Start Up No.1923: faking your life with AI photos, Meta sued over Ethiopia violence, what Page and Brin do post-Google, and more


The company behind the Helios bitcoin facility, Argo Blockchain, has warned that it could go bankrupt without new funding. CC-licensed photo by Barbara Brannon on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 8 links for you. Kinda Twittery. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter, and @charlesarthur@newsie.social on Mastodon. Observations and links welcome.


Man fakes entire month of his life using AI-generated photos • PetaPixel

Jaron Schneider:

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Self-described writer and director Kyle Vorbach realized that by specifically training the Stable Diffusion artificial intelligence (AI) image generator, he could create realistic photos that never happened. So he did, and faked a whole month of his life.

In his expertly edited video above, Vorbach says that he originally went down this rabbit hole when he needed a new profile picture last October, but was struggling to get a good result. So, after he had previously proven he could create believable images of his dog with a fine-tuned, local version of Stable Diffusion, he decided to try it with his own face.

Usually, AI-generated faces of people are difficult to believe, as the “uncanny valley” effect is extremely strong. But after playing with the program for a while and learning that it gave better results if it was told to use a celebrity that looked like the person that was being made and not the actual person (in his case, Ryan Gosling), he created an incredible photo of himself.

“Easily one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken, and I never even had to leave my bedroom,” Vorbach says.

After his success, he decided to push it even further.

“I generated my Halloween costume. I used AI to generate an entire fake trip to New York where I met up with my friend, who was also generated with AI. Everyone was believing my pictures. That’s when thing started to get weird,” he says.

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It’s all starting to happen.
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Meta faces $1.6bn lawsuit over Facebook posts inciting violence in Tigray war • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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Meta has been accused in a lawsuit of letting posts that inflamed the war in Tigray flourish on Facebook, after an Observer investigation in February revealed repeated inaction on posts that incited violence.

The lawsuit, filed in the high court of Kenya, where Meta’s sub-Saharan African operations are based, alleges that Facebook’s recommendations systems amplified hateful and violent posts in the context of the war in northern Ethiopia, which raged for two years until a ceasefire was agreed in early November. The lawsuit seeks the creation of a $1.6bn (£1.3bn) fund for victims of hate speech.

One of the petitioners said his father, an Ethiopian academic, was targeted with racist messages before his murder in November 2021, and that Facebook did not remove the posts despite complaints.

“If Facebook had just stopped the spread of hate and moderated posts properly, my father would still be alive,” said Abrham Meareg, who is ethnic Tigrayan and an academic like his father.

“I’m taking Facebook to court so no one ever suffers as my family has again. I’m seeking justice for millions of my fellow Africans hurt by Facebook’s profiteering – and an apology for my father’s murder.”

The case is asking for a compensation fund of 200bn Kenyan shillings (£1.3bn) to be established for victims of hate and violence on Facebook.

In February an analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Observer found that Facebook was letting users post content inciting violence through hate and misinformation, despite being aware that it helped directly fuel tensions in Tigray, where thousands have died and millions been displaced since war broke out in late 2020.

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When I was writing Social Warming, I consulted public data to find the country with the lowest level of internet penetration, because I wanted to see if my hypothesis (about the polarising effects of social media) would apply even with low use . Ethiopia was right down there for connectivity. And yet Facebook was always cited when trouble occurred.
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The party animal and the island-hopping hermit: what Page and Brin did next • Business Insider

Hugh Langley and Rob Price:

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Larry Page had a new idea for his frazzled engineers: Had they tried 3D-printing an aircraft?

The Google cofounder, his graying, unkempt hair reaching almost to his shoulders, had reappeared at Kittyhawk, his floundering flying-car company, after almost three years out of the public eye. Since stepping down from Google’s parent company Alphabet in 2019, Page had been a virtual recluse, spending much of the pandemic holed up on Tavarua, his private Fijian island. But here he was in the flesh earlier this summer, trying to take control of his several-hundred-million-dollar investment as it spiraled out of control. He wanted to build a bulbous aircraft, barely taller than a telephone box, that would take off vertically and maneuver horizontally, but with a twist: It would be all-electric and self-piloting, with a 3D-printed chassis. One employee nicknamed it the “Larry Lozenge.”

But Page was too late to save the company: In September, Kittyhawk announced it was “winding down” its operations. Page’s biggest project, post-Google, had crashed and burned.

About the same time that Page was trying to salvage his venture, Sergey Brin — his partner in creating Google — was partying at Burning Man. Unlike Page, Brin had seldom strayed far from the spotlight. His divorce from the lawyer and philanthropist Nicole Shanahan became tabloid fodder after lurid (and disputed) allegations surfaced that Shanahan had a secret tryst with Brin’s fellow billionaire and one-time confidant Elon Musk. To let off steam, Brin island-hopped across the Pacific Ocean in a modified sea-plane to Burning Man, where he reveled topless in the Nevada desert, surrounded by 80,000 festival-goers and festooned with a space-age bandolier-style necklace.

…Brin is an inquisitive philanthropist pursuing intellectual curiosities and humanitarian-minded projects; Page has leveraged his vast wealth to retreat from the public eye, ceding day-to-day oversight of his ventures to a small circle of trusted lieutenants. But at their core, the former partners — who still retain control of Alphabet, the $1.2 trillion parent company of Google — share a single overriding similarity: both rely on a tangled web of corporate entities and family offices that serve to minimize their tax obligations, protect them from liability, and shield their wealth from public view.

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Free speech absolutist Elon Musk bans college kid who annoyed him • Futurism

Frank Landymore:

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Remember that ElonJet Twitter account? Well, under the site’s new CEO — the self-identified stalwart free speech champion Elon Musk — it just got suspended, despite Musk previously promising he would leave it alone.

ElonJet was a bot account that tracked Musk’s private jet travel using publicly available information, and had amassed a following of over 500,000 prior to its takedown.

Its sudden suspension comes just days after its creator Jack Sweeney, a university student, claimed that an anonymous Twitter employee had disclosed to him that ElonJet had gotten its visibility severely restricted, or shadowbanned, earlier this month.

On Monday, Sweeney tweeted that Twitter had removed any visibility limiting. That victory proved to be short lived, however, because just two days later the social media company suspended the account outright. That’ll limit ElonJet’s visibility, alright.

Sweeney himself was not safe from suspension either, as later today, Sweeney’s personal account has disappeared entirely, replaced with a message reading that it had been suspended. And so the dominoes have fallen, with his other jet-tracking accounts, like BezosJets which followed Elon’s billionaire nemesis Jeff Bezos, going down, too.

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All the accounts which tweeted public data from the aircrafts’ transponders are now suspended. You also can’t post links to them. Fine: it’s proven: he’s mendacious and you can’t rely on what he says. Retrospectively, Twitter has updated its “private information policy” with this self-serving paragraph:

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[you can’t share] live location information, including information shared on Twitter directly or links to 3rd-party URL(s) of travel routes, actual physical location, or other identifying information that would reveal a person’s location, regardless if this information is publicly available;

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Regardless if this information is publicly available?? First, ungrammatical; second, you can’t share the details about a plane flight that a politician is on? Or where they tell you? Utterly ridiculous.
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Ex-Twitter employee convicted of spying for Saudi Arabia • The Verge

Emma Roth, in August 2022:

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Former Twitter employee Ahmad Abouammo was found guilty of spying for the government of Saudi Arabia, according to a report from Bloomberg. The jury handed down its judgment in a San Francisco federal court on Tuesday, where Abouammo was also convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, and falsifying records.

Abouammo previously worked at Twitter as a media partnerships manager and helped prominent figures in the Middle East and North Africa promote their accounts. However, he leveraged his position to access the email addresses, phone numbers, and birth dates of users who were critical of the Saudi government. Abouammo then transmitted that information to Saudi officials between November 2014 and May 2015 and received gifts in return.

In 2019, the Department of Justice charged Abouammo and another former Twitter employee, Ali Alzabarah, with espionage. The agency later expanded those charges in 2020 to include a third individual, Ahmed Almutairi, who allegedly coordinated the scheme. Both Almutairi and Alzabarah remain wanted by the US government. Last year, human rights activist Ali Al-Ahmed sued Twitter, claiming that the platform could’ve done more to protect his information.

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On Wednesday he was sentenced to 3½ years in prison; his lawyer asked that he not be incarcerated because of “family upheaval”. (Today in desperate plea attempts.) Goes to show that Twitter wasn’t exactly fine and dandy before: the whistleblowing by Mudge about calamitous security was ignored.
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Bitcoin miner on verge of collapse as value halves • The Times

Tom Howard:

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The stock market value of one of London’s better-known bitcoin miners almost halved yesterday after warning that it is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy as it rapidly runs out of cash.

Argo Blockchain told investors that it needed to find some money from somewhere soon otherwise it risks going under “within the next month”.

The company is in talks to sell “certain assets” to a third party, although it declined to disclose what exactly it is trying to offload. It is also in “advanced negotiations” over an equipment financing transaction, essentially a loan secured against its mining machines and other valuable hardware.

…The shares closed down 2¾p, or 40.3%, at 4p, valuing the business at about £20m.

Less than two years ago Argo was worth more than £1bn, with its share price having tracked the bitcoin price ever higher. At the beginning of the pandemic the shares were worth about 6p, but they peaked above 280p a year later.

The company runs thousands of bitcoin mining machines across the US and Canada, including one huge facility in Texas, called Helios. Typically, it sells most of what those machines mine, although it does keep some back. It has had to tap into reserves, though. This time last year Argo owned 2,595 bitcoin, but that fell to just 126 bitcoin, worth about £1.8m or so, last month.

Argo, along with other miners, has been caught out by the sharp rise in the cost of electricity which has come amid a rapid fall in the value of digital currencies. That has put pressure on its margins.

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Dominoes all falling quietly.
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Jack Dorsey takes blame for building Twitter’s moderation tools • Gizmodo

Kyle Barr:

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In a blog post, Dorsey wrote “The biggest mistake I made was continuing to invest in building tools for us to manage the public conversation, versus building tools for the people using Twitter to easily manage it for themselves.”

He also laid out three points that exemplify his social media philosophy: that social media should be kept out of any corporate or government control, that only an author should have the option to remove content they produce on a platform, and that moderation is best implemented by “algorithmic choice,” which is essentially ranking content based on user preferences. It’s an idea that’s been championed by the Dorsey-fronted Bluesky social app.

“The Twitter when I led it and the Twitter of today do not meet any of these principles. This is my fault alone,” Dorsey wrote. He also referred to an activist who “entered our stock in 2020” as the reason he gave up pushing those ideals. As noted by Business Insider, Dorsey could be referring to the hedge fund Elliott Management who bought more than $200m in stock and tried to oust Dorsey as CEO.

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Algorithms can’t do all moderation, and can’t take the final decisions about removing people who are actively seeking to cause trouble. Dorsey has lived in a sort of dream world where he imagines things aren’t too bad at Twitter while he worked at Square. But he’s divorced by his wealth from the real world. Is he really serious that only Al-Qa’ida should have the option to remove content created by Al-Qa’ida?
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Musk shakes up Twitter’s legal team as he looks to cut more costs • The New York Times

Ryan Mac, Mike Isaac and Kate Conger:

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To cut costs, Twitter has not paid rent for its San Francisco headquarters or any of its global offices for weeks, three people close to the company said. Twitter has also refused to pay a $197,725 bill for private charter flights made the week of Mr. Musk’s takeover, according to a copy of a lawsuit filed in New Hampshire District Court and obtained by The New York Times.

Twitter’s leaders have also discussed the consequences of denying severance payments to thousands of people who have been laid off since the takeover, two people familiar with the talks said. And Mr. Musk has threatened employees with lawsuits if they talk to the media and “act in a manner contrary to the company’s interest,” according to an internal email sent last Friday.

The aggressive moves signal that Mr. Musk is still slashing expenditures and is bending or breaking Twitter’s previous agreements to make his mark. His reign has been characterized by chaos, a series of resignations and layoffs, reversals of the platform’s previous suspensions and rules, and capricious decisions that have driven away advertisers. Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

As he has transitioned into the role of Twitter’s new leader, Mr. Musk has had a cast of rotating legal professionals by his side. In October, he fired both Twitter’s chief legal officer and general counsel “for cause” within hours of closing his acquisition and installed his personal lawyer, Alex Spiro, to head up legal and policy matters at the company.

Mr. Spiro is no longer working at Twitter, according to six people familiar with the decision. Those people said that Mr. Musk has been unhappy with some of the decisions made by Mr. Spiro, a noted criminal defense lawyer who successfully defended the billionaire in a high-profile defamation case in late 2019 and worked his way into the Twitter owner’s inner circle.

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If he tries to deny severance payments, he’ll never be out of the courts. Quite possibly it will become impossible to hire people too: why would you join a company knowing that if you’re fired you won’t get the payoff you’re due? (Thanks wendyg 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

Start Up No.1922: will iOS get sideloading?, more on that fusion result, Binance daily outflow tops $1bn, the truth about strikes, and more


Life as the adjunct of a real-estate AI chatbot can make you ask yourself who’s the robot, and who the human. CC-licensed photo by Matthew Hurst on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Putting more in than out. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Apple to allow outside app stores in overhaul spurred by EU laws • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Mark Gurman:

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Apple is preparing to allow alternative app stores on its iPhones and iPads, part of a sweeping overhaul aimed at complying with strict European Union requirements coming in 2024.

Software engineering and services employees are engaged in a major push to open up key elements of Apple’s platforms, according to people familiar with the efforts. As part of the changes, customers could ultimately download third-party software to their iPhones and iPads without using the company’s App Store, sidestepping Apple’s restrictions and the up-to-30% commission it imposes on payments.

The moves — a reversal of long-held policies — are a response to EU laws aimed at leveling the playing field for third-party developers and improving the digital lives of consumers. For years, regulators and software makers have complained that Apple and Google, which run the two biggest mobile app stores, wield too much power as gatekeepers.

If similar laws are passed in additional countries, Apple’s project could lay the groundwork for other regions, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the work is private. But the company’s changes are designed initially to just go into effect in Europe.

Even so, the news bolstered shares of companies that offer dating services and other apps. Match Group Inc. jumped as much as 10% and Bumble Inc. was up as much as 8.6% — a sign investors think the companies could get a break from Apple’s commissions.

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Will only apply in Europe initially, and Apple is doing it because of the Digital Markets Act, Gurman says. Hell of a scoop. There’s been a feeling that this is inevitable, but now the question is what subtle (or not-so-subtle) obstacles Apple will put in the way of those sideloaders. There’s a lot of money in those 30% fees.
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A US nuclear fusion test inches us closer to a clean energy holy grail • Fast Company

Alex Pasternack:

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The ignition the NIF produced in an experiment last week amounted to 3.15 megajoules of energy, a gain of about 54% over the roughly 2 megajoules that the reaction consumed from the lasers, the lab’s analysis suggests. The test built on a record the lab set last August, in a fusion experiment that yielded over 1.3 megajoules. The Financial Times first reported the breakthrough on Monday, and the Dept. of Energy confirmed it during a press conference on Tuesday.

…The NIF’s approach—intended for weapons research specifically—is a terribly inefficient way of producing electricity. NIF’s laser, the world’s largest, loses up to 99% of its energy in the process of heating up the pellet. In an actual reactor, there’s also the energy lost to waste heat and noise, which typically means a thermal efficiency of less than 50%. To be a viable commercial energy source, fusion reactors must be able to draw significantly more net energy from the reaction, possibly a hundred times more.

Another approach, magnetic confinement confusion, which uses magnetic fields to heat the plasma inside donut-shaped tokamak reactors, likely holds more promise for commercial energy production.

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As suspected: it’s encouraging, and shows that the science is solid, but it’s absolutely miles from application. Plus it takes about a day (minimum) to set up each experiment, whereas – as one scientist pointed out – you need to be doing it at least every second (that’s three orders of magnitude faster). There are so many challenges in so many directions.
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Becoming a chatbot: my life as a real estate AI’s human backup • N+1 Magazine

Laura Preston:

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The position was at a company that made artificial intelligence for real estate. They had developed a product called Brenda, a conversational AI that could answer questions about apartment listings. Brenda had been acquired by a larger company that made software for property managers, and now thousands of properties across the country had put her to work.

Brenda, the recruiter told me, was a sophisticated conversationalist, so fluent that most people who encountered her took her to be human.

But like all conversational AIs, she had some shortcomings. She struggled with idioms and didn’t fare well with questions beyond the scope of real estate. To compensate for these flaws, the company was recruiting a team of employees they called the operators. The operators kept vigil over Brenda 24 hours a day. When Brenda went off-script, an operator took over and emulated Brenda’s voice. Ideally, the customer on the other end would not realise the conversation had changed hands, or that they had even been chatting with a bot in the first place. Because Brenda used machine learning to improve her responses, she would pick up on the operators’ language patterns and gradually adopt them as her own.

…Brenda was more efficient than the most industrious human agent. She could cross-reference a vast database of property information in an instant and field messages faster than any human at a keyboard. She could deal with calls at all hours of the day and night, didn’t need a lunch break and could work weekends and holidays. When the leasing agents arrived in the office each morning, their tour schedules were neatly arranged, as if by elves in the night.

Meanwhile, we operators, with our advanced degrees in the humanities, had aptitudes Brenda lacked. We were intuitive, articulate and sensitive to the finer points of delivery. At $25 an hour we also cost almost nothing to employ, by corporate standards. Under the Brenda-operator alliance, everyone came out ahead: the operators got paid better than they would as adjunct professors, and Brenda became more likable, more convincing, more humane. Meanwhile, Brenda’s corporate clients were satisfied knowing they had not replaced their phone lines with a customer-service bot. What they were using, instead, was cutting-edge AI backed by PhDs in literature.

