Hello, hello! 👋🏻👋🏻
Welcome back to another edition of Tidbits covering all the recent things worth talking about in business, media, and technology.
Maybe we’re all starting to wind down for the year…there isn’t much going on beyond a very narrow range of items centered around the concept of the Metaverse. Speaking of the Metaverse, there’s clearly a titanic struggle from several different groups for control of what comes next in tech / internet. You have those coming from the gaming / VR world pushing immersive 3D environments as the core driver of the Metaverse. The immersion is key here. And then you have crypto and creators pushing this concept of Web3, roughly a decentralized version of the web based on blockchain technology that also intersects with art and games (through NFTs). And then you have traditional tech / AR companies that want to converge the digital world with the physical world to create a single unified computing environment everywhere.
All of them seem like they will exist in the future, but which one of them will control and dominate the concept of the Metaverse?
#1 Biden, Xi try to tamp down tension in long virtual meeting
President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping’s more than three-hour virtual talk concluded with the leaders of the superpowers agreeing they need to tread carefully as their nations find themselves in an increasingly fraught competition.
The White House set low expectations for the meeting, and no major announcements or even a joint statement were delivered. Still, White House officials said the two leaders had a substantive exchange.Source: AP News
Talking helps solve problems and avoid misunderstanding sometimes. Not sure if this is one of them, but at least they’re talking.
🤑 Economics + Markets
#2 Biden signs the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law
President Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law Monday, enacting a key piece of his domestic spending agenda that will funnel billions to states and local governments to upgrade outdated roads, bridges, transit systems and more.
In the South Lawn ceremony, Biden said that people have heard “countless speeches and promises, white papers from the experts” about the need to improve the nation’s roads, bridges and other forms of infrastructure. “But today, we are finally getting this done,” Biden said. “So my message to the American people is this: America is moving again, and your life is going to change for the better.”Source: NPR
$1 trillion sounds like a lot, but given that the US economy / annual GDP is $21 trillion and growing, it’s actually a shockingly small number for core infrastructure. And this $1 trillion will be spent over many years and took a LOT of fighting to get through Congress.
A 5% tax on $21 trillion would pay for it immediately in one go. To pay for $1 trillion over 10 years requires even less, just 1/10th of the tax.
What Americans lack is not the capability to pay for it, but the will to do so.
But something is better than nothing.
👻 Cryptocurrencies + NFTs
#3 NFT Makers Are Trying To Build The Next Disney
As NFTs explode in popularity, entrepreneurs are imagining an entire media industry that’s built around them. At its most ambitious, the vision is sometimes dubbed a “decentralized Disney”: a world of fictional crossovers like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its many spinoffs but where different characters and creative properties are owned by a panoply of fans, not a single company. Talent agencies, comics authors, and countless NFT enthusiasts are buying in.
NFTs have made the biggest waves in the fine art world, and some NFT collectibles series are united by an aesthetic rather than a concrete narrative. CryptoPunks, the best-known example, are a set of 10,000 mostly human pixelated portraits. But many are based in some kind of fictional setting. At its simplest, this might look like the city of “Arctopolis,” where Chill City NFT penguins live and work. At its most complex, it might involve something like the Voguverse.
The Voguverse lore is laid out on a web page explaining the backstory of the TARS, a name that stands for “Tether Assisted Robotic Skeleton.” In the far future, Earth is uninhabitable, and humans live in space-bound “hives” ruled by a galactic government and mega-corporations that deal in cryptocurrency. (A lot of NFT lore involves crypto fans getting rich.) People use TARS telepresence bots to revisit their home planet, buying models that reflect their personalities and jobs.Source: The Verge
I find NFTs fascinating because some NFT collections are genuinely creating culture and resonating with people in ways that I’ve rarely seen anywhere else. It’s so beautifully reflective of the internet medium and meme-ic culture in which it exists.
However, I continue to think what’s most valuable in the long run for any of these assets is the culture and the IP it creates, not the fact that they’re NFTs. Whether the value of the IP is captured as an NFT or a toy or a video game probably doesn’t matter in the long run. But at the moment, there is enough interest in NFTs that it makes sense to launch new IP through NFTs since it’s like free marketing / advertising.
The article also includes this interesting bit:
What does owned mean? Many are still figuring that out.
