Friday, September 22, 2023



X is shutting down Circles

Twitter - X/Tech / Circles let you share posts that only a limited group of people can see, but the feature will be deprecated as of October 31st.By Jay Peters, a news editor who writes about technology, video games, and virtual worlds. He’s submitted several accepted emoji proposals to the Unicode Consortium. Illustration: The VergeX is planning to shut down Circles, a feature that lets you share posts with a limited group of people instead of all of your followers. The company said in a “PSA” on Thursday that Circles will be disabled by October 31st.“After this date, you will not be able to create new posts that are limited to your Circle, nor will you be able to add people to your Circle,” X wrote in a post on its help center. “You will, however, be able to remove people from your Circle,” and the company gave instructions on how to do that.Twitter (not X) officially launched Circles (which it called “Circle”) in August 2022; Elon Musk wasn’t yet the official owner of the company. (At that time, he was trying to get out of his deal to buy it.) But in April, some posts intended for Circles starting appearing on the platform’s For You timeline, which obviously wasn’t ideal if you wanted a post to only be seen by your handpicked Circle audience.X didn’t give a reason as to why it’s shutting down the feature. But the company has recently been making more of a push around its Facebook Groups-like Communities feature — perhaps it viewed Circles and Communities as too similar to keep both around.

TikTok may start serving you Google Search results

TikTok is testing a new feature that integrates Google Search into its own in-app search results. The test, spotted by app researcher Radu Oncescu, shows a small box midway down TikTok’s search page that invites users to search for the same terms on Google. TechCrunch has reached out to both companies for details on the feature, which currently does not show up in search for all users — including in our own tests. A TikTok spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider that the Google Search feature is one of the third-party integrations the app is currently testing in some markets. Last week, The Verge reported that TikTok is also experimenting with incorporating Wikipedia entries directly into its search results. As TikTok expands in every direction at once, it’s clear the app has ambitions to become a one-stop-shop for anything users might want to do online, not just a repository of viral dance moves. While only a test for now, the inclusion of Google Search is interesting for a few reasons. For one, last year a Google executive who runs the company’s Knowledge & Information division observed that young users who once would have used Google are now turning to TikTok and Instagram to search the internet instead. “We keep learning, over and over again, that new internet users don’t have the expectations and the mindset that we have become accustomed to,” Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan said. “…In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search.” While we can’t verify those ballpark figures, that behavior shift is a major change from the way that people have gone online for years. Social apps already capture a huge swath of their users’ time and it’s not a stretch to imagine that young people would have little need to leave TikTok when searching for something. It’s worth noting that Raghavan’s observation also serves Google’s legal argument that its search business has plenty of healthy competition. The company is currently facing the Justice Department in an antitrust trial that’s expected to stretch on for months, all centered around search.

