Start Up No.1885: why Stadia died, Truss – the normie playing at rebellion, Cook hints at AR, Tesla shows off pointless robot, and more

AI illustrator directing a film
The latest tweak to the Stable Diffusion AI illustrator means you can create (very) short films with it. How soon before we see much longer ones?

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A selection of 11 links for you. Not chosen by AI. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

andreasjansson/stable-diffusion-animation – Run with an API on Replicate

Andreas Jansson:


Animate Stable Diffusion by interpolating between two prompts. Starting with noise, we then use stable diffusion to denoise for n steps towards the mid-point between the start prompt and end prompt, where n = num_inference_steps * (1 – prompt_strength). The higher the prompt strength, the fewer steps towards the mid-point.

We then denoise from that intermediate noisy output towards num_animation_frames interpolation points between the start and end prompts. By starting with an intermediate output, the model will generate samples that are similar to each other, resulting in a smoother animation.

Finally, the generated samples are interpolated with Google’s FILM (Frame Interpolation for Large Scene Motion) for extra smoothness.


So you start with the prompt suggestion “tall rectangular black monolith, monkeys in the desert looking at a large tall monolith, a detailed matte painting by Wes Anderson, behance, light and space, reimagined by industrial light and magic, matte painting, criterion collection” and say that the end prompt should show “tall rectangular black monolith, a white room in the future with a bed, victorian details and a tall black monolith, a detailed matte painting by Wes Anderson, behance, light and space, reimagined by industrial light and magic, matte painting, criterion collection” and let it go. (The outcome’s on the page.)

We’re not that far from some sort of AI-created film where the multiple intermediate points are drawn by AI. Certainly a great way to speed up storyboarding for films.
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Freely-usable images summoned from beyond the aether. Energized by AI.


Sort-of stock images, generated by AI. They have a strange sort of quality about them – a feel that I think we’ll start to associate with AI-drawn images in the next few months, and which will likely last for a few years.
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Liz Truss: the normie playing the rebel • Financial Times

Janan Ganesh:


Liz Truss began her career at that plucky start-up, Shell. She moved on to Cable & Wireless, which was founded in a tempest of risk-taking and rule-breaking. In 1869. Her wild card of a chancellor never got around to being an entrepreneur or (unless we count a hedge fund boss) working for one. Truss is a scion of the public sector middle class. Kwasi Kwarteng could not have passed through a stabler set of institutions — Eton, Harvard, JPMorgan — had he interned at the Vatican.

None of the credentials of mavericks but all of the pose: whatever else is said about these two, they are of their time. A co-authored treatise, were it honest, would be called something like Move Slow and Say Things

When did normies start doing this? When did status and lustre come to reside in cheeking the establishment? What happened to joining it? Truss and her backers will believe that financial markets are made of “sheeple” in thrall to “group think” and “orthodoxy”. The more the bourses convulse, the surer the government will be that it is on to something. I don’t want here to go into the question of whether they are right. The point is rather their relish in dissent. Why do such conventional people so enjoy filing the minority report?

…the further a society gets from its last existential test, the more desk-bound and temperature-controlled the texture of life becomes, the more some innate human need for risk goes unmet. And so it finds alternative outlets. The boom in martial sports is one that Chuck Palahniuk saw coming in Fight Club. Another is the proliferation of a kind of sham maverick in public life.

It is reported that Truss’s supply-side reforms are known internally as Operation Rolling Thunder. Besides the question of taste — the name comes from a bombing campaign in Vietnam — who speaks like this? This is going to a Rage Against the Machine gig at 50. This is popping a collar and taking a long drag of a cigarette. It is iconoclasm as interpreted by someone who has never put anything on the line. In this, she is less bad than some of the friendly wonks and pundits (note again the low-stakes work) who will her to “smash” Britannia’s chains.


Ganesh sounds light, but the final paragraph shows that he’s absolutely furious at the obstacles put in his way to citizenship. Worth hunting the whole thing down.

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Tim Cook: not too long from now, you’ll wonder how you led your life without AR • MacRumors

Sami Fathi:


Responding to a question from a student [at an Italian university] on what future technologies excite him the most, [Tim] Cook pointed to artificial intelligence, calling it a “fundamental, horizontal technology that will touch everything in our lives,” ranging from innovations in the Apple Watch to “many other things” Apple is working on.

