November 11, 2023
Issue No. 78
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
Elon Musk Unveils xAI’s New LLM Called ‘Grok’
Elon Musk has unveiled Grok, the first product from his AI safety company xAI. Grok is an AI chatbot developed using a large language model called Grok-1, which was trained over months on tens of thousands of GPUs using web and feedback data up to Q3 2023.
Grok is designed to have humor in its responses inspired by "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." It can offer more up-to-date information than other systems due to real-time access to data from Musk's social media platform X, formerly Twitter. Early tests showed Grok providing accurate details about Musk's recent Joe Rogan interview.
X subscribers can access Grok once it exits beta testing. A limited number of US users can join a waitlist. XAI claims Grok outperforms other LLMs on benchmark tasks due to training efficiency.
Musk stated Grok is xAI's "first AI product" and "in some respects, it is the best that currently exists." However, its capabilities are currently limited to text. XAI hints Grok may gain senses like vision/audio to enable real-time interactions.
Picsart Launches 20+ AI-powered Tools for Content Creators
Picsart, the Softbank-backed photo editing platform, has launched a new suite of over 20 AI-powered tools called Ignite to help users generate digital content more easily. Ignite aims to accelerate content creation for both businesses and individuals. It builds on Picsart's existing AI capabilities like AI Image Generator and AI Replace.
The new tools provide enhanced editing functions to sharpen images, remove objects, swap backgrounds, and add AI filters. Ignite also introduces new generative abilities - users can create GIFs, stickers, and personalized avatars from text prompts. Businesses can benefit from tools to design professionally formatted advertisements, logos, and on-brand texts and images. For example, one tool allows the merging of the artistic style of one image into another.
Picsart says over 2 million AI-generated images are made daily with their initial tools. Ignite offers a more comprehensive solution, particularly for digital marketers. It leverages AI to streamline processes like creating optimized social media posts and product photos.
Exciting Announcements from OpenAI’s DevDay Event
OpenAI announced major new developments at its first DevDay event. It released GPT-4 Turbo, an improved version of GPT-4 with a knowledge base up to April 2023 and a 128,000-token context window. GPT-4 Turbo is more capable and faster, available at lower prices than previous models. An updated GPT-3.5 Turbo was also released with a 16,000-token context window and similar function improvements.
A new Assistants API makes it easier for developers to incorporate AI into their apps through assistants with goals and the ability to call models. It provides new capabilities like code interpretation and retrieval. The API facilitates persistent conversations and collaboration between assistants.
OpenAI expanded multimodal functionality by adding vision support to GPT-4 Turbo, allowing image inputs. The DALL-E 3 API enables programmatic image generation. A new text-to-speech API provides human-like voices. Fine-tuning access for GPT-4 is now experimental, while a custom models program offers highly customized training. Pricing for models was lowered and rate limits increased. Additionally, OpenAI introduced Copyright Shield to defend customers against legal claims.
Samsung Unveils On-Device GenAI ‘Gauss’
Samsung announced its first generative AI model called Gauss at its AI Forum event. Gauss will enable on-device AI capabilities for text, images, and code on Samsung smartphones. It is designed to eventually power new user experiences through a variety of product applications.
Gauss will come in three versions - Gauss Language for tasks like email composition and document summarization, Gauss Image for photo editing and enhancement, and Gauss Code as a software development assistant. Language functions may also enable smarter device control, though details are unclear. Image capabilities will start from image generation and editing to adding enhancements. Code features will support functions like description and test case generation through an interactive interface.
However, Samsung did not provide a timeline for when these Gauss-driven abilities will be integrated into devices. For now, the model is only being tested internally. It may be added to Samsung's 2024 flagship, aligning with Qualcomm's next chip featuring an AI engine for large models.
The move positions Samsung to deliver on-device AI capabilities like Google's distilled models on Pixel phones and Apple's hiring in generative AI. With dedicated hardware and local models, users can expect more personalized outcomes than cloud-based solutions. Samsung also established an AI Red Team to address security and privacy issues. It will share more details on its "Galaxy AI" vision in the coming months.
Humane’s AI Pin is Finally Revealed
Humane has officially unveiled its AI-powered wearable device called the Ai Pin after months of teasers and leaks. The square-shaped pin magnetically clips to clothing using a battery pack that can be swapped throughout the day. It has a camera, sensors, and speaker and is powered by a Qualcomm chip to run AI models from Microsoft and OpenAI.
