June 24, 2023
Issue No. 60
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- AI: Stability AI Launches SDXL 0.9; Meta AI Unveils Voicebox
- Blockchain: WisdomTree and Invesco File for Spot Bitcoin ETFs
- Gaming: Fortnite and Nike Collaborate and Unveil ‘Airphoria’
- Web3 & Metaverse: FIFA Files Metaverse-Related Trademarks
- NFTs: Yuga Labs Unveils HV-MTL Forge; ‘Ethscriptions’ on Ethereum
- Legal Landscape: Binance UK Subsidiary Cancels Unused FCA Permissions
Stability AI Launches SDXL 0.9
Stability AI announced SDXL 0.9, an upgraded version of their Stable Diffusion image generator model. It produces significantly more detailed and improved images compared to the previous beta version.
Despite being able to run on a modern consumer GPU, SDXL 0.9 offers huge potential for creative uses in industries like film, TV, design, and more. It offers functionalities beyond basic text prompts like image-to-image prompting and inpainting and outpainting of images.
The key improvement over the beta version is the significant increase in parameters from 3.1 billion to 3.5 billion for the base model and 6.6 billion for the ensemble pipeline model. The second stage model adds finer details. The model runs on two CLIP models including one OpenCLIP model trained on 3.1 billion parameters. This boosts processing power and creates higher-resolution 1024x1024 images.
Despite its power, SDXL 0.9 only requires a computer with 16GB RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 20 GPU or equivalent with 8GB VRAM, or a compatible AMD GPU with 16GB VRAM.
The SDXL 0.9 model can be accessed via ClipDrop, or for researchers that apply using the following links: SDXL-0.9-Base model, and SDXL-0.9-Refiner. Stability AI API and DreamStudio customers will be able to access the model this Monday, June 26th. A full open release of SDXL 1.0 is targeted for mid-July (timing TBC).
Dropbox Launches $50M AI-focused Venture Fund and Introduces AI Features
Dropbox has launched Dropbox Ventures, a $50 million venture fund focused on startups in the AI space. The fund aims to support and mentor AI-powered startups that shape the future of work. Dropbox itself has begun incorporating AI and machine learning into its products since 2016.
Additionally, Dropbox introduced two new AI-powered additions to its service.
The first is Dropbox Dash, a universal search bar that can search across content in Google Workspace, Microsoft Outlook, Salesforce, and Notion. It can also create collections to organize URLs.
The second is Dropbox AI, which summarizes and extracts information from files using an OpenAI model. It can generate summaries and video previews, and it can answer questions from research papers, contracts, and meeting recordings.
Dropbox Dash is currently available in beta to some customers, while Dropbox AI for file previews is in an alpha phase and available to U.S. Dropbox Pro customers. The features will see a wider rollout over time.
Midjourney Releases V5.2
Midjourney's newest model version V5.2 includes several improvements over previous versions. It produces images with better aesthetics, coherence, text understanding, sharpness, variation modes, and outpainting. It also has a new /shorten command to analyze prompt tokens.
Released yesterday, Midjourney claims this is the most advanced update. To use it, prompts should include the --v 5.2 parameter or select the [5️⃣ MJ Version 5.2] button within the /settings command.
This model produces more detailed results with better colors, contrast, and compositions compared to earlier versions. It also has a slightly better understanding of prompts and is more responsive to the --stylize parameter.
The V5.1 and V5.2 models can be fine-tuned with the --style raw parameter to reduce Midjourney's default aesthetic. This produces images that align more closely with the prompt's intended aesthetic, rather than an aesthetic imposed by Midjourney.
Secret Invasion Studio Under Fire for Using AI to Create Opening Credits, Says ‘No Artists’ Jobs’ Were Lost
Marvel's new Secret Invasion TV series on Disney+ has received backlash for using AI to generate the opening title sequences. Many Twitter users criticized the AI-generated imagery as "ugly" and "disgusting" and lamented the replacement of human visual effects (VFX) artists.
However, Method Studios, the credited creator of the title sequences, is a VFX and motion graphics firm that has worked with Marvel on other projects. The names of real human artists on the team were listed in the end credits.
Secret Invasion director Ali Selim confirmed that AI was used and said it reflected the themes of the series about shape-shifting aliens masquerading as humans, much like AI. He did not specify which AI tools were used.
The use of AI comes at a fraught time for the creative community, as many Hollywood writers and actors’ unions are negotiating new contracts and payments in the streaming and AI era. Some unions have authorized strikes if negotiations fail.