Cook, more importantly, stressed his excitement for augmented reality. Cook suggested that augmented reality’s impact on the world will be as profound as the internet itself, saying people will wonder how they led a life without it. As he was speaking on augmented reality, the live stream of the Q&A session abruptly cut, so Cook’s full comment on the subject is not publicly known. Here’s what there was:


I’m super excited about augmented reality. Because I think that we’ve had a great conversation here today, but if we could augment that with something from the virtual world, it would have arguably been even better. So I think that if you, and this will happen clearly not too long from now, if you look back at a point in time, you know, zoom out to the future and look back, you’ll wonder how you led your life without augmented reality. Just like today, we wonder, how did people like me grow up without the internet. And so I think it could be that profound, and it’s not going to be profound overnight…


Cook has in the past expressed his personal excitement for augmented reality and has hinted that Apple is working on AR/VR products. The company’s first AR/VR product, a high-end headset rumored to be called “Reality Pro,” is expected to be announced as soon as January.


In British politics this is known as “rolling the pitch” – a cricketing metaphor for getting everything ready for when you properly come out with your offering. (As a messaging technique, it’s lately fallen out of favour.)
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Apple executive Tony Blevins to quit after vulgar TikTok joke • The Times

Laurence Sleator:


A senior executive at Apple is to leave the company after joking about “fondling big-breasted women” for a living in a viral social media video.

Tony Blevins, Apple’s vice-president of procurement, featured in a video by Daniel Mac, a TikToker who approaches people in expensive cars and asks them: “What do you do for a living?” In the 25-second video, which has been viewed more than 1.4 million times, Mac approaches Blevins as he gets out his silver $500,000 (£450,000) Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren at a car show in California and asks the question.

Blevins, dressed in a turquoise suit, Union Jack waistcoat and bright red shoes, says: “I race cars, play golf and fondle big-breasted women, but I take weekends and major holidays off.” To laughter from Mac and a female passenger alongside Blevins, he adds: “If you’re interested, I’ve got a hell of a dental plan.”

The video, published on September 5, prompted an internal investigation at Apple. A spokesman confirmed yesterday that Blevins would leave the Californian-based company.

In charge of striking deals with suppliers and partners, Blevins had been at Apple for 22 years and managed several hundred employees. He was one of about 30 people who reported directly to Tim Cook, who has been the chief executive since 2011. Blevins, thought to be Apple’s main cost-cutter, was said to go by the nickname the “Blevinator”, according to a 2020 Wall Street Journal profile.

In a statement to Bloomberg, Blevins apologised for his remarks and said they were a reference to the 1981 film Arthur in which the main character, played by Dudley Moore, says: “I race cars, play tennis and fondle women, but I have weekends off and I am my own boss.”

…The video angered some employees and came as senior bosses at Apple were focusing on improving diversity in the workplace, Bloomberg reported.


The original headline called it a “vulgar TikTok boast”, except clearly it wasn’t a boast, but a joke, using a cultural reference more than 40 years old. (Blevins is 54 or 55.) No wonder then it fell flat. But this is a crazy overreaction. The employees who were “angered” maybe need to get out more. Are they more valuable than him? The WSJ profile suggests he’s been responsible for huge savings in negotiations.
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Tesla shows off unfinished humanoid robot prototypes at AI Day 2022 • Ars Technica

Benj Edwards:


The entire live robot demonstration lasted roughly seven minutes, and the firm also played a demonstration video of the walking Optimus prototype picking up a box and putting it down, slowly watering a plant, and moving metal parts in a factory-like setting—all while tethered to an overhead cable. The video also showed a 3D-rendered view of the world that represents what the Optimus robot can see.

Tesla first announced its plans to built a humanoid robot during its AI Day event in August of last year. During that earlier event, a human dressed in a spandex suit resembling a robot and did the Charleston on stage, which prompted skepticism in the press.

At the AI Event today, Musk and his team emphasized that the walking prototype was an early demo developed in roughly six months using “semi-off the shelf actuators,” and that the sleeker model much more closely resembled the “Version 1” unit they wanted to ship. He said it would probably be able to walk in a few weeks.

Goals of the Optimus project include high-volume production (possibly “millions of units sold,” said Musk), low-cost (“probably less than $20,000”), and high-reliability. Comparing the plans for Optimus to existing humanoid robots from competitors, Musk also emphasized that the Optimus robot should have the brains-on-board to work autonomously, citing Tesla’s work with its automotive Autopilot system.

Shortly afterward, Musk handed over the stage to Tesla engineers that gave overviews about developing the power systems, actuators, and joint mechanisms that would make Optimus possible, replete with fancy graphs. “We are carrying over most of our design experience from the car to the robot,” said one engineer, while another engineer said they drew much of their inspiration from human biology, especially in joint design.


