Translate

Monday, April 15, 2019

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Science fiction author Gene Wolfe has died

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 03:30 PM PDT

Gene Wolfe, author of “The Book of the New Sun” and other acclaimed works of science fiction and fantasy, died Sunday at the age of 87.

According to Locus, his death came after a long struggle with heart disease.

While Wolfe was never quite as famous as some of his peers, his writing was loved intensely by his fans. Ursula Le Guin, for example, called him “our Melville,” while Michael Swanwick described him as “the greatest writer in the English language alive today.”

That level of praise (and comparisons between his best-known work and James Joyce’s “Ulysses”) might seem hyperbolic — unless you’ve actually read his best novels and stories. To some, Wolfe’s writing represents science fiction’s strongest claim toward creating capital-L Literature.

The four-volume “Book of the New Sun,” published between 1980 and 1983, remains his best-known single work. It tells the story of Severian, a wandering torturer on Earth (“Urth”), billions of years in the future. The writing in “New Sun” is evocative and tricky, with an unreliable narrator obliquely explaining Wolfe’s far-future setting.

Wolfe’s reputation for density and difficulty may have scared some readers away, but it’s also encouraged careful rereading and enthusiastic exegesis from his most devoted readers. And this reputation undersells the pleasure of  Wolfe’s writing.

Decoding his best stories is fun, just as it’s fun to explore the vast city of Nessus in “The Shadow of the Torturer.” He could also use that talent for subtlety to craft an unsettling horror story like “The Tree Is My Hat,” or an equally unsettling character study like “The Death of Doctor Island.” (The reason Wolfe wrote the latter story, and the similarly titled “The Doctor of Death Island” and “Death of the Island Doctor,” is one of my favorite bits of science fiction trivia.)

And then there’s “Forlesen,” a surreal afterlife fantasy that somehow compresses an entire lifetime of office drudgery into a single day. In the end, the titular character asks, “I want to know if it’s meant anything. If what I’ve suffered — if it’s been worth it.”

The answer? “No. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Maybe.”

Hulu buys back AT&T’s minority stake in streaming service now valued at $15 billion

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 03:28 PM PDT

Hulu has paid $1.43 billion to buy AT&T’s minority stake in the streaming video company.

The companies announced Monday that the transaction valued Hulu at $15 billion. As a result, AT&T’s 9.5 percent stake in Hulu was worth $1.43 billion.

The valuation is two-thirds higher than last November when Disney reported in a regulatory filing that the streaming video company was worth $9.26 billion. Hulu is owned by Hulu LLC, a joint venture of Disney and Comcast. Disney now has a 67 percent ownership of Hulu, which it gained, in part, through its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Comcast has a 33 percent stake in Hulu.

AT&T, which has been hinting about selling its minority stake in Hulu since November, will use proceeds from this transaction, along with additional planned sales of non-core assets, to reduce its debt.

"We thank AT&T for their support and investment over the past two years and look forward to collaboration in the future. WarnerMedia will remain a valued partner to Hulu for years to come as we offer customers the best of TV, live and on demand, all in one place," Hulu CEO Randy Freer said in statement.

AT&T acquired the 9.5 percent percent stake in the service by way of WarnerMedia, as a result of its Time Warner acquisition.

AT&T and Hulu were increasingly looking like competitors, not partners. AT&T has its own streaming services, including cord cutter-friendly live TV service DirecTV Now, more lightweight WatchTV and another upcoming direct-to-consumer service that will launch later this year that leverages its WarnerMedia properties.

This new AT&T streaming service, which will work across devices, will launch into beta in Q4 2019, AT&T has said. The service is expected to expand over time to include third-party content through partnerships.

Volvo cars in Europe will be able to warn each other about hazardous road conditions

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 02:25 PM PDT

Volvo is taking technology that allowed some of its vehicles to communicate with each other about hazardous road conditions and expanding it across Europe in an effort to increase safety, the automaker announced Monday.

Volvo first introduced its Hazard Light Alert and Slippery Road Alert system in 2016 on Volvo’s 90 Series cars. But it was limited to drivers in Sweden and Norway. Next week, Volvo will make the system available to drivers across Europe.

The system will be a standard feature on all 2020 model-year vehicles in Europe. The system can be retrofitted on select earlier models as well, Volvo said.

The vehicle-to-vehicle communication tech that enables the Hazard Light Alert and Slippery Road Alert system uses a cloud-based network to communicate between vehicles. For instance, when an equipped Volvo vehicle switches on the hazard light, a signal is sent to all nearby Volvo cars connected to the cloud service.

The slippery road alert works by anonymously collecting road surface information from cars farther ahead on the road and warning drivers approaching a slippery road section in advance.

"Sharing real-time safety data between cars can help avoid accidents," Malin Ekholm, head of Volvo Cars Safety Centre said in a statement. "Volvo owners directly contribute to making roads safer for other drivers that enable the feature, while they also benefit from early warnings to potentially dangerous conditions ahead."

The expansion of the system is the latest in a series of efforts by Volvo to improve safety within its portfolio and across the industry. Volvo said, as part of its announcement, that it has opened a central digital library of all of its past safety research, dating back to the 1970s.

Volvo Cars reiterated its call to the rest of the car industry to join it in sharing anonymized data related to traffic safety across car brands.

Earlier this year, Volvo said it would limit speeds on all new vehicles, beginning with its 2020 models, to about 111 miles per hour.

It also plans to integrate driver monitoring systems into its next-gen, SPA2-based vehicles beginning in the early 2020s. That system will be able to take action if the driver is distracted or intoxicated. The camera and other sensors will monitor the driver and will intervene if a clearly intoxicated or distracted driver does not respond to warning signals and is risking an accident involving serious injury or death. Under this scenario, Volvo could limit the car's speed, call the Volvo on Call service on behalf of the driver or cause the vehicle to slow down and park itself on the roadside.

YouTube’s algorithm added 9/11 facts to a live stream of the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 01:56 PM PDT

Some viewers following live coverage of the Notre-Dame Cathedral broadcast on YouTube were met with a strangely out of place info box offering facts about the September 11 attacks.

BuzzFeed first reported the appearance of the misplaced fact-check box on at least three live streams from major news outlets. Twitter users also took note of the information mismatch.

Ironically, the feature is a tool designed to fact check topics that generate misinformation on the platform. It adds a small info box below videos that provides third-party factual information from YouTube partners — in this case Encyclopedia Britannica.

YouTube began rolling out the fact-checking “information panels” this year in India and they now appear to be available in other countries.

“Users may see information from third parties, including Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia, alongside videos on a small number of well-established historical and scientific topics that have often been subject to misinformation online, like the moon landing,” the company wrote in its announcement at the time.

