Start Up No.1,109: AI poker bot beats pros at no-limit, how to make money podcasting, Apple crunches Zoom, people eavesdrop on Google Assistant too, and more

Bird, the scooter business, lost an amazing $100m on revenue of $15m in the first quarter. Is this viable? CC-licensed photo by Anthony Quintano on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Please note that due to circumstances wayyy beyond my control, the “link to this extract” won’t work for sharing today. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

We analyzed more than 1 million comments on 4chan. Hate speech there has spiked by 40% since 2015 • VICE News

Rob Arthur [no relation]:


On 4chan you’ll find anime, porn, and sports chatter. You’ll also find an endless stream of racist threats, stomach-churning memes, and misogynistic vitriol — and it’s getting worse, according to a VICE analysis of more than 1 million comments on one of the site’s most popular message boards.

On the heavily trafficked “politically incorrect” board, slurs against racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual or gender minorities have increased by 40% since 2015, while neo-Nazi propaganda has proliferated. And users on the forum are increasingly making violent threats against minority groups: Comments that include both hate speech and violent language have increased by 25% over the same period.

After a wave of recent attacks by white nationalists across the world, social media platforms have begun cracking down on hate speech. But anonymous online forums like 4chan — a comment board designed to facilitate discussions between users posting threads of text, images, and memes — have remained a toxic, anonymous mixture of hate, bigotry, and misogyny, and have given violent extremists a kind of digital safe space…

…The rise in that language began in the summer of 2016, increasing in tandem with the presidential election and only beginning to abate in 2018. Comments mentioning now-President Donald Trump or his catchphrase “Make America Great Again” were about 10% more likely to also contain a Nazi slogan. The total volume of Nazi watchwords has since declined but is still about 40% higher than before the 2016 election. They appear in about one in every 100 comments.


They don’t cite who did the research or what it consisted of, but otherwise it all sounds like you’d expect: bad, and getting worse.
link to this extract

Hit by big loss, Bird seeks $300m in new funds • The Information

Cory Weinberg and Amir Efrati:


The wintertime was bleak for Bird. In this year’s first quarter, the electric scooter operator lost nearly $100m while revenue shrank sharply to only about $15m, people familiar with the matter said. In the spring, it told people it was down to about $100m in cash, even after raising more than $700m over a year and a half.

It’s well known that scooter companies struggled in the colder months of the year, but the depth of Bird’s problems hasn’t been previously reported. Now, the company that unleashed the global scooter craze is trying to raise hundreds of millions of dollars more in venture capital by convincing investors that it has started to turn around, recording what one person familiar with the figures said was double-digit revenue growth each month since February. Prominent in its pitch is previously unreported internal data, obtained by The Information, that aims to show Bird’s new scooters are durable enough so that each ride makes money.


It lost $100m on revenues of $15m? And that revenue is “sharply down” from $40m in the fourth quarter. Unless they can get things in line, they’ll be a footnote, very soon.
link to this extract

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 photos leaked • CNBC

Kif Leswing:


The images reveal that the Galaxy Note 10 will not include a headphone jack, following a trend set by Apple in 2017, when it removed headphone jacks from its “X” line of iPhones.

It will include a triple-lens camera, according to the photos. The documents indicate that this specific model will not support 5G, but Samsung is expected to release multiple models of this device.

Samsung didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

The Galaxy Note is positioned by Samsung to compete directly against Apple’s iPhones in the United States in the premium smartphone market. Its distinguishing feature is a stylus that Samsung calls “S-Pen” and a large screen. It’s typically released in the late summer.

Last year’s model, the Galaxy Note 9, sported a starting price of $999 when it was released last August.

Samsung shipped more smartphones than any other company in 2018, beating Apple and Huawei, according to data from research firm IDC.

It appears that either the FCC or Samsung made a mistake when uploading the document with the photos. The photos are no longer available on the FCC website but have been saved on sites that mirror the database.


Shock news: it’s a not particularly elegant black slab. The triple cameras are arranged in a vertical line on the back. Release on August 7.
link to this extract

Why the US Federal Reserve should oversee Facebook’s Libra • Yahoo Finance

Sheila Bair:


Let’s say you still want to buy this hip new digital coin, regardless of the foreign exchange risk. Where do you get the money? For citizens in the U.S. and other developed countries, the money will probably come from your bank account. It’s not going to hurt the banking system if you withdraw a few hundred a month for Libra transactions. But what if everyone decides they want to replace their bank accounts with Libra? After all, this would be a great way to avoid checking account fees. Retailers will love Libra as a way to avoid paying network fees on debit and credit card transactions. All of a sudden, that giant sucking sound is money coming out of the banks and into Libra’s kitty.

You may think, “Fine. Let’s stick it to the banks. Look what they did to the economy in 2008.” But most of that money you withdraw from the banks is money they will no longer have to lend to the economy. So as Libra captures your cash, banks have less to make loans. With a run on the banks, we also get a credit contraction.

Now Libra has your money (not the banks) and you have your digital coins. What will Libra do with your money? …there is no regulatory body to ensure that it does so, nor to require that Libra’s sponsors put up any of their own capital or reserves to backstop those investments if they go sour.


