Start Up No.2013: Nvidia’s AI server growth, Apple’s home hub screen?, Google’s AI ads plan, the trouble with parents, and more

Despite big talk and pretty artists’ impressions, Virgin Orbit never had a business plan that would allow it to make a profit in anyone’s lifetime. CC-licensed photo by IrishFiresideIrishFireside on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. I can’t help what you’re personally in orbit around. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

Nvidia stock surges more than 28% on record sales as AI demand kicks in • WSJ

Asa Fitch:


Chip giant Nvidia is starting to capitalize on the craze for language-generating artificial intelligence, projecting a more than 64% jump in sales as the company rushes to get more processors in customer hands to satisfy booming interest in the technology.

A new generation of advanced Nvidia chips for AI calculations in data centers is in production, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said, and “we are significantly increasing our supply to meet surging demand for them.”

The company forecast a record $11bn in sales for the current quarter, far above the $7.2bn Wall Street was expecting and what would be the highest quarterly total ever for the company.

“This demand has extended our data center visibility out a few quarters and we have procured substantially higher supply for the second-half of the year,” chief financial officer Colette Kress said on an earnings call.

Nvidia’s shares, which have more than doubled in value this year, surged more than 28% in after-market trading to reach an all-time high. The rise puts Nvidia close to becoming the world’s first $1 trillion chip company by market value.

…Nvidia, the U.S.’s largest chip-maker by market value, on Wednesday said revenue fell 13% to $7.2bn in its last fiscal quarter, topping forecasts from analysts surveyed by FactSet. Net profit rose 26% to $2bn. The sales retreat was driven by a sharp decline in the graphics chips business for videogamers, who pulled back after the pandemic eased and are only beginning to resume buying.

Huang said operators of big data centers are retooling their computing infrastructure to better address the opportunities offered by AI, creating surging demand for its chips.


28% net profit? Not to be sneezed at. Nvidia always seems to be in the right place for the Next Big Thing: a couple of years ago it was cryptocurrency – got to have those GPUs to run the algorithms! – and then it was gamers and now it’s LLMs.

Or maybe it’s just that GPUs are where the business is. Compare and contrast: Intel.
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Apple might add a smart display-like iPhone lock screen in iOS 17 • The Verge

Emma Roth:


Apple is working on a new feature in iOS 17 that turns the iPhone’s screen into a smart home-style display, according to a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. As noted by Gurman, the interface will show things like the weather, calendar appointments, and notifications when the phone is locked and tilted horizontally.

It will show these widgets on a dark background with bright text, Gurman notes, and expands on the lock screen widgets that Apple revealed with iOS 16. This could come in handy when you have your iPhone set atop your desk or on your nightstand and want to keep up with any notifications or upcoming appointments.

Google already has a similar feature for its Pixel devices when they’re used with the Pixel Stand. When you place your Pixel on the stand, you can access various settings or choose to display a slideshow of images from Google Photos while the device is charging. The Pixel also comes with Google’s At a Glance widget that shows the date, calendar appointments, air quality alerts, and other helpful notifications from the home and lock screen.

Additionally, Gurman says that Apple’s working to bring this feature to its iPad as well and is working on a magnetic mount that you can use with the device. This should help the iPad better compete with the Google Pixel Tablet, which comes with a speaker doc that also charges the device.


Suuure, Apple has Pixel Tablet Stand Envy. Sure thing there. All this stuff sounds monumentally pointless, to be honest, unless when you’re working at your desk with your phone beside it you aren’t getting notifications from whatever device you’re working on.

(Also, it’s ironic that iOS version numbers are out of step with iPhone version numbers, isn’t it. Those S years really did mess things up.)
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No one should be surprised Virgin Orbit failed—it had a terrible business plan • Ars Technica

Eric Berger:


Virgin Orbit originated more than a decade ago as an offshoot of Virgin Galactic, which was using an aircraft as a first stage to launch a suborbital space plane for tourists. In its early years, the company hired several engineers from SpaceX to begin designing a rocket that could be dropped from an aircraft.

This business ran fairly lean until Virgin Orbit was separated from its parent company in 2017, and [Virgin founder Richard] Branson hired [CEO Dan] Hart, who had spent decades as a system engineer at Boeing’s Space division as its president. Hart instituted a more cautious approach and began staffing up the company. A planned first launch in 2018 was delayed by more than two years.

When LauncherOne finally took flight for the first time in May 2020, the company had spent a staggering amount of money, nearly $1bn, developing the rocket and air-launch system. It was clear at the time that Virgin Orbit was never going to make that money back by charging $12m to $15m to launch a few hundred kilograms per mission.

