May 27, 2023
Issue No. 56
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- Ather Labs: Sipher Odyssey Development Update
- AI: Microsoft & Google Expand their AI Arsenal; Anthropic Raises $450M
- Blockchain: Ava Labs’ 'No-Code' Web3 Launchpad; Ledger’s CEO Responds to ‘Ledger Recover’ Backlash
- Gaming: Blizzard Leveraging AI for Game Dev; Replica’s AI Smart NPCs
- Web3 & Metaverse: STEPN Integrates Apple Pay; The Hundreds Opens Metaverse Shop
- NFTs: Brave’s NFT-Gated Video Calls; Ubisoft's Rabbids NFTs
- Legal Landscape: Hong Kong Opens Crypto Trading; OpenAI May Exit Europe
Sipher Odyssey Development Update
Our Latest Development Update is Here!
Prepare to enter a world of endless adventure, high-octane action, and innovative game design as we give you an exclusive sneak peek into the hottest upcoming game in development at Ather Labs.
Get a first look at cutting-edge gameplay features, stunning graphics, and remarkable character designs, and meet the creative minds bringing this sure-to-be epic game to life.
Join us as we share development updates, milestones achieved, and messages from our leadership team.
Microsoft Unleashes AI Assistants Across Windows 11, Office 365, Edge, and Windows Terminal
Microsoft continues to expand its AI capabilities with announcements at Build 2023:
➡️ Windows 11 is getting an AI Copilot personal assistant living within the taskbar. Copilot will summarize, rewrite and explain text, adjust settings, and support 10 new language captions.
Copilot's features include:
- Summarizing, rewriting, and explaining text
- Adjusting computer settings
- Supporting 10 new languages in live captions
➡️ Microsoft 365 Copilot is adding plug-ins that let it integrate with Teams, Power Platform connectors, and ChatGPT tools. Copilot will use the same standards as ChatGPT, allowing common plug-ins across all tools.
➡️ Microsoft Edge will integrate 365 Copilot to help with Microsoft 365 apps like Outlook, Excel, and Word based on websites.
➡️ Windows Terminal is gaining a GitHub Copilot chatbot for code recommendations, explanations, and actions.
➡ Bing is now the default search engine for ChatGPT, supporting plugin citations from sources like Expedia, Instacart, and more.
Google Expands its AI Arsenal With New Search Features, Bard Image Retrieval, E-Commerce Tools, and Flood Forecasting
Google continues to push forward on AI, with some exciting announcements this week:
➡️ Google is testing new AI-driven search features in Search Labs, a testing environment for early users. Some lucky users are starting to see these changes now.
Some of Search Labs’ features include:
- Search Generative Experience (SGE), which places an AI-generated summary at the top of search results instead of typical web pages.
- Add to Sheets, a button integrated into Search that allows users to add links to a Google Sheet.
- Code Tips, An AI system that provides tips to help users write and fix code.
Users can sign up for the waitlist to access Search Labs and test the new AI search features.
➡️ Google Bard can now retrieve images to accompany search results for English users, with support for other languages coming soon.
➡️ Google Introduces Product Studio, a tool that allows merchants to create product imagery using generative AI within Merchant Center Next. It lets merchants create free images without photoshoots and improve low-quality images. U.S. merchants can access Product Studio in the coming months.
➡️ Google’s AI Flood Forecasting platform now displays riverine flood forecasts for 60 countries up to 7 days in advance. It helps governments, organizations, and people prepare for incoming floods. While focused on river floods, internet access remains an issue for many.
Anthropic Raises $450M to Build Next-Gen AI Assistants
Anthropic, an AI startup co-founded by OpenAI veterans, raised $450 million in a Series C funding round led by Spark Capital. The funding is rumored to have valued Anthropic at over $4.1 billion.
Google, Salesforce Ventures, and Zoom Ventures participated in the round. Zoom recently partnered with Anthropic to build customer-facing AI products focused on reliability, productivity, and safety.
Anthropic has developed Claude, a chatbot API for tasks like summarizing, writing, coding, and answering questions. Anthropic claims Claude is less likely to produce harmful outputs, easier to converse with, and more "steerable" than alternatives.
Anthropic's technique for training AI, called "constitutional AI," aims to imbue systems with values that make the behavior easier to understand and adjust.
Anthropic recently increased Claude's context window to handle conversations for hours or days. But Anthropic estimates its next-generation model will require billions of dollars in spending. It aims to raise up to $5 billion over the next two years.
With the new funding, Anthropic plans to grow its product offerings, support businesses deploying Claude responsibly and conduct AI safety research focused on techniques for more transparent and precise AI systems.
