June 3, 2023
Issue No. 57
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- AI: Microsoft Unveils Two New AI Tools; NVIDIA's Latest AI Announcements
- Blockchain: Magic’s Funding Round, Aims to Onboard the Masses; Coinbase Derivatives Exchange Set to Roll Out BTC and ETH Futures
- Gaming: Star Atlas Releases Showroom 2.1; Marvel's Spider-Man 2
- Web3 & Metaverse: Apple XR Headset to be Unveiled Soon?; Meta Quest 3
- NFTs: Ordinals Hits 10 Million Inscriptions; Nike x EA NFT Partnership?
- Legal Landscape: FTC Fines Amazon $25m for Violating Children’s Privacy
Microsoft Unveils Two New AI Tools Within Microsoft Teams
Microsoft's latest artificial intelligence features within Microsoft Teams aim to make designing content and managing meetings more productive. The announcements introduce Microsoft Designer, an AI-powered design tool, and Intelligent Recap for generating actionable meeting notes.
Microsoft Designer, an AI-powered art-generating tool, is now available in the free version of Microsoft Teams. Starting in the preview on Windows 11, Teams users can use Designer to generate images for presentations, posters, and more. Leveraging DALL-E 2 AI, the Designer accepts text prompts or uploaded images and provides customization options.
Originally announced last October, Designer is optimized for Teams while maintaining web and Edge browser access. Microsoft plans to eventually monetize Designer through 365 subscriptions though some functionality will remain free.
In addition, Intelligent Recap for Teams uses AI to summarize recorded meetings, highlighting follow-up tasks and timeline markers so users can skip to relevant sections. Intelligent Recap, announced last October, is now available in the U.S. with an E.U. release scheduled for August 2023.
The integrations of Microsoft Designer and Intelligent Recap represent two ways Microsoft is using AI to enhance Microsoft Teams, enabling users to generate custom designs within the app and extract actionable notes from lengthy meetings. The updates come as Teams' daily active users continue to grow rapidly.
NVIDIA's Latest AI Announcements Bring Game NPCs and 3D Objects to Life
Leveraging cutting-edge artificial intelligence, NVIDIA's announcements at COMPUTEX2023 aim to transform how virtual worlds are built and characters are brought to life within them through two new generative AI technologies: NVIDIA Avatar Cloud Engine for Games and Neuralangelo.
NVIDIA Avatar Cloud Engine
This custom AI model foundry service aims to enhance Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) in games with natural language interactions. Using generative AI, ACE for Games brings intelligence to NPCs through optimized AI models for speech, conversation, and animation. Developers can use components like NeMo for custom language models, Riva for speech recognition and synthesis, and Audio2Face for facial animation.
In a demo called 'Kairos', an NPC ramen shop owner held a ‘realistic’ conversation with the player.
An AI model by NVIDIA Research reconstructs 3D objects from 2D video footage. The model turns smartphone videos of real-world buildings, sculptures, and objects into detailed 3D models with intricate textures and materials.
Creative professionals can import these photorealistic 3D assets into design software. The resulting 3D models are suited for VR applications, digital twins, and robotics.
Snapchat Launches Generative AI Feature, ‘My AI Snaps’
Snapchat launched a new generative AI feature that allows Snapchat+ subscribers to send Snaps to receive a generative response from the My AI chatbot. The feature was previewed in last month's Partner Summit but a release date was not given.
Prior updates gave My AI the ability to reply textually to Snaps and be added to group chats. But the new feature allows My AI to send photos in response. The demo involved sending photos of pets or vegetables to get funny pet photos or recipes, but it's unclear how well it can handle "grocery haul" photos.
It's also not clear what safeguards Snapchat has put in place around AI-generated images. This could be a concern for parents given other AI apps have been tricked into making NSFW images. However, parents can stay informed about their kids’ interactions with the AI chatbot via the Family Center. For instance, they can choose to see if their teen chatted with the AI in the last 7 days.