I’m certain this will never see the light of day (or at least, appear with a price tag). He promised a Cybertruck years ago, and that’s a type of thing that the company is actually set up to make. The inclusion of this robot segment in the “AI Day” event – for the second year in a row – suggests Tesla, or Musk, is rapidly running out of “AI” things to show off.
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$620 for an HIV diagnosis: Russians buy their way out of military service on Telegram • Rest of World

Masha Borak:


Telegram has become the chat app of choice for Russians, Malika Kamil, a community manager in a project called Guide to the Free World, told Rest of World. The project, launched at the start of the war, is dedicated to helping Russians leave the country. It runs a Telegram group with over 101,000 users. More than 21,000 people joined after Russia announced its mobilization efforts.

Guide to the Free World uses Telegram in a number of ways. The non-profit helps Russians emigrate, through a program partly funded by Telegram’s built-in donation button, and uses the platform’s bot function to keep spam and scammers from its channel. Other Telegram groups help track police delivering draft papers, and broadcast news about the rise of mobile recruitment offices at the border with Finland and Georgia.

Many other Telegram channels have seen an influx of scammers. Young men have been driven by panic and fear of border closures into buying services from Telegram, even as reports on scams have risen, said Sawa Zarecki, founder of Advengene, a company helping professionals from Russia find placements and companies find new markets abroad, to Rest of World. Some were promised transportation across the border, only to have their ride disappear after taking the money. 

Others peddle fake documents which could qualify Russian men to be declared unfit for duty or to be put under medical observation, giving them three to six months to escape the country.

“At the moment, the most effective way is to get a certificate that you have HIV or hepatitis,” one seller, who refused to share their real name, told Rest of World.


Paid in bitcoin, of uncertain provenance or effectiveness. Some are sure to be scams. But the fact that people might be looking for them is indicative.
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What if Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine? • The Atlantic

Eric Schlosser:


[Former US senator, former Cuba missile crisis officer Sam] Nunn describes Russia’s violations of long-standing norms as “Putin’s nuclear folly” and stresses that three fundamental things are essential for avoiding a nuclear catastrophe: rational leaders, accurate information, and no major blunders. “And all three are now in some degree of doubt,” he says.

If Russia uses a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, Nunn thinks that an American nuclear retaliation should be the last resort. He favors some sort of horizontal escalation instead, doing everything possible to avoid a nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States. For example, if Russia hits Ukraine with a nuclear cruise missile launched from a ship, Nunn would advocate immediately sinking that ship. The number of Ukrainian casualties should determine the severity of the American response—and any escalation should be conducted solely with conventional weapons. Russia’s Black Sea fleet might be sunk in retaliation, and a no-fly zone could be imposed over Ukraine, even if it meant destroying anti-aircraft units on Russian soil.

Since the beginning of the invasion, Russia’s nuclear threats have been aimed at discouraging the United States and its NATO allies from providing military supplies to Ukraine. And the threats are backed by Russia’s capabilities. Last year, during a training exercise involving about 200,000 troops, the Russian army practiced launching a nuclear assault on NATO forces in Poland. “The pressure on Russia to attack the supply lines from NATO countries to Ukraine will increase, the longer this war continues,” Nunn says. It will also increase the risk of serious blunders and mistakes. An intentional or inadvertent Russian attack on a NATO country could be the beginning of World War III.


The strong suggestion is that any use of nuclear weapons will be answered by conventional weapons, but on a scale that will dwarf the effects of a “tactical nuke”. The US could wipe out Russia’s troops in Ukraine by conventional means, given how well Ukraine’s less well-equipped troops are doing. And the US would publicise any movements of potential nuclear weapons by Russia long ahead of actual deployment. Not a winning move for Russia.
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Businessman who said he burned a $10m Frida Kahlo drawing is under criminal investigation • The Independent

Abe Asher:


An art collectour and entrepreneur is under criminal investigation in Mexico after allegedly burning a Frida Kahlo drawing to draw attention to an NFT collection.

Martín Mobarak said he had burned a drawing torn from the pages of one of Kahlo’s diaries that was believed to be worth $10m in order to promote the 10,000 NFTs he created of the piece.

The Mexican authorities, however, do not seem to have appreciated the stunt.

“In Mexico, the deliberate destruction of an artistic monument constitutes a crime in terms of the federal law on archaeological, artistic and historical monuments and zones,” Mexico’s National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature stated in reference to the incident.

Much about the entire saga remains unclear. Mr Mobarak, who is the founder of the company Frida.NFT, placed the drawing known as Fantasmones Siniestros in a martini glass and set it on fire in a public demonstration at his mansion in Miami in July while a mariachi band played in the background.

A video of the event posted on YouTube begins with a page of text that includes a quote from Mr Mobarak in which he states that “I am proud to say this event will solve some of the world’s biggest problems in honor of Frida Kahlo.”


