Lights, camera… algorithm?


August 20, 2020

Plus: One tech titan hit a $2T market cap. Can you guess which one?
August 20, 2020
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Lumen

Back in July, we asked y’all which Big Tech titan would hit $2T in market value first. One of them did it yesterday — and ~12% of you were right. Check out our infographic of the day to see if your guess was on point.

The Big Idea

Hang on to your Tomatometers: Can algorithms direct movies?

We’re obsessed with GPT-3, the bot that can write music, pitch business ideas… and make Hustle writers sweat.

The buzzy AI tool has enough creative chops that an article it wrote went viral last week. 

But if you want to know what’s next for AI art, OneZero has a crazier proposal: Can an algorithm write, direct, and star in a movie

Some aficionados are already trying it

In 2018, the BAFTA-nominated director Oscar Sharp teamed up with an AI expert to create the ~7-minute film Zone Out

The AI had to think up the props, dialogue, and stage direction.

Our review? The final product isn’t terrible — but Ars Technica was right when it noted that it “teeters on the edge of inanity and emotion.”

Bots can (sort of) handle some Hollywood gigs

  • Writer: A neural network penned the script for the 2016 film Sunspring. Other bots have crafted scenes for “Batman” and “Seinfeld.”
  • Director: The scientist David Carlson has twice taught computers to turn scripts into visual scenes. But he admitted to OneZero that bots aren’t so good at preserving that pesky “logical consistency.”
  • Sound engineer: A program called AutoFoley can make noises — like glass shattering — so realistic that most humans think they’re real. 
  • Actor: A production team is giving a robot named Erica acting lessons — she’s set to star in a $70m sci-fi blockbuster.  
  • Dubber: Adobe is using AI to help humans sync their cartoons to dialogue.

And bots are making movie trailers 

In 2016, IBM supercomputer Watson stitched together a trailer for the sci-fi film Morgan

Researchers fed it 100 examples. The cuts of the movie’s bioengineered being totally creeped us out. 

Now Netflix wants in. Last July, the company started training bots to look for trailer-ready clips.

Here’s hoping someone will hire GPT-3 to fix the worst part of the film industry: Awards speeches.

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Snippets

5 stories to catch you up quick

1️⃣  An investigation by The Information showed one of Airbnb’s smaller competitors did some pretty sketchy stuff to gain a foothold in the market.

2️⃣  A new report found that health misinfo on Facebook racked up 3.8B views over the last year.

3️⃣  The UK is weighing whether to legalize “hands-free” driving — a classification that’s only a few steps from driverless vehicles.

4️⃣  Roblox, the gaming service aimed at kids under 16, is battling a porn problem

5️⃣  Sorry, San Francisco: The city’s public health department is telling restaurants to take down those plastic dining domes.

And 5 more to delight you 

1️⃣  The mega-popular “Untitled Goose Game” will launch a two-honker mode next month. Pas de … goose?

2️⃣  There’s a new Girl Scout Cookie coming to a stand near you. Say hello to the French-toast-flavored Toast-Yay

3️⃣  The nurses measuring your vitals? They might soon be Boston Dynamics robots

4️⃣  How do scientists study microscopic fish? With an aquatic treadmill

5️⃣  Germany will not stand for your lazy dogs. A new law requires residents to walk Hans the Hund at least 2x a day.

Book club

A company behind a series of kids books made $1m+ in 10 days

Jelani Memory needed a creative break from his other startup. So he wrote a book for his children: “A Kids Book About Racism.” 

The little ones dug it, and his friends and colleagues encouraged him to write more.

So last year he launched a D2C publishing platform called A Kids Book About. 

Huge sales weren’t the goal

Memory wanted to help parents have straightforward talks with their kids about tough topics.

The company can write and distribute books within 45 days (traditional publishers take 18 months) and pays its authors a 10% cut (the industry standard is 6%).

There are currently 25 titles covering issues like bullying, divorce, and cancer.

One day this summer, they took off

The day after the death of George Floyd, the company sold a month’s worth of product. The next day, sales doubled. And they doubled again the next day. 

