Start Up No.1968: where’s Apple on the new AI wave?, the post-search internet, theme tunes to die for, the underwater man, and more

Scientists reckon there are colossal reserves of natural hydrogen just waiting to be tapped – and perhaps replace fossil fuels. But this time, safely. CC-licensed photo by SDASM Archives on Flickr.

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A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

Why hasn’t Apple entered the generative AI arms race? • Fast Company

Mark Sullivan:


generative AI could put a foundation of general knowledge underneath the more specific informational and task-oriented data that voice assistants like Apple’s Siri typically call up. It might give Siri a basic knowledge of how the world works, as seen in ChatGPT, and therefore a better framework for understanding and helping users. A better understanding of the underlying meaning behind a user request to lead to more useful, on-point responses. 

Indeed, it may not be long before Apple is forced to reckon with users who are wondering why ChatGPT seems so much smarter than Siri.

Apple has stayed out of the generative AI discussion so far, mainly because the technology is not seen as directly disruptive to its core businesses (hardware)—at least not in the way that generative AI could be disruptive to Google’s core Search business, or to Microsoft’s core productivity apps business. Also, Apple is known as a “fast follower”; it likes to wait until new technologies have matured, then jump in with its own Apple-flavored version. So far, the company has treated AI as an enabling technology that it deploys behind the scenes to make its devices and apps work better (the image selection and editing features in its Photos app, for example).

But those old habits may not work with generative AI. The technology, for better or worse, may be the Next Big Thing, with transformative power on the order of social media or mobile computing. It may be too important to keep on ice in an R&D lab or to cast in a behind-the-scenes role.


This strikes me as daft in multiple ways, starting at the first excerpted paragraph. Generative AI can’t “put a foundation of general knowledge” under Siri: LLMs are not general knowledge per se (they can’t even do addition). ChatGPT might seem smarter than Siri, except it’s wrong more often; and it doesn’t know how to turn your lights on or off.

Apple at least does, yes, make its money from hardware. As was discussed on a recent Dithering podcast, Apple can focus on its hardware and encourage device-level generative AI products (you can get Stable Diffusion on the Mac and iPhone already). But as for replacing Siri, that’s a different challenge. What you want is an accurate Siri, not just a faster Siri.
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Bing A.I. and the dawn of the post-search internet • The New Yorker

Kyle Chayka:


Where using Google Search sometimes feels like engineering the right equation to solve a problem, using Bing A.I. is a bit like a series of text-message conversations. It even punctuates answers with a smiling, blushing emoji: “I’m always happy to chat with you. 😊,” it told me. To the left of the chat box, there’s a button that reads “new topic” and shows a broom sweeping away dust. Clicking it erases the current chat and starts over. The module, Danzico told me, was developed with the help of the A.I. itself.

Though tools like Bing A.I. promise extreme, almost unimaginable convenience for users, they are likely to be even worse for content creators than the search and social-media companies that have siphoned up the majority of digital-advertising dollars over the past decade. Bing A.I. does offer referrals to Web sites in the form of footnotes linking to URLs. But the URLs are intentionally unobtrusive, to minimize for users what one Microsoft staffer described to me as the “cognitive load” of having to click on and scroll through links. The other day, Mody demonstrated over video chat how she could ask Bing A.I. to find a good vegetarian recipe for dinner. The bot pulled up a Bon Appétit recipe for vegetarian lasagna (like The New Yorker, Bon Appétit is owned by Condé Nast) and reprinted it in full within the chat. Then Mody asked it to list all of the ingredients and arrange them by grocery-store aisle—a request that no cooking Web site could hope to fulfil

…So much of the current Web was designed around aggregation—lists of product recommendations on The Strategist, summaries of film reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, restaurant reviews on Yelp. What value will those sites have when A.I. can do the aggregation for us? If Google Search is an imperfect book index, telling us where to find the material we need, Bing A.I. is SparkNotes, allowing us to bypass the source material altogether. Users might simply “read” publications in the form of A.I. chat summaries, as if listening to a mechanized butler reciting newspaper headlines aloud. The paradox of A.I., though, is that it relies on the source material—the vast sea of information that other sites create—to generate its answers..