The information boxes are clearly algorithmically generated and today’s unfortunate slip-up makes it clear that the tool doesn’t have much human oversight. It’s possible that imagery of a tower-like structure burning triggered the algorithm to provide the 9/11 information, but we’ve asked YouTube for more details on what specifically went wrong here.

Update: A YouTube spokesperson provided TechCrunch with the following statement.

We are deeply saddened by the ongoing fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral. Last year, we launched information panels with links to third party sources like Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia for subjects subject to misinformation. These panels are triggered algorithmically and our systems sometimes make the wrong call. We are disabling these panels for live streams related to the fire.

Apple hires A&E’s Molly Thompson as its head of Documentaries

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 01:55 PM PDT

In addition to a growing lineup of scripted fare, documentaries will be another key focus for Apple TV+, the company’s new streaming service set to launch in May. According to a new report today from Variety, Apple has hired A&E’s Molly Thompson as its head of Documentaries.

Thompson’s experience at A&E includes founding its documentary production arm, A&E IndieFilms, back in 2005. While there, several of its films earned Emmy nominations, including “Life, Animated,” “Cartel Land,” “Jesus Camp” and “Murderball.”

Cartel Land,” “Life, Animated” and “The Tillman Story,” combined, went on to win more than a half-dozen Emmys, along with other industry awards.

Thompson also has exec produced: “The Clinton Affair,” Charles Ferguson's "Watergate" docu-series, "Studio 54," "City of Ghosts,” “The Imposter,” “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon,” “The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld,” “No Place on Earth,” “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and "Being Evel” — some of which were under A&E’s History Films banner.

For Lifetime Films, she exec produced two narrative features: “Lila & Eve,” which starred Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez and premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival; plus Eleanor Coppola's “Paris Can Wait,” with Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin.

Thompson’s hiring indicates Apple’s interest in bringing content that will appeal to those who don’t regularly watch traditional TV, but instead like to stream more educational fare — like documentary films and docu-series, biographies, shows with a historical focus and other non-fiction. Plus, documentaries would give Apple a way to compete early on for Emmy attention, even if its scripted series fail to gain critical praise.

Documentaries also represent another means of competing directly with Netflix, where the format has become a huge draw for subscribers — even zeitgeist-y, at times. Netflix today has a range of documentaries that nearly everyone has seen, or has at least heard of, like “Making a Murderer,” “Wild Wild Country,” “13th,” “Amanda Knox,” “Fyre,” “Amy” and many more. This month it will have another hit in this genre, with Beyoncé’s Coachella documentary, out on April 17th.

Apple has already announced a few of its documentary efforts for Apple TV+, including Oprah’s docu-series, one of which is co-produced with Prince Harry; as well as a docu-series about extraordinary homes; and Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble's documentary about an elephant matriarch, “The Elephant Queen.” The latter, which Apple picked up at the Toronto International Film Festival, was one of its first feature film buys.

Image credit: IMDb

New USPTO Guidance may clear path for more technology patents

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 01:04 PM PDT

On January 4, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released new Patent Examiner Guidance ("the Guidance") for subject matter eligibility. The updated guidance could benefit any technology patent applicant who has a computer-related invention — from smartphones to artificial intelligence — and who has previously had difficulty acquiring patents under the USPTO's procedures for determining patent subject matter eligibility.

This Guidance represents the current methodology for analysis of patent claims under 35 U.S.C. § 101 in view of Mayo v. Prometheus, Alice v. CLS Bank Intl., and subsequent cases, and is intended to provide a more concrete framework for analyzing whether patent claims, as a whole, are merely "directed to" an abstract idea. The Guidance will supersede certain analysis methods articulated in previous guidance, particularly the examiner's "Quick Reference" that previously sought to categorize abstract ideas.

The Alice/Mayo test

The Guidance acknowledges that applying the Alice/Mayo test to analyze claims under § 101 has "caused uncertainty in this area of the law" and has resulted in examination practices that prevent stakeholders from "reliably and predictably determining what subject matter is patent-eligible." As such, the Guidance attempts to remedy this uncertainty by revising the USPTO's analysis under the first step (Step 2A) of the Alice/Mayo test:

The other micro VC allocation model

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 01:00 PM PDT

Portfolio co-founder: Our other investors want to participate but our lead wants to take most of the round.

Me: OK

Portfolio co-founder: So that means pro-rata is going to be tough.  

Me: Let’s see what everyone says.

A few days later.

Portfolio co-founder: The math worked out. Some people didn't do their pro-rata and others did more.

Me: In theory, this shouldn't happen because everyone is doing their pro-rata, but this is usually how things seem to work out. The round wasn't going to be put at risk over pro-rata.

We're always curious to see how rounds come together when there is limited capacity for both new investors and existing investor pro-rata. For the most part, there is supposed to be one core investor strategy; the maintainers, who use reserves and then opportunity funds or SPVs to avoid or minimize dilution. Sometimes there are also accumulators, who use multiple rounds to expand their ownership, but this is more common in private equity outside of venture capital.

The maintainers are pretty well understood. They have the typical $1 in reserve for each $1 invested, mirroring a common strategy espoused by some of the best VCs. USV shared a great example including fund allocation assumptions. Accumulators are a little more surprising to meet, but Greenspring, which is uniquely positioned to observe a lot of early-stage managers, hint that one of their top performing managers uses the accumulator strategy to get to more than 20 percent, fully diluted at exit. That's not the whole story though, because, unlike USV, the strategy also involves some additional important assumptions, most notably investing in less-competitive geographies.

We’ve seen other allocation strategies, but we don't see a lot written about them. For example, some investors tend to be among the first checks and, going through our co-investments with them, it's clear they don't always take pro-rata, but don't seem to fuss about it. Here's a great example of how one of today's very best seed-stage investors, Founder Collective, thinks about this:

We dilute alongside our founders over time. So we have the same incentives as our founders to increase the value of the company in future financings.

It's easy to dismiss this as founder-friendly at the expense of LPs, but I suspect Founder Collective's LPs don't see it that way at all. It's hard to know how often this positioning leads to a higher win rate on competitive deals, but let's assume there is little difference. Does the math work?

Let's assume a VC is buying 20 percent of the company and then riding the dilution train down to a fully diluted 5.2 percent on exit at Series F (thanks to Fred Wilson again; in this example, we're using one of his recent frameworks with these exact numbers). For a $50 million fund, this works just fine. Interestingly, it looks similar to the result for a $100 million fund with reserves, but the later assumes that they can always secure pro-rata and they can make use of opportunity funds to get a bit more upside.

