August 12, 2023
Issue No. 66
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- AI: OpenAI Stealthily Launches Web-Crawling GPTBot
- Blockchain: PayPal Launches U.S. Dollar Stablecoin
- Gaming: 30XX: New Mega Man-style Action Unleashed
- Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs: Star Trek Enters NFT Space With ‘Continuum’ Trademark Application
- Legal Landscape: SEC Calls for Public Input on Ark 21Shares Bitcoin ETF Application, Extending the Decision by Several Weeks
OpenAI Stealthily Launches Web-Crawling GPTBot, Leads to Blocking Efforts by Website Creators
OpenAI recently launched a new website crawling bot called GPTBot to gather public website content to train its large language models, without any official announcement. After this became public knowledge, many website owners and creators revolted, quickly sharing tips on how to block GPTBot from scraping their sites using a simple modification to the robots.txt file. However, it's unclear if blocking GPTBot will prevent content from being scraped for training data, as the web is extensively scraped by other means as well.
An OpenAI spokesperson said the data gathering is to improve future models, and they provide instructions on their site for disallowing their bot. They filter out content behind paywalls, with PII, or violating policies. Sites like The Verge have already blocked GPTBot, and others like the Clarkesworld sci-fi magazine have announced plans to block it too.
Shortly after the launch, OpenAI announced a partnership with NYU's Ethics and Journalism Initiative to help students develop responsible AI use in the news. The release did not mention the public scraping controversy. Experts say if the content was already scraped by efforts like Google's C4 or Common Crawl, blocking GPTBot may be ineffective, as that data likely can't be forgotten from training sets. Website owners would've needed to block those scrapers previously.
So while the new ability to block OpenAI's bot is useful, it likely can't retroactively remove content already scraped for existing LLMs like ChatGPT. But it may help control future use, as public concern rises over how public data is leveraged to train private AI models.
Bud Financial Launches Bud.ai, AI Platform for Hyper-personalized Banking
AI financial platform Bud Financial announced the launch of Bud.ai, a new generative AI platform aimed at helping banks and financial services organizations improve customer engagement. Bud.ai features an enhanced logic core that generates real-time insights for consumers and businesses using natural language processing.
According to Bud, the platform enables developers, marketers, and risk professionals to integrate financial insights into workflows to match consumers with suitable products through hyper-personalization. By leveraging large language model technology, Bud.ai can help financial institutions convert unstructured data into transparent portfolio overviews for more informed decision-making.
Bud states that clients using their Engage and Assess products with Bud.ai have seen increased engagement and loan application processing efficiency. The company highlights the new conversational interface Jas, built on Bud.ai and using Google's PaLM 2 model, which provides personalized recommendations and guidance to users about finances through chat.
Bud says Jas can function as an "action-bot" to boost engagement and carry out simple tasks for customers. The company emphasizes its commitment to responsible AI development through data security and ethics protocols that protect sensitive financial information.
Looking ahead, Bud plans to continue refining its AI for lenders and customers to improve financial well-being and access to credit. It is exploring specialized AI solutions for areas like risk management and fraud detection to drive efficiency and outcomes. The partnership with Google will continue to evolve as well.
Kidgeni Offers Kids a Sandbox for Creating AI Stories, Doodles, and Images
Kidgeni is a new web app aimed at letting kids safely experiment with generative AI to create images and stories from text prompts. Created by Matt Lock over 18 months as a side project, it uses Stable Diffusion and an unnamed startup partner for AI and content filtering.
The app has three main modes - Create generates cartoony images from text prompts, Draw lets you combine a simple sketch and text, and Stories crafts a tale based on the user's text and chosen age range. In testing, it produced fun but mixed results - some images matched prompts well, while others only partially incorporated the text. The stories feature lets you continue and customize the AI-generated tale through further input.
Kidgeni highlights challenges faced by AI generators like intellectual property issues, hallucinations, and bias. Image prompts produced stereotypical portrayals of certain jobs and races. The app makes no effort to exclude public figures or fictional characters. The creator sees it as a safe way to introduce kids to AI creativity versus just homework aid.
Pricing ranges from $5 pay-as-you-go to $10-$50 monthly subscriptions. Options to order prints of images on shirts and hoodies raise intellectual property concerns if AI depicts unauthorized content. The app provides a limited ability to share creations beyond emailing images.
