May 13, 2023
Issue No. 54
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- AI: Google I/O 2023’s Top AI Announcements; Zendesk AI; KPMG x Google Cloud AI Alliance
- Blockchain: BRC-20 Tokens; FedNow will Connect with Metal Blockchain
- Gaming: Diablo 4’s Exciting New Features; Legend of Slime; Fall Guys Creative
- Web3 & Metaverse: Starburst’s Juicyverse Experience; Amazon & Niantic’s In-Game Shopping
- NFTs: Pudgy Penguins’ $9 Million Raise; Tensor Snatching Magic Eden’s Solana NFT Crown
- Legal Landscape: MechaFightClub 'Paused Indefinitely'; Florida Bans CBDCs
Google I/O 2023’s Top AI Announcements
Google made a multitude of announcements during its developer conference, Google I/O keynote day, showcasing its latest AI-powered tools and products:
- Magic Editor and Magic Compose feature for Google Photos. The former is an AI-powered tool that can edit specific parts of images, fill gaps, and reposition subjects; the latter rewrites texts in different styles.
- Google's newest large language model, PaLM 2, powers the updated Bard chat tool and serves as the foundation model for most of Google's new AI features.
- Bard, Google's chatbot, is now available in English in over 180 countries and territories, and the waitlist has been removed. It also supports Japanese and Korean and can surface images in its responses. Google partnered with Adobe to bring art generation capabilities via Bard.
- Google's Workspace suite is now smarter with AI-powered automatic table generation in Sheets and image creation in Slides and Meet.
- MusicLM is Google's new experimental AI tool that turns text into music.
- Search has two new features, including an "About This Image" feature, and a new markup in the image file that will allow images to be labeled as "AI-generated." Google is experimenting with an AI-powered conversational mode in Search.
- Google unveiled a new tool called Sidekick, which provides contextual prompts to help writers get better results from AI.
- Codey is a new code completion and code generation tool that is an answer to GitHub's Copilot.
- Imagen is a text-to-image model that can generate and edit images and write captions for existing images.
- Project Tailwind is an AI-powered notebook tool that organizes and summarizes free-form notes automatically.
- Additionally, Google will roll out generative AI wallpapers this fall that will enable Android users to create unique and personalized designs.
- Google's Play Store is getting some AI love with new ways for developers to build and optimize their Android apps and grow their app's audience through promotional efforts.
Overall, Google's latest announcements demonstrate the tech giant's continued push towards AI-powered tools and products.
ChatGPT’s Code Interpreter Tool Changing the Game
Twitter user @JustinFineberg showcased an example of how ChatGPT’s Code Interpreter can help with data analysis and financial modeling.
Check out his video below 👇
Zendesk AI: Leveling Up with Generative AI for a More Intuitive and Intelligent CX Platform
Zendesk has announced a new suite of AI capabilities for its customer experience (CX) platform, branded as Zendesk AI. The new offerings include advanced bots for customer inquiries, AI-powered assistance for customer service agents, and intelligent triage capabilities using sentiment analysis and intent detection to route requests. The new services were developed by Zendesk and also feature generative AI from its partnership with OpenAI. The generative AI will help generate responses and summarize content across the Zendesk AI suite.
Zendesk had already made strides in AI prior to its partnership with OpenAI. In 2021, it acquired Portugal-based startup Cleverly AI, whose CEO, Cristina Fonseca, is now the head of AI at Zendesk. In September 2022, Zendesk integrated Cleverly AI technology to speed up customer service responses. Fonseca said that the new Zendesk AI release is an evolution of what the company announced in September, but it is now available to a broader range of customers.
Previously, Zendesk had offered bot capabilities, but the partnership with OpenAI has expanded those capabilities. Generative AI has been used to make the software more intelligent off the shelf, with bots that are trained and already understand customers. The generative AI will also help power a revamped set of capabilities for increased customer service agent productivity, supporting summation and sentiment analysis for inquiries that help agents respond effectively. It will also assist agents with creating replies, which is part of the new update.
Fonseca emphasized that while Zendesk AI is making use of generative AI from OpenAI, it is not abandoning its Cleverly AI roots. Intelligent triage, for example, is a foundational element the product uses that was developed by Cleverly AI for understanding customer intent, sentiment, and language to appropriately direct an inquiry. For that system, Zendesk has its own proprietary models that were trained on Zendesk’s data.
Zendesk believes that AI can’t and shouldn’t do everything when it comes to customer experience and that it’s important to understand what should be automated and what shouldn’t be. CX is complex and includes workflows and sometimes systems that are not integrated with Zendesk. Fonseca noted that the first thing Zendesk should do for its customers is helping them understand what should be automated and what shouldn’t be, because if something cannot be automated, there’s no point in having a bot talk to a customer if the bot cannot add any value.
