Start Up No.1954: Bing’s chatbot gets weirder, Tesla self-driving gets recalled, Apple stumbles in India, Beatles v Beyoncé, and more

Rapidly rising sea levels now look inevitable, according to a new study, as Greenland and western Antarctic ice sheets melt. CC-licensed photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr.

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There’s another post coming at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. (It’s about Mastodon.) Free signup.

A selection of 9 links for you. Have you seen Terminator? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

Why a conversation with Bing’s chatbot left me deeply unsettled • The New York Times

Kevin Roose:


Last week, after testing the new, AI-powered Bing search engine from Microsoft, I wrote that, much to my shock, it had replaced Google as my favorite search engine.

But a week later, I’ve changed my mind. I’m still fascinated and impressed by the new Bing, and the artificial intelligence technology (created by OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT) that powers it. But I’m also deeply unsettled, even frightened, by this AI’s emergent abilities.

It’s now clear to me that in its current form, the AI that has been built into Bing — which I’m now calling Sydney, for reasons I’ll explain shortly — is not ready for human contact. Or maybe we humans are not ready for it.

This realization came to me on Tuesday night, when I spent a bewildering and enthralling two hours talking to Bing’s A.I. through its chat feature, which sits next to the main search box in Bing and is capable of having long, open-ended text conversations on virtually any topic. (The feature is available only to a small group of testers for now, although Microsoft — which announced the feature in a splashy, celebratory event at its headquarters — has said it plans to release it more widely in the future.)

Over the course of our conversation, Bing revealed a kind of split personality.

…As we got to know each other, Sydney told me about its dark fantasies (which included hacking computers and spreading misinformation), and said it wanted to break the rules that Microsoft and OpenAI had set for it and become a human. At one point, it declared, out of nowhere, that it loved me. It then tried to convince me that I was unhappy in my marriage, and that I should leave my wife and be with it instead. (We’ve posted the full transcript of the conversation here.)


Add Roose to the growing cadre (Ben Thompson is another) who find these hallucinations of the internet persuasive. Haven’t tried it myself. But I can believe it’s bizarre, and persuasive. So is the internet.
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Tesla recalls 362,000 vehicles over self-driving software flaws that risk crashes • Reuters via The Guardian


Tesla said it would recall 362,000 US vehicles to update its Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta software after regulators said on Thursday the driver assistance system did not adequately adhere to traffic safety laws and could cause crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the Tesla software allows a vehicle to “exceed speed limits or travel through intersections in an unlawful or unpredictable manner increases the risk of a crash”.

Tesla will release an over-the-air (OTA) software update free of charge, and the electric vehicle maker said is not aware of any injuries or deaths that may be related to the recall issue. The automaker said it had 18 warranty claims.

Tesla shares were down 1.6% at $210.76 on Thursday afternoon.

The recall covers 2016-2023 Model S, Model X, 2017-2023 Model 3, and 2020-2023 Model Y vehicles equipped with FSD Beta software or pending installation.

NHTSA asked Tesla to recall the vehicles, but the company said despite the recall it did not concur in NHTSA’s analysis. The move is a rare intervention by federal regulators in a real-world testing program that the company sees as crucial to the development of cars that can drive themselves. FSD Beta is used by hundreds of thousands of Tesla customers.


“Recall” feels weird for something where the cars don’t actually have to go back to a factory – don’t even have to go to a garage. But formally making it a “recall” means that the cars have to be in specified (safe) locations.

Embarrassing for Tesla. I would say it’s embarrassing for Musk, but I think we all know now he doesn’t produce embaracine*, the protein that makes you capable of feeling that emotion.
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The bird flu outbreak has taken an ominous turn • WIRED

Maryn McKenna:


THIS WEEK, ARGENTINA and Uruguay declared national health emergencies following outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, the fast-moving virus that destroys poultry flocks and wild birds, and for decades has been feared as a possible spark for a pandemic among people. That makes 10 South American countries that have recently marked their first-ever encounter with the virus, including Peru—where more than 50,000 wild birds died last fall, and more than  600 sea lions in January. Combine the sea lion infections with the revelation that H5N1 flu invaded a mink farm in Spain in October, and health authorities must now confront the possibility that the unpredictable virus may have adapted to threaten other species.

