Start Up No.1810: Luna’s real losers, can kelp save the world?, ransomware for good, Black Mirror’s coming back, and more

When all the boomers die, who’s going to have their roomfuls and garages full of junk? CC-licensed photo by Orin Zebest on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Not available on Netflix. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

People saw stablecoins as a safe haven. They lost everything when Terra crashed • Rest of World

Leo Schwartz and Abubakar Idris:


Valeria makes around $300 a month selling prepared food from her home in Buenos Aires. The 47-year-old was nervous about keeping the money saved in Argentine pesos because of the country’s inflation rate, which passed an annualized 50% earlier this year. So she put more than $1,000 — all her savings, plus $500 her friend lent her to buy a new refrigerator — into TerraUSD (UST), a cryptocurrency stablecoin that was advertised as being pegged 1-to-1 with the U.S. dollar. 

Valeria, like others interviewed for this piece, is being identified by only her first name, to preserve her privacy.  

While cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have a reputation for volatility, stablecoins present a promise of security. Typically their prices are tied to a hard currency, like the U.S. dollar, or a commodity, like oil or precious metals. Some, like UST, can also be used to generate yields via protocols, such as Mars and Anchor, whereby users receive a variable or fixed interest rate when they deposit their stablecoins.

Valeria had spent months learning about UST before starting to invest in various protocols about four months ago. In mid-May, the stablecoin lost its peg, meaning that its value diverged from that of the dollar, and its price plunged to mere cents. Valeria watched her savings dwindle to zero, unable to remove the money from the protocols, which had blocked withdrawals. “I invested in a stablecoin that today is worth $0.08,” she told Rest of World. “I feel sickened and helpless.”


This is the problem, isn’t it. You might completely avoid the risk of the fiat currency – or it might all go completely up in flames. There are plenty of other people quoted in the piece. The burden falls on the poor. And the attempt to reboot Luna has flopped too.
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Kelp is weirdly great at carbon removal • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:


At least in theory, the ocean allows [the company Running Tide] to shortcut some of the hardest aspects of carbon removal. A direct-air-capture (DAC) plant needs to operate giant cooling-tower-like fans in order to suck air into its industrial machinery. The sloshing ocean, meanwhile, is always depositing new material onto the surface of the buoy [made of waste wood and kelp seedlings, which grow rapidly]. Likewise, a DAC plant ends its process by pumping extracted carbon deep into the bedrock. Running Tide doesn’t need to expend energy on that process: gravity and the current simply carry the waste wood and kelp to the bottom of the ocean.

So far, Running Tide has tested thousands of its buoys, although it estimates that they have removed less than 1,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere. It will conduct its largest release ever later this year, off the coast of Iceland.

Although Running Tide’s plan is promising, it’s hardly a sure bet. Scientifically, the company faces at least two major obstacles, David Ho, an oceanography professor at the University of Hawaii, told me. First, it’s not clear that all the carbon captured by kelp remains in the plant as it sinks to the seafloor. Second, the choppy, complicated way that the ocean and sea interact means that not all carbon absorbed by kelp actually comes out of the air. Perhaps only 40 of every 100 tons of carbon sequestered by kelp is actually removed from the atmosphere in the long term, a recent draft study has found. “They think they might have a way to figure out” how to beat those problems, but Ho said he doubted it.

What’s more impressive is how Running Tide approaches the carbon-removal problem as an organization. Right now, it costs $250 to remove a ton of carbon using its technology, which is at the low end of current carbon-removal approaches. For society’s purposes, that’s still way too high: The Department of Energy hopes to get carbon removal to less than $100 a ton by 2030.


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Surveillance tech didn’t stop the Uvalde school shooting • Gizmodo

Lucas Ropek:


how do you protect against something [school shootings] that often seems as pitiless and arbitrary as a bolt of lightning? For years, some have insisted that the best strategy is to adopt new security measures and invest in emergent surveillance technologies—the hope being that new products paired with hyper-vigilance will identify and stop the next shooter before he pulls the trigger.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD), of which Robb [Elementary School, at which 19 children and two teachers were shot dead] is a member, followed this conventional wisdom and embraced modern security solutions at its schools. Indeed, the district had actually doubled its security budget over the past several years to invest in a variety of recommended precautions.

