Start Up No.1675: copying Warhols for fun and profit, CO2 emissions flat (but temperatures up), the real problem with AMP, and more


Chips! Or, rather, semiconductor packages! They’re in short supply (unlike Warhol copies), and the reason why is complicated. CC-licensed photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr.

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


What’s harder to find than microchips? The equipment that makes them • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

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The pandemic helped trigger current chip shortages, prompting both shutdowns of factories that are critical to the manufacturing and packaging of these chips and a surge in demand for work-from-home gear and other products that use them. But that is just part of the story.

A longer-term trend, of expanding and insatiable demand for microchips in every electronic device you can name, has for years been taking slack out of the supply chains for the equipment at the heart of the supply chain for microchips.

Mr. Howe, who started his company [buying and selling secondhand chipmaking equipment] in 1998, says that typically the semiconductor industry has gone through cycles of boom and bust that by turns fill and then empty his warehouses, which are located in Italy, Malaysia and Texas. But starting in 2016, demand for both new and used equipment for making chips has only grown, he says.

That swelling demand is due in part to the growth of the “Internet of Things” over the past five or so years, says Hassane El-Khoury, chief executive of Onsemi, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based semiconductor manufacturer that specializes in power and sensing technologies for automotive and industrial applications.

It’s not just that so much of what we buy these days has a chip in it—it’s also that some of those things have many more chips than ever before. For Onsemi, the dollar value of microchips in an electric vehicle with a driver assist system is 30 times as much as the cost of the chips in a fuel-powered vehicle without such a system, says Mr. El-Khoury. Chip demand also flows from the rise in popularity of mobile devices and the need for many more servers—aka cloud-computing infrastructure—to support it.

In the second quarter of 2021, the latest for which data are available, the semiconductor industry sold more chips than at any point in history, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

Chip manufacturers are responding to all this demand by pledging to make more chips than ever, but ramping up manufacturing of the kinds of chips that so many companies need right now is difficult or impossible, for a number of reasons.

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So it’s not so much that the pandemic caused a slowdown which is bouncing back and forth through the supply chain, but that the demand is all going up (especially now the car makers are pushing the accelerator again).
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Museum of Forgeries

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“Possibly Real Copy Of ‘Fairies’ by Andy Warhol” is a series of 1000 identical artworks. They are all definitely by MSCHF, and also all possibly by Andy Warhol. Any record of which piece within the set is the original has been destroyed.

Ubiquity is the darkness in which novelty and the avant-garde die their truest deaths. More than slashed canvas or burned pages, democratization of access or ownership destroys any work premised on exclusivity.

The capital-A Art World is far more concerned with authenticity than aesthetics, as proven time and again by conceptual works sold primarily as paperwork and documentation. Artwork provenance tracks the life and times of a particular piece–a record of ownership, appearances, and sales. An entire sub-industry of forensic and investigative conservation exists for this purpose.

By forging Fairies en masse, we obliterate the trail of provenance for the artwork. Though physically undamaged, we destroy any future confidence in the veracity of the work. By burying a needle in a needlestack, we render the original as much a forgery as any of our replications.

All else being equal, an original is worth more than a copy; a unique work is worth more than an editioned work. It’s common practice for a gallery to increase the price of prints in their inventory as more are sold–local scarcity sets the price, even though the total extant quantity is unchanged.

Walter Benjamin might say that copies diminish the artistic value of the original because they exist outside the work’s original, unique context, thereby diluting the singularity of the original’s existence in culture that initially imbued it with aura.

Paradoxically, for artists, successfully merching down an object = consistent, increased revenue. Posters, prints, or easily replicable derivative works turn an artwork into a product line, and when you hit the big time, product lines tend to be net more profitable than a handful of masterworks. Copies reduce value but increase revenue.

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Essentially, the opposite of NFTs: take one Warhol artwork (purchased for $20,000) and create 999 copies, very carefully duplicated to resemble the original as closely as possible. Then sell all one thousand for $250 each.

