October 14, 2023
Issue No. 74
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
Adobe Unveils Firefly 2 and More AI Features
Adobe unveiled major updates to its generative AI tools at its MAX conference while addressing ongoing criticism around proper attribution.
Firefly Image 2 improves photorealism and adds features like Generative Match for style transfers. It competes directly with DALL-E 3 and Canva's analogous Magic Morph style transfer.
Firefly 2 introduces enterprise controls like customized models via GenStudio and Content Credentials metadata. A "new Firefly Design Model" instantly generates templates.
Project Stardust allows dragging objects between images. Text to Vector Graphic instantly renders text prompts.
Adobe previewed several other AI-powered projects improving video, audio, 3D, and graphic editing.
Adobe also previewed Project Fast Fill, which uses Adobe’s Generative Fill from Photoshop but inputs it into motion graphics in Premiere Pro and After Effects, allowing users to apply AI-powered content generation to video editing.
Despite some criticism, Adobe clearly views AI as integral to Creative Cloud. While competing with Canva, both now offer user indemnification for generative content. As the technology progresses, legal standards will require further development.
Google’s AI-powered Search Experience Can Now Generate Images and Write Drafts
Google's AI search feature SGE can now generate images and draft writings, comparable to rivals. New skills come as AI technology accelerates.
With image generation, users specify prompts like drawings, photos, or paintings. SGE returns 4 results that can be downloaded or prompts edited. This is powered by Google's Imagen model.
Google filters prohibit harmful, misleading, explicit, or inappropriate content through blocking techniques like no photorealistic faces or notable names.
Draft writing now allows customizing output length/tone as serious or casual. Exports include sharing generated images via Google Drive or writing in Google Workspace apps.
Both image and writing features are rolling out gradually in the U.S. for English users who opted into SGE Labs. Strict content controls aim to curb inappropriate content, as seen with other AI generation tools, but misuse still may occur. Feedback tools help address issues.
OpenAI Plans Major Updates to Lure Devs with Lower Costs
OpenAI plans major updates to attract more developers by reducing costs and expanding capabilities. Sources say updates next month aim to slash costs by up to 20 times through added storage and faster processing in their stateful API. A new vision API will enable developers to build applications that can analyze and describe images.
This expands beyond ChatGPT's consumer success into offering a competitive developer platform, as CEO Sam Altman envisioned. The updates follow efforts to court outside companies through pricing concerns, conversations with developers, and ChatGPT plugins that saw limited traction.
Keeping third-party developers happy is key as startups invest heavily in AI, but rely on companies like OpenAI that could replicate or change their models. Competition also comes from options like Google and Meta's open-source LLama. The planned updates distinguish OpenAI through cheaper, multi-modal applications processing text, images, and beyond.
In Other AI News…
Diablo 4 Season 2: New Endgame Bosses and Quality of Life Updates
In the upcoming Season 2 of Diablo 4, known as the Season of Blood, players can look forward to significant additions and quality of life improvements. The standout feature is the introduction of five new endgame bosses, each with a unique loot pool. This diversifies endgame goals beyond the usual Nightmare Dungeons, with the final boss offering a notably higher chance of dropping rare "uber uniques."
The list of bosses includes Grigoire, The Galvanic Saint, Echo of Varshan, The Beast in the Ice, Dark Master, and Echo of Duriel. Echo of Duriel, the ultimate final boss, demands players to collect materials from other bosses to summon him and offers a formidable challenge, especially when soloing.
Quality of life improvements include more frequent Legion Events and World Boss fights thanks to timer adjustments. Enemy levels at 55 and 75 have been increased for both a greater challenge and more relevant rewards. Leveling to 100 now takes 40% less time, hinting at future content for high-level players.
Nightmare Dungeon modifiers like Backstabbers and Critical Resist have been toned down, making the experience more enjoyable. Gems no longer occupy inventory space and serve as crafting materials. World Tier 4 automatically salvages items, eliminating manual management. Players can now favorite items to prevent accidental salvaging or selling.
Renown now carries over all characters, both eternal and seasonal, along with all ranks like Paragon points. Horses have seen improvements, boasting enhanced speed and reduced obstructions in the game environment. It remains to be seen if all these changes will be enough to regain players' trust in the game following the post-Season 1 decline.