In Other AI News…
Blockchain and DeFi
Microsoft Partners with Aptos Blockchain to Marry AI and Blockchain Technology
Microsoft announced a partnership with blockchain startup Aptos Labs to collaborate on AI and blockchain technology. Aptos' verifiable blockchain data can help train Microsoft's AI models, while Microsoft will provide cloud infrastructure on Azure for Aptos' blockchain nodes and services.
Microsoft sees potential for greater integration of AI and web3. Blockchains like Aptos' can enable transparency, trust, and verification of AI systems and data. Immutable records on a blockchain can prove the provenance and credibility of data used to train AI models. This could help address concerns like bias in training data.
Aptos' high-performance blockchain aims for throughput to reach 160,000 transactions per second. It has fast settlement times of under one second and low transaction fees. This speed and efficiency could make it well-suited for AI applications needing to leverage blockchain data.
Microsoft is hoping the partnership can mature web3 technology to expand developer accessibility. Writing secure smart contracts today is difficult, hindering web3 adoption. Integrating AI to help generate and validate code could enable more developers to utilize blockchains.
Likewise, Microsoft sees web3 as a way to build trust in AI systems as they become more pervasive. Recording information like data sources and model lineage on an immutable ledger can verify AI behaves responsibly.
As AI and web3 grow, Microsoft aims to position itself at the intersection of both technologies. By collaborating with startups like Aptos, it can expand the capabilities of its AI services while also furthering mainstream web3 adoption.
PayPal Launches U.S. Dollar Stablecoin
PayPal has launched a new stablecoin called PayPal USD (PYUSD) for US customers. PYUSD aims to enable digital currency adoption by being pegged 1:1 to the US dollar.
PYUSD is fully backed by reserve assets like US dollar deposits and short-term US Treasuries. It is issued by the regulated trust company Paxos and available on the Ethereum blockchain as an ERC-20 token.
Eligible PayPal customers in the US can now purchase, hold, and transact with PYUSD within PayPal. Key initial use cases include:
- Transferring PYUSD between PayPal accounts and external crypto wallets
- Sending PYUSD for peer-to-peer payments
- Funding purchases by selecting PYUSD at checkout
- Converting other cryptocurrencies to/from PYUSD
PayPal hopes PYUSD will bridge between traditional finance and web3 by leveraging PayPal's scale and blockchain technology's programmability. As a stablecoin natively integrated into PayPal, it can enable faster settlement and lower fees for payments.
PYUSD is designed for compatibility with the existing digital asset ecosystem. It aims to drive adoption by consumers, merchants, and developers of crypto and web3 applications.
Paxos will publish monthly reserve reports detailing the assets backing PYUSD. Third-party attestations will independently verify reserves equal to the value of PYUSD in circulation. These measures intend to provide transparency and maintain trust.
By launching a fully-reserved, regulated stablecoin, PayPal aims to give mainstream users a trusted way to access the emerging world of digital assets and blockchain-based payments through its well-known brand and platform.
Visa Looks into Paying Gas Fees Using Credit or Debit Cards
Global payments company Visa has successfully tested a solution allowing users to pay Ethereum gas fees with Visa credit or debit cards. The goal is to simplify interactions with Ethereum decentralized apps (dapps) by removing the need to pre-fund an Ethereum wallet with ETH for gas.
The test utilized a paymaster smart contract, account abstraction, and the ERC-4337 standard on the Ethereum testnet. When a user initiates a transaction, their wallet sends a request with maximum gas cost to a Visa web service instead of the blockchain.
The web service calculates the fiat cost, authorizes the card payment via Visa's Cybersource platform, and returns a digital signature to the wallet. The wallet adds this signature and the paymaster contract address to the request and sends it to Ethereum.
The paymaster contract validates the signature, ensuring Visa received the card payment. If valid, it executes the user's transaction, covering gas fees. If invalid, it errors out and won't pay.
This removes blockchain complexities that often create bad user experiences around gas. Users don't need to pre-fund ETH or guess appropriate gas amounts. The web service handles payment in familiar fiat currency.
Visa stated this promising approach could substantially improve the usability of Ethereum and dapps by mainstream users. As major payment networks explore crypto and blockchain integrations, simplifying transactions could help drive further adoption.
The test follows Visa's research on self-custodial wallets indicating the potential for automating gas payments. As adoption grows, Visa aims to leverage its expertise in digital payments to streamline blockchain experiences beyond just buying and selling crypto.
