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Jan 12, 2023 11 min read

What happened in tech this week #108

What happened in tech this week #108
Table of Contents

News, insights, and information from the tech economy.


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Microsoft to invest $10 billion in OpenAI

Three years ago, as Microsoft sought to overtake Amazon and Google in cloud computing and artificial intelligence, the company made a major move. It invested $1 billion into a project originally co-founded by Elon Musk, former Y Combinator president Sam Altman and other tech leaders to create artificial general intelligence that could do anything humans can. OpenAI saw themselves as a rival to profit-minting AI tech kings like Google and vowed to prevent such powerful technology from ending up in the hands of monopolies. But Altman, who later became CEO, realised that structure made it harder to raise the war chest OpenAI needed to train machine-learning models. Enter Microsoft, who could soon get a massive return on its original $1 billion investment in OpenAI, the creator of the ChatGPT chatbot, which gives humanlike text answers to questions.

Here’s The Thing: Google are worried by the threat posed by ChatGPT. The tech giant has spent years working on its own chat bot and has actually built one to rival ChatGPT called LaMDA. But it has been reluctant to share LaMDA widely because of its potential to generate false or toxic information. According to the New York Times, Google has a second dilemma: if a chat bot responds to search queries with tight sentences and perfect answers, there’s less reason for people to click on advertising clinks.

The focus on Microsoft intensified this week with news that Microsoft is to invest $10 billion into OpenAI, giving it a 49% stake on the software business in return for 75% of all profits. It's also reported that Microsoft is preparing to launch a version of its Bing search engine that uses the artificial intelligence behind ChatGPT to answer some search queries rather than just showing a list of links. This has already put the cat amongst the pigeons at Google, who have declared a "code red" situation.

Microsoft will also integrate the GPT AI into its Office Suite, changing the way that more than a billion users write Word docs, create PowerPoint decks and write Outlook emails. Notion have already implemented a great example of what this looks like, which I'm using to write this newsletter.

Now the tech industry is watching the high-profile partnership as Silicon Valley looks to turn a new generation of AI tools into the next big gold mine. And a who’s who of financiers, from Sand Hill Road’s Sequoia Capital to Wall Street’s Tiger Global Management, has also jumped at the chance to own a piece of the commercial arm of OpenAI, last valued at around $20 billion in 2021. Source: The Information


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Estée Lauder launch AR app to apply make-up for the visually impaired

Estée Lauder has launched a new app in the UK that helps visually impaired users apply makeup. There are more than 2 million people living with visual impairment in the UK and this is the first use of technology to help them navigate the tricky job of applying make-up.

The voice-enabled Makeup Assistant uses augmented reality and AI to analyse the makeup on a user’s face. The app gives audio feedback on which areas need to be touched up or blended.

Estée Lauder are not the first brand to introduce initiatives to help people with disabilities.

  • Unilever introduced a deodorant for people with visual impairment and upper-limb disabilities in April 2021, with easily graspable features for one-handed use, a larger roll-on applicator to reach a larger surface area, and easy-to-open packaging.
  • In October 2021, Procter & Gamble announced a new technology, Navilens, which uses QR codes that can be scanned from a distance with a smartphone app to read out key product and shelf location information.
  • Last week, L’Oréal launched a handheld motorised device to help people with disabilities apply lipstick.

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US Space Force to use Virtual Reality for training in the Metaverse

The US Space Force plans to use virtual reality technology for training Combat Rescue Officers, flight surgeons, and Pararescuemen. According to VR medical simulation platform, SimX, the programme will enable more frequent and effective training and run on the HTC VIVE Focus 3 VR headset.

Here's The Thing: training is a viable use case in the debate about the Metaverse. While many examples of a Metaverse-future simply don't pass the common sense test, using immersive experiences to teach and better prepare workers offers real advantages over traditional methods.

This program is being developed in collaboration with and tested alongside the USAF 24th Special Operations Wing and 1st Air Force, Detachment 3, Human Space Flight Support Operations.


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Jack Ma loses control of Ant Group

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma is ceding control of fintech giant Ant Group following a regulatory crackdown on the nation’s tech sector. The company announced on 7th January that its ownership structure will be adjusted so that “no shareholder, alone or jointly with other parties, will have control over Ant Group”. Jack Ma has indirectly controlled 53.46% of Ant’s shares, but will hold just 6.2% after the change. The former English teacher has “seldom been seen in public since criticising China’s financial sector in 2020.”  Often described as China's Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma's disappearance from public life followed comments he made at a financial services conference where he critscised state regulators and the Government. Shortly after the public outburst, Jack Ma's $37 billion stock market flotation of Ant Group, which would have been the world's largest, was cancelled at the last minute. It sparked “a sweeping crackdown on China’s technology giants over the past two years that has cut hundreds of billions of dollars off their values and shrunk revenues and profits.” Andrew Collier, managing director of Orient Capital Research, said that Ma’s departure “shows the determination of the Chinese leadership to reduce the influence of large private investors”. Collier warned that “this trend will continue the erosion of the most productive parts of the Chinese economy”.  Source: The Week


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Microsoft reveals new Text-to-Speach AI tool

Microsoft's AI model, VALL-E, simulates someone's voice from a 3-sec audio sample, matching timbre, emotional tone, and even the acoustics of a room. It is trained on 60K hrs of English speech from 7K+ speakers. Results are mixed with some sounding machine-like and others realistic, but the emotional tone and acoustic environment are faithfully matched. Microsoft plans to scale up training data to improve the model. It is not open source due to potential misuse. Source: Arstechnica


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ChatGPT harms are no longer hypothetical

Last Friday, January 6 2023, security research group Check Point Research (CPR) published a terrifying article entitled “OpwnAI: Cybercriminals Starting to Use ChatGPT.” CPR had previously studied how malicious hackers, scammers, and cybercriminals could exploit ChatGPT. They demonstrated how the chatbot can “create a full infection flow, from spear-phishing to running a reverse shell” and how it can generate scripts to run dynamically, adapting to the environment.

