Rolling out some new Blogs
Tesla Says It Delivered Record 936,172 Electric Vehicles In 2021
Tesla, the fastest-growing U.S. automaker, reported record deliveries of its electric vehicles in 2021’s final quarter and its best-ever total sales volume, getting 936,172 of its namesake cars and crossovers to global customers. The company said in a statement Sunday it delivered 308,600 units, led mainly by growth in Model Y hatchbacks and Model 3 sedans, with pricey Model S and Model X crossovers, which sell for about $100,000 each, accounting for a much smaller portion. Production for the quarter at Tesla’s plants in Fremont, California, and Shanghai totaled 305,840 units and 930,422 for the year. The company doesn’t break down its sales by region, but China has been key to its accelerating volume growth, both in deliveries to customers there and as an export base to Europe and other markets. The quarterly delivery tally, up about 70% from a year ago, beat expectations of equity analysts including Deutsche Bank’s Emmanuel Rosner, who estimated deliveries would reach 282,000 units. Tesla’s full-year deliveries rose 87% from 2021. Though the company fell just short of delivering 1 million vehicles last year, CEO Elon Musk has said he thinks Tesla can sell 20 million EVs annually by the end of the decade. That would be unprecedented since the world’s biggest automakers, including Toyota and Volkswagen, only sell about 10 million units worldwide annually. Certainly, Tesla should continue to see substantial growth throughout 2022 as it prepares to open new plants in Germany and Texas that will boost its total production capacity amid rising consumer interest in EVs. “Musk & Co. have navigated the chip supply shortages better than any automaker globally over the last six months, which is why Tesla is in a clear position of strength heading into 2022 with an inflection point year ahead,” Dan Ives, an equity analyst with Wedbush, said in a research note last week in which he raised his target price on the shares to as much as $1800. “The linchpin to the overall bull thesis on Tesla remains China, which we estimate will represent 40% of deliveries for the EV maker in 2022.” The company is to release revenue and net income results in a few weeks.
Tesla shares fell 1.3% to $1,056.78 on Friday, the final trading day of 2021. 2022 will probably be a good year for Tesla.
January 2022 CICO writerStaff Reporter Alan Ohnsman
Chip Flaws Left ‘A Third Of World Smartphones And IOT Devices Vulnerable To Eavesdropping’
A vulnerability in a chip manufactured by $60 billion market cap Taiwanese tech giant MediaTek left a third of all of the world’s smartphones and internet of things devices open to remote snooping of phone calls and spying via the device microphone, researchers have claimed. The problems lay in the part of MediaTek chips that handle audio signals, according to researchers at Israeli cybersecurity company Check Point. For a remote attack to work, a hacker would need to first have malware installed on the target Android phone, or smart device, or find some way to access the MediaTek audio firmware. Once installed, the malware could write malicious code to device memory by exploiting the ways in which the audio processor worked with Android. It would then have been possible to “steal the audio flow” on the device, allowing the hacker to eavesdrop on an Android user or install more malicious code on the device.
“Left unpatched, a hacker potentially could have exploited the vulnerabilities to listen in on conversations of Android users,” said Slava Makkaveev, security researcher at Check Point. The three distinct vulnerabilities were addressed by MediaTek in October, though users have been advised by Check Point’s researchers to check with their phone manufacturer, if they believe they have not received an update. MediaTek chips can be found in smartphones made by Android phone giants like Xiaomi and Oppo. MediaTek, reportedly the largest supplier of mobile chips in the world, had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication. But in a release from Check Point, MediaTek’s product security officer Tiger Hsu said: “We worked diligently to validate the issue and make appropriate mitigations available to all [original device manufacturers]. We have no evidence it is currently being exploited. We encourage end users to update their devices as patches become available and to only install applications from trusted locations such as the Google Play Store.
