Start Up No.1987: Google frets over Samsung change, the AI LLM search engine, Silicon Valley’s quiet times, and more

The final issues of the final computer magazines to be printed in the US are on newsstands now. Sic transit gloria mundi. CC-licensed photo by Dru Kelly on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Not available in print. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

Google devising radical search changes to beat back AI rivals • The New York Times

Nico Grant:


Google’s employees were shocked when they learned in March that the South Korean consumer electronics giant Samsung was considering replacing Google with Microsoft’s Bing as the default search engine on its devices.

For years, Bing had been a search engine also-ran. But it became a lot more interesting to industry insiders when it recently added new artificial intelligence technology.

Google’s reaction to the Samsung threat was “panic,” according to internal messages reviewed by The New York Times. An estimated $3bn in annual revenue was at stake with the Samsung contract. An additional $20bn is tied to a similar Apple contract that will be up for renewal this year.

AI competitors like the new Bing are quickly becoming the most serious threat to Google’s search business in 25 years, and in response, Google is racing to build an all-new search engine powered by the technology. It is also upgrading the existing one with AI features, according to internal documents reviewed by The Times.

…The Samsung threat represented the first potential crack in Google’s seemingly impregnable search business, which was worth $162bn last year. Although it was not clear whether Microsoft’s work with AI was the main reason Samsung was considering a change after the last 12 years, that was the assumption inside Google. The contract is under negotiation, and Samsung could stick with Google.

But the idea that Samsung, which makes hundreds of millions of smartphones with Google’s Android software every year, would even consider switching search engines shocked Google’s employees.

After some workers were told that the company was looking for volunteers this month to help put together material for a pitch to Samsung, they reacted with emojis and surprise. “Wow, OK, that’s wild,” one person responded.


I wonder if Samsung would wait to see what Apple would do, and then follow suit. Also, why does the NYT use “AI” in its headline but then insist on “A.I.” in the story? (I edit the full stops out.)
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How can we remove CO2 from the atmosphere? • Phind

Phind calls itself “the AI search engine for developers”, though it looks to me like a front end stuck on an LLM. The answers to the question above are pretty solid, and the sourcing is provided. It’s almost like Wikipedia on the fly.
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Silicon valediction? Our road trip to tech industry hotspots as the sector cools • The Guardian

Kari Paul:


does this ballooning crisis really mean the end of Silicon Valley as we know it? As someone who has been covering tech for nearly a decade and lived in the Bay Area for the past four years, I wanted to see for myself. And so there I was, bumper to bumper, making my way from my apartment in East Oakland to downtown San Francisco.

Although the traffic was back to its pre-pandemic normal, the scene in San Francisco was more aligned with the recent “doom loop” narrative, when a city gets stuck in a negative cycle wherein various financial struggles fuel one another. What has been called “the most empty downtown in America” was indeed desolate – with visible signs of homelessness and crime, and very few workers on its empty sidewalks.

The financial district was once a bustling center of high-earning workers enjoying $17 salads for lunch and synergizing over coffee meetings – with headquarters for companies like Uber, Twitter and Salesforce centralized in the hub. Today, the streets were nearly silent.

I stopped for coffee at the market below the headquarters of Twitter and previously Uber, once a popular morning coffee spot for many tech workers. But there was none to be had – the shop closed three months ago due to lack of demand, a worker told me. “The workers left during Covid, and they never came back,” she said.

I hopped in my car and headed to the South Bay, the birthplace of tech giants like Apple, HP, Adobe, Paypal and Google, to see if the prospects were less bleak.


Neat idea for a feature. Things are definitely quieter.
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Google Pixel Fold, the firm’s first folding phone, to launch in June • CNBC

Jennifer Elias:


Google will launch its first foldable smartphone sometime in June, challenging Samsung’s market-leading foldable phone business, according to internal communications viewed by CNBC. It plans to announce the device at its annual developer conference, Google I/O, on May 10.

The Pixel Fold, known internally by the codename “Felix,” will have the “most durable hinge on a foldable” phone, according to the documents. It will cost upward of $1,700 and compete with Samsung’s $1,799 Galaxy Z Fold 4.

Google plans to market the Pixel Fold as water-resistant and pocket-sized, with an outside screen that measures 5.8in across, according to the documents. Photos viewed by CNBC show that the phone will open like a book to reveal a small tablet-sized 7.6in screen, the same size as the display on Samsung’s competitor. It weighs 10oz, slightly heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, but it has a larger battery that Google says will last for 24 hours, or up to 72 hours in a low power mode.

