Khan and Gensler Should Be Fired

A reminder for new readers. That Was The Week collects the best writing on critical issues in tech, startups, and venture capital. I select the articles because they are of interest. The selections often include things I disagree with. The articles are only snippets. Click on the headline to go to the original. I express my point of view in the editorial and the weekly video below.

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Content this week from @rebexxxxa, @tomwarren, @BradSmi, @bgarlinghouse, @ETincryptospace, @arrington, @httpsageyd, @jonfingas, @DanMilmo, @TechJournalist, @nitashatiku, @breadfrom , @ycombinator, @mwseibel, @daltonc

Dear Oh Dear, Oh Dear.

What a shambles. Lina Khan’s FTC failed in its bid to prevent Microsoft from acquiring Activision, according to a court ruling. And the SEC lost its case, stating that XRP (Ripple) is a security.

Republicans are calling for Khan’s head, and the entire crypto industry is now mocking the SEC.

The reputation of America’s institutions is already at an all-time low following the Supreme Courts’ assault on long-standing abortion rights and President Biden’s super-low standing with the electorate.

Now add the FTC and SEC to that very long list.

This is what happens when institutions are on the wrong side of history. Clearly, big tech does not represent an existential threat to civilization or even to economic well-being. The FTC is run by a graduate student with a paper to her name. She looks increasingly out of her depth.

And she shows no sign of learning from her errors. Earlier today (Thursday), her organization announced they will appeal the court decision concerning Microsoft and Activision and also announced proceedings to investigate OpenAI – a startup.

She is running an agency focused on overreach. Attempting to stretch the law to cover things that it does not.

She really has to go and be replaced with an innovation-focused tenant of the chair. Regulation for innovation is what is needed.

It seems impossible, but Gary Gensler, SEC Chair, is even worse than Khan. After years of litigation, seeking to prove that Ripple’s XRP token is a security, today, the company prevailed against the SEC in a widely applauded summary judgment. Brad Garlinghouse, the CEO, is throwing a big party (I want an invite).

The SEC’s loss is good news for Coinbase and Binance, also under attack by the SEC.

In all these cases, we see a regulatory body seeking to use its power to preserve the status quo. And this is well after the new technologies are proving to have value to humanity. The SEC has not attempted to define a role for digital money or digital stores of value. Its only goal has been to stop it. And the only tool for that has been the securities laws. Congratulations to XRP and Brad Garlinghouse. Your persistence has paid huge dividends. No surprise, the price of XRP, now trading again on Coinbase, has accelerated today, peaking at 93¢ before settling back to 74¢.

Gensler should be gone. And his replacement should answer a different question. How can we modernize the money system? How can tokenizing assets help wealth creation? How can we globalize the economic benefits of innovation? And more in that vein.

Turning the page, what about Threads? My favorite article this week is Rebecca Jennings Threads won’t kill Twitter if it’s boring. I literally have not logged in to Threads since last week’s newsletter because there was no reason to.

On the other hand, I am constantly on Twitter.

Her take nails it:

Logging onto Threads is like logging on to the internet roughly a decade ago. I have now seen two strangers share their “hot take” that actually, pineapple on pizza is good, a sentiment copied and pasted from all the world’s most boring Hinge profiles. There’s a lot of Fuck Jerry-type meme accounts posting, like, Wolf of Wall Street gifs; multinational corporations throwing up brand-safe drivel; motivational hustle bros begging for a smidgen of Mark Zuckerberg’s attention (and, hilariously, Zuckerberg trying to pitch himself on Hot Ones). Threads is Twitter for people who are scared of Twitter or, as the writer Sarah Hagi tweeted, people who still post the “It’s gonna be May” meme on April 30. Like basically every app these days, it also forces you to look at content from people you don’t follow, so when I logged on this morning I was faced with the horror of seeing Ellen DeGeneres’s weak attempt at rebuilding her awful reputation and former NFT shiller Gary Vee posting about “positivity” on my timeline. Consumed all together, the dominant tone seems to be an attempt at replicating the Obama-era internet.

Threads is for losers……(sorry to all my friends on it – You are the exception).

Instagram’s new copycat app is nowhere near as fun as Twitter. Can anything be?

By Rebecca Jennings@rebexxxxa Jul 7, 2023, 1:10pm EDT

Meta

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Threads, Instagram’s latest attempt at a “Twitter killer” app, launched on the evening of July 5, inviting the same question as every other app that has tried to capitalize on Elon Musk’s extremely mismanaged takeover of Twitter: Will this, finally, be the one to make Twitter irrelevant?

Before we get to the answer (spoiler: It’s “no,” at least not in its current form), here is a non-exhaustive list of the attempts to replace Twitter: Mastodon, Bluesky, Post.News, Cohost, Artifact, Hive, and Substack Notes, all of which have been marketed as alternatives to a Musk-led Twitter, where hate speech, harassment, bots, glitches, and nonsensical pivots have repelled both users and revenue-generating advertisers. Twitter under Musk is undoubtedly a less pleasant experience than it once was, particularly because of the way the platform prioritizes “verified” users, which include anyone who pays the $8-per-month subscription fee (including a seemingly disproportionate amount of transphobes and racists).

