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Welcome back to another edition of Tidbits covering all the recent things worth talking about in business, media, and technology.
#1 How Afghanistan’s Ghani Went From President to Villain in Hiding
“I had to move out of Afghanistan to prevent Kabul from bloodshed and destruction,” Ghani said in the video, adding that he left quickly with no belongings after security officials warned him that Taliban fighters wanted to execute them in the same way as former president Mohammad Najibullah, whose body was hanged from a traffic light by Taliban fighters in 1996.
“They were going room-to-room to find me,” Ghani said. “Their decision was this: Whatever happened 25 years ago was going to be repeated. The president of Afghanistan once again was going to be hanged in front of the people’s eyes, and such a shameful history would have once again been repeated.”
In many ways, Ghani’s swift downfall reflects the broader failures of the U.S. to impose a government on Afghanistan that had buy-in from a range of competing power brokers with a long history of fighting on the battlefield rather than at the ballot box. Although he was a Pashtun, the country’s dominant ethnic group, Ghani was seen as an outsider who lacked the political touch to unite disparate factions, and he became more isolated over time.
After the U.S. invasion in 2001, Ghani returned to Afghanistan for the first time in more than a quarter-century, and served for two years as finance minister in an administration led by Hamid Karzai. Afterward Ghani became a darling of the international aid world, giving Ted Talks, penning op-eds in major newspapers and speaking at conferences. At one point he was considered a candidate for UN secretary-general.Source: Bloomberg
A lot has already been written about the situation in Afghanistan. And more will likely be written in the coming weeks (years?).
A lot of the focus seems to be on the process of US withdrawal, but this article probably has it right – the shocking speed of the Taliban’s sweep across the country probably had more to do with the fact that the post-9/11 system imposed on the country had no buy-in from the Taliban AND the Afghan government had no interest in fighting. The Taliban had the will to win, while Ghani’s first instinct is to flee.
Ghani is clearly not a military man based on his background. He’s a highly educated globalist. He’s the right person for a peacetime country, but he likely has no capability to govern a war-prone country.
#2 Soul-searching in Taiwan after Afghan fiasco, but is it just ‘immature bedwetting’?
Taiwan will not stand by and “merely rely on others for its protection,” Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) said on Wednesday, in reference to Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban amid the retreat of U.S. forces out of the country. “Taiwan’s only choice,” Tsai said, in her first public remarks about the situation in Afghanistan, “is to make ourselves stronger…[and] more determined to defend ourselves.”
But the scenes of chaos unfolding in Afghanistan — including images of U.S. military aircraft taking off from Kabul as desperate crowds tried to get on board — has invited comparisons to the U.S. evacuations out of Saigon in 1975, and left many in Taiwan wondering if the U.S. would also shrink from its role as Taiwan’s security underwriter, particularly if China were to actually attack or blockade the island. “The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan,” said Angelica Oung, a business reporter at the Taipei Times and a prominent social media commentator, “has inevitably triggered some hasty and immature bedwetting about what this means for Taiwan.”
Behind the scenes, however, a mood of angst is spreading inside the Tsai administration, as Taiwanese policymakers ponder the limits of Washington’s security pledges in Asia, said a senior official from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We can’t rely on the U.S.,” he said. Indeed, “the example of Afghanistan,” said Lee Yen-hsiu (李彥秀 Lǐ Yànxiù), the deputy secretary-general of Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, speaking recently to Taiwan’s China Times newspaper (in Chinese), “tells us Taiwanese that we have to rely on ourselves.”Source: SupChina
While the immediate situation in Afghanistan is top of mind from a human rights perspective, the more interesting implications are how it impacts the broader global geopolitical realm.
For example, Taiwan. The US has always maintained strategic ambiguity towards Taiwan, officially affirming China’s desired view that there is only “one China”, but the US has always been a bit ambiguous about whether they would come to Taiwan’s aid if China invades with force. Given how Afghanistan has turned out, at least a few Taiwanese are likely second guessing where the US stands in this situation.
But this is a trend. The US is likely in a multi-decade retreat from global affairs. The US has spent several decades venturing abroad likely with good intentions in most cases, but has not only failed to achieve many of their stated goals, but have made many enemies in the process. The American people and government increasingly believe that venturing abroad is almost always strictly a lose / lose situation. When the US inserts itself in international affairs, it is seen as expansionist and overbearing. And when it retreats, people decry how the US is failing to defend human rights abroad.
The coming multi-decade retreat from global affairs will likely lead to a generally more militarized and violent world. For example, it’s probably not a stretch to assume that Taiwan will likely feel greater urgency to re-arm given how Afghanistan has turned out. Japan is also likely to re-arm more aggressively. As is India. Europe is also likely to re-arm more aggressively. All of this is bad for the Old World.
#3 Parkour Robots…Army of the Future?
The curveball coming our way in the future is whether physical wars change completely with the creation of military robots.
The creation of nuclear weapons during World War II changed military history because it made direct confrontation between nuclear powers much less likely than before.
However, this didn’t stop asymmetric warfare between nuclear powers like the US against very small, poor nations. While nuclear powers could nuke small, poor nations (e.g. The US thought about nuking North Korea), human conscience likely guaranteed that nuclear weapons would never be an option.
