Playing With Fire – ChatGPT

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.

John F. Kennedy

Humans have mastered lots of things that have transformed our lives, created our civilizations, and might ultimately kill us all. This year we’ve invented one more.

Artificial Intelligence has been the technology right around the corner for at least 50 years. Last year a set of specific AI apps caught everyone’s attention as AI finally crossed from the era of niche applications to the delivery of transformative and useful tools – Dall-E for creating images from text prompts, Github Copilot as a pair programming assistant, AlphaFold to calculate the shape of proteins, and ChatGPT 3.5 as an intelligent chatbot. These applications were seen as the beginning of what most assumed would be domain-specific tools. Most people (including me) believed that the next versions of these and other AI applications and tools would be incremental improvements.

We were very, very wrong.

This year with the introduction of ChatGPT-4 we may have seen the invention of something with the equivalent impact on society of explosives, mass communication, computers, recombinant DNA/CRISPR and nuclear weapons – all rolled into one application. If you haven’t played with ChatGPT-4, stop and spend a few minutes to do so here. Seriously.

At first blush ChatGPT is an extremely smart conversationalist (and homework writer and test taker). However, this the first time ever that a software program has become human-competitive at multiple general tasks. (Look at the links and realize there’s no going back.) This level of performance was completely unexpected. Even by its creators.

In addition to its outstanding performance on what it was designed to do, what has surprised researchers about ChatGPT is its emergent behaviors. That’s a fancy term that means “we didn’t build it to do that and have no idea how it knows how to do that.” These are behaviors that weren’t present in the small AI models that came before but are now appearing in large models like GPT-4. (Researchers believe this tipping point is result of the complex interactions between the neural network architecture and the massive amounts of training data it has been exposed to – essentially everything that was on the Internet as of September 2021.)

(Another troubling potential of ChatGPT is its ability to manipulate people into beliefs that aren’t true. While ChatGPT “sounds really smart,” at times it simply makes up things and it can convince you of something even when the facts aren’t correct. We’ve seen this effect in social media when it was people who were manipulating beliefs. We can’t predict where an AI with emergent behaviors may decide to take these conservations.)

But that’s not all.

Opening Pandora’s Box
Until now ChatGPT was confined to a chat box that a user interacted with. But OpenAI (the company that developed ChatGPT) is letting ChatGPT reach out and interact with other applications through an API (an Application Programming Interface.)  On the business side that turns the product from an incredibly powerful application into an even more incredibly powerful platform that other software developers can plug into and build upon.

By exposing ChatGPT to a wider range of input and feedback through an API, developers and users are almost guaranteed to uncover new capabilities or applications for the model that were not initially anticipated. (The notion of an app being able to request more data and write code itself to do that is a bit sobering. This will almost certainly lead to even more new unexpected and emergent behaviors.) Some of these applications will create new industries and new jobs. Some will obsolete existing industries and jobs. And much like the invention of fire, explosives, mass communication, computing, recombinant DNA/CRISPR and nuclear weapons, the actual consequences are unknown.

Should you care? Should you worry?
First, you should definitely care.

Over the last 50 years I’ve been lucky enough to have been present at the creation of the first microprocessors, the first personal computers, and the first enterprise web applications. I’ve lived through the revolutions in telecom, life sciences, social media, etc., and watched as new industries, markets and customers created literally overnight. With ChatGPT I might be seeing one more.

One of the problems about disruptive technology is that disruption doesn’t come with a memo. History is replete with journalists writing about it and not recognizing it (e.g. the NY Times putting the invention of the transistor on page 46) or others not understanding what they were seeing (e.g. Xerox executives ignoring the invention of the modern personal computer with a graphical user interface and networking in their own Palo Alto Research Center). Most people have stared into the face of massive disruption and failed to recognize it because to them, it looked like a toy.

Others look at the same technology and recognize at that instant the world will no longer be the same (e.g. Steve Jobs at Xerox). It might be a toy today, but they grasp what inevitably will happen when that technology scales, gets further refined and has tens of thousands of creative people building applications on top of it – they realize right then that the world has changed.

It’s likely we are seeing this here. Some will get ChatGPT’s importance instantly. Others will not.

Perhaps We Should Take A Deep Breath And Think About This?
A few people are concerned about the consequences of ChatGPT and other AGI-like applications and believe we are about to cross the Rubicon – a point of no return. They’ve suggested a 6-month moratorium on training AI systems more powerful than ChatGPT-4. Others find that idea laughable.

