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⚙️ Instagram, Adobe & a breakdown of trust: The backlash to Big Tech

Good morning. I really appreciate your thoughtful responses to our poll last Friday. The consensus was a collective fear that AI might take away your ability for critical thinking and your desire to both learn and be creative. 

But you also nailed it: We just need to find new problems to solve. And we need to keep creating.

Whether AI exists in the world or not, we can exist in the world away from it. And in that world, we can ponder and imagine and create and bask in the simple reality that we can do these things without stacks of computer chips arrayed in a data center. 

In today’s newsletter: 

  • 🪸 AI for Good: AI is helping scientists save coral reefs

  • 💻 Microsoft (sort of) bends to the Recall pressure 

  • 🤗 Meet Reachy2, an open-sourced butler robot 

  • 📱 Instagram, Adobe & a breakdown of trust: The backlash to Big Tech

AI for Good: AI is helping scientists save coral reefs

Image Source: Ben Williams, Google

Coral reefs make up a vital component of our ecosystem. You’ll hear that they contribute to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world — in part by attracting tourists — but the reefs also serve as a natural protection against coastal storms and erosion. 

  • Plus, they operate as the most diverse marine habitat in existence, according to NOAA. The biodiversity housed by coral reefs could lead scientists to new treatments for a host of illnesses, including cancer. 

But like much of our natural world, corals — faced with pollution, rising ocean temperatures and increasing oceanic acidity — are dying. The world has already lost between 30% and 50% of its coral reefs. 

So scientists are working on a number of plans to resuscitate them.

Enter, AI: Google Research and Deepmind last week launched a new AI tool called SurfPerch designed to automatically process thousands of hours of audio to allow scientists to better understand how the corals are doing. 

  • The details: Listening to the sounds that make up an ecosystem can help scientists better track & understand the health of an ecosystem. This is known as ecoacoustics. 

Why it matters: The better scientists can track an ecosystem, the more equipped they’ll be to restore that ecosystem. 

Microsoft (sort of) bends to the Recall pressure 

Image Source: Microsoft

Last week, we wrote about the security backlash to the “Recall” feature of Microsoft’s coming lineup of AI-integrated laptops: Copilot+ PCs. 

  • Let’s get up to speed: Cybersecurity researchers were able to simulate the feature, and found that it comes fully equipped with enormous security & privacy gaps.

On Friday, Microsoft broke its conspicuous silence on the backlash and announced a few changes to Recall:

  • Recall will now be opt-in only. 

  • Users must be enrolled in Windows Hello to enable Recall. There must be proof of presence to access the Recall database. 

  • Microsoft upped its encryption.

Kevin Beaumont, the cybersecurity researcher at the center of the backlash, said that while the improvements look good, users should “absolutely not” enable Recall. He urged the cybersecurity industry to take a deep dive into Recall over the next few weeks. 

  • Still, he’s pleased with the shift to opt-in, saying: “Turns out speaking out works.”

He added that someone from Microsoft sent him the market research behind Recall, which is “all proper ivory tower stuff.” 

  • The target for Recall is “business managers who can’t figure out how to search.”

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Meet Reachy2, an open-sourced butler robot 

An image of Reachy1 (Pollen Robotics).

A week ago, a sect of Twitter rallied around this post: “I want AI to do my laundry and dishes so that I can do art and writing,” not the other way around. The road to that world of AI dishwashers is paved by robotics, and in that arena, Hugging Face has been making some progress.

The details: Remi Cadene, a robotics engineer at the open-source AI company Hugging Face, on Friday posted a video of a new collaboration with Pollen Robotics: Reachy2.

  • In the clip, the humanoid robot stacked a cup on a dish drain and handed an apple to one of the engineers. 

  • Reachy2 was first “tele-operated” by a human with a virtual reality headset, according to VentureBeat. A machine learning algorithm was then trained on 50 short clips from those virtual reality sessions. 

Cadene said that after 60,000 steps of training, the robot had learned to reliably place the cup on the dish rack, rotate its base to hand over the apple and rotate back to its initial position. 

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 🕋 Events: *

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🌎 The Broad View:

  • How pervasive AI hype has created a cycle of poor research (AI Snake Oil). 

  • Why China runs on Microsoft Windows (Rest of World).

  • Here’s everything Apple plans to unveil at its WWDC conference (Bloomberg).

  • A little bit of interpretability from ChatGPT (OpenAI).

  • Google gets a (temporary) win in a proposed class action lawsuit (Reuters).

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Instagram, Adobe & a breakdown of trust: The backlash to Big Tech

Ipad featuring adobe software in the daytime.

Photo by Emily Bernal (Unsplash).

The race to generative AI has so far been organized by that one ancient rule of Silicon Valley: Move fast and break things. Factoring into this almost frantic environment have been subtle changes to the terms of service that constitute our agreements with the platforms and companies that make the cogs of this digital age spin. 

  • For example: xAI uses your tweets to train AI models; Meta uses your posts to train AI models and Google uses Reddit posts to train its AI models. 

There have been small, often brief, pockets of backlash to each platform’s new terms of service. But they have yet to keep users, in any large numbers, away. 

The latest company to face the ire of the public for changes to its TOS is Adobe, which, in a recent update to its terms, said, among other things, that “we may access, view, or listen to your Content … through both automated and manual methods, but only in limited ways, and only as permitted by law.”

The backlash: Artists and users took to Twitter to decry the new TOS & state that they would no longer use the service. 

  • The new TOS were initially published on Feb. 17. 

  • Adobe clarified in a blog post that its access to users’ content is “solely for the purpose of operating or improving the services and software,” adding that it never trains its genAI models on customer content.

Few were satisfied by Adobe’s clarification, which brings me to Instagram and the broader story. 

Cara’s explosion: We wrote recently that Meta trains its AI models on the user posts that make up Instagram and Facebook. Meta’s opt-out process for this training is, at best, confusing, and at worst, nonexistent. This revelation set off a backlash within the artist community, which in turn led to an alternative explosion. 

  • In the past week, Cara, a social media platform designed to protect artists’ work from AI scraping, grew from 40,000 users to 800,000

My view: This current AI boom is reliant on creative content. Whether Adobe has violated its customer content or not, people are beginning to become aware of the simple fact that their content is the fuel for generative AI. 

And people largely seem angry about it. 

This brings me back to a thought I’ve shared before — I think we are at the beginning of the next stage of our digital era, and while it has plenty to do with AI, it will not be the AI stage. It will be the privacy stage. 

People are looking for alternatives to Adobe, a titan in its sector. Hundreds of thousands of people have already found an alternative to Instagram in Cara (a small dent to Instagram’s billions of users, but a dent nonetheless). 

I think we will continue to see more alternatives as privacy becomes the biggest commodity. But this hypothetical would necessarily be at odds with the current genAI boom, which is explicitly reliant on skimming content from the web. 

OpenAI has said that "it would be impossible to train today's leading AI models without using copyrighted materials."

A privacy revolution might kill generative AI.

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  • IFTTT: A tool that streamlines tasks across apps and devices. 

  • FormsFlow: A tool for AI-powered form automation. 

  • Blue Prism: Streamline workflows with AI-enhanced automation.

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-Ian Krietzberg, Editor-in-Chief, The Deep View