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Weekly Dose of Optimism #62
Big Tech Roundup, Animal AI, Nuclear Microsoft, Helion, Frank the Tank
Hi friends 👋,
Happy Friday and welcome back to our 62nd Weekly Dose of Optimism.
Another big week for the optimists. We could have filled the entire newsletter with individual OpenAI stories alone. Outside of the AI world, we saw big stories break in nuclear and space. One of those weeks that just feels like we’re living in the future.
Let’s get to it.
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(1) Big Tech AI Roundup
There were so many impressive and important AI product launches and news stories from Big Tech this week, that we’re consolidating them all into one roundup. Hold on tight.
There were three major launches or stories from OpenAI this week.
ChatGPT can now see, hear, and speak. You can now interact with ChatGPT in a number of ways. The new voice and image capabilities give the product a more intuitive interface and expands its use cases.
ChatGPT can now search the web in real time. OpenAI resolved one glaring product deficiency this week: ChatGPT can now browse the internet to provide you with current and authoritative information, complete with direct links to sources. It is no longer limited to data before September 2021. Hallelujah!
OpenAI, Jony Ive in talks to raise $1 billion from SoftBank for AI device venture. The company is also in talks with famed Apple designer, Jony Ive, and SoftBank to commercial "iPhone of artificial intelligence." Now if that’s not a headline that doesn’t catch your eye, I’m not sure what will.
Live look at Sam Altman taking over the world right now…
Not to be outdone, Meta had itself a big day of releases and updates at Meta Connect 2023. TechCrunch has the full roundup. Something tells me we’re not going to be using metaverse as pejorative in a couple of years.
Quest3: Meta’s new high-res VR headset.
Cloud Gaming: The big announcement here was a virtual screen that can float in either a virtual or mixed-reality space
Emu: Cute little generative AI stickers that will be available in Meta’s messaging apps. Translate prompts into unique emojis
Ray-Ban Smart Glasses: Livestream from your glasses, interact with Meta AI voice assistant, plus all the stuff you could do on earlier versions. Text translation coming soon…
Meta AI: Al was the word of the day, across all of Meta’s new products. The company also announced that it will be rolling out AI chatbots across its family of apps, in an effort to boost engagement.
Spotify’s new voice translation capabilities will make podcasts originally recorded in English available in other languages while keeping the speaker’s distinctive speech characteristics.
This isn’t robot-sounding voice dubbing. This is AI-powered voice translation. Lex will maintain his interview style and intonations, but in Spanish. This is awesome for non-English speaking podcast listeners, who are about to get access to a treasure trove of podcasts in their native tongue. It’s also likely a big win for English-speaking podcasters, who can reach 85% of non-English speaking world.
And last but not least, bringing it all together, is this podcast episode between Lex Fridman and Mark Zuckerberg. The conversation occurred entirely inside the Metaverse with Lex and Zuck represented by two photorealistic avatars. Watching this was basically my version of attending Taylor’s Eras Tour.
Lois Parshley for Scientific American
AI is poised to revolutionize our understanding of animal communication
AI is not only breaking down human language barriers, it might also make understanding how animals communicate possible. The article linked above profiles a number of projects and milestones from research teams using AI to decode animal communications. One team, for example, is planning on mic’ing up large swathes of the ocean to train a model to speak whale.
Of course, decoding animal communications behaviors won’t automatically give animals human-level consciousness and intellect. Dumb dogs will still be dumb dogs. But, the translations could give us a better understanding of how and why animals behave in the peculiar ways that they do, which in turn, could help us help them.
And hopefully translation will go both ways, so I’ll be be able to speak in dog and tell King that he’s such a good boy.
Justine Calma for The Verge
Microsoft is looking at next-generation nuclear reactors to power its data centers and AI, according to a new job listing for someone to lead the way.
All of the AI work we profiled above is going to take a lot of energy. Microsoft is, apparently, looking towards nuclear to power some of it. The company revealed that it’s hiring someone to “lead project initiatives for all aspects of nuclear energy infrastructure for global growth.” Microsoft, like almost all major tech companies, has made clean energy commitments — and keeping those promises while also keeping the lights on at a growing data center footprint is going to require a full menu of solar, wind, advanced geothermal, and nuclear.
Where exactly that nuclear energy is going to come from and Microsoft’s role in the nuclear supply chain is still TBD. Director of the DOE’s Loan Programs Office Jigar Shah has good breakdown of some options and considerations on X. Whatever the details (and the details will really matter here), Microsoft is leading the way in nuclear (both fission and fusion) and we hope to see other major organizations follow suit.
I’m excited to share the details of a new collaboration between Helion and Nucor that will play a large role in decarbonizing industrial manufacturing. Today, we announced we are working together to deploy a 500 MW fusion power plant that will provide zero-carbon electricity directly to a Nucor steelmaking facility in the United States.
Speaking on Microsoft and nuclear power…Helion, the nuclear fusion startup that earlier this year partnered with Microsoft, today announced an agreement with major U.S. steel producer Nucor. The plan is for Helion to develop a 500 MW fusion plant to directly supply electricity to a Nucor steelmaking facility in the United States.
This plan is significant for a couple reasons:
Nuclear fusion is a zero-carbon source of electricity. Today, by most standard methods, producing steel is one of the most energy carbon intensive industrial processes.
As you may recall, nuclear fusion is not exactly ready for a full commercial rollout. Helion is trying to change that and has already has some major corporations — Microsoft and Nucor — betting on its ability to provide electricity from fusion.
That said, there’s a wide gap between announcement and delivery, and Helion has been more of a closed book on their progress than some of the other players in fusion, so it’s hard to tell how close they are. But we’re rooting for it.
Oh yeah, guess who the Chairman of Helion is…
After spending an American record-breaking 371 days in space, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio safely landed on Earth with his crewmates Wednesday.
Frank the Tank! American astronaut Frank Rubio spent over a year (371 days!) in space, making his voyage the longest ever by an American astronaut. Some crazy stats about his trip:
157,000,000 miles traveled (equivalent to 328 rountrip moon missions)
Welcomed 15 arriving missions at the International Space Station
Frank’s trip was a little longer than planned. He and his ISS-mates, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, were supposed to come home in March, but had to extend their stay after their spacecraft was hit by debris, causing a radiator leak.
Rubio’s work provides insights on long-duration space missions, which will of course be needed to explore Mars and beyond…
Welcome home Frank! Oh yeah, since you’ve been gone AI and fusion (🤞) became like real things. Earth is in a better place then when you left us.
That’s all for this week. If you have some time this weekend, check out Percent!
We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.
Thanks for reading,
Dan + Packy