Start Up: WhatsApp’s fake news in India, AI beats the poker pros, voice app abandonment, and more

A graphene sheet: not actual size. Render by UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences on Flickr.

You can now 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 7 links for you. Others were coming, got delayed by magnetometers. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Viral WhatsApp hoaxes are India’s own fake news crisis • BuzzFeed News

Pranav Dixit:


At 8 p.m. on Nov. 8, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi unexpectedly banned 86% of the country’s legal tender from circulation. The goal was to wipe out “black money” — a term used in India for cash that’s stashed outside the banking system to evade taxes. Old notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 would no longer be legal. Instead, the government would issue new, redesigned Rs. 2,000 notes.

Hours after the prime ministerial bombshell, the rumors started flying fast and thick over WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app used by more than 160 million Indians: The new notes would include an embedded GPS chip that would allow the government to track down hoarders.

Soon a video purporting to show one of these GPS notes being tracked on Google Maps went viral on WhatsApp, and then Facebook. And  less than 24 hours after the rumor started ,  Zee News, a leading Hindi television news channel, ran a 90-second report about the high-tech note, leading the country’s reserve bank to finally debunk it.


WhatsApp is gigantic in India – and provides a terrific channel for rumours to spread. Terrific piece.
link to this extract

Graphene’s superconductive power has finally been unlocked, and it’s crazier than we expected – ScienceAlert

Fiona Macdonald:


It’s official: graphene has been made into a superconductor in its natural state – which means electrical current can flow through it with zero resistance.

Last year, physicists managed to do this by doping graphene with calcium atoms, but this is the first time researchers have achieved superconductivity in the material without having to alter it. And the results so far show that the material achieves an incredibly rare type of superconductivity that’s even crazier and more powerful than scientists expected.

The new research is a big deal even for a material as innately impressive as graphene, seeing as superconductivity is the key to more efficient electronics, better power grids, and new medical technology.


This is promising, especially because graphene is quite easy to make as superconductors go. But it happens a long way from room temperature (at about 4.2K) and has to be doped with another specific superconductor.
link to this extract

Apple Inc: a pre-mortem • Medium



Last year marked the fifth year of Tim Cook’s reign, and year three of “Tim Cook’s Apple”. With recent technological shifts, Apple is at a crossroads of sorts; therefore, I believe a pre-mortem is expedient:


A pre-mortem is a managerial strategy in which a manager imagines that a project or organization has failed, and then works backward to determine what potentially could lead to the failure of the project or organization. The technique breaks possible groupthinking by facilitating a positive discussion on threats, increasing the likelihood the main threats are identified.



The pre-mortem is a clever idea which I hadn’t come across before. Dan’s analysis is useful, focussing on the Apple Watch, TV, services and iOS – and also Apple the company.
link to this extract

Artificial intelligence wrecks poker pros to stack up a profit of $800,000



In yet another episode of man versus machine, an artificial intelligence developed by Carnegie Melon University has been absolutely dismantling a team of professional poker players, accumulating a staggering lead of almost $800,000.

The showdown takes place as part of the “Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence” competition which pits a group of four poker pros against the crafty supercomputer Libratus in a heads-up game of No-Limit Texas Hold’em slated to continue for 120,000 hands.

Since January 11, when the contest kicked off, the players have now passed the midway point of the the race, having completed almost 65,000 hands in total.

What is more intriguing is that so far Libratus has managed to keep an impressive lead over its human opponents, stacking up a profit of $794,392.

While the seasoned players originally underestimated the AI, Jimmy Chou, who is one of the pros, told CMU that they’ve all come to regard the machine as a tremendously tough rival, noting the computer’s ability to continuously improve its game.

“The bot gets better and better every day,” he said. “It’s like a tougher version of us.”


And also the computer doesn’t have any tells. It needs some blinking lights.
link to this extract

Alexa and Google Assistant have a problem: people aren’t sticking with voice apps they try • Recode

Jason del Rey on a new report from VoiceLabs:


For starters, 69% of the 7,000-plus Alexa “Skills” — voice apps, if you will — have zero or one customer review, signaling low usage.

What’s more, when developers for Alexa and its competitor, Google Assistant, do get someone to enable a voice app, there’s only a 3% chance, on average, that the person will be an active user by Week 2, according to the report. (There are outliers that have Week 2 retention rates of more than 20 percent.) For comparison’s sake, Android and iOS apps have average retention rates of 13% and 11 percent, respectively, one week after first use.

“There are lots of [voice] apps out there, but they are zombie apps,” VoiceLabs co-founder Adam Marchick said in an interview.

Amazon and Google spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment.

The statistics underscore the difficulty Amazon and Google are having in getting Echo and Home owners to discover and use new voice apps on their platforms. Instead, many consumers are sticking to off-the-shelf actions like streaming music, reading audio versions of books and controlling lights in their home.

Those are all good use cases for the voice platforms, but not sufficient to build an ecosystem that will keep software developers engaged and lead to new transformative revenue streams.


Not a surprise; these devices might be more like the Apple Watch, which is basically a self-contained ecosystem. (Via Philippe Winthrop.)
link to this extract

Hugo Barra, Xiaomi’s Google star, quits • Tech In Asia

Nivedita Bhattacharjee:


In what seemed like a nod to China’s catastrophic air pollution problem, he said at least part of the reason for his move was his health.

“[…] what I’ve realized is that the last few years of living in such a singular environment have taken a huge toll on my life and started affecting my health. My friends, what I consider to be my home, and my life are back in Silicon Valley, which is also much closer to my family. Seeing how much I’ve left behind these past few years, it is clear to me that the time has come to return,” Barra said in a Facebook post announcing the departure.

A former vice president at Google, Barra left the tech giant in 2013 to join what was then a little known Chinese startup. He has been in charge of Xiaomi’s international expansion since. Earlier this month, Xiaomi said its India revenues had crossed US$1 billion in 2016, making it the Chinese startup’s biggest international market.

“As I thought about this late last year, I concluded that Xiaomi is in a very good place on its global expansion path, and if there was ever going to be a good time for me to come back home, that time is now — when I can confidently say our global business is no longer just an in-house startup,” Barra said in the Facebook post.


Bad for Xiaomi (this is going to crimp its international potential significantly) and good for wherever Barra ends up. As he left Google amid rumours of friction with Sergey Brin over a personal relationship, I’m not convinced he’ll be back at Mountain View.
link to this extract

Tidal facing claims of inflating subscriber numbers • RAIN News

Anna Washenko:


Tidal is facing allegations that it has inflated subscriber numbers. Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv claimed that it has obtained internal reports that show Tidal only had 350,000 subscribers in September 2015. That same month, owner Jay-Z had tweeted that Tidal was “1,000,000 people and counting.” The publication also said that in March 2016, Tidal had 1.2 million activated accounts and 850,000 subscribers, even though it announced publicly that it had 3 million subscribers. Tidal has not issued a comment yet about the claims.

The question of how many people are really using Tidal has been a frequent one over the years. After Jay-Z acquired the company from Aspiro, he talked about plans for a lawsuit on those same charges: that the owner had exaggerated the size of its audience prior to the takeover.


link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.