Joe Russo, co-director of major Marvel films, believes it is inevitable that AI will disrupt filmmaking. He said AI may be able to create a feature film within 2 years and that he sits on the board of AI companies. He sees the democratization of storytelling through AI tools as valuable.
Meta AI Unveils Voicebox, Generative AI Speech Model
Researchers at Meta AI have developed Voicebox, a generative AI model that can synthesize high-quality speech in six languages and perform various speech-generation tasks.
Prior models required training for each task but Voicebox was trained on raw audio and transcriptions to perform a range of functions.
Voicebox outperforms existing models on tasks like text-to-speech and cross-lingual style transfer. It uses a method called Flow Matching that learns to infill speech from context, allowing it to generate portions of audio without recreating the entire input. This enables it to denoise audio, edit speech segments, and produce more diverse speech samples.
Some of the Voicebox functionalities include:
- In-context text-to-speech synthesis using an input audio sample of as little as 2 seconds
- Given a speech sample and text in one of the six languages, it can produce a reading of the text in that language
- It can resynthesize portions of speech corrupted by noise or replace misspoken words within an audio recording
- It can generate speech that is more representative of how people talk in the real world, across the six languages
Voicebox is not being released publicly at this time due to potential risks of misuse, though they shared audio samples and a research paper detailing the model.
Toyota Research Institute Unveils Generative AI-powered Vehicle Design
Toyota Research Institute (TRI) unveiled a generative AI tool to enhance vehicle designers' creativity. The tool lets designers generate design sketches from text prompts incorporating stylistic attributes, and optimize quantitative performance metrics in the initial prototype sketch.
The tool merges principles of optimization theory used in computer-aided engineering with text-to-image AI. Designers can now implicitly integrate vehicle constraints like drag coefficient and chassis dimensions to enhance image generation. By incorporating engineering constraints, designers can focus on identifying stylistic aspects with assurance constraints are met.
An "AI assistant" concept leveraging diverse data streams including engineering constraints sparked the idea for the generative AI tool. TRI is collaborating with Toyota teams to integrate the tool into the vehicle design process.
The hope for this tool is to help vehicle designers expand design ideas while speeding up development.
In Other AI News…
Blockchain and DeFi Developments
WisdomTree and Invesco Follow BlackRock With Spot Bitcoin ETF Applications
Two major U.S. asset managers, WisdomTree and Invesco, recently filed applications to launch spot Bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
Bitcoin ETFs are investment vehicles that track the price of Bitcoin, providing investors exposure without directly owning Bitcoin. Investors buy shares in the ETF, which holds a pool of Bitcoin.
WisdomTree's WisdomTree Bitcoin Trust aims to track the price of Bitcoin while covering expenses and obligations. It plans to value shares based on CF Bitcoin US Settlement Price from major Bitcoin exchanges.
WisdomTree has filed for a spot Bitcoin ETF twice before but both were rejected by the SEC.
Invesco's Invesco Galaxy Bitcoin ETF filing argues that the lack of a spot Bitcoin ETF exposes investors to risk, citing failures of crypto companies FTX, Celsius, BlockFi, and Voyager. It says a spot Bitcoin ETF would protect investors seeking crypto exposure.
The SEC has denied or postponed spot Bitcoin ETF decisions due to concerns over Bitcoin's volatility and manipulation risk. The new wave of filings after BlackRock's recent application signals asset managers acknowledging the growing demand for regulated crypto investment vehicles.
Mastercard Files Crypto-related Trademark Application
Mastercard has filed a trademark application indicating plans related to cryptocurrency and blockchain.
Mastercard's trademark application indicates the company plans to offer a range of software, financial services, and standards related to facilitating and verifying cryptocurrency and blockchain transactions.
This includes API software, identity verification, and connecting VASPs and financial institutions for crypto transactions and compliance.
The application claims software for:
- Crypto and blockchain transactions
- Interconnecting virtual asset service providers for crypto transactions
Specifically, the application covers:
- Downloadable API software for verifying interactions using blockchain networks
- API software for processing or exchanging cryptocurrencies and blockchain transactions
- API software for connecting VASPs and financial institutions to facilitate crypto transactions
- API software for facilitating the exchange of consumer metadata between financial institutions for compliance
The application also covers financial services like attestation services for financial data to connect VASPs and facilitate crypto transactions, and to facilitate the exchange of consumer metadata between financial institutions for compliance.
Etherscan Releases Beta Version of AI Code Reader
Etherscan has introduced Code Reader, a tool that uses AI to help users learn about smart contract source code.