The Pin interacts through voice commands, a laser projector that displays text on the user's hand, gestures detected by a touchpad, and manually activating the "Trust Light." There is no screen as Humane aims to promote an "ambient computing" future liberated from smartphone screens. It works as a standalone device through a T-Mobile wireless network branded by Humane.
The $699 Pin ships with additional batteries and runs on Humane's proprietary Cosmos operating system. Rather than apps, Cosmos seamlessly connects the user to different AIs and services. It currently offers translation, food identification, Tidal music streaming with an "AI DJ," and unspecified photography features.
Users manage the Pin through Humane.center, which is used to set up preferences and access collected notes, photos, and videos. Humane cites its co-founders' backgrounds from Apple as influential in developing the technology's hype and grand vision of replacing smartphones. The level of anticipation is comparable to projects like Project Ginger and Segway.
While ambitious, Humane has raised $230 million from investors who are optimistic about its potential to redefine human-technology interaction and demonstrate a use case for conversational AI models. However, success remains uncertain as many prior products have struggled to shift people away from smartphone use.
Snap Introducing AR Lenses that Use ChatGPT
Snapchat announced at its Lens Fest developer event that it will introduce AR lenses powered by ChatGPT. In a demo, a solar system-themed filter was shown responding to a user's question about how far Neptune is from Earth by returning the answer within seconds. This type of question-and-answer format enabled by ChatGPT could also enable the creation of quizzes and randomizers in Snapchat lenses.
OpenAI's ChatGPT conversational AI platform already powers Snap's My AI chatbot feature, which allows users to have natural conversations. Originally exclusive to Snapchat Plus subscribers, the company made My AI free for all users this year while experimenting with including ads. However, the UK regulator issued a preliminary notice regarding My AI's protection of users' data rights.
Several other major platforms are also introducing AI-powered creative tools. YouTube, Meta, and TikTok have announced photo editing and filter features using generative AI models. Meta's AI chatbots from September include virtual personalities like MrBeast that are represented by celebrities. TikTok also rolled out a way to flag AI-generated content as the use of such tools on the platform increases over time.
Snap noted lens creators will gain access to a new 3D face mask generator utilizing generative AI as well. Additional developer tools unveiled include multiple simultaneous editing of projects. The inclusions of ChatGPT aim to enhance interactive and creative capabilities for Snapchat lenses and filters.
In Other AI News…
World Of Warcraft: Worldsoul Saga Unveiled
At this year's BlizzCon, World of Warcraft fans were in for a surprise as Chris Metzen announced a groundbreaking narrative, the "Worldsoul Saga," spanning the next three expansions for the MMORPG—The War Within, Midnight, and The Last Titan.
In the first expansion of the Worldsoul Saga, "The War Within," World of Warcraft players embark on a subterranean exploration beneath Azeroth, encountering the Earthen and the Nerubian Empire.
The second expansion, "Midnight," the second expansion, immerses players in the clash between the Void and the forces of the Light, focusing on the enigmatic return of Xal’atath, a cosmic figure with ambiguous motives.
The trilogy's conclusion, "The Last Titan," promises to unveil the secrets of the colossal Titans, featuring sealed Titan mysteries and the presence of fan-favorite character Illidan, adding layers of speculation to the saga's resolution.
The narrative centers around the cosmic war between Void and Light, two opposing forces represented by the nefarious Old Gods and characters like Alleria Windrunner for the Void, and paladins and priests for the Light. The conflict has been a long-standing theme in Warcraft lore, leading to both heroic deeds and extremist actions.
The announcement of a three-expansion saga with detailed pre-planning is unprecedented for World of Warcraft. While The War Within is set for release in 2024, the anticipation for plot twists and surprises in the raids and dungeons along the journey remains high, promising an immersive experience for players as they navigate the cosmic war in the Worldsoul Saga.
Behind the Scenes of Bungie's Layoffs
In the aftermath of Bungie's recent widespread layoffs, details have emerged, unraveling a challenging situation linked to Destiny 2. Despite being independently operated, Bungie, under Sony's ownership, faced a significant workforce reduction—approximately 100 employees (8% of the company)—stemming from Sony's call for spending cuts. This move contradicted assurances made a year and a half ago that the acquisition would not result in layoffs.
The dismissals unfolded abruptly and impersonally, with employees discovering their termination through account lockouts or brief meetings, and in some instances, via Twitter. The lack of goodbyes and managers' unawareness of the affected team members intensified the distress. Internally downplaying the scale of the layoffs, Bungie's efforts to keep the information contained were later challenged by external reporting.
