July 22, 2023
Issue No. 63
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- AI: Wix Unveils AI Text-to-Website Generator
- Blockchain: Chainlink Launches Cross-Chain Interoperability Protocol
- Gaming: Sony Signs Deal with Microsoft to Keep CoD on PlayStation
- Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs: OpenSea Unveils ‘Deals’, P2P NFT Swaps
- Legal Landscape: SEC Names 8 Bitcoin ETF Applicants on Federal Register
Website-building Platform Wix Unveils AI Text-to-Website Generator
Wix announced a Generative AI tool to create complete websites using natural language prompts. The new AI features aim to simplify and streamline the website-building process for businesses. CEO Avishai Abrahami says the tools leverage Wix's data science team's expertise in integrating AI to help users grow their businesses more efficiently.
The new site generator allows users to interact with a Wix AI chatbot and describe the website's intent. The bot asks questions to capture the intent and then generates the entire website instantly, including pages with text and images. The text is generated with ChatGPT while the design and images use Wix's own AI advancements. Users can tell the AI to customize elements like theme, layout, and images.
Wix plans to use AI for improving existing websites by easily adding new pages and sections through Wix AI. It will also serve as an assistant providing improvement suggestions based on site trends. However, an availability date for the new features has not been publicly shared yet, though Wix aims to roll them out later this year. CEO Avishai believes the new AI technologies will bring many opportunities to make websites and businesses better.
GitHub Announces Public Beta of Copilot Chat IDE Integration
GitHub announced the public beta of Copilot Chat, an AI conversational assistant that integrates into IDEs like Visual Studio and VS Code. It aims to let developers easily tackle complex tasks through simple prompts.
Copilot Chat is contextually aware of the code developer types and any error messages. This allows it to provide tailored guidance for tasks like starting files, autocompleting code, debugging, and writing tests. GitHub claims it will improve developer productivity and satisfaction.
Copilot Chat can understand code written and interpret errors. Unlike generic AI assistants, it demonstrates contextual awareness tailored to developers' environments. It can recognize errors, propose fixes and provide context on issues.
Copilot Chat goes beyond code comprehension. Developers can ask it to "improve readability," "add comments" or "separate validation functions." They can have conversations with follow-up questions and clarifications.
A study found developers accomplished tasks 55% faster using Copilot. Researchers found 46% of all code and 61% of Java code was generated by Copilot.
Copilot Chat can review code in the IDE and identify potential security issues and solutions. GitHub says this enables discussions about complex concepts, surpassing conventional search and documentation. It aims to lower barriers for beginners.
Rodriguez said Copilot Chat builds on trusted Copilot, giving GitHub an early mover advantage to define how AI improves developers' workflows.
Meta Releases Llama 2, a More ‘Helpful’ Set of Text-generating Models
Meta announced a new open-sourced AI model LLaMA 2, designed o drive apps like ChatGPT, Bing Chat, and other modern chatbots. LLaMA 2 is an upgrade to LLaMA, Meta's previous text and code generation models. While LLaMA was only available by request due to misuse concerns, LLaMA 2 will be freely available for research and commercial use.
LLaMA 2 comes in two types: LLaMA 2 itself and LLaMA 2-Chat, which is tuned for conversations. There are also different sizes from 7 to 70 billion parameters that define a model's skill. LLaMA 2 was trained on twice as much text (2 trillion tokens) as LLaMA, which generally improves generative AI performance.
Meta's tests found LLaMA 2 slightly behind GPT-4 and PaLM 2 in some benchmarks but roughly equal to ChatGPT in "helpfulness" according to human evaluators. However, Meta acknowledges the tests cannot cover every scenario and may lack diversity.
Like all generative models, LLaMA 2 has biases from training data such as using "he" pronouns more than "she". It does not outperform toxicity benchmarks. LLaMA 2 also has a Western skew due to imbalances in training data.
LLaMA 2-Chat models do better on helpfulness and toxicity but tend to be overly cautious when responding. Meta is using Microsoft's Azure AI safety service to reduce toxic LLaMA 2 outputs on Azure.
