Start Up No.1676: Squid Game shows translator shortage, ransomware gangs nabbed, VC-funded fusion?, MMORPG deflation, and more


The latest mouse patent from Microsoft shows a “bendy” design – inspired perhaps by a famous artist? CC-licensed photo by Joel Kramer on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Don’t drop them. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The global TV streaming boom is creating a severe translator shortage • Rest of World

Andrew Deck:

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Last month, bilingual Korean-American influencer Youngmi Mayer took to TikTok and Twitter, bemoaning what she considered to be botched English subtitles on Netflix’s hit series Squid Game. She argued that important nuances had been lost in translation. Others chimed in: the French and Hindi subtitles were junk too, and the English dubbing was a joke. Although many translation professionals say that the criticism was unfair, the pile-on was picked up by major news outlets.

The controversy drew a bright spotlight onto a rarely discussed industry at the heart of major international streaming platforms: language service providers, or LSPs. These are companies that provide outsourced subtitling, captioning, and dubbing through a global network of contract subtitle translators, voice-over actors, translation editors, and sound mixers. It also underscored a looming concern for streaming services: a shortage of quality translators who can handle an increasingly global audience.

“Squid Game is another sign that there is a demand for locally produced media entertainment content above and beyond local audiences — for Korean content outside of Korea, for Mexican content outside of Mexico,” Paolo Sigismondi, a professor at the University of Southern California who researches the global entertainment industry, told Rest of World. Most of the over 111 million viewers who have now seen the gory Korean-language Netflix series watched with subtitles in one of 31 languages or via 13 dubbed versions. LSPs are critical to the distribution of that local content on a global scale. But because of a labor shortage and no viable automated solution, the translation industry is being pushed to its limits.

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Fascinating: yet another supply chain that’s disrupted. (And a great story showing how Rest Of World, founded in 2019, is hitting some really good stories that are out of view of the west.)
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Google’s new Business Profile: when search becomes a political tool • Near Media

Mike Blumenthal:

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Google recently rebranded Google My Business as “Business Profile.” They have been heavily promoting the new name and features via email to get small businesses to interact with the new search and maps interface. Clicking though I discovered Google had an additional and more nefarious use for this campaign.

I was shocked that the first call to action wasn’t an invitation to edit my listing or even an incentive to buy Google Ads. It was a call to support Google’s fight against possible antitrust regulations.

With all of the buzz around the rebranding, Google apparently couldn’t resist the opportunity, however brazen, deceptive and totally misguided, to enlist the small business community in its antitrust fights.

When clicked, the call to action takes you to a page titled: Understand the impact new legislation could have on your business. On that page Google details, in a very Meta/Facebook-like fashion, all the pain small businesses will face if the government successfully manages to put in place a regulatory framework to limit Google’s unprecedented power and reach.

First up was a call to join an email list to help with advocacy on behalf of Google. After signing up the page notes, “Together, we can help shape the policy conversation and have an impact on regulations that affect you — and your business.” I assume that is the royal we.

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Shocked, shocked, I tell you, that Google would use space on its site to push things it wants. Though as Blumenthal says:

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Clearly this “feature” is not for the betterment of the user, as Google frequently claims. It’s about bamboozling small businesses to support Google in their fight to remain a monopoly.

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Five affiliates to Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware gang unplugged • Europol

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On 4 November, Romanian authorities arrested two individuals suspected of cyber-attacks deploying the Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware. They are allegedly responsible for 5 000 infections, which in total pocketed half a million euros in ransom payments. Since February 2021, law enforcement authorities have arrested three other affiliates of Sodinokibi/REvil and two suspects connected to GandCrab.

These are some of the results of operation GoldDust, which involved 17 countries*, Europol, Eurojust and INTERPOL. All these arrests follow the joint international law enforcement efforts of identification, wiretapping and seizure of some of the infrastructure used by Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware family, which is seen as the successor of GandCrab.

