Start Up No.1296: NHS rejects Apple-Google for contact app, the woman falsely accused of causing Covid-19, the trouble with e-sports, and more

Making it harder to forward messages on WhatsApp has cut viral content spread by 70%, the company says CC-licensed photo by Tuija Aalto on Flickr.

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

NHS rejects Apple-Google coronavirus app plan • BBC News

Leo Kelion:


The UK’s coronavirus contact-tracing app is set to use a different model to the one proposed by Apple and Google, despite concerns raised about privacy and performance.

The NHS says it has a way to make the software work “sufficiently well” on iPhones without users having to keep it active and on-screen. That limitation has posed problems for similar apps in other countries.

Experts from GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre have aided the effort. NCSC indicated that its involvement has been limited to an advisory role.

“Engineers have met several core challenges for the app to meet public health needs and support detection of contact events sufficiently well, including when the app is in the background, without excessively affecting battery life,” said a spokeswoman for NHSX, the health service’s digital innovation unit…

…NHSX believes a centralised system will give it more insight into Covid-19’s spread, and therefore how to evolve the app accordingly.

“One of the advantages is that it’s easier to audit the system and adapt it more quickly as scientific evidence accumulates,” Prof Christophe Fraser, one of the epidemiologists advising NHSX, told the BBC. “The principal aim is to give notifications to people who are most at risk of having got infected, and not to people who are much lower risk. It’s probably easier to do that with a centralised system.”


Sure would like to know what this “sufficiently well” solution is. Always using Bluetooth and always using location? Might struggle on iOS.
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The very real threat from Trump’s first deepfake • The Atlantic

David Frum:


at 8:25:50 pm ET, the president retweeted an account he had never retweeted before. The account had posted a video of former Vice President Joe Biden, crudely and obviously manipulated to show him twitching his eyebrows and lolling his tongue. The caption read: “Sloppy Joe is trending. I wonder if it’s because of this. You can tell it’s a deep fake because Jill Biden isn’t covering for him.”

Whatever the intentions of the original tweeter—it purports to be the account of a left-wing activist supportive of the candidacy of Bernie Sanders—the Trump retweet looks like an experimental test of the rules of social media. Since earlier this year, Twitter has banned images that have been “significantly and deceptively altered or fabricated,” especially if they are likely to cause serious harm in some way.

Because the account retweeted by Trump explicitly labels its video a “deep fake,” it arguably does not violate Twitter’s anti-deception policy. As of 8:30 this morning, the video remained live on Twitter and present on pro-Trump Facebook accounts.


Still live on Monday evening. Many people will ignore the words, because that’s how visual content works: it overwhelms any focus on words. The tweet has over 12,000 retweets and 33,000 Likes (don’t ask me why people like a tweet like that).

Twitter does need to reconsider. Faked videos like this are intended to deceive, and the dressing around them won’t stop them doing that.
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Exclusive: she’s been falsely accused of starting the pandemic. Her life has been turned upside down • CNN

Donie O’Sullivan:


Perhaps the most prominent cheerleader of the idea that [American soldier Maatje] Benassi had a role in the imaginary plot to infect the world is George Webb, a prolific 59-year-old American misinformation peddler. Webb has for years regularly streamed hours of diatribe live on YouTube, where he has amassed more than 27 million views and almost 100,000 followers.

In 2017, CNN revealed how Webb was part of a trio of conspiracy theorists that pushed a false rumor about a cargo ship with a “dirty bomb” that was set to arrive at the Port of Charleston in South Carolina. The bomb never materialized, but the claims did lead to parts of the port – one of the biggest in America – being shut down for a time as a safety precaution.

Until recently, Webb said, his YouTube videos included advertisements – meaning the platform, which is owned by Google, was making money from Webb’s misinformation, as was Webb himself.
Webb even claimed that the Italian DJ Benny Benassi, whose 2002 song “Satisfaction” became a worldwide sensation, had the coronavirus and that he, along with Maatje and Matt Benassi, were part of a Benassi plot connected to the virus. (Benny told CNN Business he has never met Maatje and Matt, and they said that as far as they know, they are not related. Benny pointed out that Benassi is a very common last name in Italy.)