Despite this, Meta distances itself from harmful LLaMA 2 uses and says users must comply with guidelines for "safe development and deployment." Meta hopes openly sharing LLaMA 2 will support helpful and safer generative AI.
Google is Testing ‘Genesis’ AI Tool that can Write News Articles
Anonymous sources mentioned to the NY Times that Google demonstrated an AI tool called Genesis for media executives that take in facts and spits out news copies. Two execs felt it dismissed the effort that goes into accurate reporting, while another saw it as more of a helper.
Google spokesperson Jenn Crider said in a statement to The Verge that in partnership with publishers, Google is exploring AI-enabled tools to assist journalists. These tools could help with headlines or writing styles but are not meant to replace journalists. Crider said the tools are intended to "enhance their work and productivity."
Without seeing Genesis, it's hard to judge its responsibility. But AI tools have shown weaknesses in making mistakes journalists are already capable of on their own. Google's Bard model has been less accurate than real doctors in testing. Google's fleeting attention to new products is a concern for those considering the tool.
The media industry has issues with Google despite promises about news exposure. The media has organized against Google, there was the AMP controversy, and Gannett is suing Google, saying its ad tech monopolies hurt local news.
Apple has Entered the GPT Space, Testing a ChatGPT-like AI Chatbot
Apple is working on artificial intelligence capabilities to match systems from OpenAI, Google, and other companies, a new report reveals.
The tech giant has built an internal chatbot dubbed "Apple GPT" by engineers. However, Apple has not disclosed when or how it will release the technology publicly. The company reportedly plans a major AI announcement next year.
Apple created a framework called "Ajax" to develop large language models, the AI systems behind chatbots like ChatGPT and Google's Bard. The Ajax framework utilizes Google's machine learning and runs on Google Cloud. Apple is using Ajax to build its own large language models and power the internal chatbot.
The rollout of Apple's chatbot was temporarily paused over security concerns but has since been made available to more employees with approval. Staff are utilizing the chatbot to prototype products. It can summarize text and answer questions based on trained data. However, the chatbot still lacks unique features distinguishing it from commercially available options.
The report comes as Apple has been hiring generative AI experts. Job adverts seek candidates with knowledge of large language models and generative AI. While Apple has incorporated AI into its products for years, it is now looking to match consumer demand for generative AI tools to help with writing tasks.
Microsoft’s AI-powered Copilot is Coming to Microsoft Teams Phone and Chat
Microsoft is expanding its AI-powered Copilot feature to Microsoft Teams phones calls and chats. In phone calls, Copilot will add generative AI to summarize calls and generate key points, dates, and names in real time. This could help salespeople track information from multiple clients.
Microsoft gives an example of Copilot helping a marketer call a customer by summarizing the call, capturing questions, and feedback, and suggesting next steps to then use in a follow-up email. Microsoft says this expansion could help salespeople and marketers during calls and chats with customers.
On calls, Copilot can generate summaries, key points, dates, and names in real time. In chats, Copilot will pull out key points from conversations to help catch up or generate lists and tables.
Copilot in Teams calls and chats is available to those in Microsoft's early access program. But Microsoft plans to launch it more broadly for an additional $30 per user per month, on top of existing Microsoft 365 subscriptions. An exact launch date was not given.
In Other AI News…
Blockchain and DeFi Developments
Ethereum Scaling Solution zkSync Unveils Latest Prover Tech ‘Boojum’
zkSync has launched an upgrade called Boojum that aims to decentralize the layer 2 network by lowering the hardware requirements for provers.
Provers are crucial in zk rollups like zkSync as they compress and bundle transactions into proofs before settling on Ethereum. But the high computing needs make it hard for users to participate as provers.
Boojum allows provers to run on as little as 8 gigabytes of hardware compared to the typical 500 gigabytes currently needed. This makes zkSync accessible to more people and cheaper to run provers.
