Start Up No.1896: UK smart meter data grab, Stable Diffusion biz gets VC boost, Intel mulls job cuts, Denmark’s AI party, and more

The British government will collect energy use data from smart meters – and link it to your name and address as part of its fuel subsidy scheme. Are you concerned? CC-licensed photo by Ambernectar 13 on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Artificially intelligent. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Stability AI, the startup behind Stable Diffusion, raises $101m • TechCrunch

Kyle Wiggers:


Stability AI, the company funding the development of open source music- and image-generating systems like Dance Diffusion and Stable Diffusion, today announced that it raised $101m in a funding round led by Coatue and Lightspeed Venture Partners with participation from O’Shaughnessy Ventures LLC. The tranche values the company at $1bn post-money, according to a Bloomberg source, and comes as the demand for AI-powered content generation accelerates.

London- and San Francisco-based Stability AI is the brainchild of CEO Emad Mostaque. Having graduated from Oxford with a Master’s in mathematics and computer science, he served as an analyst at various hedge funds before shifting gears to more public-facing works. Mostque co-founded and bootstrapped Stability AI in 2020, motivated both by a personal fascination with AI and what he characterized as a lack of “organization” within the open source AI community.

“Nobody has any voting rights except our employees — no billionaires, big funds, governments or anyone else with control of the company or the communities we support. We’re completely independent,” Mostaque told TechCrunch in a previous interview. “We plan to use our compute to accelerate open source, foundational AI.”

Stability AI has a cluster of more than 4,000 Nvidia A100 GPUs running in AWS, which it uses to train AI systems including Stable Diffusion. It’s quite costly to maintain — Business Insider reports that Stability AI’s operations and cloud expenditures exceeded $50m. But Mostaque has repeatedly asserted that the company’s R&D will enable it to train models more efficiently going forward.


This whole field has suddenly accelerated dramatically, which feels weird given that we have been hearing about Moore’s Law hitting a wall. GPUs though seem to have plenty of headroom, and they scale well, so it starts to feel like the sky’s the limit.
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Use of electricity meter and gas meter personal data collected through the Energy Price Guarantee scheme: privacy notice • GOV.UK


We will collect and process the following personal data, related to each electricity and gas meter in Great Britain:

• Meter Point Administration Number (MPAN) – electricity meter number
• Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN)
• postcode
• electricity consumption
• data about each meter (for example profile class, energisation status)
• data about how the meter point is billed (for example billing cycle, payment type)
• energy tariff data
• personal data including; name, date of birth, address, communication data, email address

We are processing the data to:

• enable BEIS to monitor the progress and operational delivery of the Energy Price Guarantee scheme (EPG) (this includes monitoring the reach of the scheme across regions and vulnerable groups)
• conduct financial checks on EPG payments including for assurance and the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences including fraud
• allow BEIS to evaluate the scheme to understand its impact and to inform future government policy.


This page was updated on the 1st of October, but it’s only just been noticed. That your personal data will be connected to the smart meter and collected by the government is the biggest invasion of privacy I think I’ve ever seen by a British government – not even the Covid app required this.

At the end of June there were 29.5m smart meters in use in homes and small businesses, or just over half of all the meters installed. I’d predict uptake will stall unless really good reasons for this intrusion can be given.
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Intel is planning thousands of job cuts in face of PC slump • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Mark Gurman and Debby Wu:


The layoffs will be announced as early as this month, with the company planning to make the move around the same time as its third-quarter earnings report on Oct. 27, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. The chipmaker had 113,700 employees as of July.

Some divisions, including Intel’s sales and marketing group, could see cuts affecting about 20% of staff, according to the people.

Intel is facing a steep decline in demand for PC processors, its main business, and has struggled to win back market share lost to rivals like Advanced Micro Devices Inc. In July, the company warned that 2022 sales would be about $11bn lower than it previously expected. Analysts are predicting a third-quarter revenue drop of roughly 15%. And Intel’s once-enviable margins have shriveled: They’re about 15 percentage points narrower than historical numbers of around 60%.

…Intel’s last big wave of layoffs occurred in 2016, when it trimmed about 12,000 jobs, or 11% of its total. The company has made smaller cuts since then and shuttered several divisions, including its cellular modem and drone units. Like many companies in the technology industry, Intel also froze hiring earlier this year, when market conditions soured and fears of a recession grew.