Snap warns users it saves My AI messages until deleted and discloses mistakes may occur. My AI initially received negative user reviews for being pinned to the top of chats, and Snap may be hoping that the new AI Snaps feature improves sentiment.
The generative AI Snaps are only available to Snapchat+ subscribers, Snapchat's $3.99 monthly subscription that offers app enhancements like custom icons, Story rewatches, and chat priorities.
In Other AI News…
Blockchain and DeFi Developments
Taurus Partners with Polygon to Enable Asset Tokenization for Clients
Digital asset firm Taurus is boosting its tokenization efforts in Europe through an integration with the Polygon blockchain. The move will allow clients to automatically issue digital securities.
Taurus says it has over 25 clients across 9 countries including banks and financial institutions. Popular assets for tokenization include debt, funds, and structured products though demand varies by regulations.
Colin Butler of Polygon Labs said, "The tokenization of real-world assets is a no-brainer at the root of the idea."
Asset tokenization is one trend blending traditional finance and web3 in Europe. UK and German banks are slowly embracing crypto through tokenization products.
Taurus secured a $65 million Series B fund led by Credit Suisse in February. The capital will be used for growth in areas like engineering hiring, security, compliance, and expanding sales in Europe, UAE, the Americas, and Southeast Asia.
Magic Raises $52M in Strategic Funding Round Led by PayPal Ventures, Aims to Onboard the Masses
Magic announced a $52 million funding round led by PayPal Ventures with participation from other investors. This brings Magic's total funding to over $80 million, solidifying its position as a wallet-as-a-service provider.
Magic offers instant non-custodial wallet creation for businesses to onboard users into web3. It uses email or social logins and eliminates the need for seed phrases and browser extensions. Magic offers features for end-to-end web3 onboarding, including authentication, fiat onramps, NFT Minting, and NFT Checkout. It has created 20M+ wallets and is used by 130K+ developers, including top brands in web2 and web3 such as Mattel, Macy's, Xsolla, and Immutable.
The company aims to give every internet user a wallet, realizing web3's full potential and enabling true digital ownership for all. The new funding will expand Magic's functionality, use cases, and geographic reach in Europe and Asia Pacific.
Partner Alan Du said "Magic is facilitating web3 adoption with a safe and simple solution...We’re proud to be investing in Magic."
Coinbase Derivatives Exchange Set to Roll Out BTC and ETH Futures
Coinbase plans to introduce Bitcoin and Ether futures contracts through its regulated derivatives exchange on June 5. The institutional-sized contracts will have 1 Bitcoin and 10 Ether contract sizes for managing market exposure.
The decision follows the launch of its nano Bitcoin and Ether futures for retail traders. Coinbase said its derivatives exchange will fulfill institutional client needs by tailoring solutions to their specific requirements.
Coinbase's expansion comes amid efforts to clarify U.S. crypto regulation.
Circle Launching ‘Native’ USDC on Arbitrum
Circle's USD Coin (USDC) will launch as a native token on Arbitrum on June 8. This native USDC will replace the currently bridged USDC from Ethereum.
The benefits of native USDC include:
- Being fully reserved and redeemable 1:1 for U.S. dollars
- Enabling institutional on/off-ramps via Circle
- Future support by Cross-Chain Transfer Protocol (CCTP) to reduce bridge delays
- Upgradable smart contract
Currently bridged USDC from Ethereum will be renamed "USDC.e" ahead of the launch. Arbitrum will also work with apps to transition liquidity from USDC.e to native USDC over time. The Arbitrum Bridge will continue operating normally for bridging USDC.e.
Gaming Updates and Insights
Illuvium Raises an Additional $10M in Funding
Illuvium has raised an additional $10 million in funding from crypto venture firm Framework Ventures.
The funds will be used to accelerate Illuvium's development efforts and support contributors building the Illuvium Universe.