It’s natural that people want a more stable place to unload the latest thought that happened to pop into their head or, to put it in tech billionaire-speak, “engage with their followers.” The problem is that the place has to be somewhere worth hanging out. All of the Twitter alternatives thus far have suffered from their own plagues — Mastodon is confusing and unwieldy, Bluesky is still stingy with invite codes, and the others are too niche and unpopulated to recreate the liveliness of Twitter. Plus, we’ve all got serious signup fatigue. The last new app to truly go mainstream in an unavoidable way was TikTok, and that was only after the pandemic forced everyone inside, desperately seeking mindless entertainment on our phones. The dominant feeling about Threads, even on the platform itself, seems to be a disgruntled sense of obligation about downloading a whole new app.

Logging onto Threads is like logging on to the internet roughly a decade ago. I have now seen two strangers share their “hot take” that actually, pineapple on pizza is good, a sentiment copied and pasted from all the world’s most boring Hinge profiles. There’s a lot of Fuck Jerry-type meme accounts posting, like, Wolf of Wall Street gifs; multinational corporations throwing up brand-safe drivel; motivational hustle bros begging for a smidgen of Mark Zuckerberg’s attention (and, hilariously, Zuckerberg trying to pitch himself on Hot Ones). Threads is Twitter for people who are scared of Twitter or, as the writer Sarah Hagi tweeted, people who still post the “It’s gonna be May” meme on April 30. Like basically every app these days, it also forces you to look at content from people you don’t follow, so when I logged on this morning I was faced with the horror of seeing Ellen DeGeneres’s weak attempt at rebuilding her awful reputation and former NFT shiller Gary Vee posting about “positivity” on my timeline. Consumed all together, the dominant tone seems to be an attempt at replicating the Obama-era internet.

FTC v. Microsoft is over, and the judge has decided to deny the FTC’s preliminary injunction request.

By Tom Warren, a senior editor covering Microsoft, PC gaming, console, and tech. He founded WinRumors, a site dedicated to Microsoft news, before joining The Verge in 2012.

Jul 11, 2023, 8:06 AM PDT| 286 Comments / 286 New

A California judge is allowing Microsoft to close its acquisition of Activision Blizzard after five days of grueling testimony. Microsoft still faces an ongoing antitrust case by the Federal Trade Commission, but Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley has listened to arguments from both the FTC and Microsoft and decided to deny the regulator’s request for a preliminary injunction.

In a ruling submitted today, Judge Corley said the following:

Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision has been described as the largest in tech history. It deserves scrutiny. That scrutiny has paid off: Microsoft has committed in writing, in public, and in court to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation for 10 years on parity with Xbox. It made an agreement with Nintendo to bring Call of Duty to Switch. And it entered several agreements to for the first time bring Activision’s content to several cloud gaming services. This Court’s responsibility in this case is narrow. It is to decide if, notwithstanding these current circumstances, the merger should be halted—perhaps even terminated—pending resolution of the FTC administrative action. For the reasons explained, the Court finds the FTC has not shown a likelihood it will prevail on its claim this particular vertical merger in this specific industry may substantially lessen competition. To the contrary, the record evidence points to more consumer access to Call of Duty and other Activision content. The motion for a preliminary injunction is therefore DENIED. 

Judge Corley has clearly sided with Microsoft on its commitments to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation and even extend the game to Nintendo Switch. Despite the FTC challenging Microsoft’s cloud agreements, Judge Corley took them into consideration in her decision. The court ruling even agrees with Microsoft in theory about the Nintendo Switch being part of the console market, but also accepts the FTC can reasonably claim it’s not. Judge Corley has also agreed with the FTC that the console market does not include PCs.

In a statement following Judge Corley’s decision, Microsoft president Brad Smith said the company was “grateful to the Court in San Francisco for this quick and thorough decision and hope other jurisdictions will continue working towards a timely resolution.” Xbox head Phil Spencer, a key witness in the trial, also tweeted a reaction. “We’re grateful to the court for swiftly deciding in our favor. The evidence showed the Activision Blizzard deal is good for the industry and the FTC’s claims about console switching, multi-game subscription services, and cloud don’t reflect the realities of the gaming market,” said Spencer.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is appealing a recent US federal court order that cleared the way for Microsoft to purchase Activision Blizzard. The FTC filed its opposition to Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley’s decision, asking for the deal to be paused once more, this time by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Microsoft won a grueling fight with the FTC earlier this week, with a federal judge denying a preliminary injunction request from the US regulator. “The Court finds the FTC has not shown a likelihood it will prevail on its claim this particular vertical merger in this specific industry may substantially lessen competition,” Judge Corley wrote in the ruling. “To the contrary, the record evidence points to more consumer access to Call of Duty and other Activision content.”

If the preliminary injunction had been granted, it would have temporarily blocked Microsoft from closing its Activision Blizzard deal until the result of the FTC’s own administrative case against the company. That separate legal challenge is still due to commence on August 2nd.

Now that the FTC is choosing to appeal Judge Corley’s decision, the regulator needs the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to issue an emergency stay to extend the existing temporary restraining order (TRO) that is set to expire at 11:59PM PT on Friday, July 14th. It’s not clear if the appeals court will even rule before the deal deadline on July 18th, potentially leaving the door open for Microsoft to close the Activision Blizzard deal on Monday or Tuesday without a restraining order in place.

The FTC makes a series of arguments against the lower court ruling, arguing that:

  1. The ruling applied the wrong legal standard, relying on government cases seeking permanent injunctions.

  2. It erred in saying potential consumer benefits of Xbox Game Pass outweighed the potential for foreclosure of games like Call of Duty appearing on other subscription platforms.