Among the casualties were notable veterans, including composer Michael Salvatori and Lorraine McLees, the original designer of the Halo logo. The timing of terminations impacted employee benefits, with some having just a day of additional coverage for benefits set to expire at the end of the month. Healthcare coverage continued under COBRA for three months, contingent on severance terms.
Adding to the repercussions, employees with unvested shares resulting from the Sony deal forfeited them due to the layoffs. This loss affected those who were supposed to stay with the company for a specified duration post-acquisition to claim their shares. The handling of the layoffs, reminiscent of practices in investment banks, fueled internal anger, indicating a departure from the perceived close-knit family culture within Bungie. The impact has prompted affected employees to share details of the situation publicly, shedding light on the turmoil within the company.
Gaming Industry Concerns Rise Over The Finals' Use of AI Voices
Embark Studios' latest first-person shooter, The Finals, is making waves in the gaming community with its open beta launch across Steam, Xbox, and PlayStation, amassing impressive player numbers. However, the game is now under scrutiny for its controversial use of AI announcers, stirring up concerns about the potential negative impacts on both quality and employment within the gaming industry.
Voice actor Gianni Matragrano took to Twitter to criticize The Finals for employing what he described as "terrible" AI voices. In a viral thread, Matragrano expressed dissatisfaction with Embark Studios' decision to replace human voice actors with AI technology, bringing attention to the perceived shortcomings in the game's audio experience.
Embark Studios defended its use of AI on the Meet the Makers podcast, emphasizing the efficiency and flexibility it provides in quickly responding to new ideas and maintaining a "fresh" gaming experience. However, Matragrano countered this argument, pointing out that professional human voiceover sessions are not only affordable but also rapid, allowing for the timely creation of high-quality audio.
Critics of AI in The Finals extend their concerns beyond the immediate audio quality issues, raising alarms about potential job losses for human voice actors. The fear is that normalizing AI voices in gaming could lead developers to choose automation over hiring actual actors, impacting the livelihoods of professionals in the industry.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs
Roblox CEO Envisions In-Game NFTs as Part of Open Ecosystem 'Dream’
In an interview, Roblox CEO David Baszucki discussed the potential for NFTs to exist on the platform. He envisioned celebrities like Elton John releasing limited-edition virtual items for charity as NFTs on Roblox. These could then be sold and traded both on and off the platform. Baszucki noted creators would maintain control over how their digital goods could be used.
The implementation of NFTs would be significant given Roblox's massive scale. It has over 70 million daily users who each spend around 2.5 hours on average in the virtual world. While not NFTs, Roblox introduced Limiteds this year, limited-run virtual items that can be resold with creators earning a 10% royalty.
Robux, Roblox's in-game currency, is already used outside the platform on some third-party gambling sites without age verification. However, Roblox publicly disavows such uses and says these sites have no affiliation.
Baszucki's comments did not confirm plans to incorporate blockchain functionality but indicated openness to the idea of interoperable NFTs. For now, it appears leadership may explore the potential of NFTs on Roblox in the future but has not announced any initiatives. The CEO envisioned celebrities and brands using the platform to release digital collectibles in a controlled and potentially revenue-generating manner.
Ava Labs Cuts 12% of Staff to ‘Reallocate Resources’ Toward Expansion
Avalanche blockchain’s developer Ava Labs confirmed it laid off 12% of its staff, affecting around 40 people. In a statement, CEO Emin Gün Sirer said the job cuts would allow the company to reallocate resources toward expanding its ecosystem, as bear markets require navigating challenges.
Avalanche vice president Garrison Yang hinted many layoffs came from marketing. Recently departed employees like Zach Manafort, who worked on game growth marketing since 2020, announced being let go in October despite thinking things were just starting. Brandon Suzuki, another previous marketing employee, also confirmed an October layoff.
The cuts followed a 50% reduction at NFT marketplace OpenSea days prior. Crypto industry recruiter Neil Dundon said hiring remains difficult with tight budgets as the market needs clearer signs of a bull phase. However, founders Kevin Gibson and Daniel Adler noted a slight rise in recent weeks from crypto companies seeking talent before conditions improve in 2024.
Gibson attributed this to not wanting to miss out on opportunities, though some openings were only part-time roles rather than full positions. Adler shared companies were following through on final hiring plans and roadmaps before year-end. Both said the employer advantage persists until market conditions strengthen firmly. Dundon concurred historically this is how the sector has behaved during downturns.
