Start Up No.1661: the ‘dead internet’ conspiracy theory, Apple’s new chips, stop Escobar’s hippos!, Canon’s ink lawsuit, and more


The glowing strip above the standard keys is gone on the new MacBook Pros: sayonara, Touch Bar, you were not loved by professionals. CC-licensed photo by Ryo Igarashi on Flickr.

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


The ‘dead-internet theory’ is wrong but feels true • The Atlantic

Kaitlyn Tiffany:

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Let me explain. Dead-internet theory suggests that the internet has been almost entirely taken over by artificial intelligence. Like lots of other online conspiracy theories, the audience for this one is growing because of discussion led by a mix of true believers, sarcastic trolls, and idly curious lovers of chitchat. One might, for example, point to @_capr1corn, a Twitter account with what looks like a blue orb with a pink spot in the middle as a profile picture. In the spring, the account tweeted “i hate texting come over and cuddle me,” and then “i hate texting i just wanna hug you,” and then “i hate texting just come live with me,” and then “i hate texting i just wanna kiss u,” which got 1,300 likes but didn’t perform as well as it did for @itspureluv. But unlike lots of other online conspiracy theories, this one has a morsel of truth to it. Person or bot: Does it really matter?

Dead-internet theory. It’s terrifying, but I love it. I read about it on Agora Road’s Macintosh Cafe, an online forum with a pixelated-Margaritaville vibe and the self-awarded honor “Best Kept Secret of the Internet!” Right now, the background is a repeated image of palm trees, a hot-pink sunset, and some kind of liquor pouring into a rocks glass. The site is largely for discussing lo-fi hip-hop, which I don’t listen to, but it is also for discussing conspiracy theories, which I do.

…Peppered with casually offensive language, the post suggests that the internet died in 2016 or early 2017, and that now it is “empty and devoid of people,” as well as “entirely sterile.” Much of the “supposedly human-produced content” you see online was actually created using AI, IlluminatiPirate claims, and was propagated by bots, possibly aided by a group of “influencers” on the payroll of various corporations that are in cahoots with the government. The conspiring group’s intention is, of course, to control our thoughts and get us to purchase stuff.

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I blame GPT-3. Wait, but what if GPT-3 started all this off? Recuuuuuuursion. (Thanks WendyG for the link.)
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Apple announces M1 Pro & M1 Max: giant new Arm SoCs with all-out performance • Anandtech

Andrei Frumusanu:

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In terms of performance, Apple is battling it out with the very best available in the market, comparing the performance of the M1 Max to that of a mobile GeForce RTX 3080, at 100W less power (60W vs 160W). Apple also includes a 100W TDP variant of the RTX 3080 for comparison, here, outperforming the NVIDIA discrete GPU, while still using 40% less power.

Today’s reveal of the new generation Apple Silicon has been something we’ve been expecting for over a year now, and I think Apple has managed to not only meet those expectations, but also vastly surpass them. Both the M1 Pro and M1 Max look like incredibly differentiated designs, much different than anything we’ve ever seen in the laptop space. If the M1 was any indication of Apple’s success in their silicon endeavors, then the two new chips should also have no issues in laying incredible foundations for Apple’s Mac products, going far beyond what we’ve seen from any competitor.

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Of course Apple is only about 5% of the market (though it’s going to see gigantic demand for the new machines: there have been a lot of would-be buyers essentially on strike while they waited for the Intel chips to be supplanted). But Intel is spooked: Intel’s CEO hopes someday to win Apple back. It’s nice to have dreams, Mr Gelsinger.
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The MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar is gone after five years. Good riddance • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

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Five years ago, when Apple debuted the Touch Bar on its new MacBook Pro laptops, I was willing to give the consumer technology giant the benefit of the doubt. The narrow touch-sensitive display along the top of the keyboard certainly offered a surprising new user interface option. And I needed a new computer. This was a chance to try something new.

Alas, after months of daily use, I concluded the Touch Bar is far worse than the function keys it replaced. It’s an overengineered doodad that caused problems I never had with keyboards, and it offered features I never used.

No surprise, then: I’m delighted that Apple ditched the Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pro laptops it announced Monday at its October product event, where it also unveiled the AirPods 3 and a new HomePod Mini [in multiple colours].

When Apple announced it back when, then-design leader Jony Ive told CNET the Touch Bar is “the beginning of a very interesting direction.” Now it’s the merciful end.

I’m a touch typist but, despite its name, you can’t navigate the Touch Bar by touch. Controlling screen brightness and speaker volume is far slower with the Touch Bar than a conventional keyboard, requiring me to look down so I can jab the correct spot.