  3. It relied too much on Microsoft’s agreements to provide games to other cloud services.

  4. It missed potential partial foreclosure strategies — or ways that Microsoft could degrade the experience of games on other platforms without fully dropping support.

  5. It ignored the FTC’s evidence about Microsoft’s incentives to foreclose access to games.

“The District Court’s ruling makes crystal clear that this acquisition is good for both competition and consumers,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s vice chair and president, said in a statement to The Verge. “We’re disappointed that the FTC is continuing to pursue what has become a demonstrably weak case, and we will oppose further efforts to delay the ability to move forward.”

“The facts haven’t changed,” tweeted Lulu Cheng Meservey, Activision Blizzard’s CCO and EVP of corporate affairs. “We’re confident the US will remain among the 39 countries where the merger can close. We look forward to reinforcing the strength of our case in court — again.”

Mike Ybarra, the president of Blizzard Entertainment, quipped about the appeal on Twitter. “Your tax dollars at work,” Ybarra said.

Microsoft still needs to resolve the issues of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) with its acquisition before it can close, after the regulator blocked the deal on cloud concerns earlier this year. Both Microsoft and the CMA almost instantly announced they had agreed to pause their legal battles to negotiate after Judge Corley’s ruling on Tuesday.

In a surprise statement on Wednesday, the CMA then warned Microsoft’s opportunity to restructure its deal could “lead to a new merger investigation” and that talks between the regulator and Microsoft were still at an “early stage.”

by Emily Tonelli, 4 hours ago

Ripple Labs Inc., the blockchain-based payment protocol company, has won a significant legal battle against the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In a case that has been closely monitored by the financial world since 2020, Judge Analisa Torres of the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, ruled on July 13 that the XRP token is not a security when put on exchanges:

“Defendants’ [Ripple] motion is GRANTED in part.”

While Ripple’s sale of XRP tokens to institutional investors directly infringed upon federal securities laws, the court ruled in favor of the company regarding its sales of XRP tokens on exchanges and through algorithmic procedures, which were deemed not to constitute investment contracts.

XRP sales by Larsen and Garlinghouse were categorized as non-securities transactions by the courts. Other distributions of XRP, such as for employee compensation or Ripple’s Xpring initiative to develop new XRP applications, were similarly exempted from securities classification.

The court denied the SEC’s claim that Larsen and Garlinghouse knowingly or recklessly disregarded securities laws, while noting the lack of clarity over whether the executives fully understood these laws’ applicability to XRP.

Coinciding with the announcement of the ruling, the XRP token experienced a sudden surge in value. Rising from $0.45 to $0.61 within minutes, the token’s value increased by over 25%, according to CoinGecko.

The SEC’s lawsuit against Ripple and its executives was filed in December 2020, arguing that Ripple was offering an unregistered security, a claim that Ripple has consistently disputed.

During the trial, however, both Ripple executives testified against calling XRP and its consecutive sales a security, saying that in Switzerland, Singapore, Japan and the UAE, XRP is not a security.

The executives further argue that the release of the Bill Hinman speech was another crucial factor in putting XRP as out of the definition of a security:

“Larsen further testified that he understood the 2018 speech by the then-Director of the SEC Division of Corporate Finance, Bill Hinman—in which he stated that neither bitcoin nor ether (another digital asset) were securities—to further reinforce the SEC’s position that XRP was not a security.”

Ripple’s CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, has maintained a defiant stance throughout the proceedings, tweeting:

“(and let’s start planning that proper party!)”

Editor’s note: Article has been updated to add more clarity to the case, especially how XRP on exchanges cannot be put into institutional contracts.

By Sage D. Young

Jul 13, 2023 at 9:44 a.m. PDT

XRP’s price has skyrocketed 96% in the past day, climbing the most among the largest cryptocurrencies by market capitalization after a U.S. judge ruled the sale of XRP tokens on exchanges did not constitute investment contracts.

XRP climbed to as high as 93.8 cents, according to data from CryptoWatch, its highest level since March 2022, before settling to 81 cents at the time of publication.

The price action comes immediately after the District Court for the Southern District of New York said the “offer and sale of XRP on digital asset exchanges did not amount to offers and sales of investment contracts,” as “the record cannot establish the third Howey prong to these transactions.”

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Jon Fingas| @jonfingas| July 13, 2023 12:45 PM

American regulators now appear to be clamping down on generative AI in earnest. The Washington Post has learned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched an investigation into OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT and DALL-E. Officials have requested documents showing how the company tackles risks stemming from its large language AI models. The FTC is concerned the company may be violating consumer protection laws through “unfair or deceptive” practices that could hurt the public’s privacy, security or reputation.

The Commission is particularly interested in information linked to a bug that leaked ChatGPT users’ sensitive data, including payments and chat histories. While OpenAI said the number of affected users was very small, the FTC is worried this stems from poor security practices. The agency also wants details of any complaints alleging the AI made false or malicious statements about individuals, and info showing how well users understand the accuracy of the products they’re using.

We’ve asked OpenAI for comment. The FTC declined comment and typically doesn’t remark on investigations, but has previously warned that generative AI could run afoul of the law by doing more harm than good to consumers. It could be used to perpetrate scams, run misleading marketing campaigns or lead to discriminatory advertising, for instance. If the government body finds a company in violation, it can apply fines or issue consent decrees that force certain practices.

