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Musk Launches New AI Firm To Beat Chatgpt




ChatGPT now has a new formidable competitor as inventor, Elon Musk has finally rolled out a new AI company called xAI. “The goal of xAI is to understand the true nature of the universe,’ Musk stated on the company website.

Musk, who has hinted for months that he wants to build an alternative to the popular ChatGPT artificial intelligence chatbot, announced the formation of what he’s calling xAI, whose goal is to “understand the true nature of the universe.”

On a website, xAI said its team will be led by Musk and staffed by executives who have previously worked at a broad range of companies at the forefront of artificial intelligence, including Google’s DeepMind, Microsoft Inc. and Tesla Inc., as well as academic institutions such as the University of Toronto.

Musk and Jared Birchall, who operates Musk’s family office, incorporated a business called X.AI in March, according to a Nevada state filing with the Secretary of State. Musk has frequently publicly criticised OpenAI, the highest-profile AI startup and developer of ChatGPT.

The billionaire has acquired thousands of processors from Nvidia Corp. for the new project.

MEANWHILE, Musk co-founded ChatGPT. He did that along with Y Combinator Chief Executive Officer, Sam Altman and PayPal alums LinkedIn co founder Reid Hoffman and Palantir co founder, Peter Thiel in 2015.

He resigned his board seat in 2018 citing potential conflicts of interest as Tesla’s CEO in the development of the car company’s self-driving features.


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Uber Sexual Assault: Survivors Call For In-Car Cameras, Tech Upgrades



Hundreds of women have filed lawsuits against Uber claiming the company hasn’t done enough to prevent instances of sexual assault by drivers. Now a panel of judges has ruled that more than 80 cases can be consolidated into federal court. 

The stakes are high for both parties with implications extending to future Uber riders and drivers. The outcome of the case could result in sweeping changes to Uber’s platform, which plaintiffs argue will reduce sexual assault and also raise new concerns over privacy.

The upshot? Technology lies at the center of this very human story.

Uber has attempted to address sexual assaults by drivers — which the lawsuits claim Uber has known about since 2014 — through new safety features in its app, like a 911 button and the ability to share location with a friend. Yet survivors, and their attorneys, say that response has been inadequate, and they’re calling for better technological solutions like in-vehicle surveillance cameras.

Aside from the 911 button and location-sharing feature, which were both introduced in 2018, Uber has added other features to the app over the last five years. In 2021, Uber introduced a feature that allows riders and drivers to record audio during a trip. The following year, Uber launched a pilot to provide passengers with live help from an ADT safety agent, as well as PIN verifications to ensure passengers are connected to the correct driver.

Rachel Abrams — a sexual assault attorney and partner at law firm Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise, one of the law firms working on the multidistrict litigation, who filed the petition to consolidate the various actions in federal court — argues the app-based solutions are half-measures that haven’t quelled instances of sexual violence against passengers on the platform. Mandatory in-vehicle cameras in Uber cars is “essential for safety,” she says.

Uber told TechCrunch it cannot comment on pending litigation but said it remains committed to the safety of all users on its platform.

In-vehicle cameras as a deterrent

Abrams cited data from studies of taxis equipped with in-vehicle cameras, which she says has drastically reduced instances of sexual assaults against passengers, as well as assault of passengers against drivers. 

“These are predatory, opportunistic drivers taking advantage of vulnerable women, so if they’re on film, they likely wouldn’t commit the crime,” Abrams told TechCrunch.

Uber didn’t respond to TechCrunch’s request for more information about why it hasn’t mandated the use of cameras in ride-hail vehicles, but as with any surveillance, there are privacy issues. The legality of mandating cameras also varies across local and state laws. 

Abrams has her own theory as to why Uber has been slow to implement security cameras.

“Cost isn’t the issue,” she said. “It’s that it would deter drivers because a lot of drivers don’t want cameras. And so if they don’t have drivers, they don’t make money.”

Many drivers install their own dash cams to record trips, usually as backup evidence for insurance claims or to defend themselves against unfair deactivations from Uber’s platform. Uber is also piloting a new video recording feature for drivers that allows them to record video on their smartphones. But in those cases, the driver can decide what and when to record, and when to share that data. 

