of Twitter—the energy around the platform is hard to ignore.

«

Certainly it feels to me as though a lot of air has gone out of Twitter quite quickly, just recently. The cutting-off of third-party clients, forcing the use of the (terrible) first-party app, contributes: the rough edges of using that make the desolation feel even more acute.
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Ransomware revenue down as more victims refuse to pay • Chainalysis

Chainalysis Team:

»

2022 was an impactful year in the fight against ransomware. Ransomware attackers extorted at least $456.8m from victims in 2022, down from $765.6m the year before. 

As always, we have to caveat these findings by noting that the true totals are much higher, as there are cryptocurrency addresses controlled by ransomware attackers that have yet to be identified on the blockchain and incorporated into our data. When we published last year’s version of this report, for example, we had only identified $602m in ransomware payments in 2021. Still, the trend is clear: Ransomware payments are significantly down.

However, that doesn’t mean attacks are down, or at least not as much as the drastic dropoff in payments would suggest. Instead, we believe that much of the decline is due to victim organizations increasingly refusing to pay ransomware attackers. We’ll discuss this phenomenon more below, but first, let’s look more at general ransomware trends in 2022.

Despite the drop in revenue, the number of unique ransomware strains in operation reportedly exploded in 2022, with research from cybersecurity firm Fortinet stating that over 10,000 unique strains were active in the first half of 2022. On-chain data confirms that the number of active strains has grown significantly in recent years, but the vast majority of ransomware revenue goes to a small group of strains at any given time. We do, however, see turnover throughout the year among the top-grossing strains.

Likewise, ransomware lifespans continue to drop. In 2022, the average ransomware strain remained active for just 70 days, down from 153 in 2021 and 265 in 2020. As we’ll explore below, this activity is likely related to ransomware attackers’ efforts to obfuscate their activity, as many attackers are working with multiple strains.

«

This reminds me of the point in the early 2000s when companies started to get on top of computer viruses as a source of trouble: the growth in antivirus and threat protection systems meant that any infection was short-lived and quickly cleaned up, and it became harder for outbreaks to spread. The drop in revenue is significant after two years when it looked set for much bigger numbers. Defences are improving, refusal to pay is growing, and while – like viruses – this problem isn’t going away, it’s going to fade into the background as a cost of doing business.
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The UK is wasting a lot of wind power • Archy de Berker

Archy de Berker and Peter Dudfield:

»

we often have to move electricity from North to South. The map below, from the National Grid, shows areas of surplus energy generation in blue and those with a deficit in red, and the resulting transfers needed to balance the grid.


Source: National Grid Future Energy Scenarios 2022 

This poses a problem, because moving electricity long distances is expensive. You need big cables, which are serious bits of kit – the last large one we put in cost £1.2 bn. At times, we just have more windpower than we have cables to transmit it. The particular hotspot for this problem is the B6 boundary: the bottleneck for electricity from Scotland to flow to England.

When we’re generating more windpower than we can transmit, the National Grid pays the windfarms to turn off, and pays a (typically gas powered) alternative generator, closer to the demand, to turn on. Consumers end up effectively paying three times for the power they’re getting: the original payment to the windfarm for the electricity, the payment to turn off, and then the payment to the alternative generator.

In the past, it has made financial sense to avoid the expense of building extra cables and instead pay a bit more to replace the lost wind power with gas generation in the South. However, with gas prices surging, this doesn’t look like such a good trade off for consumers, not to mention the planet.

We’ve built an interactive dashboard for exploring curtailment [when the amount of power taken from turbines is so large it has to be capped, and wind farms are paid not to feed the surplus into the grid, and gas plants are turned on instead] in 2022. You can explore it here.

At times the UK was wasting as much wind power as we were using.

On Christmas day, we spent £9.2m on curtailment costs, curtailing a total of 76.18 GWh. That’s enough electricity to power ~11,000 households for a year.

…However, laying high voltage cables is slow – much slower than building new wind turbines. In the time it takes for this transmission to come online (2GW by 2027 & 4GW by 2029), we will have added far more new wind capacity North of the B6 boundary.

Simply put: we can’t lay cables fast enough to solve this problem.

«

Tricky problem. Think: how would you solve it? Then read the suggested solution.
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Grenfell showed exactly why we need red tape, yet the Tories are desperate to bin thousands of laws • The Guardian

Peter Apps is the author of Show Me the Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen:

»

In the early 2000s, the UK government was warned that the country risked becoming the continent’s “dumping ground” for dangerous cladding and insulation products. At the time, civil servants were working on plans to harmonise fire standards with the rest of the European Union – but this harmonisation never happened.

Corporate lobbyists had argued against it, claiming there would be “economic consequences” if their members were unable to sell their combustible building products freely. As standards were tightened in much of Europe, the UK would not update its outdated guidance for the next 17 years.

The result was gaps in the regulation, which the free market was more than efficient enough to find and exploit. “The evolution of fire regulation will put [highly combustible cladding] out of the market in the coming month[s],” wrote a senior figure at cladding firm Arconic in 2009. “For the moment, even if we know that [the material] has a bad behaviour exposed to fire, we can still work with national regulations who are not as restrictive.”

One such market was the UK, which Arconic targeted with its violently combustible panels, knowing that their marginally lower cost would make them attractive. The panels were fitted on hundreds of tall buildings around the country.

One was Grenfell Tower. And in June 2017, it caught fire, the block was engulfed in flames and 72 people died horrible, avoidable deaths. It is important to recount this story now because the lessons have been ignored.

The government is now preparing to sweep away thousands of EU rules of the statue book in a single stroke. This is what prompted the former business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to gleefully tweet his approval this month of “igniting the deregulatory bonfire”.

«

James Dyson was similarly fulminating in a column for the Daily Telegraph about being stifled by regulation. Amazing how regulation is only bad when it affects rich people. I wrote about the necessity for regulation back in 2017, in relation to deaths at sea, and it’s still true.
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SBF, Bored Ape Yacht Club, and the spectacular hangover after the art world’s NFT gold rush • Vanity Fair

Nate Freeman:

»

[The analyst Benedict] Evans offered another conundrum. When a market offers something for sale at a large sum, there is, at a base level, an understanding among the public that it has some legitimate importance. Perhaps the artwork is not to one’s liking, but it has a provenance and the artist is in museum collections—or there’s historic relevance to something that makes it at the very least a curio.