AI-specific laws and rules aren’t expected in the near future. Even so, the government has stepped up pressure on the tech industry. OpenAI chief Sam Altman testified before the Senate in May, where he defended his company by outlining privacy and safety measures while touting AI’s claimed benefits. He said protections were in place, but that OpenAI would be “increasingly cautious” and continue to upgrade its safeguards.

It’s not clear if the FTC will pursue other generative AI developers, such as Google and Anthropic. The OpenAI investigation shows how the Commission might approach other cases, though, and signals that the regulator is serious about scrutinizing AI developers.

Tesla boss claims ‘pro-humanity’ xAI offers realistic alternative to pausing development of superintelligence

Dan Milmo Global technology editor

Thu 13 Jul 2023 15.20 BST

Elon Musk has launched an artificial intelligence startup that will be “pro-humanity”, as he said the world needed to worry about the prospect of a “Terminator future” in order to avoid the most apocalyptic AI scenarios.

Musk said xAI would seek to build a system that would be safe because it was “maximally curious” about humanity rather than having moral guidelines programmed into it.

“From an AI safety standpoint … a maximally curious AI, one that is trying to understand the universe, is I think going to be pro-humanity,” he said on a Spaces discussion on Twitter announcing xAI.

The world’s wealthiest person was one of the signatories to a letter this year that called for a pause in building large AI models such as ChatGPT, the chatbot built by the US firm OpenAI. There are growing fears that development of AI technology will race beyond human control.

Musk said a pause no longer seemed realistic and he hoped xAI would provide an alternative path.

“If I could press pause on AI or really advanced AI digital superintelligence I would. It doesn’t seem like that is realistic so xAI is essentially going to build an AI … in a good way, sort of hopefully,” he said.

Musk, who owns Twitter, said there was a benign scenario in which the emergence of artificial general intelligence – a system capable of human-level intelligence – led to an “age of plenty” where there was no shortage of goods and services. However, there was also the possibility of a darker future, he added.

Referring to the Terminator films and their vision of a future destroyed by AI-powered robots, Musk said: “It’s actually important for us to worry about a Terminator future in order to avoid a Terminator future.” He said superintelligence – AI more intelligent and gifted than humans – could be five or six years away, which is faster than many experts’ estimates.

Musk, who is also chief executive of electric car firm Tesla, said it would be a “while” before xAI reaches the level of OpenAI or Google, which has released its own chatbot called Bard and owns the world-leading UK artificial intelligence firm DeepMind.

On Thursday, Google announced that Bard, which has already been launched in the US and UK, would be rolled out across rest of Europe and Brazil with new features including the option of the chatbot speaking its answers back to a user, alongside using images when prompting it.

The team at xAI includes Igor Babuschkin, a former engineer at DeepMind; Tony Wu, who worked at Google; Christian Szegedy, who was also a research scientist at Google; and Greg Yang, who was previously at Microsoft.

Elon Musk’s new venture aims to create AI that can “understand the universe” and challenge OpenAI. Right now it’s 11 male researchers with a lot of work to do.

PHOTOGRAPH: JOEL SAGET/GETTY IMAGES

IN APRIL, ELON Musk told right-wing commentator Tucker Carlson that he was starting a project to compete with ChatGPT and build “a maximum truth-seeking AI that tries to understand the nature of the universe.”

Today, Musk unveiled that new artificial intelligence venture. It’s called xAI. The company’s spare landing page repeats that goal of understanding the universe and lists 11 AI researchers—seemingly all men—who have made significant contributions to the field of AI in recent years and worked at companies including Google, DeepMind, and OpenAI.

One of the company’s cofounders, Greg Wang, said in a tweet that xAI aims to take AI to the next level by developing a mathematical “‘theory of everything’ for large neural networks,” the machine learning technology that has dominated AI for the past decade. “This AI will enable everyone to understand our mathematical universe in ways unimaginable before,” he wrote.

Like many other new AI projects, Musk’s is motivated by concern and perhaps some FOMO over the rapid rise of ChatGPT. He has talked of xAI as a response to the bot, which he has suggested has political biases, and criticized its creator, startup OpenAI, for being secretive and too cozy with its backer Microsoft.

Musk’s ill feeling is perhaps compounded by the fact that he cofounded OpenAI in 2015, but three years later severed ties with what was then a nonprofit, after reportedly failing to take full control. (The company became a for-profit venture in 2019.) And Musk has recently joined those warning that AI could pose an existential threat to humanity and entrench the power of giants like Microsoft and Google. 

Musk is no stranger to making bold bets, but what little has been revealed of xAI’s goals sounds a little odd. ChatGPT and its rivals such as Google’s Bard are built on deep learning, and OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman has said wholly new ideas are needed to push beyond existing systems. Researching the fundamentals of the technology could help find them.

But much of the recent progress in AI has come from making existing systems bigger and throwing more computing power and data at them. And the sweeping changes AI is expected to deliver in tech and other industries over the next few years will come from deploying that mostly-mature technology.

At this stage, xAI seems likely to lack the cloud computing power needed to match OpenAI, Microsoft, and Google. And its relatively small team of AI researchers does not look world-beating compared to the hundreds that each of those established firms can deploy on AI projects. The only person involved who has a history of working on AI risks is xAI’s sole named advisor, Dan Hendrycks, who is director of the nonprofit Center for AI Safety and coordinated a recent public statement from tech leaders about the existential threat AI may pose.