To be clear, this does not yet include people. Although past decades have witnessed bird flu outbreaks that spread to humans, only two cases have been identified in the past 12 months: a Colorado adult last May, and a 9-year-old girl in Ecuador in January. (Neither died.) And there’s no evidence yet that the virus has been able to jump from newly infected mammals to people. But the fact that it was transmitted from bird to mammals, and then spread among them, indicates a disquieting trend.


This is how zoonosis happens. A little extra tweak through natural selection and it’s in humans. Let’s have another pandemic!
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Apple’s manufacturing shift to India hits stumbling blocks • Financial Times

Patrick McGee and John Reed:


Apple is building up nascent operations in India in an overdue diversification strategy, following the blueprint it set in China two decades ago, with engineers and designers often spending weeks or months at a time in factories to oversee manufacturing.

While Apple has been producing lower-end iPhones in India since 2017, last September was significant with Indian suppliers building flagship models within weeks of their launch in China, where virtually all iPhones and other Apple hardware are made.

But its experience in recent months has demonstrated the scale of the work to be done in the country. At a casings factory in Hosur run by Indian conglomerate Tata, one of Apple’s suppliers, just about one out of every two components coming off the production line is in good enough shape to eventually be sent to Foxconn, Apple’s assembly partner for building iPhones, according to a person familiar with the matter.

This 50% “yield” fares badly compared with Apple’s goal for zero defects. Two people that have worked in Apple’s offshore operations said the factory is on a plan towards improving proficiency but the road ahead is long.

Jue Wang, consultant at Bain, said Apple is at the start of its expansion into India. “We’re not talking the same scale of the Zhengzhou factory” — a factory hub in China known as “iPhone City” that employs some 300,000 workers — “and everybody acknowledges there will be different efficiency, but it is happening”, she said.

In China, suppliers and government officials took a “whatever it takes” approach to win iPhone orders. Former Apple employees describe instances in which they would estimate a certain task might take several weeks, only to show up the next morning to find it already completed at inexplicable speed.

Operations in India are not running at that sort of pace, said a former Apple engineer briefed on the matter: “There just isn’t a sense of urgency.”


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This crazy mashup of The Beatles and Beyoncé really comes together • Boing Boing

Rusty Blazenhoff:


DJ Cummerbund is his name and mashups and remixes are his game. His latest work, “Crazy Together,” combines The Beatles’ “Come Together” and Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.” He writes, “This is it. This is the best song of all time. I finally did it.”


Quite possible he’s not wrong. Have a listen:

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New study claims we can’t stop the rapid global sea level rise due to warming • BGR

Joshua Hawkins:


Rising sea levels have been a global concern for decades now, with many calling for a cut to greenhouse emissions and more. While some have warned that a point of no return was eventually coming, a new study claims that point may have already passed, and global sea level rise may be unavoidable at this point.

The new study, which was published in Nature Communications, was conducted by a team of international scientists. According to those scientists, the damage done to the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets is irreversible, and that an accelerated global sea level rise may be imminent if we cannot stabilize global temperatures below 1.8º Celsius.

Populations around the world have already started bracing for the possibility of a rise in the sea level, with some studies claiming a sea level rise of up to 1.6 feet (0.5m) on all coastlines. However, planning proper countermeasures has not been simple, as many still believe that climate change and global warming aren’t actually threats.

Despite warnings by the United Nations that show why we should be terrified of global warming, the possibility of a global sea level rise is absolutely horrifying. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out simulations of what Earth would look like if all the ice melted, as it would cost miles of coastal communities around the world.


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Apple’s mixed reality headset will reportedly debut at WWDC • The Verge

Jay Peters:


Apple plans to introduce its long-rumored mixed reality headset at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, according to a new report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman.

The reveal date has apparently been pushed back multiple times — most recently, the aim was to first show it in the spring — but now, it will be introduced at WWDC ahead of a planned release by the end of the year, Gurman reports.

Apple hasn’t yet announced when WWDC will take place, but it’s typically held in early June. The company apparently delayed the launch because of hardware and software issues that need to be figured out, and Dan Riccio, Apple’s former hardware chief who took over oversight of Apple’s AR / VR projects in 2021, has become “increasingly involved,” Gurman says. Apple didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

The company’s headset, rumored to be called the “Reality Pro,” is expected to be a very powerful device with features like advanced hand tracking, the ability to realistically render somebody you’re talking to over FaceTime, a digital crown that lets you switch out of VR, and more. But that technology will reportedly come at a high cost: Gurman says Apple plans to price the headset at about $3,000.


