CEO of Niantic labs sat on a panel with the Niantic logo

Tech News Roundup 30th June 2023

Jun 30, 2023
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In this week's tech news, we cover Niantic laying off employees, DeepMind’s chatbot to rival ChatGPT, OpenAI’s new London office, TikTok e-commerce store in the US, US Chip ban for China's AI Industry, Twitter subscribers can create 25,000 character tweets, Unicorn social app shuts down, Irelands new proposed law.

Niantic Pivots Strategy, Lays Off Employees, and Cancels NBA and Marvel Projects

In a recent move that has captured the attention of AR gaming enthusiasts, Niantic, the renowned developer responsible for the wildly popular augmented reality games Pokémon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, has undergone significant operational changes. The company recently made the difficult decision to lay off 230 employees, representing around 5% of its workforce. This restructuring effort primarily affected Niantic's marketing and support divisions, aiming to streamline operations and allocate resources more efficiently to areas of growth.

Despite these challenging adjustments, Niantic remains unwavering in its commitment to its core AR games, striving to continue providing captivating experiences for its dedicated user base. The company firmly believes that this strategic realignment will enhance its ability to deliver the best possible gaming encounters.

In addition to the layoffs, Niantic has decided to cancel two highly anticipated projects that had generated significant excitement among fans: an augmented reality game based on the NBA (National Basketball Association) and an AR collaboration with Marvel. This tough choice was made to refocus resources on other ventures that align more closely with the company's long-term strategy. Niantic aims to expand the AR gaming landscape and create innovative experiences that deeply resonate with players.

By emphasizing its strengths and core franchises, Niantic aims to remain competitive in the market and continue delivering immersive and enthralling AR gaming experiences. The cancellation of these games underlines the company's dedication to prioritizing the development efforts of its core IPs and technologies.

Ultimately, Niantic's strategic realignment represents a concerted effort to optimize operations, concentrate resources, and pursue long-term growth in the rapidly evolving AR gaming industry. Despite the necessary layoffs and project cancellations, Niantic retains its position as a prominent player in the AR space. The company is determined to maintain its standing by consistently delivering cutting-edge AR gaming experiences that captivate players and propel the industry forward.

DeepMind Enters the Chatbot Arena, Aims to Rival OpenAI's ChatGPT

DeepMind, Google's star-studded AI research lab recognized for its trailblazing achievements in artificial intelligence, has announced its new chatbot development, aiming to stand toe-to-toe with OpenAI's famous ChatGPT.

At the heart of DeepMind's chatbot lies its cutting-edge language model, MuZero. This model differs from conventional chatbots that typically rely on predefined responses or a massive heap of training data. Instead, MuZero learns and conjures up responses by playing games and simulating different situations. The goal? Enable the chatbot to engage in dynamic and adaptive interactions, much like a real-life conversation.

DeepMind is pushing the envelope further, intending to overcome common chatbot shortcomings such as repetitive, cookie-cutter responses. To accomplish this, the team is training MuZero using a plethora of data sources – from books and articles to websites. This infusion of diverse information aims to bolster the chatbot's knowledge base, equipping it to participate in more contextually relevant and meaningful conversations.

As exciting as these developments are, DeepMind is aware of the ethical elephant in the room - biases. The team is addressing this by striving to make the chatbot's decision-making process as transparent and explainable as possible, ensuring the interactions are not only intelligent but also trustworthy.

The article wraps up by hinting at the potentially revolutionary impact of DeepMind's chatbot across various sectors, from customer service and healthcare to education. While DeepMind's claims to match OpenAI's ChatGPT might raise eyebrows, its innovative approach and unwavering focus on perfecting conversational abilities could lead to substantial leaps in chatbot technology. As the curtain lifts on this latest tech drama, all eyes will be on DeepMind's new star performer.

OpenAI Checks In: A New Hub in London's Thriving AI Scene

OpenAI, the titan of artificial intelligence (AI) research, has stirred the pot in the AI sphere with its latest strategic play. The company has flung open the doors to a new office in London, positioning itself in the same ring as DeepMind, a fellow heavyweight in AI innovation. This audacious move sees OpenAI dive headfirst into London's bubbling pool of AI expertise, underlining its intention to broaden its horizons and deepen its research capabilities.

The new London office isn't just a flashy showroom; it's a crucible for research and development, connecting OpenAI with the crème de la crème of the AI world. The aim? To draw in the brightest sparks in AI research, engineering, and science and supercharge OpenAI's mission to build revolutionary AI technologies.

But there's another layer to this London venture: a clear signal of the intensifying rivalry between OpenAI and DeepMind. Since Google scooped it up in 2014, DeepMind has been strutting its stuff on the AI catwalk, leading the way in advanced fields like deep learning and reinforcement learning. By putting down roots in London, OpenAI is flexing its muscles, preparing to go toe-to-toe with DeepMind in the race for resources and talent.

