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The FTC and seven US states settle with Google and iHeartMedia, requiring the companies to pay $9.4M for allegedly paying radio hosts for deceptive Pixel 4 ads (Jay Peters/The Verge)

Jay Peters / The Verge:
The FTC and seven US states settle with Google and iHeartMedia, requiring the companies to pay $9.4M for allegedly paying radio hosts for deceptive Pixel 4 ads  —  Google and iHeartMedia are settling with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and seven state attorneys general for allegedly paying radio hosts …

EV SPAC Faraday Future ousts its CEO

Faraday Future, the troubled EV startup-turned-publicly-traded company has shuffled its executive ranks once again.

The board fired its CEO Carsten Breitfeld, according to a regulatory filing posted Monday after the markets closed. Brietfeld, who was the former co-founder of failed EV startup Byton, took the leadership role at Faraday Future in September 2019.

The board said Monday it appointed Xuefeng Chen, a former and longtime Chery Jaguar Land Rover Automobile executive who most recently led the Faraday Future’s China-division, as its new CEO.  As Faraday’s new global CEO, Chen will receive a base annual salary of $900,000, a performance-based bonus of up to $600,000, and a cash signing and retention bonus of $500,000. The retention bonus must be returned if Chen resigns or is terminated without cause in the next 36 months. Chen will also receive restricted stocks and performance-based restricted stock units.

The CEO upheaval is the latest in a string of internal drama and financial problems that have plagued the company for years. Even its public debut at CES 2016 was controversial.

The messiness at the company has only ramped up since it ,  went public through a merger with Property Solutions Acquisition Corp. in July 2021. Investigations, a restructuring and a going concern warning are just a few of the dramatic turn of events in the past 18 months.

Brietfeld’s dismissal comes just a week since the company warned it might not be able to continue operating over the next year and that it was uncertain when its first FF 91 luxury EVs would be delivered.

The company has repeatedly delayed the FF 91 vehicle, which as of November 17, only had received 369 non-binding preorders. While Faraday Future did appear to snag a $350 million lifeline in recent weeks, it may not be enough to sustain its operations or deliver on its long-promised vehicle.

EV SPAC Faraday Future ousts its CEO by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

Southeast Asia insurtech Igloo increases its Series B to $46M

Igloo, a Singapore-based insurtech focused on underserved communities in Southeast Asia, announced it has raised a Series B extension of $27 million, bringing the round’s total to $46 million. The first tranche of $19 million was announced in March, and led by Cathay innovation with participation from ACA and returning investors OpenSpace.

The newest round was led by the InsuResilience Investment Fund II, which was launched by the German development bank KfW for the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and is managed by impact investor BlueOrchard. Other lead investors were the Women’s World Banking Asset Management (WAM), FinnFund, La Maison and returning investors Cathay Innovation.

Igloo develops its insurance products and then partners with insurers who underwrite their policies. Igloo currently works with 20 global, regional and local insurers across Southeast Asia. It distributes its insurance products through partnerships, and is partnered with over 55 companies in 7 countries. It now offers 15 products, including policies for gig workers, gamers, cars and farmers in Vietnam, and says it has facilitated more than 300 million policies and increased gross written premiums by 30 times since 2019.

Co-founder and CEO Raunak Mehta told TechCrunch that Igloo decided to raise a Series B extension because of investor interest after the first tranche of funds. The extension will give the startup a multiyear runway and will be used for hiring, infrastructure and merger and acquisitions opportunities.

Mehta said that the penetration rate of insurance in much of Southeast Asia is low, less than $100 USD per capita across Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Igloo was created to make insurance more affordable and relevant to the needs of communities in Southeast Asia. Igloo distributes insurance products that range from 2 cents USD for phone screen protection to $600 USD for comprehensive motor insurance.

Igloo provides the tech stack for its products across Southeast Asia, which Mehta says means the entire insurance value chain, from product discovery to claims, is available on one platform. This makes it faster for it to brings the policies it distributes to market more quickly, and significantly reduce the operational cost of claims.

Mehta said more than 80% of claims are currently managed in an automated or semi-automated way, and that big data management, along with machine learning and artificial intelligence, has enabled it to reduce anti-selection risks, false positives and fraudulent claims. By bringing down the cost of managing claims, Igloo is able to offer lower premium to customers.

An example of Igloo’s insurance policies include ones for gig economy riders that it sells through its partnership with Foodpanda in Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines, and Lozi and Ahamove Vietnam. Its policy for Foodpanda, called PandaCare, includes motor, personal accident and hospitalization income protection for workers.

