Sorry to interrupt your Saturday, but did you somehow miss that Google made a geothermal energy plant in the middle of Nevada? You know, that place with all the water for turbines? Or the incredibly dumb way security researchers were able to pull private information from ChatGPT? This week's YouTube-coated version of TMA covers that and getting far too enthusiastic (or entirely non-plussed) about all these other things from this week in tech.
Not everything on Engadget benefits from heavy paraphrasing and a guy talking at a camera for under 10 minutes. This week, take a look at this great profile of the growth, growth and further growth of ChatGPT, OpenAI's chatbot. It reframed generative AI for the wider public, and had the biggest tech companies scrambling to catch up. And that was just its first year.
Walmart has seen enough from X. The retailer, America’s single biggest employer and largest company by revenue, toldReuters on Friday it’s no longer advertising on the platform formerly known as Twitter. The departure follows owner Elon Musk amplifying antisemitic posts and flinging expletives at fleeing advertisers. “We aren’t advertising on X as we’ve found other platforms to better reach our customers,” a Walmart spokesperson told Reuters.
Walmart’s exit adds to a growing list of companies that have pulled ads from the platform. Apple, Disney, IBM, Comcast and Warner Bros. Discovery are among the businesses no longer buying ads on X. A group of advertisers toldThe New York Times on Thursday their temporary pauses will likely become permanent. “There is no advertising value that would offset the reputational risk of going back on the platform,” Lou Paskalis, CEO of marketing consultancy AJL Advisory, told the paper.
X’s former advertisers had no shortage of reasons to jump ship. Musk’s latest series of self-inflicted wounds began when the billionaire appeared to endorse and amplify a post falsely claiming Jewish communities were stoking hatred against white people. Musk replied to the user who spewed the racist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, saying their comments reflected “the actual truth.”
Watchdog group Media Matters then published a report showing ads from well-known brands placed next to antisemitic content. X responded by suing the organization, accusing it of “knowingly and maliciously [manufacturing] side-by-side images depicting advertisers’ posts on X Corp.’s social media platform beside Neo-Nazi and white national fringe content.”
The Game Awards got it wrong this year. One of the titles nominated for Best Independent Game, Dave the Diver, was produced by Nexon, one of the largest video game studios in South Korea. No matter how hard you squint, it is not indie. Dave the Diver is an excellent pixel-art game about deep-sea fishing and restaurant management, but it was commissioned and bankrolled by Nexon subsidiary Mintrocket, with billions of dollars and decades of experience at its back.
When The Game Awards nominees were announced on November 13, fans were quick to point out the error, and the recurring debate over what “indie” means was reignited. Taehwan Kim, Nexon’s overseer of Mintrocket, weighed in on November 14, saying Dave the Diver “may look like an indie, but it's not necessarily the case.” The listing the nominees for Best Independent Game now carries a reader-generated context tag reading, “Dave the Diver is not an indie game. Mintrocket, the game's developer, is a subsidiary of Korea's biggest game company Nexon. They are not independent in any sense of the word.”
A discussion around the definition of “indie” bubbled up throughout November, but it raised more questions than it answered. One common conclusion was that the media outlets who voted Dave the Diver into the independent category were fooled by its pixel art, a style that’s associated with indie games. During a live Q&A on Twitch on November 26, The Game Awards organizer Geoff Keighley argued that “independent” was a broad term with an unknowable definition, before essentially saying Dave the Diver’s inclusion in the indie category was the jury’s fault.
Specifically, Keighley said the following: “It’s independent in spirit and [it’s] a small game with a, I don’t know what the budget is, but it's probably a relatively small-budget game. But it is from a larger entity, whereas there are other games on that list that are from much smaller studios. Even like Dredge I think is published by Team17, so is that independent or not because you have a publisher? It’s a really complicated thing to figure out and come up with strict rules around it, so kinda we let people use their best judgment. And you can agree or disagree with the choices, but the fact that Dave the Diver was on that list meant that, out of all the independent games the jury looked at, or what they thought were independent games, that was one of the top five they looked at this year.”