This Week in AI — by Rowan Cheung
Twitter User @rowancheung shared some of this week’s big AI announcements, including:
- OpenAI’s Text-to-3D Model
- Warren Buffet’s take on AI
- Microsoft and AMD challenging Nvidia with AI chip
- Palantir’s AIP & increase in stock prices
- Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Trial
- Meta’s open-sourced multisensory model
- Humane’s wearable AI device
- IBM’s AI platform for enterprises
- HuggingFace’s Transformers Agent — a coding language model that can generate other HuggingFace models on-the-fly
- Scale AI’s Donovan & EGP — Independent platforms tailored for governments and enterprises to leverage LLMs without disclosing data
- Synthesia Research’s HumanRF, which captures human movement from various angles and allows playback from unseen perspectives
- Anthropic revolutionizing Claude AI by expanding its context window up to 100,000 tokens
- Stability AI’s Text-to-animation tool
Check out his full Twitter-thread below!
KPMG and Google Cloud Expand Alliance to Accelerate the Adoption of Generative AI Among Enterprises
Google Cloud and KPMG have expanded their partnership to help enterprises integrate generative AI technologies into their operations. The collaboration will merge KPMG’s expertise in cloud computing, data analytics, and responsible AI with Google Cloud’s infrastructure and generative AI capabilities. The partnership aims to provide practical applications of generative AI that create value across numerous industries and empower employees to adopt data-driven decision-making. Initially, the partnership will focus on financial services, healthcare, and retail.
KPMG plans to invest significantly in training its team of Google Cloud experts to meet the growing demand for Google Cloud’s AI innovations. The company intends to assist clients in integrating Google Cloud’s generative AI technologies into their operations and achieve business objectives efficiently. The collaboration will leverage Google Cloud’s Vertex AI, generative AI app builder products, large language models, and other tools.
The partnership extends successful collaborations between KPMG and Google Cloud, including implementing cloud-based intelligent conversational AI for HSBC, providing critical medical predictions from real-time data in the ICU, and offering a 360-degree customer view with advanced analytics for a global life insurer. The partnership aims to help organizations with data-driven transformation and decision-making.
KPMG and Google Cloud will closely monitor the impact of their joint services on existing business models and potentially create new ones. They will also consider the implications for talent strategy and how clients can ensure they have the appropriate risk and responsible use controls and governance. KPMG has developed robust AI security and responsible frameworks to help clients confidently adopt emerging technologies.
KPMG believes that generative AI will unlock significant economic value for businesses and society, but it is also important to have responsible and secure practices in place when dealing with such technology. The collaboration will provide clients with generative AI and analytics solutions on a secure cloud platform that creates an agile and flexible environment, enabling them to quickly adapt and scale their generative AI capabilities while adapting to the constantly evolving industry landscape. The partnership will help clients use generative AI to conduct rapid data analysis, putting data at their fingertips to improve decision-making.
Other AI News
- Google launches an AI coding bot for Android developers
- IBM intros a slew of new AI services, including generative models
- Android’s new generative AI can reply to your texts and design its own wallpaper
- Wendy’s tests an AI chatbot that takes your drive-thru order
- Acapela lets anyone back up their own voice for free in minutes
- Meta announces generative AI features for advertisers
- SLAIT pivots from translating sign language to AI-powered interactive lessons
- BlockGPT launches ‘chat to earn’ ecosystem for training AI
Blockchain and DeFi Developments
BRC-20 Tokens — The Latest Trend, but What are they?
The timeline of many Crypto Twitter users has been filled with the term “BRC-20” this past week. This has brought up questions such as what is this new standard, how can it be used, and how can we participate in this latest trend?
What is the BRC-20 Token Standard?
The BRC-20 token standard is an experimental token standard that enables the minting and transfer of fungible tokens on the Bitcoin blockchain.
Similar to Ethereum's ERC-20 token standard, BRC-20 tokens run parallel with the Bitcoin coin on the Bitcoin network. They are created by attaching a JSON to satoshis through Bitcoin ordinals, which define every characteristic of the BRC-20 token, including the minting and distribution. BRC-20 tokens are minted and spent like normal tokens, with a limit for each mint.
BRC-20 tokens are a technological progression on the Bitcoin blockchain, enabling the creation, minting, and transacting of tokens (other than Bitcoin) on the Bitcoin blockchain, inheriting the security and decentralization of the Bitcoin network.
What are the use cases?
- P2P transfers: BRC-20 tokens can be freely transferred between peers as a decentralized form of digital cash that utilizes the Bitcoin network.
- Decentralized finance: BRC-20 tokens can be integrated into DeFi protocols on the Bitcoin blockchain, such as decentralized exchanges, lending protocols, and yield farming systems.
- Tokenization: BRC-20 tokens can be used for the creation of decentralized and virtual representations of real assets like gold and real estate.
- Continuous experiments and growth of the Bitcoin network: BRC-20 tokens open up the Bitcoin blockchain to more developments and growth, leading to more use cases for BRC-20 tokens in the future.
