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AI hopes to connect the living with the deceased

Illustration by Melody Song using DALLE-2

AI hopes to connect the living with the deceased

 

The Future. Scientists, psychologists, and researchers are using AI to connect people with their loved ones who have passed on. That artificial connection has taken the form of lifelike avatars, voice-accurate chatbots, and recreations in virtual reality. The tech may help ease feelings of loss — or simply make grieving a more drawn-out experience.

In the cloud
According to WaPo, researchers are trying to use AI to ease the grieving process.

  • Augmented Eternity, being built by Toronto Metropolitan University professor Hossein Rahnama, will be able to create a “digital persona” of a dead person that loved ones can communicate with by analyzing things like photos, texts, emails, and social media posts.
  • Amazon Alexa introduced a new feature that allows stories to be read from a deceased person’s voice. The AI only needs to listen to a minute of a person’s voice in order to extrapolate the chatbot.
  • HereAfter AI, originally created by James Vlahos so he could speak with his dad, interviews people before they pass and then creates a voice-accurate chatbot from their responses that family and friends can talk to.
  • Luka, built by Eugenia Kuyda after tragically losing her friend in a hit-and-run, is also a chatbot for the deceased. The company also launched a system called “Replika” so anyone could build a digital version of themselves.
  • Somnium Space, the VR metaverse world, is launching a feature called “Live Forever,” which allows users to create AI duplicates of themselves so loved ones can visit their eternal digital avatars and touch them via haptic suits.

And in 2020, a Korean documentary team created a VR version of a 7-year-old girl named Na-yeon — she passed a week after being diagnosed with a rare disease. Her mother, Jang Ji-Sun, was able to say goodbye (something she never did in real life) using the technology.

The footage is heartbreaking and beautiful.

Just one more conversation
Throughout all of time, people have tried to listen to, re-engage, or communicate with the dead, especially loved ones. What AI, chatbots, and VR do is make the experience immersive and interactive in a way that has never been possible before.

Whether or not this kind of communication is beneficial to the grieving process is another thing entirely. Clinical psychologist Albert “Skip” Rizzo, a research professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences asks, “By giving somebody the ability to see their loved one again, is that going to give them some solace, or is it going to become like an addiction?”

For many of us, we’ll one day find out.

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Digital influencers plot recession plans

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Digital influencers plot recession plans

 

The Future. Social platforms are already feeling the repercussions of an ad slow-down (fueled by recession fears), and influencers are bracing for brand deals to dry up. Although that may not totally come to pass, new monetization tools from nearly every social platform in existence may give anyone with an entrepreneurial sensibility the ability to ride the economic storm.

Creator cushion
What are influencers to do when brands stop paying the bills? Insider broke down five strategies recommended by creators and talent managers.

  • Launch direct-to-consumer products to create a more direct line of revenue.
  • Establish deals that extend several months to lock in a longer timeline of work.
  • Go beyond traditional brand partnerships and potentially use them as a launchpad for a paid book deal, podcast, or newsletter.
  • Rely on more passive income options like affiliate marketing, which can be more recurring than typical brand partnerships.
  • Establish a fan-paid model with memberships, subscriptions, or courses, which is essentially available through every platform now.

Luckily for creatorsInsider Intelligence analyst Jasmine Enberg notes that influencer marketing “has been more resilient than other types of digital marketing, and brands have continued to spend on their partnerships.”

Companies are expected to spend about $6.16 billion in the space next year — a pretty big increase from this year’s $5 billion.

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Emojis get lost in translation

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Emojis get lost in translation

 

The Future. Emojis are fun to use, but they’re ripe for miscommunication. In a professional setting, the stakes are even higher if an emoji is taken the wrong way. But messaging is  becoming more and more commonplace with remote work  Today, navigating proper emoji use could be the difference between mastering the next era of water cooler talk or finding yourself in hot water.

Crying or laughing?
That emoji may not mean what you think it means.

  • Fast Company reports that 74% of respondents to a survey from Duolingo and Slack have been misunderstood because of emoji use.
  • For example, the crying emoji is hotly contested — 25% use it to mean tears of joy, while another 25% use it to mean they’re upset.
  • The kissing emoji really throws people off — does it mean affection, platonic love, or something more romantic? It’s a minefield.
  • A PR team at Kate Spade New York even had a brainstorming session over what the heck an influencer’s use of the sneezing emoji meant. Turns out, Gen Z now equates it  with “that’s sick!”