The latest cutbacks are likely meant to reduce Intel’s fixed costs, possibly by about 10% to 15%, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mandeep Singh said in a research note. He estimates that those costs range from at least $25bn to $30bn.


Intel’s problem isn’t just the PC slump, though. It’s that it’s spending too much and yet moving too slowly. TSMC can fabricate better than it can; Apple and Amazon and Google and Facebook are designing their own chips for their own uses. The CPU market is beginning to look like the low-end commodity market, and nothing good happens there.
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Football is sexy and VAR is coitus interruptus; can we just get back to banging please? • Football365

John Nicholson:


Sunday revealed just how deeply embedded the VAR system is in the Premier League: No VAR, no football. [Soccer, for US readers.]

At Elland Road, a game could not go ahead without the all-seeing eye when the Leeds v Arsenal game was suspended due to an electrical fault causing VAR [Video Assistant Referee, which is used to adjudicate contested decisions on goals or offside] to fail and the officials being not able to communicate with each other via ear-pieces.

Football was played without VAR for 150 years; it was played for almost all that time with officials communicating by the simple means of talking or shouting at each other. That VAR has so occupied football’s real estate at this level that games literally cannot go on without it, shows just how complete its takeover of the game is.

It is tempting to think they were scared to show that football can be played perfectly well without VAR and show that it has made football worse, that it has neutered and blunted every player and fan’s reaction to every goal. That it is thoroughly inconsistent and leaves many of us bewildered and confused.

VAR is often called ‘technology’ but it’s not really technology. It’s not some nuanced algorithm crunched by a big giant brain of a computer in a bunker under a volcano inhabited by men in white coats. It’s a bloke looking at a telly. Calling it technology is to aggrandise the process in order to make it seem more sophisticated and thus important. That conned some into believing infallible robots would be in charge, not the pesky fallible humans. But no, it’s just a bloke and a telly.

The vast majority of fans do not want VAR but it is now a legal obligation to play games with it. So we fans don’t matter. Oh no. We saw that at Elland Road as they held up the game for 40 minutes until they’d fixed VAR without any thought for the Arsenal fans who had to get back to London on a Sunday evening, without thought for the home fans too.


VAR does feel like technology imposed on the game, rather than one that helps the game – as much as anything because it’s so slow. In tennis, it’s almost instant, and ditto in squash. Nobody really likes VAR, though: there’s just growing resentment when it is brought in.
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Remove objects from video: Inpaint content-aware fill • RunwayML


Remove Objects From Video: The Magic Tool that lets you remove any object from any video with just a few simple brush strokes.


I’ve linked to Runway before, but this demonstration is quite scarily good. You can imagine that Stalin would have loved it.
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This Danish political party is led by an AI • Motherboard

Chloe Xiang:


The Synthetic Party, a new Danish political party with an artificially intelligent representative and policies derived from AI, is eyeing a seat in parliament as it hopes to run in the country’s November general election.

The party was founded in May by the artist collective Computer Lars and the non-profit art and tech organization MindFuture Foundation. The Synthetic Party’s public face and figurehead is the AI chatbot Leader Lars, which is programmed on the policies of Danish fringe parties since 1970 and is meant to represent the values of the 20% of Danes who do not vote in the election. Leader Lars won’t be on the ballot anywhere, but the human members of The Synthetic Party are committed to carrying out their AI-derived platform.

“We’re representing the data of all fringe parties, so it’s all of the parties who are trying to get elected into parliament but don’t have a seat. So it’s a person who has formed a political vision of their own that they would like to realise, but they usually don’t have the money or resources to do so,” Asker Staunæs, the creator of the party and an artist-researcher at MindFuture, told Motherboard.

Leader Lars is an AI chatbot that people can speak with on Discord. You can address Leader Lars by beginning your sentences with an “!”. The AI understands English but writes back to you in Danish.

“As people from Denmark, and also, people around the globe are interacting with the AI, they submit new perspectives and new textual information, where we collect in a dataset that will go into the fine-tuning. So that way, you are partly developing the AI every time you interact with it.” Staunæs said.

