TL;DR: This week, scientists created a quantum vortex to study black hole physics, and a lawsuit threatening the Internet Archive sparks copyright reform debates. Telegram's Peer-to-Peer Login program raises privacy concerns, and Facebook Watch expires amidst suspicions of colluding with Netflix. Apple develops an A18 Pro chip for the iPhone 16 Pro, while a massive data explosion risks Parquet's reputation. Confidential files from Europol officials go missing, and Amazon makes a record venture investment in AI startup Anthropic. Finally, Databricks rolls out a new-gen language model, and Sony produces a short film shedding light on Spider-Man character Miles Morales.

Artificial Intelligence

Amazon’s Record-Breaking Leap into Generative AI (~6 min.) : Amazon is making headway in the AI race with its largest venture investment to date, injecting $2.75bn into Anthropic, a leading startup in generative artificial intelligence. This comes on top of an initial $1.25bn investment and allows Amazon to maintain a minority stake in the company while not having a board seat. Anthropic recently launched Claude 3, a suite of AI models that claim to outperform rivals like OpenAI’s GPT-4 and Google’s Gemini Ultra in industry benchmark tests, promising a new level of performance in the AI sector.

Meet DBRX: Databricks’ Next-gen Language Model that Competes with GPT-3.5 (~17 min.) : Databricks has launched DBRX, a new open-source, general-purpose large language model (LLM) that outperforms established models in benchmarks. DBRX uses a fine-grained mixture-of-experts architecture, resulting in inference up to 2x faster than older models and offering better training efficiency. Notably, DBRX, which can be hosted on Mosaic AI Model Serving, surpasses GPT-3.5 and competes closely with Gemini 1.0 Pro. The model is available for customers via APIs and is being integrated into Databricks’ GenAI-powered products.


Massive Data Explosion: The Parquet Version of a “Zip Bomb” (~5 min.) : Apache Parquet has evolved as the standard for tabular data interchange, leveraging a binary, columnar and compressed data representation. However, its potential dangers have been highlighted, with developers discovering that a 42kB Parquet file can contain over 4PB of data. This phenomenon mirrors the Zip Bomb threat that naive firewalls and virus scanners faced, with the potential for crashes and service downtime. The developers who made this discovery have released their script for others to test their Parquet readers, in a bid to increase awareness and preventative measures against such attacks.

Europol Scrambles over Mysterious Missing Files (~4 min.) : Confidential files containing the personal information of top figures at Europe’s law enforcement agency, Europol, went mysteriously missing last year, causing waves of speculation throughout the agency. These files included details of Executive Director Catherine De Bolle and other high-ranking figures. Some of the misplaced material resurfaced when a citizen discovered them neglected in a public area in The Hague. The repercussions of the potential security and data breach are yet to be determined, but the swiftness of the incident’s ripple effects is a stark indication of the controversy’s severity. In the wake of the mishap, Massimiliano Bettin, head of Human Resources at the agency, was placed on administrative leave.


Telegram’s Troublesome Trade: Privacy for Premium? (~3 min.) : Telegram has announced a controversial new “Peer-to-Peer Login” or P2PL program, offering a premium subscription in exchange for users volunteering their phone number to relay one-time passwords (OTPs). This programme, which currently only runs on Android in certain regions, sees users’ phone numbers disclosed to OTP recipients, raising significant privacy concerns. Despite claiming a “revolutionary privacy policy,” Telegram takes no responsibility for misuse of the numbers or for any fees that may be incurred through sending access codes. Critics warn that the risks associated with participating outweigh the benefits, which equate to saving about £5 a month.

The Curious Case of Facebook and Netflix: Streamlining Competition for Privacy? (~3 min.) : The once-thriving Facebook Watch, considered a competitor to Netflix and YouTube, is no longer in action, partly due to a strong business relationship with Netflix, according to recently unsealed court documents. The case alleges that Facebook stopped competing in the streaming space to appease Netflix, one of its leading ad customers. The documents further claim that Facebook had granted Netflix access to users’ private messages through a series of agreements, which is seen as raising significant privacy concerns. The ongoing court case continues to shed light on the intense underlying negotiations in the tech industry.


Apple’s Next-Gen Boost: A18 Pro Chip and AI (~6 min.) : Apple is reportedly developing its next-generation A18 Pro chip for the impending iPhone 16 Pro, incorporating an extended die size for improved artificial intelligence performance. Also, the A18 Pro chip is set to feature a 6-core GPU, equivalent to the A17 Pro Chip in iPhone 15 Pro models. This development is potentially linked to a speculated upgraded Neural Engine and the advent of new generative AI features in iOS 18. Alongside, Apple persists in enhancing the Neural Engine’s performance, making significant strides in terms of generative AI. The tech giant plans to unveil more about these updates at the upcoming WWDC in June.


Peek Into The Spider Within: A Spider-Verse Tale (~2 min.) : Sony released a new short film called “The Spider Within: A Spider-Verse Story” that provides a deeper look into the character Miles Morales. The film, directed by Jarelle Dampier and written by Khaila Amazan, analyses the challenges he faces maintaining his identity as a student, son, and superhero. The narrative sheds light on Morales’ constant anxious state while juggling multiple responsibilities, emphasising the importance of managing and expressing emotions. The short film is a hint that Sony possibly anticipates creating more captivating content around the character.

Everything Else

Quantum Whirlwind: Mimicking Black Hole Phenomena On Earth (~5 min.) : Scientists at the University of Nottingham have created for the first time a “quantum vortex” in ultracold helium superfluid, mimicking the conditions near rotating black holes. The quantum tornado generated tiny waves on the surface of the superfluid which presented remarkably similar behaviours to those observed near a black hole. This pioneering experiment opens a new possibility to study quantum physics more comprehensively within curved spacetimes, specifically those surrounding black holes.

Digital History Under Threat: The Defining Legal Battle Between Publishers and the Internet Archive : A landmark copyright suit against the Internet Archive’s (IA) book scanning services by major publishers - Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley, and Penguin Random House - has garnered significant attention. The publishers equate IA’s controlled digital lending to copyright infringement, a view recently affirmed by a New York federal court. IA has appealed this judgement, but prominent industry groups, intellectual property scholars and government officials have expressed their support for the publishers. The outcome could significantly impact future digitisation efforts and the broader understanding of ‘fair use’ in copyright law.

Thank you for joining me in this week’s exploration of the tech universe. Amidst the endless stream of information, I strive to bring you news that is not only relevant but also thought-provoking. Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome. Don’t forget to spread the word about the Friday Tech Focus Newsletter and stay tuned for more curated insights next week!