Hello, hello! 👋🏻👋🏻
Welcome back to another edition of Tidbits covering all the recent things worth talking about in business, media, and technology.
This edition is super packed…so I’ll skip the random opening thoughts and dive right in.
#1 China conducted two hypersonic weapons tests this summer
The Chinese military conducted two hypersonic weapons tests over the summer, raising US concerns that Beijing is gaining ground in the race to develop a new generation of arms.
On July 27 the Chinese military launched a rocket that used a “fractional orbital bombardment” system to propel a nuclear-capable “hypersonic glide vehicle” around the earth for the first time, according to four people familiar with US intelligence assessments.
Three people familiar with the first test in July said it stunned the Pentagon and US intelligence because China managed to demonstrate a brand new weapons capability, although they declined to elaborate on the details.
One person said government scientists were struggling to understand the capability, which the US does not currently possess, adding that China’s achievement appeared “to defy the laws of physics”.Source: FT
This FT article caused a bit of a ruckus a few days ago, especially since the US currently does not have hypersonic capabilities (i.e. a weapon that can travel faster than 5x the speed of sound…at 5x speed of sound, a missile would be able to travel across the Pacific Ocean in a little over 1 hour), and the US’ latest attempt to develop hypersonic missiles failed.
The development of modern weapons capabilities is often intertwined with the ability to develop space capabilities. Given that China has recently shown the ability to match and, in some cases, exceed US space capabilities, it shouldn’t be a surprise that China should be capable of matching and possibly exceeding US weapons capabilities.
What makes the situation increasingly dangerous is that there is currently very low trust between the two nations. China likely views matching / exceeding US weapons capabilities as an imperative given US’ history of military interventions around the world. But at the same time, the US already feels threatened by the rise of China and likely viewed its own military (and technological) capabilities as the last bastion of strength. With that confidence coming under threat, it will likely push the US into a new era of weapons and technological development at the very same time that China (and Russia) feel necessary to match and exceed what the US can do.
This means the US and China (and Russia) are likely (already) on a treadmill towards a more dangerous world.
#2 Japan’s ruling party unveils manifesto with focus on coronavirus, defence
On security, the LDP said it would “reconsider” its response to an increase in China’s military activity around the Taiwan strait and islets in the western Pacific controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.
The government would aim to raise its defence budget “with an eye to bringing it even above two percent” of gross domestic product (GDP), the party said.
Japan’s defence spending has stayed around 1% of GDP in recent decades.Source: Reuters
And it’s not just the 3 “superpowers”. A lot of other countries will feel compelled to follow suit as well. Japan is an interesting case to consider. It’s no secret that Japan and China have had centuries of challenged and complex relations, not least because of Japanese brutality during World War II.
Japan is currently friendly with the US, but Japan is also only 1 of 2 nations to ever attack US territory (the other being the UK shortly after US independence). It’s interesting that Japan is now re-arming and the US is encouraging them to do so, despite the US taking significant efforts to de-arm Japan after World War II. This says a lot about how the US increasingly views the security situation in the far side of the Pacific, going so far as encouraging the re-arming of a nation that is both closer and once actually did attack the US.
#3 South Korea Launches First Homegrown Rocket and Satellite Into Space
South Korea launched its first homegrown rocket into space, harnessing a technology few countries possess and which can be used to expand Seoul’s military satellite surveillance of North Korea.
Only six other countries—including the U.S., China and Russia—possess domestically developed rockets that can carry a satellite weighing more than 1 ton into space.
The launch comes at a sensitive time on the Korean Peninsula, just two days after the Kim Jong Un regime said it had test-fired a ballistic missile launched from a submarine—Pyongyang’s fifth weapons test in recent weeks.
North Korean state media didn’t immediately respond to the launch, but Pyongyang has been swift to criticize Seoul’s efforts to bolster its national defenses. In a speech last week, Mr. Kim said his country had to boost its own defenses due to South Korea’s “excessive military obesity and covetousness.”
In recent weeks, North Korea has pointed to “double standards” from South Korea and the U.S., for accelerating their own weapons development while calling Pyongyang’s missile tests provocations.Source: WSJ
Definitely looks like a regional arms race to me.
#4 The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning
Wang Huning much prefers the shadows to the limelight. An insomniac and workaholic, former friends and colleagues describe the bespectacled, soft-spoken political theorist as introverted and obsessively discreet. It took former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin’s repeated entreaties to convince the brilliant then-young academic—who spoke wistfully of following the traditional path of a Confucian scholar, aloof from politics—to give up academia in the early 1990s and join the Chinese Communist Party regime instead. When he finally did so, Wang cut off nearly all contact with his former connections, stopped publishing and speaking publicly, and implemented a strict policy of never speaking to foreigners at all. Behind this veil of carefully cultivated opacity, it’s unsurprising that so few people in the West know of Wang, let alone know him personally.
Yet Wang Huning is arguably the single most influential “public intellectual” alive today.