“When you are buying vintage vinyl, or rare sneakers, or Marilyn Monroe’s shoes, or a Salvador Dalí print, or whatever it is, you’re getting something that has no tangible physical value, but cultural value,” Evans said. “There’s like a deep cultural base that thinks Jordan sneakers are worth something, early Sex Pistols vinyl is worth something. And the challenge with all of these NFTs was you didn’t really know that there was that broad, deep cultural base. It was just: ‘Oh, my gosh, somebody just bought one for 200 grand.’”

For the time being, some in the art world are still acting as though the devotion to NFTs could result in some kind of windfall. Sotheby’s Metaverse has a sale up right now. It’s offering the first NFTs by the artist Sebastião Salgado, but they aren’t exactly lighting the place on fire. They cost $250 each. Back in 2021, the Natively Digital sale netted Sotheby’s $17m, with $11m paid for a single NFT from the series of CryptoPunks. 

But in February 2022, Sotheby’s set up a special sale where it expected a set of 104 CryptoPunks to go for as much as $30m, only to see the thing collapse minutes before the gavel-in when the consignor backed out, reportedly due to a lack of interest from bidders. By last December, the Natively Digital sale seemed to have lost its luster entirely. Sotheby’s offered the first-ever Keith Haring NFT as the star lot of the sale, but it sold for $25,000, well below the $80,000 high estimate.

…When asked for comment on whether they plan to continue with their NFT platforms, Sotheby’s declined. Christie’s did not respond to a request for comment.

«

A market down by 96% year-on-year. I’d like to say there’s no way it’s coming back, but rather as with foolproof systems that prove not to be, the art and crypto spaces keep coming up with fools who exceed our expectations.

It would have been good if Freeman could have cornered some of the auction people who rode this unicorn. But they’re too busy counting the money, one presumes. Or crying over their crypto losses, as quite a few of the transactions were made with those magic beans.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1933: inside Musk’s mad mad mad mad Twitter, how ChatGPT lost its toxicity, will the Online Safety Bill cull users?, and more


With Microsoft making job cuts and hardware writeoffs, is the Surface line going to be in trouble? CC-licensed photo by Tatsuo Yamashita on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Didn’t you know? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Inside Elon Musk’s “extremely hardcore” Twitter • The Verge

Zoe Schiffer, Casey Newton and Alex Heath:

»

[On November 20], Musk took the stage at Twitter headquarters. He was dressed in black jeans and black boots with a black T-shirt that read “I Love Twitter” in barely legible black writing. Flanked by two bodyguards, he tried to articulate his vision for the company. “This is not a right-wing takeover of Twitter,” he told employees. “It is a moderate-wing takeover of Twitter.”

As employees peppered him with questions, the billionaire free-associated, answering their concerns with smug dismissals and grandiose promises. What about his plan to turn Twitter from a mere social network into a super-app? “You’re not getting it, you’re not understanding,” he said, sounding frustrated. “I just used WeChat as an example. We can’t freakin’ clone WeChat; that would be absurd.” What about rival social platforms? “I don’t think about competitors … I don’t care what Facebook, YouTube, or what anyone else is doing. Couldn’t give a damn. We just need to make Twitter as goddamn amazing as possible.” What about rebuilding Twitter’s leadership team that he’d decimated in his first week? “Initially, there will be a lot of changes, and then over time you’ll see far fewer changes.” 

Twitter employees were used to grilling their bosses about every detail of how the company ran, an openness that was common at major tech companies around Silicon Valley. Even employees who still believed in Musk’s vision of Twitter hoped for a similar dialogue with their leader. Some expected it, now that the slackers were gone. But over the course of half an hour, Musk made it clear that the two-way street between the CEO and staffers was now closed.

«

The story also points out how one eager employee, on hearing of the impending takeover, wrote that “Musk has a track record of having a Midas Touch!” At which one other employee pointed out that things didn’t end well for Midas.

If you’ve been following the Twitter saga, much of this is familiar, but seen as a gestalt of failure, it’s Pelion upon Ossa.
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Exclusive: OpenAI used Kenyan workers on less than $2 per hour to make ChatGPT less toxic • Time

Billy Perrigo:

»

ChatGPT’s predecessor, GPT-3, had already shown an impressive ability to string sentences together. But it was a difficult sell, as the app was also prone to blurting out violent, sexist and racist remarks. This is because the AI had been trained on hundreds of billions of words scraped from the internet—a vast repository of human language. That huge training dataset was the reason for GPT-3’s impressive linguistic capabilities, but was also perhaps its biggest curse. Since parts of the internet are replete with toxicity and bias, there was no easy way of purging those sections of the training data. Even a team of hundreds of humans would have taken decades to trawl through the enormous dataset manually. It was only by building an additional AI-powered safety mechanism that OpenAI would be able to rein in that harm, producing a chatbot suitable for everyday use.

To build that safety system, OpenAI took a leaf out of the playbook of social media companies like Facebook, who had already shown it was possible to build AIs that could detect toxic language like hate speech to help remove it from their platforms. The premise was simple: feed an AI with labeled examples of violence, hate speech, and sexual abuse, and that tool could learn to detect those forms of toxicity in the wild. That detector would be built into ChatGPT to check whether it was echoing the toxicity of its training data, and filter it out before it ever reached the user. It could also help scrub toxic text from the training datasets of future AI models.

To get those labels, OpenAI sent tens of thousands of snippets of text to an outsourcing firm in Kenya, beginning in November 2021. Much of that text appeared to have been pulled from the darkest recesses of the internet. Some of it described situations in graphic detail like child sexual abuse, bestiality, murder, suicide, torture, self harm, and incest.

OpenAI’s outsourcing partner in Kenya was Sama, a San Francisco-based firm that employs workers in Kenya, Uganda and India to label data for Silicon Valley clients like Google, Meta and Microsoft. Sama markets itself as an “ethical AI” company and claims to have helped lift more than 50,000 people out of poverty.

