Start Up No.1946: Google Bard enters AI search wars, crypto ads absent from Super Bowl, EU eyes Twitter’s content for size, and more

Does thanking more people in a film’s credits mean, as distributors think, it will get lower ratings? CC-licensed photo by Aranami on Flickr.

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There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.

A selection of 9 links for you. It’s the producer! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google announces ChatGPT rival Bard, with wider availability in ‘coming weeks’ • The Verge

James Vincent:


It’s official: Google is working on a ChatGPT competitor named Bard.

Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced the project in a blog post on Monday, describing the tool as an “experimental conversational AI service” that will answer users’ queries and take part in conversations. The software will be available to a group of “trusted testers” today, says Pichai, before becoming “more widely available to the public in the coming weeks.”

It’s not clear exactly what capabilities Bard will have, but it seems the chatbot will be just as free ranging as OpenAI’s ChatGPT. A screenshot encourages users to ask Bard practical queries, like how to plan a baby shower or what kind of meals could be made from a list of ingredients for lunch.

Writes Pichai: “Bard can be an outlet for creativity, and a launchpad for curiosity, helping you to explain new discoveries from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to a 9-year-old, or learn more about the best strikers in football right now, and then get drills to build your skills.”

Pichai also notes that Bard “draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses,” suggesting it may be able to answer questions about recent events — something ChatGPT struggles with.

The rushed announcement and lack of information about Bard are telltale signs of the “code red” triggered at Google by ChatGPT’s launch last year. Although ChatGPT’s underlying technology is not revolutionary, OpenAI’s decision to make the system freely available on the web exposed millions to this novel form of automated text generation. The effects have been seismic, with discussions about the impact of ChatGPT on education, work, and — of particular interest to Google — the future of internet search.


Will we be able to tell the differences between these AI-enabled search engines? Will Bing’s be dramatically better? If not, it’s hard to see how the old defaults won’t reassert themselves, with Google being the dominant one.
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Whispers of A.I.’s modular future • The New Yorker

James Somers:


[AI transcription software] Whisper’s story reveals a lot about the history of A.I. and where it’s going. When a piece of software is open-source, you can adapt it to your own ends—it’s a box of Legos instead of a fully formed toy—and software that’s flexible is remarkably enduring. In 1976, the programmer Richard Stallman created a text-editing program called Emacs that is still wildly popular among software developers today. I use it not just for programming but for writing: because it’s open-source, I’ve been able to modify it to help me manage notes for my articles. I adapted code that someone had adapted from someone else, who had adapted it from someone else—a chain of tinkering going all the way back to Stallman.

Already, we’re seeing something similar happen with Whisper. A friend of mine, a filmmaker and software developer, has written a thin wrapper around the tool that transcribes all of the audio and video files in a documentary project to make it easier for him to find excerpts from interviews. Others have built programs that transcribe Twitch streams and YouTube videos, or that work as private voice assistants on their phones. A group of coders is trying to teach the tool to annotate who’s speaking. Gerganov, who developed Whisper.cpp, has recently made a Web-based version, so that users don’t have to download anything.

Nearly perfect speech recognition has become not just an application but a building block for applications. As soon as this happens, things move very fast. When OpenAI’s text-to-image program, dall-e, came out, it caused a sensation—but this was nothing compared with the flurry of activity kicked off by its open-source clone, Stable Diffusion. dall-e used a “freemium” model, in which users could pay for additional images, and no one could modify its code; it generally proved more powerful and accurate than Stable Diffusion, because it was trained on mountains of proprietary data.

But it’s been forced to compete with a vast number and variety of adaptations, plug-ins, and remixes coming from the open-source community. Within weeks, users had adapted Stable Diffusion to create an “image-to-image” mode, in which they could tell the program to tweak an existing image with a text prompt. By repeatedly invoking this mode, a new method of illustration became possible, in which a user could iteratively compose an image with words, as if bossing around an endlessly patient robot artist.


Being the New Yorker, it’s not an article that lends itself to easy excerpting. Definitely worth digging into.
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For Super Bowl ads this year, crypto is out, booze is in • AP News

Mae Anderson:


Last year’s Super Bowl was dubbed the “Crypto Bowl” because four cryptocurrency companies — FTX, Coinbase, and eToro — ran splashy commercials. It was part of a larger effort by crypto companies to break into the mainstream with sports sponsorships. But in November, FTX filed for bankruptcy and its founder was charged in a scheme to defraud investors.

This year, two crypto advertisers had commercials “booked and done” and two others were ”on the one-yard line,” Evans said. But once FTX news broke, those deals weren’t completed.

Now, “There’s zero representation in that category on the day at all,” he said.

Evans said most Super Bowl ads sold much earlier than usual, with more than 90% of its Super Bowl ad inventory gone by the end of the summer, as established advertisers jockeyed for prime positions. But the remaining spots sold slower. Partly that was due to the implosion of the crypto space, as well as general advertiser concerns about the global economy, Evans said.