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But, but, but. Read all of it: a fantastic description of modern life under the thumb of chatbots, and humans acting like machines.
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ChatGPT is coming for your job. And I do mean your • Jabberwocking

Kevin Drum:

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As good as it is, ChatGPT right now is only a curiosity and a warning. It’s a curiosity because even a modest effort exposes it as an idiot savant, full of on-point facts but not really able to draw sophisticated conclusions from them. It’s a warning because it’s probably only a few years away from having the knowledge and verbal abilities of a PhD student.

How do we respond when that happens? I’m not sure, but I’ll say this: we currently live in a world full of lawyers and professors and journalists who are able to calmly accept the prospect of millions of unemployed truck drivers when AI fills the world with self-driving trucks. But they will probably be a wee bit more upset at the prospect of millions of unemployed lawyers, professors, and journalists.

Maybe this is a good thing. The only way we’ll get a serious response to AI is if either (a) it affects the working class in numbers so big it creates riots, or (b) it reduces the income of the ruling class by 1% or so. Both would be considered problems of about the same magnitude and would provoke roughly the same energy toward finding a solution.

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Are lawyers, professors and journalists actually the ruling class? Surely that group consists of the very very rich (if there really is a “ruling” class, tbd) and they won’t notice if the work gets done by ChatGPT or a real person.
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Binance suffers $1bn outflow in one day as crypto jitters spread • Financial Times

Joshua Oliver and Scott Chipolina:

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Changpeng Zhao, chief executive of Binance, said the exchange had experienced $1.14bn in net withdrawals on Tuesday as users continued to remove their assets from his marketplace.

Net withdrawals over seven days had topped $3.6bn, according to an analysis conducted by blockchain research group Nansen.

The outflows underscored the nervousness swirling around crypto markets since the collapse last month of FTX, one of the largest companies in the industry. FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried was charged with fraud in the US on Tuesday.

Nansen said the rapid withdrawals were the largest since June, when the digital assets market was embroiled in an unprecedented market crash that saw popular tokens plummet in value.

Zhao played down the scale of these redemptions, insisting it was “Business as usual for us.” “Some days we have net withdrawals; some days we have net deposits,” Zhao said on Twitter.

Investors have pulled record levels of bitcoin from crypto exchanges in the past month on concerns over the safety of their assets. Crypto exchanges like Binance take custody of clients’ assets alongside offering a trading venue.

Binance said it has more than $60bn in assets, sufficient funds to honour withdrawals. However, the company’s disclosures do not include its liabilities making it difficult to ascertain its financial health. The exchange told the FT all client deposits are backed by corresponding assets and that its “capital structure is debt free.”

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Pretty much nobody believes this apart from the people who have money in Binance. Bitcoin’s price actually rose on Tuesday amid the withdrawals, perhaps because people are getting out of other junkcoins towards a relatively safe haven. The next stage will be if those buyers convert back to fiat, dumping bitcoin.
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Rise of open-source intelligence tests US spies • WSJ

Warren P. Strobel:

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As Russian troops surged toward Ukraine’s border last fall, a small Western intelligence unit swung into action, tracking signs Moscow was preparing to invade. It drew up escape routes for its people and wrote twice-daily intelligence reports.

The unit drafted and sent to its leaders an assessment on Feb. 16, 2022, that would be eerily prescient: Russia, it said, would likely invade Ukraine on Feb. 23, US East Coast time. 

The intelligence shop had just eight analysts and used only publicly available information, not spy satellites and secret agents. It belonged to multinational chemicals company Dow Inc., not to any government.

“I’m leading an intelligence center that accurately predicted the invasion of Ukraine without any access to sensitive sources,” said John Robert, Dow’s director of global intelligence and protection, whose unit helps the company manage business risk and employee safety.

Supercharged by the Ukraine war, the rise of open-source intelligence, or OSINT, which comprises everything from commercial satellite imagery to social-media posts and purchasable databases, poses revolutionary challenges for the Central Intelligence Agency and its sister spy agencies, according to former senior officials who spent decades working in those agencies’ classified spaces.

Dow is just one of a fast-growing number of companies, nonprofit groups and countries transforming publicly available data into intelligence for strategic and economic advantage. China has the largest, most focused effort, while US spy agencies, with deeply ingrained habits of operating in the shadows, have been slow to adapt to a world in which much of what is important isn’t secret, according to dozens of officials and many studies.

The CIA is simultaneously dealing with a closely related challenge: It is pivoting from two decades focused on terrorism toward spying on a new primary intelligence target, China. But some officials say the technological tsunami facing US intelligence agencies poses a more fundamental challenge than merely swapping priorities.

…But by some estimates, more than 80% of what a U.S. president or military commander needs to know comes from OSINT, and not from foreign agents, spy satellites or expensive eavesdropping platforms.

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OK but it’s that other 20% which is where the CIA and the rest earn their money, isn’t it?
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Meta kills Facebook Connectivity • Light Reading

Mike Dano:

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Meta Connectivity, which launched in 2013, sought to develop innovative connection technologies – from solar-powered drones and fibre-laying robots to low-Earth orbit satellites – in order to extend the company’s social network to more users.

Last year, the company estimated that more than 300 million people got access to faster Internet services thanks to Meta Connectivity.

The closure of Meta Connectivity stems from the massive round of layoffs Meta’s Mark Zuckerburg announced earlier this month. He said he would reduce the size of the company by roughly 13%, laying off more than 11,000 employees. Meta has struggled to focus on metaverse products while its core social networking advertising business faces threats from the likes of Apple and others.

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This has the feeling of a company realising that it’s not actually going to defeat the laws of physics. Solar-powered drones lose out to simpler solutions such as solar-powered mobile phone masts. Sure, Musk’s Starlink is still pushing low-Earth orbit satellites for connections, but let’s see what there is left 10 years from now.
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The biggest myths about this week’s strikes in the UK • New Statesman

Anoosh Chakelian:

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Every time workers threaten to go on strike in the UK, a little ritual ensues. The average wage of the sector in question is googled (just look at how searches for “rail salary” and “train driver salary” spiked when the rail strikes began in June). The googler in question – possibly based on how this compares with their own income, whether strikes inconvenience them personally, plus a dash of “could I do that job myself?” – then decides whether or not the industrial action is justified.

This psychological process, in addition to how government ministers frame trade union leaders, all serves to shape public sentiment towards strikes.

One of the biggest and most basic public misconceptions in relation to strikes is about average salaries. The average annual pay in the UK is £33,000. But we, as the British public, tend to assume it’s actually lower. When the New Statesman asked British voters what they thought the average salary was, we found a third of them pegged it to £20,001-£30,000 – the most chosen salary bracket in the poll.

This may sound like a minor underestimation, but it means we therefore assume certain workers are better paid (or paid closer to the average) than they actually are.

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This begins the problem, yet what’s noticeable about the strikes happening in the UK this month (and there are a lot) is that they have broad public support. As much as anything, that’s because people also don’t buy the argument that public sector pay awards will drive inflation (which is anyway untrue; Chakelian explains why).
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The unbearable lightness of hydrogen • Bloomberg New Energy Futures

Michael Liebreich:

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While clean hydrogen will be needed to decarbonize a number of use cases in industry, and perhaps for long-duration storage, I found it hard to identify any role for it in applications like land transportation or space heating. Since then, as I have done more work on industrial heat, I have even come to believe it has a limited role even there.

If my intention at the time was to inject some reality into discussions about hydrogen, I clearly failed. Rhetoric around hydrogen has become ever more overblown.

According to lobbying group the Hydrogen Council, citing a series of reports commissioned from McKinsey over the past three years, hydrogen can be expected to contribute more than 20% of emissions reductions needed for the world to reach net-zero emissions – a figure repeated by politicians and journalists seemingly without the slightest critical examination.

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No critical examination? Incredible!

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In October this year the Hydrogen Council and McKinsey released another report entitled Global Hydrogen Flows, predicting long-distance transport of 400m tonnes of clean hydrogen and its derivatives (calculated on a hydrogen-content basis) by 2050, out of total global production of 660m tonnes of hydrogen. It is worth bearing in mind that today, 94m tonnes of hydrogen are used annually, virtually all of it made from fossil fuels, creating 2.3% of global emissions. The vast bulk of today’s hydrogen never leaves the compound on which it is made, let alone cross an international border.

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I mean, it might change, but the inertia against such dramatic reconstitution is colossal.
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Former members of Twitter’s safety council voice concerns over Musk’s acquisition • NPR

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[Eirliani] Rahman [who resigned from Twitter’s third-party safety council]: in terms of average number of tweets per day, in the first two weeks, antisemitic posts went up by 61% – against gay men, the corresponding number is 58%. I find that highly unacceptable.

Rachel Martin, NPR: And all this data you’re quoting is in the time period since Musk took over?

Rahman: Completely correct. And these are the data that my fellow former peers put forward. And they were part – they are part of the council and still are in there. And the other red line that he crossed was when previously banned accounts were reinstated – so for example, the ones that led up to what happened January 6 here in the US. So for me, all these were highly, highly problematic. We were hoping that our – with our resignations, it would prompt a rethinking within Twitter, within the council, but also just generally within Twitter headquarters to reconsider what’s happening to the content moderation and to make it a safer space for the public.

Martin: Anne, in your resignation letter, you said Twitter is moving toward automated content moderation. Why is that risky in your view?

Collier: Content moderation is very complex and highly nuanced. It’s also very contextual. It’s very, very hard for algorithms to determine what truly is harmful without any context whatsoever. Human beings are needed to do that. And we know that Twitter staff is massively reduced. And Twitter has to be reliant on automated content moderation more. So – and that’s an announcement directly from Twitter itself.

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The Trumpification of Elon Musk • Wired

Gideon Lichfield:

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The point is that the focus on Musk is a mistake. Arguably not as much of a mistake as it was with Trump; an owner-CEO has more power over their company than a president does over their country. But trying to report on what’s happening by expecting either his abject failure or resounding success and then using his most attention-grabbing tactics as evidence for that thesis is not doing anyone a service. 

As with Trump, the real story is often what’s going on below the level of newsmaker in chief. It’s about the actual numbers around Twitter’s advertising, not Musk’s claims that advertisers are coming back. It’s about who’s actually joining and leaving Twitter, not about who’s threatening to leave. It’s about Twitter’s role in the world—its importance to natural-disaster management or to any number of communities for whom it’s a store of social wealth—rather than just how much money it will lose. Musk and Trump subvert the ability to focus on such nuances by making the story all about themselves. The very same tactic that draws their fans ensnares their critics. And we, by which I mean everybody, but especially the media, fall for it every time.

Just before Musk bought Twitter, I tweeted a prediction that “not much [will] change. Trump et al will come back, trolling will increase somewhat, rest of us will block and mute more and engage less but still use it for publishing—more web 1.0, less 2.0.” As foolish as it is to make predictions, and as crazy as the past six weeks have been, I still think this is as plausible a long-term outcome as any other. It’s neither the destruction of Twitter nor a turnaround, but a bet that the platform is too important to too many people to disappear altogether and will hobble along, however dysfunctionally, in some form. This prediction could be utterly wrong, but its chief quality is that it’s boring. People should make boring predictions more often.

«

Absolutely this. Though there has been a definite disengagement just in the past week by some significant (to me) accounts; once the air starts to go out of the balloon, you can’t get it back in.
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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

Start Up No.1921: SBF arrested, Binance may face charges, fusion redux, the fall in crypto paychecks, dead neural tech, and more


Got a ticket? Maybe you should get ChatGPT to write an explanation of why it should be revoked. CC-licensed photo by Charleston’s TheDigitelCharleston%27s TheDigitel on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


Next Friday there’ll be another post due at the Social Warming Substack, at about 0845 UK time.


A selection of 10 links for you. Overflowing with energy. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried arrested after US files criminal charges • CNBC

MacKenzie Sigalos and Rohan Goswami:

»

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried was arrested by Bahamian authorities this evening after the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York shared a sealed indictment with the Bahamian government, setting the stage for extradition and US trial for the onetime crypto billionaire at the heart of the crypto exchange’s collapse.

Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said on Twitter that the federal government anticipated moving to “unseal the indictment in the morning.”

Bahamas Attorney General Ryan Pinder said that the United States had filed unspecified criminal charges against Bankman-Fried and was “likely to request his extradition.”

In a statement, Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis said, “The Bahamas and the United States have a shared interest in holding accountable all individuals associated with FTX who may have betrayed the public trust and broken the law.”

«

This month’s least surprising headline. The question now is how long the extradition will take. Apropos of nothing, there’s an Ecuadorian embassy in Nassau.
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Exclusive: US Justice Dept is split over charging Binance as crypto world falters, sources say • Reuters

By Angus Berwick, Dan Levine and Tom Wilson:

»

Splits between US Department of Justice prosecutors are delaying the conclusion of a long-running criminal investigation into the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange Binance, four people familiar with the matter have told Reuters.

The investigation began in 2018 and is focused on Binance’s compliance with US anti-money laundering laws and sanctions, these people said. Some of the at least half dozen federal prosecutors involved in the case believe the evidence already gathered justifies moving aggressively against the exchange and filing criminal charges against individual executives including founder Changpeng Zhao, said two of the sources. Others have argued taking time to review more evidence, the sources said.

The inquiry involves prosecutors at three Justice Department offices: the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, known as MLARS, the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington in Seattle and the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team. Justice Department regulations say that money laundering charges against a financial institution must be approved by the MLARS chief. Leaders from the other two offices, along with higher-level DOJ officials, would likely also have to sign off on any action against Binance, three of the sources said.

«

If Binance gets investigated.. that would pretty much be game over for a lot of the crypto market. And it feels very unlikely that its controls have been tight enough to prevent money laundering through the exchange.

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Former top Twitter official forced to leave home due to threats amid ‘Twitter Files’ release • CNN Business

Donie O’Sullivan:

»

Twitter’s former head of trust and safety has fled his home due to an escalation in threats resulting from Elon Musk’s campaign of criticism against him, a person familiar with the matter told CNN on Monday.

Yoel Roth, who resigned from the social media company in November, has in recent weeks faced a storm of attacks and threats of violence following the release of the so-called “Twitter Files” — internal Twitter communications that new owner Musk has released through journalists including Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss.

Roth’s position involved him working on sensitive issues including the suspension of then-President Donald Trump’s account in 2021. On Monday, Weiss posted a series of screenshots purported to show internal Twitter documents where Roth and others discussed whether to ban Trump’s account, with some employees questioning if the former president’s tweets violated the platform’s policies.

While Musk had initially been publicly supportive of Roth, that soon changed after he left the company. Roth has since been the subject of criticism and threats following the release of the Twitter Files. However, things took a dark turn over the weekend when Musk appeared to endorse a tweet that baselessly accused Roth of being sympathetic to pedophilia — a common trope used by conspiracy theorists to attack people online.

«

A common trope used by rightwing conspiracy theorists, which Musk either is, or seeks to encourage. And the difference is.. irrelevant.
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So that fusion “net energy gain” means what for the future, exactly? •Thread Reader App

Wilson Ricks is a PhD candidate in large energy systems modelling at Princeton University:

»

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) has achieved net energy gain from fusion! This is incredibly exciting scientifically, but what does it mean for the future of energy?

In all likelihood, very little.

As I suspected yesterday, even if the lasers have generated more energy out than was put in, the trouble is that the lasers are only 1% efficient. So you don’t want 20% more power output; you need 100x or more. And that’s only the beginning of the power losses.

Ricks thinks that magnetic confinement fusion (as in ITER and JET) actually has the better chance of solving this. Full details are expected today, Tuesday, but basically it sounds like it’s back to square 100.
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Abandoned: the human cost of neurotechnology failure • Nature

Lim Drew:

»

secret that has changed his life. Under the skin, nestled among the nerve fibres that allow him to feel and move his face, is a miniature radio receiver and six tiny electrodes. “I’m a cyborg,” he says, with a chuckle.

This electronic device lies dormant much of the time. But, when Möllmann-Bohle feels pressure starting to gather around his left eye, he retrieves a black plastic wand about the size of a mobile phone, pushes a button and fixes it against his face in a home-made sling. The remote vibrates for a moment, then launches high-frequency radio waves into his cheek.

In response, the implant fires a sequence of electrical pulses into a bundle of nerve cells called the sphenopalatine ganglion. By disrupting these neurons, the device spares 57-year-old Möllmann-Bohle the worst of the agonizing cluster headaches that have plagued him for decades. He uses the implant several times a day. “I need this device to live a good life,” he says.

«

It was made by an American company called ATI. But:

»

by the end of 2019, ATI had collapsed. The company’s closure left Möllmann-Bohle and more than 700 other people alone with a complex implanted medical device. People using the stimulator and their physicians could no longer access the proprietary software needed to recalibrate the device and maintain its effectiveness. Möllmann-Bohle and his fellow users now faced the prospect of the battery in the hand-held remote wearing out, robbing them of the relief that they had found. “I was left standing in the rain,” Möllmann-Bohle says.

«

Drew pulls together plenty of examples: there’s such a huge tension between the investment needed to come up with new technologies, the cost to healthcare systems of deploying them, and the need of companies to make a profit.
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NYC Mayor Eric Adams took three paychecks in crypto. How’s that going for him? • Slate

Alexander Sammon:

»

On Jan. 21, according to reporting in the Verge, Adams received the first of his biweekly paychecks— $5,900, according to the New York Post—and flowed that money into the crypto exchange Coinbase. Adams’ office confirmed that he did indeed go on to convert three paychecks into cryptocurrency, splitting the money between Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Some back-of-the envelope math gives a rough sense of how much money that decision has cost hizzoner. At time of writing, Bitcoin sits at $16,811.40; Ethereum is $1,229.74. Maybe they’ll have gone up since then; it’s possible, by the time you’re reading this, they’ll be lower still. That means that Adams has lost roughly 53%, 60%, and 57% on his first three paychecks.

Check my work: I calculated those figures based on the daily average of each currency on each of the three paydays. I assumed that the money was parceled evenly between the two separate coins. Cryptocurrencies can fluctuate substantially in value even on a minute-by-minute basis (critics would say this is just one reason they seem not to be especially well-suited as currencies), so it’s possible Adams arbitraged his purchases so perfectly that he beat the daily average. It’s possible too that he loaded up on Bitcoin, which is only down 64% this year, rather than Ethereum, which is down 66%.