«

The benefit is that you should only have to do this once. ChatGPT recognises toxicity (mostly?) so it could act as a content moderator, in theory.
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Full memo: Microsoft to cut 10k jobs, about 5% of workforce, and take $1.2bn restructuring charge • GeekWire

Todd Bishop, with Satya Nadella’s memo to staff:

»

First, we will align our cost structure with our revenue and where we see customer demand. Today, we are making changes that will result in the reduction of our overall workforce by 10,000 jobs through the end of FY23 Q3. This represents less than 5% of our total employee base, with some notifications happening today. It’s important to note that while we are eliminating roles in some areas, we will continue to hire in key strategic areas. We know this is a challenging time for each person impacted. The senior leadership team and I are committed that as we go through this process, we will do so in the most thoughtful and transparent way possible.

Second, we will continue to invest in strategic areas for our future, meaning we are allocating both our capital and talent to areas of secular growth and long-term competitiveness for the company, while divesting in other areas. These are the kinds of hard choices we have made throughout our 47-year history to remain a consequential company in this industry that is unforgiving to anyone who doesn’t adapt to platform shifts. As such, we are taking a $1.2bn charge in Q2 related to severance costs, changes to our hardware portfolio, and the cost of lease consolidation as we create higher density across our workspaces.

«

Taking a charge related to “changes to our hardware portfolio” to me suggests dropping something – perhaps quite a few things – from the Surface line, which hasn’t set the world alight in sales terms since its inception.
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Social media platforms brace for hit to user numbers from age checks • Financial Times

Ian Johnston and Cristina Criddle:

»

Social media companies expect age verification measures in the UK’s Online Safety Bill will reduce user numbers, hitting advertising revenue on platforms including TikTok and Instagram.

The long-awaited legislation …would not only remove underage users from the platforms but also discourage individuals without identification or with privacy concerns, people involved with policy at leading social media companies said.

Fear of falling user numbers comes as the platforms deal with declining ad revenue, their primary source of income, brought on by the global economic slowdown, and as legislation around the world is introduced that places stringent new demands on tech giants to police content on their platforms.

“More vetting of users means fewer users,” said a person familiar with advertising at Instagram. “That means fewer users to advertise to, less inventory and fewer clicks and views for business”.

«

Hang on, I’ve got my microscopic violin here, but before I start playing it, could we just clarify: the big worry is about users who shouldn’t be on the service at all because they’re under age, but you were never troubled enough to actually enforce the age limits even though they exist for a reason (even if you disagree with it) because you got advertising revenue and didn’t have to worry about any effects on the underage users because that was someone else’s, probably the parents’ or society’s, problem?
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The Internet Transition • Berjon

Robin Berjon:

»

So the world is populated by highly complex organisms, and we as a species are in the transitory process of further organising an increasingly complex society. It’s often the case that simpler can be better, so is it really a good thing that we’re making our social organisation more complex?

TL;DR yes. We should systematically be fostering social complexity. Complexity in society is good.

Increased specialisation and intensified cooperation allow us to solve harder problems. Like feeding everyone without running out of planet, giving everyone access to Wikipedia without destroying democracy, curing more diseases for more people despite them being more interconnected, or more generally decreasing violent conflict at all scales. Riding the juggernaut that is the modern world can at times feel intense enough that it may be tempting to want to simplify society. Unfortunately, short of an astounding leap forward in science and governance (such that we can deal with complex issues without being as complex as a collective), simplifying society would also mean losing highly desirable collective capabilities such as advanced medecine not to speak of others yet to come. We’re complex because the real capabilities we ambition to share require it, and our better ambitions — those compatible with equality and sustainability — shouldn’t be sacrificed.

This isn’t an idle speculation. The complexity of a society can and does vary over time. When complexity drops sharply in a society, that is known as “collapse”.

«

And then you add the internet. Too much complexity? Or is it simplifying? A very thought-provoking essay.
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CNET’s article-writing AI is already publishing very dumb errors • Futurism

Jon Christian:

»

CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo acknowledged the AI-written articles in a post that celebrated CNET’s reputation for “being transparent“.

Without acknowledging the criticism, Guglielmo wrote that the publication was changing the byline on its AI-generated articles from “CNET Money Staff” to simply “CNET Money,” as well as making the disclosure more prominent. Furthermore, she promised, every story published under the program had been “reviewed, fact-checked and edited by an editor with topical expertise before we hit publish.”

That may well be the case. But we couldn’t help but notice that one of the very same AI-generated articles that Guglielmo highlighted in her post makes a series of boneheaded errors that drag the concept of replacing human writers with AI down to earth.

Take this section in the article, which is a basic explainer about compound interest:

»

“To calculate compound interest, use the following formula:

Initial balance (1+ interest rate / number of compounding periods) ^ number of compoundings per period x number of periods 

For example, if you deposit $10,000 into a savings account that earns 3% interest compounding annually, you’ll earn $10,300 at the end of the first year.”

«

«

You’re the editor – 3% of 10,000 is what? And is what’s written there correct? By the way you have three other articles that need fact-checking waiting which need to be passed in the next 15 minutes. This stuff is a lot tougher than it looks.

However, “being transparent” after you’re called out for doing something sneaky: love it, CNet.
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Wikipedia criticises ‘harsh’ new Online Safety Bill plans • BBC News

Chris Vallance:

»

[Wikimedia Foundation representative Rebecca] MacKinnon says the foundation is concerned about the effect of the bill on volunteer-run sites.

She told the BBC that the threat of “harsh” new criminal penalties for tech bosses “will affect not only big corporations, but also public interest websites such as Wikipedia”.

Ms MacKinnon says the law should follow the EU Digital Services Act which, she argues, differentiates between centralised content moderation carried out by employees and Wikipedia-style moderation by community volunteers.

The government told the BBC the bill is designed to strike the balance between tackling harm without imposing unnecessary burdens on low-risk tech companies. “[Regulator] Ofcom will take a reasonable and proportionate approach when monitoring and enforcing the safety duties outlined in the bill, focusing on services where the risk of harm is highest,” it said.

How sites are treated under the bill partly depends on their size. But lawyers have also pointed out that some of the duties in the bill, promoted as a way to rein in big tech, will affect much smaller services where users can communicate with other users.