Katie Haun believes now is a good time to invest in crypto

Nearly two years ago, Katie Haun left Andreessen Horowitz and raised two crypto funds totaling $1.5 billion. And then… a crypto market crisis happened. At TechCrunch Disrupt, she looked back at what happened over the past couple of years and confirmed that she’s still very optimistic about the future of crypto. When Katie Haun was a general partner at a16z, bitcoin was trading at $65,000, Sam Bankman-Fried was still at the helm of FTX. And Haun agrees that things those things set the space back considerably. But it’s not a bad time to be a crypto investor. “I think there’s a perception out there that crypto is crickets chirping. We find ourselves very busy, but one of the things we did do is we saw this market correction, and we very purposely waited to make some deployments,” Katie Haun said. “So I know this is going to sound a little odd, but we feel actually it’s a really good time to be investing in the space during this time.” According to her, there are a few misconceptions about Haun Ventures. “I think another misperception is ‘oh, wow, you raised it during a high market, great timing, peak.’ Actually, that was not the case,” Haun said. “It was not a walk in the park. Number one, crypto market cap had dropped 40% from its peak.” “The other thing is perception of our fund is we’re one huge, enormous $1.5 billion fund, and we’re not. We have two funds. We have an early stage fund, $500 million. We do A, B and C. And then we have an acceleration fund, which backs all kinds of later stage projects in crypto.” When it comes to the larger fund, Haun Ventures recently closed two deals without announcing them in two “iconic brands” in crypto that are growing rapidly. Haun didn’t name those companies. Without giving any hard numbers, Haun said that her firm hasn’t deployed half of the larger fund. “Of our earlier stage fund, it’s considerably less than that,” she said. She has no regret raising $1.5 billion across her two funds. She thinks it’s the right size and she believes Haun Ventures will remain committed to this sort of fund size in the long run. “And by the way, I’m sitting here publicly stating this on the record in a stage setting, even if the market is in a massive crypto bull run, we don’t intend to increase our size. We think we’ve picked our size and our strategy for a reason,” Haun said. SEC might need to come back to Earth When talking about the SEC and current regulatory concerns about cryptocurrencies, Katie Haun expressed some strong opinions about some of the decisions that have been made by the agency. “The law and the regulations are decided in this country by courts and by Congress. They’re not decided by independent agencies. So just because an agency says something doesn’t really make it the law. And I think a lot of people don’t realize that. And so we’ve seen agencies, certain branches of government — by the way, across different administrations too — get very, very involved,” Haun said. In particular, she criticized the current leadership. “I think the SEC under [Gary Gensler] has really taken a very expansive view of their jurisdiction in a way that I think, by the way, make no mistake, it’s not just crypto, it’s on AI, it’s on climate,” Haun said. “And I think that’s a bit concerning, because that’s not how our system is set up. And I think that’s why you’ve started to see some federal judges starting to say ‘wait a second, this is a step too far,’” she added. “I think what’s going on now is regulators need to prove that they’re the tough cop on the beat. And they’re going after whatever they can, even if they might not ultimately prevail.” The end of FTX As a former federal prosecutor, Katie Haun also had thoughts about Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX in general. She did meet him a couple of times at conferences. “I was on team Coinbase and the audience was by and large a lot of FTX supporters. The only other time — I think I met him two or three times — the only other time I shared a stage with him was behind closed doors, so I won’t say too much about it. But I can tell you also, I was talking about government and there were some awkward moments where he was saying, oh, I was not registering,” she said. SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 21: (L-R) TechCrunch General Manager & Editor-In-Chief Connie Loizos and Haun Ventures Founder & CEO Katie Haun speak onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt 2023 at Moscone Center on September 21, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

This $90,000 fireproof tankbot will scout burning buildings for people to save

Fighting fires was always dangerous. But with climate change, there have been more wildfires, which means even more risky rescue missions for local firefighting squads. That’s why multiple different companies and teams of scientists are working to develop robots that can scope out burning buildings before human firefighters have to enter. The latest entrant is FireBot, a remote-controlled robot that can withstand temperatures as high as 650 degrees Celsius. At that scalding temperature, a firefighter wearing a protective suit can only withstand about 15 minutes of exposure.FireBot, which can be operated for four hours at a time, looks like an object straight out of a sci-fi film. With its saw-like “arms” that help the metallic boxy device move, the bot can climb obstacles in its path using tracks that allow it to climb stairs and debris – a requirement for navigating raging fires. According to TechCrunch, which hosted FireBot’s parent company at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco this week, the bot uses MIMO wireless technology that can transfer data to a receiver as far as 0.9 miles away. That way, a crew can safely examine the inside of a burning building while using a joystick and display to maneuver the bot.The device has built-in sensors that include HD optical and thermal imagers, as well as various mechanisms to detect dangerous gasses. In addition, it can check for the presence of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, which are the two deadliest fumes that can injure or kill humans in a fire. Also importantly, the device is seemingly fast despite its boxy appearance. The FireBot can move twice as fast as a firefighter wearing full personal protective equipment that can, on average, be as heavy as 45 pounds. Paradigm RoboticsThe robot is expected to cost at least $90,000 when it goes on sale in the third quarter of 2024. Alternatively, fire departments could lease it. Although this device isn’t exactly cheap, it can help alleviate the annual fees associated with firefighter injuries, which is estimated to cost fire departments up to $197,860 a year, according to a paper the National Fire Protection Association published in late 2019.The FireBot is not the first device that uses robotics to make firefighting safer. Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory are developing what’s known as SAFFiR, or the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot. The bi-pedal humanoid robot is being engineered to navigate ships, interact with people, and use thermal imaging to identify and handle a hose to put out small fires.When Engadget covered the Navy’s robot back in 2019, SAFFiR was still not water- and fire-proof, which may be why the Navy said its more advanced prototypes are still in the experimental stages of R&D. Similarly, there’s DARPA's Atlas, a disaster-response robot that hosts an infrared and a rotating light detection and ranging (LIDAR) laser that allows it to navigate dense smoke. Still, nothing is as seemingly advanced as Paradigm’s FireBot in terms of being able to withstand and navigate heat at fire scenes.In a similar vein, the Los Angeles Fire Department even experimented with specialized drones that can aid in scope and rescue missions as well as a ridiculously large 3,500-pound “Thermite RS3” robot. That robot costs $272,000, making the FireBot seem almost reasonable by comparison.