In Other AI News…
- Adobe Integrates Firefly’s Generative AI Capabilities Directly into Photoshop
- Apple Ramps Up AI Hiring, Fueling Speculation on Future iPhone and iPad Capabilities
- Cohesity partners with Google Cloud to Empower Organizations with Generative AI and Data Capabilities
- JP Morgan Unveils AI Plans, Starting with ChatGPT-like Investment Advice
- Nvidia Teams Up with Microsoft to Accelerate AI Efforts for Enterprises and Individuals
- Opera is Getting Its Own AI Side Panel to Match Edge
- TikTok is Testing an In-App AI Chatbot Called ‘Tako’
Blockchain and DeFi Developments
Ledger CEO Responds to Ledger Recover Backlash, Shares Plans For Open Source Approach
Pascal Gauthier, Chairman & CEO at Ledger, addresses concerns over Ledger Recover. He acknowledges Ledger's mistake in their communication that surprised customers. Ledger apologizes for not properly explaining the product they had been discussing publicly for over a year.
Pascal reaffirms Ledger's mission to make crypto secure and easy to use. He says a service like Ledger Recover is needed to ensure everyone can have self-sovereignty over digital value, which is the ethos of crypto. However, Ledger needs to do this "in the right way."
He mentions that Ledger will never compromise on security. It has nearly a decade of experience securing private keys and continues to improve. Their Donjon security team reviews Ledger's firmware, OS, and ecosystem with autonomy. This will not change.
To increase transparency, Pascal says most of Ledger's codebase is already open source. Open source isn't inherently secure but provides transparency for reviewers. Today most of Ledger's apps and software are open source.
Going forward, Pascal says Ledger will accelerate its open-source roadmap. This includes opening as much of Ledger's OS as possible, starting with core components, as well as Ledger Recover. The protocol behind Ledger Recover will also be open-sourced to give users a choice.
Pascal says these steps are being taken to move forward together and bring security to more crypto users. While listening to customers, Ledger is accelerating an existing roadmap for more transparency. This will not impact the security of existing Ledger devices. Users can also enable the passphrase feature, which excludes Ledger Recover as an additional security measure.
Turn Your Old Game Boy into a Hardware Wallet!
A group of developers at crypto startup Keyp is repurposing original Nintendo Game Boy handheld consoles to create a hardware crypto wallet called the Game Wallet.
The Game Wallet is a custom Game Boy game cartridge that uses gamification to generate users' seed phrases through interactions with non-playable characters and quests. Once set up, it can store cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum that use BIP-32 seed phrases. The software will also be open source.
Keyp founder Joseph Schiarizzi says the game experience will be "Pokémon-like." He says Keyp aims to make Web3 accessible and safe through tools like the Game Wallet.
While in development since January, the nine-person Keyp team believes the Game Wallet is needed given controversies around Ledger's new recovery service. Game Wallet is marketing itself as an offline storage option that promises never to require firmware updates.
Co-founder Sascha Mombartz wrote that "what started as a fun idea now seems to be a really important product." He notes people can trust where a Game Boy has been stored for 20 years more than a new security device.
Schiarizzi told Decrypt that while the Game Wallet doesn't have an official release date yet, the company plans to open pre-orders soon and target a summer rollout, assuming no supply chain or technical issues arise.
Ava Labs Launches 'No-Code' Web3 Launchpad AvaCloud
Ava Labs, the company behind the Avalanche blockchain, is launching AvaCloud, a Web3 product that helps businesses build managed blockchain ecosystems with no coding required.
AvaCloud offers four components: an automated blockchain builder, managed validators, comprehensive data tools, and chain interoperability.
The automated blockchain builder provides a no-code portal for companies to create custom blockchains. Ava Labs' infrastructure team manages and supports these networks, which use precompiled smart contracts.
Managed validators automatically install and update nodes, while data tools provide insights from the Avalanche and Ethereum networks.
Avalanche Warp Messaging allows communication between all Avalanche subnets, enabling functionality to be added over time.
Nicholas Mussallem of Ava Labs says AvaCloud lets companies bring Web3 products to market faster and with less risk, without needing to hire blockchain expertise. He notes custom blockchains typically require over $1.5 million per year to deploy.
Mussallem says public blockchains often fail to meet regulatory needs or are too expensive and slow for businesses. "One size does not fit all," he says, noting AvaCloud-powered blockchains can customize validator requirements for compliance.
According to Ava Labs, AvaCloud will create greater revenue opportunities and "sets the stage for mass adoption-ready cloud-based infrastructure in the blockchain."