Profit: a lot. Statement about art and scarcity: intriguing.
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Global CO2 emissions have been flat for a decade, new data reveals • Carbon Brief

Zeke Hausfather:

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The GCP has always reported on emissions from both fossil CO2 and from land-use change (LUC). Fossil CO2 emissions represent upwards of 90% of current global emissions and understandably tend to get most of the attention. However, the GCP researchers have long pointed out that the largest uncertainties in understanding of CO2 emissions comes from LUC, despite its relatively small contribution to the total.

The figure below shows global CO2 emissions from both fossil and LUC. The dashed light blue line shows the prior GCP estimate of global CO2 emissions, while the solid dark blue shows the new estimate. The shaded area represents the combined uncertainty from land use and fossil CO2 emissions in the new GCP estimate.


Annual total global CO2 emissions – from fossil and land-use change – between 2000 and 2021 for both the 2020 and 2021 versions of the Global Carbon Project’s Global Carbon Budget. Shaded area shows the estimated one-sigma uncertainty for the 2021 budget. Data from the Global Carbon Project; chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Previously, the GCP data showed global CO2 emissions increasing by an average of 1.4 GtCO2 per year between 2011 and 2019 – prior to Covid-related emissions declines. The new revised dataset shows that global CO2 emissions were essentially flat – increasing by only 0.1GtCO2 per year from 2011 and 2019. When 2020 and 2021 are included, the new GCP data actually shows slightly declining global emissions over the past decade, though this should be treated with caution due to the temporary nature of Covid-related declines.

The new GCP dataset also puts historical (1750-2020) cumulative emissions around 19 GtCO2 lower than in the prior 2020 version, roughly equal to half a year of current global emissions. 

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Good news? Well, sort of. But now consider that during those past ten years the global temperature has been climbing relentlessly. This is why it’s not enough to hit “net zero”; you need “net negative”.
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Boris Johnson’s fickle climate leadership • The New Yorker

Sam Knight:

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Nine months after the agreement came into force, there are still considerable problems in Northern Ireland and a dispute with France over fishing rights.

But those deficiencies—like many other political differences—can be fixed another day, or another year, or by other politicians. Our planetary catastrophe is not salvageable, or bluffable, in the same way. At the end of the second day in Glasgow, when the international leaders had mostly departed, Johnson sat for an interview with Christiane Amanpour, on CNN. He looked slumped and tired. “Are we starting to inch forward?” he asked. “Yes, I think that arguably we are.”

Johnson noted India’s plan to decarbonize much of its electricity supply by 2030; a $10bn contribution, from Japan, to help developing countries adapt to climate change and transition away from fossil fuels; and a new global agreement on deforestation. All of which are valid. All of which are not enough. Then Johnson started to talk about the Dogger Bank, a submerged plain in the North Sea, which makes an excellent base for offshore wind farms. Amanpour looked nonplussed. “We’re running out of time,” she said. “I don’t know what Dogger Bank is.” Johnson plowed on. He ran down the clock with a disquisition about Doggerland, and the people who lived there in Mesolithic times, and a series of undersea landslides that probably wiped them out. He cannot resist distraction, because it covers what is not there.

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Knight also says of Johnson’s speech to COP26, invoking James Bond and bombs, that

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He is, more than anything, a facile student in a perpetual essay crisis: staying up late, scribbling unwieldy, fancy-sounding analogies to get through another assignment. Something something Sophocles. It’s mostly wordplay and bullshit.

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Let’s talk about AMP • SEO for Google News

Barry Adams:

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With the current kerfuffle around AMP as part of the broader lawsuit against Google, this is as good a time as any to talk about the divisive web framework.

I have thoroughly documented my own opinions on AMP in 2018, so I won’t reiterate the arguments I made there. I want to discuss something else that’s been grating me for several months now.

There’s this particular graph that, whenever I think about it – and what it actually means – it makes me angry. The more I think about that graph, the angrier I get.

This is the graph in question:

It shows the percentage of articles in Google’s mobile Top Stories carousel in the US that are not AMP articles. The sudden spike in non-AMP articles coincides with Google officially removing the AMP requirement for mobile Top Stories in the middle of July 2021.

Before then, non-AMP articles accounted for single-digit percentage of results shown in Top Stories on mobile devices. Afterwards, when any article – regardless of the technology it is built on – can rank in Top Stories, the percentage of non-AMP shot up to 25% for Google US (where it still sits today).

