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Microsoft's Nuclear-Powered AI
the industry #8 // microsoft's plan for nuclear-powered machine superintelligence, labor strikes multiply, what the hell is going on at the washington post, tech links
Last week, I took apart Apple’s recent bit of useless FernGully bullshit, critiquing the notion of “carbon neutrality” in general, and calling into question the tech industry’s goal of zero impact in particular. There is no possible purpose for technology but changing the world for the better. It is here, in a parsing of the possible degrees and kinds of change that constitute a “better world,” where we should focus disagreement, not — never — over the value of impact itself. There’s nothing inspiring about a monopoly technology company promising to exist as little as possible, no matter how many trees it plants in Brazil, and the failure of vision has started to bum me out. If our government can’t do anything, and our private companies refuse to do anything, how is meaningful progress possible?
Well, Monday, Microsoft quietly dropped a job post:
“The next major wave of computing is being born, as the Microsoft Cloud turns the world’s most advanced AI models into a new computing platform,” reads the post, quoting CEO Satya Nadella (a PR person obviously wrote it but whatever, we love the sentiment). Then:
“We're looking for a Principal Program Manager, Nuclear Technology, who will be responsible for maturing and implementing a global Small Modular Reactor (SMR) and microreactor energy strategy.”
The post goes on to describe a position charged with developing strategy for integrating microreactor power into the datacenters where Microsoft Cloud and AI reside. In other words: we are building artificial intelligence. Because artificial intelligence requires far more energy than we are currently consuming, we are also building a new, clean power source that generates more, not less power. All together: nuclear-powered machine superintelligence.
No suggestion of carbon credits in exchange for good will in the press. No implicit begging for a ribbon after buying solar panels from China, which are built in part by slaves, and constructed from material mined by children. Microsoft is quietly hiring a nuclear scientist to free itself from the rotting power grid, generate more power with the casual suggestion it will be using much more energy, and take an active hand in actually building a better world.
THE FIFTH ESTATE
NOTABLE INDUSTRY TRENDS
This crazy labor thing continues to grow. A mix of earnest, blue collar fury has met with cartoonish, white collar roleplay on the internet, and begun to evolve into something more substantial. The moment — movement? — has shown but modest signs of abating, and is very much something to watch as we head into the election season. With the White House on the line, it will be easier for unions to pick up promises from politicians (Biden and Trump have already both made overtures to the UAW, for example).
Last Wednesday, just hours after we published Strike, General Motors idled a Kansas manufacturing plant and laid off all of its approximately 2,000 workers. “The automaker said in its announcement that there is no work available for most of the people at the Fairfax assembly plant because workers at another GM facility went on strike last Friday” (NBC News). In Los Angeles, The Writers Guild of America reached a tentative deal with entertainment companies, with two big caveats: the guild has to take it to a vote, and even if it’s approved, most TV and movies will remain hamstrung by the separate actors’ strike, which remains ongoing (NYT). I know we don’t do British bullshit over here, but the entire English-speaking world is very much connected due to social media, and the NHS has been on strike, in varying points and degrees, for the last ten months. It has just been revealed over a million doctor appointments have been postponed (BBC).
The Washington Post once again embarrassed itself after a bizarre hit piece on Barstool Sports chief Dave Portney misfired. Long story short, the Post attempted a hit piece on Dave’s pizza festival, Dave heard about it before it was published, and preempted the attack by sharing an 11-minute recorded phone call with Post staffer Emily Heil, a food reporter. In the call, it became clear Heil had emailed businesses participating in the festival in an attempt to convince them to remove sponsorship on account of Dave, she plainly asserted, is a misogynist. On the call, Heil admitted to a number of bizarre, unprofessional things, including what seemed an attempt to bully festival participants into commenting lest they be publicly accused of misogyny by association. Nobody understood how the Post could possibly run the piece, and then of course the Post ran the piece.
The hit was published Friday. Its Community Note currently reads: “A phone call between Emily Heil and Dave Portney [sic] was shared prior to publication, in which the WaPo journalist admits to intentionally misleading advertisers into speaking negatively of the One Bite Pizza Festival. They agreed to an interview the next day but Wapo canceled.” Heil is, of course, still employed by the Post, which encourages this sort of activism.
NEW FROM PIRATE WIRES: A government grant program seeks to revitalize the heartland by turning small towns and cities into tech hubs. But the program is littered with political patronage, insane, immoral, possibly-unconstitutional DEI demands, and self-erected barriers to success. River Page reports: Biden’s DEI Tech Hubs.