Benny Benassi told CNN Business he has not been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Like artists around the world, he cancelled his concerts because of social distancing and travel restrictions. (Webb previously claimed the DJ is Dutch. He is not.)

In a phone interview with CNN Business on Thursday, which he livestreamed to his followers on YouTube, Webb offered no substantive evidence to support his claims about the Benassis and said he considered himself an “investigative reporter,” not a conspiracy theorist.

He also said that YouTube recently stopped running ads on his videos after he began talking about the coronavirus.


China and Russia don’t really need to try when there are dolts like this to do the job for them.
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WhatsApp’s new limit cuts virality of ‘highly forwarded’ messages by 70% • TechCrunch

Manish Singh:


The Facebook -owned service said on Monday that spread of “highly forwarded” messages sent on WhatsApp had dropped by 70% globally in weeks after introducing a new restriction earlier this month.

In one of the biggest changes to its core feature, WhatsApp said earlier this month that users on its platform can now send along frequently forwarded messages they receive to only one person or a group at a time, down from five. The restriction was rolled out globally to WhatsApp’s 2 billion users on April 7.

“We recently introduced a limit to sharing ‘highly forwarded messages’ to just one chat. Since putting into place this new limit, globally there has been a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages sent on WhatsApp,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement…

…The cut down on forwards should help WhatsApp assuage the scrutiny it is receiving in many countries, including India, its biggest market.

New Delhi asked WhatsApp and other messaging and social media firms last month to do more to control the viral hoaxes circulating on their platforms about coronavirus infection. This is the latest of several similar advisories India has sent to social media firms operating in the country.


That’s almost surely going to be a substantial reduction in misinformation, because that’s what tends to go viral, by a factor of about 2 to 1. (That’s a study of Twitter, but WhatsApp will be similar.)

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What is the iPad to you? Let me count the ways in a Magic Keyboard review • Birchtree

Matt Birchler:


I can use the iPad as a drawing tablet, plop it into a keyboard case to make it more of a laptop, connect it to a monitor to use it like a desktop, and I can wirelessly connect a mouse and keyboard to make it work exactly like a desktop. When I’m tired of that, I can unplug it and start using it like a tablet again.

And not only does the hardware allow for me to change the physical context of the device, the software comes along for the ride as well. Apps work differently depending on if you have a keyboard attached, if you have a mouse/trackpad available, or if you’re using an Apple Pencil…

…Ok, now I’ve got myself a MacBook Pro and it’s plugged into an external monitor so I can work at my desk on a big screen and I can take it anywehere else because it’s portable. Better, for sure, but what if I want to read a book? What if I want to draw? What if I want to hold it in portrait orientation? What if I want to use it as a digital board game? The MacBook Pro can’t do any of that, while the iPad is never more than 2 seconds away from adapting to those use cases.

Now you think you have me cornered. “Get a Surface then,” you reply, thinking you’ve got me. And in fairness, this is a close as you’ve gotten so far, but this isn’t the product for me. It doesn’t run the apps I want, the apps it does run are old-school in comparison to iPadOS, and the touch experience is way, way worse than the iPad. But if you like Windows, then yeah, the Surface line is pretty comparable to this quick context switching, although I really feel that the touch stuff still feels hacked into Windows.


It’s actually not so much about the keyboard, because it’s really about how the iPad is mutable into different contexts. Though OK, he does mention the keyboard.

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Esports and the dangers of serving at the pleasure of a king • Matthew Ball

Ball is a VC who focuses on interactive media:


even under the most globally controlled league models, the administrating body has far from total control over the sport. A spectator or fan can play soccer or golf without FIFA or the PGA, just as they can set up their own leagues and teams, or broadcast their private games and events.

Esports is different. While we see leagues across each of the aforementioned models, all competitive play is ultimately (and essentially end-to-end) dependent on the game’s publisher. Most simply, independent leagues, events and tournaments, whether for- or non-profit, do not have the right to operate (let alone broadcast to at-home audiences). They can only do so as allowed (explicitly or tacitly) by a publisher. All it takes is a publisher’s copyright claim, cease-and-desist order, or policy change to shut them down. This is true even if the games are played online via location connections, too. And certainly, in the case of remote, online play, all gameplay is ultimately administered (“refereed”, if you will) by the publisher’s online services. This means the publishers are effectively co-running the tournament or league – even if they don’t know it.

