Start Up No.1,098: life and data on 5G, classical streaming’s woes, EU v AI, Apple hires ARM chief, Libra’s risky potential, and more


Think carefully: are these gambling? Some games companies would like you to think so. CC-licensed photo by Brandon Cripps on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Not a baker’s dozen. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Adblock-proof just-this-side-of-annoying promo: got half an hour? Try The Human and Machine podcast. It’s a co-presentation by Julia Hobsbawm (of Editorial Intelligence) and myself.

The latest episode is a discussion with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Rohan Candappa, plus an interview with Professor Charlton McIlwain, about race and the internet.

Previous episodes included autopilots, the 737 Max and the implications for self-driving cars with Alex Hern of the Guardian and Dr Jack Stilgoe of University College London.

The next one (coming soon!) will talk to Professor Martyn Rees about humans on Mars, genetic modification, and much more. Find these episodes, and the whole series, by searching for “human and machine” on your podcast app.


EA: loot boxes are actually “surprise mechanics” that are “ethical and fun” • Ars Technica

Kyle Orland:

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Representatives from EA and Epic Games spoke in front of a UK parliamentary panel [last] Wednesday (transcript). They were there to defend the game industry against charges of addictive game mechanics and encouragement of gambling via loot boxes. But at least one of those representatives took issue with the basic premise that randomized item purchases should be labeled as “loot boxes” in the first place.

“That is what we look at as ‘surprise mechanics,'” EA Legal and Government Affairs VP Kerry Hopkins told the panel when asked about the ethics of loot boxes. “It is important to look at this. If you go to—I don’t know what your version of Target is—a store that sells a lot of toys and you do a search for surprise toys, you will find that this is something people enjoy. They enjoy surprises. It is something that has been part of toys for years, whether it is Kinder eggs or Hatchimals or LOL Surprise!”

As implemented in a game like FIFA, Hopkins went on to argue that these surprise mechanics are “quite ethical and fun [and] enjoyable to people… We think it is like many other products that people enjoy in a very healthy way. They like the element of surprise.

“The packs—the surprise that we talked about a little before—are fun for people,” Hopkins said. “They enjoy it. They like earning the packs, opening the packs, and building and trading the teams.”

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Solipsistic nonsense. It’s gambling, because you pay non-trivial sums of money in the hope that you’ll get something of greater value than the sum paid, but you can also get something worth less. A Kinder Egg content is never worth more than you pay, never worth less.
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5G in Australia: supersonic speeds raise data consumption questions • CNET

Daniel Van Boom:

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That brings us to a more practical issue. As noted, Randwick was my first testing location. About 25 minutes in, after several speed tests, downloading PUBG and two movies from Netflix, I got an SMS. “You’ve used 50% of your 20GB data allowance,” Telstra warned me. Uh oh.

The SIM card I was using was loaned to me by Telstra for testing, but 20GB isn’t an unusually small amount. Telstra’s fattest data plan offers 150GB for $70 (AU$100) a month, but the average Australian has a 10GB data limit, according to a 2018 Finder study. Most plans in Australia give you between 10 and 50GB of data. In the US, “unlimited” data plans tend to include up to about 75GB, or 100GB for Sprint’s priciest plan, before internet speeds are throttled.

It will be impossible to burn through 50GB, let alone 150GB, just by using social media, answering emails and streaming YouTube on 4G. But with 5G speed comes incentive to, y’know, use 5G. When 5G speeds outpace home broadband by a significant margin, data will have to become cheaper for those blazing speeds to be convenient and truly useful. 

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In the UK, the mobile company EE (owned by the landline monopoly BT) is the first with 5G. In my experience, it’s also the stingiest with data allowances – or the priciest, which works out to the same thing. 5G is fast – though even those testers were seeing speeds fall in their testing.
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YouTube lets users override recommendations • Bloomberg

Lucas Shaw and Gerrit De Vynck:

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YouTube said it will let users override automated recommendations after criticism over how the online video service suggests and filters toxic clips.

“Although we try our best to suggest videos you’ll enjoy, we don’t always get it right, so we are giving you more controls for when we don’t,” Essam El-Dardiry, a product manager at YouTube, wrote in a blogpost on Wednesday.

Users will now be able to tell YouTube to stop suggesting videos from a particular channel by tapping the three-dot menu next to a video on the homepage or Up Next, then choosing “Don’t recommend channel.” After that, viewers should no longer see videos from that channel, El-Dardiry said.