The Simpsons’ Latest Treehouse of Horror Episode is Entirely About NFTs
The Simpsons Halloween special episode "Treehouse of Horror 34" featured references to NFTs and crypto. In the chapter "Wild Barts Can't Be Token," Marge rescues Bart who has become a living NFT while the mayor plans to digitize the city art gallery. There were appearances of notable NFT collections like Beeple and Bored Ape Yacht Club portrayed as valuable, while second-tier profile picture NFTs were shown as nearly worthless.
NFT collector Noah Bolanowski analyzed the episode on X, saying he liked the emphasis on art having prestige compared to profile picture NFTs portrayed as lower quality.
The episode, which referenced the 2021 NFT crash, was not the first crypto/NFT mention on the show. A 2020 episode called "Frinkcoin" featured actor Jim Parsons educating viewers on cryptocurrency basics like distributed ledgers and blockchains to record transactions. This aired just before the March 2020 Covid-induced crypto crash. The Simpsons has a history of making timely references to emerging technologies in its Halloween special episodes.
In Other Web3 & Metaverse News…
Legal Landscape, Policies, and Regulation
SEC’s First Window to Approve Bitcoin ETFs Started this Week
There is an eight-day window from November 9-17 where the SEC could potentially approve all 12 pending spot Bitcoin ETF applications. Bloomberg analysts James Seyffart and Eric Balchunas noted this window stems from the comment periods recently set by the SEC. By November 17th, the comment periods for three ETFs would restart, meaning decisions could not occur until after November 23rd at the earliest.
However, Seyffart added that nine of the applications could technically be approved anytime before January 10th. While not guaranteed, both analysts predict a 90% likelihood of at least one approval before that date. Grayscale is reportedly in discussions with the SEC regarding converting its GBTC trust into a spot Bitcoin ETF after its court victory in August.
Increased optimism from a higher probability of an ETF approval has buoyed bitcoin and broader crypto markets, with bitcoin gaining over 30% in the last three months. The attention on the SEC's pending decisions has further fueled anticipation across the industry. The analysts' window provides a potential timeline for clarity on the US listing of the first spot Bitcoin ETF.
Hollywood Actors’ Strike Ends with Deal to ‘Protect Members from the Threat of AI’
The 118-day strike by SAG-AFTRA, the union representing over 160,000 Hollywood actors, has ended with a new $1 billion deal. The negotiating committee unanimously voted to suspend the strike as of November 9th at 12:01 am after reaching an agreement with major studios.
A key breakthrough was provisioned to protect actors from AI, an issue of prominence as 3D scanning has grown more affordable and tech startups digitize actor likenesses. Specifically, the union feared how likenesses could be used beyond agreed contracts without compensation. While details remain private pending review, SAG-AFTRA stated the deal achieves this protection from AI threats.
Other victories included above-pattern pay increases, strengthened pensions/health plans, background actor pay raises, and diversity protections. The contract is said to benefit all actor categories and generations of future performers.
The deal is only three years, requiring renegotiation, suggesting AI usage may still be restricted in that time. SAG-AFTRA thanked members and allied unions for solidarity during the strike, the longest in Hollywood history. Few terms were publicly disclosed yet as the National Board reviews, but the union hailed an "extraordinary" agreement allowing sustainable careers.
Celsius Bankruptcy Reorganization Plan Approved by Court
Celsius received court approval for its bankruptcy reorganization plan on Thursday, marking its exit from Chapter 11 proceedings filed in July 2022. The plan settles a $4.7 billion fraud lawsuit with US authorities over allegations former CEO Alex Mashinsky manipulated the price of Celsius' CEL token. Mashinsky resigned in September 2022 and was later arrested on fraud charges, released on a $40 million bond pending his September 2024 trial.
Creditors had voted to approve Celsius' modified plan in late September, which will return 67-85% of customer holdings. Account holders will receive about $0.25 per CEL token. The judge's order transfers implementation control to Fahrenheit Holdings, a group that included Arrington Capital and U.S. Bitcoin Corp. after they acquired Celsius' insolvent assets in May 2023.
A new company called NewCo will be incorporated in Delaware to focus on mining and staking. NewCo will have a $1.25 billion balance sheet, aiming to stake some or all of its cryptocurrency reserves on Ethereum to generate $10-20 million in annual yields. Celsius estimates distributing roughly $2 billion back to account holders under the court-approved plan to be completed by early 2024.
In Other Legal & Regulatory News…
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