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More than Joe Rogan: Inside Spotify’s audio revolution

Diane Davis

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Earlier this week, Spotify dropped some culture-rattling news: J.J. Abrams’s production company Bad Robot will now be creating podcasts for the streaming platform in an exclusive, first-look deal. It’s the kind of announcement observers have come to expect from Spotify, whose foray into podcasting has been defined by splashy content deals with the likes of Joe Rogan, Dax Shepard (via his popular Armchair Expert podcast), Michelle Obama, and The Ringer, Bill Simmons’s sports media empire that Spotify bought for over $250 million in 2020.

Spotify’s chief content and advertising business officer, Dawn Ostroff, tells Fast Company that the deal with Abrams, the writer-director behind Cloverfield, Alias, Star Wars: Episode IX, and many other films and series, is “testament to how we’re continuing to invest in premium content and be in business with the most popular creators in the world.” As for Abrams, he’s a “storyteller who has an incredibly adventurous side when it comes to trying new things.”

Dawn Ostroff [Photo: courtesy of Spotify]

The same could be said for Spotify, which over the last three years has transitioned from a groundbreaking music streaming service to one that also now offers 3.2 million podcasts on its platform. The expansion has been nothing short of meteoric when you consider that Apple, which has been offering podcasts since 2005, has just over 2 million audio shows. (The term podcast derives from “iPod.”)

Spotify’s gains were highlighted in its third-quarter earnings report in late October, when it revealed that 3.2 million figure, as well as the fact that advertising revenue from podcasts helped drive total ad revenue up 75% year over year. Stockholm-based Spotify is now on track to pass 1 billion euros (more than $1 billion) in ad revenue for the first time this year. Even more noteworthy, founder and CEO Daniel Ek stated, “We recently became the No. 1 podcast platform U.S. listeners use the most.” The claim was based on survey data conducted by Edison Research, which asked a sample of more than 8,000 weekly podcast consumers in the second quarter: “What platform or service do you use most to listen to podcasts?” Spotify clocked in first with 24% of weekly podcast consumers, beating out its foremost rival, Apple, which came in next with 21% of podcast listeners. YouTube accounted for 18% of the pie.

The milestone for Spotify doesn’t mean victory over Apple is quite a fait accompli. Data from eMarketer suggests that when it comes to monthly active users in the U.S., Spotify is on track to overtake Apple, albeit narrowly, by the end of the year with 28.2 million to Apple’s 28 million. According to Podtrac, Apple still receives far more monthly podcast downloads than Spotify as opposed to streams. But Spotify’s rapid growth shows how it is poised to dominate an industry whose own growth has gone into hyperdrive thanks to the pandemic—41% of Americans listen to at least one podcast a month today, compared to 25% three years ago—and, in the process, redefine it.

As Spotify steadily acquires audio content companies and distributors (such as Anchor and Gimlet, which it bought in 2019 for $340 million), and pushes out new features like live audio, paid subscription, video, polls, and other modes of personalization and interactivity, the company is setting out to become not only the biggest podcast platform in the world, but also the most transformative. Indeed, the company likes to say it is investing not just in podcasts but in “future formats of audio.” And it’s doing this at a speed that Ek says is an integral part of the plan. During the earnings call, he repeatedly invoked the term velocity to describe the company’s audio strategy.

“Why does velocity matter so much to Spotify? Because I believe that it will ultimately determine our long-term success,” he said. “If you are slow, you better be right most of the time. But if you are fast, you can test and iterate more, which creates a culture of innovation.”

When I talk to Simmons, he echoes this sentiment. “At Spotify, everyone has the same objective, which is, how do we become the biggest in audio? Something like Greenroom [Spotify’s live audio feature], as it was explained to me, was like, ‘Is this the [next big] thing? We don’t know. But if it does become a huge thing and we’re not there, how are we the leader of audio? We have to be there.’ So we try to figure it out.”

Access to the Greenroom

Figuring out Greenroom is an apt window into how Spotify invests in new formats as it tries to woo more creators and listeners alike. Last March, Spotify acquired Betty Labs, the creators of Locker Room, a sports-focused, live-audio app that allows users to set up a Twitter Spaces-like environment where they can listen, raise their hand (virtually) to speak, or type comments. The sessions can also be repurposed afterward as a traditional podcast.

