Start Up No.1792: the people who get stuff done for Musk, UK ditches tech regulator plans, India and Pakistan heatwave goes on, and more


In a new lawsuit, Apple is suing chip startup Rivos which it says has poached 40 of its staff – and, crucially, intellectual property from their old job. CC-licensed photo by Rob Bulmahn on Flickr.

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A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


How Elon Musk winged it with Twitter, and everything else • The New York Times

Ryan Mac, Cade Metz and Kate Conger:

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To a degree unseen in any other mogul, the entrepreneur acts on whim, fancy and the certainty that he is 100% right, according to interviews with more than 30 current and former employees, investors and others who have worked with him. While Mr. Musk has successfully bet on electric cars, space travel and artificial intelligence, he often wings it in the biggest moments, eschews experts and relies almost solely on his own counsel, they said.

To operate this way, Mr. Musk has constructed an insular world of about 10 confidants who mostly agree with him and carry out his bidding. They include his younger brother, Kimbal Musk; Mr. Birchall; Mr. Spiro; and various chiefs of staff. To manage his many ideas, Mr. Musk continuously creates new companies, most of which are structured so that he remains in charge. His trusted lieutenants often work across his far-flung empire of businesses.

Once Mr. Musk has identified each company’s key project — what he calls its “critical path” — he takes over to ensure that his vision is met, controlling the smallest aspects of how the technologies are built and deployed. His brilliance has spawned the world’s most valuable automaker and an innovative rocket company, and it has earned the respect — and fear — of his engineers.

Relying on his small crew and hewing to his own thinking have enabled Mr. Musk to call the shots and conduct himself with few restraints, turning him into a Howard Hughes-like figure of the modern age — even as his seat-of-the-pants methods often create bedlam.

Mr. Musk works in a way that only the “most confident leaders do,” said Tim Draper, a venture capitalist who backed Mr. Musk’s electric automaker, Tesla, and his rocket company, SpaceX. “Think J.F.K., George Washington and Ronald Reagan.”

At a 2018 conference, Mr. Musk explained that he behaved on impulse. It was a lesson he learned more than 25 years ago after founding his first start-up, Zip2, he said.

“I don’t really have a business plan,” he said. “I had a business plan way back in the Zip2 days. But these things are always wrong, so I just didn’t bother with business plans after that.”

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It’s a long piece, but it does tell you what Musk’s advisors (and Musk himself) are like in business. “Mercurial yet determined”, if one were trying to distil it.
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Homeland Security’s “Disinformation Governance Board” is a bad title and a worse idea • The Washington Post

Eugene Robinson:

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DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas should pull the plug on the new board. Like, yesterday. And never speak of it again.

The problems begin with the worst name I’ve ever heard the federal government come up with, and that’s saying something. Disinformation Governance Board? To call the unit’s name Orwellian is an insult to George Orwell, who was a masterful prose stylist and who wrote a famous essay, “Politics and the English Language,” railing against sins such as “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision.”

I can see how disinformation requires monitoring. I can see how it requires fact-checking and refutation. But governance? How do you govern lies?

Beyond the issue of the name is the still-mystifying question about what the board is supposed to do. At congressional hearings this past week, Mayorkas veered from pitching it as an effort to counteract Russian-style meddling in our elections to portraying it as an effort to protect Spanish-speaking migrants from lies told by the criminals who smuggle them into the country. He failed to make clear exactly how the board was supposed to accomplish either of these tasks.

“I think we probably could have done a better job of communicating what it does and does not do,” Mayorkas said Sunday on CNN.

Where he didn’t do much better.

“What it will do is gather together best practices in addressing the threat of disinformation from foreign state adversaries, from the cartels, and disseminate those best practices to the operators that have been executing in addressing this threat for years,” Mayorkas explained. Perhaps he’d enjoy a nice balsamic vinaigrette to go with that word salad.