Another, more recent one, is is Weather Index Insurance product in Vietnam. The policy uses blockchain-backed smart contracts and automates claims payouts by using pre-assigned values for crop losses caused by weather and other natural events. Igloo says the Weather Index Insurance is Vietnam’s first parametric insurance (or a policy that agrees to make pre-agreed payouts based on trigger events like a flood) and its first integration of smart contracts into insurance.

Igloo also provides products that Mehta says directly or indirectly benefits women, through a partnership with Philinsure in the Philippines. They have distributed more than 5 million policies that cover credit default, personal accident, family relief and natural calamity support to women micro-entrepreneurs and their families. In Vietnam, more than 65% of the agents who use Igloo’s Ignite digital platform to sell insurance policies are women, and they are also the main beneficiaries of the Weather Index Insurance product.

The insurtech’s distribution partners include telecoms like Telkomsel, AIS and Mobifone, and e-commerce platforms like Shopee, Lazada, Bukalapak and JD.ID. It also works with financial service providers, like AEON, Gcash and UnionBank, to sell policies for their customer base, and provides products for insuring goods in transit and protecting fleet drivers through logistics platforms like Ahamove, Shippit, Loship and Locad.

Other Southeast Asia-based insurtechs that want to increase insurance penetration in the region and have raised large Series B rounds include Indonesia’s Fuse and PasarPolis and Thailand’s Sunday.

Southeast Asia insurtech Igloo increases its Series B to $46M by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

ISP deploys fiber service with a wrinkle—the users themselves own each network

Enlarge / Horizontal boring equipment installing fiber in Los Altos Hills, California. (credit: Los Altos Hills Community Fiber)

Our recent article about Silicon Valley residents who formed a co-op Internet service provider might have people wondering what it would take to get the same thing in their hometowns. The most obvious obstacle is price—in Los Altos Hills, California, residents have had to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $12,000 upfront for a fiber-to-the-home Internet connection.

But the company that built the Los Altos Hills network says its model isn’t just for wealthy people. “This is not the 1 percent solution, as people derisively call it to my face,” Next Level Networks CEO David Barron told Ars in a phone interview a few weeks ago. “Los Altos Hills was unique.”

Los Altos Hills residents were the first to contract with Next Level Networks, and Barron said the company has “a fairly aggressive expansion plan to go into a number of markets throughout the United States in the next five years.”

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Amazon begins layoffs of up to 10,000 jobs, blames “uncertain” economy

Enlarge / An Amazon Echo Dot 4th Generation smart speaker. (credit: Getty Images | Gado )

Amazon has started a round of layoffs that reportedly could cut about 10,000 jobs. Layoffs began yesterday in the Amazon hardware division that makes products including Echo, Alexa, Fire, and Kindle devices.

“We notified impacted employees yesterday, and will continue to work closely with each individual to provide support, including assisting in finding new roles,” Amazon Senior VP of Devices & Services Dave Limp wrote to his department’s staff today in a memo posted publicly by Amazon. Limp wrote that Amazon “continue[s] to face an unusual and uncertain macroeconomic environment… After a deep set of reviews, we recently decided to consolidate some teams and programs.”

“It pains me to have to deliver this news as we know we will lose talented Amazonians from the Devices & Services org as a result… While I know this news is tough to digest, I do want to emphasize that the Devices & Services organization remains an important area of investment for Amazon,” the memo said.

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Nvidia and Microsoft team up to build massive AI cloud computer

Enlarge / Nvidia and Microsoft are teaming up on an AI cloud supercomputer. (credit: Nvidia)

On Wednesday, Nvidia announced a collaboration with Microsoft to build a “massive” cloud computer focused on AI. It will reportedly use tens of thousands of high-end Nvidia GPUs for applications like deep learning and large language models. The companies aim to make it one of the most powerful AI supercomputers in the world.

In turn, the new supercomputer will feature thousands of units of what is arguably the most powerful GPU in the world, the Hopper H100, which Nvidia launched in October. Nvidia will also provide its second most powerful GPU, the A100, and utilize its Quantum-2 InfiniBand networking platform, which can transfer data at 400 gigabits per second between servers, linking them together into a powerful cluster.

Meanwhile, Microsoft will contribute its Azure cloud infrastructure and ND- and NC-series virtual machines. Nvidia’s AI Enterprise platform will tie the whole thing together. The companies will also collaborate on DeepSpeed, Microsoft’s deep learning optimization software.