We've discussed this a lot as we deployed our last fund. The vast majority of people insisted we needed $1 for every $1 invested, but we found that, thanks to our fund size, the math seemed to work without significant reserves if we purchased enough ownership upfront and, as Founder Collective notes, it seems to align better with founders and our growth-stage co-investors.

Longer funnel (not wider)

We've seen two major changes since we first started investing 12 years ago. The first is well-reflected by a recent deck shared by Mark Suster at Upfront, and highlighted in the slide shown below. It seems like the top of the funding funnel is getting wider.

It's true that seed stage has grown 3x in the last decade. But that doesn't necessarily mean the funnel only got wider. It also made it taller, like the image below.

One way to think about this — what used to be a sequence of "seed, A, B" is now, often, but not always a new sequence of "pre-seed, seed and seed+."

Series A investments are totally different today than they were 10 years ago. But the Series A round is much more competitive because a lot of new money has shown up to play here and this makes accumulation and maintain models much harder, especially for seed and Series A stage-focused funds.

Who are these new players adding to the competition? Some are new VC funds, but a lot of them are corporate VC (CVC) funds.

Where is all this CVC money going? We're pretty sure it's not in pre-seed or seed, though there is some CVC fund of fund activity into seed funds, but that's not reflected in this data. And we've only seen a few instances of seed+ CVC activity. Interestingly, to find a good example of this, you probably don't have to look further than Lyft's S-1, where GM and Rakuten join better-known tech CVC Alphabet.

Regarding the founder conversation referenced earlier, the round is coming together because of a strategic investor who is leading it. This has become more common. Like Lyft's team, founders understand tech and value sector-specific corporate investors as partners.

We don't think we'll see a slowdown in CVC interest any time soon because, much like their big tech counterparts, incumbents in sectors from transportation and real estate to energy and infrastructure all realize that the startup ecosystem is now an extension of their product development process — VC and M&A are now an extension of R&D.

It's not just that there is more money competing for Series A or B deals now. That money has different goals beyond pure financial returns and the value add is different from VCs. CVCs often bring distribution, ecosystem and domain expertise. So the end result is more competitive A or B rounds and more complex pro-rata discussions.

Strategic pro-rata shuffle

Founders are still trying to sell no more than 20 percent of their company, while traditional VCs are trying to buy 20 percent and we still have to figure out pro-rata for existing investors while making room for growing interest from strategic investors.

For Urban Us, we've embraced these new round dynamics — they may make growth-stage allocations a bit more tricky, but strategic investors can deliver a lot of value. One clear result — it's sometimes better for us not to take our pro-rata at series A.

High conviction before Series A

We tend to think of high conviction as a Series A idea — i.e. Series A investors who accumulate, maintain or use opportunity funds. But the same concept is now at work in the tall part of the funnel — the two or three stages before Series A.

We've long been fans of accelerator models like YC, Launch or Techstars. We've co-invested with all of them. While there was a sense that "not following" presented signaling risk, accelerators have found creative ways to sidestep the issue — for example, joining rounds only if there is another lead. So this means they can concentrate holdings before Series A.

We now have our own accelerator, URBAN-X, because we're best positioned to help address some unique challenges for the urbantech companies we're looking to back. This allows us to be the first investor in most of our portfolio companies. And we can own enough of the company before Series A so we can still achieve our fully diluted ownership targets on behalf of our LPs.

As we look over scenarios related to when we first invest or when we think it will be hard to get pro-rata, we can find a few different paths to a target ownership position at exit. Some variations are shown below reflecting our approach for our newest fund.

The math

Obviously there are many different paths to ownership, especially in a world with two or three rounds happening before Series A. We've run a few simulations to understand the impact of different follow-on strategies. To explore different seed-stage allocation approaches, we modified Fred Wilson's "Doubling Model" to explore a few of the variations. Only one change — we replaced Series A with seed+ as it's more inline with what we've seen. It's also important because it implies one less round of dilution in some seed strategies. We also assumed most seed investors invest in syndicates, so they don't buy 20 percent unless they're on the large end of fund sizes – i.e. $100 million+.

We explored what happens when seed investors make a single investment to buy 10 percent of a company and never follow-on and how might that compare to selective B and C-stage follow-ons or using progress from seed to seed rounds to avoid dilution on more promising companies. There is also the question of the implied fund size and number of investments — if you can make high conviction bets early, you get to make more investments even with a relatively small fund. But eventually you bump into time constraints for partners — getting to 40 deals with two partners can work, but presumes you are not a lone wolf partner and that you make hard choices about where to allocate time — which often seems harder than allocating money.

Up to about $50 million there are a range of possible strategies that can work, but diluting with founders allows more investments, even with smaller funds versus more traditional aggressive follow-on. More deals may be essential to the success of this model. Here's our modified version of the doubling model (changes to the model are noted with blue cells).

Diluting alongside founders

VCs routinely remind founders that they shouldn't worry about dilution because they will have a smaller share, but the pie will be bigger. Mostly this math works for founders, so why not VCs? Founder Collective is the only other firm we found that is explicit about aiming for this result. And this may be even more necessary today to make room for more strategic VCs to join traditional VCs.

At Urban Us our investment model is focused on getting fully diluted ownership before Series A. If we can do some pro-rata or sometimes if we need to do a bridge to buy teams more time, we'll do that. And we'll be equally excited when founders are able to bring in great new investors to help them through their next growth stage, regardless of their allocation strategy.

The most overlooked path to commercialize AI is for companies to do it themselves

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 12:30 PM PDT

Editor’s note: John Mannes is an investor at Basis Set Ventures, a $136 million early-stage venture capital fund focused on supporting startups using machine learning to address big problems across industries. Prior to Basis Set Ventures, John was a TechCrunch writer covering machine intelligence startups, machine learning research and major AI initiatives from big tech.

The Bessemer Process patented in 1856 by Sir Henry Bessemer is one of the inventions most closely associated with catalyzing the second industrial revolution. By reducing the impurities of iron with an innovative oxidizing air blast, the process ushered in a new wave of inexpensive, high-volume steel making.

Bessemer decided to license his patent to a handful of steel makers in an effort to quickly monetize his efforts. But contrary to expectations, technical challenges and monopolistic greed prevented large steel makers from agreeing to favorable licensing terms.

In an effort to drive adoption, Bessemer opened his own steel-making plant with the intention of undercutting competitors. The approach was so successful that each partner in the endeavor walked away from the 14-year partnership with an 81x return.