It also seemed fairly obvious that, with the large workforce Hart hired, Virgin Orbit was not going to break even. The company’s human resources bill alone was likely about $150m per year, and that did not include facilities, leases, equipment, and hardware costs. Assuming a profit of $10m per launch—an exceedingly generous figure—Virgin Orbit would have to launch something like 30 times a year to break even.

There clearly was no market for this, and even reaching such a cadence would have required several years. Rocket Lab, which has a proven, similarly sized vehicle in Electron, is only seeing a demand for about a dozen flights per year to dedicated orbits. SpaceX, with its Transporter rideshare missions, was also eating into Virgin Orbit’s market. The business case simply did not close.


I never, ever saw the point of Virgin’s spacecraft business. It seems the numbers agreed.
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Yes, Google’s AI-infused search engine will have ads • Marketing Brew

Ryan Barwick:


Google Ads is getting into the generative AI game. Today, the company unveiled products that it says will inject generative AI into its advertising business, like copywriting tools and image generators.

Perhaps most notably, it also released further details on how ads will fit into its new generative-AI search engine, something it’s calling the Search Generative Experience, which is currently available via waitlist. These ads will largely appear above or below the generative text spit out by the search engine, all labeled with a “sponsored” tag. At the moment, advertisers also won’t be able to opt in or out of the new search inventory, and the kind of ads users see will depend on the specific search query, Dan Taylor, Google’s VP of global ads, said during a press briefing.

Search is no slouch for Google—the company’s “search and other” category raked in nearly $40bn last quarter and its search engine commands a 91% market share in the US, according to SimilarWeb. Google first announced its search engine’s generative-AI facelift during the company’s I/O conference earlier this month, on the heels of its first real search competitor in decades: Microsoft and its ChatGPT-charged Bing.

For now, search ads within its conversational AI search engine are largely “experiments within an experiment,” Taylor said, alluding to a new program called Search Labs, where Google is testing this tech.

Taylor compared AI’s impact on advertising to the shift to mobile advertising. The company is still testing what kinds of searches merit the “generative experience” and whether it would make sense to place an ad there.


When search shifted to mobile, where people were doing barely one search per day, Google figured out a way to load that single results page with ads so that you were more likely to hit an ad than an organic link. So generative AI, which keeps people on the page, probably won’t be a big problem.
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The Facebook generation wants some boundaries • The Atlantic

Kate Lindsay:


The children of the Facebook era—which truly began in 2006, when the platform opened to everyone—are growing up, preparing to enter the workforce, and facing the consequences of their parents’ social-media use. Many are filling the shoes of a digital persona that’s already been created, and that they have no power to erase.

Caymi Barrett, now 24, grew up with a mom who posted Barrett’s personal moments—bath photos, her MRSA diagnosis, the fact that she was adopted, the time a drunk driver hit the car she was riding in—publicly on Facebook. (Barrett’s mother did not respond to requests for comment.) The distress this caused eventually motivated Barrett to become a vocal advocate for children’s internet privacy, including testifying in front of the Washington State House earlier this year. But before that, when Barrett was a teen and had just signed up for her first Twitter account, she followed her mom’s example, complaining about her siblings and talking candidly about her medical issues.

Barrett’s audience of younger users are the ones who pointed out the problem, she told me. Her internet friends started “reaching out to me, being like, ‘Hey, maybe you should take this down,’” she said. Today’s teens are similarly wary of oversharing. They joke on TikTok about the terror of their peers finding their parents’ Facebooks. Stephen Balkam, the CEO of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute, says that even younger children might experience a “digital coming-of-age” and the discomfort that comes with it. “What we’ve seen is very mature 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds sitting down with their parents, going, ‘Mom, what were you thinking?’” he told me.

In the United States, parental authority supersedes a child’s right to privacy, and socially, we’ve normalized sharing information about and images of children that we never would of adults. Parents regularly divulge diaper-changing mishaps, potty-training successes, and details about a child’s first menstrual period to an audience of hundreds or thousands of people. There are no real rules against it.


Untested in the UK, but probably much the same. Does a child have a reasonable expectation of privacy when prelingual? How about when they can write their name?
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“Humanity’s digital public square” • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick:


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will reportedly announce he’s running for president during a Twitter Space tonight with the site’s still-current CEO Elon Musk. DeSantis’ team, of course, got the date wrong in their own announcement, but that’s understandable. I’ve been working under the assumption that the DeSantis campaign is just a bunch of adult softball teams that met at an Applebee’s happy hour and decided to give politics a whirl because getting into racially aggravated fights with service workers had lost its thrill.