In Other Blockchain News…
30XX: New Mega Man-style Action Game Launches on Steam
Batterystaple Games has launched 30XX, the sequel to their Mega Man-inspired roguelite platformer, 20XX. After a period in Steam Early Access, 30XX is now available on PC via Steam, with an imminent release on the Nintendo Switch. The story follows protagonists Nina and Ace who awaken after a thousand-year slumber post the events of 20XX, embarking on a quest to salvage a fragile world's destiny.
Offering an evolved experience from its predecessor, 30XX provides players with the choice between the relentless action of the rogue-lite Standard Mode and the more forgiving Mega Mode, which eschews permanent death. Both modes support single-player and local/online co-op gameplay.
Players can harness Nina's N-Buster or Ace’s A-Saber, akin to Mega Man X's X and Zero, to engage foes. As they navigate procedurally generated levels, characters collect unique weapon upgrades. Nina can access 21 Buster Mods, creating diverse shot patterns, while Ace specializes in powerful melee techniques with the Dolomite Link grapple-whip and Thanatos' mid-air energy scythe swing.
An Assist Mode accommodates players seeking a more relaxed experience by adjusting enemy health and damage taken. Conversely, the Entropy Cluster presents customizable difficulty scaling for those craving heightened challenges. With 30XX, Batterystaple Games continues to deliver an engaging blend of nostalgia and innovation.
Netflix’s New Virtual Game Controller iOS App Hints at TV Gaming
Netflix has released a new iOS app called "Netflix Game Controller" that hints at playing its mobile games on TVs. The free app says it can connect your phone to a TV to play games, but doesn't yet list any compatible titles.
The description states the app will allow users to play Netflix games on their TV by pairing their phone as a controller. It notes the feature is still in beta and some devices may not be supported currently.
When launched, the app only asks users to choose a game and try connecting, which doesn't function yet. This follows Netflix expanding its catalog of mobile games in recent months.
Netflix executives have previously discussed wanting to make its games playable across all Netflix devices. A potential cloud gaming service could enable playing games on TVs. The "Netflix Game Controller" app suggests the company is exploring that direction, but the functionality is not live yet.
Activision Announces Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare III Launch Date, Releases ‘Makarov’ Trailer
The recently announced Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III will bring back classic villain Makarov as the primary antagonist when it launches on November 10. Makarov was the main villain in 2011's original Modern Warfare 3 and a side villain in 2009's Modern Warfare 2.
A new trailer for the rebooted Modern Warfare trilogy's third entry teases Makarov's return as the head villain, posing a threat to Task Force 141 led by Captain Price. Makarov is depicted as a dangerous boogeyman who will torment Price's squad. Fans of the original trilogy will recognize Makarov as the ruthless Vladimir Makarov.
The trailer also teases a full reveal of Modern Warfare III on August 17th. Makarov's prominent role as the big bad connects the rebooted series to the classic Modern Warfare games that long-time fans remember.
China’s Video Game Time Limits Haven’t Had Much Impact on Heavy Gaming
China imposed strict time limits on video game playing for those under 18 to combat addiction, yet a study analyzing 7 billion hours of gameplay suggests these limits had no immediate impact on heavy gaming. Initiated in November 2019, the policy initially restricted daily play to 90 minutes, then further reduced it to 1 hour on weekends and holidays by August 2021.
Conducted by David Zendle and colleagues at the University of York, the study examined data from 188 million gamer profiles in China, spanning 22 weeks around the policy's implementation. Surprisingly, heavy gaming (over 4 hours per day for six days weekly) increased by a factor of 1.14 post-implementation, though authors argue this isn't significant.
Catherine Flick, part of the research team, noted the absence of expected behaviors to bypass the limitations. Despite challenging common assumptions, Igor Szpotakowski from Newcastle University noted the policy's impact might not apply to all in the dataset.
The study highlights the need for data-driven regulatory strategies, as the results prompt a reevaluation of approaches to tackle gaming addiction and similar concerns.
Gala Games Shifts NFTs to GalaChain, Partners with Elixir Games
Gala Games, a Web3 gaming platform, is transferring its unsold and reserved NFT game items from Ethereum to its new blockchain, GalaChain, aiming to eliminate Ethereum gas fees for gamers. The platform focuses on player ownership and has released several games in the past year, with over a dozen more in late-stage development.
Players will soon have access to various tiers of "NFT Mystery Boxes" containing exclusive game items, no longer available in the Gala Games Store. These Mystery Boxes, priced differently, contain three random game items from different titles within Gala Games' ecosystem, all hosted on GalaChain. Jason "BitBender" Brink, Gala Games' President of Blockchain, highlighted that this transition will provide a more seamless experience without the hassle of gas fees.