Nearly 50 Tory MPs wanted to amend the Online Safety Bill to introduce two-year sentences for managers who fail to stop children seeing harmful material. Under a deal with the rebels to stave off defeat, ministers have now promised to introduce similar proposals.

Neil Brown, a solicitor specialising in internet and telecoms law, told the BBC: “The bill, and the amendment, would impose pages of duties on someone who, for fun, runs their own social media or photo/video sharing server, or hosts a multi-player game which lets players chat or see each other’s content or creations.” He suggests limiting the scope of the bill to the major commercial operators with multi-million pound turnover would help “remove the burden and threat to hobbyists and volunteers”.

«

Under the proposed law, running a Minecraft server could get you into trouble, Brown suggests, as the “senior manager” or “provider of a service”. That’s the trouble with the internet: you can never quite predict the scale at which people are going to do things.
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How the Facebook Portal died, yet almost lived • Buzzfeed News

Katie Notopoulos:

»

the decision to pull the plug came because executives didn’t see a path to the Portal becoming a massive business (instead of just a nice business), and with shifting priorities at Meta, it didn’t make the cut. “We’re super sad about it,” [Meta CTO Andrew] Bosworth said [in an interview with Buzzfeed]. “You know the saying, ‘It’s not prioritization unless it hurts’? This one hurts.” (It’s not a total loss though: Existing Portal devices will continue to work and receive support.)

Bosworth said that “the entire smart home category has underwhelmed expectations for a while now.” He added, “I think if you go back to where we expected smart home to be as an industry when Portal entered the market versus where it is today, it’s just not been nearly successful as we expected.”

BuzzFeed News can report that there was one missed opportunity for the Portal to live on. In summer 2020, Facebook was deep in talks with Amazon to license the Portal technology and platform to make a deal where the Portal tech (and its valuable Messenger contact lists) could be licensed to Amazon smart devices.

Amazon’s Echo Show, a competitor to the Portal, is a stand-alone video-chatting device that is Alexa-enabled and features a smart camera and touchscreen. However, the Echo Show only allows you to video call people with either another Show or through the Alexa app on their phone, which… When was the last time someone called you through the Alexa app? With the Portal, you can call any of your friends via Messenger or WhatsApp.

“We were maybe two days away from signing an agreement with Amazon,” Bosworth said. “But this is the middle of the pandemic, and so Portal sales are spiking — they’re going kind of through the roof — and we don’t have the resources to do both.”

«

There was also opposition from Zuckerberg. Yet the Portal sold millions, and was successful with a tough target for tech: popular with women over 40.
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Apple announces the second-generation HomePod • Six Colors

Dan Moren:

»

he full-size speakers also borrows some features from its smaller sibling, the HomePod mini, adding Ultra Wideband technology to allow you to hand off audio between your iPhone and the speaker and a Thread radio for connecting to smart home devices. Apple’s also added temperature, humidity, and accelerometer sensors to the device. Like previous HomePods, the second-gen model can be paired with a second speaker for a stero pair, and can share audio throughout a home via AirPlay.

And, in a feature that I’ve been advocating for, Siri on the HomePod can now use Sound Recognition to listen for specific noises, like a fire alarm or carbon monoxide detector going off, and alert you—though Apple says that feature will arrive in a software update later this spring and requires the new Home architecture (which the company has temporarily suspended).

Of course, one of the tricky selling points of the previous HomePod was the price—it debuted at $349, though it could often be found for cheaper. The second-generation HomePod starts at $299, but there are apparently some tradeoffs to hit that point: for example, the new model includes five tweeters to the first-generation’s seven, four microphones as opposed to the previous six, and (strangely) the older 802.11n Wi-Fi, as opposed to the 802.11ac found in the first model.

«

Same size, slightly different translucent touch surface. Not much else different. It’s a puzzle why it went away, and now it’s a puzzle why it’s come back.
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UMG’s Sir Lucian Grainge: ‘The economic model for streaming needs to evolve’ • Music Week

Andre Paine:

»

In a significant development, the industry leader turned to the future of streaming later in the memo [to all Universal Music staff for the new year]. While reminding UMG colleagues of the major’s “pioneering” approach to embrace streaming over a decade ago, Sir Lucian noted that “every blazingly transformative technological development inevitably creates new challenges for us to confront”. 

“Today, some platforms are adding 100,000 tracks per day,” he wrote. “And with such a vast and unnavigable number of tracks flooding the platforms, consumers are increasingly being guided by algorithms to lower-quality functional content that in some cases can barely pass for ‘music’.”

Sir Lucian described the source of this egregious content – brief sound files designed to divert royalties from real music – as “bad actors who do not share our commitment to artists and artistry have been swooping into the reinvigorated industry”. 

“What’s become clear to us and to so many artists and songwriters – developing and established ones alike is that the economic model for streaming needs to evolve,” he added. “As technology advances and platforms evolve, it’s not surprising that there’s also a need for business model innovation to keep pace with change. There is a growing disconnect between, on the one hand, the devotion to those artists whom fans value and seek to support and, on the other, the way subscription fees are paid by the platforms. Under the current model, the critical contributions of too many artists, as well as the engagement of too many fans, are undervalued.

“Therefore, to correct this imbalance, we need an updated model. Not one that pits artists of one genre against artists of another or major label artists against indie or DIY artists. We need a model that supports all artists – DIY, indie and major. An innovative, ‘artist-centric’ model that values all subscribers and rewards the music they love. A model that will be a win for artists, fans, and labels alike, and, at the same time, also enhances the value proposition of the platforms themselves, accelerating subscriber growth, and better monetising fandom.”

«

The “bad actor” problem is a real one for the streaming services, and the labels: both lose out.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Mark Gould points out in a comment on yesterday’s post that the BBC has estimated how much power its different radio platforms use, and AM isn’t the biggest. (Though it doesn’t have that many users, so perhaps proportionally?)

Start Up No.1932: Getty sues Stable Diffusion on copyright, the Online Immigration Safety Bill, review your 2022 calendar, and more


In the UK, AM radio is said to have just 2% of radio listeners, yet use a third of all UK radio’s electricity. So being turned off is good, right? CC-licensed photo by Joe Haupt on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Getty Images is suing the creators of AI art tool Stable Diffusion for scraping its content – The Verge

James Vincent:

»

In a press statement shared with The Verge, the stock photo company said it believes that Stability AI “unlawfully copied and processed millions of images protected by copyright” to train its software and that Getty Images has “commenced legal proceedings in the High Court of Justice in London” against the firm.