Bill Simmons [Photo: Emily Shur/HBO]

The Ringer is already experimenting with the format—which at this point allows 2,000 people in a room—and, as part of its new audio partnership with the WWE, which includes a deal to make exclusive Spotify content together, it will be going live via Greenroom after every major WWE pay-per-view event. “The interaction with the listeners is obviously a really cool wrinkle that you don’t have in podcasts,” Simmons says, though he admits that the pull of regular podcasting remains strong and not everything is meant to go live. “The thing to really try to figure out is what makes sense for Greenroom and what makes sense for a pod. That’s the conversation we always have on the Ringer side.

“If we have time and we can edit something, I’m always going to think the podcast will win,” he continues. “On the other hand, if you have an awards show, like the Oscars, and it ends, people want to talk about it. They want to hear smart people talk about it right away. That’s where Greenroom comes in. Last week there was a huge MMA card, and we have [sports journalists] Ariel Helwani and Chuck [Mindenhall] and Petesy [Carroll] and the card ended and they were going, like, ‘What’d you think? What happened? Who won?’ That’s, for me, where the live audio becomes really interesting.”

Pivot to video

By far the biggest format push at Spotify right now is video, a medium that the company has experimented with over the years in a series of starts and stops. There was a series of video originals that the company commissioned and then scrapped back in 2017. But there is the feeling that users are now ready for video content, particularly as “the pandemic has driven people to adopt new means of creation,” says Mike Mignano, senior director of the creation platform at Spotify. “Lots of us are on video platforms a lot now, which has lent itself to recording video podcasts.”

Video is also a way for Spotify to lean into its younger demographic, a generation that has grown up on digital video, and capitalize on a format that propelled Rogan, Spotify’s biggest in-house name, to social-media superstardom. The controversial MMA enthusiast had racked up 10 million followers on YouTube, where his clips often went viral. But even as he migrated his audio audience over to Spotify after his May 2020 deal—according to The Verge, in 2019 Rogan racked up 200 million downloads a month—his full-episode videos remained on YouTube until last December, when they, too, became exclusive to the streaming platform.

Ostroff says that Rogan was “the prototype and the inspiration” for Spotify’s push into video. “Joe had a significant amount of his audience who was not only listening to him as a podcast but watching as well. So as part of our deal, as an experiment, we said, ‘Okay, let’s prepare ourselves and the platform for video and let’s use Joe as our example. And we saw a tremendous amount of the audience watching the podcast on Spotify in addition to listening to it. The numbers were significant.” (Fans have been less pleased. They say YouTube was more “convenient” to watch than Spotify, and miss the ability to comment.)

Video is still being rolled out to creators at Spotify, and there has been some grumbling about the slow pace, since the feature was announced more than a year ago. Ostroff insists that it’s still in beta mode, and that “it’s very important to make sure we get the tech right. Our goal is to have thousands of creators on the platform now in video, and that will be significantly expanding next year in a meaningful way.”

Going on offense in advertising

Spotify’s advertising push has been just as aggressive—and fast—as what it’s doing on the content side, and Ostroff practically chirps when she cites how podcast ads are pushing the company’s overall revenue beyond where it’s typically been. This growth will help offset the drag that podcasts still are on gross margins, given how much money Spotify has been shelling out to acquire platforms, studios, and exclusive rights. But the company insists that podcasts drive overall growth because of the engagement they foster, which keeps users on the service.

The spike in ad revenue comes on the heels of a succession of initiatives, like the introduction of streaming ad insertion; the acquisition of the podcast-ad firm Megaphone; and the rollout of the Spotify Audience Network, which allows advertisers to buy spots that target an audience rather than just a specific show. Spotify says that the number of podcasts in the network has grown by more than 50% since it launched, and that nearly one in five Spotify advertisers are participating. The push into video will open up more ad opportunities—and, more important, higher CPMs—for both Spotify and creators.

Ostroff says new advertising isn’t happening just in the U.S., as Spotify moves into new territories globally, all of which have helped push its total user number to 381 million. In France, for example, the number of podcasts created on Spotify grew 75% year over year, and listeners in that country spiked 89%. To fuel this further, Spotify is taking a Netflix-like approach and adapting local content for English-speaking audiences. Following the success of a sci-fi podcast in Chile called Caso 63, Spotify is now reproducing the show for U.S. and other English-speaking territories. “We don’t literally translate the podcast word for word,” Ostroff says, “but we make changes so cultural references are relevant to any given market or country. We’ve done that with a lot of our Parcast podcasts that have traveled and done very well in other markets.”

