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Business January 11, 2023

EU Commission to Link ‘Fair Share’ Debate With The Metaverse

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EU Commission to Link ‘Fair Share’ Debate With The Metaverse

The European Commission’s move to make traffic intensive online platforms to contribute to the cost of digital infrastructure will include the rise in data volumes used by the metaverse and virtual platforms.

This initiative seeks to address a long-standing grievance by telecom operators in the EU who have accused online platforms of using large amounts of data but without investing towards cost of that capacity.

Also read: Next, AI-Designed Proteins for Medicine

A letter seen by EURACTIV signed by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen dated Dec. 22, 2022, says there will be consultations and discussions on the matter this year.

“The metaverse and virtual worlds, the rapid move towards cloud, the use of innovative technologies online are making this even more evident,” von der Leyen said in his letter.

“We intend to launch a thorough discussion on the future of Europe’s connectivity through a consultation to be launched in early 2023. The amount of data harvested and exchanged and harvested is larger than ever and will increase,” added von der Leyen.

Virtual worlds, metaverse a strain?

Von der Leyen’s letter is a response to Renew MEP Valerie Hayer, who in September last year coordinated another letter endorsing the so called ‘fair share’ initiative calling for quick progress.

Also known as sender-pays principle, ‘fair share’ is based on the argument by EU telecoms operators that online platforms like Netflix and Google do not sufficiently contribute to network costs while reaping most of the benefits of the digital economy.

In May last year, internal market commissioner Thierry Breton announced that the executive would present a proposal before the end of the year that would force platforms to pay a “fair contribution” to developing digital infrastructure such as 5G network.

In another submission later in September, Breton emphasized that virtual worlds put intense pressure on connectivity infrastructure which is needed to allow for developments towards vast digitalization to happen.

“In Europe, all market players benefiting from digital transformation should make fair and proportionate contribution to public goods, services and infrastructures, for the benefit of all Europeans,” he said.

“We will launch a comprehensive reflection and consultation on the vision and business model of infrastructure that we need to carry the volumes of data and the instant and continuous interactions which will happen in the metaverse.

“We are ready to roll out our European ambition,” Breton said.

‘Fair share’ not fair

Chief executive officers of Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Orange have called on the Commission in an open letter to make large content providers to contribute to infrastructure investments.

According to a study by the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), a small number of internet companies formed by Alphabet, Apple, Meta, Microsoft and Netflix count for more than 56% of the world’s data traffic.

Another study sponsored by telecom companies estimates that such platforms might generate costs ranging between €36 billion to €40 billion per year for telecom companies.

EURACTIV has reported the tech giants have not remained silent. A study published in 2018 showed that online service providers have been increasingly contributing to internet infrastructure such as hyper-scale data centers.

According to the report, Google and Facebook have been increasingly deploying submarine cables as telecom operators could not keep up with the explosion in the global data demand the two companies contributed to creating.

The online platforms have also said they contribute to creating demand for telecom services, for which consumers effectively pay for.

Charging them would equal nothing short of double-dipping, the argument goes.

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Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney.

Business

FBI Investigating Snapchat over Its Role in Fentanyl Crisis

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FBI Investigating Snapchat over Its Role in Fentanyl Crisis

Snap’s popular photo and text app, Snapchat, is reportedly under investigation by FBI and The Justice Department over its involvement in the distribution of fentanyl. Bloomberg reported that the investigators have been contacting the families of children who died after consuming an overdose of fentanyl-laced pills.

Also Read: Snap’s approach to the metaverse

As evidence from subpoenaed Snapchat posts shows, many teenagers who ordered prescribed painkillers like Percoset received pure fentanyl, and two milligrams is enough to take their lives.

“Big Tech has many problems,” said Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer who works on cases seeking to hold tech platforms accountable for often offline harms. “But the lethal fentanyl sales is not a general Big Tech problem. It’s a Snap-specific problem. Snap’s product is designed specifically to attract both children and illicit adult activity.”

On Wednesday, Goldberg even emphasized Snapchat’s message disappearing and real-time mapping features, which allow users to track their friends.

Not Just Snapchat

Not just Snapchat is the problem, as lawmakers are specious about other platforms as well. “This is not just Snapchat,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla, pointing at the example of fentanyl-laced drug deals over Facebook Messenger, “It’s all these Social Medias.”