To use Code Reader, users insert their OpenAI API key, enter a contract address, select a source file, and generate AI prompts to ask questions. The tool then auto-populates relevant information and returns AI-generated answers.
Some disclaimers about Code Reader:
- An OpenAI API key with sufficient usage limits is required
- Etherscan does not store users' API keys
- Answers are AI-generated, not by Etherscan
- Users should not assume answers are correct
- Currently, only one-off prompts are supported
Code Reader is intended to accelerate smart contract research and development.
According to Etherscan's knowledge base:
"The Code Reader is a tool that leverages the power of AI to provide users with the ability to retrieve and interpret the source code of a specific contract address. By selecting a contract address, the tool will auto-populate relevant contract details and source code which the user can interact with an AI assistant to generate answers."
Etherscan considers this a beta release and wants user feedback on improvements. Additionally, Etherscan notes that the answers should not be assumed to be correct.
Gaming Updates and Insights
Fortnite and Nike Collaborate and Unveil ‘Airphoria’
Airphoria, a sneakerhead-themed experience featuring a floating city with locations like Station 97 and Shoebox Tower, has launched in Fortnite. Players can find missing Air Max sneakers.
Airphoria was created through a collaboration between Beyond Creative, Nike, and Epic Games using UEFN to celebrate sneaker culture.
The Airphoria Island will be available until June 27. Players who explore it for at least 10 minutes will receive the Air Max 1 '86 Back Bling on June 28.
The Airie and Maxxed Out Max outfits are available in the Item Shop, along with pickaxes, emotes, gliders, and a loading screen.
Players 13+ in the U.S. who link Epic and Nike accounts from June 20 to 27 can claim a .SWOOSH Achievement by August 8.
Throne and Liberty MMO: Flawed Combat System Sparks Concern
Throne and Liberty, an upcoming MMO developed by Amazon and published by NCsoft, faced negative reception during its close beta test in South Korea. The primary criticism focused on its poorly implemented combat system, which was deemed static and unengaging. The game also received initial complaints about its reliance on auto-hunting, grindy gameplay, and P2W elements in the shop.
Despite the criticisms, Throne and Liberty has some promising aspects. It features impressive visuals with high fidelity and stunning effects. The seamless and immersive world offers a massive open world without loading screens. The game also includes multi-layered open-world dungeons, a significant PvP presence, an in-depth guild system, and extensive crafting mechanics.
Interviews with Amazon and NCsoft representatives after the beta test hinted at potential changes and updates to address the game's issues. Although specific details weren't disclosed, there is hope that the developers will improve the game based on player feedback.
However, the negative reception has raised concerns about the overall quality of Throne and Liberty. The combat system, in particular, needs significant improvement as it is a core component of MMO gameplay. The game's positive aspects, such as visuals and immersive elements, will need to outweigh its flaws for Throne and Liberty to fulfill its promising potential.
Gods Unchained Launches on the Epic Games Store and Slightly Rebrands
Gods Unchained recently launched on the Epic Games Store, a major milestone as it aims to compete with other digital trading card games.
Launching on Epic Games Store, with over 230 million users, will make Gods Unchained more accessible and discoverable for mainstream PC and TCG gamers. The company sees this as a natural extension to reach a new and diverse player base.
As part of this move, Gods Unchained is rebranding to emphasize its focus on competitive TCG strategy within a tightly-knit community while harnessing the power of ownership. The rebrand celebrates the journey so far while keeping a familiar feel.
The logo was updated to have a modern look while keeping the essence of the previous design. The slash in the "A" represents both an upward trajectory and the game "cutting through" perceptions to establish itself as a legitimate TCG option.
Titanfall 3 Development was Cancelled, Battle Royale Focus Shifted
Former developer Mohammad Alavi revealed that Titanfall 3 was cancelled after ten months of development. The team had worked on the game earnestly, implementing new tech and creating missions, but it wasn't seen as revolutionary like its predecessor. The multiplayer team struggled to address feedback from players who found Titanfall 2's multiplayer overwhelming, leading to burnout. During this time, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) gained popularity among the developers, inspiring them to create a battle royale map with Titanfall 3 classes.
Ultimately, the decision to cancel Titanfall 3 was made when Alavi, the narrative lead designer, and his colleague realized they could create something amazing in the form of a new game. This led to the development of Apex Legends, a successful battle royale game set in the Titanfall universe. The cancellation was kept secret from Electronic Arts for six months. Alavi expressed a fondness for Titanfall but acknowledged that the decision to focus on Apex Legends was the right call.
