Start Up No.1915: Apple mulls partial China exit, India gets smartwatches, volcano pauses CO2 data, ex-Instagram?, and more

A scene from Apple TV+'s adaptation of Mick Herron's Slow Horses series
The TV adaptation by Apple of Mick Herron’s Slow Horses book series follows a typical author’s struggle to be discovered. Now he’s famous. Photo copyright: Apple.

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There was a new post on Friday at the Social Warming Substack. Did you miss it?


A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Apple makes plans to move production out of China • WSJ

Yang Jie and Aaron Tilley:

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In recent weeks, Apple has accelerated plans to shift some of its production outside China, long the dominant country in the supply chain that built the world’s most valuable company, say people involved in the discussions. It is telling suppliers to plan more actively for assembling Apple products elsewhere in Asia, particularly India and Vietnam, they say, and looking to reduce dependence on Taiwanese assemblers led by Foxconn Technology Group.

Turmoil at a place called iPhone City helped propel Apple’s shift. At the giant city-within-a-city in Zhengzhou, China, as many as 300,000 workers work at a factory run by Foxconn to make iPhones and other Apple products. At one point, it alone made about 85% of the Pro lineup of iPhones, according to market-research firm Counterpoint Research. 

The Zhengzhou factory was convulsed in late November by violent protests. In videos posted online, workers upset about wages and Covid-19 restrictions could be seen throwing items and shouting “Stand up for your rights!” Riot police were present, the videos show. The location of one of the videos was verified by the news agency and video-verification service Storyful. The Wall Street Journal corroborated events shown in the videos with workers at the site.

Coming after a year of events that weakened China’s status as a stable manufacturing center, the upheaval means Apple no longer feels comfortable having so much of its business tied up in one place, according to analysts and people in the Apple supply chain.

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Tim Cook’s view used to be that China offered the scale that Apple needs to manufacture the millions of iPhones it produces. The challenge to come, after finding places to make the devices, is coordinating output. And if you thought there was the occasional pre-release leak from Apple before, imagine what it’ll be like with multiple countries producing a new iPhone. (Though a fresh challenge for all the analysts who have built up sources in the Chinese supply chains.)
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DeepMind AI topples experts at complex game Stratego • Nature

Anil Ananthaswamy:

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Another game long considered extremely difficult for artificial intelligence (AI) to master has fallen to machines. An AI called DeepNash, made by London-based company DeepMind, has matched expert humans at Stratego, a board game that requires long-term strategic thinking in the face of imperfect information.

The achievement, described in Science on 1 December, comes hot on the heels of a study reporting an AI that can play Diplomacy, in which players must negotiate as they cooperate and compete.

“The rate at which qualitatively different game features have been conquered — or mastered to new levels — by AI in recent years is quite remarkable,” says Michael Wellman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a computer scientist who studies strategic reasoning and game theory. “Stratego and Diplomacy are quite different from each other, and also possess challenging features notably different from games for which analogous milestones have been reached.”

Stratego has characteristics that make it much more complicated than chess, Go or poker, all of which have been mastered by AIs (the latter two games in 20153 and 20194). In Stratego, two players place 40 pieces each on a board, but cannot see what their opponent’s pieces are. The goal is to take turns moving pieces to eliminate those of the opponent and capture a flag. Stratego’s game tree — the graph of all possible ways in which the game could go — has 10^535 states, compared with Go’s 10^360. In terms of imperfect information at the start of a game, Stratego has 10^66 possible private positions, which dwarfs the 10^6 such starting situations in two-player Texas hold’em poker.

“The sheer complexity of the number of possible outcomes in Stratego means algorithms that perform well on perfect-information games, and even those that work for poker, don’t work,” says Julien Perolat, a DeepMind researcher based in Paris.

…For two weeks in April, DeepNash competed with human Stratego players on online game platform Gravon. After 50 matches, DeepNash was ranked third among all Gravon Stratego players since 2002. “Our work shows that such a complex game as Stratego, involving imperfect information, does not require search techniques to solve it,” says team member Karl Tuyls, a DeepMind researcher based in Paris. “This is a really big step forward in AI.”

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It’s really not fun playing against machines any more.
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Mauna Loa eruption halts key atmospheric measurements, CO2 monitoring • The Washington Post

Brady Dennis:

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The eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, has interrupted a key site that monitors greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, officials said Tuesday.

“The carbon dioxide measurement equipment that maintains the famed Keeling Curve record lost power at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 28 and is not currently recording data,” the University of California at San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography said in a statement.

The site, selected by the late scientist Charles David Keeling as an ideal spot to measure CO2 due to its relative isolation and vegetation-free landscape, has been recording atmospheric concentrations of the planet-heating gas since the late 1950s.

The Keeling Curve — a chart that shows the steady rise of carbon in the atmosphere in recent decades, as measured at Mauna Loa — is considered a simple yet important piece of scientific evidence that human activities are transforming the Earth’s climate.

“It’s a big eruption, and it’s in a bad place,” Keeling’s son, Scripps geoscientist Ralph Keeling, said in a statement Tuesday about the lava flows at Mauna Loa, located at the heart of Hawaii’s Big Island. He described the outlook for future CO2 readings from the station as “very troubling.”