The jury comprises 120 media outlets (Engadget has traditionally been one of these, but we did not participate in voting this year and look what happened), so Keighley is chalking the mistake up to mass hysteria and moving on. Meanwhile, there’s still little consensus on what constitutes an indie game, at The Game Awards or elsewhere.
I’ve reported on video games for 13 years and indies are a central theme of my coverage. I ran back in the day, and I’ve made to write about from of the , because these are the experiences that speak to me personally. The indie scene is the source of the industry’s magic. This isn’t just a debate about language — “indie” is a distinction that identifies which games and teams need outside support to survive and expand on their innovations. Understanding the label can help players make decisions about where to spend their money, the lifeblood of any game-development studio.
All that to say, the debate over the definition of “indie” is not new, but it is constantly changing, and it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating. So, I’m here to offer guidance on the question of what makes an indie game or studio indie. It is a weirdly complicated topic and my approach is one of many, but the loose framework I use could help resolve some common, recurring arguments.
Basically — it’s all about the system, man.
I’m joking, but also I’m not. Generally, when I’m trying to decide whether something is actually indie, I rotate through three questions:
Is the team on the mainstream system’s payroll?
Is the game or team owned by a platform holder?
Do the artists have creative control?
The first question is about identifying where a studio’s money is coming from and what kind of support a game has outside of sales. If a team is wholly owned by another company of any size, it is not indie. We’re not talking about publishing deals; this opening question is about acquisitions or subsidiaries of bigger studios. Dave the Diver is a prime example here — it’s developed by Mintrocket, a subsidiary of Nexon that was created just to develop more contained, experimental games for the publisher. Dave the Diver is definitely not indie, and we’re only on question one.
The second query feeds into the first, and it’s helpful in making fine distinctions about games that exist in gray areas. What about something like Cyberpunk 2077? It’s a big-budget game built by CD Projekt RED (CDPR) — a studio that, at first glance, seems like it could be indie. However, there are two factors that take it out of the running for me. First, CD Projekt, the umbrella organization that supports CDPR’s game-making, is a publicly traded company with shareholders and a board to answer to. Second, CD Projekt is the owner of GOG, a distribution hub that allows the studio to sell its own games and DLC outside of Steam and the Epic Games Store. This ability to sell directly to players at massive scale takes CD Projekt out of the indie realm. Generally, companies with the most influence and money are console makers and platform holders like Valve, Xbox, PlayStation, Epic Games, Ubisoft, EA, and, yes, CD Projekt. They are the AAA system, and anything they own is not indie.
Lastly, on to publishers. Sorry, Keighley, but securing a publisher has very little to do with whether a game is indie nowadays. We’re blessed in 2023 to have a thriving indie industry constantly pushing against the AAA complex with different goals, more diverse voices and a broader sense of innovation — and publishing is a big part of this system. Today, indie-focused publishers () tend to include clauses that protect a developer’s creative vision, preventing the larger company from interfering with artistic decisions and keeping the game indie to the core. Once upon a time, it might’ve made sense to only consider self-published games indie, but that era is long gone.
The indie scene has evolved massively since the early 2010s, when games like Braid, Super Meat Boy and Fez were carving out the market’s modern form. Back then, self-publishing was all the rage for independent developers because it was often their only option, and as a result there were more distinct lines between AAA, AA and indie games. Devolver Digital found its first breakout hit as an indie publisher with Hotline Miami in 2012, and that’s around the time the floodgates opened. In 2014, as the industry’s largest companies started funding and publishing programs for them, the number of indie games skyrocketed across platforms including Steam (remember ?), the App Store, Xbox, PlayStation and Ouya (RIP).
Today, indie games come standard on every console. There are multiple indie-focused publishers, including Devolver, Annapurna Interactive, Panic, Raw Fury, Team17 and Netflix, and most of them offer complete creative freedom as a main selling point. Meanwhile, platform holders like Sony and Xbox are hungry to sign distribution deals with developers of all sizes in an effort to score exclusives and pad their streaming libraries. It’s the most stable (and crowded) the indie scene has ever been. Having a publisher has no bearing on whether a game is indie.