Ava Labs has expanded its product offerings to cater to both Web2 and Web3 audiences. In May, Alibaba's cloud division built a metaverse launchpad on Avalanche.
Gaming Updates and Insights
Blizzard Optimizes Game Development with AI while Replica Unveils AI Smart NPCs for Unreal Engine
Blizzard Entertainment and Replica Studios are both working on AI to improve video game development and NPC experiences.
Blizzard, known for games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch, is developing generative AI tools internally to aid in game development, though the company says the technology will be used to supplement human employees rather than replace them. The company wants to use AI to allow developers to focus on more creative tasks.
However, according to the New York Times, some employees have reportedly said the company’s AI technology falls short in catching bugs or interacting with games—with one former employee saying the company is “ignoring their problems and focusing on hype words that they think will sound impressive to shareholders.”
Meanwhile, Replica Studios is unveiling AI-powered smart NPCs for the Unreal Engine platform. The company's demo combines Replica's AI voices with OpenAI to allow players to have dynamic conversations with NPCs in real time. The responses from the NPCs are slow in the demo, but Replica says the real plugin coming this year will improve performance.
Replica's smart NPCs utilize OpenAI or the customer's own AI language model and Replica's library of 120 AI voices. Game designers can alter the information provided to the AI characters to change their personalities.
BMW to Launch In-Car Gaming in Partnership with AirConsole
Car manufacturer BMW is set to launch in-car gaming in their BMW 5 series in partnership with AirConsole. AirConsole allows users to play various games on a central screen using their phones as controllers. This new integration will allow both drivers and passengers to play multiplayer games while the vehicle is stationary, including AirConsole's own mobile titles and Overcooked.
In an October 2022 statement, senior vice president of BMW Group Connected company development, Stephan Durach commented "With AirConsole we will leverage innovative technologies combined with a broad variety of fun and multiplayer games. This will make every waiting situation inside the vehicle, such as charging, an enjoyable moment."
The announcement follows similar deals between other game makers and car manufacturers seeking to utilize touchscreen entertainment systems within vehicles. Rovio has a deal with Mercedes-Benz to bring Angry Birds to their cars, while Outfit7 announced that Talking Tom Friends would be coming to all vehicles with Google automotive service integration.
The appeal of mobile games on in-car touchscreens and the use of phones as controllers is clear. Many mobile titles are already designed for touchscreens so they require minimal adaptation for in-car use. Where in-vehicle touchscreens are limited, phones can be used as additional controllers allowing for different viewpoints and interactions. Car entertainment systems are just the beginning, and how they integrate with mobile gaming will be a determining factor in their success and adoption rates.
Sony’s New Handheld Device & Upcoming PlayStation Games
Sony unveiled its plans to release a streaming-focused handheld device at its PlayStation Showcase 2023. Codenamed Project Q, the device will allow players to stream PlayStation 5 games over Wi-Fi. PlayStation chief Jim Ryan announced the 8-inch device, which resembles a phone between two halves of a PS5 controller. Though Sony struggled to sell the PlayStation Vita handheld, the company is taking a risk on a streaming-only device.
In addition to Project Q, the event focused on announcing new games:
- Bungie, which Sony acquired last year, is developing a new version of its 1990s shooter Marathon for PS5, Xbox, and PC focused on multiplayer.
- Konami is remaking Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, reviving a franchise largely dormant since series creator Hideo Kojima left in 2015.
- Sony-owned Haven Studios revealed a trailer for Fairgame$, a competitive heist game about robbing the wealthy.
- Night in the Woods creators is making Revenant Hill. Helldivers is getting a sequel for PS5 and PC.
- Giant Squid (Abzu, The Pathless) is making Sword of the Sea, involving surfing sand dunes.
- Square Enix is developing Foamstars, a multiplayer shooter like Splatoon using foam.
Most announced games target 2024 or later. The main 2022 PlayStation Studios release seems to be Spider-Man 2, which ended the event with a new trailer.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3 & Metaverse News
Web3 Move-to-Earn App STEPN Integrates Apple Pay for In-Game Purchases
STEPN, a Web3 move-to-earn app, has successfully integrated Apple Pay. This integration allows users to purchase STEPN products directly within the app using Apple Pay instead of a separate crypto wallet, streamlining the payment process and making it easier for their community to access offerings.
As pioneers in move-to-earn, STEPN takes pride in being hosted in the App Store. Since its inception in 2021, STEPN has witnessed growth and built a thriving community. Users can earn rewards by purchasing virtual sneakers NFTs and engaging in physical activity.