But small nations could exploit that, knowing full well that in a 1 for 1 trade, a small nation is extracting a much heftier toll on the wealthier nation. The life of a person from a wealthy nation is an expensive life. A life in a poor nation is a much cheaper life, in practical terms. A wealthier nation is much less interested in fighting wars that cost lives, whereas smaller, poorer nations are more likely sacrifice lives for their strategic ends. This is what makes war taxing on wealthy nations like the US vs, for example, the Taliban.
But what if wealthy nations like the US can deploy robots instead? What would be the point of war? Would we end up with more or less violent wars? What is the point for a small, guerrilla army fighting against robots?
#4 U.S. Freezes Nearly $9.5 Billion Afghanistan Central Bank Assets
The U.S. has frozen nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank and stopped shipments of cash to the nation as it tries to keep a Taliban-led government from accessing the money, an administration official confirmed Tuesday.
The official said that any central bank assets that the Afghan government has in the U.S. will not be available to the Taliban, which remains on the Treasury Department’s sanctions designation list.
Ajmal Ahmady, acting head of Da Afghan Bank, the nation’s central bank, early Monday tweeted that he learned on Friday that shipments of dollars would stop as the U.S. tried to block any Taliban effort to gain access to the funds. DAB has $9.5 billion in assets, a sizeable portion of which is in accounts with the New York Federal Reserve and U.S.-based financial institutions.Source: Bloomberg
One interesting side effect of all that’s going on in Afghanistan is that people get to witness (and learn!) how the global financial system works.
One of the points I’ve made repeatedly over the years is how people underestimate the power of the dollar system because they do not understand how the custody of money works. Many people cannot understand why the USD continues to be the global reserve currency by far, even though the US economy is no longer anywhere close to being a majority. But this is because people do not understand the network effects that are inherent in the way money is held.
For example, Afghanistan’s acting head of the central bank wrote a highly informative thread that illustrates the confusion that the Taliban is going through at the moment. The Taliban is surprised that the Central Bank reserves are not actually in Afghanistan…it turns out the vast majority of it is held in the US. And since the US obviously has full power and authority over everything that happens on its soil (as well as the actions of all American entities anywhere globally), it has the power to freeze Afghanistan’s Central Bank assets held in the US. This is not a situation that is unique to Afghanistan. Most countries hold their assets in the US or with a US / allied financial institution. For example, the vast majority of China’s $3 trillion reserves is held in the US or with a US-allied financial institution.
Seems risky doesn’t it?
But the reason this happens is because of the strong network effects that push financial gravity into the US. In our hyper-speed globalized financial system, most transactions are just computer entries. No cash is actually being flown around the world because that takes too long. So how do you make this system work in a way where you are still comfortable knowing that the cash exists? By having a 3rd party take custody of everybody’s money in a vault. No one really needs to move the physical money around. You just know the money is there because the manager of the vault has vouched that it is there. That vault tends to be a part of the US Federal Reserve banks. Countries like China, want to popularize fully digital currencies, which would help break the power and network effects of the custody of money, but it’s not clear how or if the current system will shift.
🤑 Economics + Markets
#5 China Eyes Wealth Redistribution in Push for ‘Common Prosperity’
President Xi Jinping put China’s wealthiest citizens on notice Tuesday, offering an outline for “common prosperity” that includes income regulation and redistribution, according to state media reports.
Since Xi took office in 2012, the ruling party has made it a priority to end poverty and build a moderately prosperous society, goals that the party sees as central to promoting well-being and strengthening its governance. Income inequality in the country is wide — the richest 20% earn more than 10 times poorest 20% — and hasn’t budged since 2015.
Economists say the moves suggest Beijing may be moving closer toward introducing taxes on property and inheritance. Authorities have long talked about a property tax and have tested taxing residential property in Shanghai and Chongqing since 2011. A high-level meeting in May indicated officials may be making a renewed push to implement it.Source: Bloomberg
The redistribution sounds scary, but it makes sense. Many countries are already doing such things (Europe has more progressive wealth redistribution policies than even China). But China has had a more violent, recent history of such redistribution that is likely triggering some fears.
From an investment perspective, the potential property tax is what I would pay heavy attention to. From my perspective, the Chinese economy’s greatest weakness is not leverage but lack of liquidity. Chinese people have a lot of assets / wealth. Therefore, the Chinese people and nation can support above-average leverage. But most of the wealth is highly illiquid since it is mostly real estate. This creates a quandary for the state. If you want to redistribute wealth, you have to tax the wealth (mostly real estate). But real estate is also illiquid. Taxing it creates liquidity pressures in the system. It would either force people to sell illiquid assets (real estate) or sell highly liquid assets (like stocks). But the economy is already running on thin liquidity. Further extracting liquidity from the capital markets or financial system in an orderly manner will not be easy.
👻 Cryptocurrencies + NFTs
#6 Coinbase will buy $500M in crypto and invest 10% of all future profits in digital assets
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong announced that the company’s board had approved the crypto spending spree in a Friday tweet, adding that Coinbase also plans to invest 10% of all profits generated into digital assets moving forward.