“Owning” a media property, by contrast, typically means that you hold the copyrights and trademarks associated with it. A copyright — again, at an incredibly simplified level — is an exclusive, automatically granted legal right to sell copies of a creative work or produce other media based on it. A trademark stops other people from selling commercial goods with a name or mark that you’ve registered with an agency like the US Patent and Trademark Office.
NFTs don’t confer a specific set of legal rights. If anything, part of their appeal is supposed to be that you don’t need a government involved in enforcing their ownership. By contrast, copyright and trademark are complex legal frameworks enforced by individual countries and international bodies.
Some NFT collectibles, like a new lineup sold by Disney, basically operate at the level of trading cards and confer no rights to the underlying art.Source: The Verge
#4 Celebrity NFTs Risk ‘Catastrophic Failure.’ Just Ask John Cena
Celebrities like the musician Grimes have been quick to cash in on nonfungible tokens, making millions from minting collections of their own digital art.
For buyers, however, the payoff has been far less rewarding.
Consider “Earth” — one of several NFTs issued by Grimes in February. Depicting a cherub spearing the globe, perhaps in a reference to her baby with SpaceX’s Elon Musk, it was part of a collection that netted the artist (whose real name is Claire Elise Boucher) about $5.8 million after selling out in 20 minutes. While the cost to originally own one of the 303 limited editions was $7,500, one unit recently resold for just $1,200 in a stunning 84% drop. Likewise, a piece rapper A$AP Rocky sold for $2,000, showing him spinning around in space, in April just traded for about $900.
Certainly there are more profitable corners of the NFT market, which hit a record of more than $300 million in daily sales at the end of August, according to tracker NonFungible. CryptoPunk #561, which initially sold for about $8,000, recently fetched more than $2.4 million. Bored Ape Yacht Club #2224 also recently traded for more than $335,000, up from less than $10,000 five months ago, per NonFungible.
But for most celebrity-backed endeavors, the trendline is down, even though famous people are ironically a big reason for the NFT boom. Celebrity tweets and videos promoting NFTs to millions of fans — who already buy their T-shirts, autographs and other merchandise — has had the power to expand the market for nonfungible tokens beyond its original domain of geeky techies.Source: Bloomberg
More reason to believe that NFTs do not inherently have value! What is valuable is the culture and the IP associated with it.
One way to think about it is that when a celebrity mints the NFT, they also have to do work to create the perceived value of the IP and cultural significance of the piece. Not doing this 2nd part means not maximizing the sale value. A buyer is buying not only the NFT but the work the celebrity has done to create the perceived value of the IP.
However, the work the celebrity has done to create culture and IP degrades over time.
Some time in the future, when the buyer is ready to sell again, the buyer may discover all they have left is an NFT with none of the celebrity work anymore. And it’s up to the buyer to re-create / add more culture and IP in order to make a profit.
#5 Copy of U.S. Constitution Sells for $43.2 Million as Crypto Group DAO Is Outbid
A rare, first-edition copy of the U.S. Constitution sold for $43.2 million at Sotheby’s Thursday, but it appears the winner is a private collector rather than an online group of cryptocurrency investors.
The group, called ConstitutionDAO, caused a stir in art and crypto circles this week by pooling more than $40 million to bid, but an anonymous phone bidder pledged even more and will take home one of the 13 surviving official copies of the Constitution.
ConstitutionDAO is a decentralized autonomous organization formed to put the Constitution into the hands of the people, according to its website. Its organizers said it had 17,437 participants, whose median donation size was $206.26. Participants were told at the outset that contributing to the DAO—essentially an online group with a shared cryptocurrency bank account and mission—wouldn’t garner them a fraction of the actual Constitution. Instead, donors were promised governance tokens tagged $PEOPLE that will allow them to vote on where the document should be exhibited or donated, organizers said.Source: WSJ
If you haven’t heard, almost 20k people bought into a DAO (think of it as basically a school club running on a blockchain) in order to pool enough money together to try to buy a copy of the US Constitution that was up for auction at Sotheby’s.
Interesting movement to say the least, especially with how much interest it garnered in such short period of time! But despite the transformative organizational power of DAOs, DAOs cannot fix bad auction strategy…
ConstitutionDAO ultimately lost the bid because the amount of money that was available in the pool was visible to anybody. Any rich person, assuming they want the item, could just bid a little bit higher than what’s in the pool and win.