Once idealistic about America, at the start of 1989 the young Wang returned to China and, promoted to Dean of Fudan’s International Politics Department, became a leading opponent of liberalization.
From the smug point of view of millions who now inhabit the Chinese internet, Wang’s dark vision of American dissolution was nothing less than prophetic. When they look to the U.S., they no longer see a beacon of liberal democracy standing as an admired symbol of a better future. That was the impression of those who created the famous “Goddess of Democracy,” with her paper-mâché torch held aloft before the Gate of Heavenly Peace.Source: Palladium
I’m not expert enough on this area to know how accurate the reporting and context is, but it’s certainly a fascinating read into what might be driving some of the decisions in China.
#5 Treasury Takes Robust Actions to Counter Ransomware
As part of the whole-of-government effort to counter ransomware, the U.S. Department of the Treasury today announced a set of actions focused on disrupting criminal networks and virtual currency exchanges responsible for laundering ransoms, encouraging improved cyber security across the private sector, and increasing incident and ransomware payment reporting to U.S. government agencies, including both Treasury and law enforcement. Treasury’s actions today advance the United States government’s broader counter-ransomware strategy, which emphasizes the need for a collaborative approach to counter ransomware attacks, including partnership between the public and private sector and close relationships with international partners.
Ransomware attacks are increasing in scale, sophistication, and frequency, victimizing governments, individuals, and private companies around the world. In 2020, ransomware payments reached over $400 million, more than four times their level in 2019. The U.S. government estimates that these payments represent just a fraction of the economic harm caused by cyber-attacks, but they underscore the objectives of those who seek to weaponize technology for personal gain: to disrupt our economy and damage the companies, families, and individuals who depend on it for their livelihoods, savings, and futures. In addition to the millions of dollars paid in ransoms and recovery, the disruption to critical sectors, including financial services, healthcare, and energy, as well as the exposure of confidential information, can cause severe damage.Source: US Treasury
While the risk of military confrontation is rising, the very real and highly disruptive battle near-term is against cyber attacks, especially ransomware.
The big guns are being rolled out.
#6 Ransomware hackers nervous, allege harassment from U.S.
Some of the most destructive ransomware hackers in the world appear to be on edge after the U.S. reportedly took down one of their colleagues.
Several ransomware gangs posted lengthy anti-U.S. screeds, viewed by NBC News, on the dark web. In them, they defended their practice of hacking organizations and holding their computers for ransom. They appear prompted by the news, reported Thursday by Reuters, that the FBI had successfully hacked and taken down another major ransomware group called REvil.
While that takedown is the first of its kind made public, it’s not expected to seriously curb ransomware attacks on the U.S. on its own. It has, however, prompted REvil’s fellow hackers to publicly complain far more than they have before.
One of those, Conti, which regularly locks hospital computers and holds them for ransom — often delaying medical procedures — wrote that it would be undeterred by the U.S., and that ransomware hackers are the true victims.Source: NBC
Seems like it’s working.
#7 Google CEO Sundar Pichai Calls for Government Action on Cybersecurity, Innovation
In the wake of recent cybersecurity breaches attributed to Chinese and Russian hackers, Mr. Pichai said the time had come to draft the equivalent of a Geneva Convention for technology to outline international legal standards for an increasingly connected world.
“Governments on a multilateral basis…need to put it up higher on the agenda,” Mr. Pichai said in a recorded interview for The Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live conference on Monday. “If not, you’re going to see more of it because countries would resort to those things.”
The call for government action is part of a shifting ethos in Silicon Valley. In the past, the region has championed libertarian ideals and favored government’s staying out of the way of its innovations. But tech leaders have begun to encourage Washington to get more involved in the tech industry as competition with China escalates, cyberattacks intensify and lawmakers express concerns about misinformation and censorship on social-media platforms.Source: WSJ
The world is already under attack, but the rules of this game have not been written. As I wrote in Tidbits #58, there are certain rules to conventional warfare (like not attacking hospitals) that have come to be accepted after thousands of years of war. But cyber attackers currently are willing to go as far as locking down hospitals for ransom.
#8 White House kicks off international ransomware meeting amid global barrage
A parade of nations recounted grim experiences with ransomware at the start of a two-day White House-led summit on Wednesday, where the gathered officials will collaborate on how to counter the rise of digital extortion.
Israel was, at the moment, dealing with an ongoing ransomware attack at a major hospital, Hillel Yaffe Medical Center. Ireland and the Czech Republic have experienced similar attacks on their medical centers. South Korea has seen a 70% year-over-year increase in ransomware incidents, and the United Arab Emirates has seen a 200% rise.Source: Cyberscoop
#9 FBI, CISA warn water facility operators of ongoing malicious cyber activity
Ransomware attackers are continuing to target water and wastewater facilities, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials warned in a bulletin based on incidents in five states.