According to UCISD’s security page, the district employed a safety management system from security vendor Raptor Technologies, designed to monitor school visitors and screen for dangerous individuals. It also used a social media monitoring solution, Social Sentinel, that sifted through children’s online lives to scan for signs of violent or suicidal ideation. Students could download an anti-bullying app (the STOP!T app) to report abusive peers, and an online portal at allowed parents and community members to submit reports of troubling behavior to administrators for further investigation.

As has been noted, UCISD also had its own police force, developed significant ties to the local police department, and had an emergency response plan. It even deployed “Threat Assessment Teams” that were scheduled to meet regularly to “identify, evaluate, classify and address threats or potential threats to school security.”

And yet, none of the new security measures seemed to matter much when a disturbed young man brought a legally purchased weapon to Robb and committed the deadliest school shooting in the state’s history. The perpetrator wasn’t a student and therefore couldn’t be monitored by its security systems.


As Ropek then points out, there is nevertheless no shortage of companies offering all sorts of bizarre solutions – “covert weapons scanners”, facial recognition – that obviously won’t solve a problem whose solution is staringly obvious, yet impossible in the US.
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The great junk transfer is coming. A look at the burden (and big business) of decluttering as Canadians inherit piles of their parents’ stuff • The Globe and Mail

Erin Anderssen:


Over the next 10 years, Canadians will inherit an estimated $1 trillion – the largest transfer of wealth in history. But all those investment portfolios and real estate assets being passed on by aging parents will also come with piles and piles of stuff with nowhere to go.

The parents of baby boomers, the oldest generation alive today, were savers, having learned in the lean times of war and the Great Depression to treasure what they owned. Their children were consumers. Together, they will leave behind houses jammed with mahogany dining room sets, silver platters, crystal figurines and all manner of tchotchkes that their kids don’t want. And, even if they did want them, this Great Intergenerational Dump is happening just as millennials are facing a housing crisis, which will leave many of them either renting or living in much smaller homes. Grandma’s massive china cabinet is not going to fit.

So what’s the result? A booming business for junk companies willing to take it all away. An exponential growth in storage lockers that are never emptied. Endless Saturdays of garage sales, and trips to the landfill. An exhausting cycle of cluttering and decluttering. For every painting you’d fight your siblings for, there’s a Hummel collection – the one your parents said, “would be worth something someday” – that’s going in the garbage. Because, let’s be honest, we all already have too much stuff as it is.

Sorting, culling, and tossing all that “accumulation of life,” as the junk experts call it, makes for lucrative business. According to an investor presentation this month, Storage Vault, the country’s largest publicly traded storage business, went from owning 10 locations in 2014 to 197 in 2022 – with a combined capacity of 10.8 million square feet of space. The company’s share price has soared from 50 cents to more than $6. The association of Professional Organizers in Canada, which started in 1999 with 30 people, now has 600 members ready to help with the handwringing over those cherished Royal Doultons.

Five years ago, Deb Darbyshire, co-owner of the Calgary franchise of Just Junk, estimates that she’d get a call once a month from adult children looking for help cleaning out their parents’ home. Now, she picks up a new job roughly once a week. About one-quarter of the families tell her: “We don’t want any of it. Take it all.”


It’s only when you deal with the death of a parent that you consider how much stuff they (and then you realise, you) accumulate. Trust the Swedish to have “death cleaning”, done well before death.
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GoodWill ransomware forces victims to donate to the poor and provides financial assistance to patients in need • CloudSEK


GoodWill ransomware was identified by CloudSEK researchers in March 2022. As the threat group’s name suggests, the operators are allegedly interested in promoting social justice rather than conventional financial reasons. CloudSEK researchers have been able to identify the following features of GoodWill:

The ransomware is written in .NET and packed with UPX packers

It sleeps for 722.45 seconds to interfere with dynamic analysis

It leverages the AES_Encrypt function to encrypt, using the AES algorithm.

