September 30, 2023
Issue No. 73
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
Amazon Partners with Claude-creator Anthropic, to Invest $4B
Amazon announced a major new strategic partnership with Anthropic, the company behind the conversational AI model Claude. As part of the deal, Amazon will invest up to $4 billion in Anthropic, making it one of the largest financial backers of a language model startup.
This investment comes when developing powerful generative AI models requires massive financial resources. Anthropic had previously raised around $2.7 billion, but competing in the space demands extensive computing power and large datasets that accrue significant costs. The influx of funding from Amazon will help Anthropic scale its model development further.
Through the partnership, Anthropic has committed to shifting the majority of its workloads to Amazon Web Services. This includes using the cloud provider's AI chips like Trainium and Inferentia to build, train, and deploy future models. The companies will also collaborate on advancing these machine-learning hardware technologies.
In addition, Anthropic will provide access to its foundation models through Amazon's managed service Bedrock. This will allow AWS customers worldwide to leverage Anthropic's models, including early access to customization and fine-tuning tools. The deal expands Amazon's generative AI portfolio across hardware, middleware like Bedrock, and high-level applications.
While the investment contrasts with Amazon's stated goal of remaining neutral among language model companies, it could help the company keep pace with rivals that have heavily backed platforms like Microsoft's partnership with OpenAI. The strategic collaboration represents Amazon's largest commitment to date in the increasingly competitive landscape of large-scale AI.
Meta Announces ‘Massive’ AI Updates for Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp
Meta announced a major expansion of AI capabilities across its family of applications and devices.
A key aspect is Meta AI, an advanced conversational assistant available on WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram, and Ray-Ban smart glasses. Powered by Meta's Llama model, it provides real-time information by partnering with Microsoft Bing and can generate images using a new model called Emu.
In addition, Meta launched 28 AI "characters" with unique personalities in beta, including some voiced by celebrities. The company also unveiled its AI Studio platform for businesses to build custom chatbots for messaging services.
Users will soon be able to co-create images with friends on Instagram using new generative AI editing tools available in WhatsApp, Messenger, and Facebook Stories as well.
Furthermore, Ray-Ban smart glasses launching in October will feature the Meta AI assistant accessible via voice commands.
While calling these early products, Zuckerberg acknowledged limitations and the need for feedback to continuously improve the AIs across Meta's services and bring them closer to human-level abilities. The announcements mark a push to incorporate advanced AI throughout the company's applications.
OpenAI Released Significant Upgrades for ChatGPT
OpenAI has significantly expanded the capabilities of ChatGPT in two major announcements.
First, ChatGPT can now access the open web to provide current information when answering questions. By integrating with Microsoft's Bing search engine, ChatGPT gains the ability to browse websites and cite sources through direct links. This improves ChatGPT's knowledge beyond its original scope from 2021. However, the browsing feature was previously disabled due to paywall circumvention, and OpenAI has taken technical precautions to avoid similar issues.
In a second major update, ChatGPT has gained voice, image, and translation abilities. It can now conduct conversations using text-to-speech voices, analyze images by referencing pictures uploaded by users, and translate audio files. For voice interactions, OpenAI worked with voice actors to develop multiple natural-sounding voices. Image understanding leverages multimodal models but respects individuals' privacy by limiting direct comments about people.
These two announcements significantly expand ChatGPT's capabilities by incorporating web search results and new sensory information types like visuals and audio. However, OpenAI is rolling them out gradually and warns about dependency on ChatGPT for specialized domains like languages other than English. The expanded capabilities move ChatGPT closer to more advanced systems, so OpenAI emphasizes ongoing work to build these tools safely and ensure proper usage.
In Other AI News…
Valve Launches Counter-Strike 2
Valve has officially launched Counter-Strike 2 (CS2), the highly anticipated successor to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). Speculation and rumors about the game had circulated for years, and Valve had given fans a sneak peek of CS2's capabilities in March. The release of CS2 marks the retirement of the more than 10-year-old CS:GO on the Steam platform.
One significant feature is that all items collected by players in the older CS:GO game will carry over to CS2. Furthermore, the stock weapons in CS2 have received aesthetic upgrades thanks to the Source 2 engine, which CS2 is built upon. This engine switch has brought about improved visuals, reworked audio, and enhancements to the user interface. It has also introduced better network features, a crucial aspect of a competitive game like Counter-Strike, where low latency is vital.
One standout innovation is the introduction of "tick-rate-independent gameplay," which enhances real-time responsiveness. Tick rate is the frequency with which the game server updates the game state, affecting the smoothness of gameplay. Valve's approach ensures that server computation recognizes the precise moment actions like moving, firing a bullet, or throwing a grenade begin, potentially eliminating lag and creating a more fluid and fair gaming experience.