The group that recently hacked MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment Ltd was a group of zoomers between 17 and 22 years old, according to the cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks, which has responded to incidents by the group. These kids are "extraordinarily skilled at social engineering and bypassing multi-factor authentication." Nice (Reuters)
“Top contributors make top dollar. The more karma and gold contributors earn, the more money they can receive,” says the page for Reddit’s new “contributor program,” which will allow approved creators to monetize their Reddit posts. (TechCrunch)
X CEO Yaccarino posted a two-minute sizzle reel that previews in-app video calling, payments, commerce, and expanded video options. (@lindayaX) Also, the company is deprecating Circles, a feature that allowed users to share their posts privately with up to 150 people, by October 31. (@support)
Prufrock-3, the Boring Company’s next generation tunneling machine, is designed to bore seven miles a day (context: fewer than 20 miles of underground subway have been built in the past 20 years). “By far the biggest impediment is getting permits,” Musk said on Friday. “Construction is becoming practically illegal in North America and Europe!” (@WR4NYGov)
Meta paid its London landlord $180 million to break its city lease. The company had another 18 years on the lease, and the payment was equivalent to roughly 7 years’ rent (FT). This is a grim, telling bet on the future of European tech, likely given the Old World’s recent onslaught of innovation in the space of (exclusively) regulation.
The dating app Tinder launched an invite-only, $6,000 per year subscription tier (Bloomberg). Alas, the model is still predicated on keeping people single, and is therefore very much a cancer on the land (sorry, many lovely people working there I’m sure).
Reddit users are reporting the new iOS 17 will interrupt your texting activity with an on-screen pop-up when you send or receive nudes, which is of course none of Tim Cook’s fucking business (r/iPhone). Yet another troubling attempt at social engineering from the titan hardware company.
Joby Aviation, a Santa Cruz-based eVTOL startup, delivered its first electric passenger aircraft to the Air Force as part of a $131 million contract; Joby is one of several air taxi startups now working with the military under a program called Agility Prime. (NYT)
Rupert Murdoch will hand the reins of News Corp and Fox Corporation to his son Lachlan Murdoch in November, and transition into a new role (retire) as chairman emeritus for both companies (to his megayacht). (The Hill)
End of an era (apparently?): Netflix will finally stop mailing DVDs this Friday (The Verge). The news was widely met with surprise, as Americans discovered Netflix had not stopped mailing DVDs at some point in the early 20-teens.
Following a 673-person layoff last March, Cisco will cut around 350 jobs by October 16 at its San Jose and Milpitas campuses. (TechXplore)
Business Insider reported mortgage startup Better laid off a quarter of its U.S. mortgage sales and origination team after its miserable IPO in late August. The company now has fewer than 100 employees, down from over 900 in June.
Bob Smith, CEO of Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin, is out — he’ll be replaced by Amazon executive Dave Limp, who oversaw Alexa, Echo, and Ring. (CNBC)
Indeed finds that almost 20% of American jobs are “highly exposed” to AI, meaning they require skills AI can perform (The Hill). The risk of “job loss” here implied will inevitably become a huge note in our political discourse, the only questions are how soon, and which major political party strikes first.
“The long-term inflation rate is not going back to 2% no matter how many times Chairman Powell reiterates it as his target. It was arbitrarily set at 2% after the financial crisis in a world very different from the one we live in now.” Pershing Square CEO Bill Ackman posted a gloomy macro forecast on Thursday, citing the “incalculably expensive” green energy transition and deeply rooted problems in our government. “But I could be wrong. AI might save us,” he closed the post with. (@BillAckman)
Amazon will invest up to $4 billion in AI startup Anthropic; the startup will begin using AWS and Amazon’s chips to train its AI models. (Bloomberg)
Softbank will lead a $280 million investment in Mapbox, the US company that provides in-car navigation systems to Toyota, BMW, General Motors, and other automakers. (FT)
Klaviyo’s stock popped 23% after IPO, giving the company a market cap of $11.2 billion and making both co-founders billionaires. Impressively, CEO Andrew Bialecki owns 38.1% of the company. (Forbes)
Someone hit a lick on Splunk ($SPLK) after buying $22,000 worth of call options right before Cisco announced it would acquire the company for $28 billion, sending SPLK up 20% and turning the investor’s 22 Gs into $10 million. (@pitdesi)
Bloomberg reported that Chinese property developer stocks saw huge drops last week, with shares in Evergrande tumbling 22% and China Aoyuan Group Ltd plummeting 72%. (Bloomberg)
Litigation and regulation:
Yesterday, the FTC voted 3-0 to proceed with its long-anticipated antitrust case against Amazon. Per its statement, Amazon “is a monopolist that uses a set of interlocking anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power” whose “ongoing pattern of illegal conduct blocks competition, allowing it to wield monopoly power to inflate prices, degrade quality, and stifle innovation for consumers and businesses.” (Axios)
“Systematic theft on a massive scale”: the Authors Guild, a 9,000-member organization representing such bestselling authors as George R.R. Martin, John Grisham, and Jodi Picoult, accused OpenAI of using its members’ books for the company’s LLM training data “without permission,” in a New York federal court filing last Tuesday (TechXplore). Anyway, it’s been 13 years since George began writing the next book in his Game of Thrones series, which is not even meant to be his last. He’s getting older, and the man does not look healthy. I think we — George included! — might all be happier if he’d simply embrace the technology, clone himself, and get the job done.