…Meanwhile, Adams’ other November commitment, support for a New York City–specific cryptocurrency, has gone even worse. NYCCoin is down almost 94% since it was introduced with the mayor’s support in February. MiamiCoin, which began trading in August of 2021 and has been pushed by that city’s similarly crypto-zealous mayor, Francis Suarez, is down 98% for the year, trading at $0.000458.

«

The critique of crypto remains the same: what is it better at doing than fiat currency? “Being transferred” is a good answer, but it’s not sufficient while the price yo-yos around.
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GitHub – f/awesome-chatgpt-prompts: This repo includes ChatGPT prompt curation to use ChatGPT better • Github

»

The ChatGPT model is a large language model trained by OpenAI that is capable of generating human-like text. By providing it with a prompt, it can generate responses that continue the conversation or expand on the given prompt.

In this repository, you will find a variety of prompts that can be used with ChatGPT. We encourage you to add your own prompts to the list, and to use ChatGPT to generate new prompts as well.

«

So we focused for a bit on magic spells for pictures; now it’s incantations for text to make it act as an interviewer, a football commentator, a Javascript console, a plagiarism checker, a character from a movie or book,..
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Disputing a parking fine with ChatGPT • Notes by Lex

Lex Toumbourou:

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Recently, on holidays in Far North Queensland, my wife and I parked our rental car in a paid parking lot to visit a restaurant.

I paid using the EasyPark App per the council’s instruction on various signs throughout the lot.

When we returned, they had slapped a fine on our Toyota anyway [for “failing to display a valid ticket in the prescribed manner”].

I double-checked what I had entered into the app. I mistyped the number plate by one letter. Oops.

Since we have never received a parking fine before, and I had proof of payment, I knew there was a good chance the council would let me off if I sent a letter of explanation. We had already been experimenting with ChatGPT, and the letter seemed a good test case.

ChatGPT: Write a letter to Cairns Regional Council requesting to dispute parking fine: I paid in EasyPark but accidentally mistyped the number plate.

The first response was close but longer than I would like. Plus, I didn’t tell it that I was planning to attach a photo of the fine and proof of payment.

That is good, but make it shorter. Also include that I have attached fine and proof of payment.

«

And he gets a response that the Penalty Infringement Notice has been withdrawn; the language used, to my eyes at least, is quite similar to that spouted by ChatGPT. Only me?
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Recruited for Navy SEALs, many sailors wind up scraping paint • The Japan Times

Dave Philipps:

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A sailor fresh out the elite Navy SEAL selection course slung his gear over his broad shoulder and clomped down a steel ladder into the guts of a Navy ship to execute a difficult, days-long mission specifically assigned to him: scrubbing the stinking scum out of the ship’s cavernous bilge tank.

Hardly the stuff of action movies, but it’s how many would-be SEALs end up.

The Navy attracts recruits for the SEALs using flashy images of warriors jumping from planes or rising menacingly from the dark surf. But very few make it through the harrowing selection course, and those who don’t still owe the Navy the rest of their four-year enlistments. So they end up doing whatever Navy jobs are available — often, menial work that few others want.

The recruits are almost all hypermotivated overachievers, often with college degrees, who have passed a battery of strength and intelligence tests. But many find themselves washing dishes in cramped galleys, cleaning toilets on submarines or scraping paint on aircraft carriers.

Unlike civilian workers, they cannot quit. To walk away would be a crime.

…Relegating promising candidates who don’t quite clear the bar to years of drudgery would be a harsh arrangement even if the SEAL selection course were running as designed. But lately, classes that were always hard became dangerous. A number of sailors were hospitalized. Others were forced to quit if they wanted medical care. And in February, one sailor died.

…On average, about 70% of each class over the last decade has rung the bell. But the rate suddenly soared in 2021, reaching as high as 93%.

«

And the US Navy doesn’t quite know why.
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ChatGPT, Galactica, and the progress trap • WIRED

Abeba Birhane and Deborah Raji are Fellows in Trustworthy AI at the Mozilla Foundation:

»

Among the most celebrated AI deployments is that of BERT—one of the first large language models developed by Google—to improve the company’s search engine results. However, when a user searched how to handle a seizure, they received answers promoting things they should not do—including being told inappropriately to “hold the person down” and “put something in the person’s mouth.” Anyone following the directives Google provided would thus be instructed to do exactly the opposite of what a medical professional would recommend, potentially resulting in death. 

The Google seizure error makes sense, given that one of the known vulnerabilities of LLMs is their failure to handle negation, as Allyson Ettinger demonstrated years ago with a simple study. When asked to complete a short sentence, the model would answer 100% correctly for affirmative statements (“a robin is …”) and 100% incorrectly for negative statements (“a robin is not …”). In fact, it became clear that the models could not actually distinguish between the two scenarios and provided the exact same responses (using nouns such as “bird”) in both cases.

Negation remains an issue today and is one of the rare linguistic skills to not improve as the models increase in size and complexity. Such errors reflect broader concerns linguists have raised about how such artificial language models effectively operate via a trick mirror—learning the form of the English language without possessing any of the inherent linguistic capabilities that would demonstrate actual understanding.

Additionally, the creators of such models confess to the difficulty of addressing inappropriate responses that “do not accurately reflect the contents of authoritative external sources.” Galactica and ChatGPT have generated, for example, a “scientific paper” on the benefits of eating crushed glass (Galactica) and a text on “how crushed porcelain added to breast milk can support the infant digestive system” (ChatGPT).

«

The negation point explains a great deal about what we’ve seen.
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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

Start Up No.1920: the deepfake photo threat, pricing ChatGPT, the fossil fuel job ban, ban that post!, how Twitter ends, and more


Has fusion power finally, at last, moved past being a terrific backdrop for research groups to pose in front of? New results might be encouraging. Perhaps. CC-licensed photo by Steve Jurvetson on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


Have you seen the latest post at the Social Warming Substack? It’s about Google and ChatGPT. Topical, as you’d expect.


A selection of 10 links for you. Well, always nice to be optimistic. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Thanks to AI, it’s probably time to take your photos off the Internet • Ars Technica

Benj Edwards:

»

If you’re one of the billions of people who have posted pictures of themselves on social media over the past decade, it may be time to rethink that behavior. New AI image-generation technology allows anyone to save a handful of photos (or video frames) of you, then train AI to create realistic fake photos that show you doing embarrassing or illegal things. Not everyone may be at risk, but everyone should know about it.

Photographs have always been subject to falsifications—first in darkrooms with scissors and paste and then via Adobe Photoshop through pixels. But it took a great deal of skill to pull off convincingly. Today, creating convincing photorealistic fakes has become almost trivial.

Once an AI model learns how to render someone, their image becomes a software plaything. The AI can create images of them in infinite quantities. And the AI model can be shared, allowing other people to create images of that person as well.

When we started writing this article, we asked a brave volunteer if we could use their social media images to attempt to train an AI model to create fakes. They agreed, but the results were too convincing, and the reputational risk proved too great. So instead, we used AI to create a set of seven simulated social media photos of a fictitious person we’ll call “John.” That way, we can safely show you the results. For now, let’s pretend John is a real guy. The outcome is exactly the same, as you’ll see below.

In our pretend scenario, “John” is an elementary school teacher. Like many of us, over the past 12 years, John has posted photos of himself on Facebook at his job, relaxing at home, or while going places.

Using nothing but those seven images, someone could train AI to generate images that make it seem like John has a secret life. For example, he might like to take nude selfies in his classroom. At night, John might go to bars dressed like a clown. On weekends, he could be part of an extremist paramilitary group. And maybe he served prison time for an illegal drug charge but has hidden that from his employer.

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Smart article: rather than waiting for a pressure group or academic to come up with this idea, they thought about the problem themselves. And it’s clearly a potentially big problem. Sure to come up in political campaigns near you.
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Comparing Google and ChatGPT • Hacker News

From the comments, this first is by “hncel”:

»

I work at Alphabet and I recently went to an internal tech talk about deploying large language models like this at Google. As a disclaimer I’ll first note that this is not my area of expertise, I just attended the tech talk because it sounded interesting.

Large language models like GPT are one of the biggest areas of active ML research at Google, and there’s a ton of pretty obvious applications for how they can be used to answer queries, index information, etc. There is a huge budget at Google related to staffing people to work on these kinds of models and do the actual training, which is very expensive because it takes a ton of compute capacity to train these super huge language models. However what I gathered from the talk is the economics of actually using these kinds of language models in the biggest Google products (e.g. search, gmail) isn’t quite there yet. It’s one thing to put up a demo that interested nerds can play with, but it’s quite another thing to try to integrate it deeply in a system that serves billions of requests a day when you take into account serving costs, added latency, and the fact that the average revenue on something like a Google search is close to infinitesimal already. I think I remember the presenter saying something like they’d want to reduce the costs by at least 10x before it would be feasible to integrate models like this in products like search. A 10x or even 100x improvement is obviously an attainable target in the next few years, so I think technology like this is coming in the next few years.

Commenter “summerlight”: This is so true. Some folks in Ads also tried to explore using large language models (one example: LLM is going to be the ultimate solution for contextual targeting if it’s properly done), but one of the major bottleneck is always its cost and latency. Even if you can afford cpu/gpu/tpu costs, you always have to play within a finite latency budget. Large language model often adds latency by order of seconds, not even milliseconds! This is simply not acceptable..

«

One proviso: hncel only created their account in June 2021, and this is the first comment. Hard to be certain that they do know this, but it sounds reasonable.
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Fossil fuel recruiters banned from three more UK universities • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:

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Three more UK universities have banned fossil fuel companies from recruiting students through their career services, with one citing the industry as a “fundamental barrier to a more just and sustainable world”.

The University of the Arts London, University of Bedfordshire, and Wrexham Glyndwr University join Birkbeck, University of London, which was the first to adopt a fossil-free careers service policy in September.

The moves follow a campaign supported by the student-led group People & Planet, which is now active in dozens of universities. The group said universities have been “propping up the companies most responsible for destroying the planet”, while the climate crisis was “the defining issue of most students’ lifetimes”. The campaign is backed by the National Union of Students and the Universities and College Union, which represents academics and support staff.

“The approach supports future generations to make meaningful career decisions,” said Lynda Powell, the executive director of operations at Wrexham Glyndwr University (WGU). “Through this we are supporting the development of a sustainable workforce for the future.”

…The Guardian revealed in May that the world’s biggest fossil fuel firms were planning scores of “carbon bomb” oil and gas projects that would drive the climate past internationally agreed temperature limits and lead to catastrophic global impacts. UN secretary general, António Guterres, also told US students that month: “Don’t work for climate wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future.”

«

No quote from the fossil fuel companies in this or preceding stories on the topic. I suppose they’d argue that they’d like the brightest talents so they can speed up the transition away from fossil fuels? (Tough argument when the UNSG is against you, though.) Though I’m not sure how many they’d be looking to recruit from the University of the Arts London. Also, how fossil-free does it go? No car companies? Electricity generation companies? Plastic manufacturers?
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Quiz: pretend you’re a Facebook content moderator • PBS

»

In 2018, after much debate and controversy, Facebook finally published its censorship policies. All 27 pages of them. The move, wrote the LA Times, “adds a new degree of transparency to a process that users, the public and advocates have criticized as arbitrary and opaque.” But as explored in the Independent Lens film The Cleaners, to what end do those policies translate into something sensible that a contractor hired to do the actual censoring can understand and apply? 

And if you were one of those “cleaners,” what decisions would you make based on FB policy and your background?

This quiz is based on real scenarios as well as Facebook’s own censorship guidelines. Your task: Imagine that you yourself are a censor for hire, a “cleaner” whose job it is to monitor a social media feed. Get into the mindset of these real-life cleaners and try to guess what they actually decided.

«

I got 5/11 (and mostly got those correct 5 when I went against my initial instincts). Content moderation, at least by Facebook’s standards, is hard. (Though I think its rules on Holocaust denial have changed since the quiz was created.)

Via Katie Harbath’s Anchor Change Substack. Harbath used to be a key player in moderation around election content at Facebook (when it was just that). She lists the elections coming up worldwide in 2023: at least 39, and another 13 to be announced. In other words, at least one per week, and long runups to some of them.
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With a thud, not a bang • The Fence

Séamas O’Reilly:

»

Boris Johnson’s premiership was eventually brought down over his handling of the misdeeds of Chris Pincher, having been bloodied by the months-long reveals of Partygate. And yet, equally well- documented scandals relating to covid policy, vip lane contracts for Tory donors, extrajudicial overreach and even funnelling cash to his American mistress made little or no impact at all.

Some stories, it seems, have just enough currency to survive the ever-tightening gyre of the 24-hour news cycle, while others barely scratch the sides as they reach escape velocity and pass out the other end, unremarked upon.

We asked three highly esteemed investigative journalists what hope years-long investigations have in a landscape where a single tweet or tv appearance can dominate a weekend’s press, and asked: what happens when their hard-earned scoop lands not with a bang, but with a thud?

«

It is the most frustrating thing to work on a piece that you think is the absolute bees’ knees and discover that everyone else thinks it’s a bee’s fart. Yet as this shows, it can be nothing to do with the importance or quality of the piece at all.
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What if failure is the plan? • Zephoria

danah boyd ponders how Twitter might end:

»

consider the collapse of local news journalism. The myth that this was caused by craigslist or Google drives me bonkers. Throughout the 80s and 90s, private equity firms and hedge funds gobbled up local news enterprises to extract their real estate. They didn’t give a shit about journalism; they just wanted prime real estate that they could develop. And news organizations had it in the form of buildings in the middle of town. So financiers squeezed the news orgs until there was no money to be squeezed and then they hung them out to dry. There was no configuration in which local news was going to survive, no magical upwards trajectory of revenue based on advertising alone. If it weren’t for craigslist and Google, the financiers would’ve squeezed these enterprises for a few more years, but the end state was always failure. Failure was the profit strategy for the financiers. (It still boggles my mind how many people believe that the loss of news journalism is because of internet advertising. I have to give financiers credit for their tremendous skill at shifting the blame.)

I highly doubt that Twitter is going to be a 100-year company. For better or worse, I think failure is the end state for Twitter. The question is not if but when, how, and who will be hurt in the process?
Right now, what worries me are the people getting hurt. I’m sickened to watch “journalists” aid and abet efforts to publicly shame former workers (especially junior employees) in a sadistic game of “accountability” that truly perverts the concept. I’m terrified for the activists and vulnerable people around the world whose content exists in Twitter’s databases, whose private tweets and DMs can be used against them if they land in the wrong hands (either by direct action or hacked activity). I’m disgusted to think that this data will almost certainly be auctioned off.

Frankly, there’s a part of me that keeps wondering if there’s a way to end this circus faster to prevent even greater harms. (Dear Delaware courts, any advice?)

No one who creates a product wants to envision failure as an inevitable end state. Then again, humans aren’t so good at remembering that death is an inevitable end state either.

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Tesla says it is adding radar in its cars next month amid self-driving suite concerns • Electrek

Fred Lambert:

»

Tesla has told the FCC that it plans to market a new radar starting next month. The move raises even more concerns about potentially needed updates to its hardware suite to achieve the promised self-driving capability.

Since 2016, Tesla has claimed that all its vehicles produced going forward have “all the needed hardware” to become self-driving with future software updates. It turned out not to be true.

Tesla already had to upgrade its onboard computer and cameras in earlier vehicles, and it has yet to achieve self-driving capability. Its Full Self-Driving (FSD) software is still in beta and doesn’t enable fully autonomous driving.

The automaker not only had to upgrade its hardware in some cases, but it even removed some hardware. First, it was the front-facing radar and more recently the ultrasonic sensors.

It’s all part of its “Tesla Vision” approach where the automaker believes that the best way to achieve self-driving capability is through cameras being the only sensors. The logic is that the roads are designed to be operated by humans who operate cars through vision (eyes) and biological neural nets (brain).

«

Removed radar from its vehicles in 2021, and the ultrasonic sensors earlier this year. Looks like at least the radar’s coming back. Which creates the possibility that there will be a group of Teslas from 2021/22 which won’t be able to do the self-driving function, if it ever arrives. Then again, that might be a while. The cars might be obsolete by then.
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Inside the frantic texts exchanged by crypto executives as FTX collapsed • The New York Times

David Yaffe-Bellany and Emily Flitter:

»

The day before the embattled cryptocurrency exchange FTX filed for bankruptcy, Changpeng Zhao, the chief executive of the rival exchange Binance, sent an alarmed text to Sam Bankman-Fried, FTX’s founder.

Mr. Zhao was concerned that Mr. Bankman-Fried was orchestrating crypto trades that could send the industry into a meltdown. “Stop now, don’t cause more damage,” Mr. Zhao wrote in a group chat with Mr. Bankman-Fried and other crypto executives on Nov. 10. “The more damage you do now, the more jail time.”

FTX and its sister hedge fund, Alameda Research, had just collapsed after a run on deposits exposed an $8bn hole in the exchange’s accounts. The implosion unleashed a crypto crisis, as firms with ties to FTX teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, calling the future of the entire industry into question.

The series of about a dozen group texts between Mr. Zhao and Mr. Bankman-Fried on Nov. 10, which were obtained by The New York Times, show that key crypto leaders feared that the situation could get even worse. And their frantic communications offer a rare glimpse into the unusual way business is conducted behind the scenes in the industry, with at least three top officials from rival companies exchanging messages in a group chat on the encrypted messaging app Signal.

«

Such a group (and chat) would be wildly illegal in the regulated world of fiat exchanges. Zhao had earlier that week pulled out of a provisional agreement to buy FTX to get it out of, well, not having any money or pretend money. FTX began shorting Tether, the stablecoin nominally tied to the dollar, which did decline – briefly.