Being owned by a publisher, however, changes everything (see question one). This is more of a concern than ever, as platform holders like Microsoft, Sony and Epic Games have recently been buying studios they like, . Hell, even Devolver has dipped its toes in the acquisition pond recently — which, yeah, means those teams are no longer indie.
The “indie” label is transitory. Certain studios can be indie but an individual game may not be, and plenty of small companies flow between states as they age and take advantage of growth opportunities. Bungie, for example, started out as an independent outfit, then it was absorbed by the AAA complex under Xbox, and then it broke free and was briefly indie again, before Sony pulled it back into the mainstream system’s cold embrace.
So, yeah, that's my way of determining if a game or studio is indie. By all means, take my triplet of questions and have fun trying to break the logic — it probably won't take long. There is no perfect structure here and there are plenty of outliers within my own framework. Alan Wake II, according to my questions, would be considered an indie game — but its developer, Remedy Entertainment, is a publicly traded company, which brings shareholders and a board of directors. This pushes the studio and the game into The System for me, but honestly, I’m still unsure about those labels as I type this. That’s OK — when all else fails, look inside your game-loving soul and ask, can this team exist without my support? (Alan Wake II, for what it’s worth, is a that’s worth playing, regardless of your feelings on Remedy's shareholders).
Does Mintrocket need my support to keep Dave the Diver and its creative team going? Probably not, and definitely not in the same way as Larian Studios, the independent developer and publisher of Baldur’s Gate 3. Baldur’s Gate 3 is an excellent, expansive 3D adventure from an indie studio and it’s up for Game of the Year at The Game Awards, but it was snubbed in the Best Independent Game category. Meanwhile, Dave the Diver, a cute title backed by billions of dollars, is up for the indie award, but not Game of the Year. It seems like The Game Awards jury made the classic mistake of seeing pixel art and immediately calling it indie. That’s an unforced error, but it reveals one point where we can all agree:
Indie is not an aesthetic.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-game-awards-raises-an-old-question-what-does-indie-mean-205211035.html?src=rss
Google’s new generative AI experiment lets you create music “inspired by” over 100 instruments worldwide. Instrument Playground starts by asking for a simple prompt containing a musical instrument’s name, optionally preceded by an adjective like “upbeat,” “strange” or “gloomy.” It will then spit out a 20-second audio clip as a starting point to compose (often extremely offbeat or abstract) music that may or may not include the sound of the specific instrument you entered.
Simon Doury, an Artist in Residence at Google Arts & Culture Lab, designed the experiment. It taps into Google’s MusicLM, a text-to-AI tool it made available to the public in May.
Instrument Playground invites you to “choose one of over 100 instruments from around the world you’d like to play,” suggesting some lesser-known to Americans like the veena from India, dizi from China or mbria from Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, prefixing your instrument prompt with an adjective lets you suggest styles like “moody,” “happy” or “romantic.”
The experiment works less literally than you might expect. For example, “angry tuba” doesn’t generate the aggressive brass solo you’d expect. Instead, it sounds more like a synthesized pipe organ with tuba aspirations. Similarly, “strange didgeridoo” came out like an ominous section of a Hans Zimmer score. The results seem like abstract compositions with layers of sound that (sort of) capture the feeling — more than the specific sound — of the prompt.
It also rejects some adjectives for inexplicable reasons. When I enter “quirky” or “psychedelic,” an error pop-up tells me it doesn’t allow prompts referencing specific artists.
Once the experiment generates a clip you like for a starting point, you can choose from “Ambient,” “Beat” and “Pitch” to control different aspects of the composition, turning it into something more uniquely yours. If you want to add more instruments (or whatever sounds it makes in response to instrument-based prompts), an advanced mode opens a sequencer to layer and loop up to four tracks for your oddball musical masterpiece. Finally, you can download a .wav file of your track once you’re happy with it.