CS2 retains its core gameplay of tactical team-based missions but with refinements. Smoke grenades, a staple in CS:GO, have been fine-tuned, offering even more strategic possibilities. The maps in CS2 have also undergone redesigns, promising new pathways and tactical options that could influence competitive strategies.
Level Up with AI Allies in WoW's 10.2 Patch
In the latest Patch 10.2 of World of Warcraft, an exciting new feature has been introduced that is set to revolutionize the dungeon experience for players. Taking a page from the Final Fantasy 14 Duty Support system, WoW enthusiasts can now queue up for dungeons alongside AI-controlled NPCs, opening up a world of possibilities for both new and seasoned adventurers.
This innovative addition has garnered significant attention, as it promises to address several longstanding concerns within the community. Much like Final Fantasy 14's Duty Support System, which seamlessly integrated NPCs into dungeon runs, WoW's AI companions offer players a sense of comfort while embarking on their leveling journey. This newfound confidence stems from the assurance that AI allies can assist when needed, reducing the apprehension of solo players.
One of the primary benefits of this system is the elimination of queue time worries. Players can jump into dungeons without the uncertainty of wait times, allowing for a smoother and more efficient gaming experience.
Furthermore, the AI companions serve as valuable mentors for newcomers. Observing the AI's actions can help novices learn the ropes without the fear of criticism from other players. This feature is particularly advantageous for those who prefer to avoid interaction with strangers in the game.
It's important to note that this AI-based dungeon support system is not intended for the most challenging content, such as Mythic Plus or riding, where player coordination and skill are paramount. Nonetheless, for the majority of dungeon runs, this feature can be set to enhance the World of Warcraft experience and make it more accessible to a broader range of players.
Lies of P: Latest Patch Eases the Challenge
In a recent update to the game "Lies of P," developer Neowiz made significant changes aimed at reducing the game's difficulty. These changes included lowering the health of various enemies and bosses, such as Fallen Archbishop Andreus, King of Puppets, and Simon Manus, Arm of God. The complete patch notes detailing these alterations were shared on the Steam platform.
The adjustments went beyond simple health reductions, aligning with the game's inspiration from FromSoftware titles known for their challenging gameplay. Neowiz increased the likelihood of breaking certain monsters' stances, heightened the staggering frequency, and extended the window of opportunity for staggering foes. Additionally, undisclosed bosses saw reductions in their damage output, enhancing the overall playability.
One notable change affected new players starting after the patch, as they now receive eight Gold Coin Fruits instead of the previous five. Furthermore, all players gained the ability to carry more weight for each point invested in Capacity, alongside several other beneficial buffs.
The adjustments to the game's difficulty were well-received by the gaming community. On Reddit, users expressed their relief and approval of the update. Some users found humor in the possibility of players boasting about their victories before the changes, while others were pleased with practical improvements like increased carrying capacity and enhanced defense gear. Another user acknowledged the common practice of post-launch balance adjustments in similar games and the potential for players to take pride in completing the game before these changes were implemented.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs
PayPal Applies for NFT Marketplace Patent, for On- or Off-chain Trading
PayPal filed a patent application for an NFT marketplace that would allow for both on-chain and off-chain transactions of digital assets.
The system envisioned in the application describes a third-party service provider, such as PayPal, facilitating the purchase and sale of NFTs representing various digital items. This includes works of art, media, real-world assets, and more.
Key elements of the proposed marketplace include the ability to fractionally purchase NFTs through governance tokens, as well as a decentralized organization to promote liquidity. Processing would integrate compliance, risk management, and optional user digital wallets.
Significantly, off-chain transactions performed through an "omnibus wallet" containing buyer and seller balances would avoid fees and network broadcasts associated with on-chain transfers.
The patent application demonstrates PayPal's aim to create a full-fledged NFT ecosystem beyond just the exchange of collectibles. If implemented, the platform would allow various on and off-platform transaction types utilizing any currency, as PayPal also recently introduced its own Ethereum-based stablecoin.
Meta Unveiled the Quest 3 VR Headset’s Final Details
Meta unveiled key details of the Meta Quest 3 virtual reality headset, which will be available on October 10th starting at $500.
Some of the major upgrades from prior models include a resolution increase of nearly 30% and an upgraded graphics chip enabling mixed reality functions. Color passthrough allows real-world overlay of virtual objects. The device has 6 cameras and sensors to power this functionality while remaining slimmer and lighter than previous Quest headsets.
A diverse application and game library is available at launch across categories like fitness, education, and entertainment. Notable titles include Assassin's Creed and Ghostbuster games. Developers are excited about the opportunities provided by the Quest 3's advances.