Other demands

The survivors in the joined lawsuit also allege that Uber’s “fast and shallow background checks” are substandard and designed to make it as easy as possible for drivers to sign up quickly. Uber uses third-party companies like Checkr and Appriss to do background checks, which Sergio Avedian, senior contributor at The Rideshare Guy, says “are at best watered down and not guaranteed of bad apples from falling through the cracks.”

The lawsuit calls on Uber to also include fingerprinting, which would run prospective drivers through FBI databases. 

“This is a very intentional and deliberate decision as evidenced by Uber’s active lobbying and resistance against municipalities and regulatory bodies implementing any kind of biometric fingerprinting requirements for drivers,” said Kevin Conway, managing partner at Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise. 

Uber has lobbied against additional background requirements for drivers, which has given the company authority to conduct its own background checks with little or no oversight, unlike most taxi operators. 

Uber and Lyft say smudged fingerprints can lead to inaccurate results and that fingerprint checks reference historical arrest records, which can have discriminatory effects on some minority communities that face disproportionately high arrest rates. An Uber spokesperson told CNN arrest records are incomplete and often lack information about whether a person has been convicted of a crime.

Aside from in-vehicle surveillance and more extensive background checks, the survivors are asking Uber to implement driver training on interactions with passengers, a zero-tolerance policy for drivers, sexual harassment education and training, and a more adequate system to encourage customer reporting and monitor customer complaints.

Abrams argues that Uber’s safety features are insufficient because they’re all app-based and only potentially useful if a rider has access to their own phone. 

“The majority of clients I represent and the women I’ve spoken to who have been sexually assaulted have experienced: (A) someone else ordered the ride for them; (B) their phone is dead or they can’t locate their phone to use the safety shield; or (C) if they could use their phone, they’re incapacitated,” said Abrams. 

The lawyer says she has interviewed upward of 5,000 survivors over the course of several years and has seen no difference in the number of attacks before or after implementation of these in-app features. 

Uber hasn’t released safety data for 2021 and 2022, and won’t say when it plans to do so. Older data backs up some of Abrams’ claims. 

Uber has published two safety reports — one containing data from 2017 to 2018 and another with data from 2019 to 2020. The ride-hail company claims that the rate of sexual assault reported on the app decreased 38% between its first and second reports.

While the rate decrease is positive, not all the data delivers the same message. Over that same time period, the total number of sexual assault reports across five categories fell from 5,981 to 3,824. That drop could be explained by the decrease of trips from 1.4 billion in 2019 to 650 million in 2020.

And while the total number of incidents as a percentage of total number of rides does decrease through the years, the number of incidents in certain categories actually increases. The number of incidents increased in the categories of nonconsensual kissing, nonconsensual touching and nonconsensual penetration, or rape, between 2017 and 2019.  

The total number of rape incidents also rose from 2017 to 2019. And while the number of reported rapes dropped in 2020, the rate has remained the same since 2017. In other words, there has not been an improvement in the rate of rapes on the platform.

Sexual assaults are an ongoing problem for Uber

Uber has been sued numerous times over the past few years by passengers who claim they were sexually assaulted during a ride. Lyft has faced similar lawsuits and accusations

Under Uber’s terms of use, class action lawsuits can’t be filed against the company in cases of sexual assault, so each case has to be heard individually. This has prevented survivors from advocating for themselves collectively. 

Judge Charles Breyer in the Northern District of California will preside over pretrial hearings. This will be the first time a federal judge is able to make decisions for a large amount of these cases, which will streamline the proceedings. Breyer may preside over the trials depending on whether the parties agree. If the parties do not agree to have Judge Breyer preside of the case for trial, the cases go back to their home jurisdiction for trial.

Another consolidated lawsuit has also been filed against Uber in California, but it only covers survivors in that state. 

Uber has attempted, through several filings for motions to dismiss, to stop the consolidation of these cases. It argues that the company did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs to protect against criminal conduct. Lawyers representing the survivors will have to prove that Uber owed a duty of care to passengers, including the duty of taking reasonable precautions to ensure their safety. 

The pretrial matters, including witness and expert depositions and document discovery, will be heard by Judge Charles Breyer. Abrams expects the timeline of the proceedings to last over the next one to two years. 

Tech Crunch

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Fundraising Prospects Of African Startups Dry Up As Capital Availability Falls Yet Again In Q3



African startups’ fundraising trends have reverted to what we might call pre-COVID norms. In a nutshell: Startups on the continent raised less money in the third quarter of 2023 than they have since the end of 2020, according to The Big Deal.