Armstrong also indicated the company hopes to increase the percentage of profit it allocates to cryptocurrency purchases over time.
A blog post published by Coinbase on the same day announces that the move will establish the exchange as the first publicly traded company to hold Ether (ETH), decentralized finance tokens and proof-of-stake assets on its balance sheet.Source: Cointelegraph
Here’s a new thing. A couple of companies have already committed balance sheet cash to crypto. But Coinbase is now committing future cash to crypto. This is interesting! Normally, if you’re an investor (of size), you generally don’t want to telegraph to the world what you want to do in the future. Because people will front-run you. BUT if you are Coinbase and your revenues directly depend on how well crypto is doing, then you might want to do that anyway.
#7 Why games became luxury fashion’s NFT on-ramp
Some luxury brands have experimented in the world of gaming, while others have dabbled in digital fashion and NFTs. Now, those worlds are merging.
Burberry will introduce its first NFTs through a collaboration with Blankos Block Party on 11 August, a one-year-old game modelled on the vinyl toy industry, offering both characters and accessories that are NFTs. And on 14 August, Louis Vuitton will begin awarding its first NFTs to players of “Louis the Game,” a new game created as part of its 200th anniversary celebration, which launched last week.
Connecting the dots between digital scarcity and the metaverse, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) offer a way to create digital items that retain value, which mimics physical luxury goods.
“Creating a standalone NFT is a real risk for luxury brands at this point in time,” Roberts-Islam says. He believes that, in addition to environmental concerns of Ethereum-based blockchains, the uncertainty, and legal and storage issues of the current iteration of fashion NFTs means they don’t hold long-term value. “That puts all of the risk at the door of any luxury brand that goes ‘all in’ on a paid NFT. However, by releasing free, or low-value fiat-purchased, NFTs within existing video game platforms, they can remove a lot of these risks within the confines of a tried and tested environment,” he says.
Appealing to the next generation is crucial. “The most important factor is that you don’t have to educate gamers to place value on digital-only products — they’re the ones who defined it in the first place,” says Roberts-Islam. “It’s a much easier segment to persuade of the value of owning these as NFTs, with implied scarcity, tradability and sell-on value.”Source: Vogue Business
The cross-over between games, NFTs, and fashion is really fascinating. Fashion inherently gets what NFTs are about. High-end, luxury fashion is all about exclusivity. NFTs is all about exclusivity as well.
But is this really about NFTs? Or is this really about games? Is this really more about a game where NFTs is the vessel? Do these luxury customers even need to know that what they are getting is an NFT? Or are they really just interested in knowing that what they have is a limited edition luxury item and exclusive (made possible by the technology behind NFTs)?
NFTs are interesting from a technology perspective, but I get the sense that NFT-true believers want the technology to be the center of attention. Whereas the broader world, even when they release NFTs, really only view the technology as an enabler of the THING (concept, feelings, brand image, experience) that they want to create.
As Visa says, it’s never been about the credit card…it’s always been about your money.
#8 Alibaba’s new blockchain auction platform is selling Star Wars art on a ledger run by Sichuan’s government
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding has opened a new online market for digital assets traded over a blockchain backed by the Sichuan provincial government, marking another foray into blockchain technology by China’s Big Tech companies.
The market launched this week as a new section on Alibaba Auction, an online auctioning platform from the Hangzhou-based tech giant, which owns the South China Morning Post. The non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will be issued through the New Copyright Blockchain, a platform run by the Sichuan Blockchain Association Copyright Committee.
The platform already has numerous products listed, which will start being auctioned off next month. The digital items on offer include a Star Wars illustration and a painting of the West Pearl Tower, a landmark in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. Each auction starts at 100 yuan (US$15), and bidding requires a 500 yuan deposit.Source: SCMP
Here’s another thought experiment. Alibaba released an NFT marketplace that makes it easy to create NFTs, auction them, and view them. Theoretically, NFTs are “unique” and cannot be duplicated. But…that’s only true for the NFT. The content of the NFT can be anything! Nothing prevents people from creating multiple unique NFTs with the same content. There are Star Wars NFTs trading on Alibaba’s platform. Those specific NFTs are certainly unique and un-duplicatable. But my money is on that Star Wars content being illegal and unlicensed.
I find the notion that putting something on an NFT instantly giving you ownership to anything in the REAL, physical world quite silly. If it were so, I would be the first one in line to mint myself an NFT of “Earth”. I’m surprised some authoritarian governments around the world haven’t thought of trying that one, yet!
💬 Media + Games
#9 Netflix and Shonda Rhimes Test Fashion Opportunity With Bridgerton Collabs
When Shonda Rhimes’ steamy period drama Bridgerton aired on streaming service Netflix late last year, it had an instant impact on fashion trends.
But Netflix and Shondaland, the TV production company behind the hit show, have plans for a much more direct relationship with the industry. The duo’s blockbuster production pact, signed in 2017 and expanded earlier this year, included plans to explore branding and merchandise deals. What that strategy looks like is beginning to emerge.