Owning the conversation

Adan Winer [Photo: courtesy of Spotify]

For the casual observer—or listener—what Spotify is really winning right now is “digital conversations,” says Adam Winer, the company’s head of content strategy, analytics, and insights. “If you look at what people are posting about, how are they talking about the different podcast providers out there—we’re not just winning users, we’re winning the conversation. Or maybe we’re winning the users because we’re winning the conversation. We’ve been able to have cultural impact in under three years. People are talking about Spotify now in regards to podcasts, and that powers our overall success there.”

That brand halo effect is driven by individuals like Rogan, Simmons, Shepard—and now Abrams—and Ostroff says there’s no plan to slow down when it comes to investing in tentpole brands, even as the company simultaneously courts lesser-known creators by giving them more tools to set up shop and start streaming an audio show.

Monica Padman and Dax Shepard [Photo: Robby Rob]

Monica Padman, cocreator and cohost of Armchair Expert, says that she and Shepard’s move to be exclusive to Spotify (the show was available on multiple platforms previously) wasn’t a foregone conclusion and that they were anxious about possibly angering—and losing—fans in the move. But Spotify’s promise of more resources in the way of marketing and advertising opportunities has panned out. There are other perks, too. When Ed Sheeran was a guest on Armchair, the episode was promoted on Sheeran’s music playlist and album. “It’s a nice marrying of things that I think people are looking for these days. It’s a one-stop shop,” Padman says.

Also pleasing, she says, is that their audience remains intact. “Spotify has 381 million monthly active users,” she says. “They have 3.2 million podcasts. It’s just cool to be part of that family and part of the growth of it. Podcasting, it’s so weird to say, it’s still kind of relatively new and everyone is just figuring it out. I think Spotify knows what they’re doing, and it’s cool to be in their hands. We feel safe there.”


Technology & Innovation

The Download: tracking animals, and biotech plants

Diane Davis

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dossier of journalist information concept

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

How tracking animal movement may save the planet

Animals have long been able to offer unique insights about the natural world around us, acting as organic sensors picking up phenomena invisible to humans. Canaries warned of looming catastrophe in coal mines until the 1980s, for example.

These days, we have more insight into animal behavior than ever before thanks to technologies like sensor tags. But the data we gather from these animals still adds up to only a relatively narrow slice of the whole picture. Results are often confined to silos, and for many years tags were big and expensive, suitable only for a handful of animal species.

This is beginning to change. Researchers are asking: What will we find if we follow even the smallest animals? What if we could see how different species’ lives intersect? What could we learn from a system of animal movement, continuously monitoring how creatures big and small adapt to the world around us? It may be, some researchers believe, a vital tool in the effort to save our increasingly crisis-plagued planet. Read the full story.

—Matthew Ponsford 

This story is from the upcoming print issue of MIT technology Review, dedicated to exploring hidden worlds. Buy a subscription to get your hands on a copy when it publishes on February 28th! Deals start at just $8 a month.

These are the biotech plants you can buy now

—Antonio Regalado

This spring I am looking forward to growing some biotech in my backyard for the first time. It’s possible because of startups that have started selling genetically engineered plants directly to consumers, including a bright-purple tomato and a petunia that glows in the dark.

This week, for $73, I ordered both by pressing a few buttons online.

Biotech seeds have been a huge business for a while. In fact, by sheer mass, GMOs are probably the single most significant product of genetic engineering ever. But the difference now is that people are able to plant and grow GMO houseplants in their homes. Read the full story. 

Watch this robot as it learns to stitch up wounds

The news: A new AI-trained surgical robot can make stitches on its own. A video taken by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, shows the two-armed robot completing stitches in a row on a simple wound in imitation skin. It managed to make six stitches before a human had to intervene. 

Why it matters: It’s common for surgeons today to get help from robots, but we’re a long way from them being able to fully replace many tasks. This new research marks progress toward robots that can operate more autonomously on very intricate, complicated tasks. Read the full story. 