Some of the policies that The Synthetic Party is proposing include establishing a universal basic income of 100,000 Danish kroner per month, which is equivalent to $13,700, and is over double the Danish average salary. Another proposed policy change is to create a jointly-owned internet and IT sector in the government that is on par with other public institutions.


I suppose that an AI wouldn’t be able to feel mortified when its policies had to be reversed because the (algorithm-driven, often) markets didn’t like them. Surely this will be or was a Black Mirror plot? Though I feel that phrase gets used a lot. Talking of feeling mortified…

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The Liz Truss travesty becomes Britain’s humiliation • The Atlantic

Tom McTague:


Britain has been broke before. It was in this position after the war when it needed US assistance, and then again in the late 1970s when it was bailed out by the IMF. It was battered by the markets in 1992 when John Major’s economic strategy collapsed.

What’s happening now is entirely new: the very real prospect that the markets will force a change of prime minister before an election. They have already forced a change in policy. Truss’s problems are so acute that Tory MPs are discussing removing her as a serious option, perhaps their only one. If Truss is removed any time soon, hers would be the shortest premiership in British history, beating George Canning’s 119-day tenure in 1827. And he died in office.

Those considering this drastic course are doing so, in large part, to restore calm and confidence to the markets, not simply to voters. This has not happened before and would surely act like a knife to the body politic, leaving a permanent scar on the country’s reputation.

An old friend who died recently once told me a story about economic decline that stuck with me. He had traveled the world as a journalist for Reuters and said Argentina was the best place he’d ever lived. But that was before its collapse into chaos, populism, and crisis in the late 1990s. I last saw him in 2019; he was living in Brussels then, but told me that he worried some similar decline was happening in Britain.

Back then, I dismissed his fears. I’d lived through the turmoil of Afghanistan and Iraq, the global financial crisis and Brexit. I’d seen Scotland coming close to seceding from the country, David Cameron’s austerity leading to calamity, Boris Johnson’s turbulent administration, and Jeremy Corbyn leading Labour to electoral oblivion. But through it all, Britain had plodded along, not exactly prospering as it once had but inching forward nonetheless. Its institutions did their job, the constitution held up, people’s lives went on much as they always had.

And then Liz Truss came along… Britain was once a rich country, seemingly well governed with institutions that sat like sedimentary rock on its surface, solid and everlasting. Today it is very obviously not a rich country or well governed, but a poor country, badly governed, with weak institutions. In trying to reverse this reality, Truss has made it visible for all to see.


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“The hell with it”—Elon Musk to keep funding Ukrainian Starlink service • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:


In a tweet early Saturday afternoon, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that satellite-based ISP Starlink will continue providing Internet service to Ukrainian forces battling the Russian invasion, as well as the country’s government. “The hell with it … even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free,” Musk tweeted.


Oh well, that was easily solved. It seems Musk donated around 20,000 handset units, and that another 8,000 have been requested, and that use over the rest of this year would cost “more than $120m” and “close to $400m for the next 12 months”.

Assume 20,000 handsets (ie 8,000 were broken), that’s $20,000 per handset per year, or $1,666 per month. Not cheap, but for essential military equipment, probably not the most expensive. SpaceX, which runs Starlink, says that the most expensive units cost $4,500 per month to run. (Again, this is all about what you think is an actual “cost”: probably no, not the data, but probably yes keeping the satellites in position.)
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Kanye West is buying ‘free speech platform’ Parler • The Verge

Jon Porter and James Vincent:


Kanye West, the musician now legally known as Ye, is buying Parler, a social media platform that styles itself as a “free speech” alternative to Twitter. The acquisition was announced by Parler in a press release, which said that it has entered into an agreement in principle with Ye that’s expected to close later this year.

“In a world where conservative opinions are considered to be controversial we have to make sure we have the right to freely express ourselves,” said Ye in a press statement.

Parlement Technologies, Parler’s parent company, said the acquisition would help create “an uncancelable ecosystem where all voices are welcome.” In a message sent this morning to the “Parler Family,” [included in the full story], Parlement Technologies CEO George Farmer said, “The current Parler staff you’ve come to know —many of whom you’ve interacted with— will still be working on the app, and the platform will continue to utilize Dynascale’s cloud services.”