This week, Shondaland and Netflix announced they were teaming up with luxury footwear label Malone Souliers on a Bridgerton-inspired collection of shoes and accessories to coincide with the release of the show’s second season next year.
It follows a surprise drop of Bridgerton-themed Nap Dresses from lifestyle brand Hill House Home last week, released in collaboration with creative agency Phenomenal, which has stocked a line of Bridgerton-themed sweatshirts and tops since February. The special edition trio of the cult dresses sold out “in a matter of minutes,” according to the brand.
“We’re trying to allow as many opportunities as possible for our audience to continue to consume the content and be part of that Bridgerton world, even once they’re done viewing the content on Netflix,” DiIorio said.Source: Business of Fashion
Netflix continues to lay the groundwork for diversifying its revenue streams. It’s following in Disney’s footsteps in broadening the ways it monetizes its IP.
BUT I think there’s more to this. Nominally, this doesn’t look that different from selling souvenirs (e.g. T-shirts) around things people like. Perhaps you’ve bought a t-shirt while attending a show or concert before. But it is different. This is not about selling a souvenir or memorabilia. This is more about selling a lifestyle or an identity.
In the future, Netflix shows may increasingly become world-building events. And once you are bought-in to that world, you bring it into your own real-life environment.
In a way, this Shondaland fashion expansion is more like selling cosplay rather than selling memorabilia. It is not to sell you something to remember the IP, it is to sell you something to live it. In Japan and other asian countries, this has already been a trend for a while. But I think increasingly the West will see similar trends as well.
#10 Intel XeSS vs. Nvidia DLSS vs. AMD Super Resolution: Supersampling showdown
Based on what we know, XeSS looks similar to Nvidia Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS). DLSS uses artificial intelligence (A.I.) upscaling to improve performance in supported games, leveraging the dedicated Tensor cores on recent Nvidia graphics cards. AMD has a similar feature called FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) that supports multiple generations of graphics cards from different vendors, but it doesn’t use A.I.
XeSS looks like a balance between the two. It supports a lot of different hardware, but it can also take advantage of dedicated cores to enhance the image on Intel graphics cards. Here’s what we know about XeSS so far, as well as how it stacks up to DLSS and FSR.
When it comes to image quality, DLSS is winning right now. XeSS could change that once it launches — we’ll dig into why in a moment — but Nvidia’s tech handily beats AMD’s FSR. That’s because Nvidia uses deep learning to enhance quality, and it tracks motion vectors to prevent ghosting and other visual artifacts that come up with upscaling.Source: Digital Trends
Nvidia continues to dominate gaming GPU industry. Most people think the vector of competition is just hardware, but it’s also software. Nvidia has also pushed highly compelling software advancements like DLSS, which uses AI to improve gaming resolution without having to rely on the GPU hardware to calculate out all of the exact pixels. This software tech has been integrated into many games already, which makes it hard for other GPU providers like AMD to compete.
Seems like Intel may be releasing its own version of “DLSS” soon. AMD has something like it, but it’s not really the same. It’s good enough, but many gamers that care about graphics want the best.
#11 Google Play Strategy Deck
One interesting side-effect of the Apple, Google, Epic lawsuits is that there is a lot of interesting emails being entered into the public domain as part of the discovery process.
Epic found this interesting strategy deck from Google. It not only discusses Google’s own position in games, but also discusses what Google thinks each of its competitor’s strategies are.
Here’s a sample of some of the slides:
I also found this slide very interesting. It’s a word cloud of what the Android / Play team discuss most often. I’m frankly surprised the most used word is “Revshare”.
Source: Google v Epic
#12 INSIDE FACEBOOK’S METAVERSE FOR WORK
We were there to preview a new app, which Facebook is describing as an “open beta,” for the Oculus Quest called Horizon Workrooms. It’s the social network’s first stab at creating a VR experience specifically for people to work together in. After spending over an hour in Workrooms, I can see its potential as a more immersive way to communicate with people who are physically apart, but I don’t see it catching on beyond the most diehard VR enthusiasts anytime soon. That said, I can see this experience become compelling for more casual users, and potentially those who are totally new to VR, in the years ahead.
While an incremental update to Facebook’s VR efforts in its own right, Workrooms fits into the social network’s broader ambitions to own the next computing platform and build the so-called metaverse. Zuckerberg went so far as to recently say he wants Facebook to be primarily thought of as a metaverse company—a sci-fi concept that says we will all one day spend significant chunks of time in a fully immersive, digital space. Or as Zuckerberg puts it, an “embodied internet.”
Even with the bugs and relatively scaled-back graphics of the Quest compared to my MacBook screen, I still felt more present in Workrooms than I normally do in a traditional video conferencing setup like Zoom. Native arm and hand tracking, down to the movements of individual fingers, certainly helped. A larger factor is the Quest’s spatial audio. When someone talked in one corner of the room, it sounded like their voice was coming from that direction. At one point the seating chart was changed and I felt as if someone sitting behind me in VR was actually speaking from behind my head.