He did make clear Sunday that the board is a “small working group,” that it has no “operational authority or capability” and that it will be focused on foreign threats, not domestic ones. If that’s true, why does it need to exist?

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I get the impression that dealing with the pandemic exhausted the Biden administration, and now it’s just flailing.
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UK ministers ditch plans to empower tech regulator • Financial Times

Kate Beioley, George Parker and Jim Pickard:

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The UK is poised to shelve plans to empower a new technology regulator, in a blow to global efforts to curb the dominance of internet companies, including Google and Facebook.

The government’s new legislative programme is not expected to include a bill to provide statutory underpinning to the digital markets unit that is based within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), said people briefed on the situation.

Without the legislation the UK tech regulator will not be able to set rules for leading internet companies and impose fines on them for breaking those rules.

The government announced plans to set up the digital markets unit in 2020 and said it would be given powers to devise codes of conduct for tech companies and fine those that did not comply up to 10% of annual turnover.

The unit was established in ‘shadow form’ last year and is operating with around 60 staff, but has no powers beyond the Competition and Market Authority’s existing capabilities.

The Queen’s Speech due on May 10, which will outline the government’s legislative programme for the coming year, is not expected to include a bill that would provide the unit with statutory powers.

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This has been portrayed as a Story Of Woe, but a contrary view (Twitter thread) put forward by others is that the regulator was a bad idea because it would make life harder for British startups, restrict competition, and harm consumers. And that this was pointed out to the government, at which point the idea was shelved. So the CMA will keep its regulatory role.
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India and Pakistan heatwave is ‘testing the limits of human survivability’ • CNN

Rhea Mogul, Esha Mitra, Manveena Suri and Sophia Saifi:

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Temperatures in parts of India and Pakistan have reached record levels, putting the lives of millions at risk as the effects of the climate crisis are felt across the subcontinent.

The average maximum temperature for northwest and central India in April was the highest since records began 122 years ago, reaching 35.9ºC and 37.78ºC (96.62ºF and 100ºF) respectively, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).

Last month, New Delhi saw seven consecutive days over 40ºC (104ºF), three degrees above the average temperature for the month of April, according to CNN meteorologists. In some states, the heat closed schools, damaged crops and put pressure on energy supplies, as officials warned residents to remain indoors and keep hydrated.

The heatwave has also been felt by India’s neighbor Pakistan, where the cities of Jacobabad and Sibi in the country’s southeastern Sindh province recorded highs of 47ºC (116.6ºF) on Friday, according to data shared with CNN by Pakistan’s Meteorological Department (PMD). According to the PMD, this was the highest temperature recorded in any city in the Northern Hemisphere on that day.

“This is the first time in decades that Pakistan is experiencing what many call a ‘spring-less year,” Pakistan’s Minister of Climate Change, Sherry Rehman said in a statement.

…experts say the climate crisis will cause more frequent and longer heatwaves, affecting more than a billion people across the two countries.

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The Mayflower Autonomous Ship

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Back in 2016, ProMare Co-Founder Brett Phaneuf attended a meeting to discuss how to recognize the 400th anniversary of the 1620 Mayflower voyage.

A submarine builder by trade and an expert in robotics and underwater systems, Phaneuf didn’t support building another replica. Instead he suggested doing something bold, courageous and new: building a Mayflower for the 21st century.

This futuristic vessel would be powered by AI and drawing on energy from the sun and would be on a global mission of discovery, designed to collect data to help safeguard the future of the ocean. The quest has since expanded to a multicultural and diverse team across 10 countries and three continents and has inspired the support of multiple companies and organizations all over the world.

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Amazing real-time dashboards; it’s currently around the same latitude as the north of Spain. Solar panels in the day, battery by night. Automatic hazard detection.
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Apple lawsuit says ‘stealth’ startup Rivos poached engineers to steal secrets • Reuters via NewsBreak

Blake Brittain:

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Technology startup Rivos Inc allegedly stole Apple’s computer-chip trade secrets after poaching its engineers, Apple said in a lawsuit filed in California federal court.