However, Meta declined to comment on CNBC’s inquiry, claiming that their service prohibits such trading, as per a spokesperson. Snap’s spokesperson also reiterated and said the company is committed to fight the fentanyl-crisis.

“We will continue to do everything we can to tackle this epidemic,” said the spokesperson, “including by working with other tech companies, public health agencies, law enforcement, families and nonprofits.”

The spokesperson even said that the company has shut down the dealer’s account and blocked search results for drugs.

‘Platform of Choice for Drug Dealers’

The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) called on federal authorities to investigate Snapchat, stating it is “the platform of choice for fentanyl drug dealers” last month.

Snapchat’s encrypted technology and message disappearance feature is attracting suppliers, according to NCPC.

“Drug dealers are using American innovation to sell lethal products,” said NCPC Director Paul DelPonte in an open letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The death rate of teenagers by overdose between the ages of 10 and 19 has increased by more than 100%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similarly, the death rate from illegally manufactured fentanyl has increased by 84% in the same time frame.

“In about the same amount of time it takes to read this letter, someone will die from fentanyl poisoning because they purchased a fake pill on a social media platform like Snapchat,” said DelPonte.

According to Statista, more than 89 million people in the United States use Snapchat, with 48% of them being between the ages of 15 and 25. Only in the first half of last year, Snap claimed to have removed more than 270,000 pieces of illicit drug-related content.

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AI

CNET Suspends AI After Publishing a Series of Bad Articles

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CNET AI writes nonsense articles
CNet choose to trust the AI.

From November to January, technology website CNET published a series of financial advice articles written by artificial intelligence (AI), but an audit confirmed that the majority of these pieces contained factual errors, serious omissions, and plagiarised content.

The CNET editorial team failed to catch and correct these errors prior to publication.

CNET suspends disastrous ‘test’

Technology site CNET has admitted to publishing a string of low-quality articles written by artificial intelligence. All of the articles were misleadingly published under the byline “CNET Money Staff,” implying to casual observers that they were the work of a human hand.

On Tuesday CNET confirmed it would end the practice in what it now calls a “test,” of a an “internally designed AI engine.”

The publication offered no apology to its audience for the long list of inaccuracies and wrong financial advice it had printed since November.

“We stand by the integrity and quality of the information we provide our readers,” said CNET.

CNET’s AI engine was tasked with creating financial services explainers and over three month period proceeded to serve up wrong financial information to its readers. Some of the subjects of these articles included topics such as, “What Factors Determine Your Credit Score?” and “What Is a Credit Card Number?”

Under the guise of providing expert information, CNET published a total of 77 AI-written pieces without adequate safeguards. According to the technology outlet, the articles were outlined by human staff members before being written by the AI and were subsequently checked by their editors before final publication. 

Somewhere CNET’s system fell apart. When one of the articles was recently cited for obvious falsehoods, CNET was forced to audit the AI’s body of work. It found that 41 of the 77 pieces required significant corrections. It appears that absolutely everybody took their eye off the ball.

A compendium of nonsense

Included in the errors which made their way to curious CNET readers was the following explanation of how compound interest works.

According to the CNET AI, “if you deposit $10,000 into a savings account that earns 3% interest compounding annually, you’ll earn $10,300 at the end of the first year.”

This certainly sounds exciting, but in reality, an investor would receive the rather smaller sum of $300 of interest over the first year. 

In the same piece, the following explanation of loan repayments is offered: “For example, if you take out a car loan for $25,000, and your interest rate is 4%, you’ll pay a flat $1,000 in interest per year.”

This, again, is completely wrong. Once the person who has taken the loan starts to pay back on a monthly basis, they would only owe interest on the remaining sum. In reality, there is never a year in which the person repaying the loan would ever pay back “a flat $1,000.”

Other basic mistakes and errors are littered across the 41 inaccurate AI articles. For instance, an article on credit card penalties stated the wrong dollar value of a late fee, while a report on certificates of deposit failed to include key information and facts, and an article about prequalification for credit cards was found to contain plagiarised content.