—James O’Donnell

Three frequently asked questions about EVs, answered

Transportation is a critical part of the climate change puzzle: it accounts for something like a quarter of global emissions. And the vehicles that we use to shuttle around to work, school, and the grocery store in many parts of the world are a huge piece of the problem.

Last week, MIT technology Review hosted an event where we dug into the future of batteries and the materials that go into them. We got so many great questions, and we answered quite a few of them (subscribers should check out the recording of the full event). 

But there were still a lot of questions, particularly about EVs, that we didn’t get to. So let’s take a look at a few of those. 

—Casey Crownhart

This story is from The Spark, our weekly newsletter all about the technology that could combat the climate crisis. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The first US moon landing for over 50 years is due today
If all goes to plan, Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus spacecraft will touch down at 5.30pm ET. (WP $)
Here’s how you can watch it. (NYT $)

2 ChatGPT had a meltdown yesterday
Which is not necessarily worrying in itself… but it isn’t great that we have no idea why. (technology%2F2024%2F02%2Fchatgpt-alarms-users-by-spitting-out-shakespearean-nonsense-and-rambling%2F%3Fmc_cid%3D8d2404be49%26mc_eid%3DUNIQID&data=05%7C02%7C%7C7a9f483188ae4387f99e08dc33a02068%7C961f23f8614c4756bafff1997766a273%7C1%7C0%7C638442010063983878%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C0%7C%7C%7C&sdata=duo%2BDx%2FppidnuHwo4iXqtn7l4NWMB6FN1qSQ4Yt%2Bkhk%3D&reserved=0″ target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener”>Ars Technica)
Gab’s racist chatbots have been trained to deny the Holocaust. (Wired $)
+ Soon, we might be using AI to do all sorts of tasks for us. (NPR)

3 You can buy Vision Pro headsets in Russia 
Two years after Apple quit the country. (NBC)

4 Google is racing to fix a new “overly woke” AI-powered tool 
It was returning women and people of color when asked to produce images of America’s founding fathers, for example. (BBC)
It’s pausing the ability for Gemini AI to generate images until it’s fixed the issue. (The Verge)
These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are. (MIT technology Review) 
How it feels to be sexually objectified by an AI. (MIT technology Review)

5 American winters are getting warm
They’re also getting shorter, and less predictable. (Insider $)

6 Instagram is a news site, whether it likes it or not
And that means it has a responsibility to do content moderation properly. (NYT $)

7 Inside the weird world of Instacart’s AI-generated recipes
It’s becoming harder and harder to work out what’s been made by a human versus a machine. (404 Media)
Why Big Tech’s watermarking plans are some welcome good news. (MIT technology Review)

8 We need protection from companies building tech to read our minds
It’s not such a concerning issue right now, but it could be sooner than you know. (Vox)
How your brain data could be used against you. (MIT technology Review)

9 Why AM radio lingers on 
A surprisingly diverse group of people still rely on it, even as it heads towards obsolescence. (The Atlantic $)

10 Writing by hand has a positive impact on memory and learning ✍
I knew it! (Scientific American $)

Quote of the day

“Happy listening! ???? Happy listening! ???? Happy listening! ???? Happy listening! ????

—An example of how ChatGPT went off the rails yesterday, screenshotted and shared by a user on X. 

The big story

Inside the app Minnesota police used to collect data on journalists at protests

<a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/03/23/1047899/secret-police-app-minnesota-police-journalists-protests-data/?truid=<<%20Test%20Link%20ID%20>>&utm_source=the_download&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the_download.unpaid.engagement&utm_term=<dossier of journalist information concept

MS TECH

March 2022

Photojournalist J.D. Duggan was covering a protest in Minnesota in April 2021 when police officers surrounded him and others, and told them to get on the ground.

Officers sorted the press from the protesters, walked them to a parking lot, and began photographing them, one by one, with cellphones, which they told Duggan would be stored in an app. 

An investigation by MIT technology Review found the data was collected using a tool called Intrepid Response, an easy way to almost instantly de-anonymize protest attendees and keep tabs on their movements. For some, the tool’s use is a dangerous step in the direction of authoritarianism. Read the full story.