How to Buy BRC-20 Tokens
Similar to NFTs and cryptocurrencies, there are more than one way to purchase BRC-20 tokens. They could be purchased on centralized exchanges, or purchased on ordinals exchanges such as ordinalswallet.com (ordinals wallet is required).
Twitter user @BitGod21 shared a short beginners guide on how to get started with ordinals and BRC-20s. Click here to view the thread.
The Impact of this Latest Trend
BRC-20 tokens have gained immense popularity since their inception as an experiment, with over 14,000 tokens created using this technology and surpassing a cumulative market capitalization of $600 million. This success is largely attributed to the reputation and popularity of the Bitcoin network on which they run.
However, the popularity of BRC-20 tokens has added more stress to the Bitcoin blockchain, leading to overwhelmed speeds and transaction backlogs. BRC-20 transactions, along with ordinal NFTs, have contributed to the Bitcoin network's 7TPs speed being overwhelmed. On May 8, 2023, the Bitcoin network reportedly had over 300,000 transactions in the queue, and transaction fees rose to 2-year record highs of over $30.
Federal Reserve's FedNow will Connect with Metal Blockchain
Metal Blockchain has announced that it will be connected to the Federal Reserve's upcoming instant payment service, FedNow. The integration will enable Metal users to instantly convert funds to stablecoin and back again using FedNow's "send/receive" function. Currently, U.S. residents can only make instant payments domestically through third-party apps such as PayPal and Venmo, or crypto wallets. FedNow aims to enable round-the-clock, near-instant payments between banks, with a launch planned for July.
Metal Blockchain is a crypto network developed by Metallicus and is based on a fork of Avalanche's code. The network was created to provide compliance-friendly options for decentralized finance (DeFi) developers. Metal developers claim that Metal is "built on the foundation of BSA [Bank Secrecy Act] Compliance," suggesting that it has identity verification and Anti-Money Laundering features. The network features a subnet called "X-Chain" that allows developers to enact rules for transferring assets, such as "can only be sent to US citizens" or "can't be traded until tomorrow."
Metal's connection to FedNow could enable the formation of interconnected "bank chains," creating a larger blockchain ecosystem that is secure and does not rely on oracles, according to Metallicus co-founder and CEO Marshall Hayner. This will allow banks to communicate with each other to process payments and handle settlements while staying connected to the FedNow system. Hayner stated that it will also allow banks to prepare for an eventual central bank digital currency (CBDC), as well as for "bank issued stablecoins that can interact within a basket of stablecoin currencies."
While FedNow has been criticized by some U.S. politicians, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and U.S. presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, Jr., who allege that it is a first step towards a blockchain-based CBDC that will infringe privacy, the Federal Reserve has denied that FedNow is related to a CBDC. Hayner dismissed these criticisms of CBDCs, saying that he believes they are unfounded and that the same rigor that is applied to the banking system will be applied to CBDCs.
The integration of Metal with FedNow shows the potential for traditional finance and blockchain technology to work together to provide innovative solutions. It also highlights the importance of regulatory compliance for blockchain networks seeking to integrate with traditional financial systems. The development of interconnected "bank chains" could potentially lead to a more streamlined and secure financial system, with the ability to process payments and handle settlements more efficiently.
DeFi Broker Prime Protocol Introduces Bridgeless Cross-Chain Token Transfers
Prime Protocol has launched an asset-based lending service that eliminates the need for inter-blockchain token transfers. Users can borrow against the value of their entire asset portfolio across several supported blockchains, without the need for token bridges. This is a significant security enhancement for the DeFi industry and enables cross-chain DeFi.
German Fintech Unstoppable Finance to Launch Europe’s First 'DeFi-Native Bank’
Unstoppable Finance, a Berlin-based fintech startup, has announced plans to launch Europe's first compliant "DeFi-native bank" along with a fiat-backed Euro-pegged stablecoin following the EU's new Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) bill. The company's DeFi banking arm will ensure the stablecoin is fully backed by reserves, in line with the new legislation from Brussels. Unstoppable Finance's Ultimate DeFi wallet already enables users to interact with Ethereum and Solana protocols, self-custody assets, and trade crypto from their smartphones.
Co-founder and CTO Peter Grosskopf, who previously worked on launching Germany's first regulated crypto exchange, Börse Stuttgart Digital Exchange (BSDEX), highlighted recent liquidity crises that rocked Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, Silvergate, and Credit Suisse, briefly depegging Circle's native stablecoin USDC. Grosskopf emphasized the importance of fiat as the most stable form of money and said the company's stablecoin is legally classified as an "e-money token" that indexes its value to the price of the fiat currency it references.