In a press statement, Farmer said the deal would “change the world, and change the way the world thinks about free speech.” Notably, Farmer is the husband of conservative influencer and commentator for right-wing outlets Candace Owens, who has visibly become close to Ye recently, with TMZ reporting the two are “in constant talks” and saying his friends believe she’s influencing him.


Well, it’ll certainly change Farmer’s bank balance, which is likely feeling the pain of funding Parler. However as quite a few have pointed out, Parler ranks far behind the other right-wing talk sites such as Gab. Ye is getting the short end of a bad deal.
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Elon Musk’s business ties deserve more scrutiny • Slow Boring

Matthew Yglesias:


Musk, like most global manufacturing executives these days, has extensive business dealings with China. And while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it means Musk has to watch what he says regarding the People’s Republic of China (PRC), not just in his personal capacity as a business executive but potentially in his institutional role as well. And he’s not alone; Apple TV+, for example, has a rule that none of its content can portray China negatively.

That’s an unfortunate but straightforward consequence of Apple TV+ being so small compared to Apple’s core business of making and selling smartphones: they compromise the content business for the sake of the manufacturing business. The good news for the world is that Apple TV+ is a very small share of western cultural output. They’re doing well with niche content (I love “For All Mankind”), and they won an Oscar for “Coda.” But it’s a small service in the scheme of things.

The problem for the world is that Twitter would be the Apple TV+ of Elon Musk’s enterprises, much smaller and less important than Tesla, so its interests will always be sacrificed to advance Tesla’s interests. And Tesla, like Apple’s hardware business, is deeply enmeshed in China. But Twitter is much more important to global politics and culture than Apple TV+. That’s the whole reason the Musk/Twitter saga has been such a subject of fascination. Twitter is one of a handful of other influential media properties — The New York Times, the three cable networks, AM talk radio stations — that exert a cultural and political influence that far exceeds their modest financial footprints. Apple executives are much less polarizing and controversial than Musk. But pretty much everyone on both the left and right knows they’re a bit squirrelly about China for business reasons. And if they bought the New York Times, that would have dire implications for the integrity of their China coverage.

Musk is mercurial and I won’t pretend to be able to predict what he will do. But I think his business relationships with China and tendency to take pro-PRC positions in his public statements raise some disturbing questions about the future of Twitter that deserve much more scrutiny relative to the concern that he won’t be strict enough in policing hate speech.


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Higher heating bills poised to hit US households this winter • WSJ

Ryan Dezember:


Americans should expect bigger home-heating bills compared with last winter, thanks to higher prices for natural gas, heating oil, propane and electricity as well as slightly colder weather, the US Energy Information Administration said in its seasonal outlook.

Government energy specialists predict that it will cost $931 to warm the typical home that is heated with natural gas between this month and March. That is up 28% from a year earlier in nominal terms. If it gets colder than federal weather forecasters expect, heating bills could be 51% more than last year for homes with gas-fuelled furnaces and boilers, which is nearly half of US households. A 19% year-over-year jump is anticipated if it is a warm winter.

The base case for those who burn heating oil—mainly in the Northeast, where low imports and closed refineries have reduced supply—is for 27% greater expense. Those with propane, popular in rural areas, and electric heat are expected to pay 5% and 10% more, respectively, if temperature forecasts hold.

“Winter energy expenditures for most households are likely to be higher than last winter,” said Joseph DeCarolis, EIA administrator. “Much higher if the weather is very cold.”

A really chilly winter could throw energy markets back into overdrive and turn up the pressure on central bankers, who are fighting what has been the highest inflation in four decades with the steepest interest-rate increases since the early 1980s.


But of course Americans don’t get any help with their bills. The only thing that can save the economy is.. global warming?
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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.1896: UK smart meter data grab, Stable Diffusion biz gets VC boost, Intel mulls job cuts, Denmark’s AI party, and more

  1. There is one useful difference between the UK and the US: My bill is split into 12 monthly payments based on the previous year’s bill. i.e. I don’t pay $1000 during the winter months, I pay $83 per month over 12 months, and there’s no interest. You’re right though, we’re not getting any support yet, and it’s those in ill-maintained housing (mainly renters and the poor) who will probably get the short end of the stick.

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