Diablo Players Highlight Confusion and Dislike of its Battle Pass & Seasonal Character Mechanics
A Twitter thread ignited discussions around Diablo's battle pass and seasonal character mechanics, revealing player confusion and miscommunication. A Forbes writer questioned the possibility of using existing characters to progress the battle pass, only to learn that creating new seasonal characters was required. The thread exposed a divide between casual players and ARPG veterans, with many newcomers unaware of the seasonal nature of games like Diablo 2 and Diablo 3.
Players expressed concerns about character deletions and the inability to advance the battle pass with existing characters, while veterans highlighted the long-standing tradition of seasonal resets in ARPGs. The thread emphasized the importance of enjoying the present moment in gaming, as some players questioned the value of the base game if progress gets reset.
The thread underscored the need for clearer communication and education within the gaming community. The extent of casual player confusion showcased the challenges faced by developers in managing player expectations. The insights gleaned from the thread shed light on the necessity of addressing player concerns and fostering a better understanding of the seasonal mechanics in ARPGs like Diablo."
Web3 & Metaverse News
FIFA Files Metaverse-Related Trademarks
FIFA has filed 9 new metaverse trademark applications as part of its "WE ARE" campaign.
The filings signal plans for various virtual offerings including:
- VR gaming
- Virtual clothing, footwear, and sports gear
- Entertainment services
The trademarks cover potential metaverse activities like such as personal training services, entertainment like laser shows and live performances, sporting event spectacles, and virtual sports equipment.
The trademark filings indicate FIFA's growing interest in leveraging the metaverse for VR gaming, virtual items, entertainment, and other experiences.
The Weeknd and Binance Unveil the Metaverse Dimension
The Weeknd and Binance are introducing the Metaverse Dimension — a digital space created to bring The Weeknd's creative world to life.
Visitors to EnterTheDimension.com from June 16 onward can access Metaverse Dimension, an interactive virtual environment designed in a neo-retro style inspired by The Weeknd's tour.
To enter Metaverse Dimension, users choose an avatar and outfit and go through a setup process with an introductory video detailing the treasure hunt challenge.
Users can participate in a treasure hunt within Metaverse Dimension, unlocking exclusive content and rewards. The metaverse also aims to teach people about crypto and Web3.
Completing the treasure hunt unlocks an exclusive area: The Stage and VIP Lounge, immersing users in all things Weeknd, with concert footage and an interactive 3D cyber mask.
The Weeknd's partnership with Binance signals a new era of creativity, blending the metaverse and real world beyond normal tour partnerships. Metaverse Dimension offers a different kind of fan experience by combining music, gaming, and online worlds.
Hello Kitty and MetaGaia Partner for Metaverse Experience
MetaGaia, a multi-platform metaverse with AI companions and AR games, has partnered with Sanrio Hong Kong to introduce Hello Kitty Seven Wonders in MetaGaia.
Hello Kitty Seven Wonders will feature Hello Kitty-themed digital items and activities for fans to interact with characters in MetaGaia's virtual world.
In the Summer of 2023, Sanrio Hong Kong and MetaGaia will host a Hello Kitty Seven Wonders pop-up event at Citygate Outlets in Hong Kong. The 51-day event will feature AR experiences blending digital and physical experiences with Hello Kitty characters. There will also be Hello Kitty merchandise and mini-games.
Gordon Kwok, CEO of MetaGaia, said the partnership will enhance users' experiences by adding Hello Kitty.
Sanrio's "One World, Connecting Smiles" philosophy has inspired the creation of quality products and activities that bring happiness for over 60 years. The partnership is a natural extension by providing fans with a new way to connect with characters.
Inside the NFT Space
Yuga Labs Unveils HV-MTL Forge
Yuga Labs has now revealed HV-MTL Forge, the next game stemming from Dookey Dash.
Launching June 29, HV-MTL Forge centers around Yuga's HV-MTL robot NFTs. Owners of Sewer Pass NFTs from Dookey Dash could swap their pass for a HV-MTL mech NFT in March.
The HV-MTLs have an 8-type trait system with over 1050 traits across the collection. The rarity scale within each type was based on a probabilistic formula chosen for how it spread traits while reflecting Sewer Pass Dookey Dash ranks.
Those HV-MTL NFTs can now be used to access Forge, which challenges players to build and customize a workshop to earn community votes for the best space. Players can earn customization features along the way.
HV-MTLs also have metadata that can be refreshed on marketplaces to show their new sentient form as they evolve throughout the player's journey.