The Apple Pay integration further simplifies the user journey and removes barriers. Users can add their credit/debit cards to Apple Wallet on their iPhones, ensuring a seamless payment experience. This integration signifies a step in bridging Web2 and Web3, accelerating Web3 adoption.
Co-founder Yawn Rong shared his excitement, stating this integration opens STEPN up to a new audience, bridging the gap between Web2 and Web3 technologies in an unprecedented way. Co-founder Jerry Huang noted the integration will make the user journey more seamless, removing barriers for anyone interested in move-to-earn opportunities and propelling Web3 into mainstream adoption.
Openfort Raises $3 Million for 'Frictionless' Web3 Gaming Wallet
Crypto startup Openfort has raised $3 million in seed funding to develop its "wallet-as-a-service" software for game developers. The round was co-led by Gumi Cryptos Capital and Maven 11, with participation from other investors.
Openfort wants to offer video game studios frictionless wallet technology consisting of APIs compatible with browser, Unity, and Unreal Engine 5 games. It also plans to support mobile games.
Co-founder Joan Alavedra envisions abstracting away the cumbersome elements of crypto transactions through their technology. He likened their "game sessions" to cookies that recall player activity without needing to interact with the blockchain often. This can segment players into categories to craft tailored user experiences.
Investors see Openfort's "account abstraction" approach, where smart contracts can initiate transactions without the user, as simplifying and improving the gaming experience. Account abstraction offers the best foundation for handling Web3 gaming accounts by maintaining Web3 functionality while offering Web2-quality experiences.
Alavedra said Openfort's wallet solution will be white-label, allowing game developers to fully customize the software without Openfort's branding.
The wallet will support the Ethereum Virtual Machine, meaning it can be used on any Ethereum-compatible network. However, Openfort will have to compete with other crypto gaming wallet solutions in an already competitive market.
Streetwear Brand The Hundreds Opens Metaverse Shop With Exclusive Drops
Streetwear brand The Hundreds has announced the opening of an immersive 3D store within the some.place metaverse platform as part of the platform's private beta launch. The virtual storefront replicates The Hundreds' flagship store in Los Angeles and aims to provide an interactive and social shopping experience for fans.
The some.place storefront uses Unreal Engine 5, the same software used by many video game developers, to deliver high levels of detail and realism. However, the design also includes unrealistic elements like cracks in the street revealing lava underneath.
The Hundreds will use the store to offer exclusive apparel drops that are only available there, including some for holders of the brand's Adam Bomb Squad NFT collection. Users can also earn rewards through both digital and real-world interactions.
Some.place is initially launching its mobile app and will expand to the web over time. While some.place's earlier NFTs were minted on Flow, future NFTs will be minted on Polygon. The company's founder aims to help brands spin up their own personalized worlds using generative AI tools.
Inside the NFT Space
Brave Browser Introduces NFT-Gated Video Calls
Brave Browser is embracing non-fungible tokens (NFTs) by adding token-gated video calls to its existing Brave Talk video service. The calls allow NFT and POAP holders to host and manage access to calls.
According to Brave, NFT projects could use the feature to chat with other token holders. The video calls are available to all Brave Talk users with a premium subscription on any browser with a Web3 wallet. Currently, the feature only supports Ethereum-based NFTs.
Brave said that in the future, hosts could grant access based on token balances, and previous token ownership, or send crypto to participants. Hosts can also configure avatars and assign moderator permissions using NFTs.
Combined with Brave's native Brave Wallet, the tools create "the first-ever fully integrated Web3 live event platform, combining browser, wallet and video," according to Brave.
The privacy-focused Brave browser has surpassed 50 million monthly active users. In February, the company introduced support for Solana dapps on iOS and Android versions of Brave.
Ubisoft's Rabbids Invade Reddit as Free NFTs
Ubisoft's Rabbids characters are now Polygon NFT avatars on Reddit. The Rabbids NFT collectibles show the creatures in various outfits and poses, from a grumpy knight with a plunger to a smiling unicorn rabbit.
Reddit users went wild for the site's free "Snoo" NFT avatars when they launched, and the Rabbids avatars quickly sold out after launching.
The Snoo NFTs have amassed a market cap of over $330 million. Reddit has issued over 13.5 million Polygon NFTs across more than 9.7 million wallets, with over $32.6 million in secondary sales.
Both Reddit and Ubisoft are making strategic pushes toward digital ownership with NFTs. While Ubisoft faced initial backlash for Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint NFTs, its CEO said the studio is still researching NFTs.