This bold move in the British capital is far from a random choice; it's a crucial piece of the OpenAI growth jigsaw. The company has been spreading its wings, seeking fresh partnerships and opportunities as it pursues the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI)—AI that could outdo humans in most economically valuable work. Tapping into London's talent hotbed helps OpenAI solidify its status as a big shot in AI research, and sets the pace for its AGI development.

In a nutshell, OpenAI's latest London venture isn't just about growing its real estate portfolio—it's a statement of intent. It's about getting elbows deep in London's vibrant AI scene, wooing top-tier talent, and revving up progress towards AGI. The AI landscape just got a lot more interesting.

TikTok Ready to Revolutionize E-Commerce in the U.S.

The world of online shopping is in for a major shakeup as TikTok, the wildly popular short-video sharing platform, sets its sights on launching an e-commerce store in the United States. The app's parent company, ByteDance, is reportedly readying a feature to enable in-app purchases, a move that aims to monetize the app's bustling user base and sky-high engagement rates.

This strategic pivot comes as TikTok explores new revenue possibilities beyond its traditional advertising model. The app is no stranger to social commerce ventures in global markets, having already pioneered the integration of in-app purchasing options for brands and influencers alike. This approach, it turns out, has proven to be a fruitful endeavor, resulting in some pretty impressive sales.

The expansion to the U.S. is TikTok's ambitious attempt to capitalize on its enormous user base, boasting an impressive 100 million active users within the country. By baking e-commerce into the platform, TikTok plans to weave shopping organically into users' browsing sessions, nudging them towards impulse purchases and amplifying engagement.

Details about the upcoming e-commerce expansion remain a tantalizing mystery. However, expectations run high, with predictions that it will offer a diverse array of products from numerous brands, empowering users to discover and purchase items directly from their beloved creators. Such a feature would undoubtedly present influencers with a golden opportunity to monetize their TikTok presence, selling products directly to their enthusiastic followers.

This innovative leap into e-commerce reflects a growing trend among social media platforms, which are steadily embracing integrated shopping capabilities. By transforming into a holistic platform that amalgamates entertainment, social networking, and e-commerce, TikTok is on track to fortify its foothold in the digital arena.

In essence, TikTok's reported plans to debut its e-commerce store in the U.S. underline the platform's unrelenting ambition to diversify its offerings and tap into the thriving online shopping market. With its fusion of content creation and shopping, TikTok aims to captivate users and spark e-commerce transactions, further solidifying its commanding presence in the rapidly evolving digital ecosystem.

US Proposes Chip Ban: Potential Challenges and Consequences for China's AI Industry

This week's most buzzed-about story explores the ripple effects of a new ban that might tighten the noose around China's access to advanced chips - a move that could place China's AI companies in a real bind. The proposition comes straight from Uncle Sam himself, as part of his strategic playbook to curb China's meteoric technological rise and retain the US' tech supremacy.

Chips are the magic beans for AI technologies. These power-packed silicon marvels, used in high-performance computing and machine learning, are the lifeline for AI companies, allowing them to supercharge their algorithms and drive innovation.

However, the proposed ban threatens to deepen the already existing fissures in the access to advanced chip technology by Chinese AI companies. With previous US-enforced restrictions due to national security and intellectual property concerns, the potential new chip ban could significantly stunt the growth trajectory of China's burgeoning AI industry.

The implications of this move are wide-ranging and complex. Like a stone cast into a pond, the ban could disrupt the tranquil waters of Chinese AI companies, which predominantly rely on imported chips. This could result in potential supply chain disruptions, stalling R&D efforts, and diminish their global competitiveness. More so, it might play spoilsport in China's ambitious goal of ascending the global AI throne, and continue the ongoing tussle with its main rival, the US.

Meanwhile, China isn't sitting idly. It's been aggressively investing in its domestic chip production, attempting to bridge the gap left by these sanctions. But as we all know, mastering the art of chip production isn't a piece of cake. It's a long, intricate journey that demands massive technological leaps and infrastructural development.

To wrap things up, the proposed US chip ban is a major hurdle in the race for China's AI firms to achieve global dominance. It's a stark reminder of the intensifying tech Cold War between the US and China, where advanced chips act as strategic pawns on the global chessboard of AI development.

Twitter Breaks the Mold: Subscribers Can Now Craft 25,000-Character Tweets

Attention all Twitter subscribers! The microblogging giant Twitter has unveiled an exhilarating update that's about to change the way we tweet. You now have a mind-boggling 25,000 characters to articulate your thoughts, dwarfing the previous 280-character limit. This innovative step promises to enhance user experience and ignite deeper, more detailed conversations right within the Twitter community.