Running provers in a decentralized manner will allow anyone to earn rewards for securing zkSync, providing an alternative for miners.
Boojum launched in "mainnet shadow mode" as a test zone running parallel to the mainnet.
According to Alex Gluchowski, the zkSync CEO, the next decentralization step is shifting from a centralized sequencer, which orders transactions within blocks.
Gluchowski said decentralizing the sequencer would likely require a token launch to permissionlessly verify transactions.
Boojum succeeds in lowering hardware demands and costs for provers, an important step to fully decentralize zkSync by also eventually decentralizing its sequencer and launching a token.
Chainlink Launches Cross-Chain Interoperability Protocol (CCIP)
Chainlink has launched the Cross-Chain Interoperability Protocol (CCIP) on main nets like Avalanche, Ethereum, Optimism, and Polygon. Leading DeFi protocols like Synthetix are adopting it while Aave is integrating it.
CCIP connects distributed blockchain networks by enabling cross-chain asset transfers, NFTs, and data storage. It provides Simple Token Transfers which let protocols quickly transfer tokens across chains using audited contracts. CCIP is built using Chainlink oracles which secure billions in transactions.
Synthetix uses CCIP's cross-chain capabilities in its Synth Teleporter feature to safely burn and mint sUSD tokens across chains. Aave is integrating CCIP into its governance protocol for more efficient and scalable cross-chain voting. Financial institutions are exploring CCIP to enable token transfers across public and private chains via the Swift network.
Notable CCIP features include Rate Limits, an Active Risk Management network, Programmable Token Transfers, Smart Execution, and Timelocked Upgradability. CCIP supports fee payments in both LINK tokens and alternative assets. While LINK payments incur no surcharge, payments in alternative assets carry a 10% surcharge.
Celo Blockchain Proposes Return to Ethereum Ecosystem, Transition to L2
Celo, the organization behind the Celo blockchain, is proposing transitioning from an independent EVM-compatible layer-1 blockchain to an Ethereum layer-2 solution using OP Stack.
The main benefits would be increased security while maintaining low gas fees. Users would be unaffected by the migration and CELO token holders would still govern core contracts by voting on proposals. CELO tokens would also be used to pay gas fees.
Layer 1 and Layer 2 blockchains differ in design, with Layer 1s being self-sufficient and Layer 2s improving Layer 1 performance.
In the transition, Ethereum node operators would run an off-chain data availability layer protected by staked Ether. Current Celo validators would become Layer 2 sequencers.
The transition could enable more liquidity between Celo and other chains but also generate extra costs for sequencers due to data availability layer fees and Ethereum gas fees. It is unclear if sequencer rewards would match current validator rewards.
With the proposal now open for discussion, Celo is aiming to improve its mobile experience and target developing economies with more payment solutions. The governance call on July 21 will discuss releasing the proposal for community feedback the next day.
In Other Blockchain & DeFi News…
Sony Signs Deal with Microsoft to Keep Call of Duty on PlayStation
Microsoft and Sony have signed a binding deal to keep Call of Duty on the PlayStation platform.
The deal comes after a federal appeals court rejected the FTC's attempt to delay Microsoft's $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard on antitrust grounds.
Sony had previously resisted signing a deal after Microsoft first offered a 10-year contract last year. Instead, Sony appealed to regulators to block the merger.
In testimony, Sony's PlayStation chief Jim Ryan had said he was "pretty sure" Call of Duty will remain on PlayStation "for many years" but claimed Microsoft's offers were "inadequate" and "failed to take account" of the impact on gamers.
Ryan also told Activision's CEO "I don’t want a new Call of Duty deal. I just want to block your merger." He believed the deal was anti-competitive.
Now the UK Competition and Markets Authority is the sole remaining regulator that could block the deal. The CMA and Microsoft are negotiating ahead of a July 18 closing deadline.
Blizzard Games will Start to Offer Some of its Games on Steam
Blizzard announced that it will offer some of its games on Steam, the PC storefront, starting with Overwatch 2.