The Pixel Fold is powered by Google’s Tensor G2 chip, according to the documents. That’s the same processor that launched in the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro phones last year.


The Pixel is already a niche – it hardly sells anything, in relative terms – so it makes a sort of sense to sell it in a ludicrously expensive form which is itself a niche.

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Major retail players are walking back their metaverse strategies • Modern Retail

Maria Monteros:


For some of the largest retail companies and brands, the metaverse is losing its lustre.

Walmart has reportedly shut down its Universe of Play metaverse experience on Roblox just six months after its launch, according to consumer advocacy group Walmart, for its part, said it discontinued the experience “as planned.” Walt Disney has axed the next-generation storytelling and consumer-experiences unit that was mapping out the company’s metaverse strategies late last month. This string of news came after social media giant Meta reported that its metaverse division generated a loss of $4.3bn in the fourth quarter.

These reports have raised questions on the metaverse’s ability to yield returns on the investments companies have made in it. Retailers and brands have mainly been using the metaverse to build brand experiences and marketing, but many have yet to report on its conversion rate. In an economic environment where retailers and brands have been attempting to cut costs, experts said that retailers would likely pare down unprofitable areas of their businesses. 

“One of the biggest challenges was really figuring out the right [key performance indicators] and also just figuring out if there weren’t even implications for many brands when it came to their physical product,” said Melissa Minkow, director of retail strategy at digital consultancy firm CI&T. “It was just such a big, broad, abstract landscape that it seemed there was kind of a lack of direction.”


Winter again in the metaverse: after Second Life came and went, I make this the third. (There was another one back in the mid-90s, but most people hadn’t heard about it.) Then again, AI went through multiple winters before hitting its stride. Nowadays you’ll meet people in the street who are routinely using ChatGPT in their work. So the metaverse might arrive in a big way. But it’s probably going to be a while yet.
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NSO developed three new ways to hack iPhones, Citizen Lab says • The Washington Post

Joseph Menn:


Israeli spyware maker NSO Group deployed at least three new “zero-click” hacks against iPhones last year, finding ways to penetrate some of Apple’s latest software, researchers at Citizen Lab have discovered.

The attacks struck phones with iOS 15 and early versions of iOS 16 operating software, Citizen Lab said in a report Tuesday. The lab, based at the University of Toronto, shared its results with Apple, which has now fixed the flaws that NSO had been exploiting.

The attacks targeted human rights activists who were investigating the 2015 mass kidnapping of 43 student protesters in Mexico, other suspected military abuses, and the related government response, Citizen Lab said. Mexico has been a major NSO customer.

According to Citizen Lab, one of the attacks, in September 2022, coincided with a report by international experts challenging government evidence in the 2015 case and its interference with the investigation.

It’s the latest sign of NSO’s ongoing efforts to create spyware that penetrates iPhones without users taking any actions that allow it in. Citizen Lab has detected multiple NSO hacking methods in past years while examining the phones of likely targets, including human rights workers and journalists.


As fast as you kill one spyware company, the other one keeps going.
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Reddit wants to get paid for helping to teach big AI systems • The New York Times

Mike Isaac:


In recent years, Reddit’s array of chats also have been a free teaching aid for companies like Google, OpenAI and Microsoft. Those companies are using Reddit’s conversations in the development of giant artificial intelligence systems that many in Silicon Valley think are on their way to becoming the tech industry’s next big thing.

Now Reddit wants to be paid for it. The company said on Tuesday that it planned to begin charging companies for access to its application programming interface, or API, the method through which outside entities can download and process the social network’s vast selection of person-to-person conversations.

“The Reddit corpus of data is really valuable,” Steve Huffman, founder and chief executive of Reddit, said in an interview. “But we don’t need to give all of that value to some of the largest companies in the world for free.”

The move is one of the first significant examples of a social network’s charging for access to the conversations it hosts for the purpose of developing AI systems like ChatGPT, OpenAI’s popular program. Those new AI systems could one day lead to big businesses, but they aren’t likely to help companies like Reddit very much. In fact, they could be used to create competitors — automated duplicates to Reddit’s conversations.

Reddit is also acting as it prepares for a possible initial public offering on Wall Street this year. The company, which was founded in 2005, makes most of its money through advertising and e-commerce transactions on its platform. Reddit said it was still ironing out the details of what it would charge for API access and would announce prices in the coming weeks.


Could be worth millions to Reddit.

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The end of computer magazines in America • Technologizer

Harry McCracken:


The April issues of Maximum PC and MacLife are currently on sale at a newsstand near you—assuming there is a newsstand near you. They’re the last print issues of these two venerable computer magazines, both of which date to 1996 (and were originally known, respectively, as Boot and MacAddict). Starting with their next editions, both publications will be available in digital form only.

