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Fri-yay indeed. We sigh, as humans spool up to take a break, while the semi-sentient machines continue writing their poetry in their air-conditioned underground data-center homes. In my column this week, I spent a bit of time thinking about the times that robots have had an impact on my life. That time I ran a chatbot company talking with people about death. That time I felt a connection with a game character. And that time I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a sentient AI knowing it was about to get shut off.
It’s a series of thought experiments I’ve been playing with for a long time, and the idea was reawakened by reading Becky Chambers’ excellent Wayfarers series. The second installment goes into great depth about what happens when an AI is rebooted — will she come back with all her memories intact? Or does something change when you go back to your default software? Well worth a read, if you want to be a philoso-fish, swimming in the philoso-sea.
Anyway, on with the news!
So, about those room-temperature superconductors
Over the past couple of weeks, the internet went positively bonkers over the possibility of superconductors operating without being chilled to near absolute zero, after a team of researchers in South Korea claimed they had something cooked up in the lab that worked. The problem, in part, was that they claimed to have used a material (lead apatite) that not only isn’t a known superconductor, but also isn’t, in fact, conductive at all. YHBT, YHL, HAND, as they used to say in the early days of the internet.
Still, for the briefest of glimpses, on TC+, Tim explored the potential of such a development and the vast-ranging impacts it would have on, well, everything we know about electricity, electronics, and much more. Of course, it seems it may not have been true, and reminded us of the iffy claims made by another company back in March, also involving the elusive room-temp superconductivity.
Alas, ’twas not to be this time either, but the hunt continues.
Less confusion, more fusion: Tim is basically single-handedly carrying this entire section this week — well done, squire — reporting how scientists repeat a breakthrough fusion experiment, netting more power than before, bringing us one baby step closer to usable fusion power.
If you love yourself some sustainability, get your behind (and the rest of you, please. If you turn up at the doors, just a pair of levitating buttocks, we have achieved some sort of superconduction, but you’ll have made an ass of yourself, and security will probably turn you away) to TechCrunch Disrupt, where we have a whole Sustainability Stage planned!
Crypto is . . . maturing? Maybe?
As Bitcoin is back nudging $30,000, web3 is maturing and people are finally able to have some conversations about blockchains without talking about the abjectly stupid pyramid schemes that collectable digital primates represented (I sniggered all the way through “The Beanie Bubble” and then laughed out loud when the final punchline hit). It made me come up for air for a moment and look at what’s happening out in crypto land.
Investment into the sector certainly isn’t much to shout about right now, with venture funding declining for seventh straight quarter (TC+). A charitable read would be that the bubble is gone and that investors are now only making clearheaded investments into the companies that make sense. Or maybe the “invest while it’s hot” crew have just pivoted their attention to AI, and the hard core believers are left standing.
My unveiled cynicism and abject lack of faith in the sector aside, there’s some interesting movement in the space:
AI, meet web3. Web3, AI: Always worth paying attention when Goliath shifts on his throne, and Jacquelyn’s report that Microsoft partners with the Aptos blockchain (TC+) to marry AI and web3 got a huge amount of attention — and traffic — on TechCrunch this week.
Contractually smarter: About nine months after raising its Series A, SettleMint’s launches its AI assistant, which aims to help web3 developers write better smart contracts.
Followin’ the money: Tracking who invests in what and when is an ever-green effort. Our estranged sibling site Crunchbase does it for VC and startups, and EdgeIn jumps in to be a faster, community-driven version of the same, especially focused on web3.
Oh, governments. They do try ever so hard.
Watching legal systems trying to wrap their heads around even pretty basic technology continues to be cringe-musing, and there was a lot of that sort of thing going on this week.
The Chinese government is in uproar after Biden bans U.S. funding flowing into semiconductors and microelectronics, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence.
In India, the government decided that it would restrict laptops, tablets, and other personal computers to boost local manufacturers but was met with the appropriate mix of uproar and ridicule, and quickly announced it would delay that particular harebrained idea from taking hold. Also in India, the IT minister resurrected a previously abandoned data privacy bill and is pushing ahead with it, despite criticism.
The EU wasn’t going to be outdone, though, and stuck its oar in as well. TikTok is launching a “For You” feed aimed at the European market but without its algorithm. Worldcoin’s official launch triggers privacy scrutiny, and it turns out the European Commission (EC) isn’t too psyched about Adobe’s $20 billion Figma acquisition, either, confirming an in-depth probe into the deal. Finally, Meta says it will offer European users a choice to deny tracking.
There’s a lesson there: Dominic-Madori takes a dive into the U.K. venture landscape and argues that the U.S. could learn a lot from how the U.K. is crafting DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) policy for the industry.
Just can’t face it: The pervasive use of facial recognition technology across all facets of life in China has elicited both praise for its convenience and backlash around privacy concerns. Rita reports that China is considering measures that demand “individual consent” for facial recognition use.
Eye see you: A Kenyan government agency suspended Worldcoin’s activities, citing concerns with “authenticity and legality.” It plans to resume iris scans in Kenya, but the debate continues about whether the crypto-powered identification scheme is using the data it is collecting in accordance with local law.
Top reads on TechCrunch this week
Across the site, here are some of the startup stories y’all flocked to since the previous Startups Weekly.
Karma, karma, karma, karma, komeuppance: Apparently not entirely immune to irony, spyware maker LetMeSpy shuts down after hacker deletes server data.
That won’t have been cheap: The value domain AI.com, which until recently was pointing to ChatGPT, suddenly started sending traffic to Elon Musk’s X.ai this week. Ultimately, no one actually cares who owns AI.com, but speculation in the land of domain selling and buying ran rife as to how much money might have changed hands in the process.
You want how much for a ride to the airport?: Lyft wants to kill surge pricing, because “riders hate it with a fiery passion.” Yes, yes, we do.
We slipped into something more comfortable: Verizon dropped hundreds of millions on BlueJeans at the height of the pandemic lockdown, but three and a bit years later, the platform gives up the fight, announcing it is killing the app off altogether, citing “changing market demands.”
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