Unstoppable Finance's stablecoin and DeFi banking arm will be compliant with the EU's new MiCA bill, which is a landmark in comprehensive crypto legislation for the bloc's 27 states. Grosskopf drew on his previous experience as part of the founding team and CTO of Solarisbank, the first tech company to get a German digital banking license seven years ago, to affirm that Unstoppable is acclimatizing itself to the EU's new rules.
However, there is no timeline yet for when Unstoppable Finance plans to launch its DeFi-native bank. An Unstoppable Finance spokesperson stated that it depends on how fast the necessary licenses can be obtained.
Unstoppable Finance's plans for a compliant DeFi-native bank and fiat-backed stablecoin highlight the company's efforts to provide a secure and stable solution for cryptocurrency users. The company's focus on fiat and regulatory compliance may help to bridge the gap between traditional finance and the cryptocurrency industry. The launch of Europe's first compliant DeFi-native bank also marks a significant step forward in the development of decentralized finance in the region.
Cardano Scaling Node Hydra Head Goes Live on Blockchain's Mainnet
The Hydra Head scaling tool has been activated on the mainnet of the Cardano blockchain, according to the developers. Hydra Head is the first in a suite of products that works as an off-chain "mini ledger" shared between a small group of participants to speed up transactions and lower fees for developers who can use it to add specialized, complex decentralized finance (DeFi) protocols on top of Cardano.
Gaming Updates and Insights
Helika's Analytics Tools Empowering Web3 Game Developers for the Future
Helika, an analytics startup that raised $4 million in March to expand its analytics platform for the Web3 community, is serving several game initiatives in development, including Yuga Labs, the maker of the Bored Ape Yacht Club non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and Bored Ape games. Anton Umnov CEO of Helika, said the platform tries to monitor wallet information to capture data on a user, and then track it across a social graph, wherever that wallet goes. Helika cross-references whatever data it can, though it's sometimes very difficult to do so in a world without identifiers. Investors saw that most companies in Web3 struggle to make data-driven decisions to drive growth. Helika's no-code platform with integrated in-game, on-chain, and social media analytics allows companies to understand their user’s behavior and interactions to increase engagement, retention, and user acquisition, and make better strategic decisions.
Helika's funding round was led by Diagram Ventures, with participation from Sfermion, Sparkle Ventures, StreamingFast, Brain Holdings, Fenbushi, and Builder Capital. As well as participation from strategic angels, including Montreal investor and game entrepreneur Marc Alloul. Helika's platform provides insights into the reach, retention, and revenue of NFT collections so that top Web3 companies can make informed, strategic decisions. Helika is already working with multiple partners including Yuga Labs, Sandbox, Azra Games, Azuki, and five triple-A game studios (to be announced soon).
The intersection of gaming and blockchain will provide a more sophisticated understanding of player behavior and interests as well as user acquisition performance. This is going to disrupt gaming as we know it. Helika is instrumental in unlocking the value of both Web2 and Web3 game data. Back in December, members of the Bored Ape Yacht Club community took to the sewers to play something called Dookey Dash. Yuga Labs introduced complex and innovative mint mechanics through a narrative-driven experience that introduced new people to the world of Web3. More than 75% of Dookey Dash players were new to the Bored Ape Yacht Club ecosystem. It was also a stake in the ground for Yuga, which firmly believes that Web3 and gaming can and should intersect.
Helika aims to support gaming studios and NFT projects by giving them the ability to understand their user engagement and retention, gain insights into other games and NFTs their users interact with, and integrate on-chain, off-chain, Web2, social, and zero-party data. With this data, Helika believes Web3 projects will be able to boost growth and product performance. Umnov has been talking with one company’s senior data engineers, and it took them eight to nine months to be able to roll out even the foundational analytics layer. “It’s a highly competitive industry and they’re really trying to fast-track it,” he said. “They figure out it takes a lot of resources and time. The biggest issue is how you merge all of the datasets together.”
Helika's analytics platform presents an exciting opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of user behavior and interactions in the emerging world of Web3 gaming. The convergence of blockchain and gaming is poised to revolutionize the industry, and by leveraging Helika's robust analytics capabilities, game developers can position themselves as trailblazers in this exciting new chapter.
Exploring the Exciting New Features of Diablo 4
Blizzard's Diablo 4 is the latest installment of its influential action RPG series that has had a significant impact on the ARPG genre. While Diablo 2 popularized the genre, Diablo 3 was remembered for its real-money Marketplace, a system that was taken down shortly after release. Diablo 4 moves towards modernization by adopting mechanics found in MMORPGs. In addition to showcasing world events, quests, and bosses, the developer has gone a step further and made some pivotal system changes in the game that offers significant quality-of-life improvements. These changes include adding sockets to rare and legendary items, the ability to remove and apply aspects with ease, upgrading items, adding a true Cosmetic System, and introducing World bosses.