British regulators gave preliminary approval for Microsoft’s reworked $69 billion deal to buy Activision Blizzard (The Hill). Neither Microsoft nor Blizzard are British companies. I remain frustrated, and perplexed.
The Commerce Department is tapping a team of Wall Street execs and venture capitalists to come up with a plan for spending $100 billion earmarked for developing US semiconductor capacity in the CHIPS act. (Bloomberg)
The Defense Department is deploying $238 million to research institutes and universities to create eight chip research hubs, each of which “will receive $15 million to $40 million to fund the development of new chips for use in electromagnetic warfare, artificial intelligence, 5G and 6G wireless technologies, and quantum computing, among other areas.” (NYT)
On Friday, the Biden administration issued rules designed to prevent China from benefiting from its $52 billion in grants that it plans to disburse in an effort to strengthen the US semiconductor sector. (NYT)
Bay Area VC firm GGV Capital, which has stakes in Bytedance and Alibaba, will spin off its Asia business into an independent firm, presumably due to Biden’s order to restrict investments in Chinese technology. (FT)
Last week, WSJ detailed ByteDance investor Jeff Yass’ political influence operation to protect his firm’s 15% stake in the company by keeping Chinese spy app TikTok unbanned in the US.
Chinese spy app TikTok is ramping up its eCommerce efforts in Seattle, offering employees in LA and NYC Seattle relocation packages and “requiring all new U.S. e-commerce hires to be based there” (The Information). The company has also started partnering with Google to include Google search results for in-app TikTok searches (Verge). The app remains, for some reason, not banned.
OpenAI announced it’s “rolling out voice and images in ChatGPT to Plus and Enterprise users over the next two weeks.” GPT will be able to help users with pictures they upload, and provide answers to user prompts using voice — one step closer to Her, basically (OpenAI). This announcement comes on the heels of OpenAI’s announcement that Dalle 3 is coming to GPT.
People familiar with Meta’s AI efforts told WSJ the company plans to roll out chatbots with different personalities across its suite of apps in a push to attract a younger audience.
AI training companies Scale AI and Appen are hiring poets and other humanities professionals to help its training data evoke a more literary quality. (Rest of World)
The Copyright Office is “being pressured to put tight constraints on how AI models are trained on copyrighted works,” say tech policy groups which issued a request for signatures on a “Letter to Copyright Office on Generative AI.” Their letter urges the Office to “continue to allow the training of AI tools on existing works.” You can read the letter here.
CA governor Gavin Newsom vetoed anti-autonomous trucking bill AB 316 after it was easily passed by the state legislature (Office of the Governor). The move comes amidst Newsom’s planned debate with DeSantis in San Francisco, and his recent, reasonable check on the state’s “trans the children” lobby. Given the latter two developments clearly indicate an interest in running for president, the rare pro-tech gesture indicates an interest in raising money.
Prediction markets have a Newsom nomination victory at 13 cents. Far ahead of Kamala.
From the capital:
Following San Francisco supervisor Dean Preston’s suggestion that the solution to the SF car break-in crisis is a campaign to convince people not to leave things in their cars, Musk signaled he’ll donate $100,000 to the campaign to dump the supervisor. This naturally led to a wave of press support for the famously pro-chaos politician. For a primer on the now nationally reviled Preston, read Sanjana’s Dean Preston: San Francisco's Millionaire Marxist.
Over 10,000 cars have been stolen in Oakland this year — that’s 40 per day. On X, Kim-Mai Cutler pointed out that, at this rate, “Oakland is on track for one out of every 30 residents to have their car stolen” by the end of 2023. (CBS News)
San Francisco residents are taking the law into their own hands — watch this local ABC affiliate’s story on a man who tracked down the Tenderloin fencing operation where $24,000 of his camera equipment ended up after trying to get the police to help him was a complete dead end. (@davelu)
Monday, a newly-released city report posited San Francisco is on track for 845 overdose deaths in 2023, 16 percent more than 2020. 2020 was the worst year for overdoses in the city’s history. (SF Chronicle)
Is San Francisco actually great, as was just argued in the New York Times, or is Gavin Newsom simply running for president?
Over the past couple years the simple, ubiquitous hormone testosterone has become a major front of the culture war, thus hopelessly miring information on the subject in endless distortions online. Can humanity persist in a world without men? Or, at least, a world without the hormone that makes men masculine? Jordan Castro guests for Pirate Wires with the canonical piece on this most divisive, essential hormone.
We’re keeping it short and sweet this week — the United States Senate relaxed its dress code so John Fetterman, specifically, can wear basketball shorts and nasty, old mishappen short-sleeved shirt to work every day at the most powerful legislative body in the world.
We covered the decay of standards this week on the Pirate Wires pod, where I was sadly forced to cop to the fact that I genuinely do care how these idiots dress, given this is a reflection of their respect for their constituents. Joined by the legendary special guest ComfortablySmug, we had a blast with this one —