As one former CNET staffer put it, “this is so incredibly disappointing and disheartening, but it’s not surprising. What other choice do you have when you lay off all your talented and loyal writers?”

Humans make ‘mistakes’ too

The editorial line taken by CNET is that AIs, like humans, are prone to making mistakes. Even so, CNET has sought to minimize the scandal by stating that only a small number of their error-strewn articles required “substantial correction.”

It is clear then that the failure at CNET was not one simply of artificial intelligence but of human bosses failing to exercise their better judgment. The heart of the matter lies in why those mistakes were allowed to be made in the first place. 

What motivated CNET to churn out large numbers of partially inaccurate and partially plagiarised articles, and why did the company only reveal its ‘test’ after it had been caught in the act?

It’s worth noting that CNET’s parent company, Red Ventures, profits through affiliate advertising programs. When a visitor to one of their sites ultimately purchases a credit card from one of its sites, CNET makes money. Besides CNET the company owns numerous other publications including Bankrate, The Points Guy, and CreditCards.com

Given that the AI articles performed well as SEO bait, CNET’s biggest mistake may have been placing affiliate dollars before the integrity of their own journalistic teams. That, sadly, is a very human mistake indeed.

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ChatGPT Pricing and Professional Features Revealed

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ChatGPT Pricing and Professional Features Revealed

The professional edition of ChatGPT, which is said to be faster and confer additional benefits to users, is set to cost $42 a month. OpenAI is rolling out the ‘Professional Plan’ of ChatGPT to some users with a number of benefits. Professional plan members will receive faster response times, and priority access to new features. 

Earlier this month, MetaNews reported that OpenAI has plans to move to a subscription model to “continue improving and maintaining the service.” The service is now being rolled out as some users have already received an invitation to upgrade.

ChatGPT Professional

The professional service should also be more reliable than the standard service which throttles at peak times and frequently exceeds its available capacity. Screen captures taken by users who were offered the service show that the professional plan will be “available even when demand is high.”

In an unusual step, OpenAI has refrained from making an official announcement regarding the launch. The last official reference of ChatGPT Professional appears to have come from company President Greg Brockman earlier this month.

“Working on a professional version of ChatGPT; will offer higher limits & faster performance,” said Brockman on January 11

Since then there has been no additional word from either Brockman, company CEO Sam Altman, the company website, or its social media channels.

The lack of an official announcement might leave room for skepticism about whether the rollout has actually occurred, but this would seem unwarranted given the volume and quality of evidence from user accounts.

One user named Zahid Khawaja went as far as to post a video screen-capture of his experience on ChatGPT Professional.

Given the hype wave that ChatGPT now seems to be surfing, not making an official announcement and inviting further speculation from an excited public, may be the wiser marketing strategy.

Microsoft partnership

The rollout of a subscription model for ChatGPT comes hotly on the heels of further investment from Microsoft.

On Monday Microsoft announced the ‘third phase’ of its long-term partnership with OpenAI in a ‘multibillion dollar’ deal. Microsoft failed to put a specific cost figure on the terms of their third phase contract but it has widely been reported to be in the region of $10 billion.

As MetaNews reported last week, the terms of that deal will include an aggressive cost recovery program. With such a huge investment in the company, the need for recouping that money swiftly becomes self-evident. That program will see 75% of company profits funneled back to Microsoft until their capital injection is recovered.

According to OpenAI Sam Altman, the cost of maintaining ChatGPT on an ongoing basis is said to be “eye-watering.”

Microsoft plans to fold AI solutions into its long-running services. The software firm is planning to incorporate ChatGTP functionality into the Bing search engine as the firm seeks to steal market share from Google.

Free rivals are still available

A free version of ChatGPT is still available to users, but for those who wish to look further afield, alternatives are available.

You.com is one of the major competitors in the market, combining the features of Google and ChatGPT in one platform. You.com and YouChat got a jump on the market by being one of the first chatbots to launch in the wake of ChatGPT.

One of the main differentiators to ChatGPT is that YouChat offers links to supporting evidence and research papers. On the negative side, YouChat occasionally cites ghost papers that do not actually exist. 

Another competitor AI in the field is Claude. Its parent company Anthropic was founded by former members of the OpenAI team, and it claims to offer better answers and analysis thanks to its Constitutional AI model.

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