Among the people in the “Exchange collaboration” Signal group was the CTO of Tether. Why, given that Tether doesn’t operate an exchange, and that (as @bitfinexed points out) people selling tethers for less than a dollar means Tether has free money because it claims to have 100% fiat backing for every tether issued? (If you “short sell” your £5 for £4, someone in theory has profited by £1.) So maybe tether isn’t actually backed by fiat?
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‘Made my blood run cold’: unmasking a TikTok creator who doesn’t really exist • Vice

Katherine Denkinson:

»

Relatively unknown until November 2020, [Carrie Jade] Williams’ status in the literary community grew after she won the Financial Times’ Bodley Head/FT Essay Prize, which is open to writers under the age of 35. The winning entry is published in the FT Weekend, the weekend edition of the British newspaper, although the competition does not appear to have been run for the last two years. Williams’ entry was a moving essay about her diagnosis with Huntington’s Disease, a debilitating, degenerative genetic condition that affects the brain. Written using a speech-to-text computer programme, the essay won her a £1,000 prize. 

The piece was also praised by influential people. Hilary Knight, director of digital strategy at the Tate, a leading group of art galleries in the UK, described it as “an incredibly moving read and a reminder we shouldn’t need about designing for inclusion”. 

“When I received my diagnosis I wrote a bucket list and decided I wanted to write a novel to leave behind, and that’s really how my writing started,” Williams told the Financial Times. “Getting a diagnosis that means you’ll stop being able to communicate is terrifying, but writing gave me back my voice.”

Williams hasn’t published a novel, but she has become a high-profile advocate for people living with disabilities, and a well-known figure on the Irish literary scene. She has a profile on the publishing house Penguin’s website, and has appeared at festivals in County Kerry, on the Guilty Feminist podcast, and at writers’ workshops in St John’s Theatre, Listowel and online. 

«

But of course Denkinson started looking into it, and things fell apart. It’s an astonishing story, and a terrific piece of finding-out-facts journalism. Though people like this function as a sort of urban legend: a warning of what happens if we trust people are who they say they are.
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US scientists boost clean power hopes with fusion energy breakthrough • Financial Times

Tom Wilson:

»

Physicists have since the 1950s sought to harness the fusion reaction that powers the sun, but no group had been able to produce more energy from the reaction than it consumes — a milestone known as net energy gain or target gain, which would help prove the process could provide a reliable, abundant alternative to fossil fuels and conventional nuclear energy.

The federal Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which uses a process called inertial confinement fusion that involves bombarding a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world’s biggest laser, had achieved net energy gain in a fusion experiment in the past two weeks, the people said.

Although many scientists believe fusion power stations are still decades away, the technology’s potential is hard to ignore. Fusion reactions emit no carbon, produce no long-lived radioactive waste and a small cup of the hydrogen fuel could theoretically power a house for hundreds of years.

«

Wow! Net energy gain! Does this mean all my scepticism should be shelved? I was prepared to eat my words. Then I kept on reading:

»

The fusion reaction at the US government facility produced about 2.5 megajoules of energy, which was about 120% of the 2.1 megajoules of energy in the lasers, the people with knowledge of the results said, adding that the data was still being analysed.

«

Of the lasers? Yes, but the lasers are only a part of the energy needed to power the whole system. Some distance away from “in total, more energy out than in”. (Thanks Diggory 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

Start Up No.1919: EU rules for accuracy on Google, spot the chatbot!, Dyson’s ear cleaners, BBC considers online-only, and more


Why exactly do nuclear power stations take longer to construct, even though we know more about how to build them? CC-licensed photo by IAEA Imagebank on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s another Social Warming Substack post, from 0845 GMT, about Google, ChatGPT and accuracy.

A selection of 10 links for you. Neutral on neutrons. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Google must delete search results about you if they’re fake, EU court rules • POLITICO

Vincent Manancourt:

»

People in Europe can get Google to delete search results about them if they prove the information is “manifestly inaccurate,” the EU’s top court ruled Thursday.

The case kicked off when two investment managers requested Google to dereference results of a search made on the basis of their names, which provided links to certain articles criticising that group’s investment model. They say those articles contain inaccurate claims.

Google refused to comply, arguing that it was unaware whether the information contained in the articles was accurate or not.

But in a ruling Thursday, the Court of Justice of the European Union opened the door to the investment managers being able to successfully trigger the so-called “right to be forgotten” under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

“The right to freedom of expression and information cannot be taken into account where, at the very least, a part – which is not of minor importance – of the information found in the referenced content proves to be inaccurate,” the court said in a press release accompanying the ruling.

People who want to scrub inaccurate results from search engines have to provide sufficient proof that what is said about them is false. But it doesn’t have to come from a court case against a publisher, for instance. They have “to provide only evidence that can reasonably be required of [them] to try to find,” the court said.

«

Predictably, American onlookers are utterly furious about this: how dare the EU decide what Google can include in its links! Except the principle of the “right to be forgotten” is that Google has chosen to be classified in Europe as a “data processor”, not a media company (which wouldn’t have to delete links or, indeed, content), and data processors – such as credit reference agencies – have to make sure their information is right, and correct it if it’s pointed out that it’s wrong. Same principle here.
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ChatGPT: can you tell a real tweet from one written by an AI chatbot? • WSJ

Brian Whitton:

»

Are you ready for a world where super-intelligent robots faithfully impersonate people? To help see what that might look like, The Wall Street Journal deployed ChatGPT, a free (for now) Artificial Intelligence trained on a huge dataset researchers gathered through 2021, which recently became a viral hit. We asked it to compose tweets in the style of public figures and institutions to see if anyone could distinguish them from the real thing.

We included specifics in our prompts to the AI: write a tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson about the universe. The topics we picked were based on the author’s previous tweets.

The quiz that follows is designed to look like it includes real tweets from verified accounts, but only one is actually written by a person. Can you spot the genuine tweet?

«

I got 7/11, “spend more time with your fellow humans”. Only slightly better than chance.
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Dyson Zone futuristic air-purifying headphones launch in March for $949 • PC Mag

Angela Moscaritolo:

»

Intrigued by the upcoming Dyson Zone air-purifying headphones? You’ll have to remain patient, because they won’t be available in the US for a few more months. 

The futuristic device, which marks Dyson’s first venture into both audio and wearable technology, will first hit the market in China in January before launching in the US, UK, Hong Kong, and Singapore in March, the company announced today. First announced earlier this year, the Zone was originally slated to go on sale at some point this fall. 

In the US, the Zone will initially be available for pre-order “by appointment only,” Dyson said. The company expects to start selling the Zone online, and in its Dyson Demo stores “shortly after” US pre-orders begin. 

Nobody expected the Zone to be cheap, and they’re not. Pricing starts at $949, Dyson announced today. In the US, they will be available in two colorways: the Ultra Blue/Prussian Blue that Dyson previously showed off and a premium Prussian Blue/Bright Copper version. Dyson has also revealed a third colorway, Satin Silver/ Ultra Blue, but that version won’t be available in the US. 

In the box, you get the headphones, a removable face visor for air purification, an extra set of electrostatic carbon filters, a visor cleaning brush, a USB-C charging cable, and a hard case. The Prussian Blue/Bright Copper variant will come with a premium protective case and additional accessories, including two sets of replacement filters, an in-flight adapter kit, and a soft pouch.

«

You have to see the pictures. With the “visor” on, you’ll look like Bane from Dark Knight Rises. With the visor off (it’s detachable), you’ll look like you’re wearing the biggest and most pointless (purify the air going into your ears? Were the designers trolling James Dyson?) headphones ever. Even with China’s love of “air purification”, I can’t see this working.
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Why is Marjorie Taylor Greene like this? • The Atlantic

Elaina Plott Calabro has done a deep dive on the runaway bonkers Republican Congresswoman:

»

Greene has said that her father once fired her from a job she held at the company as a teenager. But now the girl in the photograph was chief financial officer of Taylor Commercial; her college sweetheart was its president; her family was by that point living in a tract mansion in Milton, which borders Alpharetta. Who could say, of course, how regularly she made use of the indoor pool, or marveled at the built-in aquarium on the terrace level—two features of this “smart-home luxury estate,” in the words of a recent listing. But she could at least enjoy the fact of them.

Another thing I do not know about Marjorie Taylor Greene: I do not know precisely how long it was before the shape of her life—the quiet, the respectability, the cadence of carpooling and root touch-ups—began to assume the dull cast of malaise. Perhaps it was during one of the many softball tournaments, another weekend spent crushed against the corner of an elevator at the Hilton Garden Inn by grass-stained girls and monogrammed bat bags. Perhaps her Age of Anxiety arrived instead on a quiet Tuesday in the office of her multimillion-dollar company, when it occurred to her that running this multimillion-dollar company just might not be her purpose after all.

What I do know, after dozens of conversations with Greene’s classmates and teachers, friends and associates, is that by the time she reached her late 30s, something in her had started to break.

«

This is something that Tom Nichols (who wrote “The Death of Expertise”, and is an ex-Republican due to Trump’s bonkersness) agrees with: that a huge amount of all the QAnon, Trumpist, civil war-seeking behaviour is out of a sort of boredom.
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Tesla on self-driving claims: ‘failure to realize long-term, aspirational goal is not fraud’ • Electrek

Fred Lambert:

»

Since 2016, Tesla has claimed that all its vehicles produced going forward have “all the needed hardware” to become self-driving with future software updates.

However, the automaker has yet to deliver on the promise, and over the last few years, some owners have started to doubt Tesla’s ability to deliver at all – leading to the [class action] lawsuit now.

Last week, Tesla filed to have the lawsuit dismissed, which resulted in a rare comment from the automaker about not having delivered on self-driving yet.

In the motion to dismiss obtained by Electrek, Tesla argues that its failure to deliver on the goal doesn’t constitute fraud: “Mere failure to realize a long-term, aspirational goal is not fraud.” 

Calling Tesla’s advertisement that its vehicles will become self-driving a “long-term, aspirational goal” is the most cautious description of the goal from the automaker to date. But the approach will make it difficult for the plaintiffs.

They need to prove that Tesla intentionally misled customers into thinking they were buying vehicles that would become self-driving. They would need to prove that Tesla knew it couldn’t deliver on the promise, which could be difficult to do.

«

Probably a lot more to come on the discovery side of this, if the suit isn’t dismissed, so let’s see what the internal emails and notes say.
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‘Drunk on success’: Inside Liz Truss’s chaotic 45-day ‘libertarian free-for-all’ that nearly crashed Britain • The i

Francis Elliott:

»

“We weren’t going to wait around 10 weeks for the OBR to do its forecast – that was the first major error,” said one close observer.

[New PM Liz] Truss, however, was forced to wait – not because of financial prudence but something far bigger. The death of Queen Elizabeth II created a pause in No 10 as normal politics shut down during a fortnight of national mourning – and it was that space that did more than anything to derail the fledgling regime, say observers.

“What happened in that two weeks was a lot of thinking time, and with thinking time comes policy ideas,” they said. “So what happened is that it expanded quite aggressively as the government wasn’t allowed to do anything. It expanded and expanded and expanded as ideas were going in left, right and centre.”

Truss’s chief economics advisor Matt Sinclair, a former executive at the right wing Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), has been blamed for allowing what one former advisor called a “libertarian free-for-all”. Others insist, however, that Truss herself needed no persuading.

All sides agree that in that period she felt all-powerful. One former ally described her “high after the leadership win”, another said she was “drunk on success”.

Her desire to make progress on a pro-enterprise and small-state agenda must also have been intensified by the fact that her first major announcement – huge subsidies for household energy bills – was the opposite.

During the leadership campaign she had rejected talk of “handouts” insisting instead that there would be “targeted support’. Truss was then persuaded that unless she took decisive action to limit bills she would be hobbled by the issue from the start. Some have speculated that the mini-Budget was an over-correction as she sought to tilt back to her ideological instincts.

The prime minister had become isolated as she made the decisions that were to doom her. She was spending her time on official mourning duties, often with King Charles, and had changed her phone number several times during the previous few months.

«

That last detail, about the phone number, needs explaining. Her phone was hacked remotely – twice at least. Having been international trade secretary and then foreign secretary, she (or her phone) became a huge target. So her circle of advisers, already small, shrank further.
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Nuclear power is too slow to build? Says who? • Gordian Knot News

Jack Devanney:

»

There is nothing inherent in the technology that says a nuclear plant should require any more time than a coal plant to build. In both cases, the critical path is dominated by the turbogenerator. The reactor pressure vessel, steam generators, and pressurizer are all far more compact than a coal plant boiler, and can be manufactured in less time than the turbine. In the right environment, nuclear power can be deployed as quickly as coal, as the French proved. Sweden also completely decarbonized her grid between 1970 and 1986.

On the other hand, the whole learning curve concept for power plants appears to be over-rated. Coal plants show little sign of a learning curve. Rather we see slow, incremental, technological improvements, that over time add up. The French did not see much of a learning curve during the period in which EDF was in total control. Nor did the Japanese ever. If there is a learning curve in on site construction projects, it is largely exhausted in a unit or two. Those who are betting on the learning curve to markedly reduce current exorbitant nuclear costs and interminable build times, are very likely to be disappointed. What’s required is regulatory stability and competition.

«

Devanney illustrates this with a fantastic set of graphs and explanations, all easily digestible. Nuclear is easy to build. What’s difficult is getting it built.
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BBC preparing to go online-only over next decade, says director general • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

»

“Imagine a world that is internet-only, where broadcast TV and radio are being switched off and choice is infinite,” [director-general Tim Davie] said. “A switch-off of broadcast will and should happen over time, and we should be active in planning for it.”

Davie said the BBC was committed to live broadcasting but Britons should prepare for the closure of many standalone channels and radio stations by the 2030s: “Over time this will mean fewer linear broadcast services and a more tailored joined-up online offer.”

The future will involve “bringing the BBC together in a single offer”, possibly in the form of one app combining everything from television programmes to local news coverage and educational material. This could ultimately see the end of distinct brands such as BBC One or BBC Radio 4, although the programmes they currently air could continue online.

The director general accepted there was a risk that the BBC becomes just another online content provider in a crowded marketplace by abandoning its traditional broadcast slots on services such as Freeview or DAB radio: “Moving to digital is not the challenge in and of itself, moving to digital while not losing most of your audience and burning millions of pounds unnecessarily is the challenge.”

Although the BBC’s television and radio channels continue to reach tens of millions of Britons a month, almost all of its outlets are seeing long-term declines in their live audiences. Davie has already announced plans to shift CBBC and BBC Four to online-only, with other channels expected to follow suit in the coming years. Traditional television audience numbers remain high among older people but the average BBC One viewer is in their 60s and younger viewers are drifting off completely.

«

It’s hard to hear if you’ve grown up with terrestrial TV, but my children could not tell you what the difference between BBC1 and 2 and ITV and Channel 4 is. Or possibly where to find them. It’s iPlayer, the Netflixen (ie all the streaming services), and of course YouTube.
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Elon Musk wanted Twitter to encrypt messages. His new safety chief says it’s on hold • Forbes

Thomas Brewster:

»

Before his official takeover of Twitter, in April, Elon Musk declared that the company should roll out end-to-end encrypted messages, “so no one can spy on or hack your messages.”

There was some more hope for the pro-encryption community when mobile security researcher Jane Manchun Wong discovered Twitter had been testing out the Signal protocol, used by the eponymous app and WhatsApp to secure comms (she has since left Twitter because of mass trolling). Musk, this time as Twitter CEO, even responded with a wink emoji.

But, according to new trust and safety lead Ella Irwin, there are no immediate plans to roll out encrypted messages in Twitter DMs. Indeed, there’s no guarantee it will ever be deployed, she told Forbes in an interview from Twitter’s San Francisco HQ on Tuesday.

The company currently relies on being able to see into users’ direct messages to scan for things like child exploitation material, Irwin said. Since Musk arrived, she claimed the team has been given license to be more aggressive in hunting down child exploitation on Twitter (something experts have questioned), but encrypted messages would make that task more difficult.

“Encryption makes the job harder in general in the space, so we do need to think through that before we move to encryption,” she said. While end-to-end encrypted DMs is a “strong consideration,” Irwin said her team is still in conversations with the wider Twitter enterprise to find the balance between Musk’s desire to prioritize safety on the platform and his eagerness to push out encryption. “It will delay the launch of things if we need to do more to protect users. . . . I’m not going to say we have this all solved and we’re ready to go on encrypted DMs.”

That stance has disappointed those who were hoping Musk would quickly move to protect Twitter direct messages.

«

Not sure where this is on Mike Masnick’s Content Moderation Speed Run. Interesting to note that Apple has chosen a slightly different path between “stop CSAM” and “encrypt private stuff”.

Also, Jane Manchun Wong, an actually helpful user, hounded off Twitter. Never change, internet.
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What are the Twitter Files, and do you need to care about them? • Defector

Tom Ley:

»

Musk personally orchestrated the delivery of the Twitter Files to [Matt] Taibbi (and Bari Weiss), but sent them with some strings attached. Before firing off his Twitter thread, Taibbi posted a brief note on his blog, which thousands of people pay money to read, apologizing for the fact that he was about to publish a big scoop on Twitter instead of sharing it with his dedicated subscribers first. Taibbi wrote that he had to agree to “certain conditions” in order to gain the opportunity to “cover a unique and explosive story.” It seems pretty clear that one of those conditions was that Taibbi would only publish whatever documents he was given from Twitter on Twitter, which is a platform completely unsuited for sharing information in a coherent fashion but which Musk—who, again, does not know or care about any of that—fancies to be an open-source news service in its own right.

Q: That seems pretty embarrassing for Matt Taibbi.

Yeah, it’s extremely embarrassing. It is embarrassing on its own for Taibbi to agree to spend his Friday night doing a little dance for the world’s most grating rich boy. Worse, though, is that Taibbi’s willingness to caper about while Musk clapped his hands, in itself, instantly recreated the very power structure that his reporting was supposedly meant to assail. If the value in publishing the Twitter Files is to demonstrate how powerful and connected people control the flow of information to suit their own agendas, then the secret conditions that Taibbi (and Weiss) agreed to with Musk only serve to conceal the ways in which powerful and connected people control the flow of information to suit their agenda. It’s just a different powerful and connected person, with a different agenda, clapping out the tune.

