260: Story of Nvidia (1993-2006), Axie Infinity $625m Hack, PlayStation Plus vs MS Game Pass, Fake AI-Generated People, Russian Aviation, and Heat Pumps
"Concrete is man-made liquid rock"
Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.
🛀 👩🏻🚀 Sometimes, I catch myself half-unconsciously believing that actors have done the things that their characters have done on screen.
There’s something in the human brain that has trouble not believing — at least on some level — what it has seen, and once in a while, it has to be overridden by conscious thought. (ie. Actors playing smart people are thought to be smart, those playing prestigious or powerful characters are seen as higher status, etc)
Katee Sackhoff never went to space, she was on a soundstage. But like Mulder, I want to believe…
🐦 I missed it when it came out on March 23rd, but Twitter has actually added a useful feature that people have been requesting for a decade:
The ability to search for keywords in DMs!
I almost can’t believe it.
Well, one down, 5,037 to go… 📜
🥃 🥃 Last edition, I dreamed-out-loud about Laphroaig making cough drops (as Moatsixcap put it so well: “Either the worst best idea or best worst idea ever”).
Reader Alex Richardson (👋) shared something really cool on this — not quite smokey scotch-flavored throat lozenges, but something adjacent:
Chef Tom Aikens has partnered with Laphroaig to create some rather fantastic petit fours for his London restaurant, “Muse”.
Whisky gummies! Here’s the finished product:
🎞 🥇Glad to learn that CODA won the ‘Best Film’ Oscar, if only because more people will now see it and I think it’s a wonderful film. If you missed it, my review is at the bottom of edition #232.
I was also happy to read that Villeneuve’s Dune won 6 statues.
(btw, the main reason I like to see Denis win is that it means he gets even more creative freedom and budget to do even more ambitious films in the future)
📦 🖥 According to UPS, my Mac Studio is “out for delivery”. Expect a review of it in future editions.
🚨🎧 If you’re curious, the podcast about Constellation Software that I did with my friend Mostly Borrowed Ideas (💎🐕) will be opened-up to everyone tomorrow at 9 AM EST. But if you’re a supporter, you can listen to it now.
🛀 🪨 I don’t remember where I first heard this analogy, but I really like it:
Concrete is man-made liquid rock.
How amazing is that invention? You just pour liquid rock somewhere, and it hardens, basically creating an artificial lump of sedimentary rock.
There’s so much we take for granted around us, so much that we don’t think of as “technology” just because there are no wires… Concrete is one of the things that would blow the mind of early-human if they could time travel to visit us.
💚 🥃 The reason why I gave a period of exclusivity for the podcast with MBI to paid supporters is to thank them for making it all possible.
Without them, there would be no newsletter and no podcast for all the other free subscribers to enjoy, so I think we owe them all much gratitude. Thanks, guys and girls!
Liberty’s Highlights is reader-supported. To support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. 🎨
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Investing & Business
The Story of Nvidia: 1993-2006
4 editions in a row featuring this company (and there’s more in the sci-tech section too)!
But enough of my words, listen to them instead (or if you prefer, they have video now):
I can’t wait for part 2, and for the inevitable interview of Jensen on Acquired someday.
🎮 Sony PlayStation Plus going after Microsoft Game Pass
PlayStation is uniting its PS Now and PS Plus into a single three-tiered service:
Sony's new PS Plus subscription offerings boast online multiplayer access, hundreds of PS4 and PS5 games, streaming, retro titles and game trials. But what it doesn't include, unlike its main competitor, are new first-party games that launch in the service at the same time as they come out at retail. [...]
there are three tiers to PS Plus. PS Plus Essentials is identical to PS Plus today and is priced the same ($10 a month), PS Plus Extra adds in a library of PS4 and PS5 games ($15 a month), whereas PS Plus Premium includes all that plus game trials, game streaming and a collection of PS1, PS2, PS3 and PSP games ($18). (Source)
💸 ‘Axie Infinity Suffers **$625M** Exploit’ 🙀
Looks like this could be the biggest crypto hack (yet):
An attacker “used hacked private keys in order to forge fake withdrawals” from the Ronin bridge across two transactions, as seen on Etherscan.
While the Ronin sidechain has nine validators requiring five signatures for withdrawals and is meant to protect against these types of attacks, the blog post notes that “the attacker found a backdoor through our gas-free RPC node, which they abused to get the signature for the Axie DAO validator.”
The blog post pegged the losses at 173,600 ether and 25.5 million in USDC, currently worth in excess of $625 million. (Source)
Evergreen: Security is hard.
What happens when we can’t easily tell who’s a bot?
There’s long been a bot problem on the internet — scammers and spammers create armies of fake accounts to do whatever it is they’re doing (clicking on ads, boosting video views, astroturfing, marketing, fake grassroots, fake reviews, whatever).
But to most savvy netizens (remember when that word was cool?), they’re pretty easy to spot. Sparse account details, obviously fake or empty posting history, no avatar or an obvious stock photo stolen from somewhere.
Historically, they could kept out of many forums and social networks with CAPTCHAS and other basic counter-measures…
But in the age of AI, what happens when there’s an army of fake accounts that have realistic avatars, realistic posting histories (generated by GPT-3-4-5-etc), realistic unique bios, can pass CAPTCHAs, etc?
How do we tell? When will we cross the point when we’re spending a large portion of our days interacting with AIs without knowing?
Here’s an article (h/t my friend MBI 💎🐕) about fake LinkedIn profiles with AI-generated avatars (the tell is the perfectly centered eyes… but they’ll learn to get around that and make even more realistic photos):
"The face jumped out at me as being fake," said DiResta, a veteran researcher who has studied Russian disinformation campaigns and anti-vaccine conspiracies. To her trained eye, these anomalies were red flags that Ramsey's photo had likely been created by artificial intelligence. [...]