Although his supposedly giant-killing AI project is starting small, Musk does, of course, have some significant resources to draw on. The new company will work closely with Twitter and Tesla, according to the xAI website. Twitter’s data from conversations on the platform is well suited to training large language models like that behind ChatGPT, and Tesla now designs its own specialized AI chips and has significant experience building large computing clusters for AI, which could be used to boost xAI’s cloud computing power. Tesla is also building a humanoid robot, a project that could be helped by, and be helpful to, xAI in future.

But perhaps at this early stage, xAI’s reality-bending rhetoric is primarily about attracting talent. AI expertise has never been in greater demand. The most pressing problem for a new entrant, even one backed by Musk’s reputation and deep pockets, is to show it can attract the researchers needed to eventually become competitive.

The huge goals Musk has set for himself—challenging existing AI giants and protecting humanity from harmful AI—make his tiny new AI company look even smaller. Many AI researchers who are also concerned about the trajectory of AI seem to view the problem as one that requires greater transparency and collaboration, rather than a lone genius with a small band of all-stars.

Jul 13, 2023

You can now access Bard in new languages and countries, customize responses, add images to your prompts and more.

Jack Krawczyk, Product Lead, Bard

Amarnag Subramanya, Vice President, Engineering, Bard

Curiosity and imagination are the driving forces behind human creativity. Whether it’s a child inventing a game, friends dreaming up their next adventure, or an entrepreneur coming up with a new business idea, our ability to imagine new possibilities is one of our most innate human qualities.

That’s why we created Bard: to help you explore that curiosity, augment your imagination and ultimately get your ideas off the ground — not just by answering your questions, but by helping you build on them.

Today we’re announcing Bard’s biggest expansion to date. It’s now available in most of the world, and in the most widely spoken languages. And we’re launching new features to help you better customize your experience, boost your creativity and get more done.

Starting today, you can collaborate with Bard in over 40 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, German, Hindi and Spanish. You can also now access Bard in more places, including Brazil and across Europe. As part of our bold and responsible approach to AI, we’ve proactively engaged with experts, policymakers and privacy regulators on this expansion. And as we bring Bard to more regions and languages over time, we’ll continue to use our AI Principles as a guide, incorporate user feedback, and take steps to protect people’s privacy and data.

We’re launching new updates so Bard’s responses better suit your needs:

  • Listen to responses: Sometimes hearing something out loud can help you approach your idea in a different way. That’s why, starting today, you can listen to Bard’s responses. This is especially helpful if you want to hear the correct pronunciation of a word or listen to a poem or script. Simply enter a prompt and select the sound icon to hear Bard’s answers. This feature is now live in over 40 languages.

  • Easily adjust Bard’s responses: You can now change the tone and style of Bard’s responses to five different options: simple, long, short, professional or casual. For example, you can ask Bard to help you write a marketplace listing for a vintage armchair, and then shorten the response using the drop-down. This feature is live in English and will expand to new languages soon.

Four new Bard features are also launching today to help you get more done:

  • Pin and rename conversations: We’ve heard you want to be able to revisit prompts, so we’re adding new ways to pin and rename your conversations with Bard. Now when you start a conversation, you’ll see options to pin, rename and pick up recent conversations in the sidebar. For example, if you ask Bard to help you compare outdoor sports for the summer, you can revisit the tips later. This feature is now live in over 40 languages.

  • Export code to more places: We’re continuing to see interest in using Bard for coding tasks. So today we’re adding a new feature that allows you to export Python code to Replit, in addition to Google Colab. This feature is now live in over 40 languages.

  • Share responses with friends: We’ve also made it easier to share part or all of your Bard chat with your network. With shareable links, you can share your ideas and creations with others. This feature is live in over 40 languages.

  • Use images in your prompts: Images are a big part of how we put our imaginations to work. At I/O we announced we’re bringing the capabilities of Google Lens into Bard. Whether you want more information about an image or just need help coming up with a caption, you can now upload images with prompts and Bard will analyze the photo to help. This feature is now live in English, and we’ll expand to new languages soon.

So the next time you have an inkling of an idea, a full-fledged concept or just need to brainstorm, give Bard a try. You’ll not only find the tools to bring that idea to life, you may also uncover an entirely new one.

Google invented a lot of core AI technology, and now the company’s turning to Demis to get back in front of the AI race for AI breakthroughs.

By Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of the Verge, host of the Decoder podcast, and co-host of The Vergecast.

Jul 10, 2023, 12:42 PM PDT|9 Comments / 9 New

Today, I’m talking to Demis Hassabis, the CEO of Google DeepMind, the newly created division of Google responsible for AI efforts across the company. Google DeepMind is the result of an internal merger: Google acquired Demis’ DeepMind startup in 2014 and ran it as a separate company inside its parent company, Alphabet, while Google itself had an AI team called Google Brain. 

Google has been showing off AI demos for years now, but with the explosion of ChatGPT and a renewed threat from Microsoft in search, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai made the decision to bring DeepMind into Google itself earlier this year to create… Google DeepMind.

What’s interesting is that Google Brain and DeepMind were not necessarily compatible or even focused on the same things: DeepMind was famous for applying AI to things like games and protein-folding simulations. The AI that beat world champions at Go, the ancient board game? That was DeepMind’s AlphaGo. Meanwhile, Google Brain was more focused on what’s come to be the familiar generative AI toolset: large language models for chatbots, editing features in Google Photos, and so on. This was a culture clash and a big structure decision with the goal of being more competitive and faster to market with AI products.

