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This Week in Apps: Apple and Google’s best apps of the year, Amazon Appstore fails …

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Apple announced its top apps and games of 2021

app store awards 2021

Image Credits: Apple

Apple this week released its anticipated annual list of the best apps and games of the year across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV and Apple Watch. This year, children’s app maker Toca Boca won iPhone App of the Year for “Toca Life World,” and Riot Games’ “League of Legends: Wild Rift” was the iPhone Game of the Year. Other winners included iPad App of the Year “LumaFusion” from LumaTouch; iPad Game of the Year “MARVEL Future Revolution” from Netmarble; Mac App of the Year “Craft,” from Luki Labs Limited; Mac Game of the Year “Myst,” from Cyan; Apple TV App of the Year “DAZN,” from DAZN Group; Apple TV Game of the Year “Space Marshals 3,” from Pixelbite; Apple Watch App of the Year “Carrot Weather,” from Grailr; and the Apple Arcade Game of the Year: “Fantasian,” from Mistwalker.

What’s interesting about this year’s group of winners is the subtle statement Apple is making with its editorial picks. For instance, Toca Boca — which has produced more than 40 kids’ apps to date and celebrated its 10-year anniversary this year — is a reminder that developers are building long-term businesses on the App Store and Apple helped play a role in supporting that success. Other winners are those that compete with Apple’s own first-party apps, including Carrot Weather (which also uses weather data from Apple-owned Dark Sky), Pages rival Craft and iMovie competitor LumaFusion.

These are not necessarily coincidences. 2021 was a year that’s seen much backlash and upheaval for the App Store, which has faced increased regulatory scrutiny, new legislation in global markets and various lawsuits over the App Store’s commission-based business model — including the ongoing one with Epic Games, now under appeal. As a result, Apple has adjusted and clarified its policies and even reduced its commissions in some cases, as dictated by the market demands and settlement agreements. But despite all these changes, the winning lineup reminds us that the quality of the apps on the App Store remains high.

Apple also released its year-end list of the most-downloaded apps, led by TikTok (iPhone’s top free app), Procreate Pocket (iPhone and iPad’s top paid app), Among Us! (iPhone and iPad’s top free game), Minecraft (iPhone and iPad’s top paid game), YouTube (iPad’s top free app) and The Oregon Trail (top Apple Arcade app.) The full lineup is here.

Google Play introduced its “Best of 2021” app awards, too

best of 2021 blog header 01

Image Credits: Google

Google Play also this week announced its own year-end list of the best apps and games on Google Play. This year, Google expanded its awards lineup to include apps and games on tablets, Wear OS and Google TV. Its U.S. winners included meditation app Balance as its app of the year and top game Pokémon UNITE. Meanwhile, Paramount+ and Garena Free Fire MAX won the user’s choice awards.

In 2020, Google’s award winners had reflected a world undergoing a pandemic, where stressed users had turned to apps and soothing games to relax — like top sleep app Loóna, which was last year’s “Best App,” or escapist games like winner Genshin Impact.

But with the early days of the pandemic now behind us, some of this year’s award winners were apps that focus on personal growth and creativity, instead of just relaxing or escaping. In addition to Best of 2021 app Balance, which offers personalized meditation, other personal development-styled winners include Moonly, an app for “harmonizing your life” with the lunar calendar; a “comedic relaxation” app, Laughscape; a hypnotherapy app for women, Clementine; better sleep app Sleep Cycle; mentorship community Mentor Spaces; habit tracker and planner Rabit; and an app for navigating grief from loss, Empathy.

Other winners showcased how we adapted to pandemic life, as with audio chatroom Clubhouse, tools for reducing screen time, like Speechify, or those for reconnecting with nature, like Blossom.

The full list of award winners is here.

The Amazon Appstore stopped working on Android 12 and almost no one cared

In a telling piece of news that may reflect how little traction the Amazon Appstore has with the general public, the Amazon-run Android marketplace stopped working on Android 12 devices over a month ago, and there’s been almost no media coverage until this week. On Monday, however, tech news site Liliputing finally called attention to the matter, which followed the October release of Android 12. It said that not only did the Amazon Appstore not run on Android 12 devices, apps and games also couldn’t be launched because of how the Appstore handles DRM. The site noted some 90-plus users had posted complaints in a thread on Amazon’s forums about the problem, to which Amazon’s moderators had only replied that the company was “investigating the issue.”

Amazon wouldn’t provide TechCrunch with any details as to what the underlying issues were either, only acknowledging the problem was impacting the “small number of Amazon Appstore users that upgraded to Android 12.” (Oof! Burn!) While, sure, Android users aren’t as quick to jump to new versions as iOS users are, that the entire Amazon Appstore would fail on the latest Android release makes us wonder if anyone at Amazon had even run the thing on a beta build ahead of Android 12’s launch at all? Or maybe they were too busy with that Microsoft deal to bother?