The DeSantis Space, though, is sure to be a big moment for Twitter. It’ll be the moment Musk truly activates the site’s new identity. As Charlie Warzel wrote in The Atlantic yesterday, “Under Elon Musk, Twitter has evolved into a platform that is indistinguishable from the wastelands of alternative social-media sites such as Truth Social and Parler.”

After months of clumsily reconfiguring the site into a delivery mechanism for right-wing politics, tonight will be the moment we all find out if Twitter can really take on Fox News. I’m sure Twitter’s deeply unreliable metrics and the American mainstream political press’s compulsive need to report on everything to do with the presidency means no matter what happens, tonight will be regarded as a success.


Charlie Warzel wrote a banger of a piece, but this distillation by Broderick is just so much finer. “Racially aggravated fights with service workers” and De Santis’s team proudly saying that the announcement would be on March 24. They really did. Read all of it as Twitter emerges from its Muskian pupa, a different sort of caterpillar from before.
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Nigeria’s eNaira digital currency can’t compete with crypto • Rest of World

Temitayo Lawal:


In 2021, Nigeria became the first African country, and the second in the world, to introduce a government-backed digital currency: the eNaira. At the time of its launch, the governor of Nigeria’s central bank said the currency had drawn “overwhelming interest and encouraging response.” The government believed it would boost financial inclusion, improve the security of digital transactions, and enhance local and cross-border trade, among other benefits. 

Nearly 18 months on, however, eNaira has failed to achieve any of those goals. In fact, digital currency users in Nigeria are now questioning why it even exists. 

“The eNaira isn’t as sophisticated, independent, and flexible as the regular cryptocurrencies,” Abdulrahman Akanni, a crypto user, told Rest of World. “It couldn’t compete, and so, was dead on arrival. A layman’s analogy will be the government asking me to drive a 2000 Corolla and abandon the latest model of Mercedes-Benz that I can afford. That is just not possible.”

As of October 2022, fewer than 1.15 million Nigerians, or roughly under 0.5% of the country’s population, had used eNaira, according to Bloomberg. Earlier this month, officials from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) told reporters that only about 1.4 million transactions had been conducted on the eNaira platform since its inception.

In 2017, CBN had warned commercial banking institutions against dealing with cryptocurrency assets. The eNaira had been the government’s answer to crypto. Yet, between January 2021 and June 2022, transaction figures for the eNaira were dwarfed by the 497.35 billion naira ($1.16bn) worth of bitcoin that Nigerians traded on popular peer-to-peer platform Paxful.


Had “an embarrassing first week” back in November 2021. Seems things haven’t improved much since.

And we’re still waiting to hear how El Salvador’s bitcoin experiment (which is roughly as old) has really worked out.
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Introduction to Generative Fill: Adobe Photoshop • YouTube


Learn the basics of Generative Fill that is now integrated into the Beta version of Adobe Photoshop. This technology allows you to write simple text prompts to enhance your own images directly in Photoshop. It is truly magical!


I hardly ever link to YouTube videos. This one, though, is really worth the five minutes of your time. Magic spells for drawing are now part of the everyday.

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April 2023: Netflix says subscriber growth in Canada has increased after password-sharing crackdown • Mobile Syrup

Bradly Shankar, a month ago:


Netflix says more Canadians are subscribing to the service following its controversial password-sharing crackdown.

During its first-quarter earnings results for fiscal 2023, the company reflected on its paid sharing policies, which went into effect in Canada in February. While many people pushed back against this move, especially after years of Netflix embracing password-sharing, the streamer said during its latest earnings call that it’s nonetheless still seen growth in Canada post-crackdown.

Although the company acknowledged there was an initial ‘cancel reaction’ in Canada and the other markets which have already received paid sharing, that churn was quickly offset. “For example, in Canada, which we believe is a reliable predictor for the US, our paid membership base is now larger than prior to the launch of paid sharing and revenue growth has accelerated and is now growing faster than in the US,” wrote Netflix in its Q1 2023 earnings letter.

Overall, the company says it’s “pleased with the results” of paid sharing in Canada, New Zealand, Spain and Portugal,” which it says are “strengthening our confidence that we have the right approach.” As part of these efforts, the company says it will expand paid sharing to the US by the end of June.


Just as a followup to yesterday’s piece noting that the password-sharing crackdown is already happening in the US, ahead of schedule: I forecast that it would lead people either to not use Netflix (which is no loss to Netflix, as in its view they were already freeloading) or, at the margin, to sign up, either for the full service or the additive service (benefit to Netflix). This is separate from any discussion about whether people stop using a service because of cost, which you could call “natural churn” as opposed to the new “password churn”. (Thanks Niall for the link.)
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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

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