Facebook has been using Workrooms internally for meetings for about six months, according to Zuckerberg. “These kinds of experiences, where you can actually feel present with other people, are I think a much richer way to interact than the types of social apps we’ve been able to build on phones or computers,” he said.Source: The Verge
Not really sure I can see this being widely adopted, yet, but it’s certainly fascinating! Apparently, Facebook has already been “working” in the metaverse / Workrooms for the last 6 months.
Also note the tiny bit in excerpt about spatial audio. I continue to think audio is an extremely valuable aspect of augmented reality that continues to fly under the radar. Apple appears to be focusing very heavily on this. Beyond Apple and perhaps Facebook, is anyone else doing much work in this area?
#13 What Is the Metaverse?
What is the metaverse? The metaverse is a shared virtual 3D world, or worlds, that are interactive, immersive, and collaborative.
Just as the physical universe is a collection of worlds that are connected in space, the metaverse can be thought of as a bunch of worlds, too.
And just as virtual places will be persistent, so will the objects and identities of those moving through them, allowing digital goods and identities to move from one virtual world to another, and even into our world, with augmented reality.
“Ultimately we’re talking about creating another reality, another world, that’s as rich as the real world,” Lebaredian says.Source: Nvidia
Nice article that discusses what Nvidia thinks the metaverse is and provides an overview of everything Nvidia is doing in that space.
#14 Banks dive into video game universe
Brazilian banks are diving headfirst into the world of video games, already the largest entertainment industry in the world.
BTG is the latest of the big banks to announce news in the gamer universe. Its digital banking unit, BTG+, will offer exclusive benefits to players and people interested in knowing Ubisoft’s game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, which has 80 million users worldwide and almost 4 million in Brazil. The bank will offer a free game, which currently is sold for R$59.99, or in-game items for current players.
One of the first banks to enter the gaming universe was Banco do Brasil, in 2018, as part of its strategy of digital transformation and rejuvenation of its customer base. Last year, in partnership with Visa, it created an exclusive platform, #TamoJuntoNesseGame. The idea was to gather in a single space all information about the eSports events supported by BB, as well as products, partnerships, benefits and discounts for customers who buy with the Ourocard credit card. In May, the two expanded the partnership and launched the KaBuM! credit card. KaBuM! is the largest e-commerce site in the technology and games segment in Latin America.
When it announced the sponsorship of the Brazilian Free Fire league, Santander caused a stir in the gaming community with a prize of more than 1 million dimas, the currency used within the game, equivalent to something between R$40,000 and R$45,000. In addition, whoever opened a digital account or applied for a credit card would earn a monthly amount of dimas over the course of a year. The campaign attracted more than 100,000 people.Source: Valor
So, if you’re keeping track – Many companies are starting to realize they need to add payments / fintech to their own ecosystem given how the world is evolving.
And…financial companies (at least in Brazil!) are realizing that they need to do more with games in order to stay relevant with young people.
#15 Roblox is struggling to moderate re-creations of mass shootings
For over a year, Anti-Defamation League researcher Daniel Kelley has been finding re-creations of a horrific mass shooting on Roblox — and every time he looks, he says he finds more. Kelley told The Verge it’s happened three times: first in January 2020, then again in May 2021. The most recent incident came on August 13th, as he was preparing a presentation on how to report offending content.
“I would like one time,” Kelley said on Twitter after the last incident, “to search for ‘Christchurch’ on Roblox and not find a new recreation of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting on a game platform aimed at very young children.”Source: The Verge
But games can also be very bad, too…
The magic of games, when done right, is that it can teach you something by embedding it in a fun loop that gets you to “level up” as you practice.
This can teach you good things (History! Science! Simulated skills relevant for the real world!). It can teach you entirely useless things. Or it can teach you bad things (like how to shoot up a place).
These are all things that need to be addressed. Not everyone that plays a shooting game ends up wanting to shoot a real person (most people won’t). But for someone that is radicalized, a game can certainly help them practice.
#16 Twitter is making it easier for other apps to point to Spaces
Twitter is updating its API v2 so that developers can look up its Spaces social audio rooms, the company announced Wednesday, which could allow them to share information about Spaces more easily outside the Twitter app.
Twitter has been rapidly improving Spaces, but before now, you could only see them on Twitter’s own apps. But starting Wednesday, “all developers using the new Twitter API v2 will be able to look up live or scheduled Spaces using criteria like Spaces ID, user ID, or keyword,” Twitter says, which sounds like it means that a developer can use that information to point you to a Space from within their own app.
References to the Christchurch shooting are particularly difficult to block through automatic text searches, the company said, since a catchall filter would also block references to the city. “In this case our proactive detection includes human review to balance allowing references to the geographic location (New Zealand’s largest city) but not uses that violate our policies,” the representative continued.
Part of the issue stems from Roblox’s sheer size — the result of rapid and unprecedented growth. The game currently boasts over 40 million daily users, resulting in a flood of user-generated rooms too massive to manually scan. The distributed structure of the game, which relies on users generating their own scenarios and spaces, makes it particularly challenging to monitor.Source: The Verge
Twitter is potentially opening up Spaces so that it works more like an open protocol. This is interesting because Twitter proper used to be something like that, too. They provided APIs that would allow others to build on top of Twitter. Twitter was the underlying “thought stream” of the world, and others would be able to build on top of it and have that stream feed their own apps. This was until Twitter needed to figure out a viable business model, which ultimately caused the company to close off those pipes in order to try to keep more users within their own walls.