There is a long history of scientists concerned about what they’ve unleashed. In the U.S. scientists who worked on the development of the atomic bomb proposed civilian control of nuclear weapons. Post WWII in 1946 the U.S. government seriously considered international control over the development of nuclear weapons. And until recently most nations agreed to a treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.

In 1974, molecular biologists were alarmed when they realized that newly discovered genetic editing tools (recombinant DNA technology) could put tumor-causing genes inside of E. Coli bacteria. There was concern that without any recognition of biohazards and without agreed-upon best practices for biosafety, there was a real danger of accidentally creating and unleashing something with dire consequences. They asked for a voluntary moratorium on recombinant DNA experiments until they could agree on best practices in labs. In 1975, the U.S. National Academy of Science sponsored what is known as the Asilomar Conference. Here biologists came up with guidelines for lab safety containment levels depending on the type of experiments, as well as a list of prohibited experiments (cloning things that could be harmful to humans, plants and animals).

Until recently these rules have kept most biological lab accidents under control.

Nuclear weapons and genetic engineering had advocates for unlimited experimentation and unfettered controls. “Let the science go where it will.”  Yet even these minimal controls have kept the world safe for 75 years from potential catastrophes.

Goldman Sachs economists predict that 300 million jobs could be affected by the latest wave of AI. Other economists are just realizing the ripple effect that this technology will have. Simultaneously, new startups are forming, and venture capital is already pouring money into the field at an outstanding rate that will only accelerate the impact of this generation of AI. Intellectual property lawyers are already arguing who owns the data these AI models are built on. Governments and military organizations are coming to grips with the impact that this technology will have across Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic spheres.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it’s not unreasonable to ask that AI researchers take 6 months and follow the model that other thoughtful and concerned scientists did in the past. (Stanford took down its version of ChatGPT over safety concerns.) Guidelines for use of this tech should be drawn up, perhaps paralleling the ones for genetic editing experiments – with Risk Assessments for the type of experiments and Biosafety Containment Levels that match the risk.

Unlike moratoriums of atomic weapons and genetic engineering that were driven by the concern of research scientists without a profit motive, the continued expansion and funding of generative AI is driven by for-profit companies and venture capital.

Welcome to our brave new world.

Lessons Learned

  • Pay attention and hang on
  • We’re in for a bumpy ride
  • We need an Asilomar Conference for AI
  • For-profit companies and VC’s are interested in accelerating the pace

What to expect at CES 2023

Taking a deep breath as I write these words: Next week, TechCrunch will return to our first in-person CES in three years.

Phew. It felt good to finally get that off my chest.

The last time our team flew to Las Vegas for the event was January 2020. An auspicious date. It wouldn’t be long before the entire world went pear-shaped. It was a big show, with 117,000 in attendance, per the CTA’s (Consumer Technology Association) figures. The event, which its governing body would rather you not call the Consumer Electronics Show, has become a sprawling affair in recent decades.

Attempting to see the entire show is a fool’s errand. Back in my younger, more hopeful days, I made a point of seeing as much of it as I could, making a pretty good run at walking every official hall. That’s become increasingly impossible over the years, as the show has spilled out well beyond the confines of the Las Vegas Convention Center. There’s the Venetian Convention and Expo Center (RIP the Sands), countless hotel suites and various official and unofficial event spaces orbiting around the strip.

As with countless other live event producers, the last three years have presented a kind of existential crisis for the CTA. After much foot dragging, the organization had to finally admit that an in-person CES 2021 was a terrible idea for all parties, and the pivot to a virtual event was understandably rocky. Last year, the show dovetailed with the omicron spike, and TechCrunch — among others — made the decision to sit that one out. Highly contagious new strains, coupled with holiday travel was a bridge too far.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 5: CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show opens its door to visitors on January 5, 2022 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show opens its door to visitors on January 5, 2022, at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. Image Credits: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last year’s numbers were down significantly. The CTA pegged the event at “well over 40,000” people (44,000 is the commonly accepted figure), marking a 75% drop from 2020. It’s a remarkable drop, but I suppose that, given everything happening at the time, cracking 40,000 was a victory of sorts. The CTA says it’s on track for 100,000 this year — seeing as how there isn’t another prominent COVID-19 variant, it seems likely that, at the very least, there will be a sizable jump from 2022.