A recent partnership between Gala Games and Elixir Games has brought popular titles like "Town Star" and "Spider Tanks" to the Games Launcher. Elixir Games, known for its Web3 distribution and community engagement, plans to expand its catalog with more Gala Games titles. Elixir Games will also operate a dedicated node on the Gala Network, hosting weekly gaming events with exclusive prizes and guests from the Elixir Partner program.
Fortnite’s New Jujutsu Kaisen Anime Collab Adds Themed Outfits and Quests
Fortnite's latest v25.30 update on Tuesday adds a new crossover event with the anime series Jujutsu Kaisen. The update includes themed cosmetic outfits in the item shop and a set of limited-time quests to earn in-game rewards. Players can also find cursed llamas on the map during the event that grant abilities inspired by the anime.
The Jujutsu Kaisen crossover follows previous Fortnite events featuring other popular anime like Dragon Ball, Naruto, and My Hero Academia. Fortnite had already teased the event with a video on August 1st showing four characters from Jujutsu Kaisen.
Anime crossovers have become a staple of Fortnite, blending these iconic characters and stories into the game's colorful roster. The Jujutsu Kaisen event offers both cosmetic items for fans plus gameplay content through the quests and cursed llamas.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs
Star Trek Enters NFT Space With ‘Continuum’ Trademark Application
CBS Studios has filed a trademark application for "Star Trek Continuum" to be used for NFTs and crypto collectibles associated with the Star Trek franchise. The US Patent and Trademark Office has approved the application, allowing CBS to leverage the Star Trek brand in the NFT space.
The trademark covers an online marketplace for crypto collectibles and NFT-backed video clips and artworks related to Star Trek Continuum. The Continuum line of NFTs features various Star Trek starships that users can customize.
While the application centers on the name, it signifies CBS embracing NFTs to engage fans. However, navigating IP laws for traditional brands entering crypto could pose challenges. The rising trademark filings reflect the surging interest in NFTs.
Star Trek remains popular within both mainstream and crypto communities. Actor William Shatner, known for playing Captain Kirk, spoke at crypto conferences and plans to again, highlighting the intersection between sci-fi franchises and blockchain tech.
CBS capitalizing on the iconic Star Trek brand through NFT collectibles caters to enthusiastic fan bases in both entertainment and crypto. The trademark filing demonstrates the appeal of blending well-known IP with emerging NFT and blockchain technology.
DeGods Season 3 Launch Faces Backlash, Frank Mentions a Pivot to Make Things Right
The NFT project DeGods continued facing backlash this week after a controversial rollout of artwork updates for Season 3 of their collection. The team is now doing damage control and pivoting to a different design following community criticism.
It started when DeGods announced a Season 3 upgrade requiring holders to pay $750 in crypto dust tokens to access new artwork and benefits. After frustrations over the high cost, co-founder Frank defended it as an experiment funding community rewards.
But after further backlash over disappointing holders, Frank admitted fumbling the change and pledged to adjust their approach. Additional tweets from DeGods members acknowledged not properly explaining the Season 3 art direction, taking the blame for the controversial response.
Now Frank insists there is no "psyop" or deception, but that they have pivoted to a new Season 3 artwork version called the "Downgrade." This nostalgic, colorful design harkens back to versions debated this June.
The Downgrade will launch on August 13th, allowing users to update Season 3 for reduced dust costs. Frank thanked those who stuck around amid the botched rollout and invited doubters to return for Sunday's changes.
FC Barcelona Raises Over $130M and Scores Web3 Partners To Level Up Digital Assets
FC Barcelona has announced new investment partners acquiring stakes in Barça Vision, the holding company for the club's digital assets and web3 initiatives including NFTs and metaverse projects. German firm LIBERO football finance AG and Dutch investor NIPA Capital bought a total of 29.5% of Barça Vision for €120 million from Socios.com and Orpheus Media.
The deal strengthens Barça Vision with strategic partners providing expertise in digital sports, entertainment, and web3. LIBERO specializes in supporting football clubs across financing and profitability. NIPA offers an innovative vision to accelerate growth.
The sale was authorized by FC Barcelona's General Assembly and continues partnerships with Socios.com and Orpheus as minority holders and tech providers for web3 assets like the BAR Fan Token.