The move comes after Susan Wojcicki and other YouTube executives were criticized for being either unable or unwilling to act on internal warnings about extreme and misleading videos because they were too focused on increasing viewing time and other measures of engagement.

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It’s pretty weak sauce, though. The risk from recommendations is not from channels you recognise, but from the bazillions of nonsense things that drive people down rabbit holes, from all sorts of channels. It’s the recommendation algorithm itself.
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In the age of streaming, classical music gets lost in the metadata • The New York Times

Ben Sisario:

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Classical music has always been a specialized corner of the music business, with a discerning clientele and few genuine blockbusters. But by some measures the genre has suffered in the shift to streaming. While 2.5% of album sales in the United States are classical music, it accounts for less than 1% of total streams, according to Alpha Data, a tracking service.

Two new companies, Idagio and Primephonic, see an opportunity in the disconnect. Both are challenging the big platforms by offering streaming services devoted to classical music, with playlists that push Martha Argerich over Ariana Grande, and databases tailored to the nuances of the genre.

“The mission we are on is to turn the tide for classical music the way Spotify has done for pop,” said Thomas Steffens, the chief executive of Primephonic, which is based in Amsterdam and went online last fall.

The genre has been an awkward fit for streaming partly because of the major services’ metadata — the underlying organizational schemes for identifying titles of recordings, the personnel associated with them and other details.

For most of the music on Spotify or Apple Music, a listing of artist, track and album works fine. But critics of the status quo argue that the basic architecture of the classical genre — with nonperforming composers and works made up of multiple movements — is not suited to a system built for pop.

Search Spotify’s mobile app for “Mozart Requiem,” for example, and a confusing list of dozens of albums follows; since there is no special field for a composer, most of those albums designate Mozart as the “artist.” On Apple Music, a composer field has become standard only in recent months.

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EU should ban AI-powered citizen scoring and mass surveillance, say experts • The Verge

James Vincent:

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The recommendations are part of the EU’s ongoing efforts to establish itself as a leader in so-called “ethical AI.” Earlier this year, it released its first guidelines on the topic, stating that AI in the EU should be deployed in a trustworthy and “human-centric” manner.

The new report offers more specific recommendations. These include identifying areas of AI research that require funding; encouraging the EU to incorporate AI training into schools and universities; and suggesting new methods to monitor the impact of AI. However, the paper is only a set of recommendations at this point, and not a blueprint for legislation.

Notably, the suggestions that the EU should ban AI-enabled mass scoring and limit mass surveillance are some of the report’s relatively few concrete recommendations. (Often, the report’s authors simply suggest that further investigation is needed in this or that area.)

The fear of AI-enabled mass-scoring has developed largely from reports about China’s nascent social credit system.

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Oppo’s under-screen camera is real and taking photos in Shanghai • Engadget

Richard Lai:

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when the camera is idle, the screen works just as normal. However, when you look up close, the area above the camera appears to be more pixelated. According to Oppo, this zoned-out area features a highly-transparent material plus a redesigned pixel structure for improved light transmittance. In other words, this camera tech requires a customized display panel, because existing ones won’t do the job — their transparency properties are only good enough for in-display fingerprint readers, but not conventional cameras.

Oppo added that the under-screen camera itself also packs a larger sensor with bigger pixels, along with a larger aperture to get as much light as possible. This does mean a drop in resolution, and based on our quick comparison, there’s certainly room for improvement in terms of clarity and color accuracy. This is a little worrying, considering Oppo has already applied its algorithm fix on haze removal, HDR plus white balance, and it’ll have to put in extra effort here to meet its usual selfie standards.

There’s still no update on when we can expect this under-screen camera technology to show up on a mass-production phone – all we were told was this will be released “in the near future.”

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“In the near future” is my favourite date. I’ve got it marked in my calendar. Meanwhile this seems like another not-quite-there-yet feature/gimmick that Oppo is rushing out so it can say “first!”
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Exclusive: Intel launches blockbuster auction for its mobile portfolio • IAM

Richard Lloyd:

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In what looks set to become one of the highest profile patent sales in years, Intel has put its IP relating to cellular wireless connectivity on the auction block. The company is seeking to divest around 8,500 assets from its massive portfolio.

The news comes as the chip giant searches for a buyer for its 5G smartphone modem business having announced in April that it was pulling out of the market. That was after as it had become increasingly clear that the company, which has been the supplier of 4G modem chips to Apple for the last few years, was struggling to release a 5G product even though the rollout of the next generation of mobile technology is well underway.