I’m likely not alone in my suspicions that the CTA didn’t want people getting too comfortable with 2021’s virtual event. Well before COVID, there had been a longstanding question around the efficacy of in-person tech events. CES and other hardware shows have had an edge in that debate, with a focus on products that do benefit from being seen in person. That said, the last two years have demonstrated that it is, indeed, possible to cover the show reasonably well from your living room.

We have, however, moved beyond conversation about “the new normal” (honestly, when was the last time you heard that phrase uttered in earnestness?). The new normal happened when we weren’t looking. The new normal is that the virus doesn’t exist because we say it doesn’t. Have I gotten it three times, including once from attending a trade show in Vegas? Well, yeah. Do I recognize that the act of attending a show that’s billing itself as drawing in 100,000 attendees means there’s a reasonable expectation that I could be staring down time number four in mid-January? Absolutely. The CES COVID protocols are here. The TL;DR is that vaccination, testing and masking aren’t required, but you can if you want. That’s pretty much the standard everywhere at this point.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 05: Attendees pass through a hallway at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Day 1 of CES 2022, January 5, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show, is being held in person through January 7, with some companies deciding to participate virtually only or canceling their attendance due to concerns over the major surge in COVID-19 cases. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Attendees pass through a hallway at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Day 1 of CES 2022, January 5, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES is the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show. Image Credits: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Is there still value in going? I think, yes. I mean, I’m going. Other TC staff are also going. We’ve pared down our presence from past years, and I imagine this is going to be the case moving forward. Given the amount of CES news that’s released via press release and the fact that pretty much every press conference is streamed, the right approach to covering an event like this is be smaller and more strategic.

This isn’t simply a product of this new, endemic virus. It’s a product of a shifting landscape for media in general. For all of my personal issues with the event, I do genuinely have nostalgia for those days of pure, uncut blogging, back when there was still money being dumped into format, before everything became paywalled. There’s value to be had at shows like this, but for TechCrunch, at least, it’s about taking the right meetings and finding the people who are working on cool things. It’s harder than it sounds, having come back to 1,600 unread emails after a couple of weeks off. We made this list, and I plan to check it twice more before I hop on a plane next week.

Stellantis automaker software

Image Credits: DENIS CHARLET/AFP / Getty Images

Even before these particular sets of circumstances, CES has been through a few crises of confidence. Figures have ebbed and flowed over the years, as is the nature of these things. The smartest thing the CTA has done in the past several years is lean into the automotive side. What started as an embrace of high-tech in-car systems has expanded significantly. It’s almost as if CES became a car show when none of us were looking.

One of the show’s key plays is timing. Much to the chagrin of every person who has attempted to enjoy some time off during the holidays, it’s positioned as the first show of the year in an attempt to set the cadence for the remaining 11.5 months. CES technically starts on January 5, but the press days are two days prior. This year, I’m flying out on the 2nd, just to make sure we’ve got our bases covered. There have been years when I’ve flown in on the 1st. Let’s just say I’m glad I stopped drinking a couple of years back.

By positioning the show right at the beginning of the year, it’s got a few months’ jump on major auto shows like the ones held in Chicago, Atlanta and New York. The technology angle means we get a good look at a lot of EVs and autonomous driving systems, as well as eVTOLs and micromobility. Expect some big news, including keynotes from BMW and Stellantis. Chip makers like Qualcomm and AMD also always have a lot on the automotive front at the show.

Hyundai CES 2022 plug n drive

Image Credits: Hyundai

Hyundai will have a sizable presence at the show as well, walking the line between automotive, mobility and robotics. In fact, judging by my overstuffed inbox, it’s going to be a huge year for robotics, from consumer to the presence of key industrial startups in a broad range of different categories. Robotics is always a tricky one at CES. Big companies love to show off flashy robots that never go anywhere (believe it or not, the most recent Sony Aibo is a relative success story there), and there are going to be a ton of junky robotics toys. But the show is still a great place to see some legitimate breakthroughs up close. Stay tuned for next week’s issue of Actuator to get a full breakdown.