A cybersecurity advisory published Thursday from the FBI, the Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Security Agency highlighted incidents in five states between March of 2019 and August 2021, where systems were targeted by either ransomware attacks or other hacks. In one case, a former employee of a Kansas-based facility tried to “threaten drinking water safety by using his user credentials…to remotely access a facility computer,” according to the alert.
Other incidents occurred in California, Maine, Nevada and New Jersey.Source: Cyberscoop
#10 US has already lost AI fight to China, says ex-Pentagon software chief
The Pentagon’s first chief software officer said he resigned in protest at the slow pace of technological transformation in the US military, and because he could not stand to watch China overtake America.
In his first interview since leaving the post at the Department of Defense a week ago, Nicolas Chaillan told the Financial Times that the failure of the US to respond to Chinese cyber and other threats was putting his children’s future at risk.
“We have no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years. Right now, it’s already a done deal; it is already over in my opinion,” he said, adding there was “good reason to be angry”.
“Whether it takes a war or not is kind of anecdotal,” he said, arguing China was set to dominate the future of the world, controlling everything from media narratives to geopolitics. He added US cyber defences in some government departments were at “kindergarten level”.
He also blamed the reluctance of Google to work with the US defence department on AI, and extensive debates over AI ethics for slowing the US down. By contrast, he said Chinese companies are obliged to work with Beijing, and were making “massive investment” into AI without regard to ethics.Source: FT
Certainly a sobering view.
🤑 Economics + Markets
#11 Trump-Tied SPAC Jump Ignites Retail Frenzy, Volatility Halts
Former President Donald Trump’s media company is proving a hit with day traders even though it hasn’t launched yet.
Shares of Digital World Acquisition Corp. skyrocketed as much as 1,225% since an announcement that the blank-check company will merge with Trump Media & Technology Group. The stock was up 129% to $104 at 1:14 p.m. in New York Friday after volatility triggered at least 12 trading halts during the session.
Trump’s fans on social media have pumped the stock on Reddit and StockTwits, fueling heavy trading. On Friday, the special-purpose acquisition company was the top purchase on Fidelity’s platform with about 61,000 buy orders from customers. That demand built on Thursday’s jump when the stock was the most purchased on Fidelity’s platform with nearly quadruple the buys than any other stock.
The former president’s new enterprise has yet to be formally launched, but will be in operation by the first quarter of 2022, according to a news release. It plans to start a social media company called Truth Social. The moves, if all goes according to plan, would occur well ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.Source: Yahoo
I’m not quite sure if this is market news or political news. Maybe this is just a repeat of the retail trading mania earlier this year around GameStop and AMC. Or…maybe this is political news because SPAC investors might have just inadvertently funded Trump’s political ambitions for 2024. Normally, political contributions are regulated. But what happens when you raise a lot of money for a media company that could form the foundations for a future political campaign?
👻 Cryptocurrencies + NFTs
#12 Crypto Market Tops $2.7 Trillion as Rally Reaches Beyond Bitcoin
Optimism about digital assets stoked by Bitcoin’s run to a record high has helped push the overall value of cryptocurrencies to an all-time peak of more than $2.7 trillion.Source: Bloomberg
#13 SEC Approves Bitcoin Futures ETF, Opening Crypto to Wider Investor Base
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) greenlighted bitcoin futures ETFs in a first for the industry on Friday, after the regulator’s five commissioners met on the issue. ProShares, which filed for its Bitcoin Strategy ETF this past summer, may be the first to launch next week.
Proponents of a bitcoin ETF believe the product will be more widely accessible for individuals interested in bitcoin than the actual cryptocurrency by giving investors a regulated alternative to the underlying digital asset. The first product will track bitcoin futures, rather than the price of bitcoin directly, however. SEC Chair Gary Gensler indicated he believes futures-based products might provide stronger investor protections due to the laws under which they operate.Source: Coindesk
Part of the reason why crypto has been strong recently is because of the SEC’s decision to green light Bitcoin futures ETF.
#14 Coinbase is launching a marketplace for NFTs
Coinbase is getting into NFTs.
The cryptocurrency exchange said Tuesday it plans to launch a marketplace that lets users mint, collect and trade NFTs, or nonfungible tokens. Users can sign up to a waitlist for early access to the feature, the company said.Source: CNBC
At the moment, OpenSea is probably the most popular NFT exchange, and Metamask the most popular NFT wallet. But Coinbase getting into NFTs will probably accelerate adoption because Coinbase is probably a lot easier to figure out for mainstream crypto consumers. Same can be said about Venmo / Cash App and PayPal if they ever get into NFTs as well.
#15 Stripe Is Hiring a Crypto Team 3 Years After Ending Bitcoin Support
Payments company Stripe has begun assembling a crypto engineering team to chart its future in digital assets.
The team – described in LinkedIn posts and job listings – will be run by Guillaume Poncin, Stripe’s former head of engineering for banking and financial products. He is looking to hire at least four staffers to help plot Stripe’s crypto strategy.Source: Coindesk
This would be big. The current financial and enterprise world has a hard time figuring out how to integrate with crypto. If Stripe can build the rails, then integration would be a lot easier and straightforward.