Getty Images CEO Craig Peters told The Verge in an interview that the company has issued Stability AI with a “letter before action” — a formal notification of impending litigation in the UK. (The company did not say whether legal proceedings would take place in the US, too.)

“The driver of that [letter] is Stability AI’s use of intellectual property of others — absent permission or consideration — to build a commercial offering of their own financial benefit,” said Peters. “We don’t believe this specific deployment of Stability’s commercial offering is covered by fair dealing in the UK or fair use in the US. The company made no outreach to Getty Images to utilize our or our contributors’ material so we’re taking an action to protect our and our contributors’ intellectual property rights.”

…AI art tools like Stable Diffusion rely on human-created images for training data, which companies scrape from the web, often without their creators’ knowledge or consent. AI firms claim this practice is covered by laws like the US fair use doctrine, but many rights holders disagree and say it constitutes copyright violation.

…Andres Guadamuz, an academic specializing in AI and intellectual property law at the UK’s University of Sussex, told The Verge it seemed like the case would have “more merit” than other existing AI lawsuits, but that “the devil will be in the details.”

When asked what remedies against Getty Images would be seeking from Stability AI, Peters said the company was not interested in financial damages or stopping the development of AI art tools, but in creating a new legal status quo (presumably one with favourable licensing terms for Getty Images).

«

Getty says in its statement that “Getty Images provided licenses to leading technology innovators for purposes related to training artificial intelligence systems in a manner that respects personal and intellectual property rights. [However] Stability AI did not seek any such license”. As Guadamuz says, this isn’t a slam dunk either: the Lords are considering adding “model training” to the definition of fair dealing (as “fair use” is known in the UK). It might be a race against time for Getty.
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Discord acquires Gas, the popular app for teens to compliment each other • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Discord has acquired the Gas social app. The poll-based app has become popular among teens in recent months, allowing friends to share compliments with each other. The app is designed for anonymous compliments and positive affirmations or, as kids say, gassing your friends up.

Gas has polls that ask users to vote for things like the most beautiful person they’ve met or the classmate that isn’t afraid to get in trouble. It has soared in popularity among high schoolers since launching in August. One of the co-creators of TBH, a very similar teenager app acquired and shut down by Facebook, created Gas, which has caught the attention of more than 1 million daily active users and 30,000 new users per hour in October.

“Gas’ founders have a proven track record of creating exciting apps and experiences, and we’re thrilled to work with their team to take things to the next level,” says Discord in a blog post announcing the Gas acquisition. “At this time, Gas will continue as its own standalone app and the Gas team will be joining Discord to help our efforts to continue to grow across new and core audiences.”

«

Absolutely no adult would dream of using this, which is part of why it’s smart for Discord to get in there.
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What does your calendar think you spent your time doing in 2022? • Calendar Review

Minutes is a company which .. does something with meetings? Anyway, it has a “calendar review” offering:

»

Calendar Review creates a year end review of your Google Calendar and gives you insights on how much time you spent on meetings in 2022, your most attended meeting, longest meetings, etc. It helps you reflect back on how you spent your time in meetings in the year 2022.

What are the data requested by Calendar Review? Calendar Review requests for read only access to your Google Calendar, this includes the read only access to list of calendars and events in the calendars. Additionally, during sign-in, we also request for your name and email to identify Calendar Review users.
(P.S: we don’t send you any spam emails)

What is the requested data used for? The app requires read-only access to your calendar and events, to analyse the hours of meetings you had, and to create a summary of how your time was spent in meetings based on data from the calendar. We analyse event metadata to come with insights like how many hours were spent in meetings, number of late night calls, people you connected with the most, etc. No event data or other sensitive information from your calendar is stored with us.

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Though for all the assurances, you do still have to decide if you actually do trust them with access to your calendar.
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Global smartphone market shrinks 17% in Q4, to end 2022 with under 1.2 billion shipments • Canalys 

»

Worldwide smartphone shipments fell 17% year on year in Q4 2022. Full-year 2022 shipments declined by 11% to fewer than 1.2 billion, reflecting an extremely challenging year for all vendors.

Apple reclaimed the top spot in Q4 and achieved its highest quarterly market share ever at 25%, despite facing shrinking demand and manufacturing issues in Zhengzhou. Samsung finished the quarter second with a 20% market share but was the largest vendor for the full year. Xiaomi retained third place despite its share falling to 11% in Q4, largely due to challenges in India. OPPO and vivo rounded out the top five, taking 10% and 8% market shares respectively. 

…Canalys forecasts flat to marginal growth for the smartphone market in 2023, with conditions expected to remain tough.

«

Samsung plus Apple is 40% of the entire market for the year. The top five brands are 72% of the market – nearly three in every four phones sold.
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Looming Twitter interest payment leaves Elon Musk with unpalatable options • Financial Times

Tabby Kinder, Richard Waters and Eric Platt:

»

Three people close to the entrepreneur’s buyout of Twitter said the first instalment of interest payments related to $13bn of debt he used to fund the takeover could be due as soon as the end of January. That debt means the company must pay about $1.5bn in annual interest payments.

The Tesla and SpaceX chief financed his $44bn deal to take Twitter private in October by securing the huge debt from a syndicate of banks led by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays and Mitsubishi. The $13bn debt is held by Twitter at a corporate level, with no personal guarantee by Musk.

Since the takeover, Musk has raced to cut costs, such as firing half the company’s staff, while seeking new revenue streams, such as launching its Twitter Blue subscription service.

The company’s dire finances — it made a loss of $221mn in 2021 before the acquisition and Musk has said revenues have declined since — have led the new owner to regularly raise the prospect that the company could crash into bankruptcy.

How Musk deals with the looming interest payment is a crucial test of his leadership of Twitter, which has so far been marked by chaotic management that has alienated its corporate advertisers. 

“This company is like you’re in a plane that is headed towards the ground at high speed with the engines on fire and the controls don’t work,” Musk said last month.

