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What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

AI comes to life with GPT-3

Image: Julien Deveaux / Protocol
Waking up computer

Good morning! This Monday, Twitter tries to figure out how to move on from its hack, GPT-3 might have some ideas for that, and Mark Zuckerberg needs to work on his surfer-guy face.

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People Are Talking

Matt Mullenweg hires people in a chat window, and thinks you should, too:

  • "Hiring through chat removes a ton of opportunities for unconscious bias. We're always looking at what we can do to make it as much about the work, and not extraneous stuff ... So let's just remove it from the process entirely."

On Protocol: What failed product would you want to bring back? Kleiner Perkins' Bucky Moore has one:

  • "Google Inbox. No question."

Don't pitch like you're going to take over the world immediately, Autotech Ventures' Jeff Peters advises:

  • "You can claim that your software solution has a 10% or a 10x improvement, but for a lot of these folks, it is a huge risk to deploy a novel solution. In a lot of ways, they're risk averse and risk averse for very good reason."

On Protocol: What will diverse companies look like? Code2040's Karla Monterroso said we don't know yet:

  • "No one is good at this, absolutely not a single person. Not a single company! You have pioneers, you have people taking risks to try and do things a different way, but that's going to take risk, failure and learning."

The Big Story

What Twitter does next

There's this strange dance you have to do when your company's been hacked. You want to tell the truth, to be (or at least appear to be) honest with users and regulators and whoever else wants to know. But you also don't want to overshare and risk causing yourself irreparable damage or giving hackers clues on how to do better next time.

Twitter's on that roller coaster right now, and it's fascinating to watch:

  • Right after the hack started, Twitter started taking down posts featuring screenshots of the internal dashboard the hackers used. A terrible look, but one with fairly obvious security upsides: Any detail of your systems can and will be used against you.
  • Later, Twitter admitted that, in addition to all the very public activity from the hackers, they had also downloaded all the data associated with eight accounts through the "Your Twitter Data" tool. After people went nuts guessing who and why, Twitter had to clarify that those users weren't Joe Biden, Kanye West, Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Apple.
  • Twitter's also been talking vaguely about "the steps and work we will take to safeguard against other attacks in the future." Meanwhile government officials have said yes, hello, Twitter, we would like to know what those steps are please.

There's a lot more Twitter still needs to work out and communicate to us. Did hackers get access to DMs? More specifically, all of our DMs? And when it comes to security, what's the plan? There's so much it could do: change permissioning, encrypt more of the platform, improve internal tools for detecting suspicious employee activity, on and on. As it sorts through it all, the company needs to balance a forensic investigation with keeping people up-to-date. Not easy.

@realdonaldtrump may be an interesting test case for what comes next. In 2017, after a Twitter employee deleted Trump's account, the company said that it had "implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again." Those safeguards seem to have worked: Trump's account wasn't breached last week.

  • The New York Times reported that "Mr. Trump's account got extra protection after past incidents." The Wall Street Journal says Twitter restricted the number of people who could access Trump's account in the first place.
  • Can Twitter do something for more accounts? Obviously not every Twitter account can get special treatment, but should something change for public figures? Or at a follower threshold?

Whatever happens, the stakes are high for Jack Dorsey when it comes to figuring out what to do. Last week, I made a bet with Protocol's Tom Krazit: I said the whole Twitter-hack story was going to go away relatively soon, without much further incident; Tom said it was going to be big, and could reignite the conversation about Jack Dorsey's future as CEO. Winner gets $5.

I think Tom might win.

AI

We need to talk about GPT-3

Last year, OpenAI built an AI text-generating system that it said was almost too good to release, because it was dangerous to create computer-generated text that was indistinguishable from something a human would write. So, of course, the organization made it even better and shipped it!

OpenAI's latest toy is GPT-3, and you've probably seen it all over the internet already. It's the most powerful text-prediction machine I've ever seen.

The best stuff I've seen so far from GPT-3, though, comes from the genre I'd call botchatting. Take a bunch of your tweets, drop them into the system, and see what comes out.