#16 Teen Girls Are Developing Tics. Doctors Say TikTok Could Be a Factor.
Teenage girls across the globe have been showing up at doctors’ offices with tics—physical jerking movements and verbal outbursts—since the start of the pandemic.
Movement-disorder doctors were stumped at first. Girls with tics are rare, and these teens had an unusually high number of them, which had developed suddenly. After months of studying the patients and consulting with one another, experts at top pediatric hospitals in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. discovered that most of the girls had something in common: TikTok.
According to a spate of recent medical journal articles, doctors say the girls had been watching videos of TikTok influencers who said they had Tourette syndrome, a nervous-system disorder that causes people to make repetitive, involuntary movements or sounds.Source: WSJ
Wild. Not proven, yet, but seems possible. I’m sure it’s all Facebook’s fault, though.
#17 44% of China’s Urban Young Women Don’t Plan to Marry, Survey Says
Close to half of urban young women and nearly a quarter of men said they do not plan to marry, according to a recent survey conducted by the Communist Youth League and reported by state-run newspaper Guangming Daily. They’re not too sure about falling in love, either.
Another group that shows a strong reluctance to marry is young people living in wealthier areas. According to the report, China’s lowest marriage rates are found in the more economically developed Shanghai and neighboring Zhejiang province.
Marriage skeptics cited worries about both personal and financial costs. Asked for their reasons, 60.8% said “it is difficult to find the right person,” and 34.5% said they “feel that they do not have the time and energy to get married.”
Respondents also said that “the financial cost of marriage is too high” and “the cost of having children is too high,” accounting for 46% and 56.2%, respectively. In addition, 30.5% of young people said they “do not believe in marriage” due to their own negative experiences and the portrayal of toxic relationships in the media.Source: Sixth Tone
What’s interesting is how costs factor into decisions on marriage and children, yet, the wealthiest areas are also more reluctant to get married.
#18 Finland lobbies nuclear energy as a sustainable source
Wind and solar have been approved as sustainable by the EU, but decisions on gas and nuclear have so far not been made. Even if plants are emission-free, nuclear is currently considered only a low-carbon energy source due to emissions caused by mining and transport.
As reported by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), the government’s alignment to lobby nuclear as a sustainable source marks a near U-turn within the Green Party sitting in the current five-party cabinet. Traditionally the party has been fiercely anti-nuclear and has resigned from previous governments over the issue. Its views have become more pragmatic, and the Greens now claim to have a technology-neutral attitude when it comes to fighting climate change.Source: Euractiv
Nuclear is controversial, but it’s probably one of the most important tools humanity has for dealing with climate change (without requiring everyone to just stop what they’re doing and become cave people, again). The perception around nuclear is already starting to shift.
Nuclear power is carbon-free. Certain inputs might require carbon at the moment, but that is also true of other renewable energy sources like solar and hydro. Solar panels require a good amount of manufacturing, which produces carbon for example.
Of course, the key insight is that all renewable sources of energy like solar and hydro depend (either directly or indirectly) on the sun, anyway. And the sun is basically just a massive nuclear power source in the sky. We’re already using nuclear power anyway.
#19 Why has nuclear power been a flop?
There is a great conflict between two of the most pressing problems of our time: poverty and climate change. To avoid global warming, the world needs to massively reduce CO2emissions. But to end poverty, the world needs massive amounts of energy. In developing economies, every kWh of energy consumed is worth roughly $5 of GDP.
How much energy do we need? Just to give everyone in the world the per-capita energy consumption of Europe (which is only half that of the US), we would need to more than triple world energy production, increasing our current 2.3 TW by over 5 additional TW:
If we account for population growth, and for the decarbonization of the entire economy (building heating, industrial processes, electric vehicles, synthetic fuels, etc.), we need more like 25 TW:
This is the Gordian knot. Nuclear power is the sword that can cut it: a scalable source of dispatchable (i.e., on-demand), virtually emissions-free energy. It takes up very little land, consumes very little fuel, and produces very little waste. It‘s the technology the world needs to solve both energy poverty and climate change.Source: Roots of Progress
This article (courtesy of the excellent Liberty Highlights newsletter) presents interesting discussions around the pros and cons of nuclear including the history, cost, and regulation of nuclear power.
#20 The Marathon Race Toward Fusion Power Could Be Reaching a Sprint
Nuclear fusion has already been achieved. The record holder for controlled fusion power is held by a machine affectionately called JET, which produced 16 megawatts of fusion power in the late 1990s. The difficulty that physicists and engineers face now—and have been facing since fusion was achieved—is managing to get more power out of nuclear fusion reactors than is used by the machines to run the reactions.
