Discover more from Liberty’s Highlights
373: Microsoft + OpenAI, Apple vs Qualcomm & Broadcom, EVs, Buffett Energy Bets, Plane Shortage, Cancer Vaccine, and B-21 Raider
"belt & suspenders"
If I need things to be a certain way, I'm held hostage by them. —Rugby player Jonny Wilkinson on flexibility
🐘🐦 I created a Mastodon account. Mostly to gain first-hand experience with it because I kept hearing about it everywhere.
I’m not fleeing Twitter or anything, but I wish that a viable alternative existed just in case. A backup, a plan ‘B’, belt & suspenders, because two is one, one is none…
Two things to note so far:
I first tried to sign up on the official Mastodon.social instance because I figured it was the one most likely to stick around for the long term. But signups were turned off (high volume — the moderation side probably gets overwhelmed more easily than the infrastructure, but I’m not sure). I tried to fall back on the second official instance, Mastodon.world, but that one wasn’t accepting new signups either… Ugh. I ended up in decision paralysis for a while because there are so many other instances, many of them with names that look kind of stupid, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get stuck with that in my username. I ended up being lucky that Mastodon.world re-opened signups, so I got ‘@LibertyRPF@Mastodon.world’.
Mastodon has fewer users than I expected. After being bombarded daily with how fast the service was growing, I would’ve imagined the number of DAUs was higher than 1.8m:
I’m not really posting much over there yet, but if you want to follow me, I think it’s not a bad idea to have a backup account there. Reserve your username now in case this thing takes off — I’m not putting super high odds on it, but it’s also free, so not a big commitment.
👷♂️👨🔬👨💼💼 Friend-of-the-show Rohit Krishnan tweeted:
every time i talk to academics or policy folk i feel they could use an executive in residence, and every time i speak to investors and companies i feel they could use a scientist in residence ... reason to tweet is that i find such low hanging fruit on both sides, where there seems to be such crazy misunderstandings on both sides (and other sides, this isn't 1 dimensional) that could be cleared up often with like 1 conversation!
I replied: “Not only that, but like a totally untrained person who starts working out, the fastest progress is made when starting from a very low base. Both sides would likely gain a lot from this. The 80/20 rule applies here.”
🤖🧭 Interesting interview with Stability.AI CEO Emad Mostaque on AI’s recent history, the breakthroughs that created the spike of innovation, Stability’s roadmap and vision, and more.
☯️ Paradox Of Unanimity as described by Bhogal Gurwinder:
Researchers Gunn et al. (2016) found that when eyewitnesses unanimously agreed on the identity of suspects, they were more likely to be wrong. The more people agree, the less likely they are thinking for themselves. Therefore, beware of consensuses.
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Some speculation on what may happen when Bing adds ChatGPT DNA to Bing.
Very interesting to think about how LLMs like ChatGPT could be integrated into search engines like Google. What kind of queries would work? Would they be lucrative ones?
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🔌🚘 Electric Vehicles vs Plug-in Hybrids in the U.S.
The existing vehicle fleet is huge, so even if a high percentage of new vehicles sold are electric, it’ll take a while to make a dent:
Light-duty vehicle (LDV) fleet sales in the U.S. are roughly 15 million vehicles per year [...] Even at 60% penetration of sales by 2031, only 15% of the U.S. fleet will have converted. (Source)
All the more reasons why diverting a large quantity of battery capacity to the grid to make up for the intermittency of wind and solar will delay the shift to EVs by making it more expensive (even if it’s not the exact same battery chemistry, a lot of the resources used — capital and labor — would be the same, so there’s a real opportunity cost, IMO). But what else is clean and not dependent on the weather, I wonder?
🤖💰💰💰💰 Microsoft in talks to invest $10bn into OpenAI 🤔
The funding, which would also include other venture firms, would value OpenAI at $29 billion, including the new investment, the people said. It’s unclear if the deal has been finalized but documents sent to prospective investors in recent weeks outlining its terms indicated a targeted close by the end of 2022.
Microsoft’s infusion would be part of a complicated deal in which the company would get 75% of OpenAI’s profits until it recoups its investment, the people said. (It’s not clear whether money that OpenAI spends on Microsoft’s cloud-computing arm would count toward evening its account.)
After that threshold is reached, it would revert to a structure that reflects ownership of OpenAI, with Microsoft having a 49% stake, other investors taking another 49% and OpenAI’s nonprofit parent getting 2%. There’s also a profit cap that varies for each set of investors — unusual for venture deals, which investors hope might return 20 or 30 times their money. The terms and the investment amount could change, and the deal could fall apart.
Well, that’s complex!
I’m not quite sure what to think of it, but it’s clear that OpenAI doesn’t seem to believe that it can do what it needs to do without substantial resources and, well, Microsoft has those.
They’re probably looking at either falling behind because they can’t afford the compute needed to move fast and keep training models that expand exponentially each year, or selling a big chunk of themselves in the hope that they can reach big breakthroughs before others do (their goal has always been artificial general intelligence, AGI).
From Microsoft’s point of view, there’s relatively little downside. It’s not a make-of-break sum of money for them, they’re a low-cost provider of compute because of their scale, and they have plenty of existing distribution channels where OpenAI’s tech can be useful.
LLMs and generative models make a lot of sense for Office productivity software; Github Copilot is already very popular and will only become more useful over time; selling AI services to Azure customers also makes sense; and they may have internal uses similar to how Google has been using DeepMind to optimize its infrastructure.
🛢️🪨 Berkshire’s Energy Bets 📈🇯🇵
Buffett is doing what Buffett does, making money…
He has done well on his ˜200m shares of Occidental Petroleum (OXY), most of which were purchased in Q1 2022. But he has also invested in a basket of Japanese commodity trading companies:
[Buffett] has turned a two-year old bet on the five companies – known collectively as the sogo shosha, or general trading companies — into gold, recently upping the wager by increasing his stake in each. Today, Buffett is the third-biggest shareholder in Mitsui and a leading investor in its compatriots Mitsubishi Corp., Itochu Corp., Sumitomo Corp. and Marubeni Corp. With some differences, the five follow the same business model: take stakes in natural-resources projects, trade the commodities they produce, and use the cash to slowly diversify.
[Berkshire] first disclosed the investment in the sogo shosha in August 2020, with 5% stakes in each worth a total of $6 billion at the exchange rate of the day. Those positions have gained more than 50%, even when accounting for the depreciation of the yen against the dollar. Two months ago, Berkshire disclosed the purchase of more shares, bringing the stake to about 6.5% — or roughly $12 billion at today’s exchange rate.
How well are these companies doing?
Just before Buffett invested, the five companies reported a combined net income of 1.7 trillion yen in the year to the end of March 2020. In the 2023 fiscal year, which ends in little more than two months, the companies have guided investors to expect net profits of almost 3.9 trillion yen.
🛩️ ‘The world just doesn’t have enough planes as travel roars back’ 🛫🌏
From feast to famine, and then back to feast:
the world is running desperately short of planes.
With carriers from United Airlines to Air India placing jet orders that number in the hundreds, Boeing and Airbus are crowing variously about blockbuster deals.
But supply chain constraints mean those planes would not be delivered until possibly years down the track, with Jefferies investment bank estimating that there is currently an order backlog of 12,720 aircraft. [...]
Airbus earlier in December dropped its delivery goal of 700 jetliners in 2022, citing supply chain issues. And it has previously warned that a jump in energy costs will weigh particularly hard on smaller, power-intensive producers, such as those making castings and forgings.
This may mean that older planes will fly longer, which would probably be good for companies that make after-market parts…
New England is burning oil for electricity 🛢️🔥🔌
New England's electricity generators are guzzling oil back into their reserves after the region's grid burned through 31.5 million gallons of oil during the holiday freeze. About 20 million gallons of fuel oil have been replaced and another eight million gallons are being shipped to the area. [...]
During the storm, oil made for about 30% of New England's power generation. Usually, oil is less than 1% of the generation mix.
You know how people buy gasoline-powered generators to have power when there’s a power failure? Well, it’s like New England as a whole was running on a very large generator…
Meanwhile, NIMBY groups are blocking hydro lines from Québec…
🍎👩🔬📲 Apple working hard to stop buying Qualcomm and Broadcom wireless chips
Apple is Broadcom’s largest customer and accounted for about 20% of the chipmaker’s revenue in the last fiscal year, amounting to almost $7 billion. Qualcomm got 22% of its annual sales from the iPhone maker
Apple has been vertically integrating more and more of the silicon it uses in recent years, with the move away from Intel x86 to its own custom ARM chips being the biggest step.
But more steps are coming. 👣
Back in 2019, Apple bought Intel’s model division for $1bn and has no doubt been hard at work to make its own cellular modem to dump Qualcomm, which not only demands a flat payment for its chips, but a % of the price of the final product (!).
Broadcom is also in the crosshairs. They make chips for wifi and Bluetooth connectivity that Apple is also trying to make in-house, according to the latest leaks:
Apple push to replace the chips inside its devices with homegrown components will include dropping a key Broadcom part in 2025, according to people familiar with the situation, dealing a blow to one of its biggest suppliers.
As part of the shift, Apple also aims to ready its first cellular modem chip by the end of 2024 or early 2025, letting it swap out electronics from Qualcomm.
It’s no easy task. Modern wireless chips do a lot of esoteric tricks to squeeze as much bandwidth as possible out of radio spectrum and manage congestion/noise/interference while being compatible with carriers in 100+ countries.
These aren’t simple devices, and any time you interface from the digital realm to the analog world, things can get weird.
But it’s probably just a question of time until Apple cracks that nut…
🧪🔬 Liberty Labs 🧬 🔭
🦅 The new B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber
Plane geeks, here’s what we know so far about the successor to the B-2.
⛅️ Cloudflare’s 2022 Radar State of the Internet 👩💻
Fun one, worth checking out:
My biggest takeaways are:
Overall internet traffic is up 23% 📈
I had no idea the British Virgin Islands 🇻🇬 and Seychelles 🇸🇨 had that much bandwidth! They rank high in the list of top sources for bots (1/3 of all online traffic is bots).
Starlink traffic is up 15x in one year 📡 🛰️🛰️🛰️🛰️🛰️🛰️
💉🧫 Anti-Cancer vaccines are in the pipeline
Why use vaccines to fight cancer?
Most of us are familiar with vaccines as a method of preventing diseases caused by viruses or bacteria. By introducing a subunit or inactive form of a pathogenic virus or bacterium, we can train the body’s immune system to recognize that microbe in the future and rapidly mount a response to destroy it and prevent full-fledged disease.
Unlike infectious diseases, cancer is not caused by a foreign organism. Still, the mutations which make cancer cells cancerous distinguish them from normal, healthy cells, making it possible in theory for the body’s immune system, specifically T cells, to recognize them as abnormal and kill them.
Yet as Dr. Steve Rosenberg has explained on the podcast, immune responses to cancer are almost always too weak on their own to stem the growth and spread of tumors. However, therapeutics designed to assist the immune system can, in some cases, overcome this problem.
Similar to their role in infectious diseases, vaccines may enhance the immune response to cancer by priming the immune system to recognize cancerous cells.
Peter Attia then goes on to explain why personalization of the vaccine is important to get a good immune response. You can read more here.
VALL-E AI can simulate anyone’s voice from a 3-second recording 🤖🗣️🎙️
The model was trained on 60,000 hours of English language recordings from more than 7,000 speakers:
Microsoft researchers announced a new text-to-speech AI model called VALL-E that can closely simulate a person's voice when given a three-second audio sample. Once it learns a specific voice, VALL-E can synthesize audio of that person saying anything—and do it in a way that attempts to preserve the speaker's emotional tone.
They maintain the non-voice acoustics of the recording, so it sounds very convincing.
Microsoft calls VALL-E a "neural codec language model," and it builds off of a technology called EnCodec, which Meta announced in October 2022. Unlike other text-to-speech methods that typically synthesize speech by manipulating waveforms, VALL-E generates discrete audio codec codes from text and acoustic prompts. It basically analyzes how a person sounds, breaks that information into discrete components (called "tokens") thanks to EnCodec, and uses training data to match what it "knows" about how that voice would sound if it spoke other phrases outside of the three-second sample.
You can listen to lots of training recordings + the audio generated from them if you scroll down to “more samples” on this page.
I now see why OpenAI’s startup fund invested in podcast/video editing company Descript. They have a voice-synthesizing tool that I bet is about to get a lot better…
🇮🇹 Italy rethinking its nuclear power ban ⚛️
Italy *uses* plenty of nuclear energy, but they import it from France:
Matteo Salvini, leader of the pro-industry League, on Saturday announced a petition to force a consultative referendum on reintroducing nuclear energy. [...]
Italy was a pioneer in nuclear energy, but a referendum after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster led to the closure of its reactors by 1990. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attempted to resurrect nuclear, but his plan was derailed in 2011 by another referendum, this time following the Fukushima accident in Japan.
That's made Italy the only G7 country without its own nuclear power plants, and it's also the world's second-largest net importer of electricity. [...]
“Italy has for decades received energy from French nuclear reactors. Without it, we would have higher carbon emissions” [...]
Before the pandemic in 2019, the price of electricity was about 25 percent higher in Italy than in France. The ongoing energy price surge is making matters even worse; power prices are expected to jump 55 percent in the first quarter of this year [...]
"Italians pay more than other European countries for energy, which weighs on our economy. (Source)
Of course, even if they were to remove the ban, it would take a very long time for anything to happen, but it would at least be a step in the right direction. Some movement is better than no movement.
Decades ago, some of humanity’s most brilliant scientists and engineers discovered how to produce gigawatts of clean power one-demand, safely and reliably, from small buildings using relatively small quantities of materials. It’s crazy not to harness this tech.
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📕 Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter — My thoughts (no spoilers)
I’m done with Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I devoured the book. It’s a great mix of thriller, science-fiction, and a love story (!).
While reading it, I caught myself thinking that this would make a great film (if done correctly). I looked it up, and there’s a 9-episode TV series currently under production for Apple TV+ (they really are trying to be the next HBO).
Joel Edgerton will play Dessen, and Jennifer Connelly will play Daniella. I can totally see it. That’s good casting, at least superficially (I’m not familiar with Edgerton’s acting abilities).
It’s very different, but I had almost as much fun reading it as Project Hail Mary.