Ubisoft's Assassin’s Creed "Smart Collectibles" with Integral Reality Labs indicates the studio isn't giving up on crypto.
Binance Launching NFT Loan Feature
Crypto exchange Binance is launching an NFT loan feature that allows NFT holders to take ETH loans using their NFTs as collateral.
Called Binance NFT Loan, the new service "will allow people to use blue-chip NFTs to borrow crypto, starting with ETH, introducing the benefits of DeFi to the Binance NFT community," Binance said.
The loans offer competitive interest rates, instant liquidity, zero gas fees, and liquidity protection. Binance acts as the pool for the loans using a "Peer-to-Pool" approach.
The feature will initially support Ethereum loans only and NFTs from collections like Bored Ape Yacht Club, Mutant Ape Yacht Club, Azuki, and Doodles. Binance plans to add more options later.
Mayur Kamat, Binance's head of product, said in a release that the new feature will provide new liquidity options for NFT holders, "allowing them to participate in the market without having to let go of their precious NFTs."
Binance has been expanding its NFT offerings to stay competitive, recently launching an AI-powered NFT generator called Bicasso and soon adding support for Bitcoin NFTs.
In Other NFT News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
Hong Kong Allowing Retail Investors to Trade Certain Cryptocurrencies
Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission announced guidelines that will allow retail investors to trade certain cryptocurrencies beginning next month on registered trading platforms. The move follows a public comment period in February on the proposed regulations.
The new guidelines are part of Hong Kong's broader effort to become a global crypto hub, in contrast to China which banned crypto trading and the increasingly hostile regulatory stance in the U.S.
Economist Noelle Acheson said "This news doesn't mean that a flood of retail buying power will enter the market at the beginning of June... We could see some volume uptick in June, however." Hong Kong has already licensed two crypto platforms and some may already trade offshore.
Analyst Owen Lau called Hong Kong "pretty aggressive" in trying to become a crypto hub. He said "It will continue to capture the attention of the community and attract more firms to set up offices in Hong Kong. It has a long-term effect on capital flow and talent movement." But the exact impact is hard to gauge.
Biden Won't Accept Debt Deal Protecting Crypto Traders
President Joe Biden expressed opposition to a proposed debt ceiling deal with Republicans that he says would benefit "wealthy tax cheats and crypto traders".
Speaking at the G7 Summit in Japan, Biden called the Republican terms "unacceptable". He said, "I’m not going to agree to a deal that protects wealthy tax cheats and crypto traders while putting food assistance at risk for nearly 1 million Americans."
The "protections for crypto traders" reportedly refer to blocking tax-loss harvesting for cryptocurrency transactions. Tax-loss harvesting is a strategy where investors sell crypto at a loss to offset capital gains and reduce taxes.
Along with ending crypto tax-loss harvesting, the White House proposed blocking investors from deferring taxes on real estate swaps, which would add $40 billion in tax revenue. But Republicans reject the proposals.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy claims the U.S. debt rise is a "spending problem", citing Biden's excessive pandemic spending. The White House blames tax cuts under previous administrations for revenue losses.
Biden will reportedly speak with McCarthy on the flight back to D.C.
OpenAI Could Exit Europe Amid Regulatory Pressure
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman hinted that the company behind ChatGPT might pull out of Europe if OpenAI cannot comply with pending European Union AI regulations.
The key issue is a rule that would require companies to disclose copyrighted materials used in developing generative AI tools. Last week, Apple prohibited employees from using ChatGPT over concerns it would leak confidential company data.
Altman told Reuters "The current draft of the EU AI Act would be over-regulating, but we have heard it's going to get pulled back."
The EU AI Act defines general-purpose AI systems as having a wide range of possible uses, both intended and unintended by developers. EU member states approved the AI Regulation Act in December.
Policymakers called for a global summit to create AI governance principles.
Since launching in November, ChatGPT's rapid rise has shocked leaders, with some countries investigating OpenAI or issuing bans. After Italy banned ChatGPT over privacy concerns, OpenAI instituted several updates.
During a panel discussion, Altman said OpenAI would try to comply with rules before deciding to close Europe operations.
In Other Legal News…
- DeFi Project Bancor Hit with Lawsuit Over Impermanent Loss Protection Promises
- Huobi Global Ordered to Halt Operations in Malaysia
- Multichain Team Rumored to be Arrested
- Shaquille O'Neal Hit With Lawsuits Over Astrals NFT and FTX Promotions
- South Korea Passes Bill to Make Officials Disclose Bitcoin Holdings
- WEF Publishes Crypto Asset Regulation Recommendations for Government
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