Nuclear fusion is a reaction that produces huge amounts of energy, but it doesn’t occur naturally on Earth. If humans could safely and economically produce more energy from fusion reactions than it takes to power the reactions (and it takes a lot of energy to do that), we would no longer depend on carbon-based energy sources like coal, oil, and natural gas. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
None of this is to be confused with nuclear fission, which is what drives today’s nuclear power plants and produces energy by splitting apart heavy nuclei. Nuclear fission produces less energy than nuclear fusion and generates radioactive waste products, which fusion does not.Source: Gizmodo
Lost in all the noise around nuclear power is the difference between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. What we all have at the moment us nuclear fission power. This produces nuclear waste that needs to be dealt with, even if there is no carbon emission. Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, does not produce nuclear waste. In addition, nuclear fusion produces far more energy than nuclear fission.
The challenge at the moment is getting nuclear fusion to work in a format other than a nuclear fusion bomb.
💬 Media + Games
#21 Electric Daisy Carnival Becomes The First Music Festival in the Roblox Metaverse
Roblox (NYSE: RBLX), a global platform bringing millions of people together through shared experiences, and electronic music event promoter and producer Insomniac are bringing the world’s largest dance music festival, Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), to the metaverse. Premiering in a new persistent experience dedicated to music and imagination dubbed World Party, EDC Las Vegas 2021 will become the first music festival to be held on Roblox. As more than 500,000 attendees gather Under the Electric Sky at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, fans can join the festival in the metaverse October 23 – October 25, with a virtual pre-show event airing October 22. The World Party space opens today.
In the first-ever persistent music festival on Roblox, fans will be able to immerse themselves in the magic of EDC’s globally-recognized festival stages and areas like cosmicMEADOW, circuitGROUNDS, Camp EDC, Pixel Forest and more. Fans entering virtual EDC will get a sneak-peak of this year’s kineticFIELD stage design matching the theme of the festival, kineticZEN. Festival fans not in attendance at the physical event will be able to watch and enjoy sets on the virtual stages in the World Party metaverse. Performances will begin on Roblox starting at 4:00 pm PT on October 22 in a limited pre-show, with the majority of EDC sets to begin broadcasting the following day. The artists themselves will also jump into the metaverse through server hopping and meet and greets inside the World Partyexperience throughout the festival.
“When Insomniac approached us to bring their music festivals to the metaverse, we couldn’t have been more thrilled,” said Zachary Letter, Chief Executive Officer at Wonder Works Studio. “With the launch of the World Party experience, we leveraged our Roblox expertise in creative world building and game mechanics and combined it with Insomniac’s imaginative vision to create the #1 place on Roblox for dance music fans to hang out every day!”Source: Roblox
Roblox has hosted a number of concerts before, but this will be the first music festival on Roblox.
In some ways, this is inferior to the actual experience. But other ways, it’s better.
#22 Twitter acquires group chat app Sphere
Twitter has acquired London-based Sphere, which operates an eponymous groups chat app, the latest in a series of recent moves from the social network as it looks to aggressively broaden and improve its product offerings.
“It’s been a long and exciting journey to this point. Like many startups, Sphere started with a very different mission — to help anyone find and share knowledge instantly through the creation of a ‘global brain.’ We originally built a marketplace of paid experts from all around the world, connecting them through group chat,” the startup said in the blog post.
“What we realised is that some of the most helpful and knowledgeable conversations came from groups where members felt a strong sense of belonging to one another. In other words, at the heart of our challenge was helping every single person find their community. The opportunity is massive.”Source: TechCrunch
There’s a tectonic shift coming in western social media away from the “follow” model and towards “topic-driven” engagement.
Eugene Wei’s TikTok and the Sorting Hat comes to mind. At the end of the day, there is no single person we can follow where we will be 100% engaged with. There will always be some things we find interesting and some things we don’t. As a result, the primary filter for modern social networks should not be who we follow, but what we are interested in. This is what TikTok has done well (Discord has also done this incredibly well), and this is where every other social network will be going.
#23 Apple’s privacy changes create windfall for its own advertising business
Apple’s advertising business has more than tripled its market share in the six months after it introduced privacy changes to iPhones that obstructed rivals, including Facebook, from targeting ads at consumers.
Advertising with Apple has become more attractive after the iPhone maker said users would be opted out of advertising tracking by default, a move that left rivals such as Facebook, Google, Snap, Yahoo and Twitter “blind”, said Grant Simmons at Kochava, an ad analytics company.
Since April, data on how users were responding to ads, once real-time and granular, is now delayed by up to 72 hours and only available in aggregate. By contrast, Apple offers detailed information to anyone signing up to its ads service.Source: FT
As Snap’s latest earning results confirm, Apple’s privacy changes in iOS 14.5 and iOS 15 have created a lot of issues for advertisers. The problem is particularly acute for advertisers and platforms that rely on 3rd party data (e.g. an app sharing your info with Google or Facebook for advertising purposes) since Apple has made it very difficult to track users across multiple parties.