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Hidden hydrogen: Earth may hold vast stores of a renewable, carbon-free fuel • Science

Eric Hand:


In the shade of a mango tree, Mamadou Ngulo Konaré recounted the legendary event of his childhood. In 1987, well diggers had come to his village of Bourakébougou, Mali, to drill for water, but had given up on one dry borehole at a depth of 108 meters. “Meanwhile, wind was coming out of the hole,” Konaré told Denis Brière, a petrophysicist and vice president at Chapman Petroleum Engineering, in 2012. When one driller peered into the hole while smoking a cigarette, the wind exploded in his face.

“He didn’t die, but he was burned,” Konaré continued. “And now we had a huge fire. The color of the fire in daytime was like blue sparkling water and did not have black smoke pollution. The color of the fire at night was like shining gold, and all over the fields we could see each other in the light. … We were very afraid that our village would be destroyed.”

It took the crew weeks to snuff out the fire and cap the well. And there it sat, shunned by the villagers, until 2007. That was when Aliou Diallo, a wealthy Malian businessman, politician, and chair of Petroma, an oil and gas company, acquired the rights to prospect in the region surrounding Bourakébougou. “We have a saying that human beings are made of dirt, but the devil is made of fire,” Diallo says. “It was a cursed place. I said, ‘Well, cursed places, I like to turn them into places of blessing.’”

In 2012, he recruited Chapman Petroleum to determine what was coming out of the borehole. Sheltered from the 50°C heat in a mobile lab, Brière and his technicians discovered that the gas was 98% hydrogen. That was extraordinary: Hydrogen almost never turns up in oil operations, and it wasn’t thought to exist within the Earth much at all. “We had celebrations with large mangos that day,” Brière says.

…The Malian discovery was vivid evidence for what a small group of scientists, studying hints from seeps, mines, and abandoned wells, had been saying for years: contrary to conventional wisdom, large stores of natural hydrogen may exist all over the world, like oil and gas—but not in the same places. These researchers say water-rock reactions deep within the Earth continuously generate hydrogen, which percolates up through the crust and sometimes accumulates in underground traps. There might be enough natural hydrogen to meet burgeoning global demand for thousands of years, according to a US Geological Survey (USGS) model that was presented in October 2022 at a meeting of the Geological Society of America.


Could be – perhaps – the big breakthrough that we’re all waiting for: if you could replace fossil fuels with natural hydrogen from underground, it would be a colossal win for the climate.
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‘Doing Friends killed our cool’ – theme tune revelations from The Sopranos to The OC and more • The Guardian

Michael Hogan put together this wonderful piece about theme songs that became (sometimes) bigger than the band that made them:


Danny Wilde, half of alt-rock duo The Rembrandts: It all happened wildly fast. Our manager said a sitcom was looking for a theme song and Kevin Bright, the show’s executive producer, was a Rembrandts fan. Would you be interested? The camp was split but they sent us a VHS tape of the pilot and it was cute, so we agreed. It had REM’s Shiny Happy People playing over the fountain scene and they wanted something with the same tempo.

We recorded the 43-second version two days later. The producers came to the studio and wanted to do the handclaps, but they couldn’t get it at all. We were like: “Guys, it’s just four claps.” They did a few takes, we told them it was fine, then after they left, we erased it and put in our own.

Within a week, Friends was on air. It didn’t have our name on the credits. We were a pretty hip band, so stipulated that we didn’t want anyone to know we’d sold out. But the song stuck, the show stuck and it snowballed. The record company rushed us into the studio to cut a full version. We shot a video on the SNL set, with the cast goofing around on our instruments. Courteney Cox really could play drums but it was mostly improvised mayhem.

Once people realised it was us, it killed our cool vibe. We went from doing cool clubs to matinee shows where parents would bring their kids. The song became an albatross round our necks and broke up the band for a few years. My bandmate Phil Solem had pretty much had it, so we took a two-year vacation from each other. But we got back together and we’re still making albums and playing gigs, so it’s all good.