Some 162 years later, new businesses continue to struggle to convince customers to adopt new technologies — even when it's in their best interest. Following in the footsteps of founders like Bessemer, today's innovative startups are discovering that it often makes more sense to launch "full stack" businesses that provide a traditional service optimized with proprietary automation measures.

Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz popularized the term "full-stack startup" in 2014, just before the deep-learning revolution. In his words, a full-stack startup is a company that "builds a complete, end-to-end product or service that bypasses existing companies."

The full-stack methodology gave birth to companies like Uber and Tesla prior to the apex of the deep-learning revolution. And in today's AI-first world of data and human labelers, full-stack startups are poised to play an even more important role in the startup ecosystem.

Going full stack comes with the advantage of being able to operate outside traditional incentive structures that limit the ability for large players in legacy industries to implement automation measures.

Watson computer at IBM in New York City

(Photo by Andrew Spear for The Washington Post via Getty Images.)

What does DIY AI look like?

Startups like Cognition IP, a BSV portfolio company, and Atrium are good examples of this. On paper, these businesses look very similar to traditional law firms in that they employ lawyers to practice patent law and startup law, respectively. But while traditional law firms often don't automate due to the natural incentives associated with hourly billing, full-stack startups are incentivized by consumer adoption, so they have much to gain from developing a faster, cheaper, better strategy.

In addition to rejiggering old incentive structures à la Bessemer, going full stack opens up opportunities for companies to integrate labeling workflows into more traditional roles, to reap the full benefits of virtuous feedback loops, and to avoid countless complex process integrations.

Data labeling is a critical responsibility for startups that rely on machine learning. Services like Amazon Mechanical Turk and Figure Eight work well when startups have relatively manageable data-labeling responsibilities. But when labeling and human-plus-machine cooperative decision-making are a core part of everyday operations, startups often have to hire employees to manage that workflow internally.

Scaling these teams is expensive and operationally intensive. Going full stack opens up opportunities for companies to integrate labeling workflows into other jobs. Employees traditionally tasked with performing a consumer or enterprise service can take on the extra task at reduced expense. And if their role is assisted by a machine, they will gradually become more productive over time as their assistive models get more accurate with more labeled data.

A second and inherently related benefit of going full stack is that these startups are able to generate — and own — powerful virtuous data feedback loops. Owning data flows creates more impressive moats than merely locking down static data sets. Deep Sentinel has a natural moat in the consumer security space, for example, as it not only has accurate classifiers, but accurate classifiers that continue to improve with real-world data generated in an environment it can control.

Courtesy of Flickr/Tullio Saba

Leveraging automation is a matter of balancing risks and rewards

In 1951, Ford's VP of Operations, Del Harder, decided it was time to upgrade the company's lines with a more fully automated system for moving materials through the production sequence. It ultimately took five years of tinkering at Ford's Cleveland Engine Plant before the technique was ready to scale to other factories. By chaining together previously independent parts of the production sequence, Harder had created new frustrating interdependencies.

Founders today going after traditional industries like manufacturing and agriculture similarly understand that the devil is in the details when it comes to scaling. The clear advantage to startups subscribing to the full stack methodology is that they only need to worry about integrating once with their own processes.

But on the flip side, going full stack does come with its own significant scaling expenses. Venture capital as a financing vehicle only makes sense to a certain point with respect to risk, margin and dilution, so many founders attempting to execute this strategic playbook have turned to debt financing.

Fortunately, we have been in good economic times with low interest rates. Traditional full-stack businesses like Tesla and Uber have both raised significant debt, and even up-and-coming players like Opendoor have turned to this financing strategy. A nasty economic downturn could certainly throw a wrench into things for just about everyone.

Progress in technology is cyclical and success is heavily dependent on execution within extremely narrow opportunistic bands of time. It's debatable whether capital-intensive, venture-backed companies like FedEx and Apple could have been successful if they were started in a different fundraising environment.

Like countless other automation technologies that preceded machine learning, the winners of the deep-learning revolution will be startups whose technologies are optimized to work side-by-side with humans to generate outsized returns. Going full stack is difficult, expensive and not the only way to win, but it's an under-appreciated strategy that's extremely relevant for today's machine learning-enabled startups.

OpenAI Five crushes Dota2 world champs, and soon you can lose to it too

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 12:15 PM PDT

Dota2 is one of the most popular, and complex, online games in the world, but an AI has once again shown itself to supersede human skill. In matches over the weekend, OpenAI’s “Five” system defeated two pro teams soundly, and soon you’ll be able to test your own mettle against — or alongside — the ruthless agent.

In a blog post, OpenAI detailed how its game-playing agent has progressed from its younger self — it seems wrong to say previous version, since it really is the same extensive neural network as many months ago, but with much more training.

The version that played at Dota2’s premiere tournament, The International, gets schooled by the new version 99 percent of the time. And it’s all down to more practice:

In total, the current version of OpenAI Five has consumed 800 petaflop/s-days and experienced about 45,000 years of Dota self-play over 10 realtime months (up from about 10,000 years over 1.5 realtime months as of The International), for an average of 250 years of simulated experience per day.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time an RL [reinforcement learning] agent has been trained using such a long-lived training run.

One is tempted to cry foul at a data center-spanning intelligence being allowed to train for 600 human lifespans. But really it’s more of a compliment to human cognition that we can accomplish the same thing with a handful of months or years, while still finding time to eat, sleep, socialize (well, some of us) and so on.

Dota2 is an intense and complex game with some rigid rules but a huge amount of fluidity, and representing it in a way that makes sense to a computer isn’t easy (which likely accounts partly for the volume of training required). Controlling five “heroes” at once on a large map with so much going on at any given time is enough to tax a team of five human brains. But teams work best when they’re acting as a single unit, which is more or less what Five was doing from the start. Rather than five heroes, it was more like five fingers of a hand to the AI.

Interestingly, OpenAI also discovered lately that Five is capable of playing cooperatively with humans as well as in competition. This was far from a sure thing — the whole system might have frozen up or misbehaved if it had a person in there gumming up the gears. But in fact it works pretty well.

You can watch the replays or get the pro commentary on the games if you want to hear exactly how the AI won (I’ve played but I’m far from good. I’m not even bad yet). I understand they had some interesting buy-back tactics and were very aggressive. Or, if you’re feeling masochistic, you can take on the AI yourself in a limited-time event later this week.

We're launching OpenAI Five Arena, a public experiment where we'll let anyone play OpenAI Five in both competitive and cooperative modes. We'd known that our 1v1 bot would be exploitable through clever strategies; we don't know to what extent the same is true of OpenAI Five, but we're excited to invite the community to help us find out!