At a broader level, it’s also important to emphasize that matches can only be played with the rules, options, gameplay, physics, items, and characters that the publisher offers. If your favorite “hero” is removed, you can’t use them. If you loved a limited time event that’s no longer offered, too bad. If a rule, item, or map changed, you’ve no choice but to adapt…

…The video games upon which each league is based generate billions of dollars in value in the sale of content, digital items, and subscriptions. The customers here are everyday players and there are millions of them. This monetization model and customer group is every publisher’s core business. In comparison, esports drives tens of millions in low-margin revenue, based on a few dozen players and, at least today, tens of thousands of viewers (almost all of which are always players). The problem is teams depend almost exclusively on this latter and much smaller bucket of revenues and players.


It’s essentially the opposite structure from how professional sports work, where all the money is up at the top. Ball goes into the many ways that this distorts what’s possible: it’s a lot.
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Chip design with deep reinforcement learning • Google AI Blog

Anna Goldie, senior software engineer, and Azalia Mirhoseini, senior research scientist, Google Research, Brain Team :


today’s chips take years to design, resulting in the need to speculate about how to optimize the next generation of chips for the machine learning (ML) models of 2-5 years from now. Dramatically shortening the chip design cycle would allow hardware to adapt to the rapidly advancing field of ML. What if ML itself could provide the means to shorten the chip design cycle, creating a more integrated relationship between hardware and ML, with each fueling advances in the other?

In “Chip Placement with Deep Reinforcement Learning”, we pose chip placement as a reinforcement learning (RL) problem, where we train an agent (i.e, an RL policy) to optimize the quality of chip placements. Unlike prior methods, our approach has the ability to learn from past experience and improve over time. In particular, as we train over a greater number of chip blocks, our method becomes better at rapidly generating optimized placements for previously unseen chip blocks. Whereas existing baselines require human experts in the loop and take several weeks to generate, our method can generate placements in under six hours that outperform or match their manually designed counterparts.


How soon before humans are out of the equation?
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How long does a film take to recoup? • Stephen Follows

This time he’s asking about payback. Not the film, the process:


Each film will have a slightly different recoupment pattern.  For example

• Slow burns – An independent film can take time to get noticed and to gain worldwide income.  For example, The King’s Speech was unusual in that it took a couple of years to hit its peak as it was released internationally and eventually went on to win the Best Picture Oscar.
• Up-front deals – A distribution deal could include a Minimum Guarantee (MG) which is deducted from future income.  This can result in no income for a number of years while that MG is repaid.  Most films never repay their MG but those that do will see a small trickle of income after that period.  For example, 28 Days Later saw a large income in years 1 and 2, then nothing for a further five years, after which time money started coming in again.

Below are four examples from the BFI dataset.  In each case, we’re only seeing the BFI’s share of income so sadly we cannot use them to calculate the total income each film received.  That said, with the BFI earning over nine times its original investment on The King’s Speech, we’re able to conclude that the other investors must be pretty happy right now!


You’re probably wondering. 28 Days Later (made in 2002) had a budget of £5m. In the UK it took £6.1m at the box office, and in the US was a surprise hit: took $45m. But of course the shape of the payment doesn’t reflect that.

Yes, remember when going to watch a film involved travelling further than your front room?
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Augmented reality hits economic reality in the case of Magic Leap • VentureBeat

Milan Račič of robotics and AI company Gideon Brothers:


Magic Leap just announced its intention to focus on the enterprise market, after years of branding itself as a consumer device company. The corporate press release blamed COVID-19 for the required pivot, and nearly 1,000 employee have been laid off; almost half its workforce.

However, this shift toward the enterprise market is not driven by the COVID-19 crisis. It is a case of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and remote reality (RR) hitting up against economic reality (ER).

Only a minority of (regular) people are willing to pay a lot of money for experiences that can’t populate their Instagram feed. Given a price tag of $2,300-$3,000 for its Magic Leap One goggles, market success would have required a whole lot of social cache to be viable long-term.