«

Though it would help if he hadn’t directed the plane at the ground before setting the engines on fire and smashing the controls. And that’s despite all the money pouring – well, dripping – in from the Taliban.

Serious problem now, though. Selling Tesla shares could lead to a death spiral where the shares go down, so he has to sell more of them, so the shares…
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Donelan confirms stiffer online safety measures after backbench pressure • The Guardian

Dan Milmo:

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[Culture secretary Michelle Donelan] said [the amendment threatening tech execs with a criminal sanction of two years in jail for specific breaches] would not affect executives who “acted in good faith” to protect children, amid warnings from tech firms that threatening executives with jail could damage investment in the UK.

“While this amendment will not affect those who have acted in good faith to comply in a proportionate way, it gives the act additional teeth to deliver change and ensure that people are held to account if they fail to properly protect children,” she said.

Under a further change to the bill, video footage that shows people crossing the Channel in small boats in a “positive light” will be added to a list of illegal content that all tech platforms must proactively prevent from reaching users.

Donelan said posting positive videos of crossings could be aiding and abetting immigration offences. Natalie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover, had originally tabled an amendment proposing the change.

Both amendments will be introduced when the bill moves to the House of Lords after its third reading in the Commons on Tuesday. The bill also places a duty of care on tech firms to shield users from illegal content such as child sexual abuse and terrorist material. Companies that breach the act could face fines of up to £18m or 10% of global turnover.

«

Pause a moment and say: sorry, small boats, positive light? What is all this? Now read on.
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September 2022: Could public debate on immigration be suppressed by the Online Safety Bill? • Open Rights Group

Monica Horten:

»

The Online Safety Bill imports Section 41 from the Nationality and Borders Act. It does so by means of a reference to the 1971 Immigration Act – Section 25 Assisting Unlawful Immigration – which is amended by Section 41 of the Nationality and Borders Act. The reference is hidden deep in a Schedule appended to the Bill (Schedule 7). Section 41 is a highly controversial piece of law, part of the so-called “New Plan” introduced by Home Secretary Priti Patel, and furthers the government’s “hostile immigration environment” policy. It establishes a criminal offence of facilitating the arrival of asylum seekers to the UK, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Social media providers who identify this offence in content posted on their platforms would be under an obligation to remove it or prevent people from seeing it. Potentially, an offending social media post could be made to disappear whilst it is being uploaded by the user – a form of interception and characteristic of prior censorship.

There is a fundamental question about how platform providers go about detecting and identifying this content in a social media post. They could block people smugglers’ accounts, but more likely in the current political climate, they will look for posts containing images of what the government does not want to see – people arriving at UK beaches in small boats – and remove them.

«

You have to ask, why on earth else would an online safety bill include stuff from the Immigration Act? The next step will be for the government to stop publishing the data about people arriving and seeking asylum (which, a reminder: is legal), and thus pretending the problem has gone away. Utterly despicable.
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The big AM switchoff gathers pace • radio futurologist

James Cridland:

»

according to a government official, AM radio in the UK has about 2% of UK radio’s listening hours, yet costs 35% in electricity costs. It’s eye-wateringly expensive to be on AM if you look at the power costs.

Adam Bowie knows more than most, and has blogged about the intricate details of one of the UK’s special INR analogue licences coming off the AM band. He suggests it’s “a healthy six figure sum” to broadcast a national radio station on AM.

Steven Goldstein, blogging from CES, notes that Tesla, Porsche, Audi, Volvo, and Ford have all removed AM from their electric vehicles. Some suggest that it’s an interference issue; that’s probably part of the reason, though my hybrid Toyota Prius manages AM just fine – I also suspect it’s the cost of antennas and shielding.

Remaining on the AM dial in the UK – and using the same, shared, transmitter network – are talkSPORT and BBC Radio Five Live. It’s likely that this will, long term, mean that their costs increase.

AM radio is clearly on its last legs – regardless of what the DRM Consortium will tell you – and what happens in the US and Europe will have its effects elsewhere in the world.

Here in Australia, the ABC’s flagship speech services (ABC Local Radio, News Radio, and Radio National) are all on AM in the capital cities. Their presence on DAB – surely one of the escape rafts for these services – is never once mentioned. Each of those services is in decline. I worry.

«

I can’t find anything authoritative about AM v FM power consumption, but that’s quite the delta there.
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I asked Chat GPT to “write a song in the style of Nick Cave” and this is what it produced • The Red Hand Files

Nick Cave, responding to the lyrics “in the style of Nick Cave” someone sent in:

»

What makes a great song great is not its close resemblance to a recognizable work. Writing a good song is not mimicry, or replication, or pastiche, it is the opposite. It is an act of self-murder that destroys all one has strived to produce in the past.

It is those dangerous, heart-stopping departures that catapult the artist beyond the limits of what he or she recognises as their known self. This is part of the authentic creative struggle that precedes the invention of a unique lyric of actual value; it is the breathless confrontation with one’s vulnerability, one’s perilousness, one’s smallness, pitted against a sense of sudden shocking discovery; it is the redemptive artistic act that stirs the heart of the listener, where the listener recognizes in the inner workings of the song their own blood, their own struggle, their own suffering. This is what we humble humans can offer, that AI can only mimic, the transcendent journey of the artist that forever grapples with his or her own shortcomings. This is where human genius resides, deeply embedded within, yet reaching beyond, those limitations.

It may sound like I’m taking all this a little too personally, but I’m a songwriter who is engaged, at this very moment, in the process of songwriting.

«

You wouldn’t guess he’s a songwriter, would you.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1931: ChatGPT challenges university tutors, Sunak rolls over on Online Safety, hackers beat Le Mans, and more


A new cryptocurrency is aiming for a global rollout using your iris for ID. Would you trust it? CC-licensed photo by A Silly Person on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Beware the fungus. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Alarmed by AI chatbots, universities start revamping how they teach • The New York Times

Kalley Huang:

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While grading essays for his world religions course last month, Antony Aumann, a professor of philosophy at Northern Michigan University, read what he said was easily “the best paper in the class.” It explored the morality of burqa bans with clean paragraphs, fitting examples and rigorous arguments.

A red flag instantly went up.