Apple’s Friday lawsuit said Mountain View, California-based Rivos has hired over 40 of its former employees in the past year to work on competing “system-on-chip” (SoC) technology, and that at least two former Apple engineers took gigabytes of confidential information with them to Rivos.

Rivos is a “stealth” startup that has largely avoided public attention since its founding last year. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple declined to comment on the lawsuit.

SoCs are integrated circuits that include several computer components in a single chip, including central processing units and graphic processing units.

Apple said it spent billions of dollars and more than a decade of research on its SoC designs, which have “revolutionized the personal and mobile computing worlds.”

Apple said in the lawsuit that Rivos purposely sought to hire Apple engineers with access to the tech giant’s SoC trade secrets. It named two former engineers, Bhasi Kaithamana and Ricky Wen, who allegedly took thousands of files with SoC designs and other confidential information to Rivos.

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Quite the thing, if Apple can prove it in court. Forty people in a year sounds like a lot? Except we don’t know how many people are in the chip teams at Apple. Would have to be in the hundreds, surely.
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Anchors away • Mike Industries

Mike Davidson formerly worked at Twitter where he built a 100-person design and research team:

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Callousness also happens to be one of the biggest problems with the service itself. People think that Twitter has a Nazi problem. I’m sure there are Nazis on Twitter but for the most part, straight-up Nazi-ism gets dealt with pretty resolutely. The bigger problem has always been people slithering right up to the edge of what the Terms of Service prohibit and making life hell for innocent people.

“So you’re saying I can’t incite violence against this person? Fine. I will just quote-tweet them with something disapproving and my followers will take care of the rest. What?! What did I do?! I’m just exercising my freedom of speech!”

Imagine being a researcher who tweets out a link to a study you’ve worked on for a year, only to be bombarded by thousands of hateful attacks, wishing death upon you. Imagine because of this attack, and the doxxing that might come with it, you need to not just worry about your security on Twitter, but in your own home as well. Your free speech has been effectively silenced by free bullying. To be clear, these things already happen on Twitter, and they are terrible, but the only thing keeping them from happening a lot more often is the care and consideration of the Trust & Safety team at the company.

So in short: more callousness at the company, bad. More callousness on the service, bad.

I’m not sure why we would expect a man who has shown zero ability to empathize with anyone to improve either of those situations. In fact, I think we should expect both to get much, much worse if this transaction ends up going through (which I’m not yet convinced it will).

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Meta’s Project Cambria VR headset likened to ‘a laptop for the face’ • Engadget

Kris Holt:

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Meta plans to release a new high-end virtual reality headset this year, which is codenamed Project Cambria. Some more details about the product, as well as Meta’s VR headset roadmap, have emerged in a report.

Cambria has been described internally as a “laptop for the face” or “Chromebook for the face,” according to The Information. It’s believed to have specs similar to that of a Chromebook and will use Meta’s own VR operating system, which is based on Android. It’s expected to be compatible with web-based tools and services, as well as some Quest apps. However, despite Meta pitching Cambria as a future-of-work device, it may not be able to run native desktop apps that are commonly used by many businesses.

Cambria is said to have high-resolution image quality. This could allow wearers to clearly read text, so they’d be able to send emails or code while wearing the headset. In other words, it may be viable for professional purposes.

Cambria will provide wearers with a view of their surroundings using outward-facing cameras. This feature, called full-color passthrough, will allow for mixed-reality experiences. When it announced Cambria in October 2021, Meta said the headset will include eye-tracking and facial expression recognition features. Users’ avatars in the likes of Horizon Worlds and Workrooms will reportedly mirror their expressions and where they’re looking.

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They really need a better phrase than “laptop for the face”, which sounds like a cross between The Matrix and Alien. Also, what about people who wear spectacles?
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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?

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


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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