—Sam Richards & Tate Ryan-Mosley

+ Fascinated by the stories in this grisly interactive map, which details murders committed in medieval London, York and Oxford. 
+ Terrible night’s sleep last night? Fear not, it’s possible to salvage your day. (NYT $) 
+ This athletic fluffy cat is bound to bring a smile to your face.
+ Some simple ways to make your diet healthier.


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Technology & Innovation

Here are the biotech plants you can buy right now to grow at home

Diane Davis

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caprese salad in a bowl made with halved yellow, red and purple-fleshed cherry tomatoes

Biotech seeds have been a huge business for a while. In fact, by sheer mass, GMOs are probably the single most significant product of genetic engineering ever. Except most of us aren’t planting rows of cotton or corn that can resist worms or survive a spritz of RoundUp, the big gene-splicing innovations that companies like Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred first introduced in the 1990s.

What makes these new plants different is that you can buy them directly from their creators and then plant them in the yard, on a balcony, or just in a pot. 

Purple tomatoes developed by Norfolk Health Produce.

NORFOLK HEALTHY PRODUCE

Purple tomato

Starting off my biotech shopping spree, I first spent $20 to order 10 tomato seeds from Norfolk Health Produce, a small company in Davis, California, that created what it calls the Purple Tomato. The seeds have a gene introduced from a snapdragon flower, which adds a nutrient, anthocyanin, that also gives the fruits their striking color.

According to Channa S. Prakash, a geneticist and dean at Tuskegee University, the tomato is the “the first-of-its kind GMO food crop marketed directly to home gardeners.”   

The CEO of the company, Nathan Pumplin, was packing seeds when I reached him by phone. He claimed that anthocyanin has health benefits—it’s an antioxidant—but he agreed that the color is a useful sales pitch.

“I don’t need to make a label that says this red tomato is better for you than the other red tomato,” says Pumplin. “We can simply put out the purple tomato, and people say, ‘Oh my gosh, this tomato is purple.’ Its beauty is a distinguishing characteristic that people can just immediately see and understand.”

There is a plan to mass-produce the purple tomatoes for sale in supermarkets. But Pumplin says the company couldn’t ignore thousands of requests from regular gardeners. “It’s not the main focus of our business, but we are very interested in having people grow these at home,” he says. And “if home gardeners want to save the seed and replant it in their gardens for their own use, that is okay.”

couple in their glowing garden of gmo petunias
A promotional video for Light Bio’s firefly petunia.

LIGHT BIO

Glowing flower

I next decided to shell out for the “firefly petunia,” so called because the plant is supposed to glow in the dark. It’s sold by Light Bio, a startup backed by the venture capital firm NFX .

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Technology & Innovation

The Download: deep diving, and virtual power plants in China

Diane Davis

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open and closed doors with a ribbon of text running around and through them

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Meet the divers trying to figure out how deep humans can go

Two hundred thirty meters into one of the deepest underwater caves on Earth, Richard “Harry” Harris knew that not far ahead of him was a 15-meter drop leading to a place no human being had seen before. 

Getting there had taken two helicopters, three weeks of test dives, two tons of equipment, and hard work to overcome an unexpected number of technical problems. But in the moment, Harris was hypnotized by what was before him: the vast, black, gaping unknown. 

Staring into it, he felt the familiar pull—maybe he could go just a little farther. Instead, he and his diving partner, Craig Challen, decided to turn back. They weren’t there to exceed 245 meters—a depth they’d reached three years earlier. Nor were they there to set a depth record—that would mean going past 308 meters. 

They were there to test what they saw as a possible key to unlocking depths beyond even 310 meters: breathing hydrogen. Read the full story. 

—Samantha Schuyler

This story is from the next print issue of MIT technology Review, all about exploring hidden worlds. Want to get your hands on a copy when it publishes next Wednesday? Subscribe now.

Why China’s EV ambitions need virtual power plants

Virtual power plants (VPPs) are an idea whose time has arrived. They’re basically a layer on top of resources like electric vehicle chargers, solar panels, and battery packs, which allow you to coordinate energy consumption and supply. This lets utility companies handle times of higher energy demand by adjusting the end use of electricity, for example reducing the efficiency of an EV charger so it takes longer to finish and thus puts less burden on the grid.