The auction offering is comprised of two parts: the cellular portfolio and a connected device portfolio. The former includes approximately 6,000 patent assets related to 3G, 4G and 5G cellular standards and an additional 1,700 assets that read on wireless implementation technologies. The latter is made up of 500 patents with broad applicability across the semiconductor and electronics industries.

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Not quite a fire sale, but there isn’t anything left of the building now that Apple isn’t going to buy 5G modems from it.
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Apple hires ARM’s lead CPU architect amid rumours of ARM-based Macs as early as 2020 • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

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ARM’s lead CPU and system architect Mike Filippo joined Apple last month, based out of the Austin, Texas area, according to his LinkedIn profile. Filippo led the development of several chips at ARM between 2009 and 2019, including the Cortex-A76, Cortex-A72, Cortex-A57, and upcoming 7nm+ and 5nm chips.

Filippo also served as Intel’s lead CPU and system architect between 2004 and 2009, and he was a chip designer at AMD between 1996 and 2004, so he brings a wealth of chipmaking experience with him to Apple.

Filippo’s profile still lists his ARM role as ongoing, but social media talk suggests that he has left the company.

Apple designing its own ARM-based processors for Macs would allow it to move away from Intel processors, which have frequently faced delays. In fact, sources within Intel reportedly confirmed to Axios that Apple does plan to transition to ARM-based processors in Macs starting next year.

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That’s quite an aggressive hire; can’t imagine ARM being charmed by it. The timetable for ARM-based Macs is going to be the focus of everyone’s interest in the next few months, for certain.
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Rumor: Samsung’s next foldable will be a clamshell device • Android Authority

Scott Adam Gordon:

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Samsung is already working on its next flexible display smartphone, according to speculation from ETNews. In an article published yesterday, the website suggested Samsung’s next folding screen device would be a clamshell-style product with an outward-facing, 1in display.

The phone would seemingly be more portable than the Galaxy Fold, which functions as a hybrid between phone and tablet. The future foldable is tipped to be about the size of a regular flagship, with its display coming in at around 6.7in when unfolded. The Galaxy Fold has a 7.3in screen when unfolded and a nearly 4:3 aspect ratio.

ETNews didn’t say whether the 1in screen on the outside would be touch-enabled, but it did say it would offer limited functionality. It might operate something like the always-on displays found on other Samsung phones.

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One inch seems awfully small for a screen. The idea is that it folds in the middle from top to bottom, so that.. well, I’m not really sure how this benefits humanity, but apparently we don’t have enough folding phones in our lives. Not that actually we have any yet, of course.
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US tech companies sidestep a Trump ban, to keep selling to Huawei • The New York Times

Paul Mozur and Cecilia Kang:

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Kevin Wolf, a former Commerce Department official and partner at the law firm Akin Gump, has advised several American technology companies that supply Huawei. He said he told executives that Huawei’s addition to the list did not prevent American suppliers from continuing sales, as long as the goods and services weren’t made in the United States.

A chip, for example, can still be supplied to Huawei if it is manufactured outside the United States and doesn’t contain technology that can pose national security risks. But there are limits on sales from American companies. If the chip maker provides services from the United States for troubleshooting or instruction on how to use the product, for example, the company would not be able to sell to Huawei even if the physical chip were made overseas, Mr. Wolf said.

“This is not a loophole or an interpretation because there is no ambiguity,” he said. “It’s just esoteric.”

After this article was published online on Tuesday, Garrett Marquis, the White House National Security Council spokesman, criticized the companies’ workarounds. He said, “If true, it’s disturbing that a former Senate-confirmed Commerce Department official, who was previously responsible for enforcement of U.S. export control laws including through entity list restrictions, may be assisting listed entities to circumvent those very enforcement mechanisms.”

Mr. Wolf said he does not represent Chinese companies or firms on the entity list, and he added that Commerce Department officials had provided him with identical information on the scope of the list in recent weeks.

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Trade’s gonna trade. And as one annoyed person has pointed out, wasn’t Trump elected on a “let’s all get rich selling stuff to the Chinese” platform?
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Here’s why some users are getting more LinkedIn notifications • Axios

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Linkedin will today announce algorithm changes made over the past 12-18 months to favor conversations in its Feed that cater to niche professional interests, as opposed to elevating viral content, its executives tell Axios.