The company said in a statement that it wants to "break down the barriers to make it easier for players everywhere to find and enjoy our games," though it remains committed to its own Battle.net launcher.
Overwatch 2 will be the first Blizzard game on Steam and will be available on August 10, in time for the Invasion event introducing new PvE story missions.
Players on Steam will still need a Battle.net account to play Overwatch 2 but will have access to Steam features like friends lists and achievements.
While Blizzard said it will bring more games to Steam "when the time is right," Overwatch 2 was chosen first.
Blizzard may be hoping the release of new content on a new platform will boost Overwatch 2 player engagement and investment, which declined sequentially in the last quarter according to Blizzard's earnings report.
New Spider-Man 2 PS5 Console and Controller Revealed
PlayStation is releasing a limited edition Marvel's Spider-Man 2 PlayStation 5 console bundle.
The red and black console represents Spider-Man's symbiote suit, with the signature spider logo visible. It comes with a similar controller and detachable console covers.
The limited edition console bundle will release on September 1 and comes with a digital voucher for the game, allowing players to play Marvel's Spider-Man 2 at launch on October 20. Pre-orders open on July 28.
It's a bonus for Spider-Man fans and follows the limited edition PS4 console for the first game. This will be the first limited edition PS5 console for a PlayStation exclusive.
Marvel's Spider-Man 2, a highly anticipated PS5 exclusive game by Insomniac Games, got a new story trailer at San Diego Comic-Con introducing Harry Osborn, Venom, and other characters.
In summary, the limited edition console bundle offers Spider-Man fans an enticing package in time for the release of Marvel's Spider-Man 2 on October 20, 2023, exclusively for PS5.
Diablo 4 Patch 1.1.0: Player Backlash and Balance Issues
The recent patch 1.1.0 for Diablo 4's Season of the Malignant has sparked widespread complaints from players. Many posts are voicing discontent and criticizing the decisions made by the developers.
Players are particularly unhappy with the nerfs applied to damage types, skills, and affixes, as well as changes affecting dungeon exit time. These alterations have led some players to label this patch as one of the worst in gaming history. It is a stark contrast to the generally positive response received for the previous patch 1.0.4, and players feel that the current patch is out of touch with the essence of the game.
Accusations have surfaced, claiming that the game is being artificially bloated to compensate for the lack of endgame content. Specific adjustments, like those made to Diablo 4's Helltides, are causing further irritation among players. The dissatisfaction has reached a tipping point, and players are threatening to leave the game in large numbers unless key issues are resolved.
Players have tested their builds with the new changes, leading to reports of significantly more difficulty in completing Diablo 4's endgame content. These alterations have impacted the gameplay experience, making it challenging for previously powerful characters to handle high-tier content.
With “Season of the Malignant” just launched and with new additions to the game, such as the "Caged Hearts" mechanic, which developers have described as "stupidly powerful." Players are curious about the potential impact of these additions on the overall state of Diablo 4.
Exoprimal: A Promising Concept Hindered by Repetitive Gameplay
Exoprimal, a game that pits dinosaurs against mechs, boasts an intriguing concept but falls short in execution. While the promise of thrilling dinosaur-versus-mech battles sounds appealing, the gameplay turns out to be repetitive and lacks respect for the player's time. Although some moments in the Dino Survival mode offer enjoyment, the overall experience can become tiresome due to the lack of variety.
In this competitive, team-based shooter, Exoprimal takes a unique approach compared to other games in the genre. Instead of the standard focus on battles for control or supremacy, teams of five players engage in a race to slay waves of dinosaurs. The Dino Survival mode comprises two phases: initially, players must defeat hordes of dinosaurs rapidly, and then they face a "final encounter" with various objectives such as escorting objects or confronting formidable mutated creatures. This distinct gameplay sets Exoprimal apart from the typical live service offerings, and it allows players to choose between queuing for matches with or without player-versus-player (PVP) elements.