There are two big things to worry about with Libra: if it’s really successful, or something goes badly wrong. Either could be global-financial-scale catastrophic, and it’s hard to say which might lead to the worse scenario.
link to this extract

No limit: AI poker bot is first to beat professionals at multiplayer game • Nature

Douglas Heaven:


Machines have raised the stakes once again. A superhuman poker-playing bot called Pluribus has beaten top human professionals at six-player no-limit Texas hold’em poker, the most popular variant of the game. It is the first time that an artificial-intelligence (AI) program has beaten elite human players at a game with more than two players1.

“While going from two to six players might seem incremental, it’s actually a big deal,” says Julian Togelius at New York University, who studies games and AI. “The multiplayer aspect is something that is not present at all in other games that are currently studied.”

The team behind Pluribus had already built an AI, called Libratus, that had beaten professionals at two-player poker. It built Pluribus by updating Libratus and created a bot that needs much less computing power to play matches. In a 12-day session with more than 10,000 hands, it beat 15 top human players. “A lot of AI researchers didn’t think it was possible to do this” with our techniques, says Noam Brown at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Facebook AI Research in New York, who developed Pluribus with his Carnegie colleague Tuomas Sandholm.

Other AIs that have mastered human games — such as Libratus and DeepMind’s Go-playing bots — have shown that they are unbeatable in two-player zero-sum matches. In these scenarios, there is always one winner and one loser, and game theory offers a well-defined best strategy.

But game theory is less helpful for scenarios involving multiple parties with competing interests and no clear win–lose conditions — which reflect most real-life challenges.


Will they get kicked out of casinos for card-counting?
link to this extract

How I made $8,000 per month podcasting, and why you probably don’t want to • Usejournal

Tim Romero:


The most effective way I found to grow my audience with was via interaction.

Online, this meant finding the handful of Facebook and LinkedIn groups interested in Japanese startups and then joining the discussions. Most groups welcomed my contribution.

However, it was my offline efforts that made the biggest impact. I sought out any event or seminar where I could speak about Japanese startups and innovation. Every time I spoke, I saw a small uptick in listeners and email subscriptions.

That email list turned out to be more important than I expected for two reasons. First, casual surveys indicated that about 25% of Disrupting Japan fans were not subscribing to the podcast, but going to the site and listening from the browser or simply reading the transcript. Second, people seem far more willing to engage over email. Even today, when an episode is released, one or two people may comment on the site, but around 20 will reply to the email announcement.

Disrupting Japan fans were, and still are, extremely engaged. Most guests tell me that they receive a lot of positive feedback about their appearance. September of 2015 was the show’s first anniversary, and 120 Disrupting Japan fans paid a $20 cover charge to watch a live podcast and to meet and hang out with each other…

…The secret to making real money with a small podcast is helping companies build their brand.


And that’s pretty much it. As he says, simply chasing advertisers is madness: there’s limited money, and near-infinite podcast hours, so your return is zero.
link to this extract

Apple has pushed a silent Mac update to remove hidden Zoom web server • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:


Apple has released a silent update for Mac users removing a vulnerable component in Zoom, the popular video conferencing app, which allowed websites to automatically add a user to a video call without their permission.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant told TechCrunch that the update — now released — removes the hidden web server, which Zoom quietly installed on users’ Macs when they installed the app.

Apple said the update does not require any user interaction and is deployed automatically.

The video conferencing giant took flack from users following a public vulnerability disclosure on Monday by Jonathan Leitschuh, in which he described how “any website [could] forcibly join a user to a Zoom call, with their video camera activated, without the user’s permission.” The undocumented web server remained installed even if a user uninstalled Zoom. Leitschuh said this allowed Zoom to reinstall the app without requiring any user interaction…

…The update will now prompt users if they want to open the app, whereas before it would open automatically.


link to this extract

Yep, human workers are listening to recordings from Google Assistant, too • The Verge

James Vincent:


In the story by VRT NWS, which focuses on Dutch and Flemish speaking Google Assistant users, the broadcaster reviewed a thousand or so recordings, 153 of which had been captured accidentally. A contractor told the publication that he transcribes around 1,000 audio clips from Google Assistant every week. In one of the clips he reviewed he heard a female voice in distress and said he felt that “physical violence” had been involved. “And then it becomes real people you’re listening to, not just voices,” said the contractor.

Tech companies say that sending audio clips to humans to be transcribed is an essential process for improving their speech recognition technology. They also stress that only a small percentage of recordings are shared in this way. A spokesperson for Google told Wired that just 0.2% of all recordings are transcribed by humans, and that these audio clips are never presented with identifying information about the user.

However, that doesn’t stop individuals revealing sensitive information in the recording themselves. And companies are certainly not upfront about this transcription process. The privacy policy page for Google Home, for example, does not mention the company’s use of human contractors, or the possibility that Home might mistakenly record users.