In a way, I think Twitter’s evolution and struggles very much rhyme with what has been going on crypto – Very valuable, very interesting, but better off as an open protocol that powers other things. But at the same time, this orientation makes it very hard to have a viable business model.
#17 i2c Teams Up with Visa to Accelerate Installment Solutions for Issuers
i2c, a leading global provider of payments processing technology and digital banking solutions, today announced they are working with Visa, the world’s leader in digital payments, to launch point of sale installments capabilities for their participating issuers in North America. Through this new collaboration, issuers and participating merchants can have an accelerated path to Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) promoting a consistent cardholder experience.
Visa Installments is a payment technology created by Visa that enables issuers to offer installment plans for their cardholders under their existing credit account lines, and for participating merchants to display the installment plans to eligible cardholders. With Visa Installments, shoppers may have more choice and flexibility in how they pay for purchases.
Through this collaboration, participating i2c issuers offering Visa credit cards will have the capability to provide their cardholders the choice to pay with installments during online checkout. This new capability can be integrated into the point of sale experience and offers cardholders the option to convert larger purchases into smaller equal payments made over time, helping to make everyday purchases more accessible.Source: Businesswire
Visa is turning credit cards into BNPL-enabled cards. Blunts the threat from BNPL, but this move is probably more like a defensive move…most young people that use BNPL don’t have credit cards. And for the ones that do, maybe this levels the playing field between the two options, but payments is a two sided network. On the other side, merchants would still prefer users to use BNPL because BNPL is better for them.
#18 On Snapchat, retailers are testing the efficacy of mini apps
Since announcing the feature last summer, Snap has added 14 Minis within its chat section. The platform’s 293 million daily users can quickly access these lightweight versions of larger apps without downloading extra software. They include e-commerce services that let Snapchatters buy clothes from Poshmark and Verishop, movie tickets from Atom, mobile top-ups through Ding and, soon, concert tickets powered by Ticketmaster.
The move sees the companies treading a similar path to China’s super-apps like WeChat, a messaging platform home to 1.2 billion users. Beyond chatting with friends, Chinese people use the app to access hundreds of services, from booking doctor’s appointments to ordering food.
The popularity of mini applications allows WeChat to control the entire e-commerce experience. Brands are drawn to the increased engagement with users, with interactions and purchases taking place inside the app. By expanding into the tech, Snap and TikTok are anticipating a similar trend in the U.S. But, the universal appeal of mini apps remains in doubt.Source: ModernRetail
#19 Pinterest Image Search x Commerce
Pinterest’s image search capabilities continue to fly under the radar, in my opinion. It’s not necessarily better than Google’s image search. But it’s probably better for commercial purposes.
And better, yet, all of the images are already manually tagged by users. Other companies need to pay (mostly Indian) workers to hand-tag images. These workers probably aren’t particularly passionate about the work. And the tags are likely very basic. Example, lamp. Dog. House.
Pinterest has very rich tags…because people are quite creative when it comes to how they name their Pin Boards and how granular they get. And even better, a lot of Pinners pin by experience or concept rather than object. Google has millions of photos tagged as dogs. But Pinners, on the other hand, tag photos by concepts like “wedding”, “travel”, “dream outdoor patio”, etc. These are much fluffier concepts that Google’s brand of AI is unlikely to understand.
#20 Amazon Plans to Open Large Retail Locations Akin to Department Stores
Amazon.com Inc. AMZN 0.38% plans to open several large physical retail locations in the U.S. that will operate akin to department stores, a step to help the tech company extend its reach in sales of clothing, household items, electronics and other areas, people familiar with the matter said.
It is unclear what brands Amazon will offer in the stores, although the company’s private-label goods are expected to feature prominently, the people said. Amazon sells scores of products including clothes, furniture, batteries and electronic devices through many of its own labels. The plans aren’t yet final and could change, these people said.
An expanded store footprint would enable Amazon to offer consumers a bevy of items they could try out in person before deciding to buy. That would be particularly beneficial in apparel, which can often be a guessing game for customers shopping online because of size and fit concerns. It would also give customers even more instant gratification than the quick shipping offered by Amazon for online purchases.
Amazon executives have felt that bricks-and-mortar stores would enable better engagement with customers and provide a showcase for its devices and other products to shoppers who otherwise might not have tried them, a person familiar with the matter said. The company has sought to innovate in bricks and mortar while building a network of stores that could glean insightful customer data and provide new shopping experiences.Source: WSJ
The world is cyclical. The new becomes old. And the old becomes new.
#21 Shopee’s Engagement Strategies
Excellent thread highlighting all the ways that Shopee engages users.
#22 Forget Amazon. Chinese ecommerce sellers are taking on the world without it
But the overall industry experienced an earthquake when Amazon banned thousands of third-party seller accounts, many coming from China, for violation of platform rules.