One of the strings is “GetCurrentCityAsync,” which tries to detect the geolocation of the infected device.
Once infected, the GoodWill ransomware worm encrypts documents, photos, videos, databases, and other important files and renders them inaccessible without the decryption key. The actors suggest that victims perform three socially driven activities in exchange for the decryption key:
Activity 1: Donate new clothes to the homeless, record the action, and post it on social media.

Activity 2: Take five less fortunate children to Dominos, Pizza Hut or KFC for a treat, take pictures and videos, and post them on social media.

Activity 3: Provide financial assistance to anyone who needs urgent medical attention but cannot afford it, at a nearby hospital, record audio, and share it with the operators.

The ransomware group demands that the victims record each activity and mandatorily post the images, videos, etc. on their social media accounts. Once all three activities are completed, the victims should also write a note on social media (Facebook or Instagram) on “How you transformed yourself into a kind human being by becoming a victim of a ransomware called GoodWill.”

Since there are no known victims/ targets for the ransomware group, their Tactics, Techniques and Procedures remain unknown.


Was quite excited there until we got to the “no known victims” bit. CloudSEK suggests this originated in India.
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Greece passes first climate law, vows to cut dependence on fossil fuels • Reuters via Yahoo

Angeliki Koutantou:


The legislation sets interim targets for Greece to cut greenhouse emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and by 80% by 2040 before achieving zero-net emissions by 2050.

It also engages the country to cut dependence on fossil fuels, including weaning off indigenous lignite or brown coal – once the main source of energy – in electricity production from 2028 onwards. This target might be brought forward to 2025, taking into account security of supplies.

“It’s an existential matter, a very important one, because it has to do with our lives, because it has to do with our children’s lives,” Energy Minister Kostas Skrekas told lawmakers before the vote.

“Is this just going to help protect the environment? Νο, it’s not. It also helps the country’s energy security.”

Greece is planning investments worth about 10 billion euros to expand its power grid by 2030, while it speeds up the development of renewables to more than double their share in electricity production.

The country, like many others, has been in the grip of rising prices for gas, electricity, fuel and food since last year, a trend that has been exacerbated by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.


I get a feeling that fossil fuel energy prices aren’t going to come down for quite some time. And that investment in renewables is going to rocket.
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Google has banned the training of deepfakes in Colab • Unite.AI

Martin Anderson:


Sometime in the last two weeks, Google has quietly changed the terms of service for its Colab users, adding a stipulation that Colab services may no longer be used to train deepfakes.

The first web-archived version from the Internet Archive that features the deepfake ban was captured last Tuesday, the 24th May. The last captured version of the Colab FAQ that does not mention the ban was on the 14th May.

Of the two popular deepfake-creation distributions, DeepFaceLab (DFL) and FaceSwap, both of which are forks of the controversial and anonymous code posted to Reddit in 2017, only the more notorious DFL appears to have been directly targeted by the ban. According to deepfake developer ‘chervonij’ at the DFL Discord, running the software in Google Colab now produces a warning: “You may be executing code that is disallowed, and this may restrict your ability to use Colab in the future. Please note the prohibited actions specified in our FAQ.”

However, interestingly, the user is currently allowed to continue with the execution of the code.

According to a user in the Discord for rival distribution FaceSwap, that project’s code apparently does not yet trigger the warning, suggesting that code for DeepFaceLab (also the feeding architecture for real-time deepfake streaming implementation DeepFaceLive), by far the most dominant deepfakes method, has been specifically targeted by Colab.

FaceSwap co-lead developer Matt Tora commented:


“I find it very unlikely that Google are doing this for any particular ethical reasons, more that Colab’s raison d’être is for students/data scientists/researchers to be able to run computationally expensive GPU code in an easy and accessible manner, free of charge. However, I suspect that a not insignificant amount of users are exploiting this resource to create deepfake models, at scale, which is both computationally expensive and takes a not insignificant amount of training time to produce results.”



