September 9, 2023
Issue No. 70
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
Slack Announces Upcoming Built-in AI Tool
Slack announced it will begin testing a new built-in AI tool called Slack AI this winter. Slack AI will offer several useful features for users. One capability is automatically generating summaries of message conversations on a particular channel. This helps users catch up on discussions they may have missed. It can also summarize threads.
Another helpful Slack AI feature allows users to search for answers within Slack based on relevant messages, files, and channels on a topic. By asking Slack AI a question, users will receive a summary and links to pertinent discussions. In addition, Slack will test a new list feature for project tracking. Lists allow teams to track task assignments and progress directly in Slack.
Lists will notify users of changes through alerts and dedicated task threads. Slack is improving the integration of third-party apps with a new Workflow Builder as well. Earlier this year, Slack incorporated new AI features such as a ChatGPT bot for quickly replying to colleagues. It also introduced a tool that can attend and summarize points from Slack's audio meetings and huddles, on a user's behalf.
The chief product officer commented that Slack seeks to provide an "intelligent productivity platform" with AI and automation. Slack aims to test Slack AI and lists this winter to enhance collaboration and work management capabilities for users.
Opera GX Browser Adds ‘Aria AI’ to Improve Gamer Experience
Opera GX is introducing Aria, a sophisticated browser AI designed to assist users with a variety of tasks. Powered by Opera's Composer architecture, Aria can write code and provide real-time answers drawing from internet data, going beyond typical AI capabilities.
With Aria, early users of Opera GX can engage with a friendly AI browser assistant that keeps them updated on gaming news and offers helpful tips. Users can ask Aria anything from game-specific questions to broader topics like streaming careers. Aria can also generate character bios for games or updates on upcoming titles.
To enhance convenience, Opera GX users have access to a new command line allowing ctrl/cmd shortcuts to activate an overlay interface with Aria. The command line allows direct questions to Aria with the option to return to browsing seamlessly. Aria also integrates with Opera's AI Prompts feature, enabling users to highlight text and summon contextual information.
Setting itself apart, Aria gives users full control over their accessing it through the sidebar or command line and logging into a free Opera account. Aria is available in over 180 countries on Opera GX and Opera for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS browsers. To enable Aria in Opera GX, users need to turn the "Early Bird" and "Aria Extension" options on in settings.
Intuit Launches Generative AI-powered Digital Assistant
Intuit has launched Intuit Assist, its first generative AI-powered digital assistant for small businesses and consumers. The assistant is embedded across Intuit's products like TurboTax, Credit Karma, QuickBooks, and Mailchimp. It offers personalized recommendations and contextual datasets using Intuit's proprietary GenOS operating system. GenOS incorporates both Intuit and third-party large language models to power personalized interactions.
In TurboTax, Intuit Assist uses Intuit's tax expertise and data to determine customers' tax situations and navigate the tax code. It creates customized checklists and provides answers to questions based on aggregated insights. For Credit Karma users, it offers distinct answers and recommendations using customers' financial data. Intuit Assist also helps QuickBooks users identify spending anomalies and cash flow issues.
For Mailchimp users, Intuit Assist helps design and schedule marketing campaigns personalized for their brand identity. It can generate automated email content from QuickBooks data and track leads in sales pipelines. Intuit has been developing AI for some time through investments in generative AI, data science, and 900 AI patents. The company's governance team oversees AI principles like privacy, fairness, and transparency.
While generative AI risks like hallucination remain, Intuit aims to mitigate them through large, relevant datasets giving grounded, accurate answers. Intuit Assist is currently available to select customers and will roll out more widely, with TurboTax integration debuting for the 2023 tax season. The assistant demonstrates Intuit’s goal of enhancing customer experiences through AI and data.
Instacart Announces AI-powered Upgrades to Platform and Carts
Instacart may go public later this month but first announced updates to its Instacart Storefront e-commerce platform used by over 550 retailers. Storefront now includes conversational search powered by OpenAI's ChatGPT and Instacart's 150 proprietary AI models. This allows customers to ask open-ended questions about recipes and meal ideas directly in storefront search bars.