And the competition isn’t just OpenAI and Microsoft — you might have seen a memo from a Google engineer floating around the web recently claiming that Google has no competitive moat in AI because open-source models running on commodity hardware are rapidly evolving and catching up to the tools run by the giants. Demis confirmed that the memo was real but said it was part of Google’s debate culture, and he disagreed with it because he has other ideas about where Google’s competitive edge might come into play.

Of course, we also talked about AI risk and especially artificial general intelligence. Demis is not shy that his goal is building an AGI, and we talked through what risks and regulations should be in place and on what timeline. Demis recently signed onto a 22-word statement about AI risk with OpenAI’s Sam Altman and others that simply reads, “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.” That’s pretty chill, but is that the real risk right now? Or is it just a distraction from other more tangible problems like AI replacing a bunch of labor in various creative industries? We also talked about the new kinds of labor AI is creating — armies of low-paid taskers classifying data in countries like Kenya and India in order to train AI systems. We just published a big feature on these taskers. I wanted to know if Demis thought these jobs were here to stay or just a temporary side effect of the AI boom.

This one really hits all the Decoder high points: there’s the big idea of AI, a lot of problems that come with it, an infinite array of complicated decisions to be made, and of course, a gigantic org chart decision in the middle of it all. Demis and I got pretty in the weeds, and I still don’t think we covered it all, so we’ll have to have him back soon.

Alright, Demis Hassabis, CEO of Google DeepMind. Here we go.

Sean Michael Kerner @TechJournalist

July 13, 2023 12:20 PM

Credit: VentureBeat made with Midjourney

In a landmark deal announced today, generative AI pioneer OpenAI is partnering with the Associated Press (AP), one of the world’s oldest and most well-read newswire services, established in 1846. 

The partnership is the first of its kind between a major AI vendor and media outlet, and is in some ways the meeting of two giants of their respective industries. It will see OpenAI licensing text content from the AP archives that will be used for training large language models (LLMs). In exchange, the AP will make  use of OpenAI’s expertise and technology — though the media company clearly emphasized in a release that it is not using generative AI to help write actual news stories.

The deal is important for both vendors as a bridge that will help to bring the media icon into the generative AI era on one side, and on the other as a means to inform OpenAI’s large language models (LLMs) with the depth of human-authored news intelligence and expertise from the AP. The news also comes mere hours after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the agency in charge of overseeing industry for consumer harms, was reported to be investigating OpenAI over a data breach that exposed customer payment information and chat histories, as well as inaccuracies.

While the partnership offers tremendous opportunity for both firms, there is no specific dollar figure attached to it, as financial terms of the deal are not being publicly disclosed. While OpenAI’s ChatGPT LLM has achieved nearly 200 million monthly users in recent months, the AP counts a readership of four billion people daily through its many deals syndicating its content to thousands of local and national news outlets in the U.S.

The partnership between OpenAI and the AP comes at a particularly critical time in the development of the nascent generative AI industry, amid ongoing pressure facing the news business from emerging technology.

OpenAI, as well as other generative AI vendors, have been criticized in recent weeks and months for scraping publicly available data and using it to train their models without the express informed consent of the data creators. Currently OpenAI is facing multiple legal challenges over data scraping, where plaintiffs allege that the AI vendor used content without authorization or the legal right to do so. Just last week, comedian Sarah Silverman joined the chorus of complaints with a lawsuit of her own, alleging copyright infringement.

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Protecting copyright and valuing the news industry are critical aspects of the partnership between OpenAI and the AP.

“We are pleased that OpenAI recognizes that fact-based, nonpartisan news content is essential to this evolving technology, and that they respect the value of our intellectual property,” Kristin Heitmann, AP senior vice president and chief revenue officer, said in a statement. “AP firmly supports a framework that will ensure intellectual property is protected and content creators are fairly compensated for their work.”

This either says a lot about ChatGPT or a lot about Harvard.

By Maria Diaz, Staff Writer on July 3, 2023

As generative AI continues to disrupt work, education, and life as we know it, one major university is embracing it in all its glory. Harvard University is now using an artificial intelligence tool powered by ChatGPT to help teach beginner computer science courses and simultaneously free up teaching assistants. 

Known as the CS50 Bot, the generative AI tool was rolled out to about 70 students this summer as part of the university’s introductory class into the Computer Science program as a supportive tool for students. 

The AI chatbot can give students personalized help by understanding their coding challenges with in-depth explanations and providing them with immediate feedback. This prevents students from becoming stuck and discouraged when TAs or professors aren’t available. This can result in improved retention rates for both the curriculum and the university. 

The AI bot isn’t meant to replace teachers or teaching assistants but to “support students as we can through software and reallocate the most useful resources — the humans — to help students who need it most. It’s not to reduce the number of teachers but to enhance them,” as David Malan, the Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science put it. 

He explained that this is a supportive tool for the students, TAs, and professors alike to make the most of the available resources. 

Working with AI is an inevitable part of the future, and this is a tool that could also make the faculty’s jobs easier by automating code style improvement suggestions, evaluating code design, troubleshooting issues, and answering the students’ frequently asked questions to free up TAs’ and professors’ time, so they can focus on more interactive and engaging activities with students. 