Earlier, Scripps tweeted that the ongoing eruption “is flowing close to the observatory” and that measurements probably would shut down.

…Atmospheric CO2 measurements are maintained at multiple spots around the globe, from the South Pole to Alaska, though the site at Mauna Loa has the best known and most continuous record in the world.

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Ironically, the eruption will probably lead to some atmospheric cooling due to the sulphur aerosols that are thrown up.
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India becomes biggest smartwatch market in Q3 2022 • Counterpoint Research

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Despite inflation and geopolitical crises that have continued since the beginning of this year, global smartwatch market shipments increased 30% YoY in Q3 2022, according to Counterpoint Research’s latest Global Smartwatch Model Tracker. During the quarter, India’s market grew 171% YoY to become the biggest smartwatch market in the world. Other markets also grew YoY, except China and Europe.

Research analyst Woojin Son said, “Among the types of smartwatches*, the basic smartwatch, with relatively lighter versions of operating systems (OSs) and more affordable prices, has been the key driver in sharply boosting the global market recently. While HLOS [high level OS, eg WatchOS, WearOS] smartwatch shipments grew 23% YoY in Q3 2022, basic smartwatch shipments more than doubled YoY, accounting for 35% of the total market. This remarkable increase in basic smartwatch shipments shows us that the market base is rapidly expanding toward more accessible segments amid aggressive drives by the supply side. But still, in terms of revenue, the HLOS smartwatch overwhelmed the basic smartwatch with a market size of almost 10 times due to its high average selling price (ASP).”

Apple grew 48% YoY thanks to strong sales of its newly released Apple Watch 8 series. Released in early September, the new series accounted for about 56% of the overall shipments. Apple accounted for about half of the market among HLOS smartwatches in Q3 2022. However, this was a slight decrease from the 54% share in Q2 2022 due to the slump in North America and Europe, which are major markets.

Samsung increased its shipments by 62% QoQ with launching new Galaxy Watch 5 series, while its market share of the HLOS segment increased by 5% points QoQ. However, Samsung’s shipments only grew 6% YoY as it lost ground in India, falling below 3% share there. In the global market, Samsung was still in second place but with a decreased market share (down by 2.7% points YoY), narrowing the gap with the third-placed Noise.

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Remarkable: India really is a country of gadget lovers. Did not expect that they’d go for smartwatches in such a big way though.
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Howcome GPT can seem so brilliant one minute and so breathtakingly dumb the next? • The Road To AI We Can Trust

Gary Marcus:

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The immense database of things that GPT draws on consists entirely of language uttered by humans, in the real world with utterances that (generally) grounded in the real world. That means, for examples, that the entities (churros, surgical tools) and properties (“allow[s] for greater precision and control during surgery, risking the risk of complications and improving the overall outcomes patients”) generally refer to real entities and properties in the world. GPT doesn’t talk randomly, because it’s pastiching things actual people said. (Or, more often, synonyms and paraphrases of those things.)

When GPT gets things right, it is often combining bits that don’t belong together, but not quite in random ways, but rather in ways where there is some overlap in some aspect or another.

Example: Churros are in a cluster of small things that the system (roughly speaking) groups together, presumably including eg baseballs, grasshoppers, forceps, and so forth. GPT doesn’t actually know which of the elements appropriately combine with which other properties. Some small things really do “allow[s] for greater precision and control during surgery, risking the risk of complications and improving the overall outcomes patients” But GPT idea has no idea which.

In some sense, GPT is like a glorified version of cut and paste, where everything that is cut goes through a paraphrasing/synonymy process before it is paste but together—and a lot of important stuff is sometimes lost along the way.

When GPT sounds plausible, it is because every paraphrased bit that it pastes together is grounded in something that actual humans said, and there is often some vague (but often irrelevant) relationship between..

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Seeing GPT’s output as pastiche, as Marcus puts it, helps understand what’s going on much better. The pastiche, or mimicry, is improving, but still remains an act.
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Instagram is over • The Atlantic

Kate Lindsay:

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“Gen Z’s relationship with Instagram is much like millennials’ relationship with Facebook: Begrudgingly necessary,” Casey Lewis, a youth-culture consultant who writes the youth-culture newsletter After School, told me over email. “They don’t want to be on it, but they feel it’s weird if they’re not.” In fact, a recent Piper Sandler survey found that, of 14,500 teens surveyed across 47 states, only 20% named Instagram their favorite social-media platform (TikTok came first, followed by Snapchat).

Simply being on Instagram is a very different thing from actively engaging with it. Participating means throwing pictures into a void, which is why it’s become kind of cringe. To do so earnestly suggests a blithe unawareness of your surroundings, like shouting into the phone in public.

In other words, Instagram is giving us the ick: that feeling when a romantic partner or crush does something small but noticeable—like wearing a fedora—that immediately turns you off forever.

“People who aren’t influencers only use [Instagram] to watch other people make big announcements,” Lee Tilghman, a former full-time Instagram influencer, told me over the phone. “My close friends who aren’t influencers, they haven’t posted in, like, two years.”