However, Apple’s changes don’t really harm platforms that use 1st party data (e.g. data that you have given to the platform / app itself) to advertise within its own apps. This includes Apple itself. As a result, Apple’s advertising revenues seem to be growing pretty quickly.
Apple is playing a bit of a dangerous game, though. Apple is very pro-privacy, but it pushes a very specific definition of privacy. Apple is not against ads or data gathering (as long as you’ve given your explicit consent). It’s against data gathering without consent and data sharing… and has made it incredibly difficult to do either. But most people view the world as black and white, and Apple may one day have to explain why it has a large ads business and gathers user data.
#24 Visa, Mastercard hop on for ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ ride, plan launch in India by end of FY22
Global card networks Visa and Mastercard plan to launch their respective Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) platforms in India by the end of FY22, three top industry executives aware of the developments told ET.
Visa and Mastercard are reportedly scouting for partners to set up platforms that would facilitate retail brands and online merchants to directly tie up with banks and offer their customers various payment options, the sources cited above said.
Both Visa and Mastercard have approached major card-issuing local banks on their respective networks with product propositions. Visa is also said to be in talks with one or more payment gateways for a strategic tieup, sources added.Source: Economic Times
The networks have a lot to lose if BNPL players can create a closed loop, but the networks are also best positioned to adjust.
#25 Plaid Pushes Into Payments Business After Scuttled Visa Deal
Financial-technology startup Plaid Inc. is making a move into the payments business, less than a year after an antitrust lawsuit scuttled its high-price sale to Visa Inc.
Plaid makes software that allows banks and other fintech companies to plug into their users’ financial accounts, with their permission, and access their financial data to look up account balances or authenticate personal financial details. Plaid unveiled a new program Thursday that will use the software to make it easier and cheaper for consumers and businesses to make digital payments funded by their bank accounts.
Plaid won’t be directly involved in moving money as part of the new endeavor. For that, the company signed up dozens of payment processors and tech companies in North America and Europe, including Square Inc., SQ -4.53% Stripe Inc., Silicon Valley Bank and SoFi Technologies Inc.’s SOFI -1.95% Galileo unit. Those companies would then give their customers a pay-by-bank option alongside other payment methods, such as credit or debit cards.Source: WSJ
While the networks like Visa and Mastercard remain very well positioned, they certainly need to start hustling.
After Visa failed to acquire Plaid last summer, Plaid is now beginning to lay the groundwork for payment flows that could compete against traditional debit cards. And one common theme we’ve discussed repeatedly around here is how a network is a network is a network. All networks are fungible. Once you have a network that can compete against debit, it won’t be long before you have a network that can compete against credit.
#26 Alibaba Takes on Shein with International Fashion App
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has a launched fast fashion platform, AllyLikes, to target Western consumer markets, news that was first reported this week by Chinese tech blog, Tech Planet.
Chinese shopping site Shein, which pumps out thousands of new styles per week at ultra-low prices, has taken the world’s Gen-Z consumers by storm amid a cross-border e-commerce boom, overtaking Amazon as the top shopping app on US app stores in May.
Alibaba looks to be aiming to tap into that boom and, with deep networks in China’s fashion supply chain and experience in cross-border logistics, in addition to its technical expertise, it may be better placed to compete with Shein than anyone else.
AllyLikes’ website and app shows fashion and accessories at very low prices, with “Fall Essentials” advertised from $5.99 and “100+ New Arrivals” advertised on its homepage. A banner advertisement declares free shipping to the US on orders over $49. According to the AllyLikes website, it currently ships to European countries including France and Italy, as well as Canada and the US.Source: Business of Fashion
Over the years, Capital Flywheels has written periodically about how Alibaba’s global logistics footprint and command of Chinese supply / supply chains positions it to potentially tap the global e-commerce market and challenge Amazon.
It hasn’t actually played out that way, yet. Alibaba’s Aliexpress effort hasn’t been particularly aggressive, and Alibaba’s Lazada effort in Southeast Asia has been overtaken by Sea’s Shopee.
But it turns out, the company that would show the world what is possible is Shein. Shein has taken the (female) fast fashion world by storm and has even overtaken Amazon as the most downloaded e-commerce app in the US. Shein’s success has been entirely driven by a mastery over Chinese garment supply chains. Interestingly, this success now appears to be re-energizing Alibaba’s international efforts. Shein’s major weakness is the lack of logistics. Purchases take weeks to deliver. But Alibaba has the power to deliver things around the world in under a week now. And, theoretically, Alibaba can drive supply chain integration in China in the same way as Shein.
#27 China’s ‘Lipstick Brother’ Livestreamer Sells Record $2 Billion of Goods in One Day
China’s Li Jiaqi, a top livestream salesman widely known as the “lipstick brother,” sold $1.9 billion in goods on the first day of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s annual shopping festival, as the country’s consumers splash out despite an economic slowdown.