Separately, FC Barcelona entered an agreement with Mountain & Co. I Acquisition Corp to merge its Barça Vision and audiovisual units into a new entity called Barça Media. This deal will allow Barça Media to access US capital markets and accelerate digital and audiovisual growth, including in web3 domains.
The merger values Barça Media at around $1 billion. It requires approval from Mountain shareholders, FC Barcelona members, and customary closing conditions. It is expected to close in Q4 2023.
President Joan Laporta said the club has made major progress in digital, turning assets into creative hubs and new revenue streams. He stated the Barça Media deal provides resources to keep growing amid expanding demand for digital sports content, reinforcing FC Barcelona's digital transformation including in web3.
In Other Web3 & Metaverse News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
SEC Calls for Public Input on Ark 21Shares Bitcoin ETF Application, Extending the Decision by Several Weeks
The SEC has extended its review of the Ark 21Shares Bitcoin ETF application, continuing the evaluation of similar filings by major finance firms. The SEC published an order seeking public input on the proposal, delaying any decision by several more weeks as part of the 240-day maximum review window.
Ark and 21Shares originally filed for a Bitcoin ETF in 2021, submitting new applications this year after prior rejections. The SEC has denied spot Bitcoin ETFs before due to concerns over potential manipulation and insufficient investor protections.
Approval would allow mainstream investors a broader access to Bitcoin's value without holding the asset itself. Ark CEO Cathie Wood expects delays but thinks the SEC will approve multiple applications together. She believes research depth will differentiate approved products.
However, the consumer advocacy group Better Markets contends the SEC should reject the applications altogether. They argue the proposed surveillance-sharing agreements are inadequate given Bitcoin's history of manipulation, concentration among few miners and entities, and inflated trading volumes.
Better Markets claims these issues make a spot Bitcoin ETF highly vulnerable to manipulation and unnecessary investor risks. They say the proposals fail to neutralize these threats.
The extended review indicates the complexities around regulating crypto-based ETFs persist. While approval could expand access, the SEC remains cautious due to concerns over volatility, integrity, and authority over cryptocurrency markets. Its decision will heavily weigh guardrails to protect investors versus financial innovation.
Biden's Ban on Chinese AI Investments Will Change Venture Capital
President Biden has proposed an executive order effectively banning US venture capital and private equity investments in Chinese tech companies on national security grounds. The order would prevent US individuals and institutions from making equity investments in Chinese companies involved in AI, quantum computing, semiconductors, and other sensitive tech sectors.
Related M&A, joint ventures, and greenfield projects would also be blocked. There are carveouts for passive public market investments like ETFs and non-convertible debt deals. LP commitments to China-focused VC/PE funds remain allowed.
The ban aims to restrict American investor access and expertise from aiding Chinese tech versus just limiting capital flows. The White House argues VC/PE investors provide unique "intangible benefits" beyond just money that this order would curb.
Implementation requires Treasury Department rulemaking including a comment period. It would not be retroactive, but Treasury wants notification of any deals made since the announcement.
This effectively bans US private investment in Chinese tech given the ubiquity of AI across the sector. It could accelerate Chinese tech IPOs as an alternative liquidity avenue.
Many US VC/PE firms had already slowed China tech investments, but some remain reliant on that strategy. More firm breakups may follow Sequoia Capital's recent split.
This signals an end to unfettered globalization in private capital markets. As US-China tensions grow, cross-border tech investment appears increasingly difficult. The White House aims to frame this as a narrow security measure, but it represents a blanket ban for US investors in Chinese tech startups.
Sam Bankman-Fried Is Going to Jail, Judge Revokes Bail Over Witness Tampering
Disgraced former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was jailed following a bail hearing before Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York. The judge said he didn't believe a gag order would be sufficient and that Bankman-Fried will likely be detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
Prosecutors last month moved to revoke Bankman-Fried's bail after accusing him of witness tampering related to interactions with a New York Times reporter. The article included comments from former Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison about not being well-suited to run Alameda.
Prosecutors alleged Bankman-Fried improperly leaked documents to the reporter. FTX collapsed in November 2022 amid fraud allegations, with Bankman-Fried facing charges like conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Citing witness tampering concerns and the potential for Bankman-Fried to access computing devices while detained, the judge ordered him jailed ahead of an October trial date. This escalation highlights the ongoing legal jeopardy faced by the collapsed crypto exchange's founder.
In Other Legal & Regulatory News…
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