As a vet, you have to be able to look into the face of the sweetest puppy – and, if necessary, kill it. (Humanely.) Could you? CC-licensed photo by Cortney Martin on Flickr.
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On Friday, there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.
A selection of 9 links for you. A trip to the farm, you say? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.
I tried Microsoft’s new AI-powered Bing. Search will never be the same • WSJ
Everybody knows: If you want to tell a good tech joke, just incorporate Bing. Yet Microsoft’s search engine might not be a punchline much longer. The company is releasing a version powered with AI, and it’s smart—really smart.
At least that’s my take after spending some time testing it out.
Leaning on its multiyear, multibillion-dollar partnership with the buzzy startup OpenAI, Microsoft is incorporating a ChatGPT-like bot front and center on the Bing home page. You can ask it questions—even about recent news events—and it will respond in sentences that seem like they were written by a human. It even uses emojis.
Microsoft is also adding AI features to my favorite browser Edge. (Seriously.) The tools can summarize webpages and assist with writing emails and social-media posts.
“We are grounded in the fact that Google dominates this [search] space,” Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella told me in an interview. “A new race is starting with a completely new platform technology. I’m excited for users to have a choice finally.”
Google—which holds 93% of the global search engine market share, according to analytics company StatCounter—is on Microsoft’s heels. On Monday, the search company said it is working on Bard, a similar chat tool that generates responses from web-based information.
Microsoft’s new Bing and Edge became available in a limited preview Tuesday. You have to sign up on bing.com for the preview wait list, and once you are in, you’ll have to use the Edge browser (available for Windows and MacOS). Microsoft plans to bring it to other web browsers over time.
It’s far too early to call a winner in this AI search race. But after seeing the new Bing in action, I can confidently say this: A big change is coming to how we get information and how we interact with our computers.
Certainly going to be interesting to see if people migrate to Bing, or whether Google’s position as the default rules. (Here’s the Microsoft blogpost on it.)
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Mozilla, Google looking ahead to the end of Apple’s WebKit • The Register
Mozilla is planning for the day when Apple will no longer require its competitors to use the WebKit browser engine in iOS.
Mozilla conducted similar experiments that never went anywhere years ago but in October 2022 posted an issue in the GitHub repository housing the code for the iOS version of Firefox that includes a reference to GeckoView, a wrapper for Firefox’s Gecko rendering engine.
Under the current Apple App Store Guidelines, iOS browser apps must use WebKit. So a Firefox build incorporating Gecko rather than WebKit currently cannot be distributed through the iOS App Store.
As we reported last week, Mozilla is not alone in anticipating an iOS App Store regime that tolerates browser competition. Google has begun work on a Blink-based version of Chrome for iOS.
The major browser makers – Apple, Google, and Mozilla – each have their own browser rendering engines. Apple’s Safari is based on WebKit; Google’s Chrome and its open source Chromium foundation is based on Blink (forked from WebKit a decade ago); and Mozilla’s Firefox is based on Gecko.
Microsoft developed its own Trident rendering engine in the outdated Internet Explorer and a Trident fork called EdgeHTML in legacy versions of Edge but has relied on Blink since rebasing its Edge browser on Chromium code.
…Safari developed a reputation for lagging behind Chrome and Firefox. Apple, however, appears to be aware of the risk posed by regulators and has added more staff to the WebKit team to close the capabilities gap.
Written statements: consultation on revising the Computer Misuse Act • UK Parliament
Tom Tugendhat is minister of state for security:
We will issue a formal consultation today to seek views on a number of proposals made during the consultation, including:
• Considering the development of a new power to allow law enforcement agencies to take control of domains and internet protocol (IP) addresses where these are being used by criminals to support a wide range of criminality, including fraud and CMA offences.
• Developing a power to require the preservation of computer data, ahead of its seizure, to prevent it being deleted where it may be needed for an investigation. While requests from law enforcement agencies for preservation are generally met, the UK does not have an explicit power to require such preservation, and having such a power would make the legal position clear.
• Considering whether a power to take action against a person possessing or using data obtained by another person through a CMA offence, such as through accessing a computer system to obtain personal data, would be of benefit, subject to appropriate safeguards being in place. Currently, the CMA covers unauthorised access to computer, but the unauthorised taking or copying of data is not covered by the Theft Act so it is difficult to take action in these cases.
In addition, a number of other issues were raised during the Call for Information, relating to the levels of sentencing, statutory defences to the CMA offences, improvements to the ability to report vulnerabilities, and whether the UK has sufficient legislation to cover extra-territorial threats.
The original CMA is pretty old – originally from 1990. A few tweaks are probably overdue.
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Veterinarian mental health: the story of Lacey, and why I had to kill her • Slate
We all know that this lecture will be grim—Dr Miller [not his real name] is a pig vet, after all. That might mean nothing to you, but in the vet world, it says everything. Swine vets work on swine systems and whole populations. They treat groups of animals, not individuals the way general-practice vets do. Doing so requires an incredible amount of data, and the ability to interpret it dispassionately.