Sic transit gloria mundi. (The game’s on Sunday, apparently. Ad spots sell for about $6m upwards.)
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Musk’s Twitter expected to face the strictest EU content rules • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Jillian Deutsch and Kurt Wagner:


Elon Musk’s Twitter Inc. is expected to fall under the European Union’s stricter rules for content moderation despite doubts that the platform was big enough to qualify.

Twitter and the EU’s executive arm are gearing up for the company to be designated a “very large online platform” under the bloc’s new Digital Services Act, according to people familiar with the matter. That means the company has enough monthly active EU users that it will have to report on how it’s reducing harmful posts and could even be forced to change its algorithms by the European Commission.

For Musk, it means that his stripped-down company will be subject to a much more intrusive regulatory system and could face significant penalties — up to 6% the company’s revenue or even a ban from operating in Europe — if it doesn’t comply. The EU, meanwhile, would avoid the embarrassment of having one of the world’s most influential platforms escape its efforts to tame online content.

Tech companies regardless of their size have to follow the fundamental rules of the DSA and take down illegal content in all the EU’s 27 countries. The EU’s largest platforms — with more than 45 million monthly active users — will be designated as very large online platforms, or VLOPs, and will face centralized, tougher scrutiny by the EU’s executive arm in Brussels.

Some EU officials had been concerned that Twitter might not have enough users to be designated a VLOP, allowing Musk to dodge the most significant changes to the EU’s content moderation rules. At the end of October before Musk bought the social media site, some internally believed the company would fall short of the 45 million user threshold now that the UK has left the EU, according to former employees familiar with the matter.

Even so, the company prepared for VLOP designation, and was also planning an internal audit to ensure it would be in compliance with DSA regulations, the people said. Staff expected user growth and were concerned that reporting fewer than 45 million monthly active users could affect its reputation among advertisers.


Neat dilemma: if you’re too small, you lose revenue because advertisers will demand to pay less; if you’re too big, you spend more conforming to the rules.
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Dell to lay off more than 6,500 workers or 5% of workforce • WSJ

Will Feuer:


“Market conditions continue to erode with an uncertain future,” Jeff Clarke, Dell’s co-chief operating officer, said Monday in a memo to employees. He said the company had already paused hiring, limited employee travel and reduced spending on outside services. Those steps, he said, “are no longer enough.”

Dell is taking steps to reorganize its sales, customer-support, product-development and engineering teams, Mr. Clarke said.

“We’ve navigated economic downturns before and we’ve emerged stronger,” he said. “We will be ready when the market rebounds.”

…Dell will cut its workforce amid an industrywide slump in personal computer shipments that began in 2022 and is expected to persist until 2024. The company saw a 21% year-over-year decline in worldwide shipments in the third quarter of last year, according to IDC.


Joins the expanding list of companies that thought the pandemic wasn’t going to end, and that the surge in demand for things they sold during that period (PCs, Peloton bikes, Zoom calls) would go on indefinitely.
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Does thanking too many people in the credits indicate a movie is bad? • Film Data and Education

Stephen Follows:


David Wilkinson got in touch yesterday asking for advice on his new crowdfunding campaign. One of the topics he wanted to chat about was the ‘cost’ of offering a “Thanks” credit to his backers.

This involves awarding someone who backs the film a credit on the movie under the “With Thanks” section. This name check would appear at the end of the movie and, crucially, on IMDb.

On the face of it, there is no cost to offering an almost infinite number of these as it would just be a case of a longer end credit crawl and IMDb doesn’t charge for listing credits.

However, David brought up an anecdote from his time as a distributor. In conversations with fellow film sales professionals, the topic of ‘how to spot a bad movie’ came up. One participant said that they regard having too many ‘With Thanks’ credits as a red flag. The others agreed and added that the number of producers listed on a movie was similarly useful in spotting a bad film.

These are just the kind of industry beliefs that I love to test. This week I’m going to tackle the ‘With Thanks’ credits and then next week I’ll turn to producing credits.

I gathered data on 8,096 movies released in US cinemas between 2000-19 (i.e. pre-pandemic), taking note of their number of credited/thanked individuals, their IMDb score (to stand in for audience views) and Metascore (to sample the views of critics).


Go on, guess: are more thanks good, bad or indifferent for the score? And I’m definitely going to be back for the producers (executive and other flavours) tally next week. Follows does wonders with film data.
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Taiwan’s retreat from nuclear power • Hot Tip

Alexander Kaufman:


Germany was far from the only nation to try to turn against nuclear energy after the 2011 accident in Japan. Taiwan did, too. And the current government under President Tsai Ing-wen, whose party shares the German Greens’ anti-nuclear position, wants to shut down Taiwan’s nuclear plants by 2025.