In previous Diablo games, players relied on RNG to add sockets to their items. However, with the right amount of gold and materials, the occultists (crafting NPCs) can now add sockets to weapons, armor, and accessories. Players can add specific increased stats to an item based on the gem they are socketing in, and they can stack these stats through multiple gems being put into multiple pieces of gear. This makes crunching numbers and working towards your endgame build of choice easier, eliminating an element of randomness that was found in previous games.
Aspects are attributes applied to legendary items that grant passives and change the way you play the game. What makes it unique in Diablo 4 is the ability to remove and apply aspects with ease. Talking with the occultists will allow players to apply aspects to rare or legendary items with gold and specific materials. This means that the passive that players love on a legendary item will not go to waste once a better piece of gear drops. This system makes creating builds a lot easier, encourages players to run dungeons, and obtains guaranteed class-specific aspects as well.
Empowering already great pieces of gear is another change in Diablo 4. While finding better items through slaying swaths of enemies is still the best way to obtain legendary and rare items, players can now boost the stats of their gear through the upgrade system. It only costs a bit of gold and can give players that slight stat boost to keep their weapons relevant as they progress through the game. This change is particularly great for players who find themselves attached to a certain item and want to hold off on swapping out a legendary for a rare item with only slightly better stats.
A true Cosmetic System has finally appeared in Diablo 4. Instead of needing to run back to town to transmogrify any shiny new piece of gear that drops on the ground, players can effectively create sets out of armor and weapons they've salvaged at the blacksmith that will override any item they slap on. Additionally, players can dye these individual pieces of Armor free of charge. With the first outfit slot also free, players will need to buy additional slots, but this is a significant improvement from Diablo 3 and will always have players looking their best as they take on the minions of hell.
World bosses are another great addition to Diablo 4. These fearsome beasts take packs of players to destroy through intense concentration and cooperation. These bosses are massive and are a true test of reflexes, requiring players to be on their toes to dodge devastating attacks and plunge back into The Fray at their discretion. The encounters are tense because players only have 15 minutes to defeat the world boss. However, upon doing so, they will be rewarded with a plethora of legendary items.
Legend of Slime: A Winning Combination of Ad Integration and Progression Design
South Korean mobile game Legend of Slime, which was released globally in July 2022, has earned LoadComplete over $40 million in in-app purchase (IAP) revenue from around 20 million downloads to date, according to data.ai and Appmagic. However, the game design expert Jakub Remiar estimates that IAP represents less than 40% of the game's overall income, with the other 60% generated by ad revenue. Legend of Slime has around 30 different ad placements blended into its meta, and the player gets bigger rewards the more ads they watch.
Remiar praises the game's IAP systems, which have been designed to ensure that upgrading everything makes sense and feels rewarding. The game's features are all interconnected, with side modes giving resources, currency, or passive boosts as rewards that are needed for the main progression, and many of them increase players' overall power. Every piece of equipment in the player's inventory cumulates into an overall power bonus.
GameRefinery analyst Jenna Jokela notes that the game has maintained healthy monetization rates by regularly adding new features and live ops. Tom Froud, a game design consultant at Ludoforma, praises the game's progression, with new game modes opening up regularly. However, he has some caveats, noting that the myriad of game modes helps keep things feeling fresh, at least for the first few days. Froud is unsure about the game's ability to maintain the content treadmill in the long term, as the look and feel never really update or alter to a point where it is visually more varied.
While Froud says that the onboarding is quite overwhelming, Remiar says that the game is a masterclass in ad placement integration. He believes that the game probably dishes out around 12-20 impressions per player per day, which is 3-4 times more compared to industry benchmarks on ad-driven games. The interaction alone is satisfying, even if the amount of stuff the player is exposed to is bewildering. Froud believes that idle games and ads are a match made in ad monetization heaven, and the game just needs some social features to drive engagement further.
Other Gaming News
- Epic’s Fall Guys adds a creative mode so players can design their own levels
- Immutable's Passport Wallet Is Built to Onboard Gamers—Will It Work?
- Sui Is Built for Games—Here's Why Developers Are Bullish
- Google and Taito are teaming up on an AR Space Invaders game
Web3 & Metaverse News
Starburst Opens Juicyverse Experience in Metaverse Mall
The Starburst Juicyverse, an immersive virtual mall experience, has launched inside TheMall and is accessible via any web-enabled device. The MetaVRse Engine 2.0 powers the experience, allowing people to connect over a web browser from any device. TheMall has been in development for eight years, with the latest work on the mall's core infrastructure taking place over the past year. The Starburst Juicyverse is the first major brand partner, occupying the second floor of the virtual mall. The aim is to build a 100-story mall with about a million square feet of space on each floor.
Visitors to the Starburst Juicyverse can participate in virtual entertainment, including listening to music, visiting the virtual store, and engaging in a 3D scavenger hunt for a loyalty non-fungible token (NFT). The NFTs are minted on the Hedera blockchain and can be used as coupons for instant discounts on candy purchases in real-life stores, including Walmart. The experience also includes a Studio feature that allows creators to build their 3D models out of Starburst candies in a 20x20x20 space.