Because of this, they’re also stereotypically cold, calculating, and, in a word, ruthless. They’re not your typical warm, fuzzy family vet, and they’re not shy about “liquidating” entire farms if their data says it’ll help the overall system. For this reason, I know that Miller’s talk will cover mass euthanasia—how to put down entire farms of animals, and how to do it effectively.
“I know this is the last thing you all want to talk about,” Miller says. “But this is the one thing you all need to do, and do well. You see, our business is healing, yes. But you all know there’s only so much we can do. In the end, euthanasia is an option.
“I want to make this abundantly clear: If there’s one thing you must do flawlessly in your career, it’s killing. I don’t care if it’s an old dog, a sow, some pet chicken, a stallion, or a fucking 3-day-old kitten. You will do it humanely. That means quickly, painlessly, and compassionately.
“Some of you say pig vets have no heart,” he continues softly. “That might be true, but find us when we have to liquidate a farm. Those days I still carry with me.”
Miller starts to tell us how euthanasia works. His instruction is exhaustive and methodical. But there’s a crucial thing he leaves out: what all that killing does to humans.
A very affecting piece about life on the front line as a vet.
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Meta, long an AI leader, tries not to be left out of the boom • The New York Times
Cade Metz and Mike Isaac:
For nearly a decade, Meta has spent billions of dollars building new kinds of AI. Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, made it a mission for Meta to become a leader in the field back in 2013. The company hired hundreds of top AI researchers, including Dr. [Yann] LeCun [Meta’s chief AI scientist]. It spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the large amounts of computing power needed to build AI systems.
Yet Meta has been left out now that Silicon Valley is gripped with excitement by “generative AI,” the name for technologies that generate text, images and other media on their own. OpenAI has taken centre stage, even though Meta and many other companies have built similar technologies.
Others have since jumped headlong into the frenzy. On Monday, Google said it would soon release an experimental chatbot called Bard. And on Tuesday, Microsoft, which has invested $13bn in OpenAI, unveiled a new internet search engine and web browser powered by generative AI. [See below – Overspill Ed]i
Meta, however, was hamstrung, in part, by its reputation as a corporate giant that helps spread untruths, Dr. LeCun said last month. And with responsibilities to billions of users, it could not afford to leave online a chatbot that can generate false and biased information.
“OpenAI and other small companies are in a better position to actually get some credit for releasing this kind of thing,” said Chirag Shah, a University of Washington professor who has explored the flaws in technologies like Galactica [Meta’s briefly released and rapidly withdrawn AI chatbot from last November] and ChatGPT. “They are not going to get the same kind of blowback.”
In recent years, Meta has also shifted its focus to another technology area: the immersive online world of the so-called metaverse, which Mr. Zuckerberg has said he believes is the next big thing. In the short term, it is unclear how the company can offer generative AI products with its existing services in a way that really captures the public’s attention.
That does not mean it isn’t trying. Meta is fast-tracking its efforts to put AI-driven products into customers’ hands, said Irina Kofman, a senior director of product management for generative AI who oversees XAI, a new team that aims to help build AI products across the company. Mr. Zuckerberg is directly involved in steering the initiatives, holding weekly meetings with product leaders and top A.I. researchers, she said.
In a call last week with investors, Mr. Zuckerberg repeatedly mentioned AI. He called it “the foundation of our discovery engine and our ads business” and added that it would “enable many new products and additional transformations within our apps.”
Weird: I had completely forgotten about Galactica.
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Instagram’s co-founders are mounting a comeback • Platformer
The simplest way to understand Artifact is as a kind of TikTok for text, though you might also call it Google Reader reborn as a mobile app, or maybe even a surprise attack on Twitter. The app opens to a feed of popular articles chosen from a curated list of publishers ranging from leading news organizations like the New York Times to small-scale blogs about niche topics. Tap on articles that interest you and Artifact will serve you similar posts and stories in the future, just as watching videos on TikTok’s For You page tunes its algorithm over time.
Users who come in from the waitlist today will see only that central ranked feed. But Artifact beta users are currently testing two more features that Systrom expects to become core pillars of the app. One is a feed showing articles posted by users that you have chosen to follow, along with their commentary on those posts. (You won’t be able to post raw text without a link, at least for now.) The second is a direct-message inbox so you can discuss the posts you read privately with friends.
In one sense, Artifact can feel like a throwback. Inspired by TikTok’s success, big social platforms have spent the past few years chasing short-form video products and the ad revenue that comes with them.
Meanwhile, like a social network from the late 2000s, Artifact has its sights set firmly on text. But the founders are hopeful that a decade-plus of lessons learned, along with recent advances in artificial intelligence, will help their app break through to a bigger audience.
Systrom and Krieger first began discussing the idea for what became Artifact a couple years ago, he told me. Systrom said he was once skeptical of the ability of machine-learning systems to improve recommendations — but his experience at Instagram turned him into a true believer.
“Throughout the years, what I saw was that every time we use machine learning to improve the consumer experience, things got really good really quickly,” he said.
