Start Up No.1939: pol gives job to ChatGPT, scientists “make” a black hole, Buzzfeed hires AI “writers”, Intel slumps to loss, and more

If rich people get us to Mars, and own the means of survival, what will life in the colony be like – as you won’t be able to escape? CC-licensed photo by Kevin Gill on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

It’s Friday, so there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.

A selection of 10 links for you. Speech! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Member of Congress reads AI-generated speech on House floor • Associated Press via ABC News

Steve LeBlanc:


When U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss decided to deliver a speech on a bill that would create a US-Israel artificial intelligence center, he opted to let the AI do the talking.

The brief two-paragragh speech read by the Massachusetts Democrat on the floor of the US House on Wednesday was generated by the online AI chatbot ChatGPT. His staff said they believe it’s the first time an AI-written speech was read in Congress.

Auchincloss said he prompted the system in part to “write 100 words to deliver on the floor of the House of Representatives” about the legislation. Auchincloss said he had to refine the prompt several times to produce the text he ultimately read.

The bill, which Auchincloss is refiling, would establish a joint U.S.-Israel AI Center in the United States to serve as a hub for AI research and development in the public, private and education sectors.

Auchincloss said part of the decision to read a ChatGPT-generated text was to help spur debate on AI and the challenges and opportunities created by it. He said he doesn’t want to see a repeat of the advent of social media, which started small and ballooned faster than Congress could react.


Pretty soon we can cut out the middleman, can’t we, and get ChatGPT to generate the speech, and then it gets automatically read into the record by a system, and the humans can get on with something important?
unique link to this extract

Ending suspension of Trump’s accounts with new guardrails to deter repeat offenses • Meta

Nick Clegg:


To assess whether the serious risk to public safety that existed in January 2021 has sufficiently receded, we have evaluated the current environment according to our Crisis Policy Protocol, which included looking at the conduct of the US 2022 midterm elections, and expert assessments on the current security environment. Our determination is that the risk has sufficiently receded, and that we should therefore adhere to the two-year timeline we set out. As such, we will be reinstating Mr. Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks. However, we are doing so with new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses.

Like any other Facebook or Instagram user, Mr. Trump is subject to our Community Standards. In light of his violations, he now also faces heightened penalties for repeat offenses — penalties which will apply to other public figures whose accounts are reinstated from suspensions related to civil unrest under our updated protocol. In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation.


Had anyone, anywhere, ever heard of the Crisis Policy Protocol before this post? It’s like a matryoshka of protocols and policies and assessments – layer after embedded layer of newly revealed reasons for doing something or other.
unique link to this extract

Trump and Facebook’s mutual decay • The Atlantic

Charlie Warzel on how things have changed:


some of the thunder [of Trump’s reinstatement, after two years, on Facebook and Instagram] was stolen by Twitter, which reinstated his account late last year, although Trump hasn’t resumed posting there.

There is also the mutual decay of both Trump and Facebook. Each thrives by hijacking attention and monetizing outrage, and they’ve benefited each other: The Trump campaign spent millions of dollars on more than 289,000 Facebook ads over the span of just a few months in 2020, according to an analysis by The Markup. But lately, both appear to have lost the juice. Many people still support Trump, and many people still use Facebook products, but the shine is gone—and that matters.

Facebook’s ad business was kneecapped last year by changes Apple made to limit tracking on its devices. It faces steep competition from insurgent apps such as TikTok. And there is a sense, looking at the company’s transparency reports, which detail the most popular content on its platform, that Facebook has become a vast wasteland of recycled memes and scammy, spammy clickbait.

Meanwhile, Trump’s 2024 campaign has been, to date, almost nonexistent. His kickoff announcement was roundly mocked as “low energy,” and some cable news networks didn’t bother to air it in full. Trump and his team have been sloppy and clearly grasping for relevance. And although I wouldn’t downplay the former president’s chances in the 2024 contest, he certainly doesn’t appear as invincible in primary politics as he once did.


unique link to this extract

BREAKING🚨: scientists have just created a black hole in the lab, and it has unexpectedly started to glow • Physics-Astronomy Blog

Umer Abrar:


Stephen Hawking postulated in 1974 that the event horizon’s disruption of quantum fluctuations results in a kind of radiation very similar to thermal radiation.

Even if it does, it is now too weak for us to detect. We may never be able to separate it from the hissing static of the universe. But by making black hole replicas in a lab, we can examine its characteristics.

Despite the fact that this has been done previously, a team lead by Lotte Mertens from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands has created something brand-new.

Electrons ‘hopped’ from one location to another along a one-dimensional chain of atoms. The scientists were able to make some qualities disappear by adjusting how easily this hopping could take place. This resulted in the formation of an event horizon that interfered with the electrons’ ability to behave like waves.