December 2021, CICO writerStaff Reporter Thomas Brewster
In 2007, roughly a million people flocked to Second Life, eager to experience the three-dimensional, web-based alternative reality launched four years earlier. Those users roamed around as customizable, cartoonish versions of themselves called avatars and enjoyed a wide array of activities. They could listen to Kurt Vonnegut give a live talk, dance at popular nightclubs like Hot Licks and Angry Ant, shop for both virtual clothes and real ones at the Armani store, visit reconstructions of famous landmarks like Rockefeller Center, have virtual sex—and, most famously, speculate on digital real estate. After exchanging actual greenbacks for Second Life’s Linden Dollars, users were spending $100 million a year on virtual purchases, much of it on real estate. Early investors like former schoolteacher Ailin Graef—briefly famous under her Second Life handle Anshe Chung—possessed Second Life real estate portfolios putatively worth $1 million or more as property prices spiked.
Riding the boom, Second Life founder Philip Rosedale secured a $100 million-plus valuation for his startup and over $30 million in funding, including money from another man thinking intently about the internet’s potential to change how we live: Jeff Bezos. Bezos liked sitting around with Rosedale in real life, pondering what Second Life could become.
“We were thinking that we were going to be spending half our time online as avatars,” recalls Rosedale. Creating a world like that “turned out to be much harder than I thought,” he says.
For a time, Second Life made it seem like the metaverse—an idea for an immersive, 3D world originally conceived in a 1990s sci-fi novel—had finally arrived in our own world. It hadn’t. 2007 marked Second Life’s peak popularity. After that, its user count plateaued, then ebbed steadily lower, hampered by glitchy graphics, sluggish internet connections and the emergence of a new popular place to congregate online: Facebook. While Second Life still plods on today, reportedly with around 600,000 users, Facebook now has 2.9 billion. Rosedale stepped aside in 2008. As for Bezos, he quickly turned his concentration to dominating the two-dimensional mainstream internet, and Amazon never set up an official presence in Second Life.
Today another tech billionaire hopes to finally—and more fully—conjure up the metaverse, and ironically, it’s the same person who helped bring about Second Life’s ruin: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Under siege on multiple fronts, Zuckerberg has pinned his trillion-dollar company’s future to creating a metaverse, last week renaming Facebook as “Meta.” (For simplicity, we’ll continue to refer to Zuck’s company as Facebook in this story.) Zuckerberg has said the concept will cost $10 billion this year–then more in future years—and expects the metaverse to lose money for the foreseeable future. The numbers are big, but Facebook can stomach those losses just fine: It netted $29.1 billion in profits on $86 billion in sales last year.
Zuckerberg’s project isn’t earth shatteringly new. Fragments of it have kicked around Silicon Valley for years—as Second Life and Bezos’ interest in the metaverse make clear. But Facebook does have a couple things going for it that others in the past didn’t. One is the ability to deploy more money in the next two or three years than the total of all the dollars spent on the metaverse during the prior 30 years. Another is the simple fact that we’re all a great deal more comfortable with virtual communication now after working from home for much of the past 20 months.
“Our goal is to help the metaverse reach a billion people and billions of dollars in commerce in the next decade,” Zuckerberg said on a conference call with Wall Street analysts last week. Getting there, he noted, “will be a long road.”
What is the metaverse?
A boundless, 3D digital world accessed as easily as the internet, where we do things like hang out in a park, play a game, see a concert or suffer through a work conference.
Where’d the idea come from?
A computer scientist named Jaron Lanier first coined the term “virtual reality” in the 80s, and the first applications for VR were airlines, car makers, NASA and the military. They were the only ones who could afford the technology. Back then, a VR headset might cost as much as $3 million in current dollars, Lanier estimates. “It was expensive and hard to come up with a business model to make enough money from an arcade situation,” he says.
The actual term “metaverse” comes from a best-selling 1992 sci-fi novel, Snow Crash. Its author, Neal Stephenson, imagined a dystopian world where the book’s main character, a hacker/pizza delivery guy named Hiro Protagonist, travels back and forth from his grim reality to a 3D virtual cityscape, the Metaverse, that stretches for over 40,000 miles. Stephenson’s work would later influence The Matrix series and Ready Player One, a 2018 Steven Spielberg film based on a book by Ernest Cline from seven years earlier.