But I’m not writing this article because the dead-tree versions of Maximum PC and MacLife are no more. I’m writing it because they were the last two extant U.S. computer magazines that had managed to cling to life until now. With their abandonment of print, the computer magazine era has officially ended.

It is possible to quibble with this assertion. 2600: The Hacker Quarterly has been around since 1984 and can accurately be described as a computer magazine, but the digest-sized publication has the production values of a fanzine and the content bears little resemblance to the slick, consumery computer mags of the past. Linux Magazine (originally the U.S. edition of a German publication) and its more technical sibling publication Admin also survive. Then again, if you want to quibble, Maximum PC and MacLife may barely have counted as U.S. magazines at the end; their editorial operations migrated from the Bay Area to the UK at some point in recent years when I wasn’t paying attention. (Both were owned by Future, a large British publishing firm.)

Still, I’m declaring the demise of these two dead-tree publications as the end of computer magazines in this country. Back when I was the editor-in-chief of IDG’s PC World, a position I left in 2008, we considered Maximum PC to be a significant competitor, especially on the newsstand. Our sister publication Macworld certainly kept an eye on MacLife. Even after I moved on to other types of tech journalism, I occasionally checked in on our erstwhile rivals, marveling that they somehow still existed after so many other computer magazines had gone away.

I take the loss personally, and not just because computer magazines kept me gainfully employed from 1991-2008.


Some of these magazines were colossal: hundreds of glossy pages. There was a lot of money sloshing around print. Now it sloshes around the internet.
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The challenges of conducting open source research on China • bellingcat

Alison Killing:


The People’s Republic of China is well known for its efforts to restrict the free flow of information online. With this in mind, this guide provides an overview of some of the challenges facing open source researchers investigating China-  focusing primarily on those outside China. For those who are just getting started in open source research on China, it is designed to give an idea of the difficulties you may face. Since 2017 evolving censorship tactics and increased regulations that reduce anonymity online have made open source research on China increasingly difficult. Methodologies that researchers have used successfully in the past are often rendered useless by new restrictions if Chinese authorities become aware of them. Access to Chinese websites and social media apps, as well as methods for investigating them, are therefore currently shrinking. 

The current range of difficulties may sound bleak – and to a certain extent it is – but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t finding creative ways to work around them, or that there aren’t clear ways that developers and other researchers can work to improve things.


bellingcat has come a long way since it was one bloke using YouTube and other open source content to identify missiles in Syria.
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Can Intel become the chip champion the US needs? • Financial Times

Richard Waters:


Sales of PCs — still Intel’s main market — have fallen back after a pandemic-era boom, and many Wall Street analysts believe the company’s predictions about the market in the long term are unrealistic. To make matters worse, Apple recently dropped Intel in its Macs in favour of its own silicon chip designs, while AMD has taken advantage of TSMC’s superior manufacturing to claim an estimated 35% of the PC market.

“Thirty% of their [PC] market has vanished,” Rasgon says of Intel, once synonymous with the PC industry. But now, even some of its biggest customers seem ready to move on.

“I think it’s important for Intel to succeed, and they’ve been a great partner,” says Michael Dell, chief executive of Dell Technologies. “But if they don’t succeed, we’ll use something else.” That could include new chip designs not based on the core chip architecture found in Intel’s main products, he adds. “Competition’s a good thing.”

Meanwhile, in servers, Intel processors face a barrage of competition, as cloud computing giants such as Google and Amazon have turned to designing their own chips. The data-intensive work of training AI systems has also boosted demand for different classes of chips. Wall Street’s belief that Nvidia will be the main winner from the AI race has lifted its shares by 90% this year and added $360bn to its value — or more than two and a half times Intel’s entire market capitalisation.

One response from Intel has been to diversify into new chip architectures to compete. Another has been to open up its manufacturing to other chip companies, in the hopes of bringing in enough outside business to support the huge investments it needs to make.


That’s a big chunk of the PC market gone to AMD: add in Apple’s share and it’s about 40% lost in just a few years. Add in the shift to GPUs and Intel looks lost.
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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.1987: Google frets over Samsung change, the AI LLM search engine, Silicon Valley’s quiet times, and more

  1. If past patterns are followed:

    – Apple will switch to Bing
    – Samsung will produce a high-profile and expensive ad campaign dunking on Apple and playing up the Galaxy as the phone with Google
    – The next year, Samsung will switch to Bing

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