Some companies avoid confusion by using emojis with specific meanings, such as an orange heart at Hermès or the hot face at Kate Spade.

Communication breakdown
With Gen Z no longer considering GIFs cool (it still breaks our hearts), the emoji has become the go-to visual communication tool, especially with the rise of remote work and the always-on nature of platforms like Slack and Teams.

But their use also reveals some pretty stark communication differences between generations. Younger people really don’t want their tone to be taken the wrong way, so they tend to overuse emojis, while older workers are fine with emails that just read, “Ok” (we shudder at the thought).

The big takeaway: emoji wisely.

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Hive finds fresh buzz in Twitter exodus

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Courtesy of Hive

Hive finds fresh buzz in Twitter exodus

 

The Future. As many users leave Twitter for the allegedly greener pastures of new platforms, Hive has been flagged as one of the potential best of the bunch. So, people are flocking to it faster than the app can probably handle. With Hive (as well as platforms like Mastodon and BeReal) eschewing the tech hallmarks of algorithms and brand marketing, the new trend in social networking may favor authenticity over advertising.

All abuzz
Hive is swarming with new users, reports TechCrunch.

  • Recent data from Sensor Tower found that the app has been installed over 214,00 times on iOS and Android devices over the past month.
  • When TechCrunch checked last, that gave Hive 733,000 users (86% outside the US)… but founder Kassandra Pop says that users have already surged to over a million in the past few days.
  • All that activity has shot Hive up the App Store charts — No.17 in the US (up from 338), No. 17 in the UK, and No. 24 in Canada.

Besides Pop, Hive’s team includes only two other developers who are probably working overtime to keep the app running (it crashed over the weekend), while Pop fields calls from VCs eager to invest.

A little old, a little new
So, what is Hive? It feels like a cross between Instagram, Twitter, and even Myspace.

  • It’s a timeline-based platform like Twitter, with the ability to post, like, comment, and share.
  • But it also has a Discover section to find posts on topics like Music, Fashion, Books, Travel, Gaming, Art, and Food.
  • And that nod to Myspace? Users can add music to their profiles.

Unlike the apps mentioned, Hive has no “personalization algorithms” (everything is chronological) and doesn’t monetize from ads. Instead, the platform makes a little money from charging users for extra features — like $0.99 for a second music slot on your profile.

But even if you switch to Hive, you may not escape all the headaches currently affecting Twitter — the app doesn’t allow for unique usernames yet, so impersonation is a big threat.

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The Moon is open for business

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Illustration by Nick Comney using DALL-E 2

The Moon is open for business

 

The Future. With NASA’s Artemis program planning to have a “sustained” presence on the Moon in the coming years, private companies are lining up to be involved in the groundbreaking market. With so much possibility for innovation, growth, and, yes, revenue on the lunar surface, expect the next decade’s biggest investment headlines to be focused on out-of-this-world ventures.

Brick & Lunar
With the first Artemis mission finally underway, a new space age is upon us… and private industry wants in.

Axios breaks it down:

  • Space-focused VC firm Space Capital reports that at least 22 companies are focused on either making products for lunar missions, sending missions up themselves, or even setting up a base of operations on the Moon.
  • In the last decade, $781 million has been poured into lunar ventures — a number that will undoubtedly multiply before the Artemis program hits its 2025 goal to put people on the surface.
  • While most of the investment has been in transportation companies (we are still trying to get back to the Moon, after all), mining resources and developing livable habitats are next on the priority list.
  • And with Space Entertainment Enterprise and Axios working on the first space-based movie studio (for real; they’re working on that upcoming Tom Cruise movie), expect the first lunar sound stages to pop up in the future.

Of course, all of this has the direct support of the US government, which has put private partnerships as a top goal of the Artemis program. Amazon, Cisco, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman have all benefited.

What do you do when the global economy slows? Get off the globe

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Restaurants are taking flight this Thanksgiving

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Illustration by Nick Comney using DALL-E 2

Restaurants are taking flight this Thanksgiving

 

The Future. While Thanksgiving is traditionally known as a home cooked-meal holiday, a record number of Americans are opting to dine out or order in this year, citing rising grocery costs and an inability to find a suitable turkey. If the trend holds, Thanksgiving could join other holidays as becoming an eating-out heyday.