Let’s take a moment to digest what that actually means.

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Of course the post is all worth reading (as is the 2018 link, showing quite how hard Google pushed AMP), but the TL;DR is that AMP was built solely to benefit Google. Not publishers. And, arguably, not readers. Also relevant: Google was asked at a developer conference last week why anyone should trust it on FLoC (its privacy system), after AMP.
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The ad “blocker” that actually injects ads • Imperva

Youhann Sillam and Ron Masas:

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Deceptive ad injection is a growing concern on the internet today, affecting many people browsing the web. And while the concept isn’t new (Google stated it was the most common complaint amongst Chrome users back in 2015), just like with other online threats, bad actors are constantly refining their techniques.

Imperva’s research team is constantly monitoring and researching client-side attacks to better understand the attacker’s TTPs (Tactics, techniques and procedures).

In this post, we’ll break down a new ad injection campaign that Imperva Research Labs recently uncovered. The campaign was targeting users of some of the largest websites in the world through an extension available on both Chrome and Opera browsers called AllBlock.

Ad injection is the process of inserting unauthorized advertisements into a publisher’s web page with the intention of enticing the user to click on them. Ad injection can originate from various sources like malicious browser extensions, malware and even through stored cross-site scripting (XSS).

Ad injectors are often made by scammers who want to cash in on application downloads. They can generate revenue for their creators by serving ads and stealing advertising impressions from other websites. Other uses of ad injection, mostly common in retail e-commerce, include:

1. Brands can advertise on competitors’ sites, potentially stealing customers away.
2. Price comparison ads can be used to distract customers’ attention from making a purchase.
3. Affiliate codes or links can be injected as well, allowing scammers to cash in on purchases without ever helping a single customer.

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Now gone (the post was in October, and they found it in August) but you can bet that others will try the same thing.
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What does tech take from us? Meet the writer who has counted 100 big losses • The Guardian

John Harris:

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[Pamela Paul’s book] 100 Things We’ve Lost To The Internet draws on themes that have run through a lot of her work. It applies an appealing humour and light touch, and tells a vivid story: how, in little more than 20 years, we have shed ingrained social and behavioural habits, as well as some of the most basic ways we once thought of ourselves and our relationships with others. If they are minded to read it, anyone under 40 will presumably understand the book as the evocation of a strange, slow, endlessly inconvenient reality that now feels almost exotic. For anyone older, it will deliver a sense of loss – and of being old enough to remember times that seem almost hilariously distant.

One of Paul’s talents is the ability to see big change in lots of small ones. She writes about the end of talking to strangers on aeroplanes; the increasingly lost human habit of staring out of windows; and why no one bothers to remember phone numbers any more.

In one particularly ingenious entry, she explains the demise of the full stop (or, in American English, the “period”). If you have ever wondered why putting such once-crucial punctation in emails, phone messages or tweets now feels so awkward, here is the answer: “The period can feel so emphatic as to sound sarcastic, the internet’s version of ‘puh-leeze’ and ‘no, thank you’ and ‘srsly’ rolled into one tiny dot.” It can easily come across as passive-aggressive. Exclamation marks, moreover, “now convey warmth and sincerity”; failing to use them runs the risk of making the person you are messaging feel uncertain and anxious.

Such small transformations, Paul explains, arrive without warning and magnify a sense of everything being in flux. For fear of becoming social outcasts, most people feel they have little option but to try frantically to keep up.

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Admit it, you’ve felt this compulsion. (Via Andrew Curry’s Just Two Things.)
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Windows on ARM on Apple Silicon: an open conversation • getwired.com

Wes Miller:

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[The company] Parallels’ current approach to getting Windows on ARM installed on Apple silicon systems to date relies on users enrolling in/being in the Windows Insider Program, and installing and running preview releases of Windows, not released, fully-licensed copies of Windows 10 or 11. I’ve wound up in numerous pointless debates on Twitter where people insist they’ve properly licensed their Apple silicon Macs for Windows—it’s pretty clear that that’s not possible, and that people who insist on going this route will be on their own in the future.