Only when a portion of the chain stretched beyond the event horizon did the impact of this fictitious event horizon result in a temperature increase that matched theoretical predictions of an analogous black hole system, the scientists said.


This site is fascinating, and I mean fascinating. The headlines are like the one above, or “BREAKING 🚨: An extremely rare green comet will visit Earth for the first time in 50,000 years on February 1”. It’s breaking news! How can you ignore it? But the wild GLOWING BLACK HOLE IN A LAB story is really a come-on for a really solid writeup of a complex physics story that wouldn’t disgrace most newspapers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author’s name is some sort of anagram, since s/he seems to have written all the stories.
unique link to this extract

BuzzFeed will start using AI to write quizzes and other content • Nieman Journalism Lab

Sarah Scire:


Nothing like a spokesperson issuing assurances that BuzzFeed “remains focused on human-generated journalism” to make you feel good about the future of the news industry, right?

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday on a staff memo at BuzzFeed that laid out plans for the digital media company to use OpenAI — creator of ChatGPT — to help write quizzes and other content. In the memo, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti wrote AI will play a role in both editorial and business operations at BuzzFeed within the next year.

“For example, a quiz to create a personal romantic comedy movie pitch might ask questions like, ‘Pick a trope for your rom-com,’ and ‘Tell us an endearing flaw you have,’” the Journal’s Alexandra Bruell reported. “The quiz would produce a unique, shareable write-up based on the individual’s responses, BuzzFeed said.”

But, hey! Humans will still provide “cultural currency” and “inspired prompts,” according to Peretti’s memo.
“If the past 15 years of the internet have been defined by algorithmic feeds that curate and recommend content, the next 15 years will be defined by AI and data helping create, personalize, and animate the content itself,” Peretti wrote.


Here’s the thing, though: Buzzfeed’s share price pretty much doubled on this news, allied with a $10m deal with Meta where Buzzfeed will make content for Facebook and Instagram and “train creators to grow their presence online”. Pretty good 48 hours for Buzzfeed, the company, if not for Buzzfeed, the investigative newsroom.
unique link to this extract

Quintessence: a link aggregator for your Mastodon account


Quintessence shows you the top links that the people that you follow on Mastodon tooted or boosted in the last 24 hours.

In order to work it just needs read permissions for your account.

You can allow this by specifying your instance in the text box below and clicking “Authorize”.

Quintessence is a static site, all its code runs on the device that you are using to read these lines. No data leaves your browser nor is being shared with anyone.


On Twitter there was a tool called Nuzzel, which Twitter bought and effectively killed by rolling it into Twitter Blue, that did the same as this. Quintessence is pretty neat.
unique link to this extract

Intel slumps on disappointing earnings amid PC weakness • WSJ

Asa Fitch:


Intel, which remains America’s largest chip maker by revenue, on Thursday reported a $664m loss for the final period of the year on a 32% decrease in sales to $14bn. The figure came short of Wall Street forecasts for a $278m loss on sales of $14.49bn, according to analysts surveyed by FactSet.

The company also said sales in the current quarter would come at around $10.5bn to $11.5bn, well below Wall Street’s forecast of $13.9bn. Shipments of PCs will be at the low end of its forecast range of 270m to 295m this year, the company said in a presentation.

Shares in Intel fell more than 7% in after-hours trading Thursday.

The sales slump reflects, in part, the sharp downturn the personal-computer market has been experiencing over recent months. PC shipments fell 28.5% in the final quarter of last year, research firm Gartner said, the worst retreat since it began tracking the market in the 1990s. Consumer spending has been hit by central banks raising interest rates to combat soaring inflation and growing fears of a possible recession. 


Intel’s PC chip sales are usually a leading indicator (OEMs buy chips they’ll put in PCs over the coming months), and they fell 36% in value – worse than analysts forecast – which suggests bad things for the PC market. But Intel, which is trying to turn its whole business around, really has a problem now.
unique link to this extract

Indian teenagers from small towns are taking YouTube Shorts by storm • Rest of World

Nilesh Christopher:


In a remarkably short time, RG Factboy became one of the world’s most popular YouTube Shorts channels. The creator behind it is Rohit Gupta, a 17-year-old student based in the remote Indian town of Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh. Gupta’s Shorts had sensational Hindi voice-overs to viral videos of other creators, and ended on a plea for viewers to subscribe.

The channel, created in April 2022, had 11 million subscribers before it was abruptly deleted on January 11 for violating YouTube’s rules. Unlike viral YouTubers who thrive on long-form videos, RG Factboy only posted YouTube Shorts: vertical-format videos with a maximum length of 60 seconds. “YouTube is working hard to promote Shorts,” Gupta told Rest of World. “They want audiences to move from Instagram to YouTube. Because of this, creators are active on Shorts day in and day out.” Between November 1 and January 11, RG Factboy had gained 4 million subscribers, according to social media analytics company SocialBlade.