NPR found that many of the LinkedIn profiles seem to have a far more mundane purpose: drumming up sales for companies big and small. Accounts like Keenan Ramsey's send messages to potential customers. Anyone who takes the bait gets connected to a real salesperson who tries to close the deal. Think telemarketing for the digital age.
By using fake profiles, companies can cast a wide net online without beefing up their own sales staff or hitting LinkedIn's limits on messages. Demand for online sales leads exploded during the pandemic as it became hard for sales teams to pitch their products in person. [...]
From a business perspective, making social media accounts with computer-generated faces has its advantages: It's cheaper than hiring multiple people to create real accounts, and the images are convincing.
A couple of cool charts 📈📉📊
Bespoke Investing: “Initial jobless claims are at the lowest level since September 1969”:
This is an excellent illustration of commodity price shocks impact on consumer wallets (it corrects for the historical % of household budgets that was spent on these items). Oil prices would need to double again to approach 1970s oil embargo type consumer budget impact.
🕰 The Russian Aviation Industry is going back in times 🛩
Going back *decades* in time, except that today, they’ve become integrated into the worldwide aviation system (GDS software, parts suppliers, etc), unlike in the days of the USSR when they created their parallel industry in isolation.
Science & Technology
NVIDIA Research Turns 2D Photos Into 3D Scenes
Remember how mind-blowing that “spinning around a frozen character” effect was when first seen in The Matrix in 1999? They did it with dozens of cameras shooting simultaneously around someone.
Now Nvidia can do it in seconds with just photos taken around the person.
NeRF essentially fills in the blanks, training a small neural network to reconstruct the scene by predicting the color of light radiating in any direction, from any point in 3D space. The technique can even work around occlusions — when objects seen in some images are blocked by obstructions such as pillars in other images. [...]
Creating a 3D scene with traditional methods takes hours or longer, depending on the complexity and resolution of the visualization. Bringing AI into the picture speeds things up. Early NeRF models rendered crisp scenes without artifacts in a few minutes, but still took hours to train.
Instant NeRF, however, cuts rendering time by several orders of magnitude. It relies on a technique developed by NVIDIA called multi-resolution hash grid encoding, which is optimized to run efficiently on NVIDIA GPUs. Using a new input encoding method, researchers can achieve high-quality results using a tiny neural network that runs rapidly. [...]
The model requires just seconds to train on a few dozen still photos — plus data on the camera angles they were taken from — and can then render the resulting 3D scene within tens of milliseconds.
Speaking of Nvidia, I’ll link again to Ben Thompson’s (💚 🥃 🎩) interview with Jensen and highlight this part:
JH: Ben, in no time in history have humans have the ability to produce the single most valuable commodity the world’s ever known, which is intelligence. We now have a structure of a model, a structure of a computer science program called a deep neural network, that has the ability to scale up quite tremendously. It’s doubling every six months, I mean, this is not your Moore’s Law where it’s doubling every two years, it’s doubling every six months. The rate of doubling is incredible, the compounded effect of that on computing is incredible.
The results of the capabilities of these neural networks and the software, another way of saying it, the software that is being created by computers is expanding and growing and achieving spectacular things at incredible rates. Our company is building the computers necessary to continue to advance that journey. I think that what companies are going to come to realize is that what they’re really all about is producing intelligence, and that’s what Nvidia’s really all about is producing intelligence. Some part of every company will automate the production of their intelligence, they’ll codify the production of their intelligence, which is one of the reasons why I believe every company will be an AI company, every company will produce intelligence at some level, all of that AI will be augmenting humans with humans in the loop, and the rate of that progress is accelerating and compounding at 2x every six months. [...]
first of all, what is intelligence? Intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns, recognize relationships, reason about it and make a prediction or plan an action. That’s what intelligence is. It has nothing to do with general intelligence, intelligence is just solving problems. We now have the ability to write software, we now have the ability to partner with computers to write software, that can solve many types of intelligence, make many types of predictions at scales and at levels that no humans can.
‘SK Hynix considering consortium to acquire chip designer Arm’ 🤔
The headline says it all. ARM declined to comment so far. I think I’d rather see them IPO…
Heat-Pumps FTW 🥶↔🥵
It’s a lot more efficient to move heat around than to generate it through an exothermic redox chemical reaction (aka combustion).
So much so that heat-pumps can still save natural gas vs a gas boiler even if they are 100% powered by electricity that comes from a natural gas power plant:
Heat pumps (~140 TWh): Small-scale heat pumps for space and water heating in residential and commercial buildings are inherently more efficient than fossil gas boilers, and can convert 1 kWh of electricity into between 2.5 and 5 kWh of useful heat depending on the climate, heat pump technology and the performance of the technical heating system. On average, the installation of a heat pump will lead to reductions in fossil gas consumption, even in cases where the power used by a heat pump is fully generated by a fossil gas power plant. The electrification of heating also allows heat pumps to achieve reductions in fossil gas consumption through fuel switching to alternative energy sources (e.g. renewables, nuclear, oil, coal). As a result, roughly doubling the stock and floor area supplied by heat pumps between 2022 and 2027 could help to significantly reduce overall fossil gas consumption.
The Arts & History
Hans Zimmer on creating the sounds & music of ‘Dune’
He’s now got an Oscar for it, and well-deserved.
Some really cool stuff in there — building custom instruments, musical sculptures, using voices in unique ways — and while the end result itself is great, it’s almost better to learn why he did things the way he did them, the process for getting there.