Framework Ventures is a leading crypto venture firm, and Illuvium is thrilled to have its continued support.
Illuvium's upcoming open beta will feature three interoperable AAA games: Illuvium: Zero, a city builder; Illuvium: Overworld, an open-world monster hunter; and Illuvium: Arena, an auto battler.
The tokens received from Framework will have a 2-year lockup and will not earn revenue distributions since they will not be staked.
Illuvium believes the funding provides a runway through the open beta launch and beyond.
Diablo 4: Promising Early Access Experience with Potential for Greatness
The release of Diablo 4 excited the gaming community as Blizzard's long-awaited masterpiece arrived. Players were immediately captivated by the introduction, progression system, gameplay mechanics, and narrative.
The launch has been surprisingly smooth compared to past Blizzard games, with minimal server issues and technical problems for most players. Some PlayStation users reported minor issues.
The Druid class and Spirit Boons feel smoother compared to the beta. The storyline follows Lilith's return to Sanctuary, causing turmoil while posing as a protector. The plot piques players' curiosity.
Diablo 4's progression system offers various class mechanics, exploring the vast world of Sanctuary. Players can uncover secrets and acquire powerful items for solo or multiplayer experiences. The combat mechanics are satisfying, with impactful actions enhancing gameplay.
While microtransactions and upcoming battle passes may be irksome, Diablo 4 currently limits microtransactions to cosmetic items. Developers have promised these transactions will not affect gameplay. However, players remain cautious and hope the commitment to cosmetic-only transactions is upheld.
Players look forward to exploring Sanctuary, facing challenges, and unraveling mysteries in the full release.
Furthermore, an IGN post reported that the first 1,000 players who can reach level 100 in Diablo IV's treacherous Hardcore mode — where dying once deletes one's character — will have their names commemorated on a statue, with the first 1,000 players to do so earning this honor.
Marvel's Spider-Man 2: New Features and Expanded Gameplay
Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is one of the most anticipated upcoming PS5 games, with Insomniac coming off the success of Marvel's Spider-Man and Miles Morales.
Peter Parker and Miles Morales will star in the sequel, facing the threat of Kraven the Hunter and his "Kraven's Hunters" faction.
The sequel is set for a Fall 2023 release, but Insomniac clarified it will launch in Fall 2023, not September as rumored.
Insomniac is introducing new combat mechanics and move sets to reflect the characters' development. Miles will have expanded bioelectric powers and new gadgets to improve his stealth and combat.
Peter's new Black Symbiote Suit enables brutal new abilities like no-mercy takedowns and webcasts. He can also parry attacks.
The playable New York City area is massively expanding from Manhattan to Queens, and Insomniac will share more about the world in the coming months.
Unfortunately for PS4 players, Marvel's Spider-Man 2 will be a PS5 exclusive as Insomniac wants to push the capabilities of the PS5 for the sequel.
Revolutionizing Gaming: Exploring the Potential of Web3 Technology
Experts at the Bitcoin 2023 event shed light on the future of web3 gaming and its potential to revolutionize the industry.
Brian Johnson said web3 elements like ownership and interoperability are becoming crucial for games. He believes games lacking web3 components will be eclipsed by those adopting the technology. It also removes obstacles like KYC/AML while giving users control over assets.
Many gaming companies are embracing web3, especially through decentralized versions of games and NFT marketplaces for additional revenue.
Tommy Quite asserts that web3 is essential for gaming's future, highlighting the advantages of ownership. He stressed the need to focus on seamless experiences and using blockchains that align with a game's needs.
Robert Fontaine highlighted the impact of web3 on chess platforms, noting giants like Chess.com are recognizing its importance and adapting their business models.
Web3 can empower users, distribute value fairly, and address issues with game modifications. Smooth onboarding for web2 users is also important.
Tekin Salimi explained that smaller indie studios will embrace web3 first, followed by smaller publishers and eventually the largest companies. Once web3 gaming gains momentum, even the biggest gaming companies will likely adapt.