The game features traditional class roles like Tank, DPS, and Support. Players can switch between these classes during a match, but in practice, many rarely find a reason to do so unless it is essential for healing purposes.
Exoprimal's most thrilling moments occur when players face unpredictable raid boss-like dinosaurs in awe-inspiring arenas. However, the novelty of these encounters diminishes over time as they start to repeat throughout the game, losing their initial impact.
In conclusion, Exoprimal's initial promise of thrilling dinosaur-mech battles falls short due to repetitive gameplay and a struggle to find a balance between single-player and multiplayer content. While the game offers unique and exciting moments, it lacks the depth and engagement expected from a hero shooter.
Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs
OpenSea Launches ‘Deals’, Opening up P2P NFT Swaps and NFT + WETH Combo Offers
OpenSea introduces Deals, which allows users to offer a combination of their NFTs in exchange for a combination of another user's NFTs. Users can also supplement the offer with WETH to sweeten the deal.
The Deals feature has the following qualities:
- It is flexible by letting users choose a combination of their NFTs to offer in exchange for a combination of the other user's NFTs. Users can also add WETH to their offer.
- It is secure and powered by Seaport. This avoids the need to transact through sketchy DMs and websites.
Users can offer, view and accept deals directly through OpenSea, providing a trusted marketplace for such exchanges. This eliminates the need to transact through untrusted sources.
McDonald’s Hong Kong Launches McNuggets-Themed Metaverse
McDonald's Hong Kong has launched its own metaverse called McNuggets Land on the gaming platform The Sandbox to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Chicken McNugget. In the McNuggets Land metaverse, Sandbox users can play mini-games in a McNuggets-themed virtual space and earn rewards like SAND tokens and in-game accessories for completing quests and activities. Sandbox users in Hong Kong can also earn McDonald's coupons by completing quests in McNuggets Land. The Sandbox is an Ethereum-based metaverse platform that allows users to build, monetize and own their gaming experiences.
Hong Kong's McNuggets Land project is not McDonald's first foray into blockchain as the U.S. and China branches launched NFT collections in 2021. Like McDonald's, global brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks are exploring Web3 technologies including the metaverse and NFTs as a way to promote their brands.
'Neopets' Cancels Neopets NFT Metaverse Game
After promoting the concept of "play and earn" Web3 gaming and NFT integration, Neopets abruptly canceled its Neopets Metaverse NFT game that was in the alpha stage of development. The company will now pivot to a non-crypto mobile game called World of Neopets.
The Neopets team said the decision to cancel the NFT game and shift resources was not made lightly but was " for the best reason: we want to design a game that’s more in line with what the community has been asking for!"
The company is now under new leadership but CEO Dominic Law remains. It is unclear if the decision to pivot away from NFTs was his.
Neopets has secured a management buyout and become independent for the first time in 18 years. The company assured stakeholders it will continue to support the Web3 community and NFT holders, though it's unclear if token owners can claim refunds.
While some called the now-canceled NFT game a "rug pull," a Neopets representative said: "Listening to the voices of the community is paramount to the success of our brand. It’s important to our team to listen to the needs and wants of our fans—this is what’s best for Neopets overall.”
Opepen PFPs Took Over NFT Twitter
The Opepen Edition NFT series by digital artist Jack Butcher surged in value after becoming the focus of a viral trend on social media.
The floor price of the free open edition NFTs surged to a peak of 0.85 ETH as of July 18, 2023.
The trend began when an influencer known as Bored Elon offered to trade an Opepen NFT for ThreadGuy’s Mutant Ape NFT. While the trade ultimately fell through, ThreadGuy showed interest in using an Opepen as his profile picture.
In response, the artist created a custom Opepen for ThreadGuy based on his Mutant Ape. An open edition mint of the custom Opepen was created, with proceeds going to the influencer. Over 42,000 of these NFTs have been minted.
The goodwill spurred Crypto Twitter into a frenzy, with digital artist Beeple commemorating the moment of community. Major NFT marketplaces changed their profile pictures to Opepens "for the culture."