Although a match against pros would mean all-out war using traditional tactics, low-stakes matches against curious players might reveal interesting patterns or exploits that the AI’s creators aren’t aware of. Results will be posted publicly, so be ready for that.

You’ll need to sign up ahead of time, though: The system will only be available to play from Thursday night at 6 PM to the very end of Sunday, Pacific time. They need to reserve the requisite amount of computing resources to run the thing, so sign up now if you want to be sure to get a spot.

OpenAI’s team writes that this is the last we’ll hear of this particular iteration of the system; it’s done competing (at least in tournaments) and will be described more thoroughly in a paper soon. They’ll continue to work in the Dota2 environment because it’s interesting, but what exactly the goals, means or limitations will be are yet to be announced.

I asked the US government for my immigration file and all I got were these stupid photos

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 12:04 PM PDT

“Welcome to the United States of America.”

That’s the first thing you read when you find out your green card application was approved. Those long-awaited words are printed on fancier-than-usual paper, an improvement on the usual copy machine-printed paper that the government sends to periodically remind you that you, like millions of other people, are stuck in the same slow bureaucratic system.

First you cry — then you cry a lot. And then you celebrate. But then you have to wait another week or so for the actual credit card-sized card — yes, it’s green — to turn up in the mail before it really kicks in.

It took two years to get my green card, otherwise known as U.S. permanent residency. That’s a drop in the ocean to the millions who endure twice, or even three times as long. After six years as a Brit in New York, I could once again leave the country and arrive without worrying as much that a grumpy border officer might not let me back in because they don’t like journalists.

The reality is, U.S. authorities can reject me — and any other foreign national — from entering the U.S. for almost any reason. As we saw with President Trump’s ban on foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations — since ruled unconstitutional — the highly vetted status of holding a green card doesn’t even help much. You have almost no rights and the questioning can be brutally invasive — as I, too, have experienced, along with the stare-downs and silent psychological warfare they use to mentally shake you down.

I was curious what they knew about me. With my green card in one hand and empowered by my newfound sense of immigration security, I filed a Freedom of Information request with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain all of the files the government had collected on me in order to process my application.

Seven months later, disappointment.

USCIS sent me a disk with 561 pages of documents and a cover letter telling me most of the interesting bits were redacted, citing exemptions such as records relating to officers and government staff, investigatory material compiled for law enforcement purposes and techniques used by the government to decide an applicant’s case.

But I did get almost a decade’s worth of photos, taken by border officials, entering the United States.

Seven years of photos taken at the U.S. border (Source: Homeland Security/FOIA)

What’s interesting about these encounters is that you can see me getting exponentially fatter over the years while my sense of style declines at about the same rate.

Each photo comes with a record from a web-based system called the Customer Profile Management Service (CPMS), which stores from a camera at port of entries all the photos of foreign nationals visiting or returning to the U.S.

Immigration officers and border officials use the Identity Verification Tool (IVT) to visually confirm my identity and review my records at the border and my interview, as well as checking for any “derogatory” information that might flag a problem in my case.

The government's IDENT system, which immigration staff and border officials use to visually verify an applicant's identity along with any potentially barring issues, like a criminal record (Source: FOIA)

Everyone’s file will differ, and my green card case was somewhat simple and straightforward compared to others.

Some 90 percent of my file are things my lawyer submitted — my application, my passport and existing visa, my bank statements and tax returns, my medical exam and my entire set of supporting evidence — such as my articles, citations and letters of recommendation. The final 10 percent were actual responsive government documents, and some random files like photocopied folders.

And there was a lot of duplication.

From the choice files we are publishing, the green card process appears highly procedural and offered little to nothing in terms of decision making by immigration officers. Many of the government-generated documents were mostly box-ticking exercises, such as verifying the authenticity of documents along the chain of custody. A single typo can derail an entire case.

The government uses several Homeland Security systems to check my immigration records against USCIS’ Central Index System, and verify my fingerprints against my existing records stored in its IDENT system to ensure it’s really me at the interview.

USCIS’ Central Index System, a repository of data held by the government as applications go through the immigration process (Source: FOIA)

During my adjustment-of-status interview with an immigration officer, my “disposition” was recorded but redacted. (Spoiler alert: it was probably “sweaty and nervous.”)

A file filled out by an immigration officer at an adjustment of status interview, which green card candidates are subject to (Source: FOIA)

Following the interview, the immigration officer checks to make sure that the interview procedures are properly carried out. Homeland Security also pulls in data from the FBI to check to see if my name is on a watchlist, but also to confirm my identity as the real person applying for the green card.

And, in the end, two years of work and waiting came down to a single checked box following my interview. “Approved.”

The final adjudication of an applicant’s green card (Source: FOIA)

It’s no secret that you can FOIA for your green card file. Some are forced to file to obtain their case files in order to appeal their denied applications.

Runa Sandvik, a senior director of information security at The New York Times, obtained her border photographs from Homeland Security some years ago. Nowadays, it’s just as easy to request your files. Fill out one form and email it to the USCIS.

For me, next stop is citizenship. Just five more years to go.

Read more:

Lyft adds Citi Bikes to its app for NYC riders

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 12:00 PM PDT

Lyft is going to integrate Citi Bike into its app for some riders in New York City. Lyft acquired bike-share startup Motivate back in July and proceeded to become a one-stop transportation app in three cities in December. Now, it’s ready to do the same in New York.

Beginning early next month, Lyft customers in NYC will be able to unlock CitiBikes through the Lyft app. Lyft says it picked New York as its fourth location after Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Calif. because Citi Bike is one of the most popular bikeshare systems. To date, Citi Bike has logged more than 75 million rides with a fleet of more than 12,000 bikes.

 

Before, riders needed a special Citi Bike account but with the Lyft integration, that will no longer be necessary. The caveat is that this is only available for riders who are new to Citi Bike. Existing Citi Bike users can use it, but it’s just that those with pre-existing accounts won’t be able to link their accounts to use the Lyft app to unlock bikes just yet. But Lyft says it’s coming over the next few months.

It’s worth noting, however, that Lyft had to pull CitiBike’s pedal-assist bikes off the road this past weekend after receiving reports from some riders that the brakes were too strong, resulting in some people falling off the bikes. Lyft also pulled its pedal assist bikes from San Francisco and Washington D.C.

"After a small number of reports and out of an abundance of caution, we are proactively pausing our electric bikes from service,” Lyft spokesperson Julie Wood said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Safety always comes first.”