Since 2019, several large international corporations have faced severe cyber-attacks, which deployed the Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware. France, Germany, Romania, Europol and Eurojust reinforced the actions against this ransomware by setting up a Joint Investigation Team in May 2021. Bitdefender, in collaboration with law enforcement, made a tool available on the No More Ransom website that would help victims of Sodinokibi/REvil restore their files and recover from attacks made before July 2021.

In the beginning of October, a Sodinokibi/REvil affiliate was arrested at the Polish border after an international arrest warrant was issued by the US. The Ukrainian national is suspected of perpetrating the Kaseya attack, which affected up to 1,500 downstream businesses and for which Sodinokibi/REvil asked a ransom of about €70m. Additionally, in February, April and October 2021 authorities in South Korea arrested three affiliates involved in the GandCrab and Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware families, which had more than 1,500 victims.

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Bit by bit, putting a squeeze on the people around the centre. REvil seems to have vanished after their servers were hacked.
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Helion secures $2.2bn to commercialize fusion energy • TechCrunch

Haje Jan Kamps:

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Helion Energy, a clean energy company committed to creating a new era of plentiful, zero-carbon electricity from fusion, today announced the close of its $500m Series E, with an additional $1.7bn of commitments tied to specific milestones.

The round was led by Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI and former president of Y Combinator. Existing investors, including co-founder of Facebook Dustin Moskovitz, Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital and notable sustainable tech investor Capricorn Investment Group also participated in the round. The funding includes commitments of an additional $1.7bn dollars tied to Helion reaching key performance milestones. Round-leader Altman has been involved in the company as an investor and chairman since 2015.

…Helion, as a company, has been focusing less on fusion as a science experiment and more on a more important question: Can their technology generate electricity at a commercial and industrial scale?

“Some projects in the fusion space talk about heat, or energy, or other things. Helion is focused on electricity generation. Can we get it out fast, at a low cost? Can we get it to industrial-scale power?” asks David Kirtley, Helion’s co-founder and CEO. “We are building systems that are about the size of a shipping container and that can deliver industrial-scale power — say on the order of 50 megawatts of electricity.”

In June of this year, Helion published results confirming it had become the first private fusion company to heat a fusion plasma to 100 million degrees Celsius, an important milestone on the path to commercial electricity from fusion. Soon after, the company announced it had broken ground on building its factory to start the process of preparing for manufacturing of its seventh-generation fusion generator, which the company calls “Polaris.”

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“Milestone” – bingo. “Commercial” – bingo. Big temperature (but what does it mean?) – bingo. Classic fusion story.
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China to supercharge uranium race with 150 new nuclear reactors • Smallcaps

Robin Bromby:

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It is the news that the uranium players have been waiting for: a potential new, huge surge in demand that will reward mining companies ready to go into production.

China has reported overnight to be planning 150 new nuclear reactors over the next 15 years — more than have been built around the world since 1980 — a signal that uranium production needs to be stepped up, fast and soon.

In a lucky coincidence, Paladin Energy (ASX: PDN) announced Wednesday that it is making progress on restarting its Langer Heinrich uranium mine in Namibia. 

And earlier this week, advanced uranium explorer Boss Energy (ASX: BOE) said it will begin a new drilling program at its flagship Honeymoon uranium project in South Australia with the aim of building mining inventory to extend production life and achieve higher rates.

Boss has so far built its uranium resource to 71.67 million pounds.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Council of Turkey has approved construction of a fourth reactor at the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Mersin Province, southeast Turkey. The unit will be built by Akkuyu Nuclear, a subsidiary of Russian nuclear engineer Rosatom, and will be the final phase of the $20 billion project. 

There are already signs of short-term uranium shortage. Kazatomprom, the state-owned uranium miner in Kazakhstan, has reduced its expected production figures for 2021, due to COVID-related and supply chain delays in exploration and development.

Last week Canada’s Cameco cut its forecast for production for the year, also citing supply chain issues.

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I’ll bet most of these get built before a single working fusion reactor comes into view. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love fusion to happen. But it seems to be one of those things that’s constantly beyond our grasp.