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New Meta AI demo writes racist and inaccurate scientific literature, gets pulled

Enlarge / An AI-generated illustration of robots making science. (credit: Ars Technica)

On Tuesday, Meta AI unveiled a demo of Galactica, a large language model designed to “store, combine and reason about scientific knowledge.” While intended to accelerate writing scientific literature, adversarial users running tests found it could also generate realistic nonsense. After several days of ethical criticism, Meta took the demo offline, reports MIT Technology Review.

Large language models (LLMs), such as OpenAI’s GPT-3, learn to write text by studying millions of examples and understanding the statistical relationships between words. As a result, they can author convincing-sounding documents, but those works can also be riddled with falsehoods and potentially harmful stereotypes. Some critics call LLMs “stochastic parrots” for their ability to convincingly spit out text without understanding its meaning.

Enter Galactica, an LLM aimed at writing scientific literature. Its authors trained Galactica on “a large and curated corpus of humanity’s scientific knowledge,” including over 48 million papers, textbooks and lecture notes, scientific websites, and encyclopedias. According to Galactica’s paper, Meta AI researchers believed this purported high-quality data would lead to high-quality output.

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3D for everyone? Nvidia’s Magic3D can generate 3D models from text

Enlarge / A poison dart frog rendered as a 3D model by Magic3D. (credit: Nvidia)

On Friday, researchers from Nvidia announced Magic3D, an AI model that can generate 3D models from text descriptions. After entering a prompt such as, “A blue poison-dart frog sitting on a water lily,” Magic3D generates a 3D mesh model, complete with colored texture, in about 40 minutes. With modifications, the resulting model can be used in video games or CGI art scenes.

In its academic paper, Nvidia frames Magic3D as a response to DreamFusion, a text-to-3D model that Google researchers announced in September. Similar to how DreamFusion uses a text-to-image model to generate a 2D image that then gets optimized into volumetric NeRF (Neural radiance field) data, Magic3D uses a two-stage process that takes a coarse model generated in low resolution and optimizes it to higher resolution. According to the paper’s authors, the resulting Magic3D method can generate 3D objects two times faster than DreamFusion.

Magic3D can also perform prompt-based editing of 3D meshes. Given a low-resolution 3D model and a base prompt, it is possible to alter the text to change the resulting model. Also, Magic3D’s authors demonstrate preserving the same subject throughout several generations (a concept often called coherence) and applying the style of a 2D image (such as a cubist painting) to a 3D model.

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Thinking about taking your computer to the repair shop? Be very afraid

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve ever worried about the privacy of your sensitive data when seeking a computer or phone repair, a new study suggests you have good reason. It found that privacy violations occurred at least 50 percent of the time, not surprisingly with female customers bearing the brunt.

Researchers at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, recovered logs from laptops after receiving overnight repairs from 12 commercial shops. The logs showed that technicians from six of the locations had accessed personal data and that two of those shops also copied data onto a personal device. Devices belonging to females were more likely to be snooped on, and that snooping tended to seek more sensitive data, including both sexually revealing and non-sexual pictures, documents, and financial information.

Blown away

“We were blown away by the results,” Hassan Khan, one of the researchers, said in an interview. Especially concerning, he said, was the copying of data, which happened during repairs for one from a male customer and the other from a female. “We thought they would just look at [the data] at most.”

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Meta researchers create AI that masters Diplomacy, tricking human players

Enlarge / A screenshot of an online game of Diplomacy, including a running chat dialog, provided by a Cicero researcher. (credit: Meta AI)

On Tuesday, Meta AI announced the development of Cicero, which it claims is the first AI to achieve human-level performance in the strategic board game Diplomacy. It’s a notable achievement because the game requires deep interpersonal negotiation skills, which implies that Cicero has obtained a certain mastery of language necessary to win the game.

Even before Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997, board games were a useful measure of AI achievement. In 2015, another barrier fell when AlphaGo defeated Go master Lee Sedol. Both of those games follow a relatively clear set of analytical rules (although Go’s rules are typically simplified for computer AI).

But with Diplomacy, a large portion of the gameplay involves social skills. Players must show empathy, use natural language, and build relationships to win—a difficult task for a computer player. With this in mind, Meta asked, “Can we build more effective and flexible agents that can use language to negotiate, persuade, and work with people to achieve strategic goals similar to the way humans do?”

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