The insights show the future of web3 gaming is headed toward a user-centric decentralized experience powered by blockchain technology and web3 innovation.
Star Atlas Releases Showroom 2.1!
Star Atlas announced the release of Showroom R2.1 on June 1, 2023, bringing an array of new features and content for explorers and racers alike.
- R2.1 includes Ground Racing where players race against the clock on Volant Station tracks. Multiplayer racing is planned for R2.2.
- All 49 ships are now flyable, including 6 that are nearly complete like the Pearce X4 (fully complete "Gold" standard).
- Players can test fly ships from all manufacturers in the new Testflight feature. Pearce and VZUS ships (large and below) are available starting June 1.
- The new Photographer Career lets players take in-game photos, upload them to Discord, and have a chance to get photos minted as NFTs through contests.
- An Experimental Mode offers a sneak peek at maps and characters still under development, giving a preview of Star Atlas' future.
Players can get early access keys by spawning a fleet in SAGE: Escape Velocity or enlisting a ship in Faction Fleet for 7 days. These keys must be redeemed on the Epic Games Store for access.
Genshin Impact's First International Tournament: The Prince Cup
Genshin Impact's developer, HoYoverse, recently unveiled plans for the game's inaugural international tournament, 'Astra Carnival: The Prince Cup.' Spanning from June to December, the tournament will consist of regional and cross-regional events, featuring top players from various communities. The quarterfinalists from the regional competitions will advance to on-site events, which will be broadcasted on multiple platforms. The top players from the regionals will then compete in three international Invitationals.
HoYoverse aims to provide a larger platform for talented players and an enjoyable experience for fans. Alongside the Prince Cup, HoYoverse will also support non-official tournaments organized by local communities and third-party organizers. The Genius Invokation TCG, Genshin Impact's official trading card game mode, serves as the foundation for the tournament and offers a battle system based on the game's elements and energy systems. The current 3.7 version of Genshin Impact coincides with the tournament, introducing updates and character cards for the Anemo, Geo, Electro, and Dendro Archons.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3 & Metaverse News
Apple XR Headset to be Unveiled Soon?
There are rumors that Apple is set to launch a new mixed-reality headset at its upcoming WWDC event on Monday.
The headset could establish Apple's future direction and change how users interact with devices. There are also rumors that the high-end headset is expected to cost around $3,000 due to the expensive components needed to power it. However, there is some chance that all of those rumors are wrong; when the iPad was released, everyone thought it would cost $999, and Steve Jobs took great joy in delighting in having proven the “pundits” wrong when he unveiled it at $499.
The headset will likely be revealed at WWDC but may not launch until later in the year, possibly in October or November. The headset is rumored to have 8k resolution displays, dual chips for standalone use, and an aluminum design similar to the AirPods Max and Apple Watch. It will include many sensors for hand tracking, facial expression detection, and connecting to the iPhone. Additionally, it is expected to come with a new xrOS operating system for the headset.
Meta Pushing for Mixed Reality with the Quest 3
Meta announced the Quest 3, a new virtual reality headset to compete with Apple’s rumored new Mixed Reality product. Releasing in the fall, the Quest 3 will be thinner and more powerful than the Quest 2, starting at $499.
The company is marketing the Quest 3 as a mixed-reality device, overlaying virtual elements onto the real world, unlike VR which immerses users in virtual worlds. A trailer showed Quest 3 using video pass-through to place a virtual castle on a coffee table. The company’s Quest 3 would directly compete with Apple’s rumored mixed-reality headset that’s expected to be announced on June 5.
In addition to the Quest 3 announcement, Meta held a gaming showcase hours after announcing the Quest 3. Upcoming Quest releases include VR versions of a rhythm game called Samba de Amigo, an adventure game ‘The 7th Guest’, a first-person shooter ‘Bulletstorm’, and ‘PowerWash Simulator’.