Mr. Aumann confronted his student over whether he had written the essay himself. The student confessed to using ChatGPT, a chatbot that delivers information, explains concepts and generates ideas in simple sentences — and, in this case, had written the paper.

Alarmed by his discovery, Mr. Aumann decided to transform essay writing for his courses this semester. He plans to require students to write first drafts in the classroom, using browsers that monitor and restrict computer activity. In later drafts, students have to explain each revision. Mr. Aumann, who may forgo essays in subsequent semesters, also plans to weave ChatGPT into lessons by asking students to evaluate the chatbot’s responses.

“What’s happening in class is no longer going to be, ‘Here are some questions — let’s talk about it between us human beings,’” he said, but instead “it’s like, ‘What also does this alien robot think?’”

Across the country, university professors like Mr. Aumann, department chairs and administrators are starting to overhaul classrooms in response to ChatGPT, prompting a potentially huge shift in teaching and learning. Some professors are redesigning their courses entirely, making changes that include more oral exams, group work and handwritten assessments in lieu of typed ones.

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Wouldn’t it be ironic if this great advance (at least, that’s how it looks presently) forces our teaching systems to revert to methods that would have been familiar to the ancient Greeks. Is it the AI system or the teaching that’s the problem, in that case?
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Rishi Sunak forced to back down over Online Safety Bill after Tory rebellion • Daily Telegraph

Charles Hymas:

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Social media bosses who repeatedly fail to protect children from online harms will face jail after the Government backed down in face of a major Tory backbench rebellion.

Michelle Donelan, the Culture Secretary, has accepted changes to the Online Safety Bill that will make senior managers at tech firms criminally liable for persistent breaches of their duty of care to children.

Ministers are expected to unveil the details of the plan in the Commons on Tuesday after a rebellion by nearly 50 Tory MPs demanding tougher action on tech bosses.

It is the third time Rishi Sunak has caved in following similar revolts over planning and onshore wind farms where he also faced the prospect of being defeated in a Commons vote.

The rebels – including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, former home secretary Priti Patel and former business secretary Andrea Leadsom – tabled an amendment proposing jail sentences of up to two years for tech bosses failing to protect children from harms such as child abuse, suicide and self harm content.

…The Government’s proposed amendment aims to avoid criminalising those executives who have “acted in good faith to comply in a proportionate way” with their legal duties to protect children but happen to breach them.

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Totally predictable, though the rebels are dreaming if they think this will make a difference. Probably easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than persuade the Crown Prosecution Service to follow through on any case like this.
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‘You can’t be the player’s friend’: inside the secret world of tennis umpires • The Guardian

William Ralston:

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Since 1980, when Cyclops was introduced, technology has been a crucial part of the professional game. An electronic line-calling system that projected infrared beams across the court, Cyclops would beep when a serve was out. But the system wasn’t always reliable, and human error remained a problem. In 2004, in an instantly notorious US Open quarter-final between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati, four incorrect calls were made against Williams. The match sparked intense debate about the need for technology that could objectively scrutinise all the lines. In 2006 Hawk-Eye was introduced, and it has been in use ever since, except on clay courts, where old-school ball mark inspections still apply.

Using a network of six or more high-speed video cameras positioned around the court, the system generates an image of the ball’s path and the spot where it lands. To keep matches fast-flowing, human line judges usually continue to call when a ball is out. However, up to three times per set (plus one more if it goes to a tie-break), players can request a review if they don’t agree with the human call. In 2020, more tournaments began using Hawk-Eye Live, a newer version of the technology that makes automated line calls in real time. Not only does it remove the need for players to make a challenge, it has removed the need for line judges altogether. With Hawk-Eye Live, the only official on court is the chair umpire. However, the technology is expensive, and at present it is only used at the top-tier events, and only on hard courts.

Where does this leave the umpire? Earlier this year, in one of his scathing post-match appraisals of Bernardes in Miami, Kyrgios expressed a view that is gaining ground: “By the way, it’s all electronically done now. So you’re actually doing nothing apart from calling the score, which any tennis fan could do. Sit in the chair and just say ‘15-love’, ‘Game Kyrgios’, ‘Game Sinner’. That’s all he has to do.”

But that, it turns out, isn’t quite right.

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This is from back in July last year, but it remains true – and the Australian Open, one of the four biggest tournaments of the year, is just getting underway, putting the umpires to just as much of a test as the players.
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Hackers disrupt 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual esports event • Bitdefender

Graham Cluley:

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A security breach may have cost current Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen an esports championship victory yesterday, and he’s not happy.

Verstappen was competing in the “24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual” competition, the biggest esports event in endurance racing, which sees real-world FIA drivers compete alongside leading esports players for a total prize fund of US $250,000.

The five-round championship, which culminates in a live 24-hour finale, is ending on a sour note after server problems saw Verstappen – who was leading the race by over a minute – thrown out of the game and disconnected.

When he was eventually able to return to the track, Verstappen had fallen back to 17th position.

Over the following hour, Verstappen attempted to regain his lead – but only managed to fight back to 14th position, two laps behind the leaders.

Verstappen said he would have more chance to win if he went to a Las Vegas casino.

Several other drivers reportedly experienced similar problems while competing in the race. Earlier in the race, the Le Mans Virtual organisers had confirmed that it had suffered a “suspected security breach”.

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Obvious suspicion: targeted attack related to “sports” betting. Unless you can bring esports competitors together in one venue, that’s always going to be the suspicion, and the weakness.
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Apple has begun scanning your local image files without consent • Jeffrey Paul

Paul is a hacker and security researcher living in Berlin:

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I don’t use iCloud. I don’t use an Apple ID. I don’t use the Mac App Store. I don’t store photos in the macOS “Photos” application, even locally. I never opted in to Apple network services of any kind – I use macOS software on Apple hardware.

Today, I was browsing some local images in a subfolder of my Documents folder, some HEIC files taken with an iPhone and copied to the Mac using the Image Capture program (used for dumping photos from an iOS device attached with an USB cable).

