Oct 27, 2020

Axios Login

Join Axios' Amy Harder tomorrow at 12:30pm ET for a virtual event on the pandemic's impact on the environment and energy industry featuring Sunrun co-founder and CEO Lynn Jurich and New York Energy and Environment Deputy Secretary Ali Zaidi.

Situational awareness: AMD agreed to buy rival chipmaker Xilinx for $35 billion in stock as it looks ahead to head off Intel in the fight to make the chips powering next-generation hardware.

Today's Login is 1,433 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Platforms batten down the hatches for Election Day chaos

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A week out from Election Day, online platforms are bracing for impact, making announcements and conducting internal tests to show they're ready for chaos, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

Why it matters: The internet is guaranteed to be awash in misinformation and superheated rhetoric in the days before and after the election, and digital gatekeepers hope to avoid shouldering blame for "undermining democracy" as happened after 2016.

Twitter on Monday started pinning a pair of election-related warnings to the top of U.S. users' timelines.

  • One says users might run into misinformation about voting by mail and directs them to accurate information on the topic.
  • The other cautions that election results may well be delayed this year given the unprecedented number of people voting by mail.
  • Twitter took unprecedentedly fast action Monday night in hiding a tweet from President Trump that alleged, without evidence, "big problems and discrepancies" with mail-in voting and insisted that we "must have final total on November 3rd," which is not true.

Facebook has been preparing to deploy in the U.S. tools it originally developed to curb internet-fueled instability in countries like Myanmar, per a Wall Street Journal report.

  • The measures, which may be used if violence breaks out around Election Day, include brakes to broadly slow the spread of viral content and stricter standards for what constitutes dangerous material, the Journal reported.
  • Facebook also clarified to Axios Monday that its week-long pre-election ban on new political ads would cover not only standard ads but boosted posts.

Google in a pair of Tuesday morning blog posts touted the work it's been doing to make both its core search products and YouTube into hubs for authoritative information about electoral processes and results.

  • Google is, among other things, serving up instructions for how and where to vote, as well as election results as they come in.
  • The company — like Facebook — also plans to pause U.S. political ads as soon as polls close to stop ongoing advertising from creating confusion.

Between the lines: The companies are all telling their users, and their own teams, the same thing: The period before and right after Election Day will probably be a mess, and they aim to do everything in their power to provide clarity through the chaos.

  • It's a message they've been broadcasting for months now. That's in no small part because the shadow of 2016 — when misinformation spread far and wide through the canny use of largely oblivious online platforms — still lingers over this election year.

The catch: It’s not 2016 anymore, and the challenges this time around won’t look the same as then. Twitter and Facebook’s controversial handling of posts and links stemming from files apparently misappropriated from Hunter Biden is a case in point.

  • The platforms expected to face something resembling the 2016 WikiLeaks dump of emails hacked from the DNC. But they were caught off guard when material of questionable provenance trickled out in major press outlets courtesy of President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Be smart: The Hunter Biden controversy illustrates another added challenge facing the platforms ahead of Election Day: They're not making their moderation decisions in a vacuum, and the blowback against their moves is itself a source of further discord.

  • That gives players who deliberately want to sow doubt and confusion this year an incentive to bait platforms into politically exploitable reactions.
2. Nobel winner on biotech's ethics lessons

Photo: Axios on HBO

Jennifer Doudna, who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry, says the tech world could learn a thing or two about ethics from the biotech and medical fields.

The big picture: In health care, advances are tested to first make sure they are safe and then to see if they are effective before being released to the general public. The tech industry approach can often be summed up by Facebook's onetime motto of "move fast and break things."

Why it matters: The tech industry is moving increasingly into areas such as artificial intelligence where mistakes can be difficult to uncover and hard, if not impossible, to correct. All of which suggests a different approach could be needed.

  • "I do think there's a longer history in biology of struggling with and having to deal with challenging ethical questions," Doudna told me in an interview for "Axios on HBO." (Watch a clip here.)

Yes, but: Doudna acknowledges some of that caution comes from past missteps and adds that says the medical field is often criticized for being too slow to change, so perhaps it can pick up some tips from the tech industry, too.

  • "Maybe we can learn from each other, honestly," Doudna said.

Go deeper: CRISPR pioneer "Science is on the ballot" in 2020 election

3. Why Facebook's cloud gaming isn't on iPhone

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook on Monday launched its free cloud gaming platform on desktop and Google's Android mobile operating system. But, Axios' Sara Fischer and Ashley Gold report, Facebook said it couldn't offer the service for the iPhone because of Apple's "arbitrary" policies on applications that act like app stores.

The big picture: It's the latest example of the complex interrelationships among tech's biggest companies, which cooperate with one another in some areas while competing and fighting in others.

Details: The service lets Android and web users play games streamed from cloud servers.

  • Yes, but: Apple last month unveiled a policy that would only let cloud-streamed gaming services come out for iOS only if each link to a game goes to an Apple App Store version of it.
  • That seemingly means that any iOS version of a cloud gaming service would really have to just be an interface for directing users back to the App Store, with no in-app streaming gaming at all.

What they're saying: "Even with Apple's new cloud games policy, we don't know if launching on the App Store is a viable path," Facebook said in a Monday blog post.

  • "While our iOS path is uncertain, one thing is clear. Apple treats games differently and continues to exert control over a very precious resource."

Context: Facebook and Apple have clashed this year in several areas, with Apple's App Store and privacy policies at the center of the disputes.

Between the lines: Apple's vision of mobile operating-system stewardship is based on a "walled garden" approach, with strict rules to keep its user experience clean and secure. That's in contrast to Google, whose search business depends on the health of the open web.

  • As Facebook aims to expand beyond its social networking platform in markets like gaming and hardware, it finds itself more frequently in conflict with Apple than Google — even though Google is its chief rival in the massive online advertising business.
4. AI tool offers tips as you write

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Think of it as autocorrect on steroids: A new machine-learning-based writing companion called Wordtune aims to help users edit and improve written text as it's being composed, Axios Future's Bryan Walsh reports.

Why it matters: Natural language processing is one of the most active areas in AI today. If tools like Wordtune work well, it would demonstrate AI is getting closer to really understanding what we're saying.

How it works: Wordtune, developed by Israel-based startup AI21 Labs, can be downloaded as an extension for the Chrome browser. Users can then use the tool to highlight text being composed on services like Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook and Twitter.

  • The free version of Wordtune will give you the option to "rewrite" the sentence, offering several different ways to say whatever you've tried to say.
  • A premium version that costs $9.99 a month adds other features. Those include options to help users make their sentences longer or shorter, or more formal or more casual, as well as a feature that suggests words — based off the context of the sentence — that might be on the tip of a user's tongue.

Yes, but: AI startups often make big promises that don't always pan out. It'll be up to users to decide if Wordtune pulls off the intangible, know-it-when-you-see-it quality of improved writing.

  • And if Wordtune does succeed, it's easy to see it being used for less benign purposes, such as punching up misinformation or helping plagiarists wipe off the traces of the source documents they pull from.

The big picture: 2020 has already seen leaps forward in natural language processing — most notably Open AI's GPT-3 model, which can generate paragraphs of text with a brief user prompt by tapping a deep neural network trained on half a trillion words.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • A presidential advisory committee on quantum technology is having its inaugural meeting today at noon ET.

Trading Places

  • Upfront Ventures promoted Kara Nortman to co-managing partner, representing one of the first times a woman has been named to upper management of a large VC firm.


6. After you Login

Not another Zoom meeting! The feeling unites kids and adults in 2020. Here's how one family turned their child's Zoom sadness into a T-shirt and charity fundraiser.