I’m actually a little surprised there wasn’t a competing DAO angling to buy it, burn it, and then mint the video of the burning as an NFT. It’s heretical from a historical value perspective if this happened, but I somehow feel that would have been very in-tune with current crypto culture.
#6 Citadel CEO Kenneth Griffin Outbid a Group of Crypto Investors for Copy of U.S. Constitution
Chicago hedge-fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin said he won a $43.2 million first-edition copy of the U.S. Constitution at a Sotheby’s auction on Thursday—and now he intends to lend it to a free Arkansas art museum.
“The U.S. Constitution is a sacred document that enshrines the rights of every American and all those who aspire to be,” Mr. Griffin said in a statement issued by Sotheby’s. “That is why I intend to ensure that this copy of our Constitution will be available for all Americans and visitors to view and appreciate.”
The hedge-fund manager is known for looking askance at cryptocurrency. Last month in a recorded talk at the Economic Club of Chicago, he told the audience that he doesn’t trade in cryptocurrency because of its “regulatory uncertainty,” adding that he “wished all this passion and energy that went into crypto was directed toward making the United States stronger.”Source: WSJ
Ken Griffin knows how to court controversy!
In one sense, ConstitutionDAO supporters didn’t really lose out. From what I can tell, the whole stated goal for ConstitutionDAO was to ensure that the copy of the Constitution would remain available to the public (rather than hanging in some billionaire’s bathroom, for example). Griffin does indeed seem to be doing exactly that, though at the museum of his choosing.
💬 Media + Games
#7 Trapped in the Metaverse: Here’s What 24 Hours Feels Like
Trapped is a strong word…she seemed to enjoyed some parts of it. Overall, this was a fun video to imagine and understand what life might look like once the metaverse rolls around.
#8 Roblox, Building Out the Metaverse, Looks to Bring Educational Videogames to Schools
Roblox Corp. RBLX 6.82% plans to help bring educational videogames to classrooms world-wide, part of its strategy to expand its mostly teen and preteen user base and play a role in the next evolution of the internet known as the metaverse.
“It’s been a vision since we started the company over 16 years ago to have these types of experiences,” Roblox Chief Executive David Baszucki told The Wall Street Journal. “We’ve always had that educational background in mind.”
One of the games the company is funding will teach robotics, another will focus on space exploration, and the third will help students explore careers and concepts in computer science, engineering and biomedical science. They were developed by nonprofits including Boston’s Museum of Science, and one was made in partnership with a small educational game studio.
Education will play a major role in the metaverse, tech visionaries say, enabling students, for instance, to explore together three-dimensional replicas of historic sites such as Rome’s Colosseum just as it looked hundreds of years ago.Source: WSJ
I’m all for this vision of the Metaverse. Yes, the Metaverse could be a great place for escapism, but I think the Metaverse would also be a great way to be more immersed in the very world we live in. The history of this world is very much a part of the world itself. The Metaverse can help us explore that. Space is very much a part of this world and universe we live in. The Metaverse may actually be the best way to experience that part of our world than to try to do it in real life itself. For some parts of this world we live in, it might be easier to experience it virtually than to experience it physically.
#9 Nike Creates NIKELAND on Roblox
There’s a new place on Roblox for Nike fans to connect, create, share experiences and compete: NIKELAND. Nike created this bespoke world with the backdrop of its world headquarters and inside Roblox’s immersive 3D space, building on its goal to turn sport and play into a lifestyle.
Buildings and fields inside NIKELAND are inspired by Nike’s real-life headquarters and hold detailed arenas for the Roblox community to test their skills competing in various mini-games. At launch, visitors can participate in games such as tag, the floor is lava, and dodgeball with their friends. The creativity, however, is unlimited. With the NIKELAND tool kit, creators can easily design their own mini-games from interactive sports materials. Dream it. Make it. Play it.
NIKELAND is free for anyone to visit and experience on Roblox, breaking down one of the biggest barriers to sport — access.Source: Nike
This looks fun!
People hate pop up ads. But somehow we’re going to live in the ad in the future.