These obfuscations could cause legal trouble for the company, says Michael Veale, a technology privacy researcher at the Alan Turing Institute in London. He told Wired that this level of disclosure might not meet the standards set by the EU’s GDPR regulations. “You have to be very specific on what you’re implementing and how,” said Veale. “I think Google hasn’t done that because it would look creepy.”


Guess it’s time for Apple to say yes or no to this question, just for completeness. But this certainly backs up why I don’t activate any Google Assistant or Alexa devices. Google has a blogpost about this, complaining about the worker “leaking confidential Dutch audio data”. Sure, but if the data hadn’t been there in the first place…
link to this extract

Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability that could allow iPhone eavesdropping • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:


Apple has disabled the Apple Watch Walkie Talkie app due to an unspecified vulnerability that could allow a person to listen to another customer’s iPhone without consent, the company told TechCrunch this evening.

Apple has apologized for the bug and for the inconvenience of being unable to use the feature while a fix is made.

The Walkie Talkie app on Apple Watch allows two users who have accepted an invite from each other to receive audio chats via a “push to talk” interface reminiscent of the PTT buttons on older cell phones.


People use the Walkie Talkie app? Amazing.
link to this extract

Google’s 4,000-word privacy policy is a secret history of the internet • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel:


The late 1990s was a simpler time for Google. The nascent company was merely a search engine, and Gmail, Android and YouTube were but glimmers in the startup’s eye. Google’s first privacy policy reflected that simplicity. It was short and earnest, a quaint artifact of a different time in Silicon Valley, when Google offered 600 words to explain how it was collecting and using personal information.

That version of the internet (and Google) is gone. Over the past 20 years, that same privacy policy has been rewritten into a sprawling 4,000-word explanation of the company’s data practices.

This evolution, across two decades and 30 versions, is the story of the internet’s transformation through the eyes of one of its most crucial entities. The web is now terribly complex, and Google has a privacy policy to match.


The visuals for this – because it is done through visuals – are lovely, but also telling. The longer the privacy policy, the less private you are to the company.
link to this extract

Huawei founder says his new OS is faster than Android, but that’s still not good enough • BGR

Chris Smith:


Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei said in an interview that the new operating system, which is based on Android, is even faster than Google’s mobile OS. He also confirmed what previous reports noted about the new platform, codenamed Hongmeng for the time being: that it’ll work on a variety of devices including laptops. In fact, he said it might be even faster than macOS. That said, it doesn’t matter how fast Hongmeng will be, because Huawei will have a tough time selling it in western countries.

In an interview with French periodical Le Point (via Sina Technology), Ren said that Hongmeng is meant to also work on network switches, routers, servers, smartphones, and other internet-connected devices. If that sounds familiar, that’s because Google’s new Fuchsia OS is also meant to run on a plethora of devices, not just smartphones and tablets.

Ren also said that Huawei’s OS has a processing delay of just five milliseconds, which makes it faster than both Android and macOS, with particular emphasis on the former. The inclusion of macOS here is an indication that Hongmeng will be an alternative to desktop operating systems like macOS and Windows 10.

The exec admitted that Huawei’s main problem with this product is the lack of an application store, so competing against the iPhone and Android will be difficult. But the company is developing its own app store, which is what Amazon does for its Android fork. But that’s still the main reason why hardcore Android users won’t care that Huawei has an Android-based OS that’s faster than Google’s.


Most of this is nonsense – being “fast” is nice but isn’t a specific necessity for a mobile OS. It’s the app store that matters, as we all know.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,109: AI poker bot beats pros at no-limit, how to make money podcasting, Apple crunches Zoom, people eavesdrop on Google Assistant too, and more

  1. re. Libra, To me, Libra is a private currency, not crypto. Its main advantage is that it’s unregulated (thus cheaper and in some circumstances easier to transfer), but that’s also its main drawback because there are zero rules and guarantees as to how it is handled in the short term (theft, costs) and managed in the long term (value, rules).

    The history of both Facebook’s lack of ethics and the frequent abuse of other private currencies (air miles, rewards points, vacation days, coupons, gift cards…) makes the combination of the two highly suspect.

    Libra is FB Miles really. And you have to pay for them.

  2. Re Galaxy Note looks. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it’s no surprise you don’t like it. I don’t think it was even designed in California, the horror !
    I’m sure I’m supposed to go on some rant about the gestalt of minimalism to try and get some fashion points for it. I’ll try buzzwords, and I’d get a turtleneck but it’s 35°c, do they do those sleeveless (and with large pockets) ? “Samsung reinvented the blank screen” (just like Apple reinvented plastics a while back ? I’m sure you liked the 5C ;-p) Or “It’s magical that pinprick selfie cam is your door to a world of viral fame !”. “This phone isn’t a bedpost, no notch to distract from the VR worlds it enables”.
    As for me, I like the minimally disrupted screen, hate the rounded sides, find the pinprick distinctive, not uglier than a teardrop notch, and much better than a forehead or large cutout. But, mostly, I don’t care. Phones are rectangular slabs, some more rectangulary or more slabby. I put mine in ugly sturdy cases anyway. I’ll get my ego boost from something else.

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