Also, this is the counterpoint about China building coal stations. These are all intended to replace them. China is far more aware of climate change than most countries.
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Forget bendy screens—Microsoft patents “foldable mouse” • Ars Technica

Scharon Harding:

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Foldable screens have allowed for some wacky phone and PC designs over the past few years. As bendy tech continues to trend, Microsoft wants to bring the fold to the wireless mouse. According to an international patent spotted by German tech site WindowsUnited, Microsoft is exploring the idea of a “foldable mouse.”

The patent is listed on PatentScope, a service from the World Intellection Property Organization that provides a searchable database of international patent applications. Microsoft’s patent was published on Thursday and filed in March. It describes a mouse that looks similar to today’s Microsoft Arc wireless mouse but with the ability to become flatter and easy to carry.

Here’s how Microsoft describes the peripheral:

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A foldable computer mouse is provided that includes a deformable body configurable to be formed into a first expanded configuration usable for receiving inputs for controlling a computing device and a second folded configuration in which a first portion of the deformable body is folded over a second portion of the deformable body.

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Microsoft’s illustrations provide a good idea of what the company has in mind.

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And there was you thinking Salvador Dali had been dead all this time.
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Facial recognition as a less-bad option • Lawfare

Jane Brambauer is a professor of law at the University of Arizona:

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My argument goes as follows: (1) to the extent criminal justice reformers have political capital to spend, it should be spent dramatically reducing criminal liability and sentences for all crimes while increasing the probability that criminal conduct will be detected; and (2) facial recognition is a valuable tool for increasing the probability of detection because it reduces the discretion that police officers have as compared to other forms of surveillance.

Holding everything else constant, it is more efficient and more fair for police to run a photograph through facial recognition software to identify candidate suspects than to try to identify the suspect using witnesses or to solve the case without using the image.

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Fairly short at nine pages. Certainly there’s an argument that facial recognition, where shown to work, doesn’t discriminate. And misidentification is the serious problem in policing.
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How Facebook is stoking a civil war in Ethiopia • Vice

Nick Robins-Early:

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Every time Lucy Kassa publishes an article, she knows what will come next. As an Ethiopian freelance journalist covering her country’s intensifying civil war, Kassa has reported on killings, starvation, sexual violence, and other atrocities in the conflict. After each report, Facebook and other platforms erupt with threats against her. 

“It’s an everyday reality. Whenever I publish a story, there is a smear campaign on Facebook,” Kassa said. “The content is hate speech. It’s defamation, and its aim is to bully me and stop me from investigating, to harass and threaten me.”

After Kassa reported in May on a 13-year-old girl who suffered horrific burns from a possible incendiary weapons attack, a pro-government Facebook account with over 200,000 followers posted a photo of Kassa and openly called for her arrest—a serious incitement in a country where dozens of journalists have been detained during the conflict. In the weeks after, Kassa faced a wave of harassment across social media platforms that included death threats and threats of sexual violence. The Facebook post is still up months later, with over 6,000 likes and more than 1,000 comments. 

As Facebook struggles to address hate speech, radicalization, and misinformation in the United States, recently leaked internal company documents have made it clear that the problem is far worse and less addressed in countries across the global south. Even in Ethiopia—which Facebook has designated its highest risk level and repeatedly made assurances it is dedicating resources to monitoring—researchers and journalists say that hate is still spreading unabated and the platform is stoking ethnic and political conflict.

“People criticize them for how little they do in the U.S.,” said Timnit Gebru, Google’s former chief AI ethicist. “Imagine elsewhere: What we’re talking about is them doing absolutely nothing, as far as I’m concerned.” 

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I wrote about Ethiopia, well ahead of the civil war that has broken out, in my book: I picked it because it’s one of the least connected, lowest social media penetration countries in the world. I wasn’t looking for a country with trouble. It was meant to be a contrast with Myanmar, which had gone from nothing to widespread connectivity. But you still get the same social warming, even at low penetration.
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Since I’ve mentioned it, you can get my book Social Warming which will tell you about Ethiopia, Myanmar, South Africa and many more.