My inbox is also flooded with web3 and crypto pitches, despite the fact that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve written about the subject over my 6+ years at TechCrunch. To say the industry hit a rough patch in 2022 is like saying Elon is “still figuring it out” as Twitter CEO. The believer still believes theirs is the fix-all solution to every problem plaguing humankind. Expect that to trickle into every aspect of the show, including, somewhat ironically, climate.

I would love to see sustainability become a major topic at CES. Apparently there’s a section in the Convention Center’s North Hall. There’s mostly been a smattering of climate companies at the show, but I’ve certainly never been overwhelmed by them. Hopefully this is the year that starts to turn around. Ditto for accessibility. I’ve heard tell of a few companies with this focus at the show, but this is something else that really needs to be at the forefront.

Remote control / smart home Image Credits: Erhui1979 / Getty Images

Much has been written about Amazon’s Alexa struggle of late. It’s safe to say that the smart home market hasn’t worked out like everyone planned. I do, however, anticipate a sizable press at CES, bolstered by Matter. The standard, supported by Amazon, Apple and Google, among others, really started gaining steam over the last few months. If things go according to plan, this CES will be an important moment, as the various categories of connected home gadgets are on full display.

Meta Quest Pro

Image Credits: Meta

AR/VR — yes, I say this every year. Yes, even more than with smart homes, this one has yet to shake out the way many hoped. The recent debut of Meta’s Quest Pro and HTC’s Vive tease will anchor the big VR news. AR will likely be even more ubiquitous. Even more than virtual reality, augmented reality feels like the Wild West right now. There are a ton of hardware makers currently vying for a spot on your face. Traditionally, CES hasn’t been very gaming focused, but Sony does tend to make it a centerpiece of its own press conference and we’ll likely be getting some face time with PlayStation VR.

Wearables should get some love at the show. Oura’s success has catapulted the ring form factor. We already wrote up Movano’s pre-show announcement. Bigger names like Google, Samsung and Apple do most of their gadget announcing at their own events these days, but CES is an opportunity for some of the smaller firms to grab a bit of attention. I’d anticipate an even bigger focus on health metric monitoring from names like Withings. Connected home fitness remains a key trend to watch, fueled by that initial pandemic push.

Image Credits: Oura

As ever, phones are mostly a nonstarter here. Mobile World Congress is where that magic happens. Otherwise, anticipate a smattering of announcements from hardware firms like Lenovo and Sony, which don’t have much of a presence in the North American market. This has, however, traditionally been a big show for PCs. Dell, Asus and Lenovo all have big presences, while AMD and Nvidia could serve up some big news about the chips that power those systems.

We don’t cover them that much, but CES is also big for TVs, in every sense of the word. LG, Samsung, Sony and TCL will likely have the latest, greatest and largest. QD-OLED and MLA OLED are the magic words — or letters, I guess.

The press days are January 3 and 4, and the CES show floor officially opens on January 5. Plan accordingly.

Read more about CES 2023 on TechCrunch

What to expect at CES 2023 by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

What the CHIPS and Science Act means for the future of the semiconductor industry

This year is proving to be momentous for U.S. semiconductor manufacturing. During a global chip shortage and record inflation, U.S. President Biden signed into effect the CHIPS and Science Act, the greatest boon to U.S. semiconductor manufacturing in history, with $52 billion in subsidies for chip manufacturers to build fabrication plants in the U.S.

The CHIPS Act seems like a green light for domestic manufacturing. However, a presidential executive order (Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity) published earlier in the year may be a stumbling block for semiconductor design shops eager to serve national security projects.

Rolled out several months before the CHIPS Act was signed, this executive order defines parameters that will force U.S.-based software companies to change long-established development and design processes if they want to comply with federal regulations regarding information sharing between the government and the private sector.

Let’s take a look at how these two measures relate, what they mean for semiconductor companies, and why the highs and lows of American semiconductor manufacturing boil down to one thing: Security.

With most of today’s manufacturing happening overseas, the DoD has had major challenges executing its national security-related projects.


The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 provides $52 billion in subsidies for chip manufacturers to build fabrication plants in the U.S. To put that into perspective, consider that currently only 12% of all semiconductor chips are made in the U.S.

This Act comes amidst a global economic downturn, with lawmakers hoping that American-made chips will solve security and supply chain issues. In short, this is something the U.S. needs to reassert its historical influence on semiconductor manufacturing.