'Assassin's Creed' Creator Ubisoft Becoming a Validator of Cronos Blockchain
Cronos announces a new partnership with Ubisoft which will join the Cronos blockchain ecosystem as a node validator. Ubisoft joins a pool of 27 other node operators on Cronos to contribute to the stability and security of the network by producing new blocks every 5 to 6 seconds. As a validator, Ubisoft will contribute to the governance and approval of network updates which will benefit from Ubisoft's expertise around gaming use cases.
Ken Timsit from Cronos Labs commented that Ubisoft has an unparalleled understanding of blockchain potential and limitations for game creators and gamers. Their participation as a validator reflects their enthusiasm for blockchain technology. Cronos previously announced Cronos Play, a suite of developer tools and integrations to streamline the creation of blockchain games, now available as an Unreal Engine plugin. Over 15 Web3 games have recently launched or are launching on the Cronos blockchain.
Doodles Launching Real World Play Experience in Chicago With CAMP
Doodles is partnering with CAMP, a family retail and entertainment store, to launch a flagship Doodles experience at CAMP's locations starting this summer.
Physical retail experiences are now more experiential, ultimately creating a lasting relationship with new audiences. Doodles wants to capitalize on what sets it apart through immersive experiences and quality products.
CAMP is known for unique shop/play hybrid experiences in major cities with branded themes. The Doodles experience will include:
- Doodles' first kids and family-focused merchandise
- 6,000 square feet of immersive Doodles experiences and storytelling
- Family-friendly programming and adult events
- Introduction to the Doodles brand and characters
Original Doodles NFT holders will get special access: free entry, merchandise credits, concierge services, and custom creation opportunities.
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
SEC Names 8 Bitcoin ETF Applicants on Federal Register
The SEC officially began the review process for spot Bitcoin ETF applications on July 19, 2023.
Eight applicants were listed on the Federal Register, including BlackRock, Fidelity, and VanEck. The listing begins the review clock for the applications.
The Federal Register is a daily US government publication that includes regulations and documents that must be published by law.
The eight applicants are seeking to launch the first approved spot Bitcoin ETF in the US, which the SEC has not approved to date.
The SEC acknowledged the applications this week, beginning the review process but not indicating if approval or rejection is pending. It only signifies that the review process has started.
UN Chief Calls for Global AI Agency
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres endorsed the creation of a UN agency to deal with potential threats from AI, including its use in weapons of mass destruction and spreading conspiracy theories.
Guterres called for a legally binding global agreement by 2026 to ban fully automated AI weapons.
He said the prospect of "malfunctioning AI" in nuclear or biotech settings is "deeply alarming."
Guterres pointed to social media as an example, saying platforms "designed to enhance human connection are now used to undermine elections, spread conspiracy theories, and incite hatred and violence."
The U.S. ambassador to the UN promised to work toward "common frameworks" around AI, notable given the U.S-China rivalry.
The UN currently deploys AI to monitor conflicts, plans to use autonomous vehicles to deliver food aid, and has developed ethical AI guidelines.
UK Watchdog Proposes Guidance on Social Media Promotions of Crypto Memes
The UK's Financial Conduct Authority proposes that crypto firms and influencers include disclaimers on crypto memes in order to comply with advertising laws.
In a proposed guidance, the FCA said it has seen memes from crypto firms circulating online that many people don't realize are subject to its promotional rules.
The FCA considers crypto a high-risk investment that can be advertised to retail investors but requires risk warnings and bans incentives.
The FCA found that in Q4 2022, 69% of financial promotions from authorized firms on websites or social media required amendments or withdrawal after FCA intervention.
The guidance also targets finance-oriented influencers who promote financial products with little knowledge, often targeting younger audiences.
The FCA warned influencers that failing to comply with the rules is a criminal offense punishable by jail time, fines, or both - even for promotions from outside the UK that could affect the UK.
The FCA cited a report claiming that over 60% of 18- to 29-year-olds follow influencers and that three-quarters trust their advice.
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