X CEO Teases How You’ll Watch Video and Make Money on the Social Network – CNET

Linda Yaccarino, current CEO of X (formerly Twitter), has posted a short video showing the future direction of the social network -- mostly aligning with former CEO and X owner Elon Musk's goals to turn it into an "everything network" where users consume content, pay to follow famous people, buy products and watch media.

What we learned from Microsoft’s big Xbox leak

As Microsoft marches toward a new deadline for its planned acquisition of Activision, the company stumbled into an unexpected setback of its own making. This week, a trove of documents surfaced through Microsoft’s battle with the FTC surfaced corporate insights and trade secrets about its Xbox business that the company obviously intended to keep under wraps. The files were part of a deposition added to an online portal hosted by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and have since been pulled offline. While the documents were originally uploaded on September 14, a user on gaming forum ResetEra pointed out that un-redacted emails, reports and presentations were attached to downloadable PDFs in the batch of uploads. The files, which Microsoft itself apparently accidentally leaked, were pulled offline earlier this week. The leak offered an unexpected snapshot of Microsoft’s Xbox plans, including the timeline for a new iteration of the Xbox Series X. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer tried to spin the leaks on X, formerly Twitter, characterizing the leaked information as stale. But there’s still plenty to be gleaned in spite of Spencer’s comments. We've seen the conversation around old emails and documents. It is hard to see our team's work shared in this way because so much has changed and there's so much to be excited about right now, and in the future. We will share the real plans when we are ready. — Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) September 19, 2023 In one email dated in 2020, Spencer reveals Microsoft’s ambitions to buy Nintendo — the third wheel in the PlayStation/Xbox ecosystem. “Nintendo is THE prime asset for us in Gaming,” Spencer wrote, adding that Microsoft would be the most well-positioned potential buyer in the U.S. “At some point, getting Nintendo would be a career moment,” Spencer said. “It’s just taking a long time for Nintendo to see that their future exists off of their own hardware.” The Microsoft executive also named Valve, maker of the online game marketplace Steam, as another potential acquisition target to have in mind if the opportunity ever arose. If Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision has attracted this much scrutiny, it’s difficult to image how the company would fare against antitrust regulators if it ever realized that particular pipe dream. As far as the Xbox roadmap goes, the leaks revealed that Microsoft has an updated version of the Xbox Series X on the way next year — or at least it planned to around the time the leaked files were authored. That refresh, code named Brooklin, would give the console a cylindrical design while removing the disc drive. A new version of the Xbox controller could also be on the way next year, with a lift-to-wake feature and an accelerometer. The leaks paint a picture a bit further down the roadmap as well. The plans are likely still in a nascent state, but Microsoft’s next generation Xbox console could be a “hybrid game platform” that would leverage cloud computing to offer new, presumably more advanced gaming experiences. “Optimized for real time game play and creators, we will enable new levels of performance beyond the capabilities of the client hardware alone,” the company wrote in leaked documents. Dedicated console wars spectators will find plenty of other bits about Microsoft’s Xbox business floating in the leaks. One last gem: Microsoft apparently had the wildly popular and well-reviewed Baldur’s Gate 3 on its radar, but dismissed the game as a “second-run Stadia PC RPG” that wasn’t a priority for Xbox Game Pass. The irony of course is that Baldur’s Gate 3 upstaged Xbox exclusive Starfield, which prior to launch was regarded as the guaranteed hit poised to overshadow the other RPG. Microsoft’s big leak — potentially anti-competitive murmurs and all — isn’t likely to get in the way of its plans to buy Activision, in the U.S. at least. The company prevailed over the FTC back in July when a federal judge declined to grant the regulator an injunction that would block the company’s proposed merger. That win set the scene for the tech giant to proceed with the deal, which would bring Call of Duty and World of Warcraft developer under its wing for $69 billion. While the merger was originally set to close on July 18 of this year, uncertainty over the merger resulted in Microsoft and Activision pushing the deadline to October 18 in order to tie up “remaining regulatory concerns.” The deal has faced pushback from U.S. regulators and the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority alike.