Despite OpenAI’s guardrails, which appeared as an orange warning notification when CPR forced ChatGPT to do something against the usage policy, the research group had no problem generating a simple phishing email. “Complicated attack processes can also be automated as well, using the LLMs APIs to generate other malicious artifacts,” they concluded. Source: The Algorithmic Bridge

In a related but entirely different subject, Forbes reported how people are using ChatGPT to write fake scientific abstracts which are good enough to fool scientists.

For more on ChatGPT, read this, that and the other.

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Tesla face growing challenges from new entrants

Elon Musk made history in 2022 by becoming the first person ever to lose $200 billion, but is aiming to consolidate his lead in the fast-growing EV market in 2023. However, Tesla shares have continued falling after sales missed expectations, and Covid lockdowns and global recession are still pressuring the company. Tesla is working on a "gen 3" vehicle, but faces challengers from Foxconn and VinFast, with the latter planning 70 showrooms in 2023 to challenge Tesla. "Vietnam is an unlikely home of the next Elon Musk.”


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HealthTech biometrics goes down the toilet

Measuring your bodily waste may sound gross, but there are some very healthy reasons to do it. At CES2023 this weekend, there were a number of smart toilets on display, all using some form of sensor to monitor your number 1's and 2's.

🚽 Withings produces the U-Scan in Europe and is preparing for a US launch. The product uses a hands-free system that can take up to three months' worth of measurements with a single cartridge.

🚽 Israeli startup Olive recently raised a $10 million round of funding, and use optics-only to analyse urine using a special toilet seat.

🚽 Vivoo has been making at-home urine test strips for a long time, and now has a smart toilet for users who may struggle to perform urine testing with hand-held urine strips.

🚽 Finally, there was SZM (Special Zone Master), which does ‘visual analysis’ of your poop. The company promises to analyse stool shape and colour, record the time and frequency of your bowel movements, and detect the presence of blood.

Here's The Thing: The point with these products is that they are all preventative in nature. Just as your watch, fitness tracker, phone are all collecting signals that indicate any number of conditions, now there are smart loos to monitor your waste. By taking a closer look at what's coming out of your body, the tech can spot the first signs of a health problem and provoke action before it is too late. Source: TechCrunch


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It's wrong to ban ChatGPT in schools

New York City schools have banned the use of ChatGPT by students. Next they’ll be banning calculators and bringing back log books and slide rules. This is narrow thinking by educators IMHO and I don’t think it’ll last. Here’s why…

I get the concern for educators. It’s not a new one. Plagiarism has been a problem because students have used copy and paste for years to do their homework. Now, the students are going to simply get the AI to answer the question for them. IMHO, that’s ok. When I was at school we did maths the pre-calculator way, writing out times tables long hand and carrying my log book with me wherever I went. Now I carry a smartphone and if i cant add it up on my fingers I use an app.

That hasn’t reduced my ability to problem solve. But it has improved my accuracy because there’s less chance of my screwing up the calculation. It’s the same thing with AI, only with words instead of numbers. Just as in adult life, there are many students that go the path of least resistance in most subjects. No students will like every subject. So why not let the AI generate their answers? After all, 99% of what they write on their own is (a) repeated anyway from the content of others and (b) they’ll have forgotten what they wrote within a week. I know I do.

Here’s The Thing: when a student is passionate about a subject, they’ll own it. They’ll take it in and commit to memory because they want to understand it. They’ll think about it and form they’re own opinions and ideas. For them, AI will be a tool to assist in problem solving, just as the calculator is for all the students that aren’t into maths. The passionate kids wont want to use chatGPT to write their answers because they’ll want to do it themselves. Source: AP News


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Further Reading

7 AI Creation Tools To Save Time and Be More Productive
The widespread use of generative AI has exploded in 2022. First, with the release of GPT-3, followed by DALL-E and Stable Diffusions, there are now countless content creation and productivity tools utilising AI. Here are 7 AI tools I use the most.
Brand Strategies For The Metaverse
Major consumer brands are investing in the emerging technologies for tomorrow’s digital world. From NFTs to blockchain, from web3 to the Metaverse. This database of over 250 consumer brands is, IMHO, the largest single collection of brand strategies for the metaverse.
Wiser! Top 10 Technology Predictions 2023
From 2023 being the year of AI to NFTs becoming a tech for customer engagement, from Elon Musk walking away from Twitter empty-handed to Meta pivoting again, these are my Top 10 Wiser! Technology Predictions for 2023.

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