Start Up No.1694: yet another crypto heist, a drop of Covid, is quantum computing anything?, FTC blocks ARM/Nvidia, and more


The top YouTubers are spending seven-figure amounts on their videos – such as MrBeast’s recreation of Squid Game which offered $456,000 of prizemoney. CC-licensed photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. And here we are again. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


MrBeast is changing the economics of YouTube • Simon Owens’s Media Newsletter

Simon Owens:

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If you want a snapshot of how much the YouTuber ecosystem has matured in recent years, look no further than MrBeast’s latest video: “$456,000 Squid Game In Real Life!”

Posted on November 24, it’s the fastest non-music video to reach 100 million views, but that’s not what makes it remarkable.

Let’s first consider what went into making the video. As MrBeast explains in the beginning, “I recreated every single set from [Netflix’s] Squid Game in real life, and whichever one of these 456 people survives the longest wins $456,000.”

And these weren’t hastily thrown together props. From watching the video, it’s clear that his team built elaborate sets that spanned tens of thousands of square feet. They also fabricated hundreds of costumes and pulled together a sophisticated tech infrastructure that allowed them to track who had been eliminated. Their devotion to the original source material is extraordinary.

Then there’s the prize money. We’re not just talking about the $456,000 grand prize. After the second elimination round, he informs the 90 people who were eliminated that they will each leave with $2,000. A few minutes later, in an effort to thin out the herd, he offers up $4,000 to anyone who will voluntarily leave. Several dozen take him up on his offer. At some point in the video, he reveals that he spent $3.5m to produce it. According to some estimates, that’s more than what it costs to produce an average episode of a cable drama.

While this may be MrBeast’s most expensive video to date, it’s by no means an anomaly. In a recent episode of the Colin and Samir Show, he detailed all the expenses that go into each video, from the full-time production crews to the custom-built sets to the money he gives away to contestants. Oh, and he also bought two huge warehouses for $10m.

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But did he recoup his investment? That’s the question we’re not seeing answered. YouTube won’t tell.
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Crypto fork uses dog meme to raise $60 million, then the funds go missing • The Block

Tim Copeland:

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A newly launched crypto project that raised $60m overnight appears to have lost the funds in what may have been a phishing attack.

The project was called AnubisDAO and it was promoted as a fork of OlympusDAO — a cryptocurrency backed by the assets in its treasury. AnubisDAO was first announced on October 28 with the launch of a Discord server and a Twitter account, which ended up only making a few tweets. The supposed fork was themed around Anubis, an egyptian god of death that has a dog’s head, a branding similar to other dog-themed memecoins.

Despite the lack of website, investors plowed into the token sale, putting $60m in ETH into it.

The token sale was supposed to continue, with more investors putting in ETH and receiving anubis tokens (ANKH) in return, for a 24 hour period.

But at 11:58 UTC — around 20 hours into the sale — the liquidity in the pool (which enables investors to buy and sell the tokens) was removed. The $60m in ETH that had been put into the token sale so far was then sent to a different address.

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On one level: how completely stupid would you have to be. On another: they’re just meaningless nonexistent “tokens” and a lot of that $60m will have been transferred from other meaningless nonexistent tokens. At least, I really hope so.
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The coronavirus in a tiny drop • The New York Times

Carl Zimmer and Jonathan Corum:

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To better understand the coronavirus’s journey from one person to another, a team of 50 scientists has for the first time created an atomic simulation of the coronavirus nestled in a tiny airborne drop of water.

To create the model, the researchers needed one of the world’s biggest supercomputers to assemble 1.3 billion atoms and track all their movements down to less than a millionth of a second. This computational tour de force is offering an unprecedented glimpse at how the virus survives in the open air as it spreads to a new host.

“Putting a virus in a drop of water has never been done before,” said Rommie Amaro, a biologist at the University of California San Diego who led the effort, which was unveiled at the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis last month. “People have literally never seen what this looks like.”

How the coronavirus spreads through the air became the subject of fierce debate early in the pandemic. Many scientists championed the traditional view that most of the virus’s transmission was made possible by larger drops, often produced in coughs and sneezes. Those droplets can travel only a few feet before falling to the floor.

A 3-D simulation of a cough producing both large droplets and tiny aerosols.The New York Times
But epidemiological studies showed that people with Covid-19 could infect others at a much greater distance. Even just talking without masks in a poorly ventilated indoor space like a bar, church or classroom was enough to spread the virus.

Those findings pointed to much smaller drops, called aerosols, as important vehicles of infection. Scientists define droplets as having a diameter greater than 100 micrometers, or about 4 thousandths of an inch. Aerosols are smaller — in some cases so small that only a single virus can fit inside them. And thanks to their minuscule size, aerosols can drift in the air for hours.