«

Very astute. Sure, it was a week ago, but: necessary.
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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

Start Up No.1918: TSMC plans chips for Apple in Arizona, sodium-sulpur rather than lithium-ion?, Google v ChatGPT, and more


Encryption is coming soon to Apple’s iCloud backups – which probably won’t please law enforcement in multiple countries. CC-licensed photo by Thomas Cloer on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Apple plans new encryption system to ward off hackers and protect iCloud data • WSJ

Robert McMillan, Joanna Stern and Dustin Volz:

»

Apple is planning to significantly expand its data-encryption practices, a step that is likely to create tensions with law enforcement and governments around the world as the company continues to build new privacy protections for millions of iPhone users.

The expanded end-to-end encryption system, an optional feature called Advanced Data Protection, would keep most data secure that’s stored in iCloud, an Apple service used by many of its users to store photos, back up their iPhones or save specific device data such as Notes and Messages. The data would be protected in the event that Apple is hacked , and it also wouldn’t be accessible to law enforcement, even with a warrant.

While Apple has drawn attention in the past for being unable to help agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation access data on its encrypted iPhones, it has been able to provide much of the data stored in iCloud backups upon a valid legal request. Last year, it responded to thousands of such requests in the US, according to the company. 

With these new security enhancements, Apple would no longer have the technical ability to comply with certain law-enforcement requests such as for iCloud backups—which could include iMessage chat logs and attachments and have been used in many investigations.

…Ciaran Martin, former chief of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, said the announcement by Apple could pose legal complications for the company in multiple democracies that in recent years have adopted or weighed restrictions on technology that can’t be responsive to law-enforcement demands.

“Things will only be clearer when further technical details are given,” Mr. Martin said. “But on the face of it, existing legislation in Australia and looming legislation in the UK would seem to give those governments the power to tell Apple in those countries effectively not to do this.”

«

Seems that Apple has given up its plan to scan images being uploaded for child sexual abuse material. Unclear when or if this will be extended to China.
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Low-cost battery built with four times the capacity of lithium • The University of Sydney

»

Led by Dr Shenlong Zhao from the University’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the battery has been made using sodium-sulphur – a type of molten salt that can be processed from sea water – costing much less to produce than lithium-ion.

Although sodium-sulphur (Na-S) batteries have existed for more than half a century, they have been an inferior alternative and their widespread use has been limited by low energy capacity and short life cycles.

Using a simple pyrolysis process and carbon-based electrodes to improve the reactivity of sulphur and the reversibility of reactions between sulphur and sodium, the researchers’ battery has shaken off its formerly sluggish reputation, exhibiting super-high capacity and ultra-long life at room temperature.

The researchers say the Na-S battery is also a more energy dense and less toxic alternative to lithium-ion batteries, which, while used extensively in electronic devices and for energy storage, are expensive to manufacture and recycle.

Dr Zhao’s Na-S battery has been specifically designed to provide a high-performing solution for large renewable energy storage systems, such as electrical grids, while significantly reducing operational costs.

«

Sounds like it won’t be in your electric car in a hurry – seems to be for large-scale batteries. But that’s fine too: renewables are intermittent, and so you need a lot of storage across the network.
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More creative than mere humans • Hey.com

David Heinemeier Hansson:

»

why would we assume that AI won’t actually be more creative than mere humans? AI chess and go competitors are in part so superior now because they’re capable of wild leaps of ingenuity that stump human players. Moves that would never have been considered by a mere human because of their out-of-norm “thinking”. In this domain, it’s the humans executing mechanical moves based on memorized patterns, the computers making novel inferences.

Why shouldn’t the same be true of AI generated novels, plays, or movies? What realm of creative production does not benefit from the out-of-the-norm inferences that computers have already proven they can make within the bounds of chess and go to great effect? Is what we call human creativity all that different from a large language model anyway? A distillation of observations, inputs, mimetic tendencies, and a wetware random generator?

It’s incredibly exciting that we just might soon find out. And the revelation will go straight to the heart of the ageless discussion of what it means to be human. What is consciousness. What is creativity. To even be able to imagine a horizon where these questions are answered, not just within our life time, but within the next decade? Amazing moment to be alive.

«

Though as he also points out, people have been forecasting AI dooooom or Our New AI Overlords for decades, consistently wrongly. Nobody knows anything, to quote a famous Hollywood exec.
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Google faces a serious threat from ChatGPT • The Washington Post

Parmy Olson:

»

Google works by crawling billions of web pages, indexing that content and then ranking it in order of the most relevant answers. It then spits out a list of links to click through. ChatGPT offers something more tantalizing for harried internet users: a single answer based on its own search and synthesis of that information. ChatGPT has been trained on millions of websites to glean not only the skill of holding a humanlike conversation, but information itself, so long as it was published on the internet before late 2021 [when its data model was completed].

I went through my own Google search history over the past month and put 18 of my Google queries into ChatGPT, cataloguing the answers. I then went back and ran the queries through Google once more, to refresh my memory. The end result was, in my judgment, that ChapGPT’s answer was more useful than Google’s in 13 out of the 18 examples.

“Useful” is of course subjective. What do I mean by the term? In this case, answers that were clear and comprehensive. A query about whether condensed milk or evaporated milk was better for pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving sparked a detailed (if slightly verbose) answer from ChatGPT that explained how condensed milk would lead to a sweeter pie. (Naturally, that was superior.) Google mainly provided a list of links to recipes I’d have to click around, with no clear answer.

«

I’m a big admirer of Parmy’s work, but I think she’s got it wrong here. (The first response I get from DuckDuckGo tells me the answer to her evaporated/condensed question.) ChatGPT is not authoritative. It might be right, or it might be quite wrong because it generates answers based on what it calculates comes next, statistically speaking. That’s always how large language models (LLMs) will be. The problem we face now is that search engines will be poisoned with LLM-generated content which might or might not be right. Perhaps the next Google will be one which ranks content by its accuracy.
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Which? claims banks are leaving customers wide open to spoofing fraud • Finextra

»

Scammers will forge the name or number that comes up on an email, phone call or text message so that it appears to match that of a genuine firm, making it difficult for victims to realise that it is a fraudster.

To make it harder for fraudsters to impersonate them, companies can sign up to regulator Ofcom’s ‘Do Not Originate’ (DNO) list, a shared resource with telecoms providers to help them identify and block calls from numbers that are most likely to be spoofed. The DNO list makes a record of telephone numbers used by genuine firms or agencies to receive calls but never make them. 

To test how effective banks were at protecting their customers, Which? made calls to a test phone, spoofing the prominent numbers of 14 current account providers. The firms’ numbers were chosen if they were the ones printed on the back of debit cards or listed as fraud helplines on their websites. 

The consumer champion found that at least six major banks and building societies have failed to make full use of the DNO list. At least one phone number from HSBC, Lloyds, Santander, TSB, Nationwide and Virgin Money was successfully spoofed, leaving customers of those firms potentially at risk. 

The investigation comes as the Metropolitan Police last week contacted 70,000 scam victims by text message to inform them they had probably been targeted by fraudsters.

«

Amazingly crap of the banks not to have acted on this. Arguably, if you suffered losses from this sort of bank fraud and the bank involved didn’t put its number on the DNO list, you could say that the bank was negligent.
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The complexity of building seemingly simple lists • Anchor Change

Katie Harbath:

»

It’s 2012, and I’ve been at Facebook for just over a year. My job is working with Republican candidates and officials to create and use Facebook pages to connect with voters. One day I get a call from someone on the Obama digital team. The President’s page had been taken down. My colleague Adam, who worked with the Democrats, was on vacation. They were in a panic and wanted help figuring out what happened.

The early engineering culture at Facebook was where engineers could quickly build and push code. Turns out, one enterprising person had decided to build a list of profane words and decided that if any page had those words in their title or the about section, they should be removed. One of the words on that list was “dick.” The President’s team had listed on his page that his favorite book was Moby Dick, and that’s why the page came down.

We got it back up pretty quickly, but we also realized we needed a way to ensure the President of the United States’ page could be protected from mayhem like this. So we figured something out.

While this isn’t the exact moment that the system now known as cross-check was created, it is one of the earliest examples of why we needed it. Little did I know how this would grow in complexity over the years. 

«

Harbath used to work on preventing election interference at Facebook. This is her response to the Oversight Board’s findings on the “VIP lane” for certain Facebook users. Useful to hear how hard it is from someone who was on the inside. The whole episode, and process, also applies to social media companies offering short-form content which needs moderation. (I spoke to Harbath for the paperback edition of Social Warming.)
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Study: UK could run out of trained EV mechanics by 2027 without green skills drive • BusinessGreen News

Cecilia Keating:

»

A shortage of qualified electric vehicle (EV) mechanics could stall the UK’s transition to a more sustainable economy, new research has warned.

Think tank the Social Market Foundation (SMF) warned that the number of EVs on British roads is set to exceed the capabilities of the country’s EV mechanics workforce as soon as 2027. By the end of this decade, it projects the country could face a shortfall of 25,000 mechanics trained to service and repair EVs.

The SMF said the skills shortfall could drive up the cost of repairs, resulting in EVs being poorly maintained, and decrease the attractiveness of EVs for those yet to make the switch.

“Britain is in real danger of running short of the skilled mechanics and technicians needed to keep EVs on the roads,” said Amy Norman, senior researcher at the SMF. “More needs to be done to ensure more workers are getting the skills and training needed to keep Britain on the road to net zero.”

The SMF is calling on the government to take action that will prepare the UK workforce for the EV transition, noting that skills required for EV maintenance are significantly different to those required to maintain internal combustion engines.

«

Currently there’s a 5x surplus of EV techs, the SMF says. The report itself shows that a lot of existing mechanics don’t like the idea of retraining: they don’t think it would be “working with their hands”. This is a classic reactionary British attitude.
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Samsung’s Android app-signing key has leaked and is being used to sign malware • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

A developer’s cryptographic signing key is one of the major linchpins of Android security. Any time Android updates an app, the signing key of the old app on your phone needs to match the key of the update you’re installing. The matching keys ensure the update actually comes from the company that originally made your app and isn’t some malicious hijacking plot. If a developer’s signing key got leaked, anyone could distribute malicious app updates and Android would happily install them, thinking they are legit.

On Android, the app-updating process isn’t just for apps downloaded from an app store, you can also update bundled-in system apps made by Google, your device manufacturer, and any other bundled apps. While downloaded apps have a strict set of permissions and controls, bundled-in Android system apps have access to much more powerful and invasive permissions and aren’t subject to the usual Play Store limitations (this is why Facebook always pays to be a bundled app). If a third-party developer ever lost their signing key, it would be bad. If an Android OEM ever lost their system app signing key, it would be really, really bad.

Guess what has happened! Łukasz Siewierski, a member of Google’s Android Security Team, has a post on the Android Partner Vulnerability Initiative (AVPI) issue tracker detailing leaked platform certificate keys that are actively being used to sign malware.

«

Samsung, LG and Mediatek. Yet it turns out the Samsung key is six years old. The story gets very weird.
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Tim Cook says Apple will use chips built in the US at Arizona factory • CNBC

Kif Leswing:

»

The plants will be capable of manufacturing the 4-nanometer and 3-nanometer chips that are used for advanced processors such as Apple’s A-series and M-series and Nvidia’s graphics processors.

…TSMC currently does most of its manufacturing in Taiwan, which has raised questions from US and European lawmakers about securing supply in the potential event of a Chinese invasion or other regional issues. Chip companies such as Nvidia and Apple design their own chips but outsource the manufacturing to companies like TSMC and Samsung Foundry.

The factories in Arizona will be partially subsidized by the US government. Earlier this year, Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law, which includes billions of dollars in incentives for companies that build chip manufacturing capabilities on US soil.

TSMC said on Tuesday that it would spend $40bn on the two Arizona plants. The first plant in Phoenix is expected to produce chips by 2024. The second plant will open in 2026, according to the Biden administration. The TSMC plants will produce 600,000 wafers per year when fully operational, which is enough to meet US annual demand, according to the National Economic Council.

The US plants will be a small fraction of TSMC’s total capacity, which produced 12 million wafers in 2020. AMD CEO Lisa Su said in remarks on Tuesday that AMD plans to be a significant user of the TSMC Arizona fabs.

«

OK, only a small fraction, but sounds great, doesn’t it? Now read on.
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TSMC’s Arizona chip plant, awaiting Biden visit, faces birth pains • WSJ

Yang Jie:

»

High costs, lack of trained personnel and unexpected construction snags are among the issues cited by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) as it rushes to get the north Phoenix factory ready to start production in December 2023.

“A range of construction costs and project uncertainty in Phoenix makes building the same advanced logic wafer fab in Taiwan considerably less capital intensive,” TSMC said in a letter last month to the Commerce Department.

“The real barrier” to setting up manufacturing in the US “is comparative cost to build and operate,” it said.

…TSMC executives have said it isn’t easy to recreate in America the manufacturing ecosystem they have built over decades in Taiwan, drawing on local engineering talent and a network of suppliers including many in East Asia. [TSMC founder Morris] Chang said the cost of making chips in Arizona may be at least 50% higher than in Taiwan.

The company’s letter to the Commerce Department, in which it responded to the department’s request for public comments about US chip-subsidy programs, was frank in listing the problems that have emerged during the Arizona construction.

It named six, including federal regulatory requirements, “unexpected work developments” during construction and additional site preparation, all of which it said raised costs.

«

Ben Thompson pointed to this article, along with some other details, as reasons why the Arizona plants are more window dressing than strategic rebalancing: the chips will be on older processes, cost more, be made in smaller volume.
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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

Start Up No.1917: Tether comes under pressure, $250k bitcoin in six months?, Meta faces ad blocks in Europe, Lensa beauty, and more


A fault with some LEDs used in streetlights is turning cities purple. CC-licensed photo by KuraybaKurayba on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


On Friday, there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.


A selection of 9 links for you. Puple reign, indeed. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The miniaturization of force • Centre for European Policy Analysis

Mike Martin is a military analyst:

»

If the 20th century was the industrial century, the 21st is the computing century. Microchips are becoming much smaller, much faster, and much cheaper. Software is replacing hardware as the main focus of innovation. Real-life problems (like how to detect cancer, fold proteins, or regulate traffic in cities) are starting to be solved by algorithms (artificial intelligence.) And finally, all of these individual bits of technology are being networked so they can talk to each other.

This is having profound effects on military technology, how governments think about generating future capabilities, and who has access to them.

Firstly, the big 20th-century systems look very vulnerable to attacks from multiple, cheap, small unmanned systems. Imagine an aircraft carrier [typical cost $6bn] beset by a swarm of micro suicide drones, some in the air, some underwater, all networked together with distributed hive processing, so that the drone swarm itself reacts to the aircraft carrier’s countermeasures by reshaping as the engagement unfolds. All this at a cost of one hundredth or one-thousandth of the carrier’s cost.

Secondly, the entire defence industry is modeled to provide big, expensive systems to governments that take years or decades to procure, build, and commission. Now, however, a startup can code the software that creates an underwater drone swarm, buy the processors commercially, and get it to market in a couple of years. It’s not clear whether the defence industry — and the generals and admirals who grew up in an era of big systems — are responding to these changes fast enough. What’s more certain is a significant reordering of defence industries of the world over the next decade.

Lastly, the miniaturization of force leads to the democratization of force. Cheaper, smaller, commercially available technologies mean that fewer wealthy countries, as well as a plethora of non-state actors, can once again get into the big league. US forces in Syria, for instance, are regularly attacked with tiny suicide drones, and the Ukrainians are buying quadcopters from Amazon and modifying them to drop bombs on Russian forces.

This, more than anything else, will change how and who we fight in the coming wars.

«

Such as the three drone attacks by Ukraine on Russian airbases this week.
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The world’s largest stablecoin looks shaky • Semafor

Liz Hoffman:

»

Since a Bloomberg report last year that it held risky investments like short-term loans to Chinese companies, Tether said it has shifted its money into safer things like government bonds. A September report, prepared by Tether’s auditor and meant to reassure customers, showed that more than 80% of its $68bn was in fairly safe, liquid stuff — $40bn in U.S. Treasurys, $7bn in money-market funds, and $6bn in cash. (That list of assets is smaller today after a wave of redemptions.)

The rest, though, is in investments that are harder to value and sell, and about which Tether shares very little. It owns some $6bn in loans secured by its own coins, a spokesman confirmed to WSJ last week. A loss of confidence in Tether, like the one that hit FTX’s token, would reduce that collateral to zero, taking 10% of Tether’s assets with it.

It also owns $2.6bn in “other investments,” according to the September report. It’s not totally clear what’s in them, but they are likely venture stakes in other crypto companies held by its owners and affiliates, according to a global investigations firm commissioned by a hedge fund betting against the price of Tether. Semafor reviewed the findings of its report that found Tether holds equity stakes in more than a dozen crypto startups.

Semafor was able to verify some but not others. We confirmed that the crypto exchange that owns Tether invested, either through itself or an affiliate, into: an online-betting site called Betfinex; Dazaar, a data-sharing service; Dusk Networks, whose software turns financial investments into tokens; a crypto trading platform called Rhino; Shape Shift, a crypto wallet; Blockstream, a blockchain infrastructure company; Netki, a digital-ID company; and Keet.io, a video-chat app.

Any honest assessment of that $2.6bn “other investments” portfolio would likely mean it is worth less today than it was in September.

And as token-holders ask for their money back, Tether has to sell the stuff it can — government bonds, corporate bonds, money-market positions. That means the stuff it can’t sell — namely, venture investments – will start to make up a larger portion of its assets. This is how runs on banks start.