One of the biggest considerations, and benefits, for domestic-made semiconductors is national security. Recent geopolitical instability has caused concern over potential IP leakage and theft. For the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), it is imperative to have a secure and trusted ecosystem for the design and manufacture of semiconductors.

But with most of today’s manufacturing happening overseas, the DoD has had major challenges executing its national security-related projects.

What the CHIPS and Science Act means for the future of the semiconductor industry by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch

This site tells you if photos of you were used to train the AI

Deepfakes, AI generated porn, and a thousand more innocent uses — there’s been a lot of news about neural network-generated images. It makes sense that people started getting curious; were my photos used to train the robots? Are photos of me in the image-generating training sets? A brand new site tries to give you an answer.

Spawning AI creates image generation tools for artists, and the company just launched Have I Been Trained? which you can use to search a set of 5.8 billion images that have been used to train popular AI art models. When you search the site, you can search through the images that are the closest match, based on the LAION-5B training data, which is widely used for training AI search terms.

It’s a fun tool to play with, and may help give a glimpse into the data that the AI is using as the basis for its own. The photo at the top of this post is a screenshot of the search term ‘couple’. Try putting your own name in, and see what happens… I also tried a search for ‘Obama,’ which I will not be sharing a screenshot of here, but suffice it to say that these training sets can be… Problematic.

Via DIY Photography / PetaPixel

This site tells you if photos of you were used to train the AI by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch

Deep tech VC First Star plots a $40M third fund

First Star, backer of deep tech startups like Plus One and Fyto, aims to raise as much as $40 million for its third venture fund, TechCrunch has learned.

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, First Star typically backs robotics, blockchain, AI and machine learning-focused startups at the early stage. The firm has not disclosed a first close for its planned third fund, per a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, but if it goes on to raise the projected amount, it would represent a serious leap from First Star’s earlier funds.

In 2014, the VC launched a debut $10 million fund under a different name (Procyon Ventures), and it followed that up with a $25 million second fund in 2019, according to Pitchbook. Its founding partners, Millie Liu and Drew Volpe, share ties to both MIT (as researchers) and MassChallenge, the Boston startup incubator (as mentors).

First Star did not immediately respond to a request for additional info on its plans for the new fund, but the investor’s recent deals offer a hint on where it’s focusing its energy lately. Deals the VC participated in this year include a $7 million seed round for ChiselStrike, which makes tools for back-end software developers, and a $12 million series A for Zanskar, which aims to decarbonize the U.S. power grid by spotting geothermal resources with AI. Like Zanskar, First Star-backed Fyto could also be considered climate tech; the MIT-founded startup intends to cut water waste and greenhouse gas emissions by using robots to grow “ultra-sustainable” feed for cows.

Cantos, another deep tech VC with an early-stage focus, recently launched its own $50 million third fund with a more extrinsic focus on responding to the climate crisis.

Deep tech VC First Star plots a $40M third fund by Harri Weber originally published on TechCrunch

Parler forms a new parent company to offer ‘uncancelable’ cloud services

One of the alternative social networks to emerge out of the social media backlash of the Trump era is apparently going to try something new.

Parler announced Friday that it has acquired a cloud company called Dynascale in order to expand its vision beyond offering an (ostensibly) anything-goes social app to providing infrastructure for businesses that run the risk of getting the boot from mainstream providers.

The social app Parler will now operate under a new parent company known as Parlement Technologies, which also announced a fresh round of $16 million for the pivot toward infrastructure. The company didn’t name who contributed the new money, but previously received key investment from the deep-pocketed Republican donor Rebekah Mercer.

Parler’s CEO George Farmer, who will also lead the new parent company, told the Wall Street Journal that Parlement is “talking to a large range of conservative businesses” that could use its new cloud services. Farmer took over at Parler following the ouster of John Matze, a change of leadership apparently orchestrated by Mercer.

Parler topped App Store charts in early January 2021 after Twitter and Facebook banned President Trump for inciting violence at the U.S. Capitol. But that success was short lived — Apple and Google removed the app from their respective software stores after drawing a line between Parler and the January 6 violence. Amazon also pulled its web hosting, a trifecta of consequences that clearly made an impact on the company, even after it returned to tech giants’ good graces.

Apple reinstated Parler in April 2021 after the app promised to moderate additional content on iOS, bringing it into compliance with the company’s standards. Google only allowed the app back into the Play Store earlier this month, indicating that Parler adjusted the Android app to meet the company’s requirements for “robust” moderation.