#10 ‘AR Is Where the Real Metaverse Is Going to Happen’
WE CAN ALL agree that leaving the house is a marvelous thing. But what if your city stroll was enhanced by encounters with historical figures who walked those streets when they were cobblestoned? Or if it featured sightings of extinct or even imaginary species? John Hanke not only wants to see things like that happen, he has made it happen by sending millions of people on outdoor quests to capture imaginary cartoon characters.
But now people are babbling and swooning about this thing called a … metaverse. Companies like Facebook—well, mainly Facebook—are pitching a more immersive vision where people don hardware rigs that block out their senses and replace the input with digital artifacts, essentially discarding reality for alternate worlds created by the lords of Silicon Valley. “Our overarching goal … is to help bring the metaverse to life,” Mark Zuckerberg told his workforce in June.
Hanke hates this idea. He’s read all the science fiction books and seen all the films that first imagined the metaverse—all great fun, and all wrong. He believes that his vision, unlike virtual reality, will make the real world better without encouraging people to totally check out of it. This past summer, he felt compelled to explain why in a self-described manifesto whose title says it all: “The Metaverse Is a Dystopian Nightmare. Let’s Build a Better Reality.” (Facebook’s response: Change its name to Meta so it could focus on constructing Hanke’s nightmare.)
John Hanke: It takes us away from what fundamentally makes us happy as human beings. We’re biologically evolved to be present in our bodies and to be out in the world. The tech world that we’ve been living in, as exacerbated by Covid, is not healthy. We’ve picked up bad habits—kids spending all day playing Roblox or whatever. And we’re extrapolating that, saying, “Hey, this is great. Let’s do this times 10.” That scares the daylights out of me.Source: Wired
#11 Meta: Shop Products You’ll Love with Groups, Creators and Friends
We’re introducing new tools to make shopping and buying better on our apps. With Product Recommendations and Shops in Groups, we’re bridging community and commerce.
With an early test of Live Shopping for creators, we’re also creating new opportunities for brands, creators and people to build relationships.
We’re helping people make more informed purchases through reviews and information from other shoppers.
We’re introducing Shops in Groups so you can support the communities you care about by buying products from them. For example, members of OctoNation, an octopus fan group, can now buy stickers, mugs and apparel to show their love of octopuses.
People often ask members of groups for recommendations on their experience with a product and how it performs. With Product Recommendations in Groups, we’ll show products that members recommend when you ask for guidance within a group and make it easy to purchase those products from shops on Facebook.Source: Meta
#12 Nvidia Ceo On Competition, Software, And The Omniverse
Nvidia has been in such a virtuous cycle of creation and expansion for the past decade and a half, and we got the chance to sit down with Jensen Huang, co-founder and chief executive officer at the company, to talk about the state of the datacenter and how the emergence of what Nvidia calls the Omniverse – a kind of mashup of simulation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality – will change the nature of our world and the computing within it.
[Jensen]: Here’s the thing: there won’t be one overlay to Earth as you are seeing it. There will be millions of overlays and millions of alternative universes. And people will build some, but AI will build a lot of them. Some of these Omniverse worlds will be models of our own world, which is the digital twin; some will model nothing like our own world. Some will be temporary worlds, while we’re working on a more persistent world – just like we have scratchpad memory in a supercomputer, there will be scratchpad Omniverse worlds.
You can imagine, of course, a whole bunch of these Omniverse engines that are simulating alternative universes of all kinds. That’s why it’s so interesting and so exciting. I think that the exciting part of it for me, is that it has tangible and known powerful capabilities to help us solve problems. And the reason what we know that so innately is because we simulate everything in our company. We simulate our architectures of chips, all of our computers. And because we simulate it, we could predict the future, we could see the future before it happens.Source: The Next Platform
So, so good.
Won’t spoil the ending where Jensen discusses how Nvidia is building towards computing that is 1 trillion X from where we are today.
