Some News Stories

Covid-19 has been dominating news cycles for weeks if not months now. There’s good reason for that, but it nonetheless can be a bit wearying to focus on. So this felt like as good a time as any to try out something I’ve been thinking about for a while – basically, a pseudo-newsletter around things happening in the industries I’m paying the most attention to. (Mostly this means gaming, machine learning, and audio.) I have no idea whether this will be useful, nor do I really have a specific audience in mind here – but I felt that sharing the kinds of stories I’m encountering might, if nothing else, give folks some other ideas to chew on during these tiring and stressful times…and perhaps could also shed some light on how I’m thinking about the ways these industries are evolving.

So, in no particular order, let’s discuss some of the stories I’ve been seeing in the past week!

  • Riot posts a $100,000 bug bounty around safety of its anti-cheat mechanisms in Valorant
    • At first glance, this seems like a story around how much game companies are investing in anti-cheat, but it’s actually a bit more than that. In particular, as part of its anti-cheat process, Riot unveiled a new kernel driver known as Vanguard to monitor Valorant players’ behavior. Kernel drivers are inherently tricky because they involve near-complete access to the user’s machine, so this bug bounty is specifically around Riot’s concern that a hacker could access someone’s computer by exploiting the fact that the user had installed Vanguard. In other words, the bounty isn’t because they’re worried someone can beat their anti-cheat mechanisms; rather, it sounds like it’s because their anti-cheat mechanisms are so strong that they come with a (hypothetical) risk to security, and Riot considers it extremely important to ensure this isn’t an actual security risk for its users. It’s great that Riot is prioritizing player security in this way, though I’m sure this also comes from player reactions – gamers are typically pretty sensitive (rightly so, in my opinion) to security concerns, so I suspect many folks would feel significantly shier about trying Valorant out for themselves without Riot making sufficient effort to prove that their system is secure.
  • Roc Nation files for takedown of a video using synthetic text-to-speech audio of Jay-Z
    • This is a fascinating case. Basically, an internet artist trained a text-to-speech model on Jay-Z’s voice, and then generated audio of Jay-Z performing some lines the rapper has never actually spoken. This content was shared non-commercially, and explicitly labelled as being a synthetic voice rather than the real Jay-Z. Nonetheless, Roc Nation has filed to have the videos taken down. This is partially due to a copyright claim, which will ultimately come down to a question of “fair use” – I recommend the linked article for a deeper dive on this topic. But Roc Nation also specifically mentions unlawfully using an AI to mimic a celebrity’s voice. To my knowledge (important disclaimer – I am not a lawyer), there is very little on the books around the use of AI specifically in these kinds of cases, so this case has the potential to set a fairly wide-ranging precedent on what sorts of art or media can be created using AI trained on data from public figures. Modulate sidesteps this question commercially by simply never selling any voice skin without procuring a license for the underlying voice; but for artists or other non-commercial use cases, this could significantly impact their ability to create novel content. Personally, I’d like to say that as long as the content is explicitly denoted as synthetic, it should be protected, but in the age of social media I also understand how quickly things can be taken out of context, so I’m also sympathetic to Roc Nation’s fears. It’s a difficult question, and I hope that all sides are able to come together for a meaningful conversation around both the pros and cons here.
  • OpenAI publishes new ML software “Jukebox” to generate synthetic music in given genre
    • Not much to say that the linked article doesn’t say better, but still thought this was cool stuff and worth sharing! In particular, for those less familiar with machine learning, the way OpenAI achieved this was basically by forcing their system to learn a compression algorithm for music, which identified only the most crucial information about what makes a song compelling to a listener. While neural nets are always black boxes to a certain degree, it would be fascinating to hear someone in music theory dissect what Jukebox is and isn’t detecting here!
  • Guilded.gg raises $7M in Series A funding to build a more gamer-centric Discord
    • Those outside of the gaming space probably consider Discord the more gaming-centric version of Slack, but Guilded argues it’s important to go further, especially with custom features to help e-sports teams coordinate and compete in as smooth and efficient a way as possible. The article also mentions that they are exploring direct hooks into games – if these hooks can go beyond the standard statistics-sharing APIs and actually allow you to meaningfully alter gameplay based on what’s happening in your chat, that could be a huge opportunity for some game-changing new features (pun intended.)
  • GDC goes all digital for its makeup event in August
    • Having just attended the virtual GamesBeat conference this past week (which went, frankly, better than I expected any virtual conference to go), I can certainly support GDC’s belief that a virtual conference is doable – and I appreciate them prioritizing health and safety for those attending. That said, I think most folks agree that the hardest thing to bring to a virtual event is organic, walk-up-and-introduce-yourself networking, which has historically been a huge part of GDC with its large number of attendees and comprehensive expo floor. I hope a combination of chat, video, and VR tools can create something close to this experience, but worry we may not be there just yet – see my previous post for some thoughts on why. Though I’ll confess Modulate is in a better position for a remote conference than many – at the very least, we’re fortunate to have a demo which is, in fact, designed to work beautifully over a video call!
  • Fortnite “Party Royale” rumored for purely social, non-competitive experience
    • Frankly, I’m surprised it took so long. Many folks have for a long time now identified Fortnite as the place to hang out with their friends, with the game being a secondary activity at best. (I don’t have a source for it, but I recall hearing claims before about >10% of all chatting in Fortnite simply happening in the game lobby.) So it makes perfect sense for Fortnite to expand the freedom for these folks to hang out while undertaking other activities – not just attending (admittedly impressive) virtual concerts, but even just wandering around an interesting virtual map and showing off the latest emotes could be a fun way to socialize! There’s a lot of talk in the games industry about the “metaverse” – an online platform that hosts all of our online experiences from a single hub, like the OASIS in Ready Player One – and Party Royale seems to me to be a clear step in this direction for Epic.

Interested in more takes like this? Thoughts to share about my descriptions? Please leave a comment letting me know!

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