And the winner of Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2023 is… BioticsAI

During the last three days 20 startups participated in the incredibly competitive Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt. These 20 companies were selected as the best of the Startup Battlefield 200 and competed for a chance to take home the Startup Battlefield Cup and $100,000. After three days of fierce pitching, we have a winner. The startups taking part in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our startup competition. All the companies presented a live demo in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $100,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup. After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to six finalists: Parallel Health, Magnestar, Electrified Thermal Solutions, BioticsAI, Allie Systems and Agri-Trak. These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Mamoon Hamid (Kleiner Perkins), Mar Hershenson (Pear VC), Charles Hudson (Precursor), Marissa Mayer (Sunshine), Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch) and Dana Settle (Greycroft). We’re now ready to announce that the winner of TechCrunch Startup Battlefield 2023 is… Winner: BioticsAI BioticsAI has built an AI-based platform that plugs into an ultrasound machine to prevent fetal malformation misdiagnosis. The startup is able to identify fetus malformations with a high level of accuracy, validate the quality and completeness of the screening and then extract all the information to automatically generate reports. It currently focuses on second trimester anomaly screenings but could soon expand to adjacent fields, such as gynecology, urology and neonatology. It could become the AI diagnostics platform for reproductive health and beyond. Read more about BioticsAI in our separate post. Runner-up: Electrified Thermal Solutions Electrified Thermal Solutions is a new startup that has been building something called thermal batteries. As the name suggests, it works a lot like normal batteries, but for heat. During the day thermal batteries can be charged using clean energy from wind turbines or solar panels. When you can’t get clean energy because of insufficient light or poor weather conditions, Electrified Thermal Solutions’ bricks can take over and release heat. Read more about Electrified Thermal Solutions in our separate post.

Eight things we learned from Intel’s Innovation keynote

/ Here’s the biggest news from Intel’s San Jose event.By Monica Chin, a senior reviewer covering laptops and other gadgets. Monica was a writer for Tom's Guide and Business Insider before joining The Verge in 2020.If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission.