Trot out the turkey
Families are eating out for Thanksgiving this year, according to Axios.

  • Technomic, a consultancy for the restaurant industry, found that 29% of Americans plan to order at least part of their Thanksgiving meal from restaurants — up from 24% last year.
  • Popmenu, a tech company that helps online ordering, says that number is more like 45%, with some mom-and-pop establishments receiving up to $65,000 in advance orders.

And with supply chain issues (yeah, we’re still not totally done with that) causing shortages of Thanksgiving staples like turkey and cranberries, restaurants may be one of the only places to find your favorites reliably.

Family style
But there’s another surprising factor driving people to make a reservation this week — grocery prices are unusually high.

  • A Wells Fargo study found that while restaurant prices are up 5.8%, grocery prices are up a whopping 9.8%. So Americans are generally spending less at the grocery store.
  • Considering the markups, Americans also figure that going out is better than the time and effort it takes to make the food.

Additionally, the National Restaurant Association’s recently-released annual survey found that “Pent-up demand for in-restaurant experiences — socialization, celebration and culinary exploration — is strong.” In other words, people are tired of being at home anyway.

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Disney debuts C-suite drama with the sudden return of Bob Iger

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Photo by Josh Hallett

Disney Debuts C-Suite Drama With the Sudden Return of Bob Iger

 

The Future. In case you haven’t checked Twitter, Apple News, or those free newspapers at Starbucks, Bob Iger is back in as the Big Cheese at the Mouse House. Iger now comes in when many of his past successes as CEO are being tested (Disney+ needs to make more money, while content silos like Lucasfilm and Marvel need to fight off franchise fatigue), Hulu is about to come up for sale for a lot, and upcoming, high-stakes Hollywood union negotiations will require financial compromise. In other words, these may be his most challenging years on the job yet.

A Tale of Two Bobs
Here’s how Robert Allen Iger succeeded his successor, Robert Alan Chapek (you can’t make this stuff up), as the CEO of Disney.

  • Discontent had already been brewing at Chapek’s performance, including a corporate restructuring that took power away from creative execs, a battle with Scarlett Johannson over compensation for Black Widow, and controversy over the handling of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
  • But the Nov. 11 quarterly earnings call where he  in the DTC division, a sudden call for cost-cutting and potential layoffs, and the resulting stock plunge is what broke the camel’s back for the company’s board.
  • So chairwoman Susan Arnold reached out to Iger roughly a week ago to see if he would be interested in returning. Although he had taken on a few advisory roles and was in discussions for a position at RedBird Capital, Iger could never really let Disney go.
  • So a deal was struck, and Chapek received a call midday Sunday that he was out. That night, the Iger announcement was made, which both shocked and elated Disney employees.

And yes, the stock is up.

The Bob is Back
Iger has wasted no time in making changes.

  • He dismantled Chapek’s Disney Media & Entertainment Division, which centralized the company’s creative and marketing decisions under executive Kareem Daniel.
  • He then fired Daniel and set up an exec team to develop a new distribution structure that puts “decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams and rationalizes costs.”

And besides righting the ship, Iger’s two-year contract — expect that to get renewed; he pushed off retirement four times — calls for him to groom his new, new successor. Just like much of its film slate, call it a Disney reboot.

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Ben Affleck and Matt Damon unveil Artists Equity to spread the wealth

Courtesy of Walt Disney Television

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon unveil Artists Equity to spread the wealth

 

The Future. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have closed up shop on their long-running Pearl Street Films (which had a deal at Warner Bros.) and are launching a new studio called Artists Equity. The goal is to be a United Artists of the modern age — an artist-driven studio giving collaborators creative freedom and a share of financial success. Once the company gets up and running, it could be a key player in realigning creatives’ pay with the gains generated by Hollywood’s push into streaming.

Rich in friendship… and money
Ben and Matt have had a lot of success in Hollywood and now want other creatives to share in that success.

  • According to NYT, Affleck will take on the role of CEO, and Damon will be the Chief Creative Officer of their newly formed company, Artists Equity.
  • Artists Equity will give filmmakers creative freedom and mint “entrepreneurial partnerships” with every creative involved in a project (more on that in a second).
  • In addition to investing some of their own money, Affleck and Damon have raised at least $100 million for the new venture from RedBird Capital Partners (which has also invested in Artists Equity and LeBron James’ SpringHill).
  • Affleck said his work moving forward as a writer, director, actor, and producer will be exclusively through the company, while Damon has committed to star in several films.