Other institutions have already encouraged the use of AI in the classroom but more are still working towards introducing it. Using AI in Harvard’s computer science course could set a standard for the broader adoption of AI in higher education. 

A billionaire-backed movement is recruiting college students to fight killer AI, which some see as the next Manhattan Project

By Nitasha Tiku

July 5, 2023 at 6:06 a.m. EDT

Encina Hall houses the Stanford Existential Risks Initiative. (Kori Suzuki/For The Washington Post)

Paul Edwards, a Stanford University fellow who spent decades studying nuclear war and climate change, considers himself “an apocalypse guy.” So Edwards jumped at the chance in 2018 to help develop a freshman class on preventing human extinction.

Working with epidemiologist Steve Luby, a professor of medicine and infectious disease, the pair focused on three familiar threats to the species — global pandemics, extreme climate change and nuclear winter — along with a fourth, newer menace: advanced artificial intelligence.

On that last front, Edwards thought young people would be worried about immediate threats, such as AI-powered surveillance, misinformation or autonomous weapons that target and kill without human intervention — problems he calls “ultraserious.” But he soon discovered that some students were more focused on a purely hypothetical risk: that AI could become as smart as humans and destroy mankind.

Science fiction has long contemplated rogue AI, from HAL 9000 to Skynet. But in recent years, Silicon Valley has become enthralled by a distinct vision of how super-intelligence might go awry, derived from thought experiments at the fringes of tech culture. In these scenarios, AI isn’t necessarily sentient. Instead, it becomes fixated on a goal — even a mundane one, such as making paper clips — and triggers human extinction to optimize its task.

To prevent this theoretical but cataclysmic outcome, mission-driven labs such as DeepMind, OpenAI and Anthropic are racing to build a good kind of AI programmed not to lie, deceive or kill us. Meanwhile, donors such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk, disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, Skype founder Jaan Tallinn and ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin — as well as institutions such as Open Philanthropy, a charitable organization started by billionaire Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz — have worked to push doomsayers from the tech industry’s margins into the mainstream.

More recently, wealthy tech philanthropists have begun recruiting an army of elite college students to prioritize the fight against rogue AI over other threats. Open Philanthropy alone has funneled nearly half a billion dollars into developing a pipeline of talent to fight rogue AI, building a scaffolding of think tanks, YouTube channels, prize competitions, grants, research funding and scholarships — as well as a new fellowship that can pay student leaders as much as $80,000 a year, plus tens of thousands of dollars in expenses.

At Stanford, Open Philanthropy awarded Luby and Edwards more than $1.5 million in grants to launch the Stanford Existential Risk Initiative, which supports student research in the growing field known as “AI safety” or “AI alignment.” It also hosts an annual conference and sponsors a student group, one of dozens of AI safety clubs that Open Philanthropy has helped support in the past year at universities around the country.

Critics call the AI safety movement unscientific. They say its claims about existential risk can sound closer to a religion than research. And while the sci-fi narrative resonates with public fears about runaway AI, critics say it obsesses over one kind of catastrophe to the exclusion of many others….

AI has rapidly scaled across fields and industries. So it shouldn’t be a shock that AI may play a pivotal role in the world of talent acquisition. In a recent report by Fox Business, a survey that was conducted by Resume Builder found that 10% of companies already use AI interviews for prospects. Interestingly, that number significantly jumps as over 43% of companies plan on using bots within the hiring process by 2024.

But before you believe you must learn how to work the bot, companies have made it clear that AI isn’t expected to take over the reins. According to the same report, 80% of the AI interviews were used to screen out candidates, with an additional 15% having any role in the decision process.

The purpose of this of course is to improve efficiency and optimize the entire process. As anyone whose gone through the interviewing process knows, many companies are quite efficient while others are not. Another reason why AI won’t take charge, solely at least, when it comes to hiring is the fear of bias.

Stacie Haller, Resume Builder’s Chief Career Advisor told Fox Business that AI tools can still be biased, and because of this, managers should be well-versed in the risks before utilizing AI-powered tools. She is concerned about people being interviewed by bots. “his technology has people interviewing with a bot which can be very disconcerting.

She also opened up about new tools currently being pushed onto the market. These will be more sophisticated versions of the Applicant Tracking Systems. Stacie said of these systems, “Most managers in our survey agree that it will most likely eliminate candidates that a human or ATS may not, but seem to be using anyway in an effort to speed up the hiring process,“.

Though she also cautioned about the AI-powered systems, “Time will tell if this really accomplished the end goal of hiring the best candidates for the position or eliminates great candidates and moves forward more unqualified candidates resulting in turnover”.

It should be interesting to see how AI will come to change the overall hiring market, and processes for many companies.

Published July 10, 2023

By Andrew Hutchinson – Content and Social Media Manager

As expected, Meta’s new Threads app has now become the fastest-growing app of all time.

The much anticipated Twitter alternative, launched a day earlier than expected on Wednesday last week, quickly rushed to 30 million sign-ups within 24 hours of release. It then rose to 50 million just hours later, then 70 million within less than two days.

And now, Threads has crossed the 100 million sign-up marker, making it the quickest app to 100 million members.

As you can see in this chart, shared by Quiver Quantative, which is tracking Threads account numbers shown on Instagram pages, the app crossed the 100 million sign-up marker early Monday morning.