It’s not clear when the pedal-assist bikes will return to the CitiBike, Ford GoBike and Capital Bikeshare fleets. Motivate first deployed pedal assist bikes in San Francisco about one year ago before more broadly deploying the bikes. Currently, Lyft is working with its suppliers and a third-party engineering firm to determine the root cause of the issue. The recall affects about 15 percent of the bikes available, but Lyft plans to temporarily replace the pedal-assist bikes with classic bikes. Meanwhile, Lyft is working on its own electric bike model that it will deploy in the near future.

Since acquiring Motivate, Lyft has expanded to additional neighborhoods outside of Manhattan and agreed to put $100 million into the Citi Bike system. Over the next five years, Lyft plans to triple the number of bikes to 40,000.

Lyft competitor Uber added bikes and scooters to its app last September with the launch of Mode Switch. The idea was to make it easier for people to switch between different modalities.

7 steps to building an engineering competency matrix

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 11:48 AM PDT

Every engineer deserves a clear growth path so they can understand, plan, and execute on meaningful career growth. Providing a framework for this growth (we call ours a competency matrix; it's also known as a career ladder, or professional development ladder) is important work, and the responsibility of any organization that wants to nurture and grow its employees.

Back at the beginning of 2018, we had 32 developers and a plan to double throughout the year, we already had a competency matrix, but it was woefully outdated. It focused on our more junior levels, maxing out at a level which some developers had already reached. It was also misaligned with the skills our organization had grown to value, which meant in practice, we often ignored it. It was time for a re-design.

Building a new competency matrix was a learning process, and a lengthy one, taking about eight months to complete. Along the way we discovered things we valued, as well as what the keys steps to building a career ladder are (and which ones are wasteful). While every matrix is different, and will reflect the values of the organization that wrote it, the process of producing a succinct career ladder to guide your team is consistent.

When we published our new Engineering competency matrix in December, we received many emails from teams saying they were working on similar systems. Because of this feedback, I want to share the steps we went through, and the lessons we learned, to help teams reach a productive conclusion with much less waste, and in much shorter time, than trying to figure it out from scratch.

If you want to provide your employees and reports with a clear, agreed-upon and well-defined path for growth within your organization, then this is for you.

Image via CircleCI

Step 1: Make this someone's top priority

In retrospect, this was the biggest factor in our lengthy redesign process. I had initially taken on this project as one of my many side projects. The only time I had to dedicate to the matrix were early mornings, late nights, and weekends. This was a passion project for me, and I loved working on it, but I was not able to give it the care it needed.

HBO’s mobile apps to gain a million new downloads courtesy of ‘Game of Thrones’ premiere

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 11:28 AM PDT

In addition to exciting its loyal legion of fans, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” premiere was also once again great news for installs of the network’s app for cord cutters, HBO NOW, which shot to the top of the App Store this weekend. The app this weekend saw a combined 300,000-plus new mobile subscribers in the U.S. across both Apple’s App Store and Google Play, according to preliminary estimates from Sensor Tower.

This is the highest the app has ranked on the U.S. iPhone App Store in three years, Sensor Tower notes, with its previous highest ranking on April 24, 2016 for the Season 6 “Game of Thrones” premiere. At that time, the app had seen 160,000 downloads on just the one day.

Sensor Tower soon expects to have more precise estimates of the premiere’s impact, as it wants to incorporate numbers from the fans who are getting a late start and downloading the app today.

Currently, the app is holding its No. 1 position on Apple’s App Store. If that continues, it could easily add another couple hundred thousand over the course of today (Monday, April 15, 2019), Sensor Tower estimates. That could see the app surpassing 500,000 new downloads across the three-day period.

To be clear, these numbers refer to users who have never before installed the app on their phone — not re-downloads.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily a 1:1 correlation with new HBO NOW subscribers. Many fans watch the series on their TV’s big screen through an HBO app for devices like Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV and others. Or they may tune in to watch on the web, via their laptop. Still, it’s a notable number — especially considering how late it is in the series for the show to be gaining new fans.

HBO’s app for cable and satellite TV customers, HBO Go, also did well this weekend. It’s on track to exceed 400,000 installs over the same three-day period (the weekend of the Season 8 premiere, plus Monday). This is highest the app has ranked since the Season 7 premiere in July 2017, when it added 350,000 first-time users across both stores worldwide.

Combined, the two apps — HBO Go and HBO NOW — are poised to exceed more than 1 million new installs in this three-day period, Sensor Tower forecasts.

However, fans’ interest in the long-awaited new season may have caused HBO’s apps to struggle some.

There have been reports from Down Detector and Business Insider of users who had issues streaming from the HBO apps, as well as Hulu. But these were nowhere on the scale of crashes we’ve seen in years past — as with the Season 4 “Game of Thrones” premiere, which had HBO issuing a public apology due to the size of the outage. (HBO says it did not have issues with HBO NOW or HBO Go. So the small number of issues could be chalked up to users’ broadband connections, or other factors.)

Other TV apps had a few glitches, too, thanks to the premiere. For example, the TV-tracking social app TV Time temporarily struggled to load, shortly after the premiere’s airing last night. On its app, “Game of Thrones” is one of the most-tracked shows, where it has 4.3 million followers who post comments, photos, memes and more to the show’s in-app community. Today, there are some 6,200 comments in the show’s forum from fans discussing the show.

4/15/19, 3:07 PM ET: Updated with HBO comment after publication. 

Lyft brings back the taxi line as it desperately tries to crack the airport pickup

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 11:20 AM PDT

Ridesharing companies and airports have always had a bit of a fractious relationship. Riders looking to catch an Uber or Lyft have had to walk to parking garages, follow makeshift signage and find arbitrary pickup points, all while waiting multiples of the ETA for their pickup at busy airports.

Lyft is piloting a new way to pair riders with drivers at the San Diego airport. It’s a Lyft line, but it’s not a carpooling product, it’s actually just a cab line.

Instead of matching with a driver, riders nabbing a regular Lyft will hop in a physical line at the airport and match up with a driver irl. They won’t have to tell them the address before the meter starts running, users will still enter everything in the app, but after doing so they will tell the driver a four-digit code that will sync the request with the driver and get everything moving.

It’s a bit funny when companies try everything only to settle on the old ways, but the fact is for fringe use cases, where everyone is grabbing a ride from a single location, having multiple pickup areas can just make everything move more slowly and coordinating can be tough when Lyft drivers are holding up the process having to wait for riders who are running late or at the wrong location.

Team all of this with the fact that cab companies have made life difficult for Lyft and Uber by lobbying airports to move pickup locations into remote corners and this might just be a way to make life easier for all parties involved.

This is a little bit of a different setup for rideshare users, so at the San Diego Terminal 2 airport pickup, Lyft is going to have some employees there to walk people through the setup. This is launching mid-May, so it’s way too early to guess whether this works and will eventually find its way to other airports — but we can all hope that either Lyft or Uber discover how to make the process easier for everyone.