Outside of books and movies, how close have we gotten to a metaverse in our world?
Aside from Second Life, the most realized examples of metaverses have come from video games. The most famous example of these online, persistent game worlds is World of Warcraft, which has been going strong now for 17 years and still has about 5 million paying subscribers. The place is a sword-and-sorcery geekdom with an undeniably large social component: People have met their spouses playing the game. It’s also a financial juggernaut. Activision Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft, has earned well over $8 billion in lifetime revenue from the game.
Snap has delved deeply into the space, too, but has focused its efforts on augmented reality, a slightly different concept than VR. Augmented reality revolves around using your smart phone or special eyeglasses to augment the real world with virtual elements. Niantic’s Pokémon Go game is the best-known use of AR. The key difference is AR doesn’t fully block out reality; a VR headset strapped over your head does. Microsoft has jumped into the fray, too, announcing just a day ago that it would develop a work-focused metaverse—where its Teams collaboration software would have VR and digital avatars.
Epic Games’ Fortnite, which debuted in 2017, has probably come closer to a Snow Crash-type metaverse than anything else. Fortnite players see its online battle royale game as a place to socialize; they chat through audio and video features built into desktop computers and gaming consoles or through third-party apps, like Discord. And virtual concerts from artists such as Marshmello, Travis Scott and Arianna Grande have further widened its universe.
What’s different about Zuckerberg’s metaverse vision?
The biggest thing: Zuckerberg seems to hope people will access his virtual world through a VR headset—just as Hiro did in Snow Crash. It is an important distinction. Fortnite, Second Life and most other multiplayer online games are typically displayed on a PC monitor or TV connected to gaming consoles like an Xbox or a PlayStation. The rest of Zuckerberg’s metaverse idea seems very much a work in progress. But he has shared images of a VR office setting called Horizon, which would take advantage of the pandemic’s shift to virtual work.
Zuckerberg began laying the groundwork for this back in 2014 when he purchased Palmer Luckey’s Oculus, a VR headset maker, for $2 billion. Facebook has since acquired more than a half dozen other VR-focused startups—including last week’s purchase of Within, a Los Angeles-based boutique game developer—committing over $1 billion to the on-going shopping spree.
Shortly after Facebook released its first Oculus headset in 2016, Vanity Fair asked Stephenson what he thought about the prospect of Facebook moving into virtual reality. “There’s no fixed process for predicting the results and controlling what happens,” said Stephenson, who couldn’t be reached for this story. “At some level, it boils down to people’s capacity to act as socially responsible, ethical individuals.”
Why is Zuckerberg so focused on the metaverse?
Facebook, which wouldn’t comment for this story, has lost ground among younger users to YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat. While Instagram remains popular with teens, Facebook’s original app isn’t. Increased attention around anti-trust issues means Facebook likely can’t buy any new competitors. If it wants an app to win back young people, it will need to build it itself, and Zuckerberg seems to feel a VR-centered metaverse will do this. (“We’re retooling our team to make young adults our north star,”
he said on last week’s Wall Street conference call.) Moreover, talking about the metaverse provides a timely distraction from a whistle-blower scandal consuming much of the media attention around Facebook.
What challenges does Facebook face in turning the metaverse into reality?
Newer, more powerful microchips have improved VR graphics, largely eliminating a problem dating back to the earliest consumer headsets in the 1990s: Their lagging images made some people nauseous. But even today’s most sophisticated headsets still only track a limited portion of your body movements. As a result, avatars within VR still look awkward, particularly their faces—the so-called uncanny valley effect. If we’re all going to live in the metaverse, our digital selves likely need to be more appealing.
There’s also what Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, who has counseled Zuckerberg, describes as his “30 Minute Rule.” That’s the maximum amount of time he thinks someone should spend within virtual reality today. “In my lab, after 30 minutes, everybody has to take the headset off and take a drink of water, touch a wall, talk to a real human—do something to reconnect with the real world,” he says. But half an hour won’t be enough for Facebook. It competes with social media platforms that draw in people for as much as 60 minutes a day. And if he intends the metaverse to replace all our time online today, that’s more like 3 hours and up a day, according to data on internet consumption by Statista, a statistics research firm.