Threads’ rapid growth beats out ChatGPT to take the fastest-growing app title, with the ChatGPT app reaching 100 million users in two months earlier this year. So it’s beat it by quite a comfortable margin – though contextually, the situation is a lot different right now than it has been for many other apps, in terms of broad-ranging mobile adoption and data access, while Meta’s also, of course, using the network effects of Instagram to both amplify and simply Threads sign-up.

It’s also worth noting that ‘sign-ups’ and ‘active users’ are two different measurements. And while Threads has succeeded in getting millions of people to create an account, we don’t have any insight into how engaged they are as yet, and how much time they’re spending in the app.

But even getting them there in the first place is a significant first step. And when you also consider that Twitter has around 250 million daily actives, the fact that Threads has gathered so much momentum so quickly bodes well for its potential as a challenger app.

If that’s what it actually is.

Interestingly, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri has noted that the discussion they’re looking to encourage in Threads is a little different to Twitter’s focus, in news and current events.

So rather than courting journalists and news outlets, as Facebook has done in the past, Meta’s now looking to continue its gradual shift away from news and political discussion, in order to focus on more positive, human interaction and, seemingly, more light entertainment.

So how do you do that, in an algorithmic sense?

China published regulations on Sunday for the country’s $2.9 trillion private investment fund sector, seeking to better protect investors and promote innovation.

The new rules, signed by Premier Li Qiang which comes into effect on September 1, creates a chapter specifically for venture capital funds, as policymakers encourage investment into innovative technology start-ups, said a statement from China’s securities regulator and the justice ministry.

The statement addressed media questions about the new rules.

The wide-ranging rules apply to private investment funds with different organisational forms such as contracts, companies and partnerships. Private investment funds in China can invest in private equity or publicly traded securities.

Core rules cover the obligations of fund managers and custodians, fund raising, identifying risk levels, supervision of venture capital funds, and overall supervision and management.

The regulations have 62 items in seven chapters, the State Council said in a statement, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.

As of May, 22,000 private investment managers had registered with the Asset Management Association of China, managing around 21 trillion yuan in 153,000 funds, the statement said.

It’s the first German brand to support NACS.

Jon Fingas| @jonfingas| July 7, 2023 1:15 PM

Another European car manufacturer is adopting Tesla’s charging technology. Mercedes-Benz has confirmed that it will use the North American Charging Standard (NACS) on new North American EVs starting in 2025. Drivers will initially get access to the Tesla Supercharger network before through a CCS-to-NACS adapter arriving in 2024.

This won’t affect Mercedes’ plans to deploy a high-speed charging network of its own starting this fall, according to the company. The company expects to build over 400 “Charging Hubs” in North America by 2030, with a total of 2,500 chargers available. The first installations are now set to include both CCS and NACS connectors, and will be open to non-Mercedes EVs.

Executives are clear about the reasoning. This expansion makes sure drivers have “fast, convenient and reliable” charging that improves the overall EV experience, Mercedes board chairman Ola Källenius says. Supercharger support provides access to many more charging points (over 12,000 Superchargers) — you’re more likely to buy an EQB or EQS if you know you can travel cross-country and minimize charging times.

Mercedes is the first German automaker to adopt NACS, and the third European badge following Volvo and its sibling Polestar. Volkswagen is considering a switch, but hasn’t committed to the idea apart from adding NACS to Electrify America chargers. In the US, companies like Ford, GM and Rivian have pledged support for Tesla’s technology. The mobility association SAE is producing a standardized version of the plug that could help other vendors use the format.

This isn’t a worldwide transition, and Mercedes’ upscale focus will limit its reach compared to more affordable makes like Ford and GM. The switch to NACS increases pressure on VW and other rivals still using CCS in North America, though. They risk clinging to a less common EV plug that might hurt long-distance driving and, by extension, car sales.

Aria Alamalhodaei @breadfrom / 12:13 PM PDT•July 7, 2023

Image Credits: Pulsar Fusion(opens in a new window)

Space propulsion company Pulsar Fusion has started construction on a large nuclear fusion chamber in England, as it races to become the first firm to fire a nuclear fusion-powered propulsion system in space.

Nuclear fusion propulsion tech, arguably a golden goose of the space industry, could reduce the travel time to Mars by half and cut the travel time to Titan, Saturn’s moon, to two years instead of 10. It sounds like science fiction, but Pulsar CEO Richard Dinan told TechCrunch in a recent interview that fusion propulsion was “inevitable.”

“You’ve got to ask yourself, can humanity do fusion?” he said. “If we can’t, then all of this is irrelevant. If we can — and we can — then fusion propulsion is totally inevitable. It’s irresistible to the human evolution of space. This is happening, because the application is irresistible.”

For much of its 11-year history, the Oxfordshire, U.K.-based company mainly focused on fusion research. More recently, Pulsar started developing products that could bring in revenue while that research continues: a Hall-effect electric thruster for spacecraft and a second-stage hybrid rocket engine. The company was also awarded funding from the U.K. Space Agency in 2022 to develop a nuclear-fission based propulsion system, alongside the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and Cambridge University.

But to Pulsar, the future of deep space travel lies firmly with fusion propulsion. Fusion for space propulsion is arguably much simpler than fusion for electricity generation here on Earth, in part because the conditions in space — very cold, and a near-perfect vacuum — are conducive to fusion reactions. The incredible energy density of those reactions would produce super-fast travel speeds, and require only a fraction of fuel compared to existing propulsive systems.

Even if such systems are very expensive, “speed in space is fungible with money,” Dinan said.

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Keith Teare