By the end of 2019, the company reportedly sold just 6,000 of a planned 100,000 units. Coolness does have a price, but when it comes to augmented reality goggles, the market is telling us that it is far lower than $2,000-$3,000.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Magic Leap and everything they accomplished. They managed to raise $2.6bn from market monster investors like Google and Alibaba. They succeeded in developing interesting technology with giant distribution partners, like AT&T. Yet, the reality is that only 6,000 units sold. Reality is what matters.


I predicted this move in August 2018, when I tweeted: “I forecast that in 18 months Magic Leap will pivot away from consumers (ie games) to target business and industrial use. Those prices [$2,295 for a headset] are crazy for individuals.” They lasted two months extra. As Račič points out, it’s nothing to do with coronavirus.

It wasn’t the hardest prediction to make. One slightly feels that Račič’s admiration for Magic Leap is about its ability to extract huge piles of cash from venture capitalists more than its success, such as it is, with technology.
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A new doctor faces the coronavirus in Queens • The New Yorker

Rivka Galchen:


When [Dr Hashem] Zikry came on shift on the evening of March 21st, one of the covid patients signed out to his team seemed not as sick as some of the others he’d seen. “He walked by the desk during sign-out,” Zikry told me. “He walked by again fifteen minutes later. Asked us where the bathroom was. He was walking—that’s a great sign. Talking—that’s a great sign. These are very reassuring things to a physician. I wrote down, ‘Ambulatory, Conversant.’ ” A short time later, a hospital police officer approached Zikry to say that a man had collapsed in the bathroom. When Zikry reached him, the man had no pulse. He began chest compressions. “Nothing like this had ever happened to me,” Zikry said. “I had seen him walking minutes before.” The man was taken on a stretcher to the critical-care area, where resuscitation equipment was on hand. Despite the efforts of Zikry and others, the patient died about fifteen minutes later. Zikry recalled turning back toward the rest of the E.R. He said, “We look back on this sea of, like, three hundred people that expected us to treat them immediately, to figure out what was wrong with them.” This was around 3:15 a.m…

…“I’m truly exhausted,” Zikry told me that day, at the end of another overnight shift. “I’m starting to see patients I’ve already seen, now in worse condition. A patient who four days ago had an oxygen saturation of a hundred% and an O.K. chest X-ray, then two days later their saturation is low nineties and it’s not a great chest X-ray—well, they come in now with a saturation in the high eighties and with horrendous chest X-rays, and we need to admit them to the hospital.” Zikry knows that medical language can obscure as well as explain: “The term used for what you see on the X-rays is ‘ground-glass opacities.’ I have no idea what actual ground glass looks like. I can tell you that on the X-ray it looks like a snowed-out background, or like when I go out in the rain—I wear glasses—and I can’t really see, because of the water on my glasses. There are these patchy opacities. That’s what the chest X-rays look like.”


The way this disease progresses remains really peculiar.
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Coronavirus means the era of big government is…back • WSJ

Gerald F. Seib and John McCormick:


Much of today’s new government activism will recede over time along with the virus. Yet conversations with a broad cross-section of political figures suggest there is little reason to expect a return to what had been the status quo on federal spending, or the prevailing attitude toward the proper role of government.

“The era of Ronald Reagan, that said basically the government is the enemy, is over,” said Rahm Emanuel, a moderate Democrat who served as mayor of Chicago, a member of Congress and President Obama’s first White House chief of staff.

An echo came from the other side of the political spectrum. “The era of Robert Taft, limited-government conservatism?” said Steve Bannon, President Trump’s onetime political guru, referring to the Ohio senator who fought the expansion of government programs and federal borrowing. “It’s not relevant. It’s just not relevant.”

…Today, both parties and a vast majority of voters have come together behind a broad and aggressive response at both the federal and state level, and have accepted a sea of new red ink at a time the federal budget deficit already was heading toward a trillion dollars annually…

…In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, voters of both political parties said by a 2-to-1 margin that they approved of the expansion of government’s role in the economy to meet the crisis.


That approval, which is equal for both Republicans and Democrats, contrasts strongly with 2009, when only 26% of Republicans approved the government’s TARP action, against 78% of Democrats.

It’s a new era.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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