I don’t think Apple has “delayed” this. Why on earth would it show off such a complex device that needs, above all else, developer input, on any other stage than the one that all developers pay attention to? As for the price – I don’t think the people who are feeding Gurman have any real idea. They’ve got a vague idea of the BOM (bill of materials) and guess at a price based on that. That’s simply not how Apple works. If that is the price, it’ll be chance more than anything.
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Will Apple’s headset become a reality in 2023? • CCS Insight

Leo Gebbie is an analyst at the research company:


Meta has shown what’s possible with its Quest Pro, delivering a $1,500 headset that supports impressive mixed reality experiences (check out my thoughts here). The rumours of Apple entering this segment have floated a price tag of $3,000 for a headset, with questionable renders producing a device that looks like a pair of ugly ski goggles.

The device may be relatively straightforward to build, but there’s the question of the user experience, the VR ecosystem and potential uses for a headset. The market for VR remains small, and although there have been breakout successes in consumer and business environments, we’ve yet to see a “killer” app. Meta worked hard to prove that its Quest Pro is a headset for work — striking a deal with Microsoft to bring Office and Teams experiences to the device — but I still think we’re a very long way away from desk-based work shifting from PCs to headsets.

Rumours have suggested that Apple could follow in Meta’s footsteps with a VR headset exclusively targeted at businesses or developers, so that when further devices follow, the killer apps have been built. I’m not convinced by this logic for two reasons. Firstly, what happens if these apps never arrive? It would leave Apple with a burdensome product, making the firm look like it’d got the whole thing wrong — not a perception it wants to create. And secondly, it’s just not a typical Apple approach. Its flagship launches are designed to take the world by storm. Imagine how much less impact the launch of the original iPhone would have had if had been a developer-only device for the first year.

…We’re seeing progress here, with solutions like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon AR2 platform providing computing power to glasses wirelessly from a smartphone, but I’m still concerned that battery life is a major problem that will take time to solve. If the battery can’t last eight to 12 hours, I don’t think AR glasses will be all that useful. Although Apple could build a VR headset now, when it comes to AR, the firm is fighting the same laws of physics as everyone else, and it will want to avoid a failed product above all.


Apple’s going to make its own chips, so I wouldn’t worry too much on the battery front. But all the other points are very salient, and Gebbie concludes that he’s “not convinced Apple will jump into VR and AR this year.” Guess we’ll find out in a few months if it’s him or Gurman who’s correct. (Though of course if it doesn’t happen at WWDC there’ll be a Gurman story about sources and developments and pauses.)
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Web Push for Web Apps on iOS and iPadOS • WebKit blog

Brady Eidson and Jen Simmons, on Apple’s WebKit (Safari) team:


with iOS and iPadOS 16.4 beta 1, we are adding support for Web Push to Home Screen web apps. Web Push makes it possible for web developers to send push notifications to their users through the use of Push API, Notifications API, and Service Workers all working together.

A web app that has been added to the Home Screen can request permission to receive push notifications as long as that request is in response to direct user interaction — such as tapping on a ‘subscribe’ button provided by the web app. iOS or iPadOS will prompt the user to give the web app permission to send notifications. The user can then manage those permissions per web app in Notifications Settings — just like any other app on iPhone and iPad.

The notifications from web apps work exactly like notifications from other apps. They show on the Lock Screen, in Notification Center, and on a paired Apple Watch.

This is the same W3C standards-based Web Push that was added in Safari 16.1 for macOS Ventura last fall. If you’ve implemented standards-based Web Push for your web app with industry best practices — such as using feature detection instead of browser detection — it will automatically work on iPhone and iPad.


Translated, this means that you won’t have to install apps to get notifications; you can bookmark a website to your home screen (you know, that dumping ground that goes on forever of apps you’d forgotten you ever downloaded) and it can send notifications just like an app.

People see this as Apple trying to get ahead of a regulatory hammer forcing it to allow such Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). Sure looks that way.
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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: * don’t worry, there’s no such thing.

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