Currently some sellers are panicking, but I don’t think they should. There are so many platforms they can move to. I have always encouraged sellers to operate on multiple platforms at the same time. As an individual seller, you should know how to utilize your back-end capabilities — your supply chain, warehouses, logistics and management — for more than one platform. You can always learn how to operate on a specific platform later.Source: Protocol
Amazon has been on a clean-up drive to improve the quality of their merchants and stores. This is probably good for the health of the US and Europe business.
BUT, I do wonder how the loss of Chinese merchants impacts Amazon’s operations in lower income markets like Latin America, India, South East Asia…US and Europe might prioritize quality, but in lower income markets, price may be a more important factor. Losing these merchants to competing platforms could dent Amazon’s progress in lower income markets.
#23 The World’s Largest Computer Chip
But Cerebras’s approach is unique. Instead of making chips in the usual way—by printing dozens of them onto a large wafer of silicon, cutting them out of the wafer, and then wiring them to one another—the company has made one giant “wafer-scale” chip. A typical computer chip is the size of a fingernail. Cerebras’s is the size of a dinner plate. It is the largest computer chip in the world.
Even competitors find this feat impressive. “It’s all new science,” Nigel Toon, the C.E.O. and co-founder of Graphcore, told me. “It’s an incredible piece of engineering—a tour de force.” At the same time, another engineer I spoke with described it, somewhat defensively, as a science project—bigness for bigness’s sake. Companies have tried to build mega-chips in the past and failed; Cerebras’s plan amounted to a bet that surmounting the engineering challenges would be possible, and worth it. “To be totally honest with you, for me, ignorance was an advantage,” Vishra said. “I don’t know that, if I’d understood how difficult it was going to be to do what they did, I would have had the guts to invest.”
“The simplest way to think about it is, your mom rolls out a round sheet of cookie dough,” Feldman, who is an avid cook, said. “She’s got a cookie cutter, and she carefully stamps out cookies.” It’s impossible, because of the laws of physics and optics, to build a bigger cookie cutter. So, Feldman said, “We invented a technique such that you could communicate across that little bit of cookie dough between the two cookies.”
In Cerebras’s printing system—developed in partnership with T.S.M.C., the company that manufactures its chips—the cookies overlap at their edges, so that their wiring lines up. The result is a single, “wafer-scale” chip, copper-colored and square, which is twenty-one centimetres on a side. (The largest G.P.U. is a little less than three centimetres across.) Cerebras produced its first chip, the Wafer-Scale Engine 1, in 2019. The WSE-2, introduced this year, uses denser circuitry, and contains 2.6 trillion transistors collected into eight hundred and fifty thousand processing units, or “cores.” (The top G.P.U.s have a few thousand cores, and most C.P.U.s have fewer than ten.)Source: New Yorker
Brilliant. I love it when a company does something totally outside the box.
This is not unlike how SpaceX and Blue Origin decided the right way to do things is to make a rocket that isn’t tossed into the ocean after a single use.
If you want a powerful GPU, why not make it as big as possible?
I would be concerned for Nvidia if they haven’t already dramatically shifted the value of what they do away from hardware and towards software, platforms, and services.
#24 Samsung Is Using AI to Design Its Next Exynos Chipset for Smartphones
It is a time-consuming process to develop a smartphone chipset, not to mention the insane number of complexities accompanied with that journey. To make things a little less stressful, Samsung is reportedly using artificial intelligence to automate the steps it takes to develop the next Exynos chipset for smartphones.
The inclusion of AI may not train the algorithm to possess the instinctive capabilities of the chip engineers, but some skills derived from years of experience can train the program to an extent. In addition, Synopsys claimed that using AI improved the performance of a chip by 15 percent, with Aart de Geus stating that one result using software can be achieved in a matter of weeks as opposed to a few months using qualified individuals.Source: WCCFTech
#25 MUM: A new AI milestone for understanding information
Take this scenario: You’ve hiked Mt. Adams. Now you want to hike Mt. Fuji next fall, and you want to know what to do differently to prepare. Today, Google could help you with this, but it would take many thoughtfully considered searches — you’d have to search for the elevation of each mountain, the average temperature in the fall, difficulty of the hiking trails, the right gear to use, and more. After a number of searches, you’d eventually be able to get the answer you need.
But if you were talking to a hiking expert; you could ask one question — “what should I do differently to prepare?” You’d get a thoughtful answer that takes into account the nuances of your task at hand and guides you through the many things to consider.
MUM has the potential to transform how Google helps you with complex tasks. MUM uses the T5 text-to-text framework and is 1,000 times more powerful than BERT. MUM not only understands language, but also generates it. It’s trained across 75 different languages and many different tasks at once, allowing it to develop a more comprehensive understanding of information and world knowledge than previous models. And MUM is multimodal, so it understands information across text and images and, in the future, can expand to more modalities like video and audio.
Take the question about hiking Mt. Fuji: MUM could understand you’re comparing two mountains, so elevation and trail information may be relevant. It could also understand that, in the context of hiking, to “prepare” could include things like fitness training as well as finding the right gear.