Parler returns to a more crowded landscape of platforms catering to conservatives ready to jump ship from mainstream social networks. Trump launched his own app, Truth Social, in February, luring his supporters with the promise of unfiltered tweet-like posts.

Trump remains banned from Twitter for life, but the company’s reluctant new owner-to-be previous declared that he would reverse the decision, opening the door for Trump to return to his former platform of choice, likely at the expense of his current one.

Parler forms a new parent company to offer ‘uncancelable’ cloud services by Taylor Hatmaker originally published on TechCrunch

General Atlantic buys out SoftBank’s 15% stake in edtech Kahoot, now valued at about $152M vs the $215M SoftBank ponied up 2 years ago

SoftBank’s retreat from its past investing exuberance continues apace. This morning, Kahoot, the Norwegian startup that provides a popular platform for people to build and use education-focused games, announced that General Atlantic is buying out SoftBank’s entire 15% stake in the company. SoftBank is exiting at a loss. The firm sunk at least $215 million into the company in the last several years. However, 15% of Kahoot’s current market cap (10.415 billion Norwegian Krone) works out to about $152 million (1,562,250,000 NOK).

This looks like an all-secondary round: no new investment coming in alongside the buyout. (We’re confirming this with Kahoot and will update as we learn more.) “Kahoot plans to partner with General Atlantic to accelerate further growth initiatives, drive innovation, and expand its global footprint in homes, schools, and corporations,” the company said in a statement.

Nevertheless, the deal comes as Kahoot, like many other tech companies, continues to feel the pinch of the general downturn in technology stocks and the wider technology market. A year ago, its shares were trading at 70.25 NOK on the Oslo Stock Exchange. They are now worth only 22.77 NOK. And that is with a bump of nearly 27% that Kahoot had this morning on the news of the investment/divestment.

SoftBank, meanwhile, has been in hot water itself, facing up to big losses in its splashy Vision Fund investment vehicles on the back of those wider tech industry doldrums. In August, Vision Fund I reported a loss of over $17 billion for just one quarter (Q1). Vision Fund 2 is reportedly down in value by some 19% on the funds that have been invested so far. Amid layoffs and big executive changes, no surprise, then, that it is now divesting stakes that are underperforming. (It’s still working on a Vision Fund 3 though, so never say die in the world of tech.)

“We are very grateful to SoftBank for their partnership over the past two years. As Kahoot! continues to pursue its mission to improve lifelong learning by building a leading global learning and engagement platform, we are thrilled to add a partner of General Atlantic’s caliber,” Eilert Hanoa, CEO of Kahoot, said in a statement. “The team at GA brings deep experience in scaling global education technology and software businesses and positioning market leaders for long-term success, and we look forward to our next phase of momentum in empowering the learning ecosystem around the world.”

“We believe Kahoot has significant potential for further growth as digital learning solutions continue to be adopted across its work, school, and home markets,” added Chris Caulkin, MD and head of technology for EMEA at General Atlantic. “With its much-loved brand, product-centric approach, and engaged global user base, Kahoot is well positioned to scale, and we look forward to supporting Eilert and the full Kahoot! team in the years to come as they reach and engage ever more users worldwide.” General Atlantic and SoftBank have partnered on many deals in the past, so there was clearly already a relationship between the two and that may have played a factor here as well.

To be fair, since SB Northstar (the SoftBank Group fund making the investment) made its first investment in Kahoot nearly two years ago, in October 2020, Kahoot has grown a lot. It had 1.3 billion users (“participating players”) at that time; now that number is 8 billion.

What started as a “YouTube for education”- style model (big emphasis on user-created content and a way of using what you have made for yourself or your own learning group, but also dipping in and using material made by others) has worked to diversify deeper into enterprise and more. It said today that Kahoot! at Work is used in 97% of Fortune 500 companies for corporate learning and engagement, and that Kahoot! at School is used by approximately 9 million teachers in the classroom. And Kahoot! at Home & Study has over 18 million users as an “at-home gamified learning solution.”

Indeed, the company went large during the Covid-19 pandemic, doubling down on being one of the platforms to help fill the gap of amusement and engagement for students who were no longer in classrooms; and ditto for remote workers as a way of team building and more.