The continent’s startups are not alone in their fundraising struggles. Canadian startups have been fighting to raise money, as have companies in India and the rest of the world.

But there’s an interesting trend here: While it’s true that venture capitalists are holding on to their checkbooks around the world, it appears not every region is fighting equally hard. Mature venture markets like the United States and Europe are seeing less total venture investment, yes, but they are still far from reaching the kind of decline in funding that would make us worry if there’s enough capital in the market to fund a material sector.

This morning, we’re exploring Q3 2023 venture capital data from Africa, considering both investments and exits, and we’ll close with a look at the bright spots in the collected figures. The resulting picture is far from encouraging, but there are always green shoots to highlight.

Funding dries up in the heat

African startups raised $590 million across 175 deals in the third quarter, per Briter Bridges. According to The Big Deal, that figure was lower, around $500 million, but the firm noted that this number also includes debt and grants in addition to equity fundraising.

Tech Crunch

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Linda Yaccarino Responds To EU: 5K+ Images Shared On Israel-Hamas War



…700 Community Notes, “thousands” of pieces of content removed

X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter, came under fire earlier this week in Europe, when European Commissioner Thierry Breton sent a stark open letter to the company warning it of its failure to clamp down on disinformation and illegal content on the platform circulating in the aftermath of the deadly Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. Today, X responded with a letter long on pages, but relatively short on numbers and direct acknowledgement of its stumbles.

A letter signed by X CEO Linda Yaccarino notes that company has “redistributed resources” and “refocused teams”. The letter stays, in Yaccarino’s words, “high level”, which means that it is light on specific numbers. “Shortly after” the attack (no exact timing), a leadership group was assembled to consider X’s response; “tens of thousands” of pieces of content have been removed, and user-generated Community Notes are now on “thousands” of posts, and “hundreds” of accounts linked to terrorist groups or violence or extremism have been removed. She does not give any estimate of how much content it’s facing overall that still needs moderating and checking.

She added that X is responding to law enforcement requests, but also said the company had not received any requests from Europol at the time of writing.

Significantly, however, the letter does not acknowledge or address any of what many users had been seeing in plain sight on the platform since Saturday, which included graphic videos of the terrorist attacks on civilians, as well as posts allegedly showing footage from the attacks in Israel and Gaza that had already been identified as false.

Nor does she acknowledge that Elon Musk himself, the owner of X and arguably the most popular user of the platform these days, shared a recommendation to follow an account known for spreading antisemitic content.

It appears that post is down, but just do a search and the terms he used and you can find many, many shares of a screenshot, which highlights the slippery problem X and other social media companies have here. Many others have reported on the mess on the platform — Wired described X as “drowning in disinformation” — with those reports likely being a major spur to the EU sending its letter out in the first place.

The response comes in the wake of Breton sending a similar letter to Meta yesterday. Meta told TechCrunch that it too had assembled a team to respond and was actively engaging in trying to keep harmful content off the platform. It’s likely writing a similar letter to X’s directly to the Commissioner.

The bulk of X’s four-page letter takes the EU through X’s existing policies in areas like its basic rules, public interest exceptions, and its policy on removing illegal content.

But with a lot of the company’s staff depleted in areas like content moderation and trust & safety, Community Notes have taken on a very prominent role for policing what gets said on the platform and that’s where Yaccarino gets a little more specific — but only a little.

She noted that posts more than 700 Community Notes related to the attacks are being seen, out of tens of millions of posts with Community Notes being viewed overall in the last four days (but that number covers all subjects, not just Israel). It’s unclear whether that is to message that Israel-Hamas content is relatively small, or to note how much activity there has been.

She also noted that more than 5,000 posts have matching video and other media as a result of its “notes on media” feature, and this number grows when those posts get shared. Notes are being posted about five hours after they are created, the letter said, and the company is working on speeding that up. (Notes attached to media are getting approved faster, she added.

Breton’s letter is an early example of how the EU is likely to implement its newly minted content moderation policies, which are part of its new Digital Services rulebook and have special requirements of very large online platforms — which, despite the exodus of users since it rebranded from Twitter, still includes X. As Natasha has noted previously, disinformation is not illegal in the EU, but X has a legal obligation now to mitigate risks attached to fake news, which includes making a swift response to when illegal content is reported.

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