The company plans to release three films next year and scale up to five annually. First up is a feature about the creation of the Air Jordan brand for Amazon Prime, written by Affleck and Damon (with Adam Convery) and directed by Affleck. That project debuts next year.

United Artists 2.0
Let’s get back to those “entrepreneurial partnerships.” One of the core tenants that Affleck and Damon said would drive the company is the promise to “provide performance-based incentives to creators and crew that allow all participants in the production value chain to share in profits.”

Practically, that means creatives — everyone from writers to costume designers — would potentially get a lower up-front fee in exchange for big payouts if the project is successful. It’s a similar model to Blumhouse (which is undergoing its own power merger) that has made some writers and directors very rich.

The key differentiating factor is that Affleck and Damon know that streaming has, in Damon’s words, “intrinsically changed” the industry (no box office bonuses, no syndication, little residuals). How to measure success is a bit of a black box — one that the team is keen to break into and extract what everyone’s truly worth.

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The SEC has crypto in the crosshairs

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Photo by Jernej Furman

The SEC has crypto in the crosshairs

 

The Future. SEC chairman Gary Gensler has come in hot on crypto since taking the post in April 2021 — opening several investigations, issuing huge fines, and moving to establish most cryptos as securities (like stocks or other investment products). The crypto industry is against that classification… but an upcoming ruling in the SEC’s lawsuit against  exchange Ripple could give Gensler the power he needs to make that an indisputable reality.

Detective Gensler
When it comes to “the Wild West” of crypto (Gensler’s words), the US government has a sheriff trying to wrangle in the excesses.

According to NYT, here’s what Gensler’s done so far:

  • He’s doubled the crypto enforcement team to 50 members.
  • He’s fined several crypto exchanges and lenders — BlockFi, LBRY, and Ripple — for insufficient reporting and other registration failures.
  • Some of those fines have reached $100 million, showing that SEC definitely means business.
  • It’s also currently investigating big players like Coinbase and FTX (even before its stunning downfall).

Security, security
Gensler’s regulatory theory is that the vast majority of cryptocurrencies are securities, which the Supreme Court-created “Howey Test” dubs anything that offers customers a “chance to invest in a ‘common enterprise’ with the expectation of profiting from the efforts of others.” That requires a lot more government scrutiny and financial disclosures.

The crypto industry may hate him, but Gensler is actually no crypto-hater. He taught a course at MIT called “Blockchain and Money,” has immense respect for Bitcoin’s creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, and was even praised by crypto-happy VCs when he took the SEC post.

Speaking of Bitcoin, Gensler doesn’t believe that it’s a security because “no central group or individual controls it.” Ether, on the other hand… watch out.

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Twitter had a chaotic weekend

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Twitter had a chaotic weekend

 

The Future. The news cycle around Twitter changes in minutes these days as new CEO Elon Musk reboots the company in his image. It’s a “move fast and break things” strategy (all broadcast live on Twitter, of course) that may usher in a bold new era for the influential platform… or demonstrate the quickest way to pull the plug on a high-flying tech company.

On a wing and a prayer
Twitter went up in flames over the weekend… all in the hope of rising like a phoenix.

Here’s what you may have missed:

  • After Musk gave employees 48 hours to decide if they wanted to be part of “Twitter 2.0” (and work “hardcore”) or resign, hundreds decided to leave — bringing the total headcount down from a pre-Musk 7,500 to about 2,900.
  • Per The Verge, many teams have been reportedly wiped out entirely or almost entirely, including core engineering teams and groups in charge of the platform’s API, information security, communications, payroll, and financial reporting.
  • Musk is apparently “paranoid” that someone may sabotage the company from within, so he’s suspended badge access to the company’s offices.
  • But, Musk also sent an email in the wee hours Friday morning asking anyone who writes software to get their butts over to Twitter HQ immediately to explain what they do and why it’s important (yes, that includes people not in San Francisco).
  • And, yes, Twitter recruiters are already marching out offers to outside engineers to apply for “Twitter 2.0 – an Elon company.”

On Thursday night, #RIPTwitter was trending. The platform is still alive… but it may be hanging on by a thread.

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