Microsoft Completes $69B Takeover of Activision Blizzard
Microsoft's completion of the $69 billion takeover of Activision Blizzard, renowned for creating the Call of Duty franchise, represents a monumental milestone in the gaming industry. The deal received the green light from UK regulators, particularly the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), who had initially raised concerns. Microsoft's Phil Spencer expressed his elation at securing Activision and reassured gamers that the acquisition wouldn't limit their gaming platform choices.
In the restructured deal, Microsoft relinquished cloud distribution rights for Activision's games on consoles and PCs to French video game publisher Ubisoft. Nonetheless, Microsoft will gain control of major franchises such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Candy Crush, promising substantial revenue. The CMA approved the amended agreement, asserting that it would preserve competitive pricing and enhance consumer choices and services. Despite granting approval, the CMA criticized Microsoft's conduct throughout the protracted approval process.
The decision to approve the takeover has garnered praise from industry experts, who anticipate benefits for gamers, including more choices, innovation, competitive pricing, and an enhanced gaming landscape. The approval represents a significant development for the UK's burgeoning gaming industry. Microsoft's hope is that the acquisition will invigorate demand for its Xbox console and further enrich its Xbox Game Pass service. Additionally, the deal bestows upon Microsoft ownership of a mobile gaming studio, bolstering its presence in the mobile gaming sphere.
This acquisition solidifies Microsoft's stature in the gaming industry, potentially positioning it as the third-largest player, trailing behind Sony (PlayStation) and market leader Tencent. Sony had vehemently opposed the deal, citing concerns that major Activision titles could evolve into Xbox exclusives, posing a competitive threat to Sony's standing in the gaming market.
Rocket League Removes Item Trading, Players Revolt
Psyonix, the developer behind the popular game Rocket League, has caused controversy by announcing the end of in-game item trading. The move is set to take effect on December 5, affecting all platforms, including PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and the Nintendo Switch. Rocket League, known for its unique combination of soccer and cars, had previously allowed players to buy car models, designs, and accessories using in-game currencies and fiat money bundles. However, after Epic Games’ acquisition of Psyonix and Rocket League in 2019, they are now deciding to eliminate item trading.
Psyonix justified this change by aligning it with Epic's overall approach to in-game cosmetics and item shop policies, where items are not tradable or sellable. This shift also hints at the potential for Rocket League vehicles to appear in other Epic Games titles, promoting cross-game ownership.
The announcement has elicited predominantly negative responses from players, many of whom have spent considerable amounts of real money on in-game credits to acquire rare items like the Alpha Boost. These items were exclusive to early players who tested the game before its official release. Players have also used in-game trading to reward fans participating in tournaments, making the change a source of frustration and disappointment in the community.
The decision has led to discussions about the potential role of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in addressing these issues, particularly concerning item ownership and interoperability. The promise of "cross-game ownership" suggests that items could be used across various games, likely through a user's Epic Games account, which is used for Fortnite and other titles available through the Epic Games Store. However, the controversy surrounding the decision to restrict item trading calls into question the concept of digital ownership within Rocket League.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs
Mastercard Announces Successful Wrapped CBDC Trial Results
Mastercard completed a trial wrapping a central bank digital currency (CBDC) on different blockchains. Working with the Reserve Bank of Australia and others, the solution allowed purchasing an Ethereum NFT using a wrapped CBDC token.
The process locked the required CBDC amount on the RBA's pilot platform and then minted an equivalent wrapped token on Ethereum. Wallets and contracts were pre-approved to implement controls.
The use of Mastercard's Multi Token Network demonstrated that linking digital currencies and NFTs could reduce fraud, maintain records, and unleash new commerce possibilities, according to comments from a participant.
While the RBA sees CBDC enabling payment innovation beyond fiat, more research is needed to evaluate the benefits. The successful trial showed wrapping CBDC across chains is similar to projects like wBTC and wETH.
JPMorgan Debuts Tokenization Platform, BlackRock Among Key Clients
Major US bank JPMorgan launched its blockchain-based tokenization application Tokenized Collateral Network (TCN) on October 11th. In its first trade, TCN tokenized money market fund shares and transferred them as security between JPMorgan, BlackRock, and Barclays for an OTC derivatives exchange.
The TCN allows investors to use assets as collateral by transferring tokenized ownership without moving underlying ledgers. This first internal test in May 2022 demonstrated speed, security, and efficiency improvements over traditional settlements.
