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Regulate Me, Daddy
tuesday report #17 // AI hearing, regulation season, elon hit from all sides, and the clowniest links from clown world hell in months
Welcome back to the Tuesday Report, the Pirate Wires weekly digest. Every week we deliver a brief lead story followed by a storm of fire links to catch you up on everything you need to know.
Raise your right hand. Last week, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman appeared before Congress and asked for regulation (check out the full hearing here, or my coverage of the hearing in a thread that starts here). While generally framed as a novel request — with several comments from Senators along the lines of ‘what businessman has ever come to Washington asking for more laws, wow’ etc. — Sam’s was but the latest in a long line of similar strategy, perhaps most famously including an attempt from Mark Zuckerberg. Still, Mark only appeared before Congress after Democrats concluded he was responsible for the election of Donald Trump, and Republicans concluded he was an agent of the Deep State. Long story short, Zuck was doomed from the start. But artificial intelligence is a whole new world, and Senate consensus has so far amounted to something along the lines of: what even is this, in specific language please? Okay you’re building a — *checks notes* — god? Very nice, what does that mean in terms of copyright violation? This will be bad for jobs but maybe also good, yes? Finally, and most importantly of all, why are you asking us to regulate something we don’t yet understand? Strangely, I found our lawmakers both reasonably polite, and essentially… charming? My sense is also the most interesting thing about the hearing had less to do with AI than it did with the internet in general; turns out many legislators, from both major parties, still really, really want to revoke Section 230.
A little bad news for team “Nuke the Internet,” however:
Following the AI hearing, the Supreme Court declined to re-examine Section 230 in Gonzalez vs. Google, in which the family of a woman killed in a terrorist attack posited YouTube recommendations were in some way responsible for the terrorist’s actions. The court has previously unanimously ruled along these lines, in favor of 230, in Twitter v. Taamneh. Underpinning both rulings is the question of neutrality, and the assumption social media platforms treat all users equally. But while I have no doubt YouTube isn’t pumping terrorist content, I do wonder about the various algorithms dictating what we do and don’t see, which do seem to favor — among a whole series of attention grabbing genres — highly polarizing content. Justice Thomas took this claim apart as well, however, indicating his position that the “algorithm” is only giving users what they want, as determined by their own interactions with content. If dismantling 230 is now a conservative opinion, it appears our “conservative” court did not receive the memo.
The most ferocious critics of 230 are banking on better luck with NetChoice v. Paxton. This case follows the Texas government’s attempt to force neutrality of opinion on our largest social media platforms, in keeping with the principles of 230, by revoking the right to content censorship where not expressly prohibited under the law. If it’s legal in New Jersey, that should be good enough for Facebook. If the case fails? Tech can have its neutral cake and eat it too.
One unexpected through line on the regulation front is how thoughtfully most of this has been mediated. Rare as thoughtful policy is in America, with the Group of Seven meeting I’m reminded how much rarer it is abroad, and especially in Europe.
Leaders of the G7 have put together a little ditty called the “Hiroshima Process,” in which allied governments are expected to provide policy recommendations for what engineers in San Francisco are and are not allowed to build. While Europeans have been characteristically sheepish and pearl-clutching, the Japanese government has been more clever; “In order to ensure that AI development is human-centric and trustworthy,” writes Bloomberg, “Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sought cooperation toward a secure, cross-border flow of data.” In other words, ‘in order to maintain safety, please immediately send us your technology.’
Well golly, Fumio, thanks for the concern — and thanks to England too! But how about this: Americans will build whatever they want, the rest of the world can opt into using what Americans build or fade into oblivion, and finally (for the UK only) please take back your basic bitch prince. We have an entire industry of worthless fame whores here at home we have to feed, and I’m very much a nationalist in this sense. Our losers eat before your losers eat.
MORE IN ‘FUN WITH LAWS AND REGULATION’:
Mad Max driving test. Manufacturers of self-driving vehicles are training their AIs in hellish simulated driving environments as technologists attempt to hammer out the edge cases, assuage the fears of regulators, and get these things on the road. (WSJ)
Minnesota lawmakers pass bill to secure minimum wage for gig workers. Uber and Lyft have threatened to cease operating in the state if the bill becomes law. (NYT)
Dancing TikTok hoes sue Montana in effort to save dancing hoe platform. Libertarians and Chinese spies agree the policy is unprecedented, unthinkable. (WSJ)
BREAKING: TikTok has joined the dancing hoes, is also suing Montana (NBC)
EU fines Meta $1.3 billion in data privacy case. Meta’s offense? Processing European user data on servers in the United States. Funny echo of US concerns with TikTok, and what is characteristic of European thinkboi shit but an exercise in drawing equivalencies between the United States and authoritarian dictatorships. (CNN)
FTC fines fertility app Premom for sharing sensitive user data with Alibaba subsidiary. Lina Khan’s latest move in a campaign against companies that aren’t yet subject to HIPAA requirements, but profit from sharing health data. (Axios)
FTX and Alameda Research sue SBF over Embed acquisition. This lawsuit is expected to be the first of many attempts by the sister companies to recover from the chaos wrought by Bankman-Fried. (Axios)
THIS WEEK IN PIRATE WIRES
Altman calls for AI licensing regime. Last Tuesday, Sam Altman appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and advocated for a licensing regime for AI models with specific capacities, but only “as we head toward AGI.” Brandon Gorrell reports on the hearing in its entirety here.