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I wonder how much typing Jony Ive did. The Touch Bar never evolved. Apple could have been really brave and tried reprogrammable key caps with LEDs, but no. Too fiddly? So, rip all that up. Pretend it didn’t happen. Totally the Bobby in the shower play.
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Colombia sterilises drug lord Pablo Escobar’s hippos • BBC News

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A group of hippos – an unwanted legacy following the death of notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar – are being sterilised.

Escobar, who was shot dead by police in 1993, illegally imported exotic animals, including a male and a female hippo – dubbed the “cocaine hippos”.

Since then, a growing population has been taking over the countryside near his former ranch, Hacienda Nápoles.

The Colombian government has so far sterilised 24 of more than 80 animals.

They have been treated with a chemical that will make them infertile.

Colombian environmentalists say the hippos, believed to be the biggest herd outside Africa, are an invasive species and have pushed away the native fauna.

Many have campaigned for the animals to be culled or sterilised.

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“The death of a drug lord has led to an invasive megafauna population boom” really is the most unimaginable unintended consequence.
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Leave no trace: how a teenage hacker lost himself online • The Guardian

Huib Modderkolk:

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It was while running another scan that Edwin [Robbe] noticed some outdated software at KPN. Holland’s biggest telecoms company was using HP Data Protector and hadn’t installed the update yet. Here was an open window. Did he dare sneak in? Why not take a quick peek inside his own internet provider? After all, KPN was a big fish and would earn him massive credit. Edwin took the gamble. He entered a random KPN IP address, ran his exploit and then, using a detour through the Japanese university, slipped inside KPN’s network.

He found himself in a far corner of the network, which is to say he was in, but still needed to open some doors. For instance, he couldn’t send commands directly from his own computer to KPN. Nor did he have full rights across the whole network. He couldn’t just walk around, because a firewall was blocking his way. But all this was child’s play. By moving a programme from his own PC on to the KPN computer, Edwin could bypass the wall. Now he was free to do as he pleased.

Stupid KPN, he thought to himself. The whole place was riddled with holes. Scanning the rest of the network from the KPN machine he’d accessed, Edwin saw the obsolete software being used in hundreds of places. Almost every computer server in the telecom provider’s vast network had a window open. The kid from Barendrecht strolled around unimpeded, and what he saw astonished him. He could control 514 computer servers. He could even access the core router, the backbone of KPN’s entire network. He could see the data of 2.1 million KPN customers. He could block hundreds of thousands of people from connecting to the national emergency telephone line. He could redirect internet traffic so that people who wanted to visit, say, a news site, would wind up somewhere completely different. Edwin could do whatever he wanted and KPN wouldn’t know a thing.

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Absorbing; the story is from 2011, and his arrest in 2012, it’s a story that repeats again and again.
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Facebook says AI will clean up the platform. Its own engineers have doubts • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman, Jeff Horwitz and Justin Scheck:

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Facebook executives have long said that artificial intelligence would address the company’s chronic problems keeping what it deems hate speech and excessive violence as well as underage users off its platforms.

That future is farther away than those executives suggest, according to internal documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Facebook’s AI can’t consistently identify first-person shooting videos, racist rants and even, in one notable episode that puzzled internal researchers for weeks, the difference between cockfighting and car crashes.

On hate speech, the documents show, Facebook employees have estimated the company removes only a sliver of the posts that violate its rules—a low-single-digit percent, they say. When Facebook’s algorithms aren’t certain enough that content violates the rules to delete it, the platform shows that material to users less often—but the accounts that posted the material go unpunished.

The employees were analysing Facebook’s success at enforcing its own rules on content that it spells out in detail internally and in public documents like its community standards.

The documents reviewed by the Journal also show that Facebook two years ago cut the time human reviewers focused on hate-speech complaints from users and made other tweaks that reduced the overall number of complaints. That made the company more dependent on AI enforcement of its rules and inflated the apparent success of the technology in its public statistics.

According to the documents, those responsible for keeping the platform free from content Facebook deems offensive or dangerous acknowledge that the company is nowhere close to being able to reliably screen it.

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Oh, Facebook. Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. And all the other social network. Understand why they make everyone that little bit more angry: read my book Social Warming.


Ghanaian fisheries at risk of collapse, experts warn • Africa Defense Forum

ADF staff:

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Ghana’s small pelagic fish populations, such as sardinella, have dropped 80% in the past two decades. One species, sardinella aurita, already is fully collapsed. Without governmental intervention, full collapse of Ghana’s fisheries is likely in less than 10 years, Max Schmid, chief operating officer of EJF, told ADF.

As in other areas of West Africa, Ghanaian artisanal fishing boats are targeted by larger industrial trawlers. About 70% of those interviewed by EJF said industrial trawlers had damaged their fishing gear.