But as with many companies that found business ballooning because of market conditions, now as more people return to the office, students are back in the classroom, and generally budgets are all being reined in in the current economic climate, it will be having an effect on Kahoot as well.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

General Atlantic buys out SoftBank’s 15% stake in edtech Kahoot, now valued at about $152M vs the $215M SoftBank ponied up 2 years ago by Ingrid Lunden originally published on TechCrunch

Private equity’s gatekeepers get serious about tokens

Welcome to Chain Reaction, where we unpack and explain the latest in crypto news, drama and trends, breaking things down block by block for the crypto curious.

For our Thursday episode this week, we dug into the institutional embrace of blockchain by stodgy financial powerhouses including mega PE firm KKR which announced this week that they were tokenizing one of their latest funds to provide access to slightly less rich wealthy investors. While it’s far from pervasive financial democratization, the move attracted a lot of attention, which we dissected.

We also covered:

  • A Supergroup of financial institutions including Fidelity, Schwab and Citadel are teaming up to build a new digital asset exchange called the EDXM. Is this a signal of institutional fervor or just more groupthink?
  • The White House’s Office of Science and Tech Policy released a sweeping report on the energy usage of the cryptocurrency industry; The report signals future pressures on Bitcoin miners to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or else.

Chain Reaction comes out every Tuesday and Thursday at 12:00 p.m. PT, so be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast and Spotify to keep up with the action.

Private equity’s gatekeepers get serious about tokens by Lucas Matney originally published on TechCrunch

Lido, Coinbase, Kraken and Binance stake majority of ETH. Does that matter?

The Ethereum network is nearing its final hours before the Merge, which will move one of the most important global blockchains from a proof-of-work (PoW) system of achieving consensus to proof-of-stake (PoS).

The upgrade to the blockchain has raised concerns in the crypto community that Ethereum could become less decentralized — more centralized — by moving to PoS from PoW, the latter of which powers the Bitcoin blockchain, for example.

Concerns regarding an increase in centralization due to PoS on the Ethereum blockchain post-Merge may have some merit. The current Ethereum staking market — staking is how Ethereum token (ETH) holders could contribute to the Merge before its execution and how consensus and new tokens will be distributed afterward — isn’t as decentralized as some may think.

Lido, Coinbase, Kraken and Binance stake majority of ETH. Does that matter? by Jacquelyn Melinek originally published on TechCrunch

Dear Sophie: Is there a way to keep working in the US after my J-1 visa expires?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie,

I’m a Fulbright scholar on a J-1 visa. I’ve been told that after my J-1 ends, I’m required to return to my country for two years.

Is there a way I can stay in the U.S.? Can I apply for an O-1A or green card even if I have to go back to my country?

— Seeking to Stay

Dear Seeking,

Congrats on joining the ranks of the Fulbright scholars! This is a great accomplishment that will likely bolster an eventual green card application!

However, being a Fulbright scholar also comes with a cost: I have never seen a Fulbright Scholar get a 212(e) waiver for the J-1 two-year foreign residency requirement. (If you are a Fulbright scholar who got the waiver approved, please message me!)

I recently spoke with Anthony Pawelski, the senior international advisor at Mass General Brigham, which consists of 16 institutions including Harvard- and Tufts-affiliated teaching hospitals. In that role, Pawelski prepares thousands of J-1 and other non-immigrant visa applications each year, but he says he has only seen waivers granted to Fulbright scholars a few times. Even waiver requests for Fulbright scholars that were filed by NASA and the National Science Foundation have been denied.

Pawelski also notes that India will not support J-1 waivers for medical doctors educated in India, and that Thailand and the Philippines are very strict about supporting waivers.

Before I share more about your visa and green card options to work in the U.S. after your exchange visit ends, here’s a primer on the J-1 two-year home residency requirement, and the process to seek a waiver for those who are eligible. A word of caution: the J-1 is a non-immigrant intent visa, so people who intend to seek a green card or live permanently in the U.S. are denied J-1 visas.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Two-year home residency requirement

As you probably know, the J-1 educational and cultural exchange visa has several benefits, such as being open to individuals in a range of fields, and allowing a J-1 visa holder’s spouse to apply for a work permit. While its benefits can far outweigh the drawbacks, the biggest limitation of the J-1 is the one you’re facing: the two-year home residency requirement.

Dear Sophie: Is there a way to keep working in the US after my J-1 visa expires? by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch