Discover more from Liberty’s Highlights
393: Apple, Amazon Flaws, CHIPS, Supermassive Black Holes, Tim Urban, Marc Andreessen, Fertility, Tiktok, and Batman + Fury Road
"How right can one man be?"
Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form.
Snap launches A.I. chatbot powered by OpenAI’s GPT
Will they be the ones to bring back Sydney? (intentionally, as a feature..)
I think TechTwitter would literally break if Ben Thompson (💚 🥃 🎩) had his reunion with Sydney 🤔
Or perhaps it will be Elon Musk who brings back Sydney. The Information reports:
Elon Musk has approached artificial intelligence researchers in recent weeks about forming a new research lab to develop an alternative to ChatGPT, the high-profile chatbot made by the startup OpenAI [...]
Musk has repeatedly criticized OpenAI for installing safeguards that prevent ChatGPT from producing text that might offend users. [...] suggested last year that OpenAI’s technology was an example of “training AI to be woke.” His comments imply that a rival chatbot would have fewer restrictions on divisive subjects compared to ChatGPT
📞⏳ I don’t understand why the diffusion of some very good innovations is so sloooooooow. 🐢
I have to get our home water heater replaced, and when I called the company, after a couple of minutes of waiting on hold, the system told me that they could call me back and I’d keep my place in line.
Wonderful! I did that and it worked perfectly.
But my first thought was: Why isn’t this everywhere?
Why do I still often have to wait on the phone for what seems like forever while listening to a 1-minute loop of bad music..? Do most businesses really hate their customers that much..?
👴🏻📲🧒🏻 What used to be *cutting-edge* technology to “de-age” actors for films like David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is now… a TikTok filter that can run on a phone’s GPU:
🇯🇵 🔪👨🏻🍳 I’ve slowly been learning about Japanese kitchen knives since I first wrote about them in edition #369, and I think I’ve settled on a form factor:
⭐️ The 240mm Gyuto ⭐️
Here’s a great video about why that particular shape and size is incredibly versatile:
In #369 I wrote:
The way I see it, if having a nice knife makes cooking more enjoyable, it creates a virtuous cycle where you do more of it, level up your skills, and then benefit from better home-cooked food forever after.
My next step will be to go to a Japanese Knife shop in Ottawa and try a bunch of knives to see which models have the right feel in my hand. I’ll report when I do so!
If they allow it, I may try to document my visit to the store with some photos and/or video.
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🍎📺 It really looks like Apple will bring ads to Apple TV Plus
How right can one man be? Jeff Green may get another notch on his belt:
Apple has made a notable hire that could signal its intent to move into ads on Apple TV Plus. The company has hired advertising exec Lauren Fry to “to help build a video advertising business for its Apple TV Plus streaming service” [...]
Apple has been turning more to ads to help grow its revenues; it added new ad placements in the App Store last year and reportedly wants to bring ads to apps like Maps, Books, and Podcasts, so it’s not surprising that it’s looking at ads for TV Plus as well. (Source)
At this time, the only way to access Apple TV Plus is with a paid subscription or through a complimentary subscription when you buy some new products.
As an aside: what a confusing name for their streaming service, since there’s also a hardware product called Apple TV.
Apple is no doubt looking at Netflix’s latest moves, or at the fact that Hulu is making more from ads than subscriptions… It gets especially tempting if they can do it in such a way that they expand their total number of viewers rather than just move some from column A to column B.
As for Jeff Green, he’s been predicting for years that the streamers and SVOD players would offer ad-supported tiers, and for a long time he seemed wrong, as Netflix said they wouldn’t and everyone was so enamored with paid subs (because they were growing fast and interest rates were so low that financing expensive content wasn’t too painful).
To be clear, Jeff Green isn’t winning because Apple will hire his firm to sell ads for them. The Trade Desk is on the buy side, so they’ll benefit from more inventory being available for their customers, who are kind of starved for high-quality ‘glossy’ TV shows rather than the deluge of user-generated content that brands are more uncertain about (ie. what will my product by shown next to?).
😩 Obvious Flaws that Last Forever, Amazon Echo Edition 😤
Sometimes, I find it hard to understand why some of the biggest companies in the world, with thousands of people working on something, pay so little attention to detail when it comes to product polish.
My latest papercut: I have an Amazon Echo in my kitchen, and we mostly use it to listen to music while we cook. When you ask it to “stop playing”, there’s a fraction of a second after the command where the music bursts at full volume before abruptly stopping.
If I was in charge of Alexa, in my first week I’d get rid of abrupt stops and create a nice volume curve that rapidly falls away in a pleasant way. I would also figure out what is going on with the command response logic that makes it start again before stopping after getting a command, so we could just have the music stop when people ask it to.
Why does it take *years* for such obvious things to be fixed? Doesn’t anyone care? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Interview: Tim Urban on Genies 🧞♂️ and Golems
Tim is great at compressing ideas into memorable (and thus more useful) forms, and he’s also great at zooming out and seeing the water that we’re unaware we’re swimming in. 🌊 🏊♂️
The ways in which he talks about why liberal democracy and the Idea Labs should be defended not just because they’re nicer, but also because they’re a lot more effective in the long term and probably needs more vocal supporters.
It’s fine to point out all the faults of the system and to try to improve it — I encourage it! — but we should also understand its strengths, and be careful not to lose them.
🇯🇵🤰🏻👩🏻🍼📉 ‘Japan readies ‘last hope’ measures to stop falling births’
I wrote about South Korea’s fertility challenges back in edition #320, but the story is similar almost everywhere, some places are just further along.
For example, Japan is getting kind of desperate:
Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida hopes to change the demographic trend with what he has promised will be an “unprecedented” set of measures. [...]
“The need to address the issue of children and child-rearing policies is a challenge that cannot be postponed,” he said. “We must create a children-first economic society and reverse the birth rate.”
He said that the world’s third-largest economy was “on the brink of social dysfunction.” 😬
Things are not getting better:
The average annual decline over the five years through 2021 was 3.65 per cent, much faster than the 1.44 per cent for the five years through 2016. The pandemic also appears to have delayed couples’ decisions to marry and start families. (Source)
The plan to reverse the trend hasn’t been fully announced, but it’s expected to include the usual stuff: Financial aid to parents (but more!), more and better childcare, more and better parental leave, etc.
Will it be enough? What should other societies who aren’t as far along in their fertility decline learn from Japan?
Interview: Marc Andreessen 🌪️
I remember enjoying this one by Dwarkesh Patel, but I listened to it a few weeks ago while I was walking in the woods, so I don’t have detailed notes ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I’ll just use what friend-of-the-show Byrne Hobart (💚💚💚💚💚 🥃) wrote about it:
Dwarkesh Patel has a great interview with Marc Andreessen. This one is full of great riffs: the idea that VC exists to restore pockets of bourgeois capitalism in a mostly managerial capitalist system, what makes the difference between good startup founders and good mature company executives, how valuation works at the earliest stages, and more. Dwarkesh tends to ask the questions other interviewers don't.
Whether you agree with Marc or not on any specific issue, the important thing is that I find him good at generating thoughts about these things.
🇺🇸💰💰💰 CHIPS Act: You can now apply for that $39bn 🐜
Well, if you’re a semiconductor company wanting to make things in the US, that is…
Authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act last year, the Commerce Department opened the application process Tuesday for companies jockeying for a share of the funding.
This first round prioritizes applicants seeking to build domestic chip manufacturing facilities that can ensure the billions in taxpayer money is protected and leveraged to advance US national security goals.
I kinda wish they’d adjust things a bit and also focus on getting some trailing edge fabs built in the US, because these things are also extremely useful and the US shouldn’t be almost entirely dependent on Taiwan AND China for these…
Oh, and there’s also some nonsense about buybacks..?
Companies applying for more than $150 million in funding will be required to provide childcare for construction and factory workers, restrict stock buybacks, and share part of their profits with the government if they are more profitable than projected. Companies building these factories are expected to use union workers. (Source)
I guess if you take government money, expect the strings to be largely political in nature, rather than focus on how effectively you can reach the primary goals…
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🕳️🔭 These are not stars 🤩
What looks like just random white dots on a black background — a very starry sky maybe? — is actually *very very* different.
Each white dot is a supermassive black hole!
An international team of astronomers has published a map of the sky showing over 25,000 supermassive black holes.
The map, to be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, is the most detailed celestial map in the field of so-called low radio frequencies. The astronomers, including Leiden astronomers, used 52 stations with LOFAR antennas spread across nine European countries.
You can’t just point a regular radio telescope at the sky to get this data:
Observations at long radio wavelenghts are complicated by the ionospehere that surrounds the Earth. This layer of free electrons acts like a cloudy lens that constantly moves across the radio telescope [...]
The new map was created by combining 256 hours of observations of the northern sky. The researchers deployed supercomputers with new algorithms that correct the effect of the ionosphere every four seconds. [...]
'After many years of software development, it is so wonderful to see that this has now really worked out.' (Source)
The map above covers 4% of the northern half of the sky. Mapping of the rest is underway…
🐈🐈⬛ The average lifespan of pet cats has *doubled* in the past 40 years 📈
Today I Learned (TIL):
The average lifespan of pet cats has risen in recent decades. In the early 1980s, it was about seven years, rising to 9.4 years in 1995, and about 15 years in 2021. Some cats have been reported as surviving into their 30s, with the oldest known cat, Creme Puff, dying at a verified age of 38.
Wait, what? I gotta look into Creme Puff! 🐈
Creme Puff (August 3, 1967 – August 6, 2005) was a mixed Tabby domestic cat, owned by Jake Perry of Austin, Texas, US. She was the oldest cat ever recorded, according to the 2010 edition of Guinness World Records, when she died aged 38 years and 3 days.
No idea if any of this helped or if she was just a genetic mutant, but here’s her diet because it’s kind of funny:
Creme Puff's owner, Jake Perry, said her diet consisted of dry cat food supplemented with broccoli, eggs, turkey bacon, coffee with cream, and—every two days—"an eyedropper full of red wine". Perry claimed that this diet was key to her longevity, and that the wine "circulated the arteries"
There’s even a photo!
Back to longevity. One of the reasons:
Neutering increases life expectancy: one study found castrated male cats live twice as long as intact males, while spayed female cats live 62% longer than intact females.
It probably also has a lot to do with keeping them indoors more.
When I was a kid, it was totally normal for pet cats to be left roaming outdoors, while today, I rarely see any around where I live (don’t know how it is elsewhere in the world).
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🦇 Batman + Mad Max Fury Road A.I. Remix: Batman of the Wasteland 🤖🎥🎬
I haven’t posted fun generative AI art in a while.
The creator of these is “Stock_Awareness_925” on Reddit. You can see more if you follow the link.
The prompts used weren’t even that complex and out of reach for the average person (“
35 mm film still of (blank) in the style of Fury Road, directed by George Miller --ar 3:2 --v 4”).
I’m always impressed by how fast we humans can get used to new things. It took us what..? Six months to go from 🤯 to oh yeah, more of that… 🥱
I’m trying to keep my child-like wonder about this stuff, and really take the time to think about the *artistic decisions* that are embedded in the images above.
If a human had to compose those shots, they would involve a thousand little subjective decisions — including about what not to do — to get the right feel, the right framing, the right balance, the right colors, shadows, composition, facial expression, etc.
But this was all done by a very very complex piece of software running on GPUs.
I still say:
These are stills from a movie that doesn’t exist, but what about when we can generate a whole movie this way..?
If an AI can make all these artistic decisions about a still image, why can’t it eventually make similar decisions on a much larger scale about moving pictures? It will eventually generate a script, realistic-sounding voices, music, moving pictures…