The Head of Onyx Digital Assets said TCN unlocks capital to use as collateral, boosting large-scale efficiency. It enables tokenized traditional asset creation, transfer, and settling nearly instantly versus earlier methods.
The platform provides intraday liquidity through tokenized collateral-secured repo transactions instead of costly credit lines. External clients running their own node can access reports for their settled trades.
This launches amidst JPMorgan's growing blockchain and crypto services exposure following past criticism of decentralization as demand increases, having used the tech for Indian bank settlements in June.
Backed Launches Tokenized Blackrock ETF on Base Network
Crypto startup Backed Finance has launched a tokenized version of a BlackRock short-term US Treasury ETF on the Base layer-2 protocol, called blBO1. This effectively converts real-world assets like equities, commodities, and collectibles into tokens.
Backed co-founder Adam Levi said they can tokenize anything held in a bank account, and expect to expand offerings. Base aims to lower costs and congestion for asset tokenization.
This represents the first real-world asset on Base, amid increased interest in tokenizing assets to generate revenue on DeFi platforms like Aave and Maker. Maker has integrated US Treasuries, for example.
Levi noted that fixed income currently sees the most demand, including non-USD bonds. While waiting to see if tokenized stocks like Google or Tesla are in demand, Backed stands ready to tokenize any requested security.
For now, US investors cannot trade Backed's tokenized assets, though the company may expand participation if interest grows.
In Other Web3 & Metaverse News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
Ongoing SBF Criminal Trials Reveal New Details Around FTX Collapse
More details have emerged from the ongoing criminal trials against Sam Bankman-Fried regarding the collapse of FTX.
Caroline Ellison, former CEO of Alameda Research, testified that SBF directed misuse of billions in FTX customer funds through Alameda's investments. Ellison sent sheets hiding Alameda's risk.
FTX co-founder Gary Wang also testified to committing crimes with Ellison and Nishad Singh. The defense aims to shift some blame to Ellison over her role.
A secretly recorded audio from Ellison in Nov. 2022 revealed the moment Alameda staff learned funds were borrowed from FTX, admitting billions were misused. Christian Drappi played the clip in court, stunned by the relationship.
In the clip, Ellison offered new details to tense staff like an abandoned FTX acquisition, with engineers later quitting. Witnesses described Ellison as humbled and the room as extremely tense over news that had never been discussed internally.
The testimonies have provided fresh insights into the dynamics leading to FTX's collapse and criminal actions taken by its leaders. SBF has pleaded not guilty but faces lengthy prison terms if convicted.
Google Promises to Take Legal Heat in Users’ AI Copyright Lawsuits
Google will defend customers against copyright lawsuits if they use certain generative AI products. This includes protections for seven Google Workspace, Google Cloud, and Vertex AI tools embedded with generative features.
The company says it will assume legal responsibility through a two-pronged approach. It will cover risks from potentially copyrighted training data being used. It will also protect generated output unless customers intentionally infringe.
This aims to address fears that generative AI could violate copyright laws. Microsoft and Adobe have also said they will defend enterprise users of AI tools in copyright claims.
However, copyright lawsuits against AI platforms are increasing as issues become more prevalent. Google already faces its own class action lawsuit over alleged copyright data use in model training. One recent case was filed by famous authors against generative AI systems allegedly infringing published works.
RIAA Wants AI Voice Cloning Sites on the Government Piracy Watchlist
According to the RIAA, AI voice cloning poses an infringement risk and requested that the USTR designate it as a "notorious market" subject to oversight.
Specifically calling out Voicify.AI, the RIAA is concerned the platform allows users to take YouTube videos, isolate vocals, and generate unauthorized derivatives. It says this violates artist copyrights and publicity rights.
The past year saw an explosion of AI vocal cloning services and unauthorized derivative works, prompting the RIAA's submission. While questions remain around the copyright status of viral AI-generated songs using Drake and The Weeknd, the takedown targeted an unauthorized music sample instead.
Several voice cloning startups have emerged as some artists like Grimes embrace the tech if controlling distribution. Record labels work with Google to license voices but the RIAA fears sites like Voicify could encourage unauthorized use beyond existing artist/label partnerships.
The letter also named stream ripping and download sites, with the USTR typically releasing its "notorious markets" list early the following year based on recommendations, though it may not designate AI voice cloning specifically.
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