Airbnb officially owns HotelTonight

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 11:15 AM PDT

Airbnb has completed its acquisition of the last-minute hotel booking application, HotelTonight, the company announced on Monday. The deal is Airbnb’s largest M&A transaction yet, and will accelerate the home-sharing giant’s growth as it gears up for an initial public offering.

Airbnb reportedly began talks to acquire HotelTonight months ago, and finally confirmed its intent to acquire the business in early March. Reports indicated a price tag of more than $400 million; Airbnb declined to comment on the size of the deal.

As part of the deal, HotelTonight co-founder and chief executive officer Sam Shank will lead the boutique hotel category at Airbnb, one of the company’s newer units meant to help it scale beyond treehouses and quirky homes.

"When we founded HotelTonight, we sought to reimagine the hotel booking experience to be more simple, fast and fun, and to better connect travelers with the world's best boutique and independent hotels," Shank said in a statement. "We are delighted to take this vision to new heights as part of Airbnb."

Shank launched the San Francisco-based company in 2010. Most recently, it was valued at $463 million with a $37 million Series E funding in 2017, according to PitchBook. HotelTonight raised a total of $131 million in equity funding from venture capital firms including Accel, Battery Ventures, Forerunner Ventures and First Round Capital.

Skip is way more popular than Scoot in San Francisco

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 11:09 AM PDT

San Francisco has hit the mid-point for its one-year electric scooter pilot program. In a slide deck to be presented at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors meeting tomorrow, the SFMTA reports that there were 242,398 electric scooter trips between October 2018 and February 2019.

What especially jumps out is the fact that Skip accounted for 90 percent of all rides. It seems that’s a result of consistently having more scooter availability than its rival, Scoot .

On the flip side, Skip’s high number of devices and 218,000 trips made resulted in 34 collisions — 18 of which caused injuries. Scoot riders experienced zero reported collisions.

Some of the promises related to electric scooter usage have touched on fewer car trips and better access to transportation for people in low-income areas. The SFMTA says 42 percent of scooter trips replaced car trips, while just 0.5 percent of Scoot trips and 0.3 percent of Skip trips were part of the low-income program.

Oh, and here’s the real shocker (sarcasm): 63 percent of riders are white and 82 percent are men. Meanwhile, 68 percent of the riders have household incomes of more than $100,000, according to rider surveys. In San Francisco, 53 percent of the population is white and 51 percent are male, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In conclusion, the SFMTA says lock-to mechanisms have improved parking compliance, but that more scooters are needed to more thoroughly evaluate the program. Additionally, scooter companies need to do more outreach in underrepresented communities.

Moving forward, the SFMTA will decide this week whether to allow Skip and Scoot to increase their respective fleet sizes, as well as consider allowing operators like JUMP, Spin, Lime and Bird to deploy their own fleets.

Update 12:50pm PT: The SFMTA has decided to allow Skip and Scoot to add an additional 175 scooters to their respective fleets. As part of that, each is required to sign up at least 150 riders as part of their low-income programs. Once they hit at least 500 low-income riders, the companies can deploy a total of 2,500 scooters.

YC alum Keeper raises $1.6M to help gig workers pay taxes

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 11:07 AM PDT

Every year around this time, Uber drivers, Wag dog walkers, Bird scooter chargers, social media influencers and other gig economy workers face the unsightly challenge of paying their taxes.

Companies like Uber and Lyft classify their drivers as independent contractors, which means you aren’t given any benefits and the company doesn’t withhold any of your taxes. This puts gig workers in a tough position come tax day, especially if they aren’t prepared to shell out big sums to the IRS.

Keeper, a startup that’s just graduated from the Y Combinator startup accelerator, is here to make taxes a lot easier for that demographic and to save them as much money as possible.

Founded by childhood buddies and former debate partners Paul Koullick and David Kang, the San Francisco-based company has raised $1.65 million on a $10 million valuation in a round led by Jake Jolis of Matrix Partners.

Keeper co-founders Paul Koullick (left) and David Kang

The pair entered YC this winter with a big idea and little to show for it. Come March, they had developed a full-fledged product and accumulated 200 paying customers. With their first round of funding, they plan to add to their small but growing team and acquire 10,000 customers in the next 18 months.

“There are some companies that are trying to go very broad and trying to cover the whole spectrum of benefits; we’re just trying to go really deep on taxes,” Kang told TechCrunch. “This is a pain point. This is where people are definitely leaving the most money on the table.”

Keeper guesses the average gig worker in the U.S. is overpaying their taxes by more than 20 percent, or about $1,550 for those making more than $25,000 per year. Why? Because these independent contractors aren’t claiming the tax write-offs available to them, like phone bills, car maintenance fees and even a Spotify subscription for drivers.

“If you’re a dog walker, there are so many things you need to be writing off, like your poop bags, your extra leashes, your parking,” Koullick told TechCrunch. “This population needs the guidance of an accountant, but they can’t afford one and we’re trying to create this third option.”

Like a personal accountant, Keeper monitors gig workers’ expenses all year in search of possible tax deductions, saving each user $173 per month on average, it estimates. The startup uses Plaid to follow its customers’ transaction history, and once per day sends a text message asking if there are any tax write-offs to note. Over time, it gets smarter and smarter, keeping the SMS questions to a minimum.

Keeper doesn’t fully file taxes for 1099 workers yet, but will begin offering a quarterly tax filing service in June. Next year, it plans to offer a full-year tax-filing service.

Koullick, Keeper’s chief executive officer, worked in product at Square before joining another startup, called Stride, where he built and scaled Stride Tax, a mileage and expense-tracking app. Kang, for his part, has spent most of his post-graduate career at a trading firm in Chicago, focused on quantitative modeling. The two toyed with a few startup ideas before landing on Keeper’s tax business.

“We wanted to build something that actually mattered to real people,” Koullick explained. “And we wanted to do it in the financial space where we were happy to wade through ugly details and systems on their behalf.”

Keeper isn’t the only recent YC alum focused on the growing gig economy. Another, Catch, sells health insurance, retirement savings plans and tax-withholding services directly to freelancers, contractors or anyone uncovered. Given the rapid rise of Uber and other gig platforms, it’s no wonder YC startups are tapping into the various business opportunities available there.

“We’re willing to tackle some of these topics that are kind of boring and mundane and really intensive,” Kang added. “Like the average person doesn’t want to think about taxes or filling out forms. We saw that as an opportunity for us to step in and be like, hey, we’ll take it.”