Livestreaming is part variety show, part infomercial, part group chat — a format pioneered in China that’s grown more popular since the pandemic started. Li’s show Wednesday lasted a marathon 12 hours — the first day of China’s more than three-week “Singles’ Day” shopping binge — and attracted nearly 250 million views, Taobao showed.
“Normally we have about 20 million views a show daily, but we got 250 million today, all the girls, where are you emerging from?” Li said in a Weibo post.Source: Bloomberg
#28 Shopee enters France, Spain, and Poland in aggressive European expansion
Singapore-headquartered Shopee has expanded its operations to France by launching a localized e-shopping platform under the same name, marking the company’s latest move in Europe.
Shopee is already the top shopping app in Poland and Spain among Android users as of October 19, according to app analytics site App Annie. In Spain, Shopee outperformed global platforms like Shein, Amazon, and AliExpress. In Poland, it has beaten local e-commerce platforms such as Allegro.Source: KrAsia
Sea / Shopee is moving at an incredibly fast pace! Not only has it entered Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Poland, India, and Spain within the past few months, it’s now entering France as well. And after having only entered Spain and Poland a few weeks ago, it’s already the leading e-commerce app.
#29 PayPal is in late-stage talks to acquire Pinterest
PayPal is in late-stage talks to buy social media company Pinterest, a person familiar with the matter told CNBC. This person asked to remain anonymous because the deal discussions were confidential.
PayPal has discussed acquiring the company for a potential price of around $70 a share, which would value Pinterest at about $39 billion, according to Bloomberg. Pinterest stock closed at $55.58 per share on Tuesday.
Competitive pressure from e-commerce platform Shopify has pushed PayPal to explore the acquisition, the person told CNBC. Shopify has heavily invested in blending e-commerce and fintech. Last year, it partnered with Affirm, a buy now pay later provider, to become the exclusive provider or point-of-sale financing for Shop Pay, Shopify’s checkout service.Source: CNBC
Well, this was unexpected. However, given that Pinterest turned down an offer from Microsoft earlier in the year, it doesn’t seem likely that a deal will happen here. PayPal’s shareholders also do not seem enthused by a potential deal, judging by the fall in PayPal’s shares following the rumors.
While I think it would be a disappointment for Pinterest to sell ahead of its e-commerce transformation, the risks as a standalone company have risen now that we know that Apple’s advertising changes have impacted Snapchat.
#30 Pinterest introduces “Takes” and new ways to watch, discover and shop at Creators Festival and kicks-off global activation with Jennifer Lopez, Megan Thee Stallion and Storm Reid
Among the leading new features, Pinterest redesigned its home feed to offer Pinners the option to “browse” or “watch” when looking for inspiration and ideas. The new “watch” tab is a fullscreen feed of Idea Pins users can scroll through and engage with fresh content from creators.
Pinterest continues to make Idea Pins more shoppable, now integrating them with AR Try on, its augmented reality beauty try on. This new capability allows creators to tag their Idea Pins with a new Try on sticker to add lip products, empowering Pinners to try on and shop right from the Idea Pin. To access the new feature, creators can select the Try on sticker and search over 10,000 Try on-enabled product links to add to an Idea Pin.
Additionally, creators now have the option to make their Idea Pins automatically shoppable by enabling shopping recommendations on their Idea Pins. The ‘shop similar’ feature uses Pinterest’s visual search technology to recommend Product Pins that are visually similar to the content within the Pin, giving Pinners the ability to shop what they see. With this new feature, Pinterest is enabling visual search on video content for the first time.Source: Pinterest
All announced during a creator-focused event on the same day as the PayPal acquisition rumor.
#31 GOOGLE PIXEL 6 AND 6 PRO HAVE BIG SCREENS, BIG AMBITIONS, AND SMALL PRICES
There are a lot of things to cover with the new Pixels, but the most important place to start is this: $599 and $899. Those are the starting prices for the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, respectively.
The other big thing to note with the Pixels is their new processor, a custom-designed ARM SoC (System on a Chip) that Google is calling Tensor. Google says it’s competitive with the Snapdragon 888 from Qualcomm, which is what you find in basically every other high-end Android phone available right now.Source: The Verge
While Apple and Google both won the mobile OS game, Google’s position within hardware is pretty weak, and this is increasingly a problem as hardware (especially semiconductors and cameras) become more and more important for where computing is heading.
The latest Pixels continue to bring Google further along the path of custom semiconductors. Google’s TPUs are pretty impressive in the datacenter. The chips in these Pixels are decent and are quite competitive within the Android ecosystem, but the gap is pretty big compared to where Apple’s latest chips have moved to.