Philly’s working class black neighborhoods choose tough-on-crime mayoral candidate. Brandon Johnson took Chicago, then joined Bernie and AOC in endorsing Helen Gym for Philadelphia. Online, all the momentum seemed to be with Philly’s progressive darling in the weeks leading up to the mayoral primary. New York Magazine gushed: “The Progressive Takeover of Big Cities Is Nearly Complete.” Until it wasn’t. Philadelphia — and especially voters in its poorest, blackest neighborhoods — voted overwhelmingly for tough-on-crime Cherelle Parker. Nick Russo reports. (Pirate Wires)
The Soros Exception. After Elon is accused of antisemitism for comparing Soros to Magneto, River Page asks what makes this particular billionaire so immune from criticism. (Pirate Wires)
The Black Cleopatra documentary is worse than you think. River Page reviews Netflix's new Cleopatra docuseries, in which the only white Egyptian is a scheming eunuch. (Pirate Wires)
Let's talk about glow-in-the-dark species. Guest Owen Lewis discusses how ancient cultures would use bioluminescent mushrooms growing on logs as faint torches, among other examples of real-life sci-fi alien shit. (Pirate Wires)
AI boom catalyzes tech rally (Bloomberg)
E-sports not hitting like they used to (NYT)
NYT salivates as unions move to cannibalize Amazon (NYT)
Jeff Jordan departs a16z (Axios)
Elizabeth Holmes will wait out conviction appeal behind bars (NYT)
Bitcoin finally out of correlation with broader tech market (Bloomberg)
MONEY AND MERGERS
First, excellent news for the Pirate Nation: henceforth, we’ll be spotlighting deals and trends we see in the tech and venture landscape. We dug into April 2022 venture data and compared it with April 2023. We’ve heard a lot about the tech winter, and the California dip in particular, but it’s wild to see this all so plainly expressed.
FYI we’ll be checking back in with this particular view on a quarterly basis. Now, a handful of notable deals from the past week:
Hippocratic AI announced a $50M seed led by General Catalyst and a16z. The company is building a safety-focused LLM for healthcare.
NewLimit announced a $60M series A raised from Kleiner Perkins, Founders Fund and Dimension Management, with participation from individuals such as Elad Gil, Eric Schmidt, and Garry Tan. NewLimit is developing anti-aging medicines through epigenetic programming, and counts Brian Armstrong as a co-founder.
Locofy announced a $4.25M seed led by Accel to continue building AI-augmented frontend developer tools.
Eleven Labs announced an $18.5M series B from a16z and other undisclosed investors. Their third fundraise this year, the company will use the cash to further develop their hyper-realistic AI voice technology.
Stacklok announced a $17.5M series A led by Madrona and Accel to continue developing their open source supply chain security software.
Anybotics announced a $50M series B with participation from Benchmark. The Zurich-based company is building autonomous robots for industrial inspection.
Siren Biotechnology announced an undisclosed amount from investors that include Lux Capital and Founders Fund. Siren is developing a gene therapy platform for a variety of cancer treatments.
Instawork announced a $60M series D led by TCV with participation from other investors including Benchmark, GV, Craft, Greylock. The funds will be used to integrate AI tools into the shift work job marketplace platform.