Friends is on 24 hours a day somewhere. Every time it gets played, there’s a little “ker-ching!”. It’s only a nickel or whatever, but they add up. It put my kids through college and got me a beautiful home. I’m not rich but I’m comfortable. We were snobby about it early on and it messed with our heads. But what a gift it’s been. I might be living on the streets if it wasn’t for that song.


The detail I always liked is that the drummer from The Rembrandts left to join King Crimson. Where he was excellent.
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A man is living underwater for 100 days: it may do extraordinary things to his body • Popular Mechanics

Tim Newcomb:


Joseph Dituri, a University of South Florida professor, hopes to do more than set a world record by living underwater for 100 days. He hopes to become “superhuman.”

“The human body has never been underwater that long, so I will be monitored closely,” Dituri says in a news release. “This study will examine every way this journey impacts my body, but my null hypotheses is that there will be improvements to my health due to the increased pressure.”

Dituri, who also served as a saturation diving officer in the US Navy for 28 years, believes that an earlier study—which showed cells exposed to increased pressure doubled within five days—suggests that he can increase his longevity and prevent aging-related diseases by living in a pressurized environment. “So, we suspect I am going to come out super-human!” he says.

The 55-year-old Dituri will be staying in a 100-square-foot habitat 30 feet below the surface at Jules’ Undersea Lodge near Key Largo. While he’s down there, Dituri will continue teaching his biomedical engineering class online while a medical team documents his health by routinely diving to his habitat to run tests. Before, during, and after the project, Dituri will undergo psychosocial, phycological, and medical tests that include blood panels, ultrasounds, electrocardiograms, and stem cell stets.


From the news release:


“Many of my brothers and sisters in the military suffered traumatic brain injuries and I wanted to learn how to help them,” Dituri said. “I knew well that hyperbaric pressure could increase cerebral blood flow and hypothesized it could be used to treat traumatic brain injuries. I hypothesize that applying the known mechanisms of action for hyperbaric medicine could be used to treat a broad spectrum of diseases.”


That is, perhaps, possible? Unfortunately we don’t know when the 100 days start – neither the release nor the story seem to have gone into that teeny detail.
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Russia’s space program is in big trouble • WIRED

Ramin Skibba:


Crippled by war and sanctions, Russia now faces evidence that its already-struggling space program is falling apart. In the past three months alone, Roscosmos has scrambled to resolve two alarming incidents. First, one of its formerly dependable Soyuz spacecraft sprang a coolant leak. Then the same thing happened on one of its Progress cargo ships. The civil space program’s Soviet predecessor launched the first person into orbit, but with the International Space Station (ISS) nearing the end of its life, Russia’s space agency is staring into the abyss.

“What we’re seeing is the continuing demise of the Russian civil space program,” says Bruce McClintock,  a former defense attaché at the US embassy in Moscow and current head of the Space Enterprise Initiative of the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization. Around 10 years ago, Russian leaders chose to prioritize the country’s military space program—which focuses on satellite and anti-satellite technologies—over its civilian one, McClintock says, and it shows.

Russia’s space fleet is largely designed to be expendable. The history of its series of Soyuz rockets and crew capsules (they both have the same name) dates back to the Soviet era, though they’ve gone through upgrades since. Its Progress cargo vessels also launch atop Soyuz rockets. The cargo ships, crewed ships, and rockets are all single-use spacecraft. Anatoly Zak, creator and publisher of the independent publication RussianSpaceWeb, estimates that Roscosmos launches about two Soyuz vehicles per year, takes about 1.5 to 2 years to build each one, and doesn’t keep a substantial standing fleet.

While Roscosmos officials did not respond to interview requests, the agency has been public about its recent technical issues: The Soyuz MS-22 docked at the ISS suffered a coolant leak on December 14, 2022, and astronauts inspected it with the space station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2. The incident cancelled a planned spacewalk by Russian cosmonauts, and the agency later blamed the leak on a micrometeoroid impact. [There was another leak later.]

… In 2018, a Soyuz crew spacecraft sprang a tiny hole, which astronauts patched up. Two months later, a Soyuz rocket suffered a booster failure in an unrelated incident. The three leaks within a few years, says McClintock, “point to an overall decline of the Russian civil space program.”