Hong Kong Police Force Launches New Metaverse Platform, ‘CyberDefender’
The Hong Kong Police Force has launched a metaverse platform called CyberDefender to educate the public about technology crime risks associated with the metaverse and Web3. The platform aims to prepare citizens for the digital challenges ahead.
An initial event was hosted on the platform called "Exploring the Metaverse" at three virtual venues to discuss crime prevention strategies. The police chief emphasized the need for caution in the metaverse, saying all internet crimes could occur there like investment fraud, unauthorized access, and theft. He noted decentralization could increase asset theft risk.
The police plan to ramp up tech crime education initiatives for young people after 663 virtual asset crime cases were reported in Hong Kong during Q1 2023, totaling $570 million in losses. This represented a 75% increase compared to Q1 2022.
The police say they will continue organizing public education initiatives through the CyberDefender Metaverse platform to raise awareness about technology, risks, and crime prevention.
In Other Web3 & Metaverse News…
Inside the NFT Space
Ordinals Hits 10 Million Inscriptions and Now Supporting Ethereum NFTs
Ordinals, a method for inscribing data in Bitcoin transactions, has surpassed 10 million inscriptions just days after its creator stepped down. Launched in January, Ordinals became a popular way to mint new assets on Bitcoin. Initially used to inscribe data onto satoshis, the advent of the BRC-20 token standard in March allowed users to mint entirely new tokens on Bitcoin for the first time. The number of Bitcoin-based BRC-20 tokens skyrocketed from a few hundred to over 25,000 in a short period. While Ordinals have boosted Bitcoin transaction fees and miner revenues, some criticize it for being inefficient and wasteful of block space.
In other news, the Ordinals market — an Ordinals-based marketplace — and the Bitcoin Miladys NFT collection have jointly launched a BRC-721E standard that will allow users to migrate their Ethereum ERC-721 NFTs to the Bitcoin blockchain. The migration process starts by irreversibly burning the ERC-721 NFT, acting as an on-chain inscription. To claim the burn on Bitcoin, users inscribe valid BRC-721E data, after which the bridged NFT appears on an Ordinals market collection page. Though metadata is not initially stored on-chain, indexers ensure a token has only one valid inscription matching the burn call data.
Nike and EA SPORTS Forge Partnership to Revolutionize Virtual Sports Experience
Electronic Arts (EA) and Nike have partnered to bring Nike ‘virtual assets’ to EA Sports games through Nike's .Swoosh marketplace.
Select .Swoosh creations will be available in future EA Sports titles, giving players "new opportunities for self-expression and creativity through sport and style."
EA says the partnership will allow it to build "new immersive experiences" and "new levels of in-game customization" for players.
EA Sports SVP Andrea Hopelain said the collaboration "sits directly at the intersection of innovation, sport, and culture." She said EA will bring "creativity and self-expression to the forefront for fans."
No specific EA Sports games were mentioned in the announcement, though it's clear NFTs are involved given .Swoosh.
Nike says more details on how the integration will work will be released in the coming months.
Peter Schiff Dropping Ordinals NFT Collection?
Economist and gold proponent Peter Schiff, who is a vocal crypto skeptic, has unveiled an NFT art collection called "Golden Triumph" that will go up for auction.
The crypto community has reacted with mixed emotions, from amusement to welcoming appreciation from people supporting Ordinals.
This is because, for years, Schiff has criticized crypto, especially Bitcoin, calling it a Ponzi scheme with no value.
Despite that, Schiff unveiled the "Golden Triumph" NFT collection in collaboration with artist "Market Price." It consists of an oil painting, 50 prints, and 50 Ordinal NFTs on Bitcoin depicting a hand holding gold. The collection will be auctioned in two parts starting June 2. The highest bidder for the Ordinal NFTs will get #1, with the next 49 highest bidders getting #2 to #50.