The iPhone 15 has a new optimized charging setting, here’s how it works

/ Apple’s new phones come with a setting to limit charging of the battery to 80 percent. It’s an apparent response to the battery longevity complaints that have proliferated around last year’s iPhone 14 models.By Jay Peters, a news editor who writes about technology, video games, and virtual worlds. He’s submitted several accepted emoji proposals to the Unicode Consortium.You can limit the battery charge to 80 percent on the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro. This is apparently in response to complaints about the iPhone 14 Pro’s battery capacity issues. Photo by Allison Johnson / The VergeApple has detailed how the iPhone 15’s new 80 percent charging limit setting works in an update to a support document.Here’s Apple’s explanation of what you can expect if you enable the setting:When you choose 80% Limit, your iPhone will charge up to about 80 percent and then stop charging. If the battery charge level gets down to 75 percent, charging will resume until your battery charge level reaches about 80 percent again.As we’ve been testing the setting on our review devices, we noticed that our phones have been charging past 80 percent anyway. That’s apparently something you can expect to see happen occasionally, according to Apple.With 80% Limit enabled, your iPhone will occasionally charge to 100 percent to maintain accurate battery state-of-charge estimates.This new option joins the existing Optimized Battery Charging setting that has been on Apple devices for a few years. That setting will hold the battery charge at 80 percent before bringing it up to full before it thinks you’ll need to use the phone, based on your usage patterns. Apple also just released iOS 17.0.2 for the iPhone 15 series, and we’re installing it now to see if charging actually starts to hover around 80 percent with the new setting enabled.The new 80 percent limit could help prevent the unexpected battery capacity dropoffs that many iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro have reported as of late. The iPhone 15 series also lets users see the charge cycle count for your battery.