«

Wouldn’t be too confident about any of those big numbers that the auditor provided. Tether hasn’t been properly audited, ever. Something feels like it’s about to shift.
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Texas’s crypto mining boom is starting to look more like a bust • Bloomberg via Yahoo

David Pan and Naureen Malik:

»

soaring energy costs, a sharp decline in Bitcoin prices and more competition have compressed profit margins and made it difficult for miners to repay debt. Some are on the verge of bankruptcy.

“There are just tons of assets everywhere, it’s like a mess.” said Mason Jappa, chief executive at Austin, Texas-based crypto-mining service firm Blockware Solutions. “I got messages about transformers, switch gears, and mobile data centers and containers for mining, they are just sitting there.”

There are a lot of losers if the Bitcoin mining industry goes bust. For one, local authorities provided incentives such as tax abatements that reached into the tens of millions of dollars. The power generation planned that the region sorely needs to avoid another energy crisis may not materialize. Some developers made hefty investments to build out Bitcoin mining facilities. The average cost to have one-megawatt capacity of mining infrastructure is currently around $300,000 in the state, the high end of the range, according to Jappa.

…After China banned crypto miners last year, Texas sought to fill the gap as a way to add fuel to the state’s fast-growing economy. But because mining hinges on power consumption, the wave of new demand threatens to stress a grid still trying to recover from failures during an extreme winter storm in February 2021 that left millions in the dark for days and more than 200 people dead.

«

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Tim Draper predicts bitcoin will reach $250,000 despite FTX collapse • CNBC

Ryan Browne:

»

Venture capitalist Tim Draper thinks bitcoin will hit $250,000 a coin by the middle of 2023, even after a bruising year for the cryptocurrency marked by industry failures and sinking prices.

Draper previously predicted that bitcoin would top $250,000 by the end of 2022, but in early November, at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, he said it would take until June 2023 for this to materialize.

He reaffirmed this position Saturday when asked how he felt about his price call following the collapse of FTX.

“I have extended my prediction by six months. $250k is still my number,” Draper told CNBC via email.

Bitcoin would need to rally nearly 140-fold from its current price of around $17,000 for Draper’s prediction to come true. The cryptocurrency has plunged over 60% since the start of the year.

…Draper’s rationale for bitcoin’s breakout next year is that there remains a massive untapped demographic for bitcoin: women. “My assumption is that, since women control 80% of retail spending and only 1 in 7 bitcoin wallets are currently held by women, the dam is about to break,” Draper said.

Crypto has long had a gender disparity problem. According to a survey conducted for CNBC and Acorns by Momentive, twice as many men as women invest in digital assets (16% of men vs. 7% of women).

«

Errrr. This feels a bit like the obverse of the confident prediction that “makeup sales are just about to boom, we just need to get the other 50% of the population to buy it!” that has been heard down the years. Crypto is recapitulating everything. Anyway, see you in June, Mr Draper. (Do read the story for some of the VC bets Draper has made, and make your decision about how good he is at reading women.)
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Meta’s targeted ad model faces restrictions in Europe – WSJ

Sam Schechner:

»

European Union privacy regulators have ruled that Meta shouldn’t require users to agree to personalized ads based on their online activity, according to people familiar with the decision, a ruling that could limit the data that Meta can access to sell such ads.

A board representing all EU privacy regulators on Monday approved a series of decisions ruling that EU privacy law doesn’t allow Meta platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, to use their terms of service as a justification for allowing such advertising, the people said.

The new EU decisions can be appealed, which could lead to their being suspended pending potentially lengthy litigation. If upheld, though, they could make it harder for Meta and other platforms to show users ads based on what they tap and watch within those platforms’ own apps. Meta has for years allowed users to opt out of personalizing ads based on data from other websites and apps. But it hasn’t given any such option for ads based on data about user activity on its own platforms—such as which videos an Instagram user watches.

If any significant portion of its users opts out of such targeting, Facebook and Instagram would end up with less information with which to build audiences for the personalized ads that analysts and people close to the company say make up the bulk of its revenue.

«

Which is basically the power that Apple’s Ad Tracking Transparency (ATT) system offers, but without having to go through a zillion legal go-arounds.
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Why faulty streetlights are turning cities purple — and why it’s worrisome • Business Insider

Adam Rogers:

»

The sky over the city of Vancouver was the color of a television tuned to a Prince concert.

OK, maybe not the whole sky. But enough of it that people noticed. A bunch of streetlights — a few hundred out of thousands — had suddenly changed. What had been moonshine white was now blue, or purple, or even violet. They weren’t any less bright, objectively speaking. But purple doesn’t exactly illuminate a sidewalk the way white does. The spectrum of Vancouver had taken a hard left turn. It didn’t look bad. It wasn’t unsafe, particularly. It was just weird.

So people placed worried calls to the city. And after all the hue and cry, Vancouver rolled out the utility trucks and set out to replace the chromatic aberrations — even though the lights were still pretty new. Like most other cities, Vancouver has spent the past few years switching from old sodium-vapor streetlights to LEDs. The new bulbs, basically arrays of computer chips that convert electricity to light, are cheaper, less power-hungry, and longer-lasting. LED streetlights are supposed to shine for the better part of a decade.

Unless they don’t. Because the Great Purpling didn’t start — or end — in Vancouver. Reports stretch back to 2020 and across the hemisphere — Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, New Mexico, California, even Ireland. “It’s something we began seeing about two years ago,” says Jeff Brooks, a representative for Duke Power, which is responsible for streetlights across the Carolinas and parts of Florida and the Midwest. “I’ve had people call and ask if this was because it’s Halloween, or because their football team in that area wears purple.”

«

It’s a bit overlong – it could have been a third of the length and done the job – but it’s entertaining enough. (Thanks wendyg for the link.)
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China’s COVID wave is coming • The Atlantic

Katherine J. Wu:

»

Perhaps the worst can be averted if the government does more to vaccinate the vulnerable and prep hospitals for a protracted influx of COVID patients; and if the community at large reinvests in a subset of mitigation measures as cases rise. “There is still the possibility that they may muddle through it without a mass die-off,” says Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But even the most smooth and orderly transition,” he told me, “will not prevent a surge of cases.”

China represents, in many ways, SARS-CoV-2’s final frontier. With its under-vaccinated residents and sparse infection history, the nation harbors “a more susceptible population than really any other large population I can think of,” says Sarah Cobey, an computational epidemiologist at the University of Chicago. Soon, SARS-CoV-2 will infiltrate that group of hosts so thoroughly that it will be nearly impossible to purge again. “Eventually, just like everyone else on Earth, everyone in China should expect to be infected,” says Michael Worobey, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Arizona.

Whatever happens, though, China’s coming wave won’t recapitulate the one that swept most of the world in early 2020. Though it’s hard to say which versions of the virus are circulating in the country, a smattering of reports confirm the likeliest scenario: BF.7 and other Omicron subvariants predominate. Several of these versions of the virus seem to be a bit less likely than their predecessors to trigger severe disease. That, combined with the relatively high proportion of residents—roughly 95%—who have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, might keep many people from falling dangerously ill.

«

It could be a way to kill off a huge number of older citizens, many of whom have been very resistant to getting vaccinated. This is going to be brutal – and probably covered up, as India did. (Thanks G for the link.)
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Exclusive: Musk’s Neuralink faces federal probe, employee backlash over animal tests • Reuters

Rachael Levy:

»

Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a medical device company, is under federal investigation for potential animal-welfare violations amid internal staff complaints that its animal testing is being rushed, causing needless suffering and deaths, according to documents reviewed by Reuters and sources familiar with the investigation and company operations.

Neuralink Corp is developing a brain implant it hopes will help paralyzed people walk again and cure other neurological ailments. The federal probe, which has not been previously reported, was opened in recent months by the US Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General at the request of a federal prosecutor, according to two sources with knowledge of the investigation. The probe, one of the sources said, focuses on violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which governs how researchers treat and test some animals.

The investigation has come at a time of growing employee dissent about Neuralink’s animal testing, including complaints that pressure from CEO Musk to accelerate development has resulted in botched experiments, according to a Reuters review of dozens of Neuralink documents and interviews with more than 20 current and former employees. Such failed tests have had to be repeated, increasing the number of animals being tested and killed, the employees say. The company documents include previously unreported messages, audio recordings, emails, presentations and reports.

…In all, the company has killed about 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys, following experiments since 2018, according to records reviewed by Reuters and sources with direct knowledge of the company’s animal-testing operations.

«

Animal experimentation is a regrettable fact of life for many developments – particularly drug testing – but putting an emphasis on speed over accuracy and empathy (which seems to be a Musk trope) is not desirable. An investigation will slow everything down. It’s hard to know if that’s good or bad news for the animals, to be honest.

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I used Lensa to turn myself into AI digital art. Here’s how it works • Business Insider

Bethany Biron:

»

Upon downloading the app and opening the Magic Avatars feature, Lensa walks you through the process, explaining that the technology, which operates using the open source Stable Diffusion model, is not perfect and “may generate artifacts, inaccuracies, and defects in output images.”

Thankfully, I had already been warned by a friend who received a distorted image of himself with two heads, so I was primed for some odd results (which I did indeed receive, but more on that later).

The next step is to upload 10-20 photos. Lensa recommends close-up selfies with a variety of backgrounds, facial expressions, and angles to get the best results.

After submitting 10 photos, I was asked to indicate my gender as female, male, or other. I was then directed to a checkout page, where users are given the option to select from 50, 100, or 200 “unique avatars.” I opted for 50 for $3.99, which is half the regular cost as part of my free trial membership.

Once I made a payment, I was informed the process would take about 20 minutes, and I was given the option to receive a notification when the avatars were complete. I selected yes.

About 15 minutes later I received a push notification that my avatars were ready. My 50 avatars were delivered in 10 categories of 5 images including Iridescent, Light, Stylish, Anime, Cosmic, Fantasy, Kawaii, Pop, Focus, and Fairy Princess.

As expected, some of the results were very bizarre, while others made me feel quite beautiful. Many looked absolutely nothing like me, and in one I look vaguely like disgraced Theranos founder, Elizabeth Holmes, black turtleneck and all.

As my friend warned, I did receive a handful of distorted renderings with multiple limbs or heads, which was … the stuff of nightmares. But for a robot creating art in 15 minutes, it did a decent job. Ultimately, it was fun, though maybe not worth $3.99.

«

Amazing that all that computing resource to produce something you’d previously have had to hire a human Photoshop expert to perform, and which might have taken them a good few hours and probably cost you the thick end of a hundred pounds if they were doing it as a favour, is now dismissed as perhaps not worth the price of a cup of coffee. Moore’s Law is still around.
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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

Start Up No.1916: EU to allow 5G on planes, world champion Excel!, suing Pegasus’s creators, Foxconn riots chop output, and more

A human whose stomach contains a computer punch tape that controls his reality
A Deepmind engineer discovered that you can get ChatGPT to create its own chatbot. But is it a real one or an imagined one?

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup. Catch up on the old ones!


A selection of 9 links for you. Not a chatbot. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


No more airplane mode? EU to allow calls on flights • BBC News

»

Airline passengers in the European Union (EU) will soon be able to use their phones to full effect in the sky, after the European Commission ruled that airlines can provide 5G technology on board planes, alongside slower mobile data.

This could mean flyers will no longer be required to put their phone on airplane mode – though the specifics of how it will be implemented are unclear.

The deadline for member states to make the 5G frequency bands available for planes is 30 June 2023. This will mean people can use all their phone’s features mid-flight – enabling calls as well as data-heavy apps that stream music and video.

Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, said the plan would “enable innovative services for people” and help European companies grow. “The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” he said.

The EU Commission has reserved certain frequency bands for aircraft since 2008, allowing some services to offer mid-air internet access. But this service has been historically slow, as it relied on equipment to connect people via a satellite between the aeroplane and the ground.

The new system will be able to take advantage of the much faster download speeds provided by 5G, which according to mobile network EE can be over 100Mbps – enabling a film to be downloaded in just a few minutes.

Dai Whittingham, chief executive of the UK Flight Safety Committee, told the BBC that airplane mode was historically important due to a lack of knowledge about how mobile devices affect aircraft. “There was a concern they could interfere with automatic flight control systems,” he said. “What has been found with experience is the risk of interference is very small. The recommendation has always been that once you are in flight, devices should be in in airplane mode.”

There has been a concern in the US that 5G frequencies could interfere with flights, and even potentially lead to erroneous altitude measurements. But Mr Whittingham said this is not an issue in the UK and the EU. “There is much less prospect of interference,” he said, “We have a different set of frequencies for 5G, and there are lower power settings than those that have been allowed in the US.

«

The challenge for icon designers will be what to replace Airplane Mode with. Or maybe, like the floppy disk icon for “Save”, it will live on even after its time is done.
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Andreessen Horowitz tech “news” site Future.com shuts down, staff leave • Business Insider

Rob Price and Melia Russell:

»

Launched in June of 2021, it was billed as a buzzy new tech publication from prestigious venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz — and a way to sidestep the legacy media entirely and take the message of technological progress directly to readers.

With minimalist indigo branding and a flashy website address — future.com — Future enlisted the Menlo Park-based investment firm’s portfolio company executives, outside experts, and a suite of high-profile editorial hires to pump out a stream of hopeful articles about technology and society.

“We’re going to be having an optimistic lens on technology and the future,” Margit Wennmachers, an operating partner at the firm, told an Insider reporter in an interview at the time.

The New Yorker wrote about the launch, calling it an “opportunity to introduce new terminology, new ideologies, new framing, and new ways for people in and around technology to conceptualize their work.” Independent journalist Eric Newcomer said its debut was part of a strategy with “dramatic implications for the future of media and the venture capital industry.” Tech news site Protocol, which shut down recently, asked whether it was “the future of media.”

But a year and a half later, the publication is dead in the water.

Future hasn’t published a new article in months, most of its editorial staffers have left, and its newsletter is defunct. A source familiar with Andreessen Horowitz’s content strategy confirmed to Insider that Future is shutting down.

«

a16z wanted its site to be the tame teller of all the good news about its investments. But for a lot of VC investments, the news isn’t good: like all startups, VC-funded or not, they run into trouble and things go wrong. There’s no money in good news sites, and no point funding them, as a16z has realised.
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The Excel World Championship is the internet at its best • The Atlantic

Jacob Stern:

»

Competitive Excel clearly is not the NFL, but it does have the beginnings of a fan base. This was just the second year of the World Championship, but it’s already streaming on ESPN3. This year’s edition has 30,000 views on YouTube. Supporters of Michael Jarman, the No. 3 seed in this year’s competition, call themselves the “Jarmy Army.” A few months ago, an all-star game of sorts aired on ESPN2, and this month, ESPNU will televise the collegiate championship.

The tournament begins with a 128-player field and proceeds March Madness–style, in one-on-one, single-elimination contests. The format lends itself to frequent upsets: This year, the No. 2 seed was eliminated in the third round. In each match, players work as fast as possible—they’re generally given about 30 minutes—to answer a series of progressively more difficult questions testing both their puzzle-solving skills and their fluency with Excel. The questions all revolve around the same scenario. In the quarterfinal, for example, the questions all had to do with a fictional country transitioning from dictatorship to democracy. The first and easiest question asked players to calculate how many votes were cast for the purple party. The championship case, which was far more difficult, centered on a 100×100 chessboard. This year’s total prize money was $10,000.

Naturally, a large proportion of Excel competitors work in Excel-heavy jobs; the field included plenty of finance bros, data analysts, mathematicians, actuaries, and engineers. All but one of the eight finalists had over the course of their lives spent thousands of hours working in Excel (the other is a Google Sheets guy), and half of them had spent more than 10,000. The tournament is not particularly diverse. Of the eight finalists, Deaton was the only woman. In the field of 128, she told me, she counted no more than a dozen, which didn’t surprise her, given how heavily male the relevant occupations skew.

«

It’s a totally different world. Like any e-sport, really, but done with columns and rows rather than pixellated guns or armoured monsters.
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Pegasus spyware was used to hack reporters’ phones. I’m suing its creators • The Guardian

Nelson Rauda Zablah is a Salvadoran journalist whose work has been featured in multiple international papers:

»

When news of the hacking broke, a few sources jokingly answered our calls by greeting the good people who might be listening. But many more picked up the phone only to say we should stop calling them, and most simply didn’t respond at all. In one instance, a source told me that he now understood why his wife had been fired from her government position. I felt horrible. Guilty. Powerless.

That’s how Pegasus makes you feel above all: powerless. We believe the infections in El Faro happened through a “zero-click exploit”, meaning we didn’t even click on a phony link to open a door for the spies. They just broke in. Change your number, get a new device – they’ll just break in there, too.

And yet we refused to be powerless. We told our story to news outlets all over the world. In El Salvador, we held press conferences, went on TV and filed a case before the attorney general’s office. None of this brought any kind of accountability for the illegal spying. So, represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, 14 of my colleagues at El Faro and I have decided to sue NSO Group.

I can assure you we’re not in this for the money: if we wanted to be rich, we wouldn’t be independent journalists. We’re doing this as a progression of our everyday work in El Salvador to expose official wrongdoing. We’re doing this in the United States because we’ve exhausted all legal avenues in El Salvador’s co-opted institutions.

And we’re doing this not just for us. In April, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz assembled a list of more than 450 law-abiding men and women around the world whose devices had been hacked by NSO Group’s Pegasus. Many of them are not in countries or positions where they can sue.

But someone has to. NSO executives shouldn’t be able to wash their hands as their tools are used to persecute journalists. In a very real sense, NSO set the hounds on us. And now we’re fighting back.

«

I’m reviewing a forthcoming book by the journalists who exposed the enormous scale of Pegasus surveillance, and a common reaction of those who discovered they were targeted is guilt – that they might have inadvertently harmed sources because they didn’t know their phone was a traitor.
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Covid chaos at Foxconn iPhone plant causes 29% revenue fall • Financial Times

Kathrin Hille:

»

Foxconn reported NT$551bn (US$18bn) in revenue last month, down 29% from October and an 11% from a year earlier. It is the first time in 12 years that the company has announced a month-on-month fall in November, a time of high production to meet Christmas sales.