Key features also encompass new ringless Touch Plus controllers with improved haptics, enhanced spatial audio, and a customizable fit allowing glasses wearers to use it comfortably. While battery life remains similar, other upgrades include expanded storage, RAM, and processor options.
Accessories expand the functionality, like charging docks and battery straps. Meta positions the Quest 3 as an accessible entry point to virtual worlds while still offering room for future mixed-reality innovations.
Ordinals Creator Casey Rodarmor Pitches BRC-20 Alternative ‘Runes’
Casey Rodarmor, inventor of Bitcoin Ordinals, proposed an alternative fungible token protocol called Runes. He argues that existing protocols like BRC-20 are undesirable as they create excessive "junk" unspent transaction outputs (UTXOs) on the Bitcoin network.
Rodarmor contends a UTXO-based approach would better fit Bitcoin by promoting the minimization of UTXOs and avoiding the proliferation of unnecessary outputs. Protocols that leave a smaller on-chain footprint and encourage responsible UTXO management could provide harm reduction compared to existing standards.
Bitcoin uses a UTXO model that helps make its ledger transparent by preventing double-spending, with UTXOs representing remaining balances following transactions. However, other protocols on Bitcoin like Counterparty, Omni Layer, and Really Good also have drawbacks.
While most fungible tokens are memes or scams, Rodarmor believes the right standard could bring transaction fees, developer attention, and users to Bitcoin. He conceived of Runes last week but was unsure of pursuing it. In response, Trevor Owens offered $100,000 from a fund to prospective developers to further the Runes proposal. This could provide an alternative to the popular BRC-20 standard.
In Other Web3 & Metaverse News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
Chase UK Bans Crypto Transactions Following Surge in Scams
Chase UK is banning cryptocurrency transactions for its retail customers starting October 16th due to a surge in crypto-related scams and fraud in the UK.
British Chase customers will no longer be able to buy digital assets using a Chase debit card or fund crypto purchases by transferring money from a Chase account. The bank cited an increase in scams targeting UK customers and warned those still wishing to invest in crypto should use an alternative provider.
A Chase spokesman further noted crypto scams were part of a wider fraud "epidemic" accounting for over 40% of reported crimes in England and Wales last year.
While Chase US faced a lawsuit previously for overcharging credit card customers who bought crypto, settling for $2.5 million, the parent company JPMorgan hasn't ruled out crypto entirely. It recently hired a new crypto policy head and filed a trademark for a crypto wallet.
Other major UK banks like Nationwide and HSBC have also imposed restrictions on customers purchasing cryptocurrencies in response to rising fraud issues. Chase UK's ban aims to curb scams but limits retail access to digital assets through its services.
SEC Delays Spot Bitcoin ETF Decision for BlackRock, Invesco, and Bitwise
The SEC has delayed decisions on several spot bitcoin ETF applications, including those from major firms like BlackRock, Invesco, Bitwise, and Valkyrie.
These delays, which came earlier than the expected mid-October deadline, are thought to be related to the potential government shutdown looming on October 1st if Congress fails to pass funding bills.
Analysts anticipate other prominent applications from Fidelity, VanEck, and WisdomTree will also face postponements. The SEC pushed back a group of applicants in late August as well when initially due.
If not approved by mid-March, the SEC will have to make final rulings. However, further delays are possible for the third deadline around mid-January too.
Back in August, one analyst upped the probability of a spot bitcoin ETF approval by the end of 2023 to 75%, citing increased confidence after a court decision favoring Grayscale against the SEC. Those odds were later placed at 95% chance by 2024's end. Still, regulatory uncertainty remains given the impending shutdown's impact on financial agencies.
Writers Guild (WGA) Ends 148-day Strike After Reaching Agreement with Hollywood, Includes AI Provisions
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) ended its 148-day strike after reaching an agreement with major Hollywood studios on new contract terms. Significantly, provisions around artificial intelligence were established for the first time.
The new WGA contract prohibits AI from writing or rewriting literary material independently. AI-generated content also cannot be considered source material or undermine a writer's credit.
While writers can choose to utilize AI in their work if a company allows it, following any policies, companies cannot mandate AI usage. Studios must disclose if materials provided to writers contain AI output.
The WGA reserves the right to argue exploiting writers' work to train AI violates contracts or law.
Overall, the AI policy appears flexible enough to permit AI assistance subject to human oversight and choice. However, it remains unclear if studios will favor writers open to AI integration.
The agreement ends the WGA strike but the concurrent strike by SAG-AFTRA continues negotiations, including establishing its own principles regarding AI and 3D scanning technologies increasingly used in Hollywood.
In Other Legal & Regulatory News…
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