Price is another thing. The second iteration of Facebook’s Oculus VR headset, released in September 2020, retails for $299, half what its initial Oculus cost. But Facebook probably needs to continue lowering that price tag for the metaverse to reach a mass audience. The company hasn’t set any formal goals, but it’s hard to see it being happy with spending $10 billion (and up) a year on something that doesn’t at least reach the scale of Instagram (1 billion users) or WhatsApp (2 billion). A little context: Facebook is poised to spend far more on the metaverse than what it took to buy Instagram ($1 billion in 2012) or WhatsApp ($19 billion in 2014).
And Zuckerberg still needs to give a reason for people to turn on the headset. No one has yet managed to do for VR what Space Invaders did for Atari and Halo did for Xbox: dream up a game or some other type of content popular enough to make a VR headset feel like a necessary purchase. At the same time, Facebook must decide what type of content to allow in the metaverse. Considering this, Jaron Lanier, the computer scientist credited as the father of virtual reality, offers some dark words on the subject. “If you run [the metaverse] on a business model that’s similar to the one that Facebook runs on, it’ll destroy humanity,” says Lanier, presently a researcher at Microsoft. “I’m not saying that rhetorically. That is a literal and specific prediction that humanity could not survive that.”
Let’s say we avoid the fire and brimstone. Zuckerberg’s journey into the metaverse does nonetheless seem destined to end with a future struggle over content moderation that could make Facebook’s current one seem quaint in comparison.
November 2021, CICO writerStaff Reporter Abram Brown
Clubhouse Chats Were Once Top Secret. Now It Wants Them To Be Recorded – And Shared
At the beginning, it was, unofficially, the most official rule on Clubhouse: What was talked about on Clubhouse stayed in Clubhouse. The audio social network would now like to—significantly—amend that decree. Two new features on the app intend to make it easier to share audio from chats occurring there: There is the Clips function, where someone leading a discussion can capture a 30-second soundbite and share it on other parts of the internet, and the Replay function, where a user can record the entire conversation and then share that, too. “If no one can share something, then all these amazing moments are gone forever,” says Paul Davison, Clubhouse’s cofounder and CEO. chief investor, among them—leaked publicly, leading to an outcry from those elites on Clubhouse and other social networks about the lapse in good manners and propriety When Clubhouse began last year, it was invite-only, and its closed nature helped feed its early growth. It offered an exclusive place to gather, drawing in tech and media elites—offering a safe place, where VIPs could mingle from the quarantined comfort of their homes while counting on their words remaining safe within the digital fortress of the app. And they were not happy if something upset the dynamic. In one instance, a recording of Silicon Valley heavies—executives from Andreessen Horowitz, Clubhouse’s. chief investor, among them—leaked publicly, leading to an outcry from those elites on Clubhouse and other social networks about the lapse in good manners and propriety. These new features, Clips and Replay, are not meant to appeal to those initial users. They’re designed to attract the interest of the general public and encourage them to download and use the app: to bring in new users. (A point of emphasis from Davison: Only the people leading conversations can switch these recordings on or off, and once on, it’ll be clearly marked on the app. It remains against Clubhouse’s terms of service to record a conversation without someone’s permission). It syncs up to something as fundamental as Newton’s thinking about gravity: a Law of Shareability. If a new app wants to expand quickly—as Clubhouse does—it needs to make it simple to spread content from the app across parts of the internet, and this can’t happen if there aren’t things like Clips and Replay. TikTok, for one, has understood this almost from the jump, allowing videos published on its app to be easily downloadable, simple then to disperse them on other networks, like Instagram or Twitter, or through text messages. Another new function goes to the same purpose: a search tool for finding conversations on the app. Until now, it’s been hard to navigate Clubhouse. Finding a discussion about a topic has been sometimes the result of no more than luck. If it’s easy to search for these chats, it makes all the more likely a conversation will get shared.
October 2021, CICO writerStaff Reporter Abram Brown