Instacart has a growing reputation as a tech platform company, controlling around 22% of the US online grocery market. It has developed a relationship with OpenAI, being one of the first to announce a ChatGPT plugin and rolling out an "Ask Instacart" feature for its app.
The COO commented that grocery's future is both online and in-store, now supercharged by AI. Instacart's data foundation comes from its large grocery catalog containing billions of items and constant updates. Knowledge from over a decade of online grocery shopping is paired with AI.
Instacart's AI-powered Caper Carts, acquired in 2021, also received upgrades. In addition to bagging and checkout capabilities, customers can now directly order made-to-order items from the carts. Newly upgraded AI models also improve camera/weight sensor speed and precision for a smoother shopping experience and suspicious activity detection.
eBay Releases AI Tool for Marketplace Sellers — Generates Listings from Photos
eBay announced a new generative AI tool that allows sellers to create full product listings by uploading a single photo. The company believes this will accelerate the selling process for new merchants who may feel overwhelmed by providing extensive listing details. Currently, the image-based tool is only available on iOS but will launch on Android in the coming weeks.
As someone familiar with eBay, product listings can vary widely in quality and information provided. Descriptions range from a few words to paragraphs. AI-generated listings could make information more consistent. However, sellers are typically very responsive to buyer questions based on my experience.
This is not eBay's first venture into generative AI. The company had offered a simpler tool for generating descriptions from listing details. However, sellers complained about generated text quality, as I also found when experimenting with it. The AI produced a stilted, cliched language that removed important details like item condition notes potential buyers would want to know. In the end, it did not save time and unedited results could lead to complaints.
While image-based listings may streamline the process, quality will be key for AI-generated content to provide actual value to buyers and sellers. Missing or incorrect information could undermine the benefits of faster listing creation in favor of responsive human interactions that currently support transactions on eBay.
HubSpot Announces Range of New Sales and Marketing AI Tools Geared Toward SMBs
HubSpot aims to leverage AI to help clients with customer acquisition and communications. At HubSpot's INBOUND conference, it introduced new AI features across its social publishing and marketing tools.
The new features include AI Assistants that can draft emails, images, and blogs. AI Agents will launch next year to automate and elevate customer service via chat and email. AI Insights provides predictive analytics for better decision-making. ChatSpot integrates OpenAI's ChatGPT with user data to answer client and prospect questions and help with content creation.
HubSpot's revamped Sales Hub includes streamlined prospecting, advanced lead management reports, and intelligent deal management using predictive AI to prioritize deals and project sales accurately. It has expanded LinkedIn integration, bringing LinkedIn lead data into HubSpot CRM privately beta.
HubSpot aims to evolve as SMBs' marketing and sales platform of choice. The company's role is helping SMBs easily adopt technologies like generative AI without extensive research, through a trusted platform to help customers grow. The new AI features exist platform-wide to provide ongoing value as businesses expand beyond HubSpot.
In Other AI News…
Starfield Launch — A Hit for Xbox
Starfield, the highly anticipated game from Bethesda, has officially launched and is already a hit on Xbox. Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Gaming, proudly announced that the game surpassed 1 million concurrent players on its launch day across Xbox and Steam. The game received praise from critics, with reviews putting it on par with acclaimed Sony titles like Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost of Tsushima, and Spider-Man.
While the game's success is evident, its financial impact on Microsoft is yet to be determined. A significant portion of the concurrent players likely come from existing Xbox Game Pass subscribers who can access the game for free on launch day. Although Starfield's release may have attracted new Game Pass sign-ups, Microsoft has not disclosed updated subscriber numbers since January 2022, raising questions about the service's growth.
Nonetheless, Starfield's success is undoubtedly a public relations triumph for Xbox, demonstrating the positive outcomes of their substantial studio acquisitions. Despite facing years of production, delays, and the weight of high expectations as a new IP, the game managed to avoid a problematic launch akin to Cyberpunk 2077, boasting a relatively smooth release.
Starfield could potentially become the defining game of this Xbox generation. With mainline Halo games on hold and the future of franchises like Gears of War uncertain, Starfield holds a pivotal position. The success of upcoming titles like Fable, Avowed, and Perfect Dark remains uncertain, making Starfield a cornerstone for Xbox.
Stray Game Inspires Annapurna Animated Movie
Annapurna has officially announced the development of an animated movie based on the well-received 2022 adventure game, "Stray." This project falls under Annapurna's newly established animation division, which is led by former Disney Animation executives Robert Baird and Andrew Millstein.
"Stray" is a third-person cat adventure game set in a detailed, neon-lit cybercity filled with decaying alleys and the murky depths of its seedy underbelly. The game received positive reviews, with IGN giving it an 8/10 rating and describing it as a delightful journey in a dark yet endearing cyberpunk world, where players take on the role of an adorable cat.
Annapurna Animation's debut project, "Nimona," made its premiere at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival on June 14 and was globally released on Netflix on June 30. In addition to "Stray," the animation division is also working on director Chris Wedge's upcoming project, "Foo."
Furthermore, Annapurna Animation has plans to adapt more titles from its extensive video game library, which includes games such as "Donut County," "Kentucky Route Zero," "Outer Wilds," "Sayonara Wild Hearts," "Wattam," "What Remains of Edith Finch," "Telling Lies," and "Neon White." This venture into animated adaptations demonstrates Annapurna's commitment to exploring and expanding its creative horizons within the world of animation.
Mortal Kombat 1: New Characters and 'Invasion' Mode
During Gamescom Opening Night Live, NetherRealm Studios thrilled Mortal Kombat fans with the reveal of four new characters joining the main roster in Mortal Kombat 1. These additions include two playable fighters, Sindel and General Shao, and two cameo characters, Motaro and Shujinko.
Additionally, NetherRealm Studios introduced a brand-new game mode called "Invasion," which was showcased in a hands-on preview shared via the PlayStation Blog.
Invasion mode offers a unique twist to the Mortal Kombat experience. Described as a "board game-like RPG" by the PlayStation Blog, it presents players with a diorama-style map to explore. Players lead a party of Mortal Kombat fighters through this map, engaging in battles against formidable foes, collecting valuable loot, and earning rewards in the form of ‘Kurrency’ and in-game goodies that can be used across various game modes.
What's particularly exciting is NetherRealm's commitment to expanding the Invasion mode post-launch. The studio plans to introduce new content tied to invaders from various realms, offering fresh challenges, additional areas to explore, and an array of gear to unlock. Furthermore, Invasion will feature beloved gameplay elements and mini-games from Mortal Kombat's history, including classic Arcade Towers and Test Your Might challenges, delivering a dynamic new experience while providing a nostalgic touch for long-time fans.
These revelations at Gamescom 2023 have left Mortal Kombat enthusiasts eagerly anticipating the game's release, with the promise of not only new characters but also innovative gameplay experiences to look forward to.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs
ARK Invest Files for Spot ETH ETF
ARK Invest has filed a Form S-1 registration statement with the SEC for a new Ethereum ETF. The filing was submitted on September 6th by ARK 21Shares Ethereum ETF, which seeks regulatory approval to list on exchanges.
If approved, ARK 21Shares Ethereum ETF would be managed and distributed by ARK subsidiary 21Shares US LLC. The filing serves to register an unspecified number of shares that would be offered on a continuous basis pending effectiveness.
Gala Games Co-Founders Sue Each Other Alleging Corporate Waste, $130 Million Theft
The co-founders of blockchain gaming company Gala Games, Eric Schiermeyer and Wright Thurston, have filed lawsuits against each other in a Utah district court. Schiermeyer alleges that in 2021, Thurston stole $130 million worth of GALA tokens through his company which owns 45% of Gala Games. The tokens were allegedly moved through a complex web of transactions between different wallets controlled by Thurston before being sold between September 2022 and May 2023.
In response, Thurston is suing Schiermeyer for allegedly going rogue and neglecting his input, leading to the sell-off and waste of millions in company assets. The lawsuit claims Schiermeyer exercised unilateral control over Gala Games' operations, assets, and profits, often using them for his personal benefit. Both lawsuits are seeking damages - Thurston is asking for $750 million while Schiermeyer wants the stolen GALA tokens plus damages.
As a result of the news, GALA tokens fell over 5% in 24 hours. Despite the lawsuits, Gala Games has been an early blockchain gaming company with a library of titles like Champions Arena. In May 2023, it conducted a GALA V2 token airdrop and burned $600 million worth of GALA to address concerns over a dump of tokens. The co-founders' lawsuits each allege millions were misused or stolen from the company.
MetaMask Launches Crypto Off-Ramp Feature ‘Sell’
MetaMask Portfolio's Sell feature allows users to convert cryptocurrency like ETH to fiat currencies USD, EUR, and GBP. Combined with the Buy feature, it enables a self-sufficient Web3 experience with fewer intermediaries and faster fiat conversion directly to bank accounts or PayPal.
MetaMask aggregates multiple vetted providers, ensuring high standards, to present real-time options for converting crypto balances. The Sell feature is available currently in the US, UK, and parts of Europe, with plans to expand availability to more regions globally to increase accessibility. Support is initially for ETH on Ethereum Mainnet, with plans to add layer 2 tokens and additional fiat currencies.
To sell crypto, users connect their MetaMask wallet to the portfolio site and select the "Sell" tab. They choose their region, token/network to sell from, and preferred fiat destination account. Users enter the amount of crypto to sell and then select from real-time quotes from different providers. After being redirected securely to link accounts, the transaction is confirmed in the wallet. Order status can be tracked in the "Sell" tab, with timing varying by provider and potential delays for funds to reflect in fiat accounts.
Using the Buy and Sell features allows a full crypto-fiat cycle with many of the same providers. This means only needing to sign up and link a bank account once to easily buy and sell cryptocurrency.
Coinbase’s L2 Network Base Reaches $400M TVL, Suffers First Major Outage Since Launch
Coinbase's Ethereum layer-2 network Base recently suffered its first major outage on September 5th. For approximately 45 minutes, no new blocks were produced on the Base chain, with block production stalling at 9:36pm UTC. Base developers first identified the stalled production according to the network's status site.
Coinbase stated the delay was due to part of their internal infrastructure requiring a refresh. Once the issue was identified, Coinbase implemented a fix, and block production resumed on the chain. Base developers also confirmed the cause was identified and addressed. The network continues to be monitored for additional problems.
An expert from Collective Shift highlighted concerns about using layer-2 networks given their relative inexperience compared to Ethereum's mainnet. Layer-2's have not undergone as extensive "battle testing" as the mainchain regarding reliability.
Separate from the outage, the total value locked in the Base network had reached $400 million as of September 5th. This demonstrates significant growth and adoption of the network since its public launch last month.
Visa Expands Stablecoin Settlement Capabilities, Utilizing Solana
Visa announced expanding its stablecoin settlement capabilities to the Solana blockchain as it works to modernize cross-border payments. Through pilots, Visa has already moved millions of USDC between partners over Solana and Ethereum to settle fiat payments authorized on its network. When consumers make purchases, funds need to move between their issuing bank and the merchant's acquiring bank through Visa's global settlement systems.
By leveraging USDC and blockchain networks, Visa is helping improve cross-border settlement speed and providing clients modern options for receiving treasury funds. Building on its Crypto.com pilot where USDC was used on Ethereum to receive payments in Australia, Visa can now send USDC cross-border directly to acquirers. Worldpay and Nuvei, global acquirers serving diverse merchant sectors, can route USDC payments received from Visa in USDC to end merchants.
Adding Solana provides a high-performance blockchain that clients can choose for stablecoin settlement. This makes Visa one of the first major payments companies to directly utilize Solana. Worldpay commented Visa's capability allows more in-house treasury operations and merchant funding choices. Nuvei noted stablecoins can accelerate business growth by optimizing cross-border transactions. Visa forges new partnerships to embrace innovative payment potential.