The company did not mention the iPhone, but said the drop in smart consumer electronics products — which includes smartphones — was because of “a portion of shipments being impacted by the epidemic in Zhengzhou”, where a coronavirus outbreak in Foxconn’s largest plant has led to weeks of disruption and a revolt by workers.

“At present, the overall epidemic situation has been brought under control, with November being the most affected period,” Foxconn said. “In addition to reallocating production capacity of different factories, we have also started to recruit new employees, and are gradually moving towards the direction of restoring production capacity to normal.”

One person close to the company said Foxconn’s internal goal was to return to “completely normal operations” after the new year at the factory in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. It has been rocked by two waves of staff walkouts and violent unrest in recent weeks. Foxconn declined to comment on the target.

«

The expectation was that this would feed through to shortages of iPhones for this crucial quarter for Apple, yet delays on shipments have pulled back quite quickly. Sales in China have been dramatically affected, so maybe that’s yet to be felt in the US and other countries.

The ongoing problems from Covid, and the growing groundswell of civil unrest as GDP growth falls behind what’s needed to keep the middle classes happy, mean Apple’s search for more manufacturing outside China will become more urgent.
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Temporary policy: ChatGPT is banned • Meta Stack Overflow

»

This is a temporary policy intended to slow down the influx of answers created with ChatGPT. What the final policy will be regarding the use of this and other similar tools is something that will need to be discussed with Stack Overflow staff and, quite likely, here on Meta Stack Overflow.

Overall, because the average rate of getting correct answers from ChatGPT is too low, the posting of answers created by ChatGPT is substantially harmful to the site and to users who are asking or looking for correct answers.

The primary problem is that while the answers which ChatGPT produces have a high rate of being incorrect, they typically look like they might be good and the answers are very easy to produce. There are also many people trying out ChatGPT to create answers, without the expertise or willingness to verify that the answer is correct prior to posting. Because such answers are so easy to produce, a large number of people are posting a lot of answers. The volume of these answers (thousands) and the fact that the answers often require a detailed read by someone with at least some subject matter expertise in order to determine that the answer is actually bad has effectively swamped our volunteer-based quality curation infrastructure.

«

Wonder how they’re going to police this, though. There will be “sanctions” on users who are “believed” to have done this, but how do you spot it, and how do you demonstrate it? Relying on users’ good behaviour only works for so long.

Notice too how we’ve abruptly reached this tipping point. There was no concern with GPT-3 a few months ago.
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Building a virtual machine inside ChatGPT • Engraved

Jonas Degrave is a research scientist at Google’s Deepmind, here recounting some messing around done by a colleague at Deepmind:

»

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard of this new ChatGPT assistant made by OpenAI. You might be aware of its capabilities for solving IQ tests, tackling leetcode problems or to helping people write LateX. It is an amazing resource for people to retrieve all kinds of information and solve tedious tasks, like copy-writing!

Today, Frederic Besse told me that he managed to do something different. Did you know, that you can run a whole virtual machine inside of ChatGPT?

«

This goes from being clever to intriguing to extremely weird. Is ChatGPT talking to itself, or to a new instance of itself, or some alternative internet version of itself? The whole thing reminded me of the Philip K Dick short story The Electric Ant: how do we know what reality ChatGPT is serving up to us in its responses? What if the speedy responses it seems to be giving to Besse’s orders to list the directories in its virtual machine that he has “created” or “found” are just made up, rather than the result of actually querying a directory? Aargh. The implications of what Besse has done are far greater than they seem.
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We’re in denial about the true cost of a Twitter implosion • WIRED

Eve Fairbanks:

»

I can’t imagine following the breaking-news events I’ve been able to witness virtually—the first days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the invasion of the US Capitol—on another platform. It’s in these real once-in-history moments that Twitter comes alive. It doesn’t silo people into friend circles like Facebook or promote groupthink quite like Reddit. The barrier to entry for people who want to add to the story is lower than on TikTok or Instagram. You don’t need to angle for a photo or a video; you can tweet while hiding under a desk, or even—as Alexei Navalny does, hand-writing tweets he delivers to his lawyer—from prison.

People giddy to see Musk fall on his face might not fully know what role Twitter plays day to day in many other countries. We’ve heard about Twitter’s role in the Arab Spring but less about how the political life of, for instance, Zimbabwe—run by a repressive government that cracks down ruthlessly on physical protests and political speech—now takes place on Twitter. Twitter has become “our political meeting point,” says Tinashe Mushakavanhu, a Zimbabwean journalist. The app’s anonymity has allowed “a discourse about the country that is very free, very critical.”

Midnight is the hour to reconnoiter on Zimbabwean Twitter, Mushakavanhu says. That’s when cell phone data becomes cheaper; it’s also why Twitter is irreplaceable. Loading image- or video-heavy apps just uses way too much data for most Zimbabweans to afford.

A famous Zimbabwean novelist recently allegorized the internet, and Twitter in particular, as a parallel country. “You have the safety of anonymity if you so choose,” she explained to an interviewer. “That’s where most of the organizing [in Zimbabwe] now happens. Activists have made [strides] there that otherwise would not have been possible.”

In Zimbabwe, politicians are forced to respond to Twitter uproars. Twitter is also the place where people who have been forced to flee the country can, in a sense, return home. Waiting for asylum abroad, many of Zimbabwe’s thousands of political refugees “can’t work” legally, Mushakavanhu said. “These are people who can’t go home to bury their own parents.” So they become “very prolific on Twitter. The only thing they have is Twitter. It’s a space for fantasy and for articulating despair. It’s a home.” Mushakavanhu himself has moved to the United Kingdom. He told me, “There are parts of me”—the truly Zimbabwean parts—that now “only exist on Twitter.”

«

The early part of this feature will strike most people as being too inside-journalism, bemoaning the possibility of losing the site. But as the rest of this (long!) piece points out, you do need one central place where the world’s discussions happen. It would just be nice if there were fewer bots and thirsty grievance farmers.
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Trolling as a Service in 2022 • Tisane Labs

Vadim Berman is Tisane Labs’s CEO and co-founder:

»

Today’s “TrollOps” involve a wide range of services, natural language processing, distributed processing, hybrid operation, crowdsourcing in a Mechanical Turk-like fashion, social engineering, and stealth.

Low-tech solutions combined with social engineering usually prove the most effective, both from the engagement perspective and the perspective of hosting expenses. A post saying “Fake news” in the comment section of Flipboard is a standard opening move, the King’s Pawn Game of trolling. Someone from the opposite political camp will likely be provoked. Does the article merely cite another article? Maybe it discusses a court decision that can’t be fake news? So what, a stupid remark is even more likely to generate a negative response — and that’s all they want!

How do they know where to post it? One way is to detect a combo of negative sentiment + mention of a particular political figure. Or, with the current partisan political environment, it could be assumed that a particular publication will be negative towards that figure most of the time or all the time, and skip the sentiment analysis altogether.

Today, several off-the-shelf platforms (sold at least to law enforcement agencies) allow managing fake persona, choreographing hardware fingerprint (SIM cards + devices) and generating text content GPT-style based on predefined profiles (e.g. radicals of a certain type). I had a chat with one of the vendors at a law enforcement trade event. I was told, “it’s a headache to manage even two sock puppet accounts. With our platform, you can manage tens of them, and generate content effortlessly”. My impression is that the TrollOps vendors still do not have access to these platforms, but it’s just a matter of time until they gain these capabilities.

Even today, the pricing is dangerously affordable. A cyber-bullying campaign in Indonesia will set you back 20K IDR (~US$1.33) on Instagram, 15K IDR (US$1) on Ask.fm, or 10K IDR (US$0.67) on Twitter / Facebook.

«

Or, you know, reply negatively to an Elon Musk tweet. That’ll get you a cyber-bullying campaign for nothing.
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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

Start Up No.1915: Apple mulls partial China exit, India gets smartwatches, volcano pauses CO2 data, ex-Instagram?, and more

A scene from Apple TV+'s adaptation of Mick Herron's Slow Horses series
The TV adaptation by Apple of Mick Herron’s Slow Horses book series follows a typical author’s struggle to be discovered. Now he’s famous. Photo copyright: Apple.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There was a new post on Friday at the Social Warming Substack. Did you miss it?


A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Apple makes plans to move production out of China • WSJ

Yang Jie and Aaron Tilley:

»

In recent weeks, Apple has accelerated plans to shift some of its production outside China, long the dominant country in the supply chain that built the world’s most valuable company, say people involved in the discussions. It is telling suppliers to plan more actively for assembling Apple products elsewhere in Asia, particularly India and Vietnam, they say, and looking to reduce dependence on Taiwanese assemblers led by Foxconn Technology Group.

Turmoil at a place called iPhone City helped propel Apple’s shift. At the giant city-within-a-city in Zhengzhou, China, as many as 300,000 workers work at a factory run by Foxconn to make iPhones and other Apple products. At one point, it alone made about 85% of the Pro lineup of iPhones, according to market-research firm Counterpoint Research. 

The Zhengzhou factory was convulsed in late November by violent protests. In videos posted online, workers upset about wages and Covid-19 restrictions could be seen throwing items and shouting “Stand up for your rights!” Riot police were present, the videos show. The location of one of the videos was verified by the news agency and video-verification service Storyful. The Wall Street Journal corroborated events shown in the videos with workers at the site.

Coming after a year of events that weakened China’s status as a stable manufacturing center, the upheaval means Apple no longer feels comfortable having so much of its business tied up in one place, according to analysts and people in the Apple supply chain.

«

Tim Cook’s view used to be that China offered the scale that Apple needs to manufacture the millions of iPhones it produces. The challenge to come, after finding places to make the devices, is coordinating output. And if you thought there was the occasional pre-release leak from Apple before, imagine what it’ll be like with multiple countries producing a new iPhone. (Though a fresh challenge for all the analysts who have built up sources in the Chinese supply chains.)
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DeepMind AI topples experts at complex game Stratego • Nature

Anil Ananthaswamy:

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Another game long considered extremely difficult for artificial intelligence (AI) to master has fallen to machines. An AI called DeepNash, made by London-based company DeepMind, has matched expert humans at Stratego, a board game that requires long-term strategic thinking in the face of imperfect information.

The achievement, described in Science on 1 December, comes hot on the heels of a study reporting an AI that can play Diplomacy, in which players must negotiate as they cooperate and compete.

“The rate at which qualitatively different game features have been conquered — or mastered to new levels — by AI in recent years is quite remarkable,” says Michael Wellman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a computer scientist who studies strategic reasoning and game theory. “Stratego and Diplomacy are quite different from each other, and also possess challenging features notably different from games for which analogous milestones have been reached.”

Stratego has characteristics that make it much more complicated than chess, Go or poker, all of which have been mastered by AIs (the latter two games in 20153 and 20194). In Stratego, two players place 40 pieces each on a board, but cannot see what their opponent’s pieces are. The goal is to take turns moving pieces to eliminate those of the opponent and capture a flag. Stratego’s game tree — the graph of all possible ways in which the game could go — has 10^535 states, compared with Go’s 10^360. In terms of imperfect information at the start of a game, Stratego has 10^66 possible private positions, which dwarfs the 10^6 such starting situations in two-player Texas hold’em poker.

“The sheer complexity of the number of possible outcomes in Stratego means algorithms that perform well on perfect-information games, and even those that work for poker, don’t work,” says Julien Perolat, a DeepMind researcher based in Paris.

…For two weeks in April, DeepNash competed with human Stratego players on online game platform Gravon. After 50 matches, DeepNash was ranked third among all Gravon Stratego players since 2002. “Our work shows that such a complex game as Stratego, involving imperfect information, does not require search techniques to solve it,” says team member Karl Tuyls, a DeepMind researcher based in Paris. “This is a really big step forward in AI.”

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It’s really not fun playing against machines any more.
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Mauna Loa eruption halts key atmospheric measurements, CO2 monitoring • The Washington Post

Brady Dennis:

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The eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, has interrupted a key site that monitors greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, officials said Tuesday.

“The carbon dioxide measurement equipment that maintains the famed Keeling Curve record lost power at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 28 and is not currently recording data,” the University of California at San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography said in a statement.

The site, selected by the late scientist Charles David Keeling as an ideal spot to measure CO2 due to its relative isolation and vegetation-free landscape, has been recording atmospheric concentrations of the planet-heating gas since the late 1950s.

The Keeling Curve — a chart that shows the steady rise of carbon in the atmosphere in recent decades, as measured at Mauna Loa — is considered a simple yet important piece of scientific evidence that human activities are transforming the Earth’s climate.

“It’s a big eruption, and it’s in a bad place,” Keeling’s son, Scripps geoscientist Ralph Keeling, said in a statement Tuesday about the lava flows at Mauna Loa, located at the heart of Hawaii’s Big Island. He described the outlook for future CO2 readings from the station as “very troubling.”

Earlier, Scripps tweeted that the ongoing eruption “is flowing close to the observatory” and that measurements probably would shut down.

…Atmospheric CO2 measurements are maintained at multiple spots around the globe, from the South Pole to Alaska, though the site at Mauna Loa has the best known and most continuous record in the world.

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Ironically, the eruption will probably lead to some atmospheric cooling due to the sulphur aerosols that are thrown up.
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India becomes biggest smartwatch market in Q3 2022 • Counterpoint Research

»

Despite inflation and geopolitical crises that have continued since the beginning of this year, global smartwatch market shipments increased 30% YoY in Q3 2022, according to Counterpoint Research’s latest Global Smartwatch Model Tracker. During the quarter, India’s market grew 171% YoY to become the biggest smartwatch market in the world. Other markets also grew YoY, except China and Europe.

Research analyst Woojin Son said, “Among the types of smartwatches*, the basic smartwatch, with relatively lighter versions of operating systems (OSs) and more affordable prices, has been the key driver in sharply boosting the global market recently. While HLOS [high level OS, eg WatchOS, WearOS] smartwatch shipments grew 23% YoY in Q3 2022, basic smartwatch shipments more than doubled YoY, accounting for 35% of the total market. This remarkable increase in basic smartwatch shipments shows us that the market base is rapidly expanding toward more accessible segments amid aggressive drives by the supply side. But still, in terms of revenue, the HLOS smartwatch overwhelmed the basic smartwatch with a market size of almost 10 times due to its high average selling price (ASP).”

Apple grew 48% YoY thanks to strong sales of its newly released Apple Watch 8 series. Released in early September, the new series accounted for about 56% of the overall shipments. Apple accounted for about half of the market among HLOS smartwatches in Q3 2022. However, this was a slight decrease from the 54% share in Q2 2022 due to the slump in North America and Europe, which are major markets.

Samsung increased its shipments by 62% QoQ with launching new Galaxy Watch 5 series, while its market share of the HLOS segment increased by 5% points QoQ. However, Samsung’s shipments only grew 6% YoY as it lost ground in India, falling below 3% share there. In the global market, Samsung was still in second place but with a decreased market share (down by 2.7% points YoY), narrowing the gap with the third-placed Noise.

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Remarkable: India really is a country of gadget lovers. Did not expect that they’d go for smartwatches in such a big way though.
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Howcome GPT can seem so brilliant one minute and so breathtakingly dumb the next? • The Road To AI We Can Trust

Gary Marcus:

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The immense database of things that GPT draws on consists entirely of language uttered by humans, in the real world with utterances that (generally) grounded in the real world. That means, for examples, that the entities (churros, surgical tools) and properties (“allow[s] for greater precision and control during surgery, risking the risk of complications and improving the overall outcomes patients”) generally refer to real entities and properties in the world. GPT doesn’t talk randomly, because it’s pastiching things actual people said. (Or, more often, synonyms and paraphrases of those things.)

When GPT gets things right, it is often combining bits that don’t belong together, but not quite in random ways, but rather in ways where there is some overlap in some aspect or another.

Example: Churros are in a cluster of small things that the system (roughly speaking) groups together, presumably including eg baseballs, grasshoppers, forceps, and so forth. GPT doesn’t actually know which of the elements appropriately combine with which other properties. Some small things really do “allow[s] for greater precision and control during surgery, risking the risk of complications and improving the overall outcomes patients” But GPT idea has no idea which.

In some sense, GPT is like a glorified version of cut and paste, where everything that is cut goes through a paraphrasing/synonymy process before it is paste but together—and a lot of important stuff is sometimes lost along the way.

When GPT sounds plausible, it is because every paraphrased bit that it pastes together is grounded in something that actual humans said, and there is often some vague (but often irrelevant) relationship between..

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Seeing GPT’s output as pastiche, as Marcus puts it, helps understand what’s going on much better. The pastiche, or mimicry, is improving, but still remains an act.
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Instagram is over • The Atlantic

Kate Lindsay:

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“Gen Z’s relationship with Instagram is much like millennials’ relationship with Facebook: Begrudgingly necessary,” Casey Lewis, a youth-culture consultant who writes the youth-culture newsletter After School, told me over email. “They don’t want to be on it, but they feel it’s weird if they’re not.” In fact, a recent Piper Sandler survey found that, of 14,500 teens surveyed across 47 states, only 20% named Instagram their favorite social-media platform (TikTok came first, followed by Snapchat).

Simply being on Instagram is a very different thing from actively engaging with it. Participating means throwing pictures into a void, which is why it’s become kind of cringe. To do so earnestly suggests a blithe unawareness of your surroundings, like shouting into the phone in public.

In other words, Instagram is giving us the ick: that feeling when a romantic partner or crush does something small but noticeable—like wearing a fedora—that immediately turns you off forever.

“People who aren’t influencers only use [Instagram] to watch other people make big announcements,” Lee Tilghman, a former full-time Instagram influencer, told me over the phone. “My close friends who aren’t influencers, they haven’t posted in, like, two years.”

As is always the case, the ick came about quite suddenly—things were going great for Instagram, until they just weren’t. In 2014, the app hit 300 million monthly active users, surpassing Twitter for the first time. The Instagram Stories feature, a direct rip-off of Snapchat, was introduced in August 2016 and outpaced the original just one year later. But although Instagram now has 2 billion monthly users, it faces an existential problem: What happens when the 18-to-29-year-olds who are most likely to use the app, at least in America, age out or go elsewhere?