Other details suggest this is applicable to paid users too. (Colab is a cloud system that allows remote training of machine learning systems on very powerful GPUs. Creating deepfakes on it could be simpler than trying to get hold of GPUs, which are like hen’s teeth right now.)
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The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it • MIT Technology Review

Melissa Heikkilä:


Some technologists, including some at DeepMind, think that one day humans will develop “broader” AI systems that will be able to function as well as or even better than humans. Though some call this artificial general intelligence, others say it is like “belief in magic.“ Many top researchers, such as Meta’s chief AI scientist Yann LeCun, question whether it is even possible at all.

Gato is a “generalist” in the sense that it can do many different things at the same time. But that is a world apart from a “general” AI that can meaningfully adapt to new tasks that are different from what the model was trained on, says MIT’s [assistant professor specialising in AI and natural-language and speech processing, Jacob] Andreas: “We’re still quite far from being able to do that.”

Making models bigger will also not address the issue that models don’t have “lifelong learning,” which would mean that if taught something once, they would understand all the implications and use it to inform all the other decisions they make, he says.

The hype around tools like Gato is harmful for the general development of AI, argues Emmanuel Kahembwe, an AI and robotics researcher and part of the Black in AI organization cofounded by Timnit Gebru. “There are many interesting topics that are left to the side, that are underfunded, that deserve more attention, but that’s not what the big tech companies and the bulk of researchers in such tech companies are interested in,” he says.


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Black Mirror returns: new series in the works at Netflix • Variety

Manori Ravindran:


The new season of “Black Mirror” is the first to emerge since creator Charlie Brooker and his creative partner Annabel Jones left their production company House of Tomorrow, which was backed by Endemol Shine Group, in January 2020. It wasn’t long before the pair set up shop under new production banner Broke and Bones, and Netflix quickly invested in the company through a mega deal in which it acquires parts of the business over a five-year period, for a sum that could reach $100 million.

When Brooker and Jones left House of Tomorrow, however, the rights to “Black Mirror” stayed with parent company Endemol Shine Group, which was ultimately acquired by Banijay Group in the summer of 2020. That arrangement effectively prevented Brooker and Jones from producing any more seasons for Netflix until a deal was hammered out with Banijay, and fans worried that that would be the end of the show.

Brooker himself threw doubt on “Black Mirror’s” future two years ago, telling the U.K.’s Radio Times magazine at the height of the pandemic that, “At the moment, I don’t know what stomach there would be for stories about societies falling apart, so I’m not working away on one of those. I’m sort of keen to revisit my comic skill set, so I’ve been writing scripts aimed at making myself laugh.”

Evidently, a deal was finally reached, and Banijay Rights — the distribution arm of the company that holds both the format and finished-tape rights to “Black Mirror” — has licensed its hit show to Netflix.


Honestly, one has to wonder how feasible it will be to stay ahead of the curve; though Brooker and Jones have just about managed it (sometimes, as with Bandersnatch, by going back behind the curve).
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Google’s past failures were on full display at I/O 2022 • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Google held its I/O conference earlier this month, and for longtime Google watchers, the event felt like a seance. Google CEO Sundar Pichai stepped on stage for his keynote address and channeled the spirits of long-dead Google products. “I’m hearing… something about an Android tablet? And a smartwatch?” he seemed to say.

By my count, “resurrecting the past” accounted for around half of the company’s major announcements. In all of these cases, Google would be in a much stronger position if it had committed to a long-term plan and continuously iterated on that plan.

Unfortunately, the company doesn’t have that kind of top-down direction. Instead, for most of the resurrected products, Google is trying to catch up to competitors after years of standing still. There’s a question we have to ask for every announcement: “Will things be different this time?”


This is a bit late, but it’s comprehensive. Amadeo, who is on the Google beat, is extremely hard to impress. He wasn’t impressed.
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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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