I use a program called Little Snitch which alerts me to network traffic attempted by the programs I use. I have all network access denied for a lot of Apple OS-level apps because I’m not interested in transmitting any of my data whatsoever to Apple over the network – mostly because Apple turns over customer data on over 30,000 customers per year to US federal police without any search warrant per Apple’s own self-published transparency report. I’m good without any of that nonsense, thank you.

Imagine my surprise when browsing these images in the Finder, Little Snitch told me that macOS is now connecting to Apple APIs via a program named mediaanalysisd (Media Analysis Daemon – a background process for analyzing media files).

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He then jumps to the conclusion that this is Apple searching for CSAM. Odd that a security researcher can’t go a quick search and find that mediaanalysisd has been in Macs since at least 2017, probably earlier, and does face analysis. Blogposts like this are how misinformation spreads.
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Is Worldcoin a cryptocurrency for the masses – or your digital ID? • IEEE Spectrum

Edd Gent:

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In a college classroom in the Indian city of Bangalore last August, Moiz Ahmed held up a volleyball-size chrome globe with a glass-covered opening at its center. Ahmed explained to the students that if they had their irises scanned with the device, known as the Orb, they would be rewarded with 25 Worldcoins, a soon-to-be released cryptocurrency. The scan, he said, was to make sure they hadn’t signed up before. That’s because Worldcoin, the company behind the project, wants to create the most widely and evenly distributed cryptocurrency ever by giving every person on the planet the same small allocation of coins.

Some listeners were enthusiastic, considering the meteoric rise in value that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin since they launched. “I found it to be a very unique opportunity,” said Diksha Rustagi. “You can probably earn a lot from Worldcoin in the future.” Others were more cautious, including a woman who goes by Chaitra R, who hung at the back of the classroom as her fellow students signed up. “I have a lot of doubts,” she said. “We would like to know how it’s going to help us.”

Those doubts may be warranted. The 5-minute pitch from Ahmed, a contractor hired to recruit users, focused on Worldcoin’s potential as a digital currency, but the project’s goals have morphed considerably since its inception. Over the past year, the company has developed a system for third parties to leverage its massive registry of “unique humans” for a host of identity-focused applications.

Worldcoin CEO Alex Blania says the company’s technology could solve one of the Web’s thorniest problems—how to prevent fake identities from distorting online activity, without compromising people’s privacy. Potential applications include tackling fake profiles on social media, distributing a global universal basic income (UBI), and empowering new forms of digital democracy.

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You might recall that we first heard about Worldcoin back in October 2021, when it was still at much the same stage. The ambition is global, but the problem is that the database becomes the most gigantic hacking target imaginable.
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The physics principle that inspired modern AI art • Quanta Magazine

Anil Ananthaswamy:

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Around the time GANs were invented, Sohl-Dickstein was a postdoc at Stanford University working on generative models, with a side interest in nonequilibrium thermodynamics. This branch of physics studies systems not in thermal equilibrium — those that exchange matter and energy internally and with their environment.

An illustrative example is a drop of blue ink diffusing through a container of water. At first, it forms a dark blob in one spot. At this point, if you want to calculate the probability of finding a molecule of ink in some small volume of the container, you need a probability distribution that cleanly models the initial state, before the ink begins spreading. But this distribution is complex and thus hard to sample from.

Eventually, however, the ink diffuses throughout the water, making it pale blue. This leads to a much simpler, more uniform probability distribution of molecules that can be described with a straightforward mathematical expression. Nonequilibrium thermodynamics describes the probability distribution at each step in the diffusion process. Crucially, each step is reversible — with small enough steps, you can go from a simple distribution back to a complex one.

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Not gonna lie: like many Quanta articles, this is mindbendingly complicated. But if you stick with it, you might be able to extract something useful. Or at least feel like you have.
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AI-created comic could be deemed ineligible for copyright protection • CBR

Brian Cronin:

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The United States Copyright Office (USCO) has initiated a proceeding to reverse an earlier decision to grant a copyright to a comic book that was created using “A.I. art,” and announced that while the copyright will still be in effect until the proceeding is completed (and the filer for the copyright has a chance to respond to the proceeding), copyrighted works must be created by humans to gain official copyright protection.

In September, Kris Kashtanova announced that they had received a U.S. copyright on his comic book, Zarya of the Dawn, a comic book inspired by their late grandmother that she created with the text-to-image engine Midjourney. Kashtanova referred to herself as a “prompt engineer” and explained at the time that she went to get the copyright so that she could “make a case that we do own copyright when we make something using AI.”

…in a post on her Facebook page. Kashtanova revealed that the USCO had contacted her to tell her that it had initiated a proceeding to revoke the protection, explaining that it had errantly missed that Midjourney had created the art for the comic (despite Midjourney being listed on the credits of the cover of the comic). The USCO has given Kashtanova 30 days to appeal its decision. During the appeal process, the copyright is still active.

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This was reported in late December, so we might find out some more soon. But this makes sense to me – except that a human must have input in choosing what goes into the comic. A human directs the story (unless ChatGPT writes it..) and edits it. Is that not part of the creativity?
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The Shit Show • furbo.org

Craig Hockenberry, one of the developers of Twitterific, who is frankly furious about third-party apps being blocked, reflects on what Mastodon is doing:

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One thing I’ve noticed is that everyone is going to great lengths to make something that replaces the clients we’ve known for years. That’s an excellent goal that eases a transition in the short-term, but ignores how a new open standard (ActivityPub) can be leveraged in new and different ways.

Federation exposes a lot of different data sources that you’d want to follow. Not all of these sources will be Mastodon instances: you may want to stay up-to-date with someone’s Micro.blog, or maybe another person’s Tumblr, or someone else’s photo feed. There are many apps and servers for you to choose from.

It feels like the time is right for a truly universal timeline. That notion excites me like the first time I posted XML status to an endpoint.

One thing I remember from these early days: no one had any idea what they were doing. It was all new and things like @screen_name,  #hashtags, or RT hadn’t been invented yet. Heck, we didn’t even call them “tweets” or use a bird icon at first! The best ideas came from people using the service: all of the things mentioned above grew organically from a need.

That’s where I want to be in the future. Exploring unknown territory that empowers others and adapts to the needs of a community.

There’s no sense in clinging to the personal whims of a clown leading a shit show. Especially when his circus will end up being a $44bn version of MySpace.

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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified