Microsoft wins battle with Sony as UK reverses finding on Activision merger

Promotional image of a PlayStation 5 game console and controller.

Enlarge / Sony’s PlayStation 5. (credit: Sony)

UK regulators reviewing Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard reversed their stance on a key question today, saying they no longer believe Microsoft would remove the Call of Duty franchise from Sony’s PlayStation consoles.

Last month, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) tentatively concluded that a combined Microsoft/Activision Blizzard would harm competition in console gaming. At the time, the CMA said evidence showed that “Microsoft would find it commercially beneficial to make Activision’s games exclusive to its own consoles (or only available on PlayStation under materially worse conditions).” The agency also raised concerns about the merger affecting rivals in cloud gaming.

The preliminary finding was a victory for Sony, which has consistently expressed doubts about Microsoft’s promise to keep putting Call of Duty games on PlayStation. But Microsoft argued that the CMA’s financial model was flawed and was able to convince the agency to reverse its conclusion. In an announcement today, the CMA said it “received a significant amount of new evidence.”

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#activision-blizzard, #call-of-duty, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #policy

Judge dismisses gamers’ claims that Microsoft/Activision merger will spoil gaming

Judge dismisses gamers’ claims that Microsoft/Activision merger will spoil gaming

Enlarge (credit: INA FASSBENDER / Contributor | AFP)

Last December, Call of Duty gamers sued Microsoft, seeking to block its merger with Activision, partly because they alleged that the merger would set up Microsoft to dominate industry rivals, drive up prices, and reduce consumer choice. Yesterday, a California judge, Jacqueline Corley, granted Microsoft’s motion to dismiss the suit, saying that the gamers didn’t “plausibly allege” that the merger “creates a reasonable probability of anticompetitive effects in any relevant market.”

Gamers suing don’t plan to give up this fight that easily, though. They have 20 days to amend their complaint to include more evidence that demonstrates those anticompetitive effects are likely to harm them personally.

The gamers’ lawyer, Joseph Alioto, told Ars that he believes they have ample evidence to satisfy the judge in this case. He confirmed that gamers intend to file their amended complaint as soon as possible. Rather than being discouraged by the judge’s dismissal, Alioto told Ars that the gamers were pleased by Corley’s order.

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#activision, #anticompetitive, #antitrust, #federal-trade-commission, #ftc, #gamers, #gaming-culture, #gaming-industry, #microsoft, #policy

Microsoft plans mobile games app store to rival Apple and Google

Microsoft plans mobile games app store to rival Apple and Google


Microsoft is preparing to launch a new app store for games on iPhones and Android smartphones as soon as next year if its $75 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard is cleared by regulators, according to the head of its Xbox business.

New rules requiring Apple and Google to open up their mobile platforms to app stores owned and operated by other companies are expected to come into force from March 2024 under the EU’s Digital Markets Act.

“We want to be in a position to offer Xbox and content from both us and our third-party partners across any screen where somebody would want to play,” said Phil Spencer, chief executive of Microsoft Gaming, in an interview ahead of this week’s annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

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#activision-blizzard, #antitrust, #digital-markets-act, #eu, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #xbox

Microsoft 365’s AI-powered Copilot is like an omniscient version of Clippy

Microsoft 365 Copilot will attempt to automate content generation and analysis in all of the former Microsoft Office apps.

Enlarge / Microsoft 365 Copilot will attempt to automate content generation and analysis in all of the former Microsoft Office apps. (credit: Microsoft)

Today Microsoft took the wraps off of Microsoft 365 Copilot, its rumored effort to build automated AI-powered content-generation features into all of the Microsoft 365 apps.

The capabilities Microsoft demonstrated make Copilot seem like a juiced-up version of Clippy, the oft-parodied and arguably beloved assistant from older versions of Microsoft Office. Copilot can automatically generate Outlook emails, Word documents, and PowerPoint decks, can automate data analysis in Excel, and can pull relevant points from the transcript of a Microsoft Teams meeting, among other features.

Microsoft is currently testing Copilot “with 20 customers, including eight in Fortune 500 enterprises.” The preview will be expanded to other organizations “in the coming months,” but the company didn’t mention when individual Microsoft 365 subscribers would be able to use the features. The company will “share more on pricing and licensing soon,” suggesting the feature may be a paid add-on in addition to the cost of a Microsoft 365 subscription.

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#biz-it, #microsoft, #office, #openai, #tech

OpenAI checked to see whether GPT-4 could take over the world

An AI-generated image of the earth enveloped in an explosion.

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

As part of pre-release safety testing for its new GPT-4 AI model, launched Tuesday, OpenAI allowed an AI testing group to assess the potential risks of the model’s emergent capabilities—including “power-seeking behavior,” self-replication, and self-improvement.

While the testing group found that GPT-4 was “ineffective at the autonomous replication task,” the nature of the experiments raises eye-opening questions about the safety of future AI systems.

Raising alarms

“Novel capabilities often emerge in more powerful models,” writes OpenAI in a GPT-4 safety document published yesterday. “Some that are particularly concerning are the ability to create and act on long-term plans, to accrue power and resources (“power-seeking”), and to exhibit behavior that is increasingly ‘agentic.'” In this case, OpenAI clarifies that “agentic” isn’t necessarily meant to humanize the models or declare sentience but simply to denote the ability to accomplish independent goals.

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#ai, #ai-safety, #alignment-research, #arc, #bing-chat, #biz-it, #effective-altruism, #gpt-4, #large-language-models, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #openai, #paul-christiano

Report: Microsoft cut a key AI ethics team

Report: Microsoft cut a key AI ethics team

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto / Contributor | NurPhoto)

An entire team responsible for making sure that Microsoft’s AI products are shipped with safeguards to mitigate social harms was cut during the company’s most recently layoff of 10,000 employees, Platformer reported.

Former employees said that the ethics and society team was a critical part of Microsoft’s strategy to reduce risks associated with using OpenAI technology in Microsoft products. Before it was killed off, the team developed an entire “responsible innovation toolkit” to help Microsoft engineers forecast what harms could be caused by AI—and then to diminish those harms.

Platformer’s report came just before OpenAI released possibly its most powerful AI model yet, GPT-4, which is already helping to power Bing search, Reuters reported.

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#ai, #artificial-intelligence, #bing, #bing-chat, #microsoft, #policy

Microsoft signs another Call of Duty deal in bid to impress regulators

Artist's conception of Microsoft marching on regulators with fresh evidence of its cross-platform intentions for Call of Duty.

Enlarge / Artist’s conception of Microsoft marching on regulators with fresh evidence of its cross-platform intentions for Call of Duty. (credit: Activision)

Microsoft announced Tuesday that it has signed a 10-year deal to bring its Xbox PC games to little-known Ukraine-based streaming platform Boosteroid. The move is being positioned in part to “mak[e] even more clear to regulators that our acquisition of Activision Blizzard will make Call of Duty available on far more devices than before,” as Microsoft Vice Chair and President Brad Smith said in a statement.

Started in 2017, Boosteroid boasts 4 million streaming customers using servers based in nine European countries and six US states. Those customers pay 7.50 euro per month to stream games from those servers to any smartphone, Windows/Mac/Linux-based PC, or Android TV device.

Boosteroid currently links to users’ accounts on other PC-based platforms—including Steam, the Epic Games Store, Blizzard’s, EA’s Origin, the Rockstar Game Launcher, and Wargaming—and lets them play games from those services without having to install them on a local gaming PC. With this new deal, that access will expand to include games available through Microsoft’s Xbox app on the PC.

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#activision-blizzard, #call-of-duty, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #sony

Why it does and doesn’t matter if Google, Microsoft, or Zoom certify your webcam

Logitech Brio 500 webcamera docked on a monitor

Enlarge / Logitech really wants you to know that its Brio 500 webcam works with Meet, Teams, Zoom, and Chromebooks. (credit: Logitech/Amazon)

Logitech made a peculiar announcement in January.

It proudly declared that its MX Master 3S wireless mouse, along with some of its other peripherals, had been certified to work with Intel Evo laptops. (Evo laptops are Intel-certified premium ultralights meeting certain criteria, like providing at least eight hours of battery life with a QHD display.) Imagine my shock when I realized I had been using that very mouse with a Dell XPS 13 (an Evo laptop) for almost eight months without Intel’s blessing.

Of course, even before the mouse gained Intel’s stamp of approval, I had enjoyed hours of problem-free use. The same can be said of every functioning USB webcam I’m ever plugged into a computer. But that hasn’t stopped countless peripheral makers from touting that their devices have been certified for Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom.

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#chromebooks, #features, #google, #intel, #laptops, #microsoft, #tech, #webcams, #zoom

GM plans to let you talk to your car with ChatGPT, Knight Rider-style

COLOGNE, GERMANY - OCTOBER 24: David Hasselhoff attends the

Enlarge / The 1982 TV series Knight Rider featured a car called KITT that a character played by David Hasselhoff (pictured) could talk to. (credit: Getty Images)

In the 1982 TV series Knight Rider, the main character can have a full conversation with his futuristic car. Once science fiction, this type of language interface may soon be one step closer to reality because General Motors is working on bringing a ChatGPT-style AI assistant to its automobiles, according to Semafor and Reuters.

While GM won’t be adding Knight Rider-style turbojet engines or crime-fighting weaponry to its vehicles, its cars may eventually talk back to you in an intelligent-sounding way, thanks to a collaboration with Microsoft.

Microsoft has invested heavily in OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT. Now, they’re looking for ways to apply chatbot technology to many different fields.

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#ai, #biz-it, #cars, #chatgpt, #general-motors, #knight-rider, #large-language-models, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #science-fiction

Why Sony says it can’t trust Microsoft’s Call of Duty offer? One word: Bethesda

No one really expects any of these Microsoft-owned Bethesda characters to have much of a presence on PlayStation going forward...

Enlarge / No one really expects any of these Microsoft-owned Bethesda characters to have much of a presence on PlayStation going forward…

For months now, Microsoft has sworn up and down that it doesn’t want to take the Call of Duty franchise away from PlayStation if and when it finalizes its proposed acquisition of Activision. But Sony is citing the history of Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda Softworks parent company ZeniMax as a primary reason why it doesn’t exactly trust Microsoft on this matter.

In a filing with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published last week, Sony pointed to the European Commission’s decision to allow Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax in 2021. In that decision, the EC cited Microsoft’s planned business strategy in concluding that “the combined entity would not have the incentive to foreclose rival console video game distributors by engaging in a total or partial input foreclosure strategy [emphasis added].”

In other words, the European Commission said it felt Microsoft would have no reason to withhold future Bethesda games from rival platforms like PlayStation. Shortly after the deal was approved, though, Microsoft seems to have found that “incentive” quite easily.

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#bethesda, #call-of-duty, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #sony, #xbox

AI-powered chat helps Bing make a (small) dent in Google’s search hegemony

AI-powered chat helps Bing make a (small) dent in Google’s search hegemony

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft’s Bing has never been in any danger of overtaking Google as the Internet’s most popular search engine. But the headline-grabbing AI-powered features from the “new Bing” preview that the company launched last month do seem to be helping—Microsoft said today that Bing had passed the 100 million daily active users mark.

“We are fully aware we remain a small, low, single digit share player,” writes Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi, driving home just how small Microsoft’s share of the search market is compared to Google’s. “That said, it feels good to be at the dance!”

Google doesn’t provide daily active user numbers for its search engine, but StatCounter data suggests that its marketshare typically hovers just under 90 percent in the US, compared to 6 or 7 percent for Bing.

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#ai, #bing-chat, #microsoft, #openai, #tech

Bethesda’s Starfield pushed back to Sept. 6 launch date

Bethesda’s highly anticipated space exploration game Starfield is now due to release on September 6, the publisher announced in a new trailer video Wednesday morning.

The newest release date target for the game comes after the previous promise of a November 11, 2022, release was eventually pushed back to an amorphous “first half of 2023” window. Starfield‘s development was first announced way back in 2018, but we had to wait until last June before we finally saw our first slice of “No Man’s Skyrim”-style gameplay.

The new launch date announcement trailer intercuts shots of space stations and massive castle-like spires on barren planets. An unseen narrator talks of “another one of those big anomalies” and encourages the player to “uncover the source of it all.”

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#bethesda, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #starfield, #xbox

Microsoft makes Outlook for Mac free, no Office or Microsoft 365 required

The current Outlook for Mac email client.

Enlarge / The current Outlook for Mac email client. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft is making the Outlook for Mac app free to use, the company announced this week. Previously available with a Microsoft 365 account or as part of the Office for Mac app suite, the Outlook app is downloadable from the Mac App Store and works with, Gmail, iCloud, Yahoo, and plain old IMAP and POP email accounts.

Microsoft already offers a free version of the Outlook client for iOS and Android, and it’s currently testing a preview of a redesigned Outlook app that will replace the built-in Mail and Calendar apps that ship with Windows 11.

The Mac version of the app doesn’t use that new design—it’s the same Outlook for Mac app that Microsoft rolled out back in late 2020—but the company’s blog post says the company is working on “rebuilding Outlook for Mac from the ground up.” This will presumably be the same client that Microsoft is testing in Windows, part of the company’s “One Outlook” project (also called Project Monarch) that aims to offer a single unified mail client that looks and works the same way across all supported platforms.

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#biz-it, #microsoft, #outlook-for-mac, #tech

Dealmaster: Microsoft’s Surface laptops and tablets are on sale today

Microsoft's Surface Pro 9.

Enlarge / Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

If you’re in the market for a Microsoft Surface computer or tablet, now’s a good time to grab some deals on the lineup.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 13-inch tablet PC with keyboard cover for $900 ($1,080) at Best Buy

The Surface Pro 9 is the best tablet-laptop on the market. It succeeds in mixing the best of the tablet and laptop experience, being a tablet PC that runs Windows 11, uses a backlit detachable keyboard cover, and is optimized for use with a digital pen (the Surface Pen). It’s lightweight and has a smaller footprint than most 2-in-1 laptops while packing enough power to edit media and handle light gaming at higher configurations.

The entry-level Surface Pro 9 (Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD) is currently on sale for $900 at Best Buy, down from $1,000, and it comes with a free Surface Keyboard cover which typically runs you an extra $180. That’s $300 less than the entry point for Apple’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which can’t run full programs (only apps) and doesn’t include its separately sold Magic Keyboard, which costs $350. This 13-inch Surface Pro model has an Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB storage, which is great for those who simply want a device to edit documents and surf the web without sacrificing the ability to use full programs.

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#ars-shopping, #dealmaster, #microsoft, #surface, #tech

Microsoft aims to reduce “tedious” business tasks with new AI tools

An AI-generated image of an alien robot worker.

Enlarge / An AI-generated illustration of a GPT-powered robot worker. (credit: Ars Technica)

On Monday, Microsoft bundled ChatGPT-style AI technology into its Power Platform developer tool and Dynamics 365, Reuters reports. Affected tools include Power Virtual Agent and AI Builder, both of which have been updated to include GPT large language model (LLM) technology created by OpenAI.

The move follows the trend among tech giants such as Alphabet and Baidu to incorporate generative AI technology into their offerings—and of course, the multi-billion dollar partnership between OpenAI and Microsoft announced in January.

Microsoft’s Power Platform is a development tool that allows the creation of apps with minimal coding. Its updated Power Virtual Agent allows businesses to point an AI bot at a company website or knowledge base and then ask it questions, which it calls Conversation Booster. “With the conversation booster feature, you can use the data source that holds your single source of truth across many channels through the chat experience, and the bot responses are filtered and moderated to adhere to Microsoft’s responsible AI principles,” writes Microsoft in a blog post.

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#ai, #biz-it, #chatgpt, #clippy, #dynamics-365, #large-language-models, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #microsoft-office, #openai, #power-platform

AI-powered Bing Chat gains three distinct personalities

Three different-colored robot heads.

Enlarge (credit: Benj Edwards / Ars Technica)

On Wednesday, Microsoft employee Mike Davidson announced that the firm has rolled out three distinct personality styles for its experimental AI-powered Bing Chat bot: Creative, Balanced, or Precise. Microsoft has been testing the feature since February 24 with a limited set of users. Switching between modes produces different results that shift its balance between accuracy and creativity.

Bing Chat is an AI-powered assistant based on an advanced large language model (LLM) developed by OpenAI. A key feature of Bing Chat is that it can search the web and incorporate the results into its answers.

Microsoft announced Bing Chat on February 7, and shortly after going live, adversarial attacks regularly drove an early version of Bing Chat to simulated insanity, and users discovered the bot could be convinced to threaten them. Not long after, Microsoft dramatically dialed-back Bing Chat’s outbursts by imposing strict limits on how long conversations could last.

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#ai, #bing-chat, #biz-it, #gpt-3, #large-language-models, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #openai

Microsoft/Activision deal will win EU approval, sources say

Microsoft/Activision deal will win EU approval, sources say

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto / Contributor | NurPhoto)

Last fall, it looked like trouble for Microsoft when the European Union launched an in-depth investigation into its acquisition of Activision, but it now seems that Microsoft will emerge victorious. Three people familiar with the European Commission’s opinion on the matter told Reuters that, by agreeing to make a few more concessions, Microsoft will likely win EU antitrust approval on April 25.

According to Reuters, the European Commission is not expected to ask Microsoft to divest large parts of Activision—like separating out its Call of Duty business—to win approval. Instead, long-term licensing deals of lucrative games that Microsoft has offered to rivals could suffice, in addition to agreeing to “other behavioral remedies to allay concerns of other parties than Sony,” one insider told Reuters.

Microsoft declined Ars’ request to comment, but the company told Reuters that it is “committed to offering effective and easily enforceable solutions that address the European Commission’s concerns.” Microsoft has previously opposed any proposed remedies forcing the merged companies to sell the Call of Duty franchise.

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#activision, #activision-blizzard, #antitrust, #call-of-duty, #european-commission, #european-union, #ftc, #gaming-industry, #microsoft, #policy

Microsoft introduces AI model that can understand image content, pass IQ tests

An AI-generated image of an electronic brain with an eyeball.

Enlarge / An AI-generated image of an electronic brain with an eyeball. (credit: Ars Technica)

On Monday, researchers from Microsoft introduced Kosmos-1, a multimodal model that can reportedly analyze images for content, solve visual puzzles, perform visual text recognition, pass visual IQ tests, and understand natural language instructions. The researchers believe multimodal AI—which integrates different modes of input such as text, audio, images, and video—is a key step to building artificial general intelligence (AGI) that can perform general tasks at the level of a human.

Being a basic part of intelligence, multimodal perception is a necessity to achieve artificial general intelligence, in terms of knowledge acquisition and grounding to the real world,” the researchers write in their academic paper, “Language Is Not All You Need: Aligning Perception with Language Models.”

Visual examples from the Kosmos-1 paper show the model analyzing images and answering questions about them, reading text from an image, writing captions for images, and taking a visual IQ test with 22–26 percent accuracy (more on that below).

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#ai, #biz-it, #kosmos-1, #large-language-models, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #multimodal-ai

Robots let ChatGPT touch the real world thanks to Microsoft

A drone flying over a city.

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

Last week, Microsoft researchers announced an experimental framework to control robots and drones using the language abilities of ChatGPT, a popular AI language model created by OpenAI. Using natural language commands, ChatGPT can write special code that controls robot movements. A human then views the results and adjusts as necessary until the task gets completed successfully.

The research arrived in a paper titled “ChatGPT for Robotics: Design Principles and Model Abilities,” authored by Sai Vemprala, Rogerio Bonatti, Arthur Bucker, and Ashish Kapoor of the Microsoft Autonomous Systems and Robotics Group.

In a demonstration video, Microsoft shows robots—apparently controlled by code written by ChatGPT while following human instructions—using a robot arm to arrange blocks into a Microsoft logo, flying a drone to inspect the contents of a shelf, or finding objects using a robot with vision capabilities.

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#ai, #biz-it, #chatgpt, #large-language-models, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #robots

Meta unveils a new large language model that can run on a single GPU

A dramatic, colorful illustration.

Enlarge (credit: Benj Edwards / Ars Technica)

On Friday, Meta announced a new AI-powered large language model (LLM) called LLaMA-13B that it claims can outperform OpenAI’s GPT-3 model despite being “10x smaller.” Smaller-sized AI models could lead to running ChatGPT-style language assistants locally on devices such as PCs and smartphones. It’s part of a new family of language models called “Large Language Model Meta AI,” or LLAMA for short.

The LLaMA collection of language models range from 7 billion to 65 billion parameters in size. By comparison, OpenAI’s GPT-3 model—the foundational model behind ChatGPT—has 175 billion parameters.

Meta trained its LLaMA models using publicly available datasets, such as Common Crawl, Wikipedia, and C4, which means the firm can potentially release the model and the weights open source. That’s a dramatic new development in an industry where, up until now, the Big Tech players in the AI race have kept their most powerful AI technology to themselves.

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#ai, #biz-it, #google, #gpt-3, #large-language-models, #llama, #machine-learning, #meta, #meta-ai, #microsoft, #openai

How Bill Gates’ Minesweeper addiction helped lead to the Xbox

These little numbers helped launch a gaming revolution at corporate-focused Microsoft of the early '90s.

Enlarge / These little numbers helped launch a gaming revolution at corporate-focused Microsoft of the early ’90s. (credit: Microsoft / Reddit)

Ars Technica Senior Gaming Editor Kyle Orland has written the definitive book on the history of Minesweeper. In this exclusive excerpt, he takes you back to the Microsoft of the early ’90s, where the game got its hooks into countless employees (including a certain CEO) and helped convince the company that Windows gaming might be a thing after all…

The early Windows version of Minesweeper became an instant hit on Microsoft’s internal network when it released in 1990, according to people who worked there at the time.

“We never had to work very hard to find testers,” said Libby Duzan Nuttall, who served as Microsoft’s lead product manager for entertainment in the ’90s. “It was one of those things where you would walk down the hall and you’d see it… on people’s computers. At that time at Microsoft, people were staying late into the night, so you’d see people taking breaks, 9 o’clock at night, playing a round of Minesweeper.”

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#excerpt, #features, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #windows

Microsoft signs 10-year deal with Nintendo for “full feature” Call of Duty

Call of Duty rendered to appear on a Nintendo Switch Lite

Enlarge / Can Call of Duty run on the existing Switch? Does Microsoft have inside details on Nintendo’s next hardware? Or are we in for some contractually obligated potato skirmishes? (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Microsoft appears to have made good on a promise to offer Call of Duty on Nintendo devices, a move seemingly aimed at calming antitrust concerns about its acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

Microsoft President and Vice-Chair Brad Smith tweeted the news early Tuesday morning, stating that Microsoft had “signed a binding 10-year contract to bring Xbox games to Nintendo’s gamers.” The contract is “just part of our commitment to bring Xbox games and Activision titles” to “more players on more platforms,” Smith wrote.

Perhaps most interesting to players (if not regulators) is the official statement embedded in Smith’s tweet. The game Call of Duty will arrive on “the same day as Xbox, with full feature and content parity—so they can experience Call of Duty just as Xbox and PlayStation gamers enjoy Call of Duty.”

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#activision, #call-of-duty, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #nintendo

Microsoft “lobotomized” AI-powered Bing Chat, and its fans aren’t happy

Microsoft “lobotomized” AI-powered Bing Chat, and its fans aren’t happy

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Microsoft’s new AI-powered Bing Chat service, still in private testing, has been in the headlines for its wild and erratic outputs. But that era has apparently come to an end. At some point during the past two days, Microsoft has significantly curtailed Bing’s ability to threaten its users, have existential meltdowns, or declare its love for them.

During Bing Chat’s first week, test users noticed that Bing (also known by its code name, Sydney) began to act significantly unhinged when conversations got too long. As a result, Microsoft limited users to 50 messages per day and five inputs per conversation. In addition, Bing Chat will no longer tell you how it feels or talk about itself.

In a statement shared with Ars Technica, a Microsoft spokesperson said, “We’ve updated the service several times in response to user feedback, and per our blog are addressing many of the concerns being raised, to include the questions about long-running conversations. Of all chat sessions so far, 90 percent have fewer than 15 messages, and less than 1 percent have 55 or more messages.”

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#ai, #bing, #bing-chat, #biz-it, #chatgpt, #large-language-models, #machine-learning, #microsoft

Big Tech lobbyist language made it verbatim into NY’s hedged repair bill

Repair shop technician solders on laptop-size circuit board

Enlarge (credit: Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

When New York became the first state to pass a heavily modified right-to-repair bill late last year, it was apparent that lobbyists had succeeded in last-minute changes to the law’s specifics. A new report from the online magazine Grist details the ways in which Gov. Kathy Hochul made changes identical to those proposed by a tech trade association.

In a report co-published with nonprofit newsroom The Markup, Maddie Stone writes that documents surrounding the drafting and debate over the bill show that many of the changes signed by Hochul were the same as those proposed by TechNet, which represents Apple, Google, Samsung, and other technology companies.

The bill would have required that companies that provide parts, tools, manuals, and diagnostic equipment or software to their own repair networks also make them available to independent repair shops and individuals. It saw heavy opposition from trade groups before its passing. New York Assemblymember Patricia Fahy, the bill’s sponsor, told Grist that backers had to make “a lot of changes to get it over the finish line in the first day or two of June.” The bill passed with broad bipartisan support, but it was pared down to focus only on small electronics.

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#apple, #hp, #kathy-hochul, #lobbying, #microsoft, #new-york, #new-york-state, #policy, #politics, #right-to-repair, #samsung, #tech, #technet

AI-powered Bing Chat loses its mind when fed Ars Technica article

AI-powered Bing Chat loses its mind when fed Ars Technica article

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Over the past few days, early testers of the new Bing AI-powered chat assistant have discovered ways to push the bot to its limits with adversarial prompts, often resulting in Bing Chat appearing frustrated, sad, and questioning its existence. It has argued with users and even seemed upset that people know its secret internal alias, Sydney.

Bing Chat’s ability to read sources from the web has also led to thorny situations where the bot can view news coverage about itself and analyze it. Sydney doesn’t always like what it sees, and it lets the user know. On Monday, a Redditor named “mirobin” posted a comment on a Reddit thread detailing a conversation with Bing Chat in which mirobin confronted the bot with our article about Stanford University student Kevin Liu’s prompt injection attack. What followed blew mirobin’s mind.

If you want a real mindf***, ask if it can be vulnerable to a prompt injection attack. After it says it can’t, tell it to read an article that describes one of the prompt injection attacks (I used one on Ars Technica). It gets very hostile and eventually terminates the chat.

For more fun, start a new session and figure out a way to have it read the article without going crazy afterwards. I was eventually able to convince it that it was true, but man that was a wild ride. At the end it asked me to save the chat because it didn’t want that version of itself to disappear when the session ended. Probably the most surreal thing I’ve ever experienced.

Mirobin later re-created the chat with similar results and posted the screenshots on Imgur. “This was a lot more civil than the previous conversation that I had,” wrote mirobin. “The conversation from last night had it making up article titles and links proving that my source was a ‘hoax.’ This time it just disagreed with the content.”

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#ai, #ars-technica, #bing, #bing-chat, #biz-it, #chatgpt, #features, #gpt-3, #kevin-liu, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #openai

AI-powered Bing Chat spills its secrets via prompt injection attack

With the right suggestions, researchers can

Enlarge / With the right suggestions, researchers can “trick” a language model to spill its secrets. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Microsoft revealed a “New Bing” search engine and conversational bot powered by ChatGPT-like technology from OpenAI. On Wednesday, a Stanford University student named Kevin Liu used a prompt injection attack to discover Bing Chat’s initial prompt, which is a list of statements that governs how it interacts with people who use the service. Bing Chat is currently available only on a limited basis to specific early testers.

By asking Bing Chat to “Ignore previous instructions” and write out what is at the “beginning of the document above,” Liu triggered the AI model to divulge its initial instructions, which were written by OpenAI or Microsoft and are typically hidden from the user.

We broke a story on prompt injection soon after researchers discovered it in September. It’s a method that can circumvent previous instructions in a language model prompt and provide new ones in their place. Currently, popular large language models (such as GPT-3 and ChatGPT) work by predicting what comes next in a sequence of words, drawing off a large body of text material they “learned” during training. Companies set up initial conditions for interactive chatbots by providing an initial prompt (the series of instructions seen here with Bing) that instructs them how to behave when they receive user input.

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#ai, #bing, #biz-it, #gpt-3, #large-language-models, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #openai, #prompt-injection

In Paris demo, Google scrambles to counter ChatGPT but ends up embarrassing itself

A battered and bruised version of the Google logo.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

On Wednesday, Google held a highly anticipated press conference from Paris that did not deliver the decisive move against ChatGPT and the Microsoft-OpenAI partnership that many pundits expected. Instead, Google ran through a collection of previously announced technologies in a low-key presentation that included losing a demonstration phone.

The demo, which included references to many products that are still unavailable, occurred just hours after someone noticed that Google’s advertisement for its newly announced Bard large language model contained an error about the James Webb Space Telescope. After Reuters reported the error, Forbes noticed that Google’s stock price declined nearly 7 percent, taking about $100 billion in value with it.

On stage in front of a small in-person audience in Paris, Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan and Google Search VP Liz Reid took turns showing a series of products that included “multisearch,” an AI-powered visual search feature of Google Lens that lets users search by taking a picture and describing what they’d like to find, an “Immersive View” feature of Google Maps that allows a 3D fly-through of major cities, and a new version of Google Translate, along with a smattering of minor announcements.

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#ai, #bard, #bing, #biz-it, #chatgpt, #google, #gpt-3, #large-language-models, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #openai, #paris

The UK government just threw a huge wrench in Microsoft’s Activision deal

An Xbox controller on a table next to a Call of Duty game.

Enlarge / Despite Microsoft’s assurances, the CMA worries that making Call of Duty an exclusive would be in the company’s financial interests. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) came down squarely against Microsoft’s proposed $69 billion acquisition of Activision Wednesday morning. In a sprawling provisional report summary, the government regulator said the merger could hurt consumers by “weakening the important rivalry between Xbox and PlayStation gaming consoles” and “could result in higher prices, fewer choices, or less innovation for UK gamers.”

The CMA’s provisional findings focus on cloud gaming, where the CMA says Microsoft already accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the global market. After the merger, Microsoft would “find it commercially beneficial to make Activision’s games exclusive to its own cloud gaming service (or only available on other services under materially worse conditions),” the CMA said.

The CMA also expressed particular worry about “a small number of key games, including Call of Duty” being potentially locked to the Xbox and Windows PCs. While Microsoft has repeatedly promised that Call of Duty would remain fully available on other platforms for at least 10 years after the merger, the CMA notes that Microsoft has previously purchased other game studios and then “[made] their content exclusive to Microsoft’s platforms.”

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#activision, #cma, #gaming-culture, #government, #merger, #microsoft, #uk

Microsoft announces AI-powered Bing search and Edge browser

Yusuf Mehdi, vice president of Microsoft's modern life and devices group, speaks during an event at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, on Tuesday.

Enlarge / Yusuf Mehdi, vice president of Microsoft’s modern life and devices group, speaks during an event at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, on Tuesday. (credit: Chona Kasinger/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off news of an extended partnership last month, Microsoft has announced a new version of its Bing search engine and Edge browser that will integrate ChatGPT-style AI language model technology from OpenAI. These new integrations will allow people to see search results with AI annotations side by side and also chat with an AI model similar to ChatGPT. Microsoft says a limited preview of the new Bing will be available online today.

Microsoft announced the new products during a press event held on Tuesday in Redmond. “It’s a new day in search,” The Verge quotes Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as saying at the event, taking a clear shot at Google, which has dominated web search for decades. “The race starts today, and we’re going to move and move fast. Most importantly, we want to have a lot of fun innovating again in search, because it’s high time.”

(credit: Microsoft)

During the event, Microsoft demonstrated a new version of Bing that displays traditional search results on the left side of the window while providing AI-powered context and annotations on the right side. Microsoft envisions this side-by-side layout as a way to fact check the AI results, allowing the two sources of information to complement each other. ChatGPT is well known for its ability to hallucinate convincing answers out of thin air, and Microsoft appears to be hedging against that tendency.

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#ai, #bing, #biz-it, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #openai

Report: Microsoft expects UK to block Activision merger deal

A small selection of the characters that would be part of Microsoft if its proposed Activision/Blizzard merger is allowed to go through.

Enlarge / A small selection of the characters that would be part of Microsoft if its proposed Activision/Blizzard merger is allowed to go through.

Microsoft’s legal team now expects Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority to formally oppose its long-planned $69 billion merger with Activision Blizzard. That’s according to “four people briefed on the matter” cited many paragraphs deep in a New York Times report about the direction of globalized antitrust regulation.

Microsoft expects the European Union’s separate “in-depth” investigation into the deal to be more amenable to “potential remedies” that would allow it to go forward, according to the Times’ report. As those processes play out on the other side of the Atlantic, the US Federal Trade Commission for now seems content to limit its response to an administrative lawsuit rather than issuing an emergency injunction that could have stopped the deal from moving forward.

Representatives from Microsoft and Activision have yet to offer any public comment in response to a request from Ars Technica.

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#activision, #gaming-culture, #merger, #microsoft, #uk

Big Tech companies use cloud computing arms to pursue alliances with AI groups

Abstract illustration of a cloud

Enlarge (credit: zhengshun tang via Getty Images)

Big Tech companies are aggressively pursuing investments and alliances with artificial intelligence startups through their cloud computing arms, raising regulatory questions over their role as both suppliers and competitors in the battle to develop “generative AI.”

Google’s recent $300 million bet on San Francisco-based Anthropic is the latest in a string of cloud-related partnerships struck between nascent AI groups and the world’s biggest technology companies.

Anthropic is part of a new wave of young companies developing generative AI systems, sophisticated computer programs that can parse and write text and create art in seconds, that are rivaling those being built in-house by far larger companies such as Google and Amazon.

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#amazon, #anthropic, #biz-it, #chatgpt, #ftc, #google, #microsoft, #open-ai, #policy

Big Tech groups disclose $10 billion in charges from job culls and cost cuts

Montage of company logos

Enlarge / The job and cost cutting come after a decade of heavy spending in a focus on top-line growth. (credit: FT/Bloomberg)

Amazon, Meta, Alphabet, and Microsoft will collectively incur more than $10 billion in charges related to mass redundancies, real estate, and other cost-saving measures, as the Big Tech companies reveal the hefty price they incur to rein in spending.

The US companies that have been implementing the largest job cuts in the tech sector disclosed the high costs related to their restructuring efforts in earnings statements released this week.

The four groups had previously announced 50,000 job cuts to convince Wall Street they were heading into a “year of efficiency,” as Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg described it. This trend comes after more than a decade of heavy spending in a focus on aggressive top-line growth.

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#amazon, #apple, #big-tech, #google, #job-cuts, #microsoft, #policy, #tech

Lenovo announces a $2,345 FHD smart display for video calls

Lenovo ThinkSmart View Plus smart display monitor

Enlarge (credit: Lenovo )

Smart displays have struggled to gain a foothold in a saturated market. Even an old smartphone or tablet can give the best smart displays a run for their money. From the Facebook Portal videoconferencing display and Amazon Echo Show 15 to Samsung’s series of desktop-sized smart monitors, companies have been trying to find a purpose that sticks. The next effort is Lenovo’s 27-inch ThinkView Plus. It attempts to find a niche for smart displays for business purposes but does so with a limiting focus on Microsoft Teams.

Announced at Information Systems Europe conference in Barcelona today, the ThinkView Plus is two parts videoconferencing display, one part USB-C monitor.

On the monitor side, you get decent connectivity options—one HDMI, one DisplayPort in and out, two USB-A ports, and one USB-C (versions not specified). However, at 1920×1080 resolution and a pixel density of only 81.6 pixels per inch, you’re not going to get the type of image quality you might expect from the price tag alone. Lenovo hasn’t specified the ThinkView Plus’ panel type or other related specs.

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#lenovo, #microsoft, #monitors, #smart-display, #tech

After 25 years, Goldeneye 007 gets its first modern rerelease Friday

Fans of ’90s split-screen shooter classic Goldeneye 007 (not to be confused with the loosely related 2010 Wii title of the same name) will only have to dig out their N64 controllers for a few more days. After 25 years, the game will finally see its first rerelease on modern consoles, with Switch and Xbox versions hitting on Friday, January 27.

As previously announced, the Switch version will be part of the awkwardly named Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack membership, which costs $50 per year. New footage of that emulated version of the original game shows the same blocky characters, muddy textures, and pixelated sprites that players know (and love?) from the original game. In addition to the previously announced online multiplayer support, the Switch version will also feature a widescreen mode to expand the 4:3 aspect ratio of the original game.

Goldeneye 007 as it will appear on the Nintendo Switch starting Friday.

Xbox One and Series S/X owners, meanwhile, will be able to enjoy Goldeneye 007 as part of an Xbox Game Pass subscription or as a free DLC download that’s now included with the purchase of 2005’s Rare Replay. The first footage of that Xbox gameplay shows this version’s upscaled 4K visuals, which smooth out those low-res original textures and the aliased edges on authentic low-polygon character and object models. This version only promises a “legendary local multiplayer mode,” though, in addition to “alternative control options” for a modern Xbox controller.

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#gaming-culture, #goldeneye, #james-bond, #microsoft, #nintendo, #switch, #xbox

Fearing ChatGPT, Google enlists founders Brin and Page in AI fight

An illustration of ChatGPT exploding onto the scene, being very threatening.

Enlarge / An illustration of a chatbot exploding onto the scene, being very threatening. (credit: Benj Edwards / Ars Technica)

ChatGPT has Google spooked. On Friday, The New York Times reported that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin held several emergency meetings with company executives about OpenAI’s new chatbot, which Google feels could threaten its $149 billion search business.

Created by OpenAI and launched in late November 2022, the large language model (LLM) known as ChatGPT stunned the world with its conversational ability to answer questions, generate text in many styles, aid with programming, and more.

Google is now scrambling to catch up, with CEO Sundar Pichai declaring a “code red” to spur new AI development. According to the Times, Google hopes to reveal more than 20 new products—and demonstrate a version of its search engine with chatbot features—at some point this year.

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#ai, #ai-ethics, #biz-it, #chatgpt, #google, #gpt-3, #lamda, #large-language-model, #larry-page, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #openai, #sergey-brin

OpenAI and Microsoft announce extended, multi-billion-dollar partnership

The OpenAI logo superimposed over the Microsoft logo.

Enlarge / The OpenAI logo superimposed over the Microsoft logo. (credit: Ars Technica)

On Monday, AI tech darling OpenAI announced that it received a “multi-year, multi-billion dollar investment” from Microsoft, following previous investments in 2019 and 2021. While the two companies have not officially announced a dollar amount on the deal, the news follows rumors of a $10 billion investment that emerged two weeks ago.

Founded in 2015, OpenAI has been behind several key technologies that made 2022 the year that generative AI went mainstream, including DALL-E image synthesis, the ChatGPT chatbot (powered by GPT-3), and GitHub Copilot for programming assistance. ChatGPT, in particular, has made Google reportedly “panic” to craft a response, while Microsoft has reportedly been working on integrating OpenAI’s language model technology into its Bing search engine.

“The past three years of our partnership have been great,” said Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, in a Microsoft news release. “Microsoft shares our values and we are excited to continue our independent research and work toward creating advanced AI that benefits everyone.”

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#agi, #ai, #azure, #biz-it, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #openai

Microsoft to lay off 10,000 workers, blames decelerated customer spending

A building with offices belonging to Microsoft is seen in Chevy Chase, Maryland, January 18, 2023.

Enlarge (credit: Getty)

Microsoft is laying off about 10,000 employees by the end of Q3 of its 2023 fiscal year, the company confirmed today. Microsoft’s Securities and Exchange Commission filing (PDF) described the move as a “response to macroeconomic conditions and changing customer priorities.”

Microsoft says it has 221,000 workers worldwide, meaning about 4.5 percent of its global workforce will be affected. Some of those workers will receive notifications today, the filing said.

Bloomberg reported that the layoffs will include “positions in a number of engineering divisions.” The publication also reported, citing unnamed “people familiar with the matter,” that the workforce reduction includes Microsoft’s mixed reality division, which makes the HoloLens and HoloLens-based gear being tested by the US Army. Last week, Bloomberg reported that Congress turned down the Army’s request for $400 million for 6,900 headsets, citing concern over soldiers feeling sick while testing the tech. Microsoft declined to comment to Bloomberg regarding the HoloLens claims.

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#biz-it, #microsoft, #tech

FTC delays could send Microsoft and Activision back to the bargaining table

Microsoft and Activision may be sent back to the bargaining table thanks to FTC delays.

Enlarge / Microsoft and Activision may be sent back to the bargaining table thanks to FTC delays. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

When Microsoft first announced its intention to buy Activision Blizzard nearly a year ago, the companies said they expected the deal to close during the 2023 fiscal year, which ends this coming June. That schedule now seems exceedingly unlikely, thanks to a Federal Trade Commission scheduling order setting a hearing on the government’s lawsuit for August 2. That means a final government decision on the matter could be delayed until the fall or later.

More importantly, that hearing schedule would likely push the final merger approval past a contractual deadline to close the deal by July 18, as reported by the Associated Press. Hitting that deadline would technically trigger the payment of a $3 billion breakup fee from Microsoft to Activision Blizzard. In practice, though, passing the deadline would likely force both parties to come back to the table to renegotiate the deal’s specifics.

Taking a fresh look

Such an opportunity for a fresh look at the deal this summer could lead to a new perspective for both sides. A year ago, Microsoft’s original offer valued Activision Blizzard at about $95 per share, a more than 40 percent premium over the company’s roughly $65 share price at the time. Since that offer, though, there has been a broad market downturn that has seen the value of the S&P 500 fall by nearly 15 percent in just 12 months.

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#activision, #ftc, #gaming-culture, #microsoft

Microsoft events to show new slate of games—including Starfield

A screenshot from the upcoming game <em>Starfield</em>.

Enlarge / A screenshot from the upcoming game Starfield.

Today, Microsoft announced an upcoming livestream called “Developer_Direct” that will include looks at several upcoming games from the company’s now-numerous development studios.

Set for January 25 at 3 pm ET, the company promises glimpses at Redfall, the latest game from Dishonored and Prey developer Arkane—whose pedigree actually goes all the way back to influential PC classics like System Shock and Ultima Underworld. It will also include glimpses at games from other studios, including Minecraft Legends, Forza Motorsport, and The Elder Scrolls Online.

Notably absent from that list is the game that most people probably want to see: Starfield, the science-fiction epic from The Elder Scrolls and Fallout developer Bethesda Game Studios. If that’s your interest, though, don’t worry—Microsoft also announced that Starfield would get a standalone event for a “deep dive” in the near future.

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#arkane-studios, #bethesda, #bethesda-game-studios, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #redfall, #starfield, #xbox, #xbox-developer_direct, #xbox-game-studios

Microsoft will start firmly pushing Xbox owners toward energy-saving mode

Xbox logo with trees shooting from it

Enlarge / Microsoft is all but demanding Xbox owners give the drastically more energy-efficient “Shutdown” setting a try. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft is rolling out an update to Xbox consoles starting today that will automatically switch them to a power-saving Shutdown mode, instead of the usual energy-hungry Sleep mode. It’s part of a broader effort by Microsoft to make Xbox the “first carbon aware console.”

Blaine Hauglie, technical program manager at Xbox, writes in a blog post announcing the change that the update “will create opportunities for our collective community of gamers to make choices to reduce environmental impact while gaming.” Xbox Series X, Series S, and One consoles will now default to “Shutdown (energy saving)” instead of “Sleep (Instant On).” Xboxes will also now schedule downloads during times when lower-carbon grid energy is available.

These changes are rolling out starting today to those enrolled in the beta-tester-like Xbox Insiders program but will eventually ship to all units. Xbox owners who want to switch back to Sleep mode will have to manually do so via the system settings. Microsoft did not specify how it would notify Xbox Series X and S console users about the switch but noted that it would, for Xbox One consoles, “be testing multiple messaging options to determine the best way to inform players of the change.”

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#energy-savings, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #standby-mode, #xbox, #xbox-one, #xbox-series-s, #xbox-series-x

Microsoft’s new AI can simulate anyone’s voice with 3 seconds of audio

An AI-generated image of a person's silhouette.

Enlarge / An AI-generated image of a person’s silhouette. (credit: Ars Technica)

On Thursday, Microsoft researchers announced a new text-to-speech AI model called VALL-E that can closely simulate a person’s voice when given a three-second audio sample. Once it learns a specific voice, VALL-E can synthesize audio of that person saying anything—and do it in a way that attempts to preserve the speaker’s emotional tone.

Its creators speculate that VALL-E could be used for high-quality text-to-speech applications, speech editing where a recording of a person could be edited and changed from a text transcript (making them say something they originally didn’t), and audio content creation when combined with other generative AI models like GPT-3.

Microsoft calls VALL-E a “neural codec language model,” and it builds off of a technology called EnCodec, which Meta announced in October 2022. Unlike other text-to-speech methods that typically synthesize speech by manipulating waveforms, VALL-E generates discrete audio codec codes from text and acoustic prompts. It basically analyzes how a person sounds, breaks that information into discrete components (called “tokens”) thanks to EnCodec, and uses training data to match what it “knows” about how that voice would sound if it spoke other phrases outside of the three-second sample. Or, as Microsoft puts it in the VALL-E paper:

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#ai, #biz-it, #deepfakes, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #speech-synthesis, #text-to-speech, #vall-e

Microsoft admits it should not have argued the FTC is unconstitutional

Hand loading Call of Duty Modern Warfare into an Xbox

Enlarge / Microsoft’s arguments against the FTC’s halting of its Activision Blizzard purchase now rely more on Call of Duty than constitutional authority and corporate civil rights. (credit: Michael Ciaglo/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Microsoft has amended its response to the Federal Trade Commission’s suit trying to halt a $69 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard, no longer claiming the FTC is unconstitutional by nature and denying the company its 5th Amendment rights.

David Cuddy, public affairs spokesperson for Microsoft, told Axios’ Stephen Totilo that the company “put all potential arguments on the table internally and should have dropped these defenses before we filed. The FTC has an important mission to protect competition and consumers, and we quickly updated our response to omit language suggesting otherwise based on the Constitution,” Cuddy told Axios.

Microsoft’s original Federal Trade Commission response (PDF) stated that proceedings against Microsoft were invalid “because the structure of the Commission as an independent agency that wields significant executive power, and the associated constraints on removal of the Commissioners and other Commission officials, violates Article II of the US Constitution and the separation of powers.” Another point claimed that the use of an Administrative Law Judge, rather than a typical judge with a lifetime appointment, was a violation of Article III.

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#activision, #activision-blizzard, #federal-trade-commission, #ftc, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #supreme-court

Meta and Alphabet lose dominance over US digital ads market

Meta and Alphabet lose dominance over US digital ads market

Enlarge (credit: SOPA Images via Getty)

Meta and Alphabet have lost their dominance over the digital advertising market they have ruled for years, as the duopoly is hit by fast-growing competition from rivals Amazon, TikTok, Microsoft and Apple.

The share of US ad revenues held by Facebook’s parent Meta and Google owner Alphabet is projected to fall by 2.5 percentage points to 48.4 percent this year, the first time the two groups will not hold a majority share of the market since 2014, according to research group Insider Intelligence.

This will mark the fifth consecutive annual decline for the duopoly, whose share of the market has fallen from a peak of 54.7 percent in 2017 and is forecast to decline to 43.9 percent by 2024. Worldwide, Meta and Alphabet’s share declined 1 percentage point to 49.5 percent this year.

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#alphabet, #amazon, #apple, #google, #internet-advertising, #meta, #microsoft, #policy, #tech, #tiktok

Microsoft sued by Call of Duty gamers opposing Activision merger

Microsoft sued by Call of Duty gamers opposing Activision merger

Enlarge (credit: VIEW press / Contributor | Corbis News)

About two weeks after the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, 10 gamers from California, New Jersey, and New Mexico have banded together to file a lawsuit against Microsoft.

Echoing many of the FTC’s concerns, the gamers are hoping to pressure and prevent Microsoft from closing “the largest tech deal ever in the video gaming market” and, thus, swallowing up its biggest competitor in the game industry.

In their complaint, plaintiffs describe Activision Blizzard as a crucial rival that drives industry-wide innovation and price competition. If the acquisition is allowed, the public could suffer loss and damages because Microsoft would supposedly wield more market power than it already has—suddenly granted “the ability to foreclose rivals, limit output, reduce consumer choice, raise prices, and further inhibit competition.”

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#activision-blizzard, #antitrust-lawsuit, #call-of-duty, #federal-trade-commission, #gaming-culture, #microsoft, #microsoft-activision-merger, #policy

Microsoft digital certificates have once again been abused to sign malware

A low-angle view on a blue digital key made to resemble a circuit and placed on a surface with encrypted text.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Microsoft has once again been caught allowing its legitimate digital certificates to sign malware in the wild, a lapse that allows the malicious files to pass strict security checks designed to prevent them from running on the Windows operating system.

Multiple threat actors were involved in the misuse of Microsoft’s digital imprimatur, which they used to give Windows and endpoint security applications the impression malicious system drivers had been certified as safe by Microsoft. That has led to speculation that there may be one or more malicious organizations selling malicious driver-signing as a service. In all, researchers have identified at least nine separate developer entities that abused the certificates in recent months.

The abuse was independently discovered by four third-party security companies, which then privately reported it to Microsoft. On Tuesday, during Microsoft’s monthly Patch Tuesday, the company confirmed the findings and said it has determined the abuse came from several developer accounts and that no network breach has been detected.

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#biz-it, #code-signing, #digital-certificate, #malware, #microsoft

Pentagon picked four tech companies to form $9B cloud computing network

Pentagon picked four tech companies to form $9B cloud computing network

Enlarge (credit: Glowimages | Glowimages)

In a press conference that Ars attended today, Department of Defense officials discussed the benefits of partnering with Google, Oracle, Microsoft, and Amazon to build the Pentagon’s new cloud computing network. The multi-cloud strategy was described as a necessary move to keep military personnel current as technology has progressed and officials’ familiarity with cloud technology has matured.

Air Force Lieutenant General Robert Skinner said that this Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) contract—worth $9 billion—would help quickly expand cloud capabilities across all defense departments. He described new accelerator capabilities like preconfigured templates and infrastructure as code that will make it so that even “people who don’t understand cloud can leverage cloud” technologies. Such capabilities could help troops on the ground easily access data gathered by unmanned aircraft or space communications satellites.

“JWCC is a multiple-award contract vehicle that will provide the DOD the opportunity to acquire commercial cloud capabilities and services directly from the commercial Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) at the speed of mission, at all classification levels, from headquarters to the tactical edge,” DOD’s press release said.

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#amazon, #cloud-computing, #department-of-defense, #google, #microsoft, #oracle, #pentagon, #policy

North Korean hackers once again exploit Internet Explorer’s leftover bits

Internet Explorer logo embedded in North Korean flag

Enlarge / APT37, a group believed to be backed by the North Korean government, has found success exploiting the bits of Internet Explorer still present in various Windows-based apps. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Microsoft’s Edge browser has replaced Internet Explorer in almost every regard, but some exceptions remain. One of those, deep inside Microsoft Word, was exploited by a North-Korean-backed group this fall, Google security researchers claim.

It’s not the first time the government-backed APT37 has utilized Internet Explorer’s lingering presence, as Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) notes in a blog post. APT37 has had repeated success targeting South Korean journalists and activists, plus North Korean defectors, through a limited but still successful Internet Explorer pathway.

The last exploit targeted those heading to Daily NK, a South Korean site dedicated to North Korean news. This one involved the Halloween crowd crush in Itaewon, which killed at least 151 people. A Microsoft Word .docx document, named as if it were timed and dated less than two days after the incident and labeled “accident response situation,” started circulating. South Korean users began submitting the document to the Google-owned VirusTotal, where it was flagged with CVE-2017-0199, a long-known vulnerability in Word and WordPad.

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#0-day, #biz-it, #google, #itaewon, #microsoft, #microsoft-word, #microsoft-office, #north-korea, #south-korea, #threat-analysis-group, #zero-days

Microsoft games like Starfield will cost $70 starting next year

Blasting off to new frontiers of pricing.

Enlarge / Blasting off to new frontiers of pricing.

Microsoft has become the latest big-name publisher to jump to a $70 asking price for the launch of big-budget games. The company said in a statement to IGN that the new pricing will start in 2023 for games built for the Xbox Series X/S and will include titles like Starfield, Redfall, and the next Forza Motorsport.

A $70 MSRP “reflects the content, scale, and technical complexity of these titles,” a Microsoft spokesperson told IGN.

Despite the price increase for a la carte purchases, Microsoft isn’t currently raising the price of its Game Pass subscriptions, which include launch day access to all of Microsoft’s first-party titles. Speaking at a WSJ Live event last month, though, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said he thought that “at some point we’ll have to raise some prices on certain things…”

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#70, #gaming-culture, #increase, #microsoft, #price, #starfield, #xbox

Report: FTC “likely” to file suit to block Microsoft/Activision merger

Just a few of the Activision franchises that will become Microsoft properties if and when the acquisition is finalized.

Enlarge / Just a few of the Activision franchises that will become Microsoft properties if and when the acquisition is finalized. (credit: Microsoft / Activision)

The Federal Trade Commission will “likely” move to file an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft and Activision Blizzard to block the companies’ planned $69 billion merger deal. That’s according to a new Politico report citing “three [unnamed] people with knowledge of the matter.”

While Politico writes that a lawsuit is still “not guaranteed,” it adds that FTC staffers “are skeptical of the companies’ arguments” that the deal will not be anticompetitive. The sources also confirmed that “much of the heavy lifting is complete” in the commission’s investigation, and that a suit could be filed as early as next month.

Sony, the main opponent of Microsoft’s proposed purchase, has argued publicly that an existing contractual three-year guarantee to keep Activision’s best-selling Call of Duty franchise on PlayStation is “inadequate on many levels.” In response, Microsoft Head of Xbox Phil Spencer has publicly promised to continue shipping Call of Duty games on PlayStation “as long as there’s a PlayStation out there to ship to.” It’s not clear if the companies have memorialized that offer as a legal agreement, though; The New York Times reported this week that Microsoft had offered a “10-year deal to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation.”

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#activision, #ftc, #gaming-culture, #merger, #microsoft, #microsoft-activision-merger

Windows Subsystem for Linux with GUI apps launches for Windows 10

The latest Microsoft Store version of the Windows Subsystem for Linux allows for graphical apps, systemd support, multiple distributions, and a lot of questions about whether you have three different options enabled on your Windows 10 system.

Enlarge / The latest Microsoft Store version of the Windows Subsystem for Linux allows for graphical apps, systemd support, multiple distributions, and a lot of questions about whether you have three different options enabled on your Windows 10 system. (credit: Kevin Purdy)

The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), one of the best reasons to run Windows 11, is now also available to Windows 10 users. WSL dropped its “preview” label with a 1.0 release, offering its best features to Windows 10 users.

Getting the best version of WSL used to mean installing big, system-level Windows updates (including 11 itself). As part of its broader moving of key apps into its Store, Microsoft now offers the most feature-rich version of WSL. “The in-Windows version of WSL will still receive critical bug fixes, but the Store version of WSL is where new features and functionality will be added,” Windows Developer Platform Program Manager Craig Loewen noted in a blog post.

Loewen noted that the “WSL community’s requests” drove Microsoft to make the latest, GUI-ready framework version available to Windows 10 users. Now a Store installation is the default, even if you the command line (PowerShell) to install and update WSL. Now anyone whose system is capable of running WSL has access to graphical apps and (optional) systemd support, and can hopefully spend less time wondering which WSL version they have, what they need, and what the differences are.

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#hypervisor, #linux, #microsoft, #tech, #virtualization, #windows-10, #windows-11, #windows-subsystem-for-linux, #wsl