Within 10 days, A Kids Book About had made $1m+ in revenue. Memory was already in talks with investors when sales spiked, and he raised $1m in seed money.

Meanwhile, “A Kids Book About Racism” was adapted into a digital production featuring a collaboration of 37 children’s theaters.

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SPONSORED

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He wins the Tour De France — 4 times, to be exact.

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Lumen is the first device to hack your metabolism

A built-in CO2 sensor determines your CO2 concentration in a single breath, so you can tell if your body is using fat or carbs for fuel. 

Previously, this analysis used to only be available in specialized clinics and cost north of $100 for a single test. But with Lumen, you now have a lab right in your hands that shows you:

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Reel Trouble

How fishy business dealings landed Big Tuna in hot water

Who doesn’t love a wacky business story? Slate featured a Shakespearean tale of tuna titans, and we just had to share it. 

Once upon a tuna…

In the late 20th century, 3 players dominated the American canned tuna biz: StarKist, Bumble Bee, and Chicken of the Sea.

Things were going swimmingly — by 1989, the average American was eating ~4 pounds of the stuff per year.

But then tragedy struck: We developed taste buds. Consumption has fallen ~30% over the past 4 decades, forcing Big Tuna to swim offshore in search of cheaper wages. 

That’s when things floundered

In 2015, StarKist tried to buy Bumble Bee. A federal antitrust investigation uncovered much more than an attempted monopoly. 

Throughout the 2010s, the companies fixed prices to avoid undercutting each other (and giving consumers a better deal).

StarKist and Chicken of the Sea fessed up, but Bumble Bee CEO Chris Lischewski refused, forcing a grand jury trial with Oscar-worthy moments:

  • Chicken of the Sea’s COO faked a car accident to avoid a potentially damning meeting on price fixing.
  • A Bumble Bee sales rep burst into tears while taking the stand.
  • Jury deliberation took a cool 30 minutes. Lischewski was sentenced to 3 years in prison.
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Infographic of the day

Ever wanted proof of the globe-gobbling power of the iPhone? Consider this:

It took Apple 42 years to reach $1T in market value — from its founding in 1976 to August 2018.

It took just 2 more years to hit $2T — reaching it for the first time yesterday.

Closing Time

Guess who’s judging your drunken shenanigans?

Psst. It’s the tech inside your phone.

The accelerometer — the sensor that detects how your phone moves — is already used for tracking fitness and measuring earthquakes. Now a new study says it can pick up on signs you might be sloshed.

Which could help curb drunk driving

The findings say accelerometers are sensitive enough to tell the difference between a walk and a wobble.

Someday, your phone could suggest calling an Uber if it senses you’re getting tipsy. 

That’s not the only way your phone can keep you in line

  • Some apps like Quit That! help you track how much money you save by cutting back (on alcohol or anything else). 
  • Other apps block you from embarrassing yourself. The Drunk Text Savior app scans your texts and pings you when you aren’t sounding like yourself, and Drunk Mode locks certain contacts — like your boss and your ex — during peak drinking hours. 
  • Bluetooth-enabled breathalyzers like BACtrack make it easier to watch how much you’ve imbibed.
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This Day In Business History

(via Detroit News/WikiCommons

On August 20, 1920, the Detroit News launched its own radio station, then called 8MK — the first daily news station in the world. 

On day one, only ~30 people tuned in, and the hosts spent most of their time on sound checks.

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Ooo, quiz! →
2 Truths and a Lie

One of these storylines isn’t real. Can you spot the fake? Click to find out.

  1. Move over, pumpkin spice latte. Pickle beer is the new flavor of fall.
  2. It snowed cocoa after the ventilation system at a chocolate factory went kaput.
  3. A plane flying out of Denver was grounded after a chinchilla escaped its owner’s purse.
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Today’s email was brought to you by Michael Waters, Caroline Dohack, Belle Long, and Bobby Durben.
Editing by: Nick “Tuna Melt” DeSantis, Betty Bayh (Sleep Specialist).

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