September 16, 2023
Issue No. 71
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 AI Audio Platform “Stable Audio”
- Gaming: Unity's Pricing Shift Rattles the Game Dev Community
- Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs: Deutsche Bank to Offer Crypto Custody Services for Customers
- Legal Landscape: Tech Leaders to Participate in AI Insight Forums, Aiming for ‘Balanced’ AI Regulation
Stability AI Launches AI Audio Platform “Stable Audio”
Stability AI, known for its image generation platform Stable Diffusion, launched Stable Audio for text-to-audio generation. It uses the same diffusion model as Stable Diffusion but is trained on audio instead of images. Users can generate songs and sounds.
Previous audio diffusion models could only generate fixed-length audio, problematic for music. Stability AI tweaked its model to give users more control over song length by training on text metadata about start/end times. This addresses issues where generated audio was arbitrarily cut.
The company said Stable Audio represents cutting-edge research from its audio lab Harmonai. It was trained on over 800,000 audio files and 19,500 hours of music, effects, and instrument stems from AudioSparx, allowing copyrighted use.
Stable Audio will have free, professional, and enterprise tiers. The free version allows 45 seconds of audio for 20 tracks monthly, without commercial use. Professional offers 500 tracks up to 90 seconds for $11.99. Enterprise is customized for companies.
While text-to-audio is not new, platforms from Meta and Google are only for researchers so far. Stable Audio aims to make background music creation faster for podcasts and videos. Potential uses were a focus when Stability AI announced plans to expand into audio, video, and 3D image generation last year. The platform makes audio diffusion generation more accessible.
Adobe Releases Firefly Generative AI Tools to the Public
Adobe announced that its generative AI models under the Firefly project are now generally available in Creative Cloud, Adobe Express, and Experience Cloud after being in beta for 176 days. This includes features like generative fill and expand in Photoshop. Firefly is also now officially available as a standalone web app.
Importantly, Adobe unveiled pricing plans based on "generative credits" consumed each time an image is generated. Existing paid plans provide 1000-3000 credits depending on the package. Free users receive 25. Once credits run out, generation speeds slow down significantly except for paid Firefly and Express Premium subscribers who get two generations per day until their monthly reset. Adobe did not provide pricing for additional credit packs but all users have unlimited generation until November 1st.
Adobe VP Alexandru Costin explained the large models run in the cloud at a high cost and quality priority over speed. Credits were introduced to ensure fair usage for all users and access to the service. While an earlier token system was too complex, feedback ensured the credit system was simpler to understand.
Adobe users have already generated over 2 billion Firefly images. Costin noted the models were trained on Adobe Stock ensuring business-safe usage, and the company will indemnify enterprise customers against lawsuits when using generated images commercially.
EY Unveils AI Platform and LLM After $1.4B Investment
EY today announced the launch of EY.ai, an AI platform to help clients boost adoption. It brings together an ecosystem of capabilities from partners like Microsoft, Dell, IBM, SAP, ServiceNow, and UiPath. EY invested $1.4 billion as the foundation, including embedding AI into proprietary technologies like EY Fabric used by 60,000 clients.
The announcement came eight months after the EY CTO discussed generative AI's "killer use case" being knowledge management. With 360,000 employees and over 100 years of tools and capabilities, EY's knowledge is now distributed and immaterial; systematizing it into an ontology through technology could significantly increase enterprise value.
In an interview, the CTO said EY's new proprietary offerings give clients "a level of confidence" in suitable enterprise AI capabilities. As understanding of the technology's potential impact grows, clients ask how future compliance of solutions can be measured. EY aims to help clients develop a valid framework to assess organizational maturity and offer a roadmap to deploy AI with confidence.
It is almost a "treasure map" to help enterprises embark and succeed on their AI journey, validating data, models, and processes making up solutions through the EY.ai Confidence Index which provides an empirical assessment of underlying AI models.
In Other AI News…
- Following eBay’s similar move, Amazon debuts generative AI tools that aid sellers
- Meta sets GPT-4 as the bar for its next AI model, says a new report
- Pixis, an AI-powered full-stack marketing platform, raises $85M
- Salesforce introduces Einstein Copilot Studio to help customers customize their AI
- Scala Biodesign makes it easy to re-engineer proteins with the help of AI
CD Projekt Red Unveils Cinematic Trailer for Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
Cyberpunk 2077, after resolving its initial issues, has built a devoted community eagerly anticipating the Phantom Liberty expansion. This expansion promises a thrilling spy thriller side story and new gameplay features that could take the gaming experience to new heights. While attention has been on the free content in update 2.0, launching on September 21, the expansion brings additional excitement with unique features and an intriguing narrative.
CD Projekt Red unveiled a cinematic video for Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, featuring Idris Elba as FIA agent Solomon Reed. In this expansion, V becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving the NUSA president and a new Night City district. The cinematic trailer provides a glimpse into the expansion's storyline and events.
CD Projekt Red didn't stop there; they also released three videos showcasing distinct character builds, each offering a different approach to gameplay. These diverse builds cater to various playstyles, allowing players to specialize in demolishing opponents at close range, employing ninja-like melee combat with blades, or mastering hacking to control vehicles and wreak havoc. This variety offers players more options for customizing their experience in Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, making it an exciting prospect for those looking to explore different playstyles.
Unity's Pricing Shift Rattles Game Development Community
Unity, a major player in the game engine industry, recently introduced a controversial change in its pricing model that has sparked widespread backlash. Unity has shifted away from its prior pricing framework and now opts to bill developers by the volume of installations for their games. This abrupt shift in pricing has alarmed many developers and prompted some to consider switching to alternative game engines, notably Unreal Engine by Epic Games.
Initially, Unity's announcement suggested that every installation would incur a fee, leading to concerns about players deleting and reinstalling games to manipulate developers. However, Unity later clarified that fees would be charged only for the initial installation, leaving questions about how multiple platform installations would be handled.
Another point of contention is Unity's reliance on its fraud protection technology to prevent charges for pirated copies. Developers' trust in this system remains uncertain, and some may prefer more established methods for combating piracy.
Despite some concessions, such as exempting demos from fees and allowing charity bundles without charges (provided developers inform Unity), the overall sentiment within the gaming community remains negative. There are doubts about Unity's long-term viability if such a pricing model is seen as a desperate revenue-generation measure. The impact on indie developers, who often have limited resources, is of particular concern as they evaluate their options in light of these changes.
Swinging into Action: Spiderman 2’s Open World Upgrades and New Activities Revealed
Spider-Man 2 was recently featured in a State of Play, revealing substantial upgrades to its open world. The map has expanded significantly, now including Queens and Brooklyn, effectively doubling the game's size. Players can traverse this vast city not only by web-swinging but also by gliding using web wings. Iconic Spider-Man locations like Midtown High and Brooklyn Visions Academy are now part of the game.
A standout aspect involves effortless city-to-city fast travel, along with the ability to switch between Miles Morales and Peter Parker seamlessly while exploring. The game incorporates in-world attractions, such as Kraven's bird bots and mysterious symbols, visible through advanced AR tech in the Spider-Men's masks. The Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man app aids in task tracking and city interaction, with certain tasks suited for both Spider-Men or exclusive to one.
The revamped District Progress system unlocks rewards and fast travel options as players progress. Throughout the game, players will unlock new abilities, technologies, and suits for both Spider-Men, totaling over 65 suits, including original and homage designs. Suit customization through the Suit Style system adds an extra layer of personalization to the gameplay experience.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs
Deutsche Bank to Offer Crypto Custody Services for Customers
Deutsche Bank is partnering with cryptocurrency infrastructure platform Taurus to offer cryptocurrency custody options to customers. Deutsche Bank invested in Taurus' $65 million Series B round in February 2023. Taurus offers enterprise-grade infrastructure for issuing, managing custody, and trading cryptocurrencies, tokenized assets, NFTs, and other digital assets.
The partnership underwent a thorough due diligence process before Deutsche Bank decided to use Taurus' services, which Brahimi said started in late 2021 and concluded in 2022. Deutsche Bank has been planning to offer cryptocurrency custody and trading to clients for three years. It recently applied for a digital asset custody license from German regulators as these plans continue.
Brahimi confirmed Taurus will provide global custody and tokenization technology to Deutsche Bank in compliance with local regulations. Deutsche Bank securities services head Paul Maley said the cryptocurrency space is expected to grow massively and become a priority for investors. Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank's asset management arm had discussed investing in two German crypto firms in February 2023.
Deutsche Bank Singapore also recently partnered with Memento Blockchain on a proof-of-concept allowing digital fund management using tokenized securities. Taurus' Series B was led by Credit Suisse and attracted other banks, showing traditional finance interest. Taurus aims to serve top European banks, with Brahimi noting it currently serves close to 30 banks for services beyond just cryptocurrencies.
Binance US Legal and Risk Heads Step Down Amid Exec Exodus
Binance.US has seen additional executive departures following Brian Shroder stepping down as CEO earlier this week. Reports indicate legal head Krishna Juvvadi and Chief Risk Officer Sidney Majalya have also left the company. Shroder's exit came as Binance.US laid off one-third of its staff, a trend seen across crypto firms.
However, the recent exits also follow lawsuits filed against Binance and Binance.US by US regulators this year over various allegations including securities fraud and market manipulation. Regulators also alleged that Binance.US is closely tied to its parent Binance contrary to being independent, extending concerns over Binance's stability to US clients.
Prior departures from Binance include the SVP of compliance, general counsel, chief strategy officer, and global head of product. Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao has dismissed any concerns from the exits as unfounded. Hedge fund manager Travis Kling, who lost funds in FTX's collapse, called out Binance for displaying red flags that could signal a similar demise. Zhao countered Kling only focused on negatives and highlighted Binance handling a bank run smoothly along with new hires and markets.
However, the recent spate of executive departures from Binance.US raises questions about leadership and regulatory situations surrounding both the company and its international parent exchange Binance, which has seen its high-level staff exits.
Animoca Brands Raises $20M for Mocaverse Web3 Project
Animoca Brands announced it raised $20 million for its flagship Mocaverse project through a round led by CMCC Global. The funds will accelerate Mocaverse's development, expand its ecosystem, and drive adoption. Mocaverse aims to establish the identity and points system for gaming, culture, and entertainment in Web3 by building tools enabling users to create digital identities, earn reputation and loyalty points, and access its ecosystem.
As a major investor in Web3 with over 700 million potential users reached, Animoca Brands is well-positioned to seed Mocaverse. Users will be empowered to participate in a collaborative community generating opportunities. Mocaverse will also serve as the system for other decentralized organizations.
Plans include launching Moca ID, a non-transferable NFT collection allowing users to craft on-chain identities and actively engage. Moca ID holders get exclusive experiences and earn loyalty points powering a decentralized interoperable system enabling third-party integration. This advances accessibility and grows Web3.
CMCC Global is known for investing in projects like Ethereum, Solana, and Cosmos. Co-founder Martin Baumann said they look to support innovative founders pushing boundaries and are excited to support Animoca Brands’ leading innovation directions into Mocaverse.
The funding was raised through SAFEs priced at A$4.50 per share, automatically converting after six months into ordinary shares. Participating investors also received utility token warrants on a 1:1 dollar basis over 30 months. CMCC Global's relationship and belief in Animoca Brands' vision supported leading this round of financing Mocaverse's establishment.
Paxos Pays $500k Bitcoin Transaction Fees to Move $2k-worth of BTC due to ‘Bug’
A Bitcoin transaction that paid $500,000 in fees to transfer $2,000 worth of BTC turned out to belong to Paxos, not PayPal as was speculated. Paxos confirmed the error only impacted its corporate operations and customer funds were unaffected.
The mistaken transfer was discovered on Sept. 10 after it paid around 20 BTC in fees, over 515k at the time, to send just 0.07 BTC worth under $2,000. Analysts flagged it as looking like an exchange due to over 60k transfers from the same address. F2Pool offered to return funds if claimed within 3 days.
Bitcoin proponent Mononaut had argued on social media that PayPal was responsible based on similarities to an inactive wallet labeled as PayPal by analytics platform OXT. That old wallet sent funds through an intermediate account to the wallet that made the erroneous transfer.
However, Paxos later stated it was to blame for the bug in a single transfer, not PayPal. Paxos said it contacted the miner to try recovering funds.
Metamask Launches ‘Snaps’ Open Beta, Now Supports Solana
MetaMask announced the launch of its MetaMask Snaps Open Beta, representing a major step towards creating a fully permissionless ecosystem.
Snaps allow independent developers to build and offer custom features that users can directly install to enhance their MetaMask experience. This realization of the Snaps vision provides modularity and flexibility.
In this initial beta iteration, over 30 Snaps are available focused on transaction insights, interoperability, and notifications. While Snaps are currently only from an approved list for caution, the long-term goal is a fully permissionless model. Snaps run in a sandbox and users should understand permission requests.
The new Snaps feature also brought Solana support to MetaMask, thanks to Solflare’s integration. By utilizing Solana Snaps to connect Ethereum and other chains, the integration allows MetaMask users to directly manage their Solana portfolios and assets from within the familiar interface.
A bridge powered by deBridge facilitates quick asset transfers between networks. While bridges introduce vulnerabilities, deBridge claims its infrastructure leaves such exploits without risk. The Solflare news highlights how Snaps can increase interoperability and help realize MetaMask's vision of customizable permissionless modifications.
Mila Kunis' Stoner Cats NFTs Deemed Securities, Project Sued by SEC
The SEC charged the creators of the Stoner Cats NFT project with selling unregistered securities in 2021. Stoner Cats 2 LLC agreed to a cease-and-desist order and will pay a $1 million penalty without admitting fault. They will also destroy any remaining NFTs and establish a fund to refund primary sale investors.