Space-Based Solar Power Is a Possible Alternative Energy Source

Space-based solar power, once a topic for science fiction, is gaining interest.This article is part of our special section on the Climate Forward event that will include policy and climate leaders from around the world.Ali Hajimiri thinks there’s a better way to power the planet — one that’s not getting the attention it deserves. The Caltech professor of electrical engineering envisages thousands of solar panels floating in space, unobstructed by clouds and unhindered by day-night cycles, wirelessly transmitting massive amounts of energy to receivers on Earth.This year, that vision moved closer to reality when Mr. Hajimiri, together with a team of Caltech researchers, proved that wireless power transfer in space was possible: Solar panels they had attached to a Caltech prototype in space successfully converted electricity into microwaves and beamed those microwaves to receivers about a foot away, lighting up two LEDs.The prototype also beamed a tiny but detectable amount of energy to a receiver on top of their lab’s building in Pasadena, Calif. The demonstration marks a first step in the wireless transfer of usable power from space to Earth — a power source that Mr. Hajimiri believes will be safer than direct sun rays. “The beam intensity is to be kept less than solar intensity on earth,” he said.Finding alternative energy sources is one of the topics that will be discussed by leaders in business, science and public policy during The New York Times Climate Forward event on Thursday. The Caltech demonstration was a significant moment in the quest to realize space-based solar power — a clean energy technology that has long been overshadowed by other long-shot clean energy ideas, such as nuclear fusion and low-cost clean hydrogen.Scientists at Caltech lowering a portion of the Space Solar Power Demonstrator onto a spacecraft that will allow the device to capture solar power, convert electricity into microwaves and beam them to receivers.Caltech/MomentusIf space-based solar can be made to work on a commercial scale, said Nikolai Joseph, a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center senior technology analyst, such stations could contribute as much as 10 percent of global power by 2050.The idea of space-based solar energy has been around since at least 1941, when the science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov set one of his short stories, “Reason,” on a solar station that beamed energy by microwaves to Earth and other planets.In the 1970s, when a fivefold increase in oil prices sparked interest in alternative energy, NASA and the Department of Energy conducted the first significant study on the topic. In 1995, under the direction of the physicist John C. Mankins, NASA took another look and concluded that investments in space-launch technology were needed to lower the cost before space-based solar power could be realized.“There was never any doubt about it being technically feasible,” said Mr. Mankins, now president of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions, a technology consulting group. “The cost was too prohibitive.”Today, however, the calculus may be changing.The Caltech spacecraft that helped demonstrate the potential of solar power captured in space.Caltech/MomentusThe advent of Elon Musk’s SpaceX has brought a steep decline in the cost of rocket launches. From 1970 to 2000, the average low-earth-orbit rocket launch cost was around $18,500 for a kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of weight; today, the cost has plummeted to as low as $1,500 a kilogram. That reduction has helped drastically reduce estimates for building power stations beyond Earth’s atmosphere.A 1980 review by NASA concluded that the first gigawatt of space-based solar power (enough energy to power 100 million LED bulbs) would cost more than $20 billion ($100 billion today). By 1997, NASA estimated that that number had dropped to about $7 billion ($15 billion today); now, it is estimated to be closer to $5 billion, according to a study conducted for the European Space Agency in 2022.“I used to be a critic of space-based solar power,” said Ramez Naam, a climate and clean energy investor. Mr. Naam is now actively seeking space-based solar companies to invest in. “The dramatically changing cost of space launches has changed everything,” he said.Space-based solar power requires wirelessly transmitting electrical energy across space using microwave or laser power beaming. Unlike laser beams, microwaves can penetrate clouds and rainfall, making them the prime candidate for maximizing solar capacity.A view from inside Caltech’s solar capture device, which includes microwave power transmitters and receivers.Caltech/MomentusStill, there are engineering hurdles. Though Mr. Hajimiri’s team at Caltech proved that the wireless energy transfer of microwaves in space was possible — and even beamed a detectable amount of energy to Earth — they did not beam enough power to Earth to convert it into a usable form.“No one has demonstrated power beaming more than a few kilometers,” said Paul Jaffe, a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory engineer specializing in power-beaming technology. Mr. Hajimiri thinks it can be done. The Caltech engineer says he is working on technologies that would enable a large array of lightweight, sail-like spacecraft, using billions of small transmitting antennas, to create a focused beam that could travel thousands of kilometers to Earth and carry megawatts worth of energy.The scale of space-based solar power structures is also daunting. The most prominent building in space today is the International Space Station, which measures 357 feet end to end. Space-based solar power systems would be several thousand feet wide, and an army of robots would be needed to autonomously assemble the structures while in orbit.In addition to overcoming technical challenges, researchers must also ensure the safety of wirelessly beaming power to Earth. Microwave and laser beams pose a known risk to human health when operated at certain power densities. Researchers say the power density of space-based solar would be designed to operate within limits set by international governing bodies. Still, no studies have focused on the effect of space-based beaming on human health, the environment or the atmosphere — a critical step for public acceptance of the technology.Then, inevitably, there will be regulatory challenges. The transmission of radio waves from orbit — including telecommunication, GPS and weather satellites — requires licensing to prevent interference from different users. Solar-power satellites would likely need the approval of the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency, to protect and license their operating frequencies.The complexity of these challenges places the expected arrival of most space-based solar power projects in the 2030s or 2040s, should they ever get to that point. That’s not stopping researchers from pressing forward with the dream of harnessing an uninterrupted, inexhaustible supply of energy from space.Sanjay Vijendran, an engineer at the European Space Agency, spent much of his life’s work on Mars exploration projects, but climate change brought his focus back to Earth. “Is there more that space could be doing to directly help with the climate crisis?” Mr. Vijendran recalled asking himself and his colleagues in 2020. The result was Solaris, a program he leads that will release a report by 2025 on space-based solar power’s technical and economic feasibility.An artist illustration of a space solar farm that would be able to transmit energy to Earth.ESAVirtus Solis, based in Michigan, and Space Solar in the United Kingdom are among several start-ups working on space-based solar power. Government agencies — including NASA, the U.S. Air Force, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the European Space Agency and the China Academy of Space Technology — plan to share reports on space-based solar power within the decade. Since 2019, the U.S. Naval Research Lab has launched several demonstrations of power beaming.Dr. Jaffe thinks there is no certainty that space-based solar power will work or even be necessary. “It could be that we are going to create a portfolio of alternatives that are good enough for our projected energy, and that makes space-based solar unnecessary,” he said.Mr. Vijendran is also ready to concede that space-based solar power might not work without proper funding. But he sees an absolute need to explore the option, particularly given how little money has been invested in the technology relative to other solutions.“We’re putting billions into nuclear fusion research each year,” Mr. Vijendran said. “If you put a billion a year into space-based solar power, we will have this ready in 10 years.”

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