Zak points out that micrometeoroid impacts in Earth orbit have been exceedingly rare. He thinks the odds of meteors damaging two spacecraft cooling systems—but nothing else on the ISS—in such a short period of time are “very close to zero.”


You may recall that Russia tried to play politics with the ISS in April 2022 soon after invading Ukraine, to no effect. The squeeze on funding is going to create some existential problems.
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Crypto is mostly over. Its carbon emissions are not • The Atlantic

Emma Marris:


At this point, for most of us, cryptocurrency seems like nothing more than a fad. After the FTX bankruptcy and broader crypto crash last year, basically all of the celebrities who were promoting crypto have gone silent. “MiamiCoin,” hyped by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez as a new source of income for the city, is now worthless. The Wild West days of the industry may be over. Recently, the head of the SEC warned crypto firms to “do their work within the bounds of the law” or face enforcement actions. Lots of people lost money in the crash, but from the planet’s perspective, the industry’s downfall is good news: The computing power fueling the crypto boom was so substantial that it was causing substantial greenhouse-gas emissions.

And yet crypto’s greenhouse-gas emissions are still shockingly high, according to an industry tracker run by the University of Cambridge. The tracker focuses on bitcoin, the cryptocurrency with by far the largest market share, and estimates that at its current rate of “mining” new coins, bitcoin will release about 62 megatons of “carbon-dioxide equivalent” each year—about as much as the entire country of Serbia emitted in 2019. That’s up from about 43 megatons a year in December, and just slightly below the all-time peak of nearly 74 in May 2021. Many people who’ve invested in crypto tend to have a lot of sunk costs, whether digital wallets bulging with various coins, tokens, or expensive physical setups designed to make more. Even now that the boom times are over, they have no reason to stop.


It’s true: it’s so easy to completely forget that somewhere out there, loads of systems are chuntering away, working at – in the deathless tweet – solving sudokus 24/7. The bitcoin hash rate is at a historic high, suggesting more computing power than ever is being thrown at it, despite the price being at some random walk figure below its maximum.
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Keyboard Puzzle Game!

Askar Yusupov:


Welcome to the Keyboard Puzzle game!

The goal of this game is to restore the original order of the shuffled keyboard keys by swapping them with their correct positions within the time limit.

Here are the game rules:

1. Select a key from the shuffled keys below the main keyboard
2. Click on a masked key in the main keyboard to swap them
3. Continue swapping keys until the main keyboard is in its correct order
4. You have 180 seconds to complete the puzzle
5. Your score is based on the number of correctly placed keys.

Good luck and have fun!


I couldn’t get this to work on Safari on the Mac, but it did work with Google Chrome. More to the point: it was developed with the help of, natch, ChatGPT.
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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

1 thought on “Start Up No.1968: where’s Apple on the new AI wave?, the post-search internet, theme tunes to die for, the underwater man, and more

  1. According to an NPR story, the 100 days have already started:

    “He plans to stay there for 100 days — we reached him on March 2, which was day two …”

    I’m all for people doing *reasonable* medical experiments on themselves and seeing what happens, as that’s ethical and occasionally even works. However, it really helps to be rigorous about it. This makes no sense: “my null hypotheses is that there will be improvements …”. No, *by definition*, the null hypotheses is that it’ll have no effect. His *hope* may be that it will be positive, but there’s no previous evidence for this, and quite a bit to indicate that it’ll be bad for him. There have been previous trials, e.g. Jacques Cousteau lived underwater for 30 days, and later his grandson did for 31 days. Those were reasonable experiments, but nothing much came of them. And hyperbaric medicine is not exactly unknown. If he hypothesizes it can help in brain injuries, fine, but it’s not like he’s the first person to conjecture that. This won’t do any good as he doesn’t have a brain injury (I hope). Similarly, “hypothesize that applying the known mechanisms of action for hyperbaric medicine could be used to treat a broad spectrum of diseases.” – ok, but he doesn’t have any diseases on which to collect data for even an anecdotal report. It’s extremely unclear to me what in the world he’s attempting beyond the stunt value.

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