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(Thanks G for the link.)
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How much has quantum computing actually advanced? • IEEE Spectrum

Dan Garisto:

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There’s now a new behemoth quantum computing company, “Quantinuum” thanks to the merger of Honeywell Quantum Solutions and Cambridge Quantum. And today, Google’s Sycamore announced another leap toward quantum error correction.

A curmudgeon might argue that quantum computing is like fusion, or any promising tech whose real rewards are—if even achievable—decades off. The future remains distant, and all the present has for us is smoke, mirrors, and hype.

To rebut the cynic, an optimist might point to the glut of top-tier research being done in academia and industry. If there’s new news each week, it’s a sign that sinking hundreds of millions into a really hard problem does actually reap rewards.

For a measured perspective on how much quantum computing is actually advancing as a field, we spoke with John Martinis, a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the former chief architect of Google’s Sycamore.

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I read this interview and was none the wiser about how much quantum computing has actually advanced. I couldn’t tell whether it can do anything, everything or nothing.
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The FTC is suing to block Nvidia’s $40bn purchase of Arm • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:

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Nvidia’s $40bn acquisition of Arm just ran into another massive hurdle: the Federal Trade Commission, which announced on Thursday that it’s suing to block the merger from going through due to concerns that the combined companies would “stifle competing next-generation technologies.” The suit comes after an FTC investigation into the deal following complaints from Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm shortly after the merger was announced.

“The FTC is suing to block the largest semiconductor chip merger in history to prevent a chip conglomerate from stifling the innovation pipeline for next-generation technologies,” said FTC Bureau of Competition director Holly Vedova in a statement. “Tomorrow’s technologies depend on preserving today’s competitive, cutting-edge chip markets. This proposed deal would distort Arm’s incentives in chip markets and allow the combined firm to unfairly undermine Nvidia’s rivals. The FTC’s lawsuit should send a strong signal that we will act aggressively to protect our critical infrastructure markets from illegal vertical mergers that have far-reaching and damaging effects on future innovations.”

The FTC’s complaint notes that Nvidia already uses Arm-based products for several areas, including high-level advanced driver systems for vehicles, Arm-based CPUs for cloud computing, and DPU SmartNICs (networking products used in datacenters). The concern is that by acquiring Arm, Nvidia would gain an unfair advantage in those markets.

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For my money, a better first three paragraphs than the NY Times version of the same story.
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Ex-Google workers sue company, saying it betrayed ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto • NPR

Bobby Allyn:

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Three former Google employees have sued the company, alleging that Google’s motto “Don’t be evil” amounts to a contractual obligation that the tech giant has violated.

At the time the company hired the three software engineers, Rebecca Rivers, Sophie Waldman and Paul Duke, they signed conduct rules that included a “Don’t be evil” provision, according to the suit.

The trio say they thought they were behaving in accordance with that principle when they organized Google employees against controversial projects, such as work for US Customs and Border Protection during the Trump administration. The workers circulated a petition calling on Google to publicly commit to not working with CBP.

Google fired the three workers, along with a fourth, Laurence Berland, in November 2019 for “clear and repeated violations” of the company’s data security policies. The four deny they accessed and leaked confidential documents as part of their activism.

In the lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Monday, Rivers, Waldman and Duke argue that they should receive monetary damages because the company allegedly retaliated against them when they tried to draw attention to Google’s “doing evil,” the suit states.

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Yet more evidence that the US is oversubscribed with lawyers willing to take on anything, no matter how stupid. Even if “Don’t be evil” was a provision for employees (and I’d expect even that to be challenged, if Google really feels like it), that doesn’t mean it applies to the company. They’d have to show that particular employees who implemented those projects they don’t like were breaching the contract.
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Interesting research, but no, we don’t have living, reproducing robots • Ars Technica

John Timmer:

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Scientists on Monday announced that they’d optimized a way of getting mobile clusters of cells to organize other cells into smaller clusters that, under the right conditions, could be mobile themselves. The researchers call this process “kinematic self-replication,” although that’s not entirely right—the copies need help from humans to start moving on their own, are smaller than the originals, and the copying process grinds to a halt after just a couple of cycles.

So, of course, CNN headlined its coverage “World’s first living robots can now reproduce.”

This is a case when something genuinely interesting is going on, but both the scientists and some of the coverage of the developments are promoting it as far more than it actually is. So, let’s take a look at what has really been done.

…Being inherently lazy, the researchers decided to model their behavior using computers, implementing an evolutionary algorithm that created variations of shapes that were then tested for their ability to herd cells using a physics simulator.