US, Japan, UK announce massive chip and quantum computing investments. The move comes just ahead of the G7 summit and signals an acceleration of efforts by democratic leaders to decouple tech from China. (Axios)
Applied Materials to invest $4bn in Silicon Valley chip research facility (WSJ)
Fivetran looks to business loans for funding. The data startup has closed on a $125 million loan from Vista Credit Partners — after 11 years in which the CEO never once considered taking on debt. In the wake of SVB’s collapse amid an already tough tech winter, companies still looking to grow are resorting to unorthodox methods. (Bloomberg)
Silver Lake and Bain Capital competing to acquire Software AG. Despite the German software provider’s management having publicly stated its preference for Silver Lake, the company now faces a tough choice after Bain Capital offered to buy at four euros higher per share. (Axios)
Software transparency startup Manifest Cyber raises $6M. A solid seed round and two government contracts for a company that aims to help agencies pinpoint software security flaws. (Axios)
ROCKET MAN BAD
Elon continues to be furious with OpenAI (also Microsoft (by extension, it seems)). Two separate but related dramas. First, Elon co-founded OpenAI with Sam Altman as a non-profit focused on averting AI apocalypse. Today, Elon is no longer involved in the company, which has been restructured for profit and is presently building much of the technology Elon originally feared might destroy the world. Following Microsoft’s massive investment in OpenAI, Elon believes they effectively control the company. Then, drama number two, Microsoft separately briefly stopped advertising on Twitter in apparent submission to the “misinformation reporters” who credited Elon’s Twitter takeover with the collapse of American Democracy, and our rapid descent into fascism (still ongoing, presumably). Now Elon is accusing Microsoft of various API abuses. Fun little legal battle we’ll watch closely. (WSJ)
“Offer me money. Offer me power. I don’t care.” A CNBC interviewer pressed Elon on his controversial tweets, asking whether the prospect of losing ad revenue gave him pause. Elon responded with the above Princess Bride reference, adding “I’ll say what I want to say, and if the consequence of that is losing money, so be it.” It appears Ms. Yaccarino has her work cut out for her. (Twitter)
Meta to release Twitter competitor sometime next month. Select creators are being briefed on how to use Instagram’s new text-based sister app. If you followed the Substack-Twitter drama, you understand this means we’re about to experience an incredible, and perhaps inevitable, Musk v. Zuck drama. Unclear how Elon can actually hurt Zuck, but I’m pretty sure we’ll get some gnarly insults and accusations. (ICYMI)
Italian insurance firm purchases Starlink terminals to aid with flood relief. Rocket Man bad, etc. (Bloomberg)
Everyone is talking about this new gd Apple headset. Rumors surrounding a new mixed reality headset from Apple are swirling. Allegedly, the device will work for both virtual and augmented reality, which means if Tim Cook has his way every person in the world will be walking around with the final form of Google Glass on their head (Bloomberg). For years, Apple has denied the rumors. This year, they have not. Expect this headset to dominate consumer tech press the moment it’s unveiled.
Screenless laptop just dropped. Introducing Spacetop: a keyboard that sits in your lap as you gaze through augmented reality glasses at a 100-inch virtual display. (Axios)
Samsung declines to change default search engine from Google to Bing (WSJ)
Netflix ad-tier service booming (Axios)
YouTube raked in nearly $40 billion in sales over last 12 months (Bloomberg)
EA Sports to start paying college football players (Axios)
OpenAI drops ChatGPT iPhone app (Axios)
Sudowrite announces new novel-writing AI tool called Story Engine (Twitter)
FML: AI-generated wedding vows (WSJ)
Apple restricts employee use of ChatGPT. The company cited concerns over leaks of confidential data, joining JP Morgan and Verizon in limiting in-house use of the OpenAI product. (WSJ)
AI or not? Over a dozen companies are now making a business of identifying AI-generated content. (NYT)
Cool AI art thread. From the Post Photographic Perspectives Project — sample below. (Twitter)
Therapy: bullshit probably? In a great longread from the New York Times, Susan Dominus unpacks the fraught, mixed research surrounding the efficacy of talk therapy (NYT). Tl;dr, it sort of sometimes works, but mostly doesn’t. Save your money, and get a gym membership.
Proposed Colorado bill paves the way for all workers to accept cash tips. In five years, you’ll be tipping your dentist. Enjoy. (Insider)
Texas, Florida pass bills to ban transgender medical treatment for minors. A total of 15 states have now passed similar measures. (NYT)
DeSantis: “Let kids be kids.” On top of his transgender treatment ban, DeSantis signed bills restricting the use of preferred pronouns in schools and the attendance of drag shows by minors. He also moved to defund DEI programs at public colleges and universities. (NYT)
Biden expected to withdraw controversial judicial nominee. Michael Delaney, who was nominated by the President for a seat on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, previously represented an elite private high school accused of allowing the sexual harassment and assault of a minor student. (The Hill)
Weapons contractors price gouging the Pentagon. Stinger missiles that cost the US government $25,000 a pop in 1991 are now selling for over $400k. The cause? Raytheon is the sole supplier, and seems to be exploiting what’s essentially a federally sanctioned monopoly. (CBS News)
Bipartisan group of legislators moves to protect AM radio in cars. They want to make it illegal for auto manufacturers to remove AM connectivity from vehicles, citing public safety concerns. (Axios)