Talk all things robotics and AI with TechCrunch writers

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 11:00 AM PDT

This Thursday, we’ll be hosting our third annual Robotics + AI TechCrunch Sessions event at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. The day is packed start-to-finish with intimate discussions on the state of robotics and deep learning with key founders, investors, researchers and technologists.

The event will dig into recent developments in robotics and AI, which startups and companies are driving the market’s growth and how the evolution of these technologies may ultimately play out. In preparation for our event, TechCrunch’s Brian Heater spent time over the last several months visiting some of the top robotics companies in the country. Brian will be on the ground at the event, alongside Lucas Matney, who will also be on the scene. Friday at 11:00 am PT, Brian and Lucas will be sharing with Extra Crunch members (on a conference call) what they saw and what excited them most.

Tune in to find out about what you might have missed and to ask Brian and Lucas anything else robotics, AI or hardware. And want to attend the event in Berkeley this week? It’s not too late to get tickets.

To listen to this and all future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.

David Copperfield’s secret magic techniques crash-landed on the Moon

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 10:59 AM PDT

The loss of Israel’s Beresheet lander during its descent to the lunar surface was unfortunate, but the mission was still largely a success — and has certainly created an interesting cultural artifact on the Moon where it impacted. Perhaps more interesting than we could have known: It turns out David Copperfield stashed the secrets to his illusions onboard, and they may have survived the crash.

The data was kept on one of the Arch Mission Foundation’s tiny, high-capacity, high-endurance archival devices, meant to act as libraries or time capsules in a variety of sci-fi-sounding scenarios, like extraterrestrial visits or the near-extinction of humans. They’re “nearly indestructible,” and one was on Beresheet.

In a plot twist no one could have seen coming, among the data encoded on the DVD-sized (but much more sophisticated) storage medium are the famous magician’s “secret technological innovations.” Yes, David Copperfield shot his tricks to the Moon, and no, it doesn’t sound like it’s just some old ones or previously published information (I asked).

Why?

“When I was introduced to the Arch Mission Foundation, I was immediately enamored with the mission to preserve our civilization, and the possibilities of what we might do together,” Copperfield said in a press release. “One of my heroes is George Méliès, one of the fathers of modern cinema and also a great magician. His most famous movie was ‘A Trip to the Moon,’ which in 1902 visualized people landing on the Moon. It inspired a generation of scientists to actually achieve it, and 70 years later we actually landed on the Moon. Now 50 years later, we’re landing magic on the Moon. We're bringing it full circle and I find that kind of poetic.”

There you have it. Quite absurd, but why not?

As for the device, AMF has put together a small team (including Stephen Wolfram) to look into what may have happened to it on impact.

“We have either installed the first library on the moon, or we have installed the first archaeological ruins of early human attempts to build a library on the moon,” read a preliminary document by the team containing various figures relating the crash and potential survival of the device.

Although AMF co-founder Nova Spivack said in the press release that “every indication thus far suggests that the Lunar Library is intact on the Moon,” the truth is there aren’t that many positive indications just yet.

Mission control lost contact with Beresheet when it was only 150 meters from the surface; it would have impacted about a second later with about 956 m/s of horizontal velocity, which translates to more than 2,000 miles per hour. So this thing was going faster than a bullet and was considerably less durable. The wreckage is likely strewn over kilometers of the lunar surface.

“We think it is highly unlikely that the Lunar Library was atomized in the impact,” writes the team. “Without knowing the impact energy directed at the library, it’s hard to know how the stack fared. But taking the construction of the Lunar Library into account, we believe it has a high chance of being intact.”

It isn’t just an archival-quality disc or something. It’s a special 25-layer sandwich of nickel and epoxy, the bottom 21 layers of which are filled with digital data. This is the information most at risk, since, like snapping a DVD in half, you can’t just put the pieces back together and hope the 0s and 1s align again.

But the top four layers are essentially a form of high-durability microfiche, etched with tiny letters that could be read with a basic microscope. These you really could just piece back together. The 60,000 pages of analog data include “the Arch Mission Primer, selections from Wikipedia, The Wearable Rosetta, The Israeli Time Capsule, a selection of books — and potentially all or some of the not-yet-announced secret Vaults of content.”

Among those “not-yet-announced secret Vaults” in the analog layers is in fact the collection of Copperfield’s illusions. Lucky, that!

Unfortunately, even if the device does theoretically survive, it may never be found: at those speeds the debris from the landing would have spread over a large area and perhaps buried itself in dust and regolith. So even if it were completely intact, it might be invisible even to the high-resolution cameras on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which AMF has requested to take a few images of the crash site (it was probably already going to, given the interest in the Beresheet mission).

“We think it is highly unlikely that the Lunar Library was atomized in the impact, given what we currently know. Therefore either the Lunar library remains entirely intact or it remains in a partially intact state — somewhere within a few kilometers of the landing zone,” writes the team. However, “This may not be verifiable without investigating the scene firsthand, on the ground at the crash site.”

So a trip to the Moon, Méliès-style, might be necessary after all.

The idea of a treasure hunt for a famous magician’s secrets in a Moon landing gone wrong really sounds more like science fiction than everyday news, but the two things have been growing closer and closer to one another for a while now, so I guess none of us should be surprised.

Apple said to be spending more than $500M on Arcade gaming subscription effort

Posted: 15 Apr 2019 10:20 AM PDT

Apple’s new gaming subscription service Apple Arcade may have been a bit of a footnote at its Services event earlier this month compared to the stage time given to more prime time-ready efforts like Apple TV+ and Apple News+, but the company is throwing some major funding behind its effort to get people paying a monthly fee for exclusive titles.

The company has already set aside a budget of more than $500 million for its Arcade service, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The service, arriving in the fall, will let users play exclusive gaming titles across their Apple devices ad-free and offline. The titles will be free of micro-transactions, unlike many of the popular gaming titles on the App Store.

While the company has already reportedly spent more than $1 billion on its TV+ content service, the gaming subscription world marks another uncharted territory for Apple as it will put the tech giant in the position of curating with its cash by directly funding titles for exclusive launches on Apple Arcade. At its event, the company detailed that it will have more than 100 new and exclusive gaming titles launching as part of its service.

The report states that in order to receive funding from Apple, developers will have to eschew releases on the Google Play Store and refrain from taking part in other gaming subscription services. After a “few months” of exclusivity, developers will be able to release their games on non-mobile platforms such as PCs and gaming consoles. The company is focusing its efforts on funding indie titles as opposed to bankrolling AAA studios to create an exclusive epic.

As with Apple TV+, we’re still waiting on exact details regarding price and availability.