…After Rest of World sent YouTube a list of questions about the rapid rise of fact channels and some of them being banned due to copyright issues, the platform investigated the trend. YouTube then confirmed that many of these channels were in fact terminated due to multiple or severe violations of its policies against spam, deceptive practices, misleading content, or other Terms of Service violations. YouTube pointed out that their policy does not allow content selling engagement metrics, such as views, likes, comments, or any other metric.

YouTube purged RG Factboy’s account on January 11, a day after Rest of World inquired about the channel’s rapid growth. @MrFactVoice22’s channel also met with a similar fate the same day, although it was unclear why or for what duration of time. YouTube told Rest of World that many of these “fact channels” add voice-overs to content belonging to other creators, and that it is important for creators to only upload videos they have made or are authorized to use. YouTube added that when a copyright holder notifies them of a video infringing on their copyright, they remove the content in accordance with the law, and terminate accounts of repeat offenders.


Seems like India’s connected youth don’t really think of copyright in the same way that YouTube’s people do. Which is a problem, both for the youth and for YouTube.

unique link to this extract

We tried to run a social media site and it was awful • Financial Times

Bryce Elder:


A few months ago, FT Alphaville thought it might be fun to host a Mastodon server. Boy, were we wrong!

It is therefore with relief and regret that we announce the shutdown of, this blog’s completely unofficial home on the Fediverse. Our reasons are listed below in full but, to summarise, Mastodon has proved more hassle than it’s worth.

…• Compliance, security and reputational risks are substantial and evergrowing in unpredictable ways. Though largely hypothetical, these risks were judged serious enough to exercise management at the highest levels. Those people have better things to do than to clean up our mess.
• The legal side is all that again times a thousand. Take, for instance, the UK Investigatory Powers Act 2016. Diligent people have spent years figuring out how its imprecise wordings apply to media organisations. Do these same conclusions hold for a sort-of-but-not-really decentralised silo of user generated content? Dunno. The only place to find out for sure would be in court, and we’d really rather not.
• Do Mastodon server owners wear any responsibility for their users’ defamations? It’s unlikely but, because libel involves judges, not impossible. Again, the value in finding out is outweighed by the cost of finding out.
• Mastodon administrators have access to everyone’s direct messages by default. FT Alphaville has no interest in sliding uninvited into anyone’s DMs and the best way to prove it is to remove all opportunity.
• Everything above is written from a UK perspective but lawyers are literally everywhere. There’s probably one behind you right now.


And that’s only half the list. A number of people on social media were very critical and said that they should have known this ahead of time, but Mastodon was sold as your plastic pal – well, social media service – that’s fun to play with. But then you discover the lawyers.
unique link to this extract

Why Elon Musk and the billionaire space bros want to put people in space cages forever • Against Mars



There is no way around it. In those “containment shelters on Mars,” many will have to needlessly die, including children, who would have otherwise been perfectly fine on Earth. Thankfully, this will allow “survival of the fittest” to “kick in.” Finally we can go back to the good, old-fashioned, guided rectification of the species — also known as eugenics — which is impeded on Earth by all sorts of cumbersome interdicts and laws.

Set asides eugenics for a moment (I know, it’s a tall order). One way to look at [former Nasa staff, and author of a piece about space colonisation, Christopher] Wanjek’s speculations is to clap in unison with the rest of the crowd, the tech press, the robber barons, the scientific establishment and the military-industrial complex. Another way to look at it, no doubt unpopular, is to marvel at how one could qualify as progress or “destiny” medical experiments on captive human populations. Furthermore, the earnest glee of it all, given that it’s pure science-fiction at this point, gives off very strong Dr. Strangelove vibes.

As for eugenics, you may applaud it down here on Earth. You are free to be illiterate or sociopathic. We’ll revisit when you, or your children, are the ones forcibly sterilized or euthanized by the local Martian government.

That said, I disagree with Mr. Wanjek: it requires much more than libertarian naiveté to colonize space. Parking humans in containment shelters, on Mars or elsewhere, so as to breed them and select them like cattle — that requires malice.

Surely this can’t be what Elon Musk and his fellow space billionaires want for humanity?


…Any human inside these habitats will have to be trained, disciplined and coerced and so will their children and their great-grandchildren. Machines that keep you alive have a way to extract immediate and complete compliance from you. If you’ve ever tried scuba diving, you’ll know what I mean.


This is a strong argument that if the rich get us to space, things up there will be awful for the poor.
unique link to this extract

• 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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.