Gone are the days when you had to curtail your thoughts or chop up your narratives due to character constraints. With this massive character extension, Twitter subscribers now have an expanded playground to express ideas, opinions, and information. Content creators, journalists, and writers, who might have found the previous limit a tad restrictive, can now breathe easy and let their words flow. We're talking full-fledged blog posts, in-depth articles, or engaging short stories—shared within a tweet!

This radical move comes on the heels of observing the growing popularity of tweet threads, where users reply to their own tweets to weave longer narratives. Twitter believes this new update will deliver a seamless reading experience and facilitate easier engagement with more extended content.

Fear not! Your Twitter timeline won't turn into an endless scroll of text. Tweets that overshoot the original 280-character limit will sport a "read more" button, letting subscribers decide whether to delve into the full content or continue scrolling. This feature ensures that the essence of Twitter—its crisp and concise tweets—remain intact.

Despite the excitement, this update also comes with potential pitfalls, including misuse and the spread of misinformation. Twitter acknowledges these challenges and assures subscribers of its continuous efforts in reinforcing moderation and content filtering systems.

All in all, Twitter's significant leap to a 25,000-character limit is designed to spark deeper conversations, draw in a wider array of content creators, and ultimately, elevate the user experience for its subscribers. By deftly balancing long-form content and Twitter's signature brevity, the platform is committed to creating an environment that fosters meaningful interactions, all while keeping potential risks associated with the expanded content space under control.

Unicorn No More: IRL Shuts Down Amidst Fake Account Scandal

Barely has the dust settled on the shock announcement by Abraham Shafi, founder and CEO of the once-popular social app IRL, that the unicorn startup will be shutting down. The news broke hearts in Silicon Valley, not least because of the sensational revelation that 95% of IRL's users were, in fact, phantoms.

IRL, with a once soaring valuation of over $1 billion, was the toast of the tech world, and its premise was as simple as it was attractive: to foster real-world interactions and social events. What was supposed to be a bridge between the digital and physical world ended up becoming an illusion of popularity, with almost all of its user base being fabricated.

For the uninitiated, the news of IRL's closure came as a thunderbolt from the blue. Shafi’s candid admission of the app's 'fake user' crisis and subsequent apology were a somber contrast to the app’s once sparkling promise. And although the acknowledgement has been met with disappointment, it has also opened up crucial dialogue around user authenticity in the tech sphere.

What makes this fall from grace even more stunning is the impressive roster of backers who believed in the IRL dream. Investors, including renowned celebrities and top-tier venture capital firms, had pumped a staggering $170 million into the venture. In addition, the app boasted collaborations with leading brands, making this news a startling reality check for all parties involved.

The abrupt end of IRL underlines an urgent message to tech startups: fostering a genuine user base, maintaining transparency, and ensuring user verification are not optional; they're essential. This case serves as a glaring red flag, emphasizing the dire need for more robust strategies to weed out fraudulent activity and guarantee user legitimacy on social media platforms.

In a nutshell, IRL’s downfall following the confession of a massive fake user infiltration underscores the challenges tech platforms face. It emphasizes the urgent need for transparency and user verification in maintaining a trustworthy digital ecosystem. This event is a stark reminder that prioritizing credibility can make or break a company's reputation and user trust.

Ireland's Proposed Law Sparks Fear of Muffling Tech Critics

The Irish government is courting controversy with a proposed amendment to the Defamation Act, which some believe could potentially muzzle those who critique powerful tech companies. A critical element of the debate involves the perceived impact on freedom of speech and the capability to hold tech giants accountable for their actions.

The crux of the new law would allow defamation cases involving online platforms to move from the High Court to a newly established Online Safety Commissioner. The fear expressed by critics is that this transition could impede the capacity of plaintiffs to navigate their cases effectively. The crux of the issue lies in concerns over whether the Online Safety Commissioner possesses the necessary expertise and impartiality to handle such multifaceted defamation disputes.

The government of Ireland stands by the proposed law change, arguing that it's a tool designed to combat online abuse and misinformation, striking a harmonious balance between free expression and protection against defamation. However, the opposition points out that the proposed amendment seems to be disproportionately influenced by the lobbying activities of influential tech companies, possibly providing them with an umbrella against valid criticism.

This legislation has raised concerns beyond Irish shores as critics argue it could set a problematic precedent. The fear is that this could pave the way for other nations to follow suit, potentially causing a ripple effect on freedom of speech and press freedom worldwide. For many, the crux lies in preserving a robust legal framework that keeps tech companies in check and protects the individual's right to voice their opinions, particularly when scrutinizing the power and sway of big tech.

In conclusion, the article underlines the importance of achieving equilibrium between defamation protection and the preservation of free speech. There is a call for well-rounded legislation that effectively addresses both the worries of big tech critics and supporters, thereby maintaining a just and transparent legal process that doesn't compromise democratic values.

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