Recent updates already appear to be hard-blocking updates of Windows 11 on M1 Macs. It’s likely that Windows 11 builds will eventually fail to work correctly on Apple silicon, particularly now that Microsoft has specifically called out that they will not be supporting Windows on the platform. Contrary to some of the tweets I’ve seen, if Windows on ARM breaks, this isn’t malice.

Let’s take a step back for a second. Why is Windows on ARM not thriving today?

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Wes used to work at Microsoft, and now works at an independent company that advises on Microsoft licensing (which is a topic to make strong men weep). If you want to understand this topic, this is the piece to read.
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The booming underground market for bots that steal your 2FA codes • Vice

Joseph Cox:

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The call came from PayPal’s fraud prevention system. Someone had tried to use my PayPal account to spend $58.82, according to the automated voice on the line. PayPal needed to verify my identity to block the transfer.

“In order to secure your account, please enter the code we have sent your mobile device now,” the voice said. PayPal sometimes texts users a code in order to protect their account. After entering a string of six digits, the voice said, “Thank you, your account has been secured and this request has been blocked.”

“Don’t worry if any payment has been charged to your account: we will refund it within 24 to 48 hours. Your reference ID is 1549926. You may now hang up,” the voice said.

But this call was actually from a hacker.

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Have you figured it out? If they’ve got the email address you use for an account, they can often find a password from a data breach. If that works but you have 2FA turned on, or the system blocks them because the login location is suspicious, it sends a code to you. Bingo!

Relatively cheap, and very clever.
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Calculations suggest it’ll be impossible to control a super-intelligent AI • Science Alert

David Nield:

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Rules such as ’cause no harm to humans’ can’t be set if we don’t understand the kind of scenarios that an AI is going to come up with, suggest the authors of the 2021 paper. Once a computer system is working on a level above the scope of our programmers, we can no longer set limits.

“A super-intelligence poses a fundamentally different problem than those typically studied under the banner of ‘robot ethics’,” wrote the researchers.

“This is because a superintelligence is multi-faceted, and therefore potentially capable of mobilizing a diversity of resources in order to achieve objectives that are potentially incomprehensible to humans, let alone controllable.”

Part of the team’s reasoning comes from the halting problem put forward by Alan Turing in 1936. The problem centers on knowing whether or not a computer program will reach a conclusion and answer (so it halts), or simply loop forever trying to find one.

As Turing proved through some smart math, while we can know that for some specific programs, it’s logically impossible to find a way that will allow us to know that for every potential program that could ever be written. That brings us back to AI, which in a super-intelligent state could feasibly hold every possible computer program in its memory at once.

Any program written to stop AI harming humans and destroying the world, for example, may reach a conclusion (and halt) or not – it’s mathematically impossible for us to be absolutely sure either way, which means it’s not containable.

“In effect, this makes the containment algorithm unusable,” said computer scientist Iyad Rahwan, from the Max-Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany back in January.

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Here’s my question: would a superintelligent AI help divert an asteroid that was heading towards us?
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Nothing about the blue site! Or any social network! Even so, you should read Social Warming, my book about the effects that social media is (are?) having on society, democracy and journalism.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1675: copying Warhols for fun and profit, CO2 emissions flat (but temperatures up), the real problem with AMP, and more

  1. One thing about AMP. Almost 7 years ago? Google was doing a big push for AMP among science publishers because they said only 1% of requests to google scholar came from phones, and they wanted to up it as other google searches were in the 40% or higher range. What they overlooked was whether it made any sense to do research paper searches on a phone. Still publishers spent a lot of time on it, but were unhappy that traffic went to google not to them (although they eventually came to some arrangements to capture some traffic). It’s a classic example of not understanding what the problem is, which led to the wrong solution.

      • What we heard is that it really didn’t, for the reason I’d previously gave: researchers didn’t want to use their phones to do research for new papers or create a citation list. It’s too small a device and too awkward to cut and paste into a document. It might be different for tablets but that wasn’t the market they were looking at (and everyone is wondering what will happen to google scholar when Anurag Acharya steps down (will it be seen as too niche a product for google?).

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