Jensen also gives this excellent explanation of how Omniverse is different from game engines like Epic’s Unreal or Unity:
There’s a fundamental difference between Omniverse and video game engines. And the fundamental difference is that everything is generated in real time in Omniverse. You can’t pre-bake stuff like you can in a video game. For example, if you take a look at a video game, today, you’ll probably notice that the download is like 500 GB, 600 GB, 800 GB now. And the reason for that is because most of the textures and most of the lighting was pre-baked, meaning rendered offline. People are surprised by this. Almost everything in a video game today is rendered offline, like a movie. And then we have a compositing dynamic layer, the lighting layer, that allows us to add the texture in addition to the render because the lighting equation is additive. We can add specular, dynamic lighting to it, and it will make you feel like that entire area is dynamic. But the fact of the matter is, in a video game, the sunlight doesn’t change very quickly. And they constrain the video game environments. For example, when a building collapses it does not expose the outside instantly. And the reason for that is because if they do that, then the ambient component, the global illumination component, of lighting, completely changes. And the games cannot handle that in real time.
In the case of Omniverse, because we literally build everything up from the ground up, and there is no way to pre-compute the light. In Omniverse, literally everything is done in real time. That is an incredible miracle. When you drop a ball, it lands on the ground and bounces off the ground. If it’s a metal ball, or if it’s a rubber ball, because of the physics engines, it does the right thing. Physics is simulating in real time, collision detection is done in real time – nothing inter-penetrates. And all the lighting is done in real time. That’s the insane part of Omniverse.Source: The Next Platform
#13 Facebook Reaches for More Realistic VR With Haptic Gloves
This time it’s a haptic glove designed to give the wearer sensations that mimic the weight and feel of real objects when they are handled in virtual space. Slip on this glove, and you can be convinced you’re holding the real thing (or something close to it), even when the object is entirely digital.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out how to give you rich feedback so that your hands become fully useful,” Abrash says. “This is a key piece and one of the hardest, long-term riskiest pieces, but once this is in place, then VR can really become an environment in which almost anything is possible that you are effectively capable of doing.”Source: Wired
The final frontier.
#14 Unity, Weta, and Faceless Platforms
It is striking how the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of Weta and Unity are mirror images of each other: Weta has cutting edge technology, but it’s only available to Weta; Unity’s technology, meanwhile, continues to improve, but its biggest asset is the number of developers on its platform and integration with all of the other components a developer needs to build a business.
One additional point: to me the most analogous company to Unity is not Epic, its biggest competitor in the game engine business, but TSMC. TSMC, like Unity, was built from the beginning to be a partner to chip designers, not a competitor, in large part because the company had no other route to market. In the process, though, TSMC democratized chip development and then, with the rise of smartphones, gained the volume necessary to overtake integrated competitors like Intel.
It is companies like Unity and TSMC — other examples include Stripe or Shopify or the public clouds — that are the most important to the future. The most valuable prize in technology has always been platforms, but in the beginning era of technology the most important platforms were those that interfaced directly with users; in technology’s middle era the most important platforms will be faceless, empowering developers and artists and creators of all types to create completely new experiences on top of the best technology in the world, created and maintained and improved on by companies that aren’t competing with them, but partnering to achieve the scale necessary to accelerate the future.Source: Stratechery
Incredibly insightful piece.
Unity is one of the most fascinating and underestimated companies out there. Epic gets all the attention, but Unity is just as impressive, if not more.
#15 Unity Buys Weta Digital, An Interview with Unity CEO John Riccitiello
JR: Bingo. So when we pitched this idea, I think it was precisely at the moment in time where I think maybe looking at a sun setting somewhere, Peter looked at it and said, “This is my life’s work. It’s incredible. It should be experienced by a much larger number of artists than have so far been exposed to these tools.” And of course, these are 3D tools, and Unity is the leading creator and purveyor of 3D tools. So here we are.
We’re investing in the long-term to create a company of enormous consequence, a company that now reaches three billion people a month with Operate Solutions. I believe in the fullness of time we’re going to find hundreds of millions of creators that want to create things in real time 3D, if not add a zero to that. So, the scale of our ambition on behalf of the world’s artists is high.
It’s exciting. And look, I think, when companies like ours succeed, I think we’re going to rebalance the world’s economy just a smidgen towards the creator. You’ve mentioned my multifaceted prior career, there’s a bunch of stuff in the world, there’s a Haagen-Dazs on Leicester Square that wouldn’t exist if I didn’t put it there. Now, no one really cares about my ice cream history, but I think the most lasting thing we can do at Unity is to make the world better and fairer for creators at a massive scale, and we’re setting out to do that and will do that.Source: Stratechery
One of the best interviews I’ve ever seen the CEO give.