There’s been a lot of discussion around this, but I agree with Ben Thompson’s take that any text-based network will have limited appeal. A news-based text-based network, even more limited appeal.
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I’m a sex worker. AI porn isn’t taking my job • Motherboard
Images of AI-generated women are going viral on Twitter from accounts that imply that it’s “so over” for models online, or that humanity is past needing real-life online sex workers now that AI generated images have arrived.
A real model “takes hours to create generic content,” “has to work hard to stay in shape,” and “only has one look,” Alex Valaitis, who works for a newsletter about AI, tweeted. He compared this with someone who writes prompts for machine learning technology like Stable Diffusion, DALL-E, or Midjourney, who can create “unlimited content,” “tons of diverse models,” and “personalized content for each simp.”
Born from newly released image generating neural networks of questionable actual intelligence, these girls are algorithmically perfected: blonde, blue eyes, big tits, skinny waist, glowing skin, perfect ass. They squeeze each other, smile coyly at the camera, itty bitty stringy bikinis dimpling their breasts. The only clue to their artificiality are tiny terrifying details: too many teeth, grotesquely warped fingers.
Who cares? As Vex Ashley tweeted in response: “if you think men are not capable of jerking off to these dystopian m.c escher collages of mediumly hot body parts truly you don’t know men.”
Humans have been creating “fake” imagery to jerk off to for millennia. If you’ve ever closed your eyes and thought of something while orgasming, you’ve participated in this great tradition. AI porn is nothing new. Just as erotic drawings, the printing press, photography, movies, hentai, virtual reality and robo sex dolls have not killed the demand for sex workers, neither will AI generated porn. Sorry.
Our clientele hire us for many reasons; a large part of the appeal is that we are fellow humans. To be frank, I have no interest in working with a client who’d rather be fucking a robot anyways.
In January, I was reading the latest 4chan discussion of me — a perennial happening — when I came across a novel insult. Why are we arguing about this AI generated whore? an anonymous post questioned. An image was attached, red lines circling portions of a photograph of me that they had decided was fake.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
Quora opens its new AI chatbot app Poe to the general public • TechCrunch
Q&A platform Quora has opened up public access to its new AI chatbot app, Poe, which lets users ask questions and get answers from a range of AI chatbots, including those from ChatGPT maker, OpenAI, and other companies like Anthropic. Beyond allowing users to experiment with new AI technologies, Poe’s content will ultimately help to evolve Quora itself, the company says.
Quora first announced Poe’s mobile app in December, but at the time, it required an invite to try it out. With the public launch on Friday, anyone can now use Poe’s app. For now, it’s available only to iOS users, but Quora says the service will arrive on other platforms in a few months.
In an announcement, the company explained it decided to launch Poe as a standalone product that’s independent of Quora itself because of how quickly AI developments and changes are now taking place. However, there will be some connections between the Q&A site and Poe. If and when Poe’s content meets a high enough quality standard, it will be distributed on Quora’s site itself, where it has the ability to reach Quora’s 400 million monthly visitors, the company noted.
To use Poe — which stands for “Platform for Open Exploration” — iOS users will have to create an account that’s verified with both a phone number and email address. They can then switch between three different AI chatbots available at launch.
I find this puzzling: to me, Quora’s USP has always been that it brings actual people to its site to ask dumb (or clever) questions and provide dumb (or clever) answers. Having a chatbot do the answering seems to take all the fun out of it. As a human, you like to feel that warm moment when you come up with an answer and lots of other people upvote it.
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Paying Twitter subscribers made up less than 0.2% of monthly users in the US two months after Elon Musk introduced Blue, report says • Business Insider via Yahoo
Twitter subscribers in the US made up less than 0.2% of monthly users in January, two months after Elon Musk introduced Blue, The Information reported Monday, citing a document.
This means that as of the middle of January, about 180,000 Twitter users in the US were paying for subscriptions to the platform, such as the $8 Blue feature, per the document, reported by The Information.
The 180,000 Twitter subscribers in the US made up 62% of the platform’s global subscriber count, indicating there were 290,000 subscribers around the world, per the report.
Musk said he wants Twitter to generate $3bn in revenue this year. Per the document, the total number of global subscribers would contribute $28m in annual revenue, or less than 1% of the $3 billion figure, The Information reported.
Two people with knowledge of the matter told The Information that revenue from Blue was making less than $4m annually before Musk acquired Twitter. The resulting revenue that the global subscriber count suggests is therefore much higher than before the takeover.
The numbers are backed up separately by data from Blockbot, which crawls Twitter looking for Twitter Blue-verified accounts to block, and earlier on Tuesday had 282,924 accounts blocked. (Assuming The Information wasn’t just looking at Blockbot, but had some internal Twitter data as it implied.)
Positive: lots more Twitter Blue subscribers than before, generating 7x as much money.
Negative: drop in the ocean, especially compared to the lost advertising revenue.
|• 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: Nobody expects a Monty Python episode at the Internet Archi–oh bugger.