News feeds that were fundamentally built to connect one voice to many are struggling to deliver on value as communication trends move to more personal and ephemeral conversations.

Users may have noticed that their notifications or engagements on LinkedIn have increased lately.

LinkedIn has done this in part, because internal research found that participation wasn’t even across the platform, and that much of the attention in on LinkedIn was skewed towards the top 1% of power users, according to Tim Jurka, Director of Artificial Intelligence at LinkedIn.
Changes include:
• Elevating content that users are most likely to join in conversation, which typically means people that users interact with directly in the feed through comments and reactions, or people who have shared interests with you based on your profile.
• Elevating a post from someone closer to a users’ interests or network if it needs more engagement, not if it’s already going viral.
• Elevating conversations with things that encourage a response (like opinions commentary alongside content), as well as posts that use mentions and hashtags to bring other people and interests into the conversation and elevating posts from users that respond to commenters.
• Elevating niche topics of conversation will perform better than broad ones. (When it comes to length, LinkedIn says its algorithm doesn’t favor any particular format, despite rumors that it does.)

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On that last point: it’s probably that people interact better with content of particular lengths because that’s how people are, not because the algorithm chooses the length.
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Facebook’s Libra has staggering potential: state control of money could end • The Conversation

Gavin Brown:

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Imagine ten years from now if, say, 40% of all US dollars are held on deposit by Facebook/the council to back the issued libra coins, which have by now become widely used across the world. We can hypothesise that US dollars might constitute a 30% weight of libra’s asset-backing basket – to have a steady exchange rate for libra, the idea is to underpin it with a selection of stable and widely traded financial assets.

In the likely event that the US experiences a moderate, or even severe economic crisis, Facebook/the council would need to rebalance the basket of assets to defend the value of libra. Let’s say they decided to revise down the US dollar weighting in their reserve to 25% of the basket. This would involve selling huge sums of US dollars and replacing them with, say, euros, and would significantly drive down the value of the dollar.

This would be a very negative market signal, encouraging other holders of dollars to dump them as well, thereby exacerbating the fall. And even before this happened, Facebook could potentially use the mere threat as leverage in negotiating with nation states on matters of regulation, taxation and so on. Based on Facebook’s current revenues, it would already be 90th in the world by GDP if it was a nation state, so its power to face off in negotiations with states and trading blocs is formidable even without libra.

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Brown is senior lecturer in finance at Manchester Metropolitan University. (He’s also “a Non-Executive Director and Co-founder at Blockchain Capital Limited, a start-up digital assets fund which has yet to launch. It would not benefit directly from this article but does have an interest in digital asset investments such as bitcoin which leverage blockchain technology.”) That scenario isn’t so unlikely. And it’s slightly worrying, isn’t it? Libra’s value being like that of a share in an exchange-traded fund is slightly problematic if it’s used for transactions. Related: I appeared last night on an Al Jazeera program with the PR head of the Libra Consortium. I asked him twice whether it could go bust, and what would happen in that case to everyone’s Libra – would it be refunded? I don’t think I got a clear answer.
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2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,098: life and data on 5G, classical streaming’s woes, EU v AI, Apple hires ARM chief, Libra’s risky potential, and more

  1. Re. Libra: I think that’s the crux of the matter. I think we could argue that the whole point of Civilization is to support a Currency that lets us efficiently allocate resources and have intelligent discussions about what really matters (ie, which society-level projects money should go to). We’re still not 100% there because there’s huge potential for abuse (mostly, from a limited outlook, the best use of money is to buy power to make more money). For all their abuses and ponderousness, today’s currencies are probably the best-working the world has ever had though.

    Renouncing that public money for a private one is a major step back. We lose stability (absent rules, that money can vary wildly in value; can be confiscated…) and transparency (we can no longer know how it is allocated, ie whether/for whom it’s being used efficiently, let alone discuss it).
    As usual, I think we’re focusing on a symptom, not the core issue. If we’re unhappy about how money works and is being used, that’s a political problem. Making another currency on the side certainly isn’t solving the issue, I’d argue it’s not even side-stepping it but creating different ones, actually resuscitating older, already-solved issues.

  2. I want a foldable phone with a 3D screen that does VR: I need a centerpiece for my museum of technological dead-ends.
    Bonus points if its has too little storage, a proprietary port, a useless home-grown Assistant, an extremely narrow screen, and a <1d battery. Samsung is in the lead right now, but Apple's not too far behind.

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