Google included the following holiday-themed example to inspire you to get started. If that looks like something you want to play with, you can visit Instrument Playground and log in with your Google account to begin composing.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/googles-new-ai-experiment-composes-abstract-musical-clips-inspired-by-instruments-203732054.html?src=rss
A woman was photographed standing in front of two mirrors with an iPhone camera, but the actual photo shows three completely different arm positions. The arms are in different locations in mirror number one, mirror number two and in actual real life. Is it Photoshop? Is it a glitch in the Matrix? Did the woman take a 25-year trip inside of Twin Peak’s black lodge? No, it’s just a computational photography error, but it still makes for one heck of an image.
It all comes down to how modern smartphone cameras deal with photography. When you click that camera button, billions of computational operations occur in an instant, resulting in a photo you can post online in hopes of getting a few thumbs up. In this case, Apple’s software didn’t realize there was a mirror in the shot, so it treated each version of the subject as three different people. She was moving at the instant the photo was taken, so the algorithm stitched the photo together from multiple images. The end result? Well, you can see it above.
Smartphone camera software always pulls from many images at once, combining at will and adjusting for contrast, saturation, detail and lack of blur. In the vast majority of cases, this doesn’t present an issue. Once in a while, however, the software gets a tad bit confused. If it was three different people, instead of one with a mirror, each subject would have been properly represented.
This is something that can actually be recreated by just about anyone with an iPhone and some mirrors. As a matter of fact, there’s a TikTok trend in which folks do just that, making all kinds of silly photos and videos by leveraging the algorithm's difficulties when separating mirror images from actual people.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/what-did-an-iphone-camera-do-to-this-poor-womans-arms-201507227.html?src=rss
Meta is failing to stop vast networks of people using its platform to promote child abuse content, a in The Wall Street Journal says, citing numerous disturbing examples of child exploitation it uncovered on Facebook and Instagram. The report, which comes as Meta faces renewed pressure over its handling of children’s safety, has prompted fresh scrutiny from European Union regulators.
In the report, The Wall Street Journal detailed tests it conducted with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection showing how Meta’s recommendations can suggest Facebook Groups, Instagram hashtags and other accounts that are used to promote and share child exploitation material. According to their tests, Meta was slow to respond to reports about such content, and its own algorithms often made it easier for people to connect with abuse content and others interested in it.
For example, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection told the paper a “network of Instagram accounts with as many as 10 million followers each has continued to livestream videos of child sex abuse months after it was reported to the company." In another disturbing example, Meta initially declined to take action on a user report about a public-facing Facebook Group called “Incest.” The group was eventually taken down, along with other similar communities.
In a lengthy on its website, Meta said that “predators are determined criminals who test app, website and platform defenses,” and that it had improved many of its internal systems to restrict “potentially suspicious adults.” The company said it had “expanded the existing list of child safety related terms, phrases and emojis for our systems to find” and had employed machine learning to uncover new search terms that could be potentially exploited by child predators.
The company said it’s using technology to identify “potentially suspicious adults” in order to prevent them from connecting with each other, including in Facebook Groups, and from seeing each other’s content in recommendations. Meta also told The Wall Street Journal it “has begun disabling individual accounts that score above a certain threshold of suspicious behavior.”
The social network is facing a growing backlash over its handling of child safety. The Wall Street Journal also recently reported that Instagram are serving content aimed at people who “might have a prurient interest in children.” Dozens of states recently Meta for allegedly harming the mental health of its youngest users, and failing to keep children younger off its apps. Mark Zuckerberg will no doubt face intense questions about these allegations when he appears at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing focused on child safety online. His counterparts from TikTok, Snap, X and Discord are also slated to testify.
Meanwhile, Meta is also facing new pressure from regulators abroad. European Union officials are using a new law the company’s handling of child abuse material, following The Journal’s report. The company has been given a December 22 to turn over data to the bloc.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/metas-apps-are-still-promoting-child-predation-content-report-finds-195357362.html?src=rss