While unveiling NFTs, Schiff appears to still criticize crypto but sees value in blockchain for verifiable asset ownership like art.
Schiff's change in stance follows that of Donald Trump, who slammed crypto before getting involved with NFTs by unveiling his "Trump Digital Trading Cards collection" last December.
In Other NFT News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
FTC Fines Amazon $25m for Violating Children’s Privacy with Alexa
The FTC is fining Amazon $25 million for violating children's privacy laws related to its Alexa devices. The FTC and DOJ allege Amazon prevented parents from deleting children's voice recordings and retained sensitive data longer than allowed. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act requires companies to allow parents to delete children's data under the age of 13 and not indefinitely collect it. The complaint accuses Amazon of keeping children's voice recordings indefinitely and ignoring deletion requests, prioritizing profit over privacy.
FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya warned the settlement should alarm parents and serve as a warning to all AI companies that rush to acquire data. In response, Amazon said it built Alexa with strong privacy protections and complies with COPPA, agreeing to modify existing practices by deleting inactive child profiles after 18 months unless parents choose to keep them.
The proposed settlement would require Amazon to delete inactive children's accounts, certain voice recordings, and geolocation data, and prohibit using the data to train algorithms. Despite claiming its privacy practices allow data deletion, the FTC alleges Amazon failed to completely erase children's voice transcripts, undermining COPPA. The FTC also filed a complaint against Amazon's Ring for allowing any employee to access private videos and for lacking basic privacy measures.
Biden Reaches ‘Tentative’ US Debt Ceiling Deal
President Biden and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy have reportedly reached an agreement in principle to raise the federal debt ceiling and avoid default. According to sources, the two leaders discussed the issue for 90 minutes and agreed on a tentative deal. Biden confirmed the agreement on Twitter, saying it will prevent a catastrophic default and urging Congress to pass it quickly.
McCarthy also confirmed the agreement in principle but accused Biden of wasting time and refusing to negotiate for months. The deal reportedly includes limiting government spending for the next two years, except for national security expenses. Sources say negotiators agreed to cap non-defense discretionary spending at 2023 levels for one year and increase it by 1% in 2025.
The tentative deal comes after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned of default risks as soon as June 1 if Congress did not raise the debt limit. The Congressional Budget Office also emphasized a significant risk of the government not being able to pay obligations in the first two weeks of June if the debt limit remains unchanged.
Some analysts suggest that raising the debt ceiling could result in more capital inflow into Bitcoin. A former trader warned that U.S. debt talks are "all show" and it is important to own hard assets as the dollar will be "printed into oblivion."
Japanese AI Experts Raise Concern Over Bots Trained on Copyrighted Material
Japanese AI experts and lawmakers are raising concerns about the lack of regulation on using illegally obtained data to train AI systems. Lawmaker Takashi Kii said current Japanese copyright law does not prohibit AI from using copyrighted or illegally acquired information for training, whether for non-profit or profitable purposes. Education minister Keiko Nagaoka stated AI can use works for information analysis regardless of the method or content.
Kii also questioned guidelines for using AI chatbots in schools, with some set to be adopted in March 2024. Nagaoka gave no specific timeline. Andrew Petale, an intellectual property lawyer, said legally the issue is a "gray area" since copyright protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. He noted that while the input data comes from humans, the AI generates the actual expressions. Until legislation recognizes AI as capable of authorship, the issues remain unresolved.
Petale posed questions on whether AI creators are responsible for infringing copyright or the users. AI companies generally argue their models do not infringe since they transform original work into something new, qualifying as fair use. However, Japanese experts believe illegally obtained training data could lead to copyright infringement cases, job losses, false information, and data leaks. The AI council draft called for more regulation over AI risks to copyright infringement.
In Other Legal & Regulatory News…
Subscribe to our newsletter today and be the first to receive Sipher news, AtherXplorer weekly issues, and new AtherXperiment posts. Sign up now and get ahead of the game!