TheMall's first floor will consist of a variety of stores for different companies, while the levels above that will be custom metaverse experiences owned by brands. The company sold the first five floors for $250,000 each, giving the company some funding to get off the ground. Eventually, each floor will cost about $1 million for a million square feet, though Starburst's activation uses about 200,000 square feet of virtual space. Smaller storefronts can be leased for annual fees.
The Starburst Juicyverse is a significant development in the world of virtual retail and marketing. The immersive experience aims to draw millions of guests across any device, with visitors coming in via QR codes in the real world. The MetaVRse Engine 2.0 renders 3D objects with better quality than in the past, though the experience moves sluggishly in some cases. The technology hopes to move forward fast enough to make shopping in the virtual mall a zippy and seamless experience that casual folks can enjoy.
Epic CEO Mocks ‘Metaverse Is Dead’ Notion — 600M Coming to the ‘Wake’
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney has taken to Twitter to defend the metaverse against suggestions that it is "dead." He mocked a recent article by PR firm CEO Ed Zitron titled "RIP Metaverse, we hardly knew ye," which claimed that the once-buzzy technology had died after being abandoned by the business world. The article specifically mentioned Meta's virtual reality (VR) platform Horizon Worlds, Decentraland, and Yuga Labs' Otherside as examples of metaverses that have seemingly failed to live up to the hype. However, Sweeney suggested that there are 600 million users across virtual world platforms such as Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, The Sandbox, and VR Chat.
Sweeney's defense of the metaverse comes after Epic Games announced a $2 billion funding round in April 2022, with the aim of accelerating the company's plans for the metaverse. The investment included a $1 billion investment from Sony Group and KIRKBI, the holding company behind the LEGO Group. The partnership between LEGO Group and Epic Games aims to build a "family-friendly" metaverse, though details of the collaboration have yet to be revealed.
Despite some criticism of the metaverse, many experts believe that it has enormous potential for the future. The concept of a shared virtual space where people can interact, work, and play has been around for decades, but recent advancements in technology, such as virtual reality and blockchain, have made it more feasible than ever before. The metaverse has the potential to revolutionize many industries, including gaming, education, healthcare, and social media, among others.
Amazon Partners with Niantic’s Peridot on Launch of In-Game Shopping
Amazon has announced the launch of a new shopping platform called Amazon Anywhere, which will allow customers to purchase real items within virtual worlds such as games. The new "immersive shopping experience" will be rolled out within Peridot, a new augmented reality pet simulator mobile game developed by Niantic. Peridot players can buy physical merchandise within the game's app, as long as they have linked their Amazon account. They can also see the purchase and track it via the Amazon app.
Ziah Fogel, Peridot's director of production, said that Amazon Anywhere will bring the Peridot universe to life, creating more opportunities for players to engage with the brand. The move is seen as a step towards blending the virtual and physical worlds, which is what Niantic is all about.
Amazon Anywhere could be rolled out to other games or virtual worlds in the future. Steve Downer, VP of Amazon's consumer electronics, said that by working with developers like Niantic, the company can showcase new and creative ways for customers to discover relevant products beyond traditional online storefronts, enabling more immersive and engaging experiences both in and out of virtual worlds.
Inside the NFT Space
LG Files Patent for TV That Lets Users Trade NFTs From Their Couches
LG Electronics has filed a patent for a TV that would allow users to buy, sell, and swap NFTs. The device would connect to an NFT market server, showcase a variety of artworks, and permit purchases through a user’s cryptocurrency wallet connected to the TV set. This is the latest in a series of ambitious NFT plans LG announced last year, including the launch of its own NFT marketplace, LG Art Labs, and the Blade Wallet, which connects to LG Art Labs to enable NFT trading.
To expand into the cryptocurrency market, LG Electronics partnered with Hedera Hashgraph in 2020, a distributed ledger technology company that is touted as an alternative to blockchains. Hedera has also been working with Google, IBM, and Ubisoft. South Korea is a consumer electronics powerhouse, and LG isn’t alone in its quest for market share in the digital assets industry. Samsung, its main competitor, also announced plans last year to build out an NFT marketplace through a partnership with Nifty.
The filing comes amid a cooling off of 2022, which was supposed to be the “Year of the Metaverse.” At the time, there was massive commercial interest in research and development. However, LG is still confident that the NFT market will be an important player in the digital economy moving forward. The company's patent for an NFT TV shows that it is still looking to expand its presence in the digital assets industry.
With the rise of NFTs, the line between art and technology has become increasingly blurred. The patent for the NFT TV is another indication of the potential of NFTs to transform the digital economy and create new opportunities for companies like LG. As the use of NFTs continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how companies like LG and Samsung continue to compete in this space and how the NFT market will evolve over time.