In China, which is adopting electric vehicles faster than any other country, VPPs could be transformational. The country has just started testing programs which incentivize EV owners to charge their vehicles late at night, when there’s less demand on the grid. 

It’s also piloting bidirectional charging stations, which would let EV owners not only use electricity, but even sell it back into the grid at times of peak demand, earning them a little extra cash. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter giving you behind-the-scenes insights into China and its tech scene. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Alabama’s Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are ‘children’
It’s a worrying development, especially for people seeking infertility treatments. (CNN)
The first IVF babies conceived by a robot have been born. (MIT technology Review)

2 Inside AI startup Anthrophic’s funding spree 
Investors cannot hand money over to promising AI companies quickly enough right now, it seems. (NYT $)
OpenAI is now valued at a staggering $86 billion. (Bloomberg $)
Why the New York Times could win against OpenAI. (Ars Technica)

3 The EU is setting up rules for sucking CO2 out of the sky
It’s creating a first-of-its-kind certification framework for carbon removal technologies. (The Verge)
+ How carbon removal technology is like a time machine. (MIT technology Review)

4 Researchers are imbibing AI with human-like qualities
No one is immune from anthropomorphism, it seems. (New Scientist $)
If you’ve posted on Reddit, your words are probably being used to train AI. (technology%2F2024%2F02%2Fyour-reddit-posts-may-train-ai-models-following-new-60-million-agreement%2F%3Fmc_cid%3Deecfd57aad%26mc_eid%3DUNIQID&data=05%7C02%7C%7Cd1b49b76477142945b0508dc32d84365%7C961f23f8614c4756bafff1997766a273%7C1%7C0%7C638441151658419211%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C0%7C%7C%7C&sdata=yEmOuq3VhexDU0vVNasDICewGMS5cbdip0ZnnePNd8Y%3D&reserved=0″ target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener”>Ars Technica)

5 What mind-reading devices can teach us
They’re restoring functions like speech and movement. But they’re also shining a light on how the brain works. (Nature)
Elon Musk claims the first Neuralink patient can now control a computer mouse with their thoughts. (CNBC)

6 Fake funeral livestream scams are proliferating on Facebook
Beyond grim, and Meta’s doing almost nothing to prevent it. (404 Media)

7 A spacecraft is about to try to snag some space junk
If it works, it’ll be an important development for the effort to clear Earth’s orbit of debris. (Ars Technica

8 People are breeding pythons to have ‘emoji’ patterns 
But, as always amid a gold rush, some of them are doing some deeply unethical things in the process. (New Yorker $)

9 How scientists predicted Iceland’s vast volcanic eruption
And saved a lot of lives in the process. (Quanta)
How machine learning might unlock earthquake prediction. (MIT technology Review)

10 Older people are among VR’s most enthusiastic adopters
And studies suggest spending time in virtual reality can produce positive effects, too. (AP)
Virtual reality can be used as a painkiller. (MIT technology Review)

Quote of the day

“People say AI is overhyped, but I think it’s not hyped enough.”

—Puneet Chandok, who leads Microsoft India and South Asia, says we should get even more excited about AI, the Economic Times reports.

The big story

The open-source AI boom is built on Big Tech’s handouts. How long will it last?

open and closed doors with a ribbon of text running around and through them

STEPHANIE ARNETT/MITTR | ENVATO

May 2023

Last year a leaked memo written by a senior engineer at Google said out loud what many in Silicon Valley must have been whispering: an open-source free-for-all is threatening Big Tech’s grip on AI.

New open-source large language models—alternatives to Google’s Bard or OpenAI’s ChatGPT that researchers and developers can study, build on, and modify—are dropping like candy from a piñata. These are smaller, cheaper versions of the best-in-class AI models created by the big firms that (almost) match them in performance—and they’re shared for free.

In many ways, that’s a good thing. AI won’t thrive if just a few mega-rich companies get to gatekeep this technology or decide how it is used. But this open-source boom is precarious, and if Big Tech decides to shut up shop, a boomtown could become a backwater. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

We can still have nice things

+ Paul McCartney has been reunited with a beloved bass guitar that was stolen 51 years ago. 
+ How to have a better relationship with money.
+ Obsessed with Nimbus and his marvelous piano skills. 
+ Cracking up at this game where you have to guess if a name refers to antidepressants or a character from Tolkien.

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