Since MUM can surface insights based on its deep knowledge of the world, it could highlight that while both mountains are roughly the same elevation, fall is the rainy season on Mt. Fuji so you might need a waterproof jacket. MUM could also surface helpful subtopics for deeper exploration — like the top-rated gear or best training exercises — with pointers to helpful articles, videos and images from across the web.
Language can be a significant barrier to accessing information. MUM has the potential to break down these boundaries by transferring knowledge across languages. It can learn from sources that aren’t written in the language you wrote your search in, and help bring that information to you.Source: Google
Wow, this seems very, very technically impressive…especially if the parts about being able to transfer knowledge across language. It’s one thing to be able to translate across knowledge. But to be able to understand whether something in a different language can answer a question in another language is incredible.
When it comes to really technically challenging problems, Google continues to blow me away with what it can do. But I also find it hard to see how this can turn into commercial value near-term. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Google has such a great core search business, all it really needs to do is just make sure if you ever have ANY question, you rely on Google search.
🚘🌽 Mobility + Delivery
#26 Wendy’s to open 700 ghost kitchens with Reef Technology
Wendy’s has expanded its partnership with Reef Technology, which was originally a pilot of eight units in Canada, to open 700 delivery kitchens over the next five years in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, according to a press release. About 50 kitchens are expected to go live this year, and the remainder will launch between 2022 and 2025.
Wendy’s latest ghost kitchen commitment follows its goal to have 30% of its new units come from nontraditional channels. Its partnership with Reef will allow Wendy’s to open more urban locations, where the chain is dramatically underpenetrated, Penegor said. The company expects these units to have sales ranging from $500,000 to $1 million per unit, he said, adding that royalties will be about 6% in the U.S. and 5.5% in the U.K.
Penegor said this program is expected to help attract smaller franchisees and allow them to scale up. The company provides the building while the franchisee invests in signage and equipment, Wendy’s CFO Gunther Plosch said during the earnings call, adding that Wendy’s receives a slightly higher royalty rate and rental income from the franchisees.Source: Restaurant Dive
Back in 2015, I discussed teaming up with a chef friend to open up a ghost kitchen. This was before the term “ghost kitchen” had even become popularized. I really thought ghost kitchens had the potential to revolutionize and improve the economics of the restaurant business for mom & pops.
But maybe, the value will really just accrue to the large chains and the platforms (e.g. many food delivery platforms like DoorDash are operating their own ghost kitchens now with either their own brands or by renting out space to mom & pops).
Either way, this improves the efficiency of the overall food system.
#27 Covid’s Forgotten Hero: The Untold Story Of The Scientist Whose Breakthrough Made The Vaccines Possible
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been engineered with messenger RNA technology that instructs the body’s immune system to combat the coronavirus. But to get it safely into human cells, the mRNA needed to be wrapped in microscopic fragments of fat known as lipids. The Austrian manufacturing plant was one of the few places on earth that made the required lipid nanoparticles, and Bourla insisted Şahin go with him personally to press their case.
“The whole mRNA platform is not how to build an mRNA molecule; that’s the easy thing,” Bourla says. “It is how to make sure the mRNA molecule will go into your cells and give the instructions.”
Yet the story of how Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer managed to create that vital delivery system has never been told. It’s a complicated saga involving 15 years of legal battles and accusations of betrayal and deceit. What is clear is that when humanity needed a way to deliver mRNA to human cells to arrest the pandemic, there was only one reliable method available—and it wasn’t one originated in-house by Pfizer, Moderna, BioNTech or any of the other major vaccine companies.Source: Forbes
mRNA has been one of the most transformative technologies to come about in the last decade. And it seemingly came out of nowhere.
But what’s a good story without some greed, betrayal, and deceit thrown in? The truth may never be known, but for stakes this high, I wouldn’t be surprised if some corners have been cut. And who is really telling the truth?
The other fascinating tech that has been embroiled in its own drama is CRISPR. The early discoverers of CRISPR are all suing each other alleging the others are falsely claiming first discovery.
#28 Nuclear scientists hail US fusion breakthrough
Nuclear scientists using lasers the size of three football fields said Tuesday they had generated a huge amount of energy from fusion, possibly offering hope for the development of a new clean energy source.
Although the energy only lasted for a very short time—just 100 trillionths of a second—it took scientists closer to the holy grail of fusion ignition, the moment when they are creating more energy than they are using.
Nuclear fusion is considered by some scientists to be a potential energy of the future, particularly because it produces little waste and no greenhouse gases.
It differs from fission, a technique currently used in nuclear power plants, where the bonds of heavy atomic nuclei are broken to release energy.Source: Phys.org
I wish this got more press. Cold fusion is probably the most important advancement I can think of that could dramatically alleviate a lot of our pending global problems. Unlike nuclear fission, nuclear fusion produces A LOT more energy without leading to nuclear waste. And a lot of what happens on this earth is really only either an energy or a computational problem. If we get this right, not only does this world not have an energy problem, we also would not have a lot of other problems either. With a dramatically larger energy source to work with, we would be able to “waste” a lot of it trying to remove carbon from the air. We would be able to address climate change. With a lot more energy, we could also take dramatic steps to alleviating hunger or address other resource and development problems.
So much potential. So close.