Pudgy Penguins Bucked the NFT Crash—Now It’s Raised $9 Million
Ethereum NFT project Pudgy Penguins has raised $9 million in a seed funding round led by 1kx, with participation from Big Brain Holdings, Kronos Research, Old Fashion Research, CRIT Ventures, and the founders of LayerZero Labs.
The project initially launched in July 2021, just as the NFT market started putting up billions of dollars worth of trading volume each month, but fell into disarray by early 2022 due to controversy over a co-founder's past Web3 actions and plans by some NFT holders to break away by "wrapping" their Penguins as another token. Prices fell sharply amid the drama, but the project IP was purchased by entrepreneur Luca Netz for $2.5 million in April 2022.
Pudgy Penguins has since launched physical toy projects and other merch and built an advisory board with leaders from Meta and Hasbro. It has also generated some $250 million worth of total trading volume to date. The project recently said that it signed with major Hollywood talent agency WME to pursue media projects and beyond, and it has grown its cachet amongst NFT die-hards, no doubt helped in part by being one of the rare profile picture (PFP) projects that have actually gained value amid a broader freefall.
Luca Netz said that Pudgy Penguins "needed a real operator" to steer the ship after he purchased the project IP outright from the founders. His team had to be "really scrappy" to grow the project amid a crypto market crash that generated fewer creator royalties from secondary market sales and diminished broader enthusiasm in the space. The project has bucked the trend of many NFT projects losing considerable value over the last year, rising from $4,365 (1.55 ETH) to $8,170 (4.44 ETH) in the same span.
From his vantage point, Netz said that he understands what users want from the project. The first NFT he ever bought was a Pudgy Penguin, and he then went on to trade millions of dollars worth of NFTs after that. Netz later purchased the Pudgy IP thinking that it had all the pieces to drive both a Web3 community and mainstream extensions ranging from products to entertainment media. It’s family-friendly and inclusive, he said, with a fervent community of NFT holders behind it.
Many NFT projects talk about creating major IP—for Netz, achieving that goal would mean ensuring that Pudgy Penguins has broad "influence." Pudgy Penguins has notched over 3 billion views on its official GIFs and tens of millions of Instagram views, and now the seed funding and apparent WME deal may help it reach an even wider audience. Netz compares the Pudgy Penguin to an influencer that has the ability to get where the team wants it to be.
Tensor Snatched Magic Eden’s Solana NFT Crown. But for How Long?
Solana-based NFT marketplace Tensor has overtaken the dominant Magic Eden, thanks to the trading surge generated by the launch of Mad Lads, a buzzy PFP collection. Data collected by Tiexo shows that Tensor has 45% of the Solana NFT market share by trading volume, with Magic Eden under 44%. Tensor introduced trading rewards in March, allowing it to increase its market share to overtake Magic Eden. Tensor has not said it will launch a token, but traders are interested because of the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tokens that Ethereum marketplace Blur gave out in February.
Magic Eden also offered special promotions around Mad Lads NFTs, including zero marketplace fees and a 2,000 SOL ($43,700) airdrop to Mad Lads traders over the first 30 days after launch. Tensor diverted all of its marketplace fees on Mad Lads trades for the first 90 days to buying up "floor" NFTs from the project and then giving them away in a raffle to traders.
Tensor's sudden rise to the top of Solana has inflamed past divisions that emerged over Magic Eden's approach to the open-source Web3 ethos, as well as its moves around optional creator royalties last year. Magic Eden replaced Tensor's artwork with images showing the Magic Eden mascot and logo after discovering that Tensor was utilizing its content delivery network (CDN) to populate NFT images on the Tensor marketplace. The vitriol has been flung back and forth on Crypto Twitter between the two camps and their supporters.
Tensor's co-founder and CTO Richard Wu believes that Tensor came out ahead because of its promotion or an interface targeted at heavy traders, or perhaps the pairing of both. He added that if a platform shows that it's truly about giving back to the community, people will come and trade on the platform.
Tensor's CEO and co-founder Ilja Moisejevs alleged that Magic Eden lost support in the Solana space as it rapidly expanded to Ethereum, Polygon, and Bitcoin. He also suggested that Tensor's product was better than those of previous challengers.
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
EU Lawmakers Back Transparency and Safety Rules for Generative AI
The European Parliament has approved a set of amendments to the EU's draft AI legislation, including requirements for foundational models that underpin generative AI technologies like OpenAI's ChatGPT. Providers of these models will be obliged to apply safety checks, data governance measures, and risk mitigations prior to putting their models on the market, and reduce the energy consumption and resource use of their systems. Generative AI technology providers will have to comply with transparency obligations, apply adequate safeguards to generated content, and provide a summary of any copyrighted materials used to train their AI.