HV holders can now view their HV-MTLs NFTs on garage.hv-mtl.com using Warm.xyz or Delegate.cash.
‘Ethscriptions’ Just Landed on Ethereum
A new Ethereum protocol called Ethscriptions has launched, allowing users to create non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other digital assets.
Developed by Genius.com co-founder Tom Lehman, Ethscriptions utilizes Ethereum "calldata" - the data within a smart contract - to provide a cheaper and more decentralized minting process than conventional smart contract methods.
Currently, users can only ethscribe image inscriptions as long as they are under 96 kilobytes in size.
Lehman's debut project on Ethscriptions called "Ethereum Punks," saw all 10,000 assets instantly claimed, showing a positive response from the community.
The project's launch garnered so much activity that the Ethscriptions website API interface temporarily crashed.
Due to the existing infrastructure for creating NFTs on Ethereum, it remains unclear if Ethscriptions will see the same popularity as Bitcoin Ordinals.
Shibarium Reveals Shibacals, Authenticated NFTs Linking Physical Items to the Blockchain
Shibarium has revealed Shibacal NFTs, Authenticated Collectibles that will provide an authentication layer through NFC chips that link physical collectibles to the blockchain.
This service isn't just for Shibarium - establishing authentication for physical items that anyone in crypto can use is indispensable. Discussions have been held with multiple blockchains to adopt Shibacals authentication.
Completed collectibles will take 4 to 6 weeks as they are high quality and handmade. Prototypes have already been created and tested.
While Shibacals helps spread the word about SHIB and builds interoperability for Shibarium, authenticating collectibles for other blockchains is part of the plan to support the entire crypto community.
In Other NFT News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
OpenAI Lobbied the EU to Avoid Harsher AI Regulations
OpenAI lobbied the European Union to amend its upcoming AI Act, which aims to regulate artificial intelligence.
Early drafts of the AI Act proposed designating all general-purpose AI systems like ChatGPT and DALL-E as "high risk," requiring stringent safety and transparency obligations.
OpenAI argued against this in 2022, saying only companies applying AI to high-risk uses should be strictly regulated. This view was also pushed by Google and Microsoft.
"By itself, GPT-3 is not a high-risk system, but possesses capabilities that can potentially be employed in high-risk use cases," OpenAI said in an unpublished white paper sent to the EU.
Three OpenAI representatives met with EU officials to clarify the proposed risk categorizations. OpenAI expressed concern that overregulation could hurt AI innovation but did not suggest specific regulations.
Changes suggested by OpenAI, including not strictly regulating all general-purpose AI, were incorporated into the approved AI Act.
However, the final act imposes greater transparency requirements on "foundation models" like ChatGPT. Companies will need to assess risks and disclose copyrighted material used to train AI models.
The approved AI Act still needs final approval by the end of this year and may take two years to come into effect.
Binance UK Subsidiary Cancels Unused FCA Permissions
Binance Markets Limited, the UK subsidiary of crypto exchange Binance, has withdrawn all unused permissions it held with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
The FCA said in a statement that the permissions were withdrawn at BML's request on May 30.
With the cancellation of permissions, BML is "no longer authorized by the FCA" and "can no longer provide regulated activities and products."
BML was launched in 2020 after Binance acquired EddieUK but remained dormant. In 2021, the FCA issued a consumer warning over BML even though it hadn't carried out any FCA-authorized activities.
A Binance spokesperson said BML decided to cancel the FCA permissions as "these permissions were unlikely to be required in the future" and to "keep these updated," in line with FCA recommendations.
According to Binance, the move has no impact on Binance.com, which does not own or operate any crypto services in the UK.
The news comes amid broader regulatory challenges for Binance, including:
- The SEC suing Binance in June alleging it violated U.S. securities laws
- French authorities investigating Binance for money laundering offenses
- Binance pulling out of Cyprus and the Netherlands after failing to obtain a VASP license.
Federal Agencies Form New U.S. Crypto Crime Task Force
A new U.S. Darknet Marketplace and Digital Currency Crimes Task Force has been established comprising five federal enforcement agencies.
The task force will investigate how criminal gangs in Arizona use crypto and the dark web for crimes like drug trafficking, money laundering, data theft, and child exploitation.
Its goal is to provide increased collaboration, resources and disrupt criminal organizations using these emerging technologies.
Representatives from Homeland Security Investigations Arizona, the U.S. Attorney's Office, IRS Criminal Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Postal Inspection Service signed a memorandum of understanding to form the task force.
The five agencies have been collaborating since 2017 and together have prosecuted high-profile drug trafficking cases.
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