  • Here's Mighty CEO Suhail Doshi botchatting startup advice: "Getting a startup off the ground takes everyone. Your team is the best part of your startup. They will become your family. Learn from them & share with them. Also, check your ego at the door. You can't be perfect. You will make mistakes. Fix them."
  • Or Paul Graham, botchatting with Tyler Cowen: "The most boring book in the history of the universe is probably a textbook on meta-meta-thoughtful meta-meta-meta-meta-meta-meta-thoughtful, and it's only a thousand pages long."

GPT-3 is still young, and still weird, and still more fun than anything else — and don't forget, the system doesn't actually understand what it's writing, which will be the key to AI actually being useful in the future. But it is further evidence that this kind of tech is going to work eventually. And maybe sooner than we thought.

(In case you were wondering, GPT-3 didn't write this newsletter. Although it probably could. Very meta-thoughtful.)

A MESSAGE FROM ALIXPARTNERS

AlixPartners

Join us on July 30 at 12PM ET for a conversation on why there's no 'digital' in transformation. Protocol's transformation editor Mike Murphy will dive into specific industry case studies — some that were born digital, others that have moved there — and discuss how companies are managing transformation initiatives. Speakers to be announced. This conversation is presented by AlixPartners.

RSVP today.

Space

The Arab world joins the space race

I continue to believe that rocket launches are the perfect use of live-streaming technology. I watched another one yesterday, as a Japanese rocket carrying a UAE spacecraft took off for Mars.

  • The craft, named al-Amal (which means "hope") is the first UAE launch to go beyond the Earth's orbit. It's scheduled to reach Mars next February.
  • al-Amal's job will be to study the weather on Mars, because the UAE thinks we're going to be there pretty soon: It's still churning on its outrageously ambitious plan to have a human-livable settlement on Mars by 2117.

As we've talked about here before, the space industry is quickly becoming big business. Right now, there's plenty of work and money to go around — but the global space race is still very much on. And as of now, there's another big, deep-pocketed player on the scene.

Coming Up This Week

TechCrunch's Early Stage virtual conference starts tomorrow, with a big crew of panels and speakers talking to new companies.

Microsoft, Twitter, IBM and Snap all report earnings this week.

We're a week out from the big tech-CEO hearing in DC, so look out for a lot of discussion — and bluster — about what's going to happen.

In Other News

  • Disney has cut Facebook ad spending, according to The Wall Street Journal. That's a sign this boycott might be getting really serious: Disney was Facebook's largest advertiser in the first half of this year.
  • Huawei could find a way back into Britain: Officials hinted that a recent ban could be undone if Trump loses the election, according to The Observer. They reportedly told the company that there was a geopolitical element to the ban, which was last week framed as just a security issue. Meanwhile, ByteDance has reportedly pulled out of building a new HQ in London.
  • Trump campaign ads are promoting a petition to ban TikTok, calling out in particular concerns about the app's clipboard spying. Ironically, the petition asks for an awful lot of personal information: Using data harvesting concerns to harvest data might be the smartest move ever.
  • From Protocol: Consumer tech spending is set to decline this year, for the first time since 2009. TVs are expected to be particularly badly hit, with a 14% year-on-year revenue drop.
  • Is your company giving out big bonuses to execs right now? Turns out that's a pretty good way to tell if disaster is right around the corner.
  • Online education's having a moment. Coursera just raised $130 million at a reported $2.5 billion valuation, which is all the incentive I need to sign up for its How To Start Your Own Business course.

One More Thing

Zuck hits the water

Mark Zuckerberg isn't someone you'd accuse of being … tan. And the New York Post published a picture that might hint why, as Zuckerberg boards through Hawaii waters with approximately 46 tubes of zinc slathered onto his face. But more importantly, I wondered: What's that cool board he's on? I'm pretty sure it's a Lift eFoil, one of those electric surfboards tech billionaires tend to like. And it turns out, Zuckerberg has a history of looking like a goofus while riding one.

A MESSAGE FROM ALIXPARTNERS

AlixPartners

Join us on July 30 at 12PM ET for a conversation on why there's no 'digital' in transformation. Protocol's transformation editor Mike Murphy will dive into specific industry case studies — some that were born digital, others that have moved there — and discuss how companies are managing transformation initiatives. Speakers to be announced. This conversation is presented by AlixPartners.

RSVP today.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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