Since the Russian invasion, pundits the world over have predicted China would attack Taiwan next. Despite what some of the more hawkish prognosticators would have you think, it’s not an apples-to-apples situation, and there are many good reasons to doubt that Beijing will choose war.

But the energy risks are strikingly parallel. As Taiwan shuts down its nuclear reactors, the country is using more natural gas. Putting aside the climate concerns about replacing zero-carbon power with a fossil fuel, Taiwan has already struggled with blackouts and energy shortages since the nuclear phaseout began. Relying on a fuel that requires constant imports is, at least according to experts I spoke with, a dangerous game. And you don’t need to imagine World War III to see why.

Following former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei last August, China carried out missile tests in the waters around Taiwan. Tankers ships freighting liquefied natural gas to Taiwan rerouted away.

There’s a lot more to this story. Plans for renewables aren’t going well. Indigenous rights play a key role in this whole affair. And the geopolitical players propelling this conflict have shifting and, at times, contradictory interests.

Consider this: the two major parties in Taiwan are sorted in large part around the question of Taiwan’s status. The conservative Kuomintang, the party of former dictator Chiang Kai-shek, supports eventually reunifying with China. It’s also vehemently pro-nuclear, the energy source that probably best guarantees Taiwan’s sovereignty. The center-left Democratic Progressive Party, the party of President Tsai, supports maintaining Taiwan’s de facto independence. Its opposition to nuclear power, however, is arguably making Taiwan much more vulnerable to Chinese aggression.


Ironic how nuclear power is really so important in ways you wouldn’t guess a priori.
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Poker star uses AirTag to track bag lost in airport ‘twilight zone’ • CNN

Julia Buckley:


what happens if you check your luggage, it doesn’t appear, but you can see it sitting pretty at terminal four of London Heathrow?

For Steve O’Dwyer, the answer is: absolutely nothing.

O’Dwyer’s missing bag has been at Heathrow since January 21, when he was transferring flights en route to the Bahamas. Thanks to his use of a GPS tracker – an Apple AirTag in his case – he has evidence that the bag has been at Heathrow for the past 13 days.

Unfortunately for him, the airline he booked with, Lufthansa, doesn’t appear to have spent those 13 days trying to get it back. Now, in desperation O’Dwyer has used a totally unrelated TV appearance to call out the airline for its failure to reunite him with his property.

Traveling with checked luggage is increasingly a high stakes game, as Steve O’Dwyer would know better than most. He’s a professional poker player – ranked first on the Global Poker Index in 2016, and currently number 14 on the industry’s All-Time Money List. And yet, even one of the world’s best poker players can’t beat the odds when it comes to airlines losing luggage.

O’Dwyer, who lives in Ireland, was traveling to a tournament in the Bahamas with his girlfriend, Elisabeth Wels, on January 21. The pair had bought an AirTag earlier in the summer, with the aim of tracking their luggage. “Elisabeth thought it would be a good idea, since she’d read some good things about it,” O’Dwyer told CNN over email. She popped it in her case for the trip.


I always liked the Bob Hope joke – “I’ve flown 100,000 miles this year. But my luggage has done 200,000” – and it keeps on being proved true. This, of course, is pretty much the canonical use for an AirTag. Lufthansa was wrongly reported to have banned AirTags in luggage last October. Maybe it wishes it had. Though people would ignore it.
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A judge just used ChatGPT to make a court decision • Vice

Janus Rose:


A judge in Colombia used ChatGPT to make a court ruling, in what is apparently the first time a legal decision has been made with the help of an AI text generator—or at least, the first time we know about it.

Judge Juan Manuel Padilla Garcia, who presides over the First Circuit Court in the city of Cartagena, said he used the AI tool to pose legal questions about the case and included its responses in his decision, according to a court document dated January 30, 2023.

“The arguments for this decision will be determined in line with the use of artificial intelligence (AI),” Garcia wrote in the decision, which was translated from Spanish. “Accordingly, we entered parts of the legal questions posed in these proceedings.”

“The purpose of including these AI-produced texts is in no way to replace the judge’s decision,” he added. “What we are really looking for is to optimize the time spent drafting judgments after corroborating the information provided by AI.”

The case involved a dispute with a health insurance company over whether an autistic child should receive coverage for medical treatment. According to the court document, the legal questions entered into the AI tool included “Is an autistic minor exonerated from paying fees for their therapies?” and “Has the jurisprudence of the constitutional court made favorable decisions in similar cases?”


But ChatGPT isn’t Google. OK, so it was used to speed up the drafting, and they fact-checked the answers. In which case.. why not just do the work yourself?
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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: That link for the producer? Very well worth following. Let me know if you did.

1 thought on “Start Up No.1946: Google Bard enters AI search wars, crypto ads absent from Super Bowl, EU eyes Twitter’s content for size, and more

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