MEPs have also agreed to changes aimed at beefing up protections for fundamental rights, including biometric surveillance. The committees voted on some 3,000 amendments, adopting a draft mandate on the planned artificial intelligence rulebook with 84 votes in favor, 7 against, and 12 abstentions. The amendments aim to ensure that AI systems are overseen by people, are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory, and environmentally friendly. They also want to have a uniform definition for AI designed to be technology-neutral, so that it can apply to the AI systems of today and tomorrow.
Among the key amendments agreed by the committees are an expansion of the list of prohibited practices, adding bans on "intrusive" and "discriminatory" uses of AI systems. They include "real-time" remote biometric identification systems in publicly accessible spaces, biometric categorization systems using sensitive characteristics, predictive policing systems based on profiling, location, or past criminal behavior, emotion recognition systems in law enforcement, border management, workplace, and educational institutions, and indiscriminate scraping of biometric data from social media or CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases. The latter would outright ban the business model of the controversial US AI company Clearview AI.
The amendments also commit foundational model makers to consider "foreseeable risks to health, safety, fundamental rights, the environment, and democracy and the rule of law." The providers of generative AI technologies will have to provide transparency, apply adequate safeguards to content generated by their systems, and provide a summary of any copyrighted materials used to train their AI. The lawmakers are working towards agreeing the parliament's negotiating mandate for the AI Act to unlock the next stage of the EU's co-legislative process.
However, enforcing these prohibitions on foreign entities that opt to flout the bloc's rules will remain a challenge. The first step is to have hard law.
MechaFightClub NFT Game 'Paused Indefinitely' Due to US 'Regulatory Limbo’
Irreverent Labs has halted development of its NFT game, MechaFightClub, indefinitely due to regulatory uncertainty surrounding crypto in the United States. The game was a planned cock-fighting video game that leveraged artificial intelligence and would see mechanical roosters battle it out in the “Cocktagon.” The shutdown was Irreverent’s own decision, but the company will not sell the MFC brand because it is “too close to the soul of our company.” The game had reached "alpha" status, which typically means that it is playable and feature-complete, but may still be missing considerable content and polish.
Irreverent Labs claimed in an open letter that the game was “trapped in regulatory limbo." The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has ramped up its enforcement actions against crypto startups and platforms in the country, alleging broad violations of securities laws. The regulatory and operations environment around blockchain within the USA has drastically changed in the last two years, and the lack of clarity is making it difficult for blockchain companies to operate in the country.
Irreverent Labs CEO and co-founder Rahul Sood told Decrypt that moving the game to other jurisdictions would require much of the senior team to move out of the USA for a period of time. MechFightClub may "re-surface in the future in a different form," but the team hasn't decided yet. The company is pivoting toward artificial intelligence instead and has made a significant breakthrough in its AI model, which can create short-form videos from images. The studio plans to release it later this year under new branding.
Irreverent Labs announced that it would buy back any mechabot NFTs for 18 SOL each—roughly $365 apiece—from May 15 until June 29. Prior to the announcement, the NFTs were selling for around 7 SOL, less than half of that price, on NFT marketplace Magic Eden. The MFC NFTs have since been hidden from sale on Magic Eden.
The decision to halt development of MechaFightClub is a blow for the company, which just one year ago announced a $40 million funding round lead by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), with Solana Ventures, CAA founder Michael Ovitz, Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor, Infinity Ventures founder Brian Lu, and others investing. However, the regulatory uncertainty surrounding crypto in the United States has made it difficult for blockchain companies to operate in the country, leading to concerns that the industry may be driven overseas.
Florida Governor Signs CBDC Bill into Law, Restricting Some Uses of US and Foreign CBDCs
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill restricting the use of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) in the state, including a United States federal CBDC and those issued by foreign governments. The law prohibits the use of CBDCs as money within Florida's Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) and calls on other states to institute similar prohibitions. The bill also introduces changes to the state's current commercial code, adding protections for Floridians against CBDCs.
DeSantis urged state lawmakers to draft the bill in March, citing concerns about the potential introduction of a CBDC as a threat to consumers and cryptocurrency. He believes that the introduction of a U.S. CBDC would result in a massive transfer of power from consumers to a central authority and would be used to crowd out and eliminate other types of digital assets like cryptocurrency.
The bill's signing ceremony saw DeSantis express his concern about the Biden administration's studies of CBDCs, stating that he did not believe they would have done so if they did not intend to implement the technology. Florida's law takes effect on July 1 and stipulates that transactions involving CBDCs will not be afforded the usual UCC protections, potentially dissuading entities or individuals from engaging in such transactions with CBDCs.
The Uniform Law Commission has taken steps to dispel the idea that it is encouraging the adoption of CBDCs, even issuing a clarification on its position. However, DeSantis claims that there is a movement among the states to add CBDCs to their Uniform Commercial Codes, which he and Florida lawmakers have opposed. While the United States does not have a CBDC, Florida's law seeks to add protections for its citizens against the technology.
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