(Unfortunately, a researcher involved in the work who is in the Department of Computer Science told CNN that this combination of algorithm and modeling is an AI. If scientists want the public to understand what they’re doing better, it would help if they actually gave the public accurate information.)

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Seems like this is a.. relief? Overhyped work misunderstood by someone. (Thanks Clive H for the link.)
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Gucci digitally outfits Gen-Z in metaverse foray with Roblox • AP News

Colleen Barry:

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Anyone whose virtual alter ego is wandering around the Roblox online game platform these days might run into other avatars sporting Gucci handbags, sunglasses or hats.

The digital-only items were part of a limited Gucci collection for Roblox, a step by the fashion house that prides itself on Italian craftsmanship to enter an expanding virtual space where many of its youngest admirers already are at home.

Players in the metaverse — where virtual worlds, augmented reality and the internet meet — say the big-name fashion collaboration represents a new era of virtual-real world interplay, a space in which smart product placement meets the desire of consumers to express their personalities in the virtual world.

While the Gucci Garden space on Roblox was open for two weeks last month, the platform’s 42 million users could spend from $1.20 to $9 on collectible and limited-edition Gucci accessories. Items were hidden in the virtual Gucci Garden, which echoed real-world Gucci Garden exhibitions in Florence and other global cities.

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No, no, no, no. Can we blame this on quantitative easing or something? It feels as though there is far too much money sloshing around desperately looking for something, anything to be spent on, however pointless. Although it has been noted that the vile Gucci jacket worn by the character Kendall Roy at his party in Succession in this week’s episode costs something like $6,900. So maybe Roblox players are getting off lightly.
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Instagram is Facebook now • Embedded

kate lindsay:

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Because I like and follow a contestant from the latest season of Love Island, Instagram decided to interrupt my feed with a picture from a UK retailer called B&M (whose top trending product is currently a gin bottle shaped like a high heel). The post it recommends is a blocky, boomer-esque text meme about a man named “Jeff Snowball” that I’d like to see fact checked. It is, put plainly, ugly and out-of-place and I don’t want it on my feed. 

Not all of the suggested posts are that bad, but they do appear every eight or so images—not including the handful of sponsored posts that show up in between. I’m getting almost as much content that I didn’t choose to see as content I did, and that is not Instagram. That’s Facebook. 

Instagram and Facebook are of course both part of the same company, Meta, and so I guess it was inevitable that this day would come. As Casey Lewis of After School recently told me, “I feel like [how] when I was just out of college I had to be on Facebook because that’s sort of where people’s birthdays were, Instagram is sort of that for [Gen Z], where they don’t really want to.” And Instagram knows this. Which is I guess why I’m confused that they’ve opted for the same strategy that made Facebook a boomer breeding ground. 

Mostly, it’s weird to recognize that my time on Instagram is coming to an end, and that what I’m looking at now will be an internet artifact I stumble upon years from now. Or worse, never recover at all. 

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There’s a certain air of desperation to the way that Instagram now throws absolutely anything it “thinks” (OK, calculates) you might be interested in at you. The reason must be that “engagement” is dropping off, so the “you might be interested” algorithms have been turned up to 11. The effect for me, as for Lindsay, is to make me wish even more fervently for a reverse-chronological option. Instagram doesn’t offer that, however.
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Executive leading Meta’s faltering digital currency project quits • Financial Times

Dave Lee:

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David Marcus, the Meta executive tasked with launching its faltering digital currency project, has announced that he will leave the company at the end of the year.

The departure comes after Meta, Facebook’s parent company, suffered a string of setbacks in its attempts to launch ambitious cryptocurrency products, including a new digital token, Diem.

In a series of tweets posted on Tuesday morning, Marcus [aged 48] said he planned to launch “something new” outside the social networking giant, and that his “entrepreneurial DNA has been nudging me for too many mornings in a row to continue ignoring it”.

…Diem, first announced in 2019 under the name Libra, immediately attracted the attention of financial regulators and politicians concerned about broad issues associated with cryptocurrencies such as money laundering. It was also launched against the backdrop of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other privacy missteps at Facebook.

Early backers of the project, including Mastercard and PayPal, abandoned the initiative as regulatory pressures mounted.

In May, the Diem Association, an independent body set up to run the currency, said it would significantly narrow its scope, dropping its application to the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority to operate as a global payments service and focusing instead on the US.

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The concern (maybe only my concern? But I bet I wasn’t alone) was that if Facebook became the issuer and regulator and overseer of a global currency, everything we’d seen before in terms of manipulation and disinformation would look like a vicarage tea party. The regulatory pressure makes an interesting contrast with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, where there’s less leverage feasible.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: glad so many people found the “film dialogue” link helpful. Let me know the other things that bug you and maybe a solution will pop up.

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