Stoner Cats was created by Orchard Farm Productions, actress Mila Kunis' production studio, who voiced a character. The company raised $8 million selling Ethereum NFTs that granted access to watch a web series about five cats and their owner who get high. Celebrity voices included Kunis' husband Ashton Kutcher, Jane Fonda, Seth McFarlane, and Chris Rock, while Vitalik Buterin made his Hollywood debut as a taxidermied cat.
According to the SEC, the benefits of owning the NFTs like resale rights on secondary markets that earned the company royalties constituted an investment contract, making them securities. The SEC alleges celebrities' brands were leveraged in marketing.
The SEC director said economic reality, not labels, determines what constitutes an investment contract and security. This is the latest SEC action against celebrities who offered NFTs, following a $6 million settlement in August against a media company for its NFT collection, which also had to be destroyed.
In Other Web3 & Metaverse News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
Tech Leaders to Participate in AI Insight Forums, Aiming for ‘Balanced’ AI Regulation
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invited top tech CEOs including Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia, Google, and Tesla to a closed-door AI Insight Forum to inform potential regulation. Zuckerberg said in remarks Congress should support AI innovation and safeguards. He stated access and safety are key issues, and Meta builds safeguards while releasing powerful models to drive opportunity.
Zuckerberg said all stakeholders should minimize risks and maximize the benefits of new AI. He touted Meta's model sharing and noted balancing regulation and US leadership is important. Musk told reporters a federal AI oversight agency is needed as companies currently assess risks internally.
OpenAI's Altman remarked policymakers want the right rules quickly. Schumer said not to rush rules but to understand technology. Critics argued private forums risk regulatory capture. A Carnegie Mellon dean called for public hearings to increase transparency.
Lawmakers have held regular AI hearings for months. Warren and Markey sent letters demanding information on human workers impacted by AI from companies involved in the forum. The same week, a Senate committee discussed legislation as the White House obtained responsible AI commitments.
While tech leaders saw the forum as informative, congressional Democrats and experts expressed concern that closed-door discussions could undermine transparency and represent smaller voices. Continued regulation debates aim to balance oversight and innovation.
SEC Responds to Ripple Filing, Doubles Down on Appeal Bid
The SEC filed a response pushing back against Ripple's efforts to block its appeal of a judge's ruling that largely favored Ripple in its legal fight with the regulator. The SEC argued the summary judgment by Judge Torres in July addressed "knotty legal problems" appropriate for provisional appellate review under the law allowing certain rulings to be appealed early.
Specifically, the SEC wants to challenge Torres' findings that Ripple's programmatic and institutional XRP sales were not securities offerings requiring registration. The judge ruled some institutional sales under investment contracts were unregistered securities.
The SEC rejected Ripple's arguments that the appeal is unavailable because the issues involve applying the law to undisputed facts and would not end the litigation. It argued case law allows appeals courts to review applications of legal tests like determining if something is a security. The SEC also said interim appeals can expedite cases versus further pretrial litigation, as Ripple prefers.
Ripple previously said the issues the SEC wants to appeal are fact-bound and inappropriate for interim review, and immediate appeal would not speed up resolution. It argued the SEC failed to establish conditions for certifying an interim appeal.
Ripple added the SEC merely contends the judge reached the wrong result applying the legal test, which does not warrant certification. The SEC sued Ripple and its executives in 2020, alleging they illegally raised over $1.3 billion through unregistered XRP sales. Both sides sought summary judgment after discovery.
California Lawmaker Proposes Regulations for AI Models
California state senator Scott Wiener plans to file a bill aiming to increase transparency of generative AI models and start regulating the technology. Wiener's draft bill would require "frontier" models like large language models above a certain size to meet transparency standards. It also proposes security measures to prevent foreign access to AI systems and establish a state AI research center outside big tech firms.
The intent bill would mandate AI labs test models for safety risks and disclose any issues found to the state. Wiener says the goal is to initiate discussions around AI regulation as federal regulation moves slowly. While no state has passed AI laws yet, 25 states and territories introduced bills in 2023, according to a legislative group.
As a center of AI development and investing, California has taken steps to oversee tech through online child protection and electronics right-to-repair laws. Federally, hearings, summits, and reports have examined understanding and overseeing AI since 2021. A Senate subcommittee recently grilled companies on AI safety issues. The Senate majority leader also hosted an AI summit with industry leaders. Congressional bills have proposed licensing for AI developers and banning deepfakes in elections.
Tech firms also pledged to the Biden administration to build AI responsibly. As regulation lags at the national level, states like California are attempting earlier oversight of AI and its societal impacts.
In Other Legal & Regulatory News…
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