Ghana’s marine fisheries support more than 2.7 million people — almost 10% of the population. More than 100,000 fishermen and 11,000 canoes operate in the country, but average annual income has dropped up to 40% per artisanal canoe in the past 15 years or so, according to the EJF. An additional 500,000 Ghanaians work in fish processing, distribution and marketing.

The foreign trawlers mostly are owned by Chinese companies that illegally use Ghanaian front companies so they can fish. According to EJF, Chinese companies finance about 90% of industrial trawlers in the country.

Ghana has long struggled to properly police its waters.

The European Union in May issued Ghana a “yellow card” after concluding that the country’s level of development and engagement against IUU fishing was inadequate. A yellow card is a warning that sanctions may be imposed if the country does not improve efforts to halt IUU fishing.

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It’s Ghana’s fault when big Chinese trawlers come into its waters? Hardly a great idea to sink them. You’d think the EU might help rather than telling it off.
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Canon sued for $5m for disabling scanner when multi-function printers run out of ink • TechSpot

Zak Islam:

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Canon, best known for manufacturing camera equipment and printers for business and home users, is being sued for not allowing customers to use the scan or fax functions in multi-function devices if the ink runs out on numerous printer models. David Leacraft filed a class action lawsuit against Canon USA, alleging the company engaged in deceptive marketing and unjust enrichment practices.

Leacraft decided to file the lawsuit upon discovering a Pixma MG2522 printer he purchased, advertised as an “all-in-one” machine, would not function as a scanner when ink cartridges are either low or empty. Moreover, faxing capabilities would not work when certain printers ran out of ink as well.

Of course, ink is not required to perform scanning or faxing documents, so the complaint stresses these features should function regardless of ink levels. As such, the lawsuit, which involves more than 100 class members, seeks at least $5,000,000 in awards.

One of the alleged violations in the complaint includes unjust enrichment; the lawsuit states that Canon has disabled these functions to increase profits by selling replacement ink cartridges.

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Fabulous overreach. Canon really deserves to lose. Also – only $5m?
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Rediscovering the social graph: Instagram is the new Facebook • Medium

Sameer Singh:

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Since its acquisition, Instagram helped continue Facebook’s run of success and scaled to more than 1 billion users, with an enviable social graph. Oddly enough, it now appears to be in the same position that Facebook found itself in during the early 2010s. It has added multiple feature sets that were initially pioneered by competitors like Snapchat and TikTok. As a consequence, users need to navigate four different ways to create content — posts, stories, reels, and going live. In addition, a significant and growing share of Instagram engagement is from creators and influencers “broadcasting” to their followers.

In fact, Instagram is mulling key product changes to lean into this behavior and compete with broadcast networks like TikTok. The flip side of these changes is that they will dilute the social graph even further. This leaves a clear opening for a new wave of “unbundlers” to recreate a social graph — one for sharing photos with your real friends.

Unsurprisingly, capital has poured into startups attempting to do exactly this— including Poparazzi (take pictures of your friends) and BeReal (take pictures at the same time every day).
This brings me to Lapse — my latest investment. Lapse allows users to create collaborative photo rolls with friend groups — pictures are only revealed in a rapid-fire GIF (a “lapse”) after the roll is complete.

Unlike Instagram, Lapse aims to get users to take imperfect and authentic pictures — ones that are better suited for consumption among closed groups. This way, it disincentivizes broadcasting behavior in favor of direct connections— a social graph. This isn’t an easy feat to pull off. It requires a deep understanding of product, pop culture, and social dynamics. And that’s exactly what Lapse’s founders, Ben and Dan, bring to the table.

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‘Affordable choice’: Government fires up plan to drive down cost of clean heat • BusinessGreen News

James Murray:

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The much-delayed Heat and Buildings Strategy package includes a new £450m grant scheme to encourage households to switch to heat pumps and other low carbon heating systems, £60m of innovation funding to help drive down the cost of heat pump technologies, and a goal to end the installation of conventional gas boilers by 2035.

However, the plans sparked a mixed response from business groups and environmental campaigners, with some welcoming the clear market signal that gas boilers are to be replaced by cleaner technologies and others warning the current proposed levels of funding are unlikely to deliver on the government’s targets to slash building emissions and deliver 600,000 heat pumps installations a year from 2028.

The much-anticipated document is expected to be formally published tomorrow, and is due to be swiftly followed by the release of the government’s similarly long-awaited Net Zero Strategy, which will set out how the UK intends to deliver on its long term decarbonisation goals. This evening’s announcement also comes just hours after the Treasury published new Sustainability Disclosure Requirements (SDR), which will apply to large companies, as well as pension schemes, investment products, and asset managers and owners.

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Classic government action: fund it, but not enough that it’s actually going to get there. See also: fusion (though that is more of a stretch).
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