Honestly, these are just the very worst people. NFT sales are down 97% from their peak. If we all wish really hard, we might be able to get rid of the other 3%.
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Bruce Willis’ rep refutes report that he sold likeness for deepfakes • The Hollywood Reporter

Ryan Gajewski:


Bruce Willis’ team is dismissing the notion that the star sold his digital likeness to a deepfake company.

Recent media reports, including one from The Telegraph, suggested that the actor sold his rights to Deepcake to authorize the creation of a “digital twin” of himself to appear in projects following the announcement that he has stepped away from performing. Although reports stated that this made Willis the first Hollywood personality to set up this type of deal, his team denies the existence of any such arrangement.

In a statement shared to The Hollywood Reporter, Willis’ representative said that he “has no partnership or agreement with this Deepcake company.”

A publicist for Deepcake confirms to THR that Willis’ digital-likeness rights cannot be sold, as they are his by default, and that the company’s involvement with the star was set up through his representatives at [the star’s agents] CAA. Deepcake’s spokesperson explains that their company created his digital twin for 2021 ad campaigns, and that any future use of the likeness would be up to Willis.

Deepcake’s website touts the company’s digital-twin technology as an ability for A-list actors to virtually include their likeness in marketing campaigns without the need to physically appear in front of the camera. The site prominently features quotes attributed to Willis about a 2021 commercial that aired in Russia for mobile phone carrier MegaFon.


The implications of the initial story, of Willis licensing his face for all sorts of uses, were pretty big. Seems that’s not happening… yet.
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Google Stadia never mattered, and it never had a chance • The Verge

Jay Peters:


In the end, Stadia barely made a dent. Yes, it probably lit a fire under Amazon, which launched its Luna cloud gaming service about a year after Stadia, and Microsoft, which began to roll out Xbox Cloud Gaming in April 2021. But cloud gaming hasn’t turned the gaming industry upside down when it arguably had the prime opportunity to. When we were all stuck at home early in the pandemic and couldn’t find PS5s, Stadia felt like it should have been the perfect solution to let vast numbers of people easily play games right from whatever screen is in front of them.

But as my colleague Sean Hollister wrote in March 2021, cloud gaming still has too much friction. Can my internet connection run the game? Is the game I want available on the platform of my choice? Do I have to buy it separately, or is it part of a subscription? The questions go on and on, and Stadia was no exception. Contrast that with my Nintendo Switch, which lets me slot in a game cartridge and just start playing, and you can see why cloud gaming still hasn’t quite caught on. (Cloud gaming is also an option for a handful of Switch games, and it’s generally not a good one.)

It’s clear Stadia never mattered all that much to Google, either. Most big-budget video games take years to develop, but the company shuttered its own studios a little over a year after Stadia officially launched. If Google wasn’t willing to invest in its own platform, why should other developers? 

Developers that did support Stadia were as surprised as everyone else about Thursday’s news. Bungie, on its Destiny 2 forums, said that it “just learned” about the shutdown and would send information to affected Stadia players “once we have a plan of action.” Mike Rose of No More Robots tweeted his frustration at Google’s lack of communication, saying that “hours later and I still have no email from Stadia, and no clarity on what’s happening with our games, deals, anything.” Even Stadia employees apparently had little notice.

…Cloud gaming isn’t dead. Xbox’s offering is pretty good and getting better. Same with Nvidia’s GeForce Now. PlayStation shuttered PlayStation Now but folded in cloud streaming to its most expensive PlayStation Plus tier. Amazon’s Luna is expanding, too. Logitech just announced a dedicated cloud gaming handheld.


Meanwhile Apple toddles along with its not-cloud-based Apple Arcade offering, launched in September 2019 (the same year as Stadia). Has it set the world on fire? Probably not. Is it going to kill it tomorrow? No. Are there very different attitudes to project longevity at Apple and Google? Yes.
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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

1 thought on “Start Up No.1885: why Stadia died, Truss – the normie playing at rebellion, Cook hints at AR, Tesla shows off pointless robot, and more

  1. “…the further a society gets from its last existential test, the more desk-bound and temperature-controlled the texture of life becomes, the more some innate human need for risk goes unmet.”
    My parents, who lived through the Second World War, when faced with the disruption and inflation of the 70s, would semi-seriously tell me that what this country needed was “a good war”. Today, far too many people delight in trashing our institutions, hoping to bring down rather than reform structures that have served us reasonably well, and unleash chaos. I expect them to succeed. Civilisation as we know it is irretrievably fucked. I’m not even sure the human race will survive beyond 2050.

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