As is always the case, the ick came about quite suddenly—things were going great for Instagram, until they just weren’t. In 2014, the app hit 300 million monthly active users, surpassing Twitter for the first time. The Instagram Stories feature, a direct rip-off of Snapchat, was introduced in August 2016 and outpaced the original just one year later. But although Instagram now has 2 billion monthly users, it faces an existential problem: What happens when the 18-to-29-year-olds who are most likely to use the app, at least in America, age out or go elsewhere?

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The attempt to turn Instagram into TikTok by forcing Reels on everyone has been hugely unpopular. And once people start leaving, the network effect goes into reverse.
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The trouble with the National Grid – thread by @EdConwaySky • Thread Reader App

Ed Conway is Sky News’s economics editor:

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Arguably the most important & underdiscussed issue in the pursuit for net zero

The [national] grid is creaking.

It could trigger blackouts & even prevent net zero.

It’s a very big deal!

But let’s begin our story with something else. A bit of history. The first power station…

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Not a short thread, but Conway goes into the detail that matters, and is overlooked, about the problems with underinvestment in the National Grid. (There doesn’t seem to be a story to go with it on the Sky news website.)
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Why Sam Bankman-Fried hasn’t been arrested yet • NY Mag

Ankush Khardori:

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According to the criminal complaint filed on the day of his arrest, [Bernie] Madoff told his sons [in December 2008] “that he was ‘finished,’ that he had ‘absolutely nothing,’ that ‘it’s all just one big lie,’ and that it was ‘basically a giant Ponzi scheme.’” His sons called the FBI, and two days later, two agents showed up at his home and asked whether “there’s an innocent explanation” for what Madoff had told his sons. Madoff literally replied, “There is no innocent explanation.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, the reason Madoff was arrested so quickly is because he confessed to every element of criminal fraud — including both the underlying scheme and his criminal intent. This meant that the FBI had both that confession and highly potent, admissible evidence of guilt in the form of testimony from his adult children (who had no apparent axe to grind).

If that is all the government ever had, they would have been able to convict Madoff easily at trial. (He eventually pled guilty.) They also needed to make sure that Madoff did not have second thoughts — he told his sons that he planned to turn himself in to authorities in about a week — and that he would not attempt to flee the country instead.

We have not seen anything like a real admission of criminal conduct from SBF yet and, of course, he is not in the country at the moment, so there is no imperative (no ability, really) to keep him in the United States. As important, SBF has been rather talkative in interviews — including in an interview with New York’s Jen Wieczner that was published yesterday — but he has been careful as well. So far as I can tell, he has held firm on a central point for his defense — that the epic, still-unspooling fiasco at FTX was the result of sloppiness and inadvertent missteps by the company’s leadership rather than an intentional effort to mislead FTX customers or investors.

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People really are infuriated by him not being cuffs, but the Bahamas isn’t the US. There is an extradition treaty between the two; someone, or some people in the US will be building a case right now.
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Is Mick Herron the best spy novelist of his generation? • The New Yorker

Jill Lepore:

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When Herron first drafted “Slow Horses,” he planned to blow up Slough House. (He kills off characters all the time: “It’s not a thriller if it’s not thrilling.”) But then he decided he might want to stay a little longer in that house and reimagined the ending. The book came out in 2010; a couple of years later, he finished a sequel, “Dead Lions.” This winter, it’s Season 2 of the Apple series. At the time, however, he couldn’t find a publisher in his own country.

He recalled, “One publisher asked, ‘What even is this? Is it a thriller or is it a comedy?’ Also, no one wanted to publish a sequel when they hadn’t published the first book.” Herron figured, OK, I guess I’ll never be a full-time writer. But then Juliet Grames, who runs the crime imprint at Soho, an independent American publisher, came along. “I read ‘Dead Lions’ and I said, ‘We have to publish this,’ ” Grames told me. Soho bought the rights to “Slow Horses,” too, but, she says, “we could not get people to listen to us about this guy.”

Then, in the UK, Mark Richards, an editor at the distinguished press John Murray, happened to pick up a copy of “Slow Horses” at the Liverpool Street railway station. Richards’s colleagues see him as the “furniture restorer,” because he can look at an unloved, threadbare sofa and spot its quality. He bought the rights to the first two Slough House books. Not long afterward, Britons voted for Brexit and Americans elected Trump. Suddenly, Peter Judd [a Boris Johnson-alike character] and the [murderous rightwing group] Sons of Albion didn’t seem so far-fetched. The Daily Telegraph dubbed “Slow Horses” one of the best spy novels ever written.

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“The furniture restorer”. There are all sorts of beautiful touches like that scattered though this feature about Herron, whose books are being gradually brought to the screen through note-perfect adaptations on Apple TV+. The timing of Lepore’s visit is exquisite, just as Liz Truss resigns:

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“Oi!” Jackson Lamb might have growled from his office on the top floor of Slough House, fishing a cigarette out of one pocket and a lighter out of another. “Tory Spice is on the telly!”

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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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