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The attempt to turn Instagram into TikTok by forcing Reels on everyone has been hugely unpopular. And once people start leaving, the network effect goes into reverse.
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The trouble with the National Grid – thread by @EdConwaySky • Thread Reader App

Ed Conway is Sky News’s economics editor:

»

Arguably the most important & underdiscussed issue in the pursuit for net zero

The [national] grid is creaking.

It could trigger blackouts & even prevent net zero.

It’s a very big deal!

But let’s begin our story with something else. A bit of history. The first power station…

«

Not a short thread, but Conway goes into the detail that matters, and is overlooked, about the problems with underinvestment in the National Grid. (There doesn’t seem to be a story to go with it on the Sky news website.)
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Why Sam Bankman-Fried hasn’t been arrested yet • NY Mag

Ankush Khardori:

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According to the criminal complaint filed on the day of his arrest, [Bernie] Madoff told his sons [in December 2008] “that he was ‘finished,’ that he had ‘absolutely nothing,’ that ‘it’s all just one big lie,’ and that it was ‘basically a giant Ponzi scheme.’” His sons called the FBI, and two days later, two agents showed up at his home and asked whether “there’s an innocent explanation” for what Madoff had told his sons. Madoff literally replied, “There is no innocent explanation.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, the reason Madoff was arrested so quickly is because he confessed to every element of criminal fraud — including both the underlying scheme and his criminal intent. This meant that the FBI had both that confession and highly potent, admissible evidence of guilt in the form of testimony from his adult children (who had no apparent axe to grind).

If that is all the government ever had, they would have been able to convict Madoff easily at trial. (He eventually pled guilty.) They also needed to make sure that Madoff did not have second thoughts — he told his sons that he planned to turn himself in to authorities in about a week — and that he would not attempt to flee the country instead.

We have not seen anything like a real admission of criminal conduct from SBF yet and, of course, he is not in the country at the moment, so there is no imperative (no ability, really) to keep him in the United States. As important, SBF has been rather talkative in interviews — including in an interview with New York’s Jen Wieczner that was published yesterday — but he has been careful as well. So far as I can tell, he has held firm on a central point for his defense — that the epic, still-unspooling fiasco at FTX was the result of sloppiness and inadvertent missteps by the company’s leadership rather than an intentional effort to mislead FTX customers or investors.

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People really are infuriated by him not being cuffs, but the Bahamas isn’t the US. There is an extradition treaty between the two; someone, or some people in the US will be building a case right now.
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Is Mick Herron the best spy novelist of his generation? • The New Yorker

Jill Lepore:

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When Herron first drafted “Slow Horses,” he planned to blow up Slough House. (He kills off characters all the time: “It’s not a thriller if it’s not thrilling.”) But then he decided he might want to stay a little longer in that house and reimagined the ending. The book came out in 2010; a couple of years later, he finished a sequel, “Dead Lions.” This winter, it’s Season 2 of the Apple series. At the time, however, he couldn’t find a publisher in his own country.

He recalled, “One publisher asked, ‘What even is this? Is it a thriller or is it a comedy?’ Also, no one wanted to publish a sequel when they hadn’t published the first book.” Herron figured, OK, I guess I’ll never be a full-time writer. But then Juliet Grames, who runs the crime imprint at Soho, an independent American publisher, came along. “I read ‘Dead Lions’ and I said, ‘We have to publish this,’ ” Grames told me. Soho bought the rights to “Slow Horses,” too, but, she says, “we could not get people to listen to us about this guy.”

Then, in the UK, Mark Richards, an editor at the distinguished press John Murray, happened to pick up a copy of “Slow Horses” at the Liverpool Street railway station. Richards’s colleagues see him as the “furniture restorer,” because he can look at an unloved, threadbare sofa and spot its quality. He bought the rights to the first two Slough House books. Not long afterward, Britons voted for Brexit and Americans elected Trump. Suddenly, Peter Judd [a Boris Johnson-alike character] and the [murderous rightwing group] Sons of Albion didn’t seem so far-fetched. The Daily Telegraph dubbed “Slow Horses” one of the best spy novels ever written.

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“The furniture restorer”. There are all sorts of beautiful touches like that scattered though this feature about Herron, whose books are being gradually brought to the screen through note-perfect adaptations on Apple TV+. The timing of Lepore’s visit is exquisite, just as Liz Truss resigns:

»

“Oi!” Jackson Lamb might have growled from his office on the top floor of Slough House, fishing a cigarette out of one pocket and a lighter out of another. “Tory Spice is on the telly!”

«

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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

Start Up No.1914: how generative AI will change work, 52 things you (probably) didn’t know, Tether’s loan trouble, and more


The Maersk shipping company is giving up a blockchain project with IBM because it lacks commercial viability. Are there any out there left? CC-licensed photo by Mohammad Rizky on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


It’s Friday, so there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.


A selection of 9 links for you. Not autocompleted. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Generative AI: autocomplete for everything • Noahpinion

Noah Smith and “roon”, who works at one of the generative AI companies:

»

as roon likes to say, every time you use any of the most advanced AI applications, you’re “lighting a pile of GPUs on fire”. Those resource constraints explain why humans who want jobs will find jobs: AI businesses will just keep expanding and gobbling up more physical resources until human workers themselves, and the work they do to complement AI, become the scarce resource.

The principle of comparative advantage says that whether the jobs of the future pay better or worse than the jobs of today depends to some degree on whether AI’s skill set is very similar to humans, or complementary and different. If AI simply does things differently than humans do, then the complementarity will make humans more valuable and will raise wages. 

And although we can’t speak to the AI of the future, we believe that the current wave of generative AI does things very differently from humans. AI art tends to differ from human-made art in subtle ways – its minor details are often off in a compounding uncanny valley fashion that the net result can end up looking horrifying. Anyone who’s ridden in a Tesla knows that an AI backs into a parallel parking space differently than a human would. And for all the hype regarding large language models passing various forms of the Turing Test, it’s clear that their skillset is not exactly the same as a human’s.

Because of these differences, we think that the work that generative AI does will basically be “autocomplete for everything”. 

…Industrial design will work in a similar way. Take a look at any mundane, boring object in the room around you – a lamp, or a TV stand, or a coffee maker. Some human being had to come up with the design for that. With generative AI, the designer won’t have to look through pages and pages of examples to riff off of. They’ll just deliver a prompt – “55-inch TV stand with two cabinets” – and see a menu of alternative designs. They’ll pick one of the designs, refine it, and add any other touches they want.

We can imagine a lot of jobs whose workflows will follow a similar pattern – architecture, graphic design, or interior design. Lawyers will probably write legal briefs this way, and administrative assistants will use this technique to draft memos and emails. Marketers will have an idea for a campaign, generate copy en masse and provide finishing touches. Consultants will generate whole powerpoint decks with coherent narratives based on a short vision and then provide the details. Financial analysts will ask for a type of financial model and have an Excel template with data sources autofilled.

What’s common to all of these visions is something we call the “sandwich” workflow. This is a three-step process. First, a human has a creative impulse, and gives the AI a prompt. The AI then generates a menu of options. The human then chooses an option, edits it, and adds any touches they like.

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IBM and Maersk abandon ship on TradeLens logistics blockchain • Coindesk

Danny Nelson:

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Maersk and IBM will wind down their shipping blockchain TradeLens by early 2023, ending the pair’s five-year project to improve global trade by connecting supply chains on a permissioned blockchain.

TradeLens emerged during the “enterprise blockchain” era of 2018 as a high-flying effort to make inter-corporate trade more efficient. Open to shipping and freight operators, its members could validate the transaction of goods as recorded on a transparent digital ledger.

The idea was to save its member-shipping companies money by connecting their world. But the network was only as strong as its participants; despite some early wins, TradeLens ultimately failed to catch on with a critical mass of its target industry.

“TradeLens has not reached the level of commercial viability necessary to continue work and meet the financial expectations as an independent business,” Maersk Head of Business Platforms Rotem Hershko said in a statement.

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Have to wonder what level of commercial viability it did actually reach. Also, hope someone out there is keeping tabs on all the blockchain projects that were announced since, oh, 2015, and how they’re faring. I seem to recall IBM being enormously keen on it at one point. Going to guess meanwhile that Maersk manages to keep tabs just fine on what’s on its ships.
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52 things I learned in 2022 • Magnetic Notes

Tom Whitwell:

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1. A bolt of lightning contains about ¼ of a kilowatt-hour of power. Even with recent energy price rises, it’s only worth about 9 pence. [Sarah Jensen]

2. A ‘zhènlóuqì’ is an electrical floor shaker sold on Taobao, used to get revenge on noisy neighbours. [Wang Xinyi]

3. In the UK and Australia, people tend to turn left when entering a building. In the US, they turn right. It’s important to remember if you’re booking a trade show booth. [Marc Abrahams]

4. Using ellipsis in writing signifes the writer is Gen-X or Boomer and can read as confusing, passive-aggressive or even weirdly flirtatious to digital natives. [Kaye Whitehead, from Gretchen McCulloch]

5. CountThings is an very successful app that counts things. It costs $120/month. The templates page shows the things people pay to count. [CountThings]

6. Heavenbanning is a hypothetical way to moderate social networks. Instead of being thrown off the platform, bad actors have all their followers replaced with sycophantic AI models that constantly agree and praise them. Real humans never interact with them. [Asara Near]

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Plenty more where those came from, all fascinating. I think No.7 might be one of the best. Though also No.11. Wait, No.13. Oh..
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Elon Musk’s Twitter polls are bot-driven B.S., ex-employees say • Rolling Stone

Noah Shachtman and Adam Rawnsley:

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“One of the first products I worked on was polls. And one of the big discussions was around the tradeoffs between integrity and privacy – keeping logs [or each user’s vote] or not. We landed on the side of privacy,” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former Head of Trust and Safety who resigned this month, told Rolling Stone. 

“Polls are more prone to manipulation than almost anything else [on Twitter]. It’s interesting, given his [Elon’s] use of polls,” he added. Several other ex-Twitter employees gave similar assessments.

Twitter did not immediately respond to questions from Rolling Stone, likely because Musk fired the company’s communications team.  

The reliance on bot-heavy polls is doubly ironic, given that Musk once balked at buying the company over concerns that there were too many inauthentic accounts on the platform. Now he’s all-but-counting on them in order to justify big decisions about Twitter’s future. 

“A Twitter poll can be manipulated. There’s nothing scientific or rigorous in any way about what he’s doing,” Sarah T. Roberts, a former Twitter employee and current faculty director for UCLA’s Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, told the Washington Post.

…When Musk acted as a self-appointed envoy between Russia and Ukraine, the billionaire displayed at least a dim understanding that the polling feature could theoretically be gamed when users voted down his proposal for a peace deal. “The bot attack on this poll is strong!” he replied to one fan as Twitter users panned his idea.

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Biotech labs are using AI inspired by DALL-E to invent new drugs • MIT Technology Review

Will Douglas Heaven:

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The explosion in text-to-image AI models like OpenAI’s DALL-E 2—programs trained to generate pictures of almost anything you ask for—has sent ripples through the creative industries, from fashion to filmmaking, by providing weird and wonderful images on demand.

The same technology behind these programs is also making a splash in biotech labs, which are increasingly using this type of generative AI, known as a diffusion model, to conjure up designs for new types of protein never seen in nature.

On Thursday, two labs separately announced programs that use diffusion models to generate designs for novel proteins with more precision than ever before. Generate Biomedicines, a Boston-based startup, revealed a program called Chroma, which the company describes as the “DALL-E 2 of biology.”

At the same time, a team at the University of Washington led by biologist David Baker has built a similar program called RoseTTAFold Diffusion. In a preprint paper posted online today, Baker and his colleagues show that their model can generate precise designs for novel proteins that can then be brought to life in the lab. “We’re generating proteins with really no similarity to existing ones,” says Brian Trippe, one of the co-developers of RoseTTAFold.

These protein generators can be directed to produce designs for proteins with specific properties, such as shape or size or function. In effect, this makes it possible to come up with new proteins to do particular jobs on demand. Researchers hope that this will eventually lead to the development of new and more effective drugs. “We can discover in minutes what took evolution millions of years,” says Gevorg Grigoryan, CEO of Generate Biomedicines.

…Generating strange designs on a computer is one thing. But the goal is to turn these designs into real proteins. To test whether Chroma produced designs that could be made, Generate Biomedicines took the sequences for some of its designs—the amino acid strings that make up the protein—and ran them through another AI program. They found that 55% of them would be predicted to fold into the structure generated by Chroma, which suggests that these are designs for viable proteins.

Baker’s team ran a similar test. But Baker and his colleagues have gone a lot further than Generate Biomedicines in evaluating their model. They have created some of RoseTTAFold Diffusion’s designs in their lab.

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I think it’s pushing it to say the systems are “inspired by DALL-E”. As he writes, it’s the same technology – generative adversarial networks – but starting from very different points, with totally different training data. Sure, Chroma is trying to get attention by using that line, but don’t be fooled.

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⚠️ Warning: do not use Hive Social 👉🐝👈 • zerforschung

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Following the Twitter takeover, a number of services promising to be an alternative gained traction. One of those is “Hive Social”, which reached more than a million users in the last weeks.

Of course, we were interested and took a look at Hive from a security standpoint. We found a number of critical vulnerabilities, which we confidentially reported to the company. After multiple attempts to contact the company we finally reached them by phone and they acknowledged the report. After multiple days and multiple reminders by us, they claimed to fix them within the next two days. However after those two days, multiple vulnerabilities we reported were not fixed and still existed at the time of writing.

⚠️ We strongly advise against using Hive in any form in the current state.

The issues we reported allow any attacker to access all data, including private posts, private messages, shared media and even deleted direct messages. This also includes private email addresses and phone numbers entered during login.

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Then there’s an update: “The vulnerabilities are currently no longer exploitable because Hive deactivated their servers.”

A bit unsurprising that an app which claims to have only two, possibly three, people writing it should turn out to have a huge security hole in it.
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Mark Zuckerberg says Apple’s policies are not “sustainable” • Axios

Sara Fischer:

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Zuckerberg has been one of the loudest critics of Apple in Silicon Valley for the past two years. In the wake of Elon Musk’s attacks on Apple this week, his concerns are being echoed more broadly by other industry leaders and Republican lawmakers.

“I think the problem is that you get into it with the platform control, is that Apple obviously has their own interests,” Zuckerberg said at The New York Times’ Dealbook conference.

“[T]he fact that companies have to deliver their apps exclusively through platforms that are controlled by competitors — there is a conflict of interest there,” he said. That conflict of interest makes Apple “not just a kind of governor that is looking out for the best of people’s interests.”

Zuckerberg also noted that Apple’s policies differ from other tech giants, including Microsoft and Google, which allow apps to be sideloaded onto devices if they’re inaccessible in app stores.

“I do think Apple has sort of singled themselves out as the only company that is trying to control, unilaterally, what apps get on the device and I don’t think that’s a sustainable or a good place to be.”

Changes to Apple’s app tracking policies last year are expected to cost Meta billions of dollars in lost ad revenue.

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So if we really boil it down to what’s practicable, he’s saying Apple should allow sideloading. But that wouldn’t prevent Apple implementing Ad Tracing Transparency (ATT), which is his real bugbear. ATT works at the app level as well as on Safari.
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Rising Tether loans add risk to stablecoin, crypto world • WSJ

Jonathan Weil:

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The company behind the tether stablecoin has increasingly been lending its own coins to customers rather than selling them for hard currency upfront. The shift adds to risks that the company may not have enough liquid assets to pay redemptions in a crisis.

Tether Holdings Ltd. says it lends only to eligible customers and requires that borrowers post lots of “extremely liquid” collateral, which could be sold for dollars if borrowers default.

These loans have appeared for several quarters in the financial reports that Tether shows on its website. In the most recent report, they reached $6.1bn as of Sept. 30, or 9% of the company’s total assets. They were $4.1bn, or 5% of total assets, at the end of 2021. 

Tether calls them “secured loans” and discloses little about the borrowers or the collateral accepted. Alex Welch, a Tether spokeswoman, confirmed that all of the secured loans listed in the reports were issued and denominated in tether.

…The premise of tether—and other stablecoins—is that the issuer always will redeem one coin for $1. Issuers take pains to demonstrate they have ample funds available to do so.

The company’s reports show only US dollar amounts for the loans and don’t say the loans were made in tether tokens. The reports also say the loans were “fully collateralized by liquid assets.”

“I’ve been very skeptical and in disbelief that they can get away with the lack of disclosure and with the limited transparency,” said Peter Crane, president of Crane Data, which tracks money-market funds. “If you do have reserves, why wouldn’t you show them?” Both money-market funds and stablecoins like tether are supposed to maintain a value of $1.

The vast majority of the assets listed in Tether’s reports are in cash, Treasury bonds and other safe instruments easily converted to dollars. Loans are different. Tether can’t be certain the loans will be paid back, that it could sell the loans to a buyer for dollars in a pinch or that the collateral it holds will be adequate.

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Tether’s PR person is extremely reassuring, but at this point I wouldn’t trust her to know what the truth is. For a long time in the crypto world Tether has been the dog that didn’t bark. Perhaps now, to mix a metaphor, it’s clearing its throat.
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World of Moose ‘”2022 Advent Calendar” in a Robot Voice’ • worldofmoose

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It’s a gift from Moose & Karen, it’s absolutely FREE of charge, all we ask is that you:

• have fun with it and do your very best colouring 

• share the link with your friends and get them to do it too 

• don’t sell it, alter it or use any of the images for anything else.

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If you don’t follow @MooseAllain (that’s his name!) on Twitter, you really should. He’s very funny/punny (“love of an anagram is the one thing that unties us all”) and his cartoons are terrific too. At a time when advent calendars are either madly expensive or impossible to find, this one at least is satisfying for children and adults, and comparatively cheap.
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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