Currency crisis as New World MMORPG suffers deflation • Player Auctions

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Consider the ways a player can earn currency in a MMO (excluding player-to-player transactions, since that money is already in circulation): loot drops, quests, event rewards, dungeon or raid completions, and etc. Every mechanic in a game that rewards currency is spawning it out of thin air. In contrast to the real-world where the supply of money is usually, except rare exceptions, tightly controlled by central banks and regulatory authorities.

As players spend more time on a game, amassing wealth, prices inevitably soar. The only player-friendly solution is to develop currency sinks – think mounts or housing – to remove money from circulation. Supply-side interventions, i.e restrictions on currency rewards, are understandably not popular with players and so are used rarely.

New World is suffering the opposite, and significantly more rare issue, of deflation. The ways of obtaining coins in-game – monster drops, salvage, and quests – don’t offer enough raw currency to counterbalance the number of coins being used.

As a result, prices have been dropping for goods, particularly crafting materials such as ore, not necessarily because there isn’t enough coin to afford them but because the value of the currency is so much higher than the value of goods, given their relative scarcity. A punishing overhead “tax” burden exists in the game, where the cost for crafting, home-ownership, or repairs exceeds the players’ ability to accumulate coin. In addition, companies are taxed for territory ownership, essentially disincentivizing PvP since the marginal costs far exceed any potential benefits.

Currency is so valuable now that on certain servers, direct trades have become part and parcel of a makeshift barter economy, with neither party willing to be parted from their coin. Trades such as 1000 linen for 600 ore and 20 eggs, or star metal tools for 40 steel bars, are commonplace, as one would expect to see in a hunter-gatherer society. It’s surprisingly thematic, but nonetheless a frustrating experience for players.

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That story ran in late October. On Friday, Amazon (which owns New World) posted a note saying everything in the economy is tickety-boo. Well, apart from people scamming it. The economy turns out to be really hard to control in MMORPGs.
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Metabrand • Benedict Evans

He’s considering the renaming:

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though Facebook wrestles with toxicity (or even if you think it doesn’t care), it worries that teenagers prefer Snap or TikTok, and that Apple’s Tim Cook has his boot on their throat. These questions give Facebook’s investment in VR (over $10bn this year, it disclosed in the accounts) and now ‘the metaverse’ existential urgency. If there is something after smart phones, Facebook wants to be the landlord, not a tenant. It wants to set the agenda and invent new experiences (and – let’s be honest – it hasn’t invented much itself for quite a long time). Of course, today this is as speculative as smartphones were in 2001 – VR seems stuck as a subset of games, and ‘metaverse’ is more mood-board than product. When I wrote about the term a few weeks ago, I described it as the new ‘information superhighway’ – a bunch of really interesting ideas on a whiteboard, that probably won’t actually happen quite like that. There is probably some displacement here too – testing VR goggles is more fun than being shouted at in Congress.

But Facebook is protean – it shifts and turns and surfs user behaviour. It crushed MySpace and jumped from the web to mobile and then to Instagram. I think it would be wrong, or at least limited, to see this as a PR move – Facebook wants to move in a new direction. Perhaps ‘Facebook’ should be left behind as a ‘bad bank’ while Meta now builds quite new experiences again, this time perhaps even planning for those problems.

Indeed, it seems to me that the real rebrand this week wasn’t Facebook to Meta but VR to Metaverse. VR is an old and pretty stale term – a dad brand – and Facebook wants to make VR into much more than just a headset and some games.

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What people seem to me to be overlooking is how far out Zuckerberg is looking, and was looking. This is what we always underestimate with the really disruptive thinkers. Bill Gates could see a PC on every desktop when most people struggled with the idea of one in each company. Page and Brin could see phones as computers when most people could barely grasp text messaging. Facebook bought Oculus for $2bn in March 2014. Some revolutions are slow.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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