🍪 Semiconductors + Chips
#32 Apple M1 Max
M1 Max: The World’s Most Powerful Chip for a Pro Notebook
M1 Max features the same powerful 10-core CPU as M1 Pro and adds a massive 32-core GPU for up to 4x faster graphics performance than M1. With 57 billion transistors — 70 percent more than M1 Pro and 3.5x more than M1 — M1 Max is the largest chip Apple has ever built. In addition, the GPU delivers performance comparable to a high-end GPU in a compact pro PC laptop while consuming up to 40 percent less power, and performance similar to that of the highest-end GPU in the largest PC laptops while using up to 100 watts less power.2 This means less heat is generated, fans run quietly and less often, and battery life is amazing in the new MacBook Pro. M1 Max transforms graphics-intensive workflows, including up to 13x faster complex timeline rendering in Final Cut Pro compared to the previous-generation 13-inch MacBook Pro.Source: Apple
One theme that I keep coming back to is how much of societal development comes down to progress in either energy or computation. Remarkably, Apple seems to be pulling away on both of those dimensions.
Earlier in the week, Apple revealed new versions of the M1 processor. The new M1 Max is incredible. Not only does the new M1 Max outclass Intel / AMD’s comparable CPUs while being much more energy efficient, the M1 Max also seems to nearly match Nvidia’s latest discrete GPUs (approximately matching up to Nvidia’s GTX 3080).
Apple’s claims so far seem to be confirmed by benchmark tests for CPUs and GPUs.
Apple’s achievements on the GPU side is incredibly interesting because the M1 Max is an integrated chip, but is nearly matching up with the performance of Nvidia’s discrete chips. And more importantly, the M1 Max’s power efficiency means it’s possible to one day put this in more mobile form factors like, perhaps, a pair of glasses. The visual realism of AR/ VR glasses today is still hindered by the amount of graphical processing possible without being tethered to a computer, but Apple is getting pretty close to enabling desktop-level graphic performance in a mobile chip.
#33 Alibaba Unveils One of China’s Most Advanced Chips
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. unveiled a new server chip that’s based on advanced 5-nanometer technology, marking a milestone in China’s pursuit of semiconductor self-sufficiency.
The Chinese tech giant’s newest chip is based on micro-architecture provided by the SoftBank Group Corp.-owned Arm Ltd., according to a statement Tuesday. Alibaba, which is holding its annual cloud summit in Hangzhou, said the silicon will be put to use in its own data centers in the “near future” and will not be sold commercially, at least for now.
But with limited domestic semiconductor manufacturing capabilities, Alibaba will likely still have to outsource production. While the company didn’t disclose its manufacturing partner, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. are the only two companies capable of mass-producing 5-nm chips.Source: Bloomberg
Competitive design, but still partially reliant on foreign IP (via ARM) and TSMC manufacturing.
🚀 Enterprise Software
#34 The 2021 machine learning, AI, and data landscape
In the past year, there’s been less headline-grabbing discussion of futuristic applications of AI (self-driving vehicles, etc.), and a bit less AI hype as a result. Regardless, data and ML/AI-driven application companies have continued to thrive, particularly those focused on enterprise use trend cases. Meanwhile, a lot of the action has been happening behind the scenes on the data and ML infrastructure side, with entirely new categories (data observability, reverse ETL, metrics stores, etc.) appearing or drastically accelerating.
To keep track of this evolution, this is our eighth annual landscape and “state of the union” of the data and AI ecosystemSource: Venturebeat
A very comprehensive look into where we are in terms of machine learning, AI, and data. If you’re interested in Snowflake and Databricks, there’s some useful info in there.
💉🔬 Health + Science
#35 Apple Studying Potential of AirPods as Health Device
Apple Inc. AAPL -0.53% is studying ways to make AirPods into a health device, including for enhancing hearing, reading body temperature and monitoring posture, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and people familiar with the plans.
As for ergonomics, the AirPods would lean on the motion sensors in the earbuds and alert wearers of slouching and to improve their posture, according to the documents and a person familiar with the idea.
Offering AirPods as hearing aids could significantly expand their reach. Millions of people suffer from hearing loss, including many whose impairment is less severe and choose not to treat it, experts say.Source: WSJ
🤔 Hmm… / 😮 Wow
#36 Why no tusks? Poaching tips scales of elephant evolution
A hefty set of tusks is usually an advantage for elephants, allowing them to dig for water, strip bark for food and joust with other elephants. But during episodes of intense ivory poaching, those big incisors become a liability.
Now researchers have pinpointed how years of civil war and poaching in Mozambique have led to a greater proportion of elephants that will never develop tusks.
Like eye color in humans, genes are responsible for whether elephants inherit tusks from their parents. Although tusklessness was once rare in African savannah elephants, it’s become more common — like a rare eye color becoming widespread.Source: AP News
Incredible! Normally, evolution happens over hundreds of thousands of years because selection pressure is random and slow-moving. But humanity’s totality over Earth has dramatically accelerated selection pressure.
Other examples include how soot during the industrial revolution caused moths to turn black.
Or the creation of corn. Anyone that believes there is “natural” corn has no idea what corn is.
Or any of your favorite breed of dogs.
Someone sent this to me. Not really sure where it came from, but…kind of makes sense!
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