PUBG Developers Unveil Cosmos-Based Settlus Blockchain for USDC Settlements
Gaming company Krafton unveiled plans for Settlus, a new blockchain project using Cosmos SDK for payment settlements in USDC. Settlus was introduced at Korea Blockchain Week by Krafton alongside Circle and AngelHack. Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire noted the potential to onboard over 30 million monthly active PUBG users to the new payments layer.
The Cosmos SDK is a framework for building interoperable layer-1 blockchains. Settlus will be a new layer-1 blockchain focused on payments and metaverse projects. Gas fees can be paid with stablecoins, and content creator settlements will initially use USDC.
Settlus' testnet is planned for early 2024. On September 1st, Circle launched native USDC support within Cosmos through Noble, an appchain for native asset issuance and IBC transfers.
In Other Web3 & Metaverse News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
IRS to Use AI for Cracking Down on Wealthy Potential Tax Violators
The IRS announced it will start using AI and other tools to detect tax violations among high-income earners and large partnerships. Machine learning technology helped the IRS open investigations into 75 of the largest U.S. partnerships, each with over $10 billion in assets on average, seeking threats to the tax system from a segment with historically limited scrutiny.
The IRS is prioritizing cases involving taxpayers with incomes over $1 million but tax debts over $250,000. Around 1,600 taxpayers fall into this category and owe hundreds of millions in taxes. IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel stated the new efforts to hold some of the wealthiest filers accountable were made possible through Inflation Reduction Act funding. Werfel noted underfunding in previous years led to the lowest audit rates of wealthy filers historically.
The announcement is part of the Biden administration's efforts to increase revenue by billions over the next decade through new compliance measures. However, Republicans have heavily criticized this, claiming extra IRS resources will be used to harass small businesses and average taxpayers. Republicans secured $20 billion in funding cuts to the IRS over the next two years. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen directed the IRS to avoid using new funds to increase audits on those earning $400,000 or less annually.
Ripple Legal Team Opposes SEC’s Appeal Over XRP Case Decision
In a recent court filing, Ripple's legal team opposed the SEC's request to appeal a July decision that found XRP was not a security. Ripple's lawyers argued the SEC failed to meet the requirements for an interlocutory appeal, saying the grounds centered on "dissatisfaction" with the ruling. They called on the judge to deny any appeal or stay request.
In July, Judge Analisa Torres ruled that XRP sales to most retail investors did not qualify XRP as a security under SEC guidelines. In August, the SEC moved to appeal and stay this decision, claiming substantial differences in opinion on the applicable laws.
However, Ripple and the individual defendants opposed the SEC's appeal request, arguing it did not meet the standard for a stay. This lawsuit was filed by the SEC in 2020 against Ripple, CEO Brad Garlinghouse, and co-founder Chris Larsen, prompting XRP delistings on many exchanges.
Following the July ruling, some exchanges said they would relist or explore relisting XRP. Garlinghouse criticized the SEC, saying many in the US crypto community have to resort to legal action to prove the SEC is wrong. The SEC has recently targeted other crypto firms over alleged securities violations. The civil lawsuit is ongoing, with a proposed jury trial starting in mid-2024.
Change to US Accounting Rules for Companies Holding Crypto to Come into Effect in 2025
The FASB, which sets accounting standards for companies following US GAAP, has unanimously approved rules for accounting for crypto holdings at fair market value. This will go into effect in 2025. In March, the FASB issued a call for comment on proposed changes and put a final vote on September 6th.
Fair value accounting estimates an asset's price based on current market value and other factors. It will remove impairment losses from crypto value drops having to remain on balance sheets even after the asset recovers. However, it will increase earnings volatility for companies with large crypto holdings as prices fluctuate. Companies can begin using fair value accounting for crypto immediately if desired.
An FASB member said it is rare for a rule change to both reduce costs and improve the usefulness of financial information. Besides crypto companies like Coinbase, the change affects investment firms and companies like MicroStrategy and Tesla that hold significant crypto. MicroStrategy's CEO wrote that fair value accounting eliminates a major barrier to corporate adoption of Bitcoin as a treasury asset.
To accommodate the changes, crypto will become a new line item under "intangible assets" on financial reports. The rules represent a boon for companies holding crypto by 2025 by removing impairments from their balance sheets.
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!