Biden: US-China tensions will soon “thaw.” Talks ground to a halt after we shot their spy equipment out of the sky. Biden called that spy equipment a “silly balloon,” and has indicated he wants to lift some sanctions to heal diplomatic relations. (Financial Times)
China: chips from US-based Micron pose national security risks. While our President is mumbling about silly balloons between ice cream cones, China is ordering its companies to stop buying Micron products because they allegedly threaten national security. (Axios)
China is developing a Starlink competitor. They’re already building satellite launch sites and expanding manufacturing capabilities. They’re closing in on the ability to construct reusable rockets, and a Hong Kong-based consultant said it’s “entirely possible that in two years’ time China’s launch payload volume can double.” (WSJ)
China hails Syria’s return to Arab League. An official said: “Syria’s return to the Arab League once again proves that when the shadow of the US shrinks, the light of peace returns.” Joe? Hello, Joe? Any thoughts here, sir? Thank you. (Twitter)
ESPN pulls Tiananmen Square-related documentary from film festival. Jay Caspian Kang announced his documentary, American Son, was pulled by ESPN from the Tribeca Film Festival, where it was set to debut. It’s about Michael Chang, a tennis phenom, and his performance at the 1989 French Open in the shadow of China’s Tiananmen Square massacre. No one knows the official reasoning for the decision, but… come on, the communists called ESPN and said “pull it or else,” right? (Twitter)
Chinese tech giants starting to recover from pandemic slump (NYT)
Alibaba exiting cloud business. Given cloud computing was previously touted as an up to $12 billion boon for the company, some are questioning whether the move was a response to pressure from the markets or the Chinese government. (Bloomberg)
US “technology strike force” announces first slate of espionage cases. The Biden Administration’s new tech-focused national security team has made charges related to sanctions evasion, as well as Chinese, Russian, and Iranian espionage efforts. (NYT)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene introduces articles of impeachment against Biden. The controversial Republican congressman said the articles would have to do with Biden’s handling of border security. (Politico)
Andy Warhol (dead) committed copyright infringement against Prince (dead), says Supreme Court. SCOTUS ruled that silkscreens of the singer Prince made by the dead artist infringed on the copyright of the original photographer Lynn Goldsmith, who sued his foundation. (NBC)
Los Angeles strippers are unionizing. This is what Kanye meant when he said please baby, no more parties in LA. (Twitter)
Ozempic cures everything. In addition to treating diabetes and helping you lose weight via appetite suppression, it now seems the miracle drug might cure addiction, helping people stop smoking, drinking, and even biting their nails. If the unionizing strippers are on Ozempic they might take over the country (Atlantic). Might eat up all your muscles though (Healthline).
Orcas off the Iberian Coast are teaching each other to sink boats. They’ve downed three and counting. Pirate Wires generally opposes property crime, but this is frankly, and unquestionably, awesome. (Twitter)
30 tons of ammonium nitrate went missing from a train car. This is the fertilizing chemical used to manufacture explosives, of which less than 5,000 was used to carry out the Oklahoma City Bombing. More than six times that amount – vanished without a trace. Seems fine. (Gizmodo)
The Kia Boy crime wave continues. First covered for Pirate Wires by Nick in February, the trend reached new heights of absurdity this week: Maryland teens were arrested for stealing a pair of Hyundais; the guardian that came to pick them up from the station was a 19-year-old acquaintance in another stolen Hyundai, who was also promptly arrested. What’s the over/under on how long it’ll take them all to get released and arrested in another stolen car? (Twitter) (Pirate Wires)
LA pols proudly unveil unbelievably stupid bus stop shade structure. Dubbed “La Sombrita,” it’s a pole with a piece of sheet metal jutting out that serves as a roof big enough for one person to stand under, except it has holes in it. The cutting edge infrastructure was designed with equity in mind (women like shade, or something?). Cost: $10k a piece. (Twitter)
NY lawyer rats on unlicensed food stand, gets ratio’d into oblivion. Terminally online Americans stood united on not one but two viral stories this week. It seems we can all agree: ribbon cutting ceremonies for pointless money-sucks are stupid, as is the petty bureaucratic impulse to call the cops on someone selling food without a permit. (Twitter)
“I would rather kick myself in the balls 100 times than do this again.” Said a low-income housing developer of getting approval for a construction project in Portland. (Twitter)
NAACP issues Florida travel advisory. Apparently DeSantis has made the mere act of stepping foot in the Sunshine State inherently fraught for black people. (Twitter)
Primate erasure. Eight years ago, following a wave of backlash concerning image analysis software that labeled black people gorillas, tech companies axed gorilla-identification capabilities entirely. To this day, photo apps from Google and Apple are unable to identify gorillas. Thanks a lot, wike mob. (NYT)
Washington Free Beacon bullies DC bar officials into lifting mask requirements. Never let anyone tell you cyberbullying doesn’t work. (Twitter)
South Africa “Beats Climate Goal” as Blackouts Slash Emissions. Verbatim Bloomberg headline. Always important to keep in mind the softer side of a nation’s collapse. Thank you, Bloomberg. (Bloomberg) (AP)
Fin. Blow up our comments, fam.