Platforms: Apple

  • As the holidays draw near, Apple’s iOS 15.2 beta 4 has been released to both developers and public testers. It also stopped signing iOS 15.1, making downloads and restores no longer possible.
  • A report by 9to5Mac pointed out how Apple said in a legal filing that it could collect commission on in-app purchases that take place outside its App Store when asking for an extension on the injunction resulting from the Epic Games lawsuit. The claim had been first spotted and tweeted by David Barnard, leading to the coverage. Apple of course wants more time to implement the required changes, and used this argument about non-App Store IAPs (among many, many other reasons) as why it should be granted the extra time. But it’s too soon to read into the filing’s statements as an indication of Apple’s future plans. Tapping into non-App Store payments in order to commission them is a complex matter and one that could open Apple up to increased liability due to fraudulent transactions. Sure, Apple may very well do that, but it also might not. But right now, this is only proof that Apple is trying really hard to get an extension, and nothing more.

Platforms: Google

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Image Credits: Google

  • Google announced a suite of new features coming to Android devices this winter. This includes new widgets for YouTube Music and Google Play Books, and the new Google Photos Pets & People widget, as well as a new Memories feature in Google Photos where a curated selection of special events will appear in your photo grid. Google Assistant’s Family Bell feature also expanded from home devices to mobile, and Gboard added new emojis. Android Auto received a host of updates as well.
  • Google, whose Android Developers YouTube channel has now reached 1 million subscribers, offered a number of updates on Paging, Gradle, AndroidX, Media3, Emoji2, CameraX, App Startup, Accessibility and Wear OS in its latest video (see below).

E-commerce and Food Delivery

  • Swiggy, India’s top food delivery startup, announced this week it will invest $700 million into growing its express grocery delivery service Instamart. The service was only available in two cities last year but is now in 18, where it sees more than 1 million orders per week.

Fintech & Crypto

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Image Credits: Meta

  • Messenger introduced a Venmo-like feature for splitting payments. Starting next week, the company will begin testing a way for U.S. users to split the cost of bills and expenses, which can be done evenly or by modifying the contribution amount for each individual.
  • NFT collectibles app VeVe Collectibles is leading the NFT trading space on mobile with more than $100 million in consumer spending, reports Sensor Tower. This puts it ahead of Fantastec, SWAP, OurSong and Sweet, which focus on collectibles rather than wallet functionality. Though VeVe only launched in October 2020, it’s already leading the pack with 744,000 installs and $112.5 million in spending. The remaining apps have a collective 485,000 installs and $384,000 in spending.

top nft app monthly installs

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • Now with a full-time CEO back in place, Jack Dorsey’s Square changed its name to Block to better reflect its growing ambitions in the crypto market. Block will house all the company’s products, including its seller business Square, Cash App, crypto developer platform TBD and Spiral (formerly, Square Crypto).
  • Cypto CEOs are scheduled to testify at a House committee hearing titled “Digital Assets and the Future of Finance: Understanding the Challenges and Benefits of Financial Innovation in the United States” on December 8. CEOs from Coinbase, Circle, FTX, Bitfury, Paxos and Stellar will attend.
  • Meta’s top crypto exec, David Marcus, announced he’s leaving the company later this year. Marcus previously ran Messenger at Facebook before moving to lead the crypto unit Novi, maker of the Novia digital wallet app. Meta’s Diem cryptocurrency project has seen setbacks due to regulatory pushback which slowed its development and Marcus hinted he may want to do more in the crypto space, noting “I remain as passionate as ever about the need for change in our payments and financial systems — my entrepreneurial DNA has been nudging me for too many mornings in a row to continue ignoring it.”

Social

  • ⭐️ Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey resigned from his CEO role at the social media company on Monday and will only remain on the board until his term expires in 2022. His departure will free him up to work full-time at the other company he’s been running, Square (now renamed Block), which seems to be more closely connected with his current interests in cryptocurrency and Bitcoin. Twitter’s CTO Parag Agrawal has become CEO and is already making changes. Two Twitter execs, head of engineering Michael Montano and the controversial VP of design Dantley Davis, are leaving the company, The Washington Post reported. Other teams will be reshuffled, including consumer, revenue and core tech divisions, led by Kayvon Beykpour, Bruce Falck and Nick Caldwell, respectively.
  • Meta (formerly Facebook) is now heading in a new direction with its NPE team, which has historically tested new social apps in hopes of stumbling across the next big hit. Now, the company will direct its focus more globally with offices in Nigeria and Asia and even seed-stage investments for small teams. It’s also developing projects in the U.S., which is different from its prior attempts, like helping the formerly incarcerated re-enter society, or helping LGBTQ families on their journey to becoming parents.

NPE

Image Credits: Meta

  • TikTok added new creator monetization features, including Tips and Video Gifts. The former will allow fans to send direct payments to creators, who get to keep 100% of the money. Video Gifts, meanwhile, function like LIVE Gifts, except can be awarded to creators outside a live broadcast. The features are rolling out alongside a new “Creator Next” portal, which organizes all TikTok’s monetization opportunities in one place.
  • TikTok launched a new Transparency Center, which will house the company’s historical Transparency Reports as well as its more interactive reports going forward, including the latest release: H1 2021 Content Removal Requests Reports.
  • LinkedIn added support for the Hindi language, which allows it to reach 500 million people in India. Hindi is the first regional language to be supported by the social network. The move is timely, following a week that saw another India-born exec move into the CEO ranks at a top U.S. tech company, when Twitter announced @Jack would be replaced by CTO Parag Agrawal as the company’s new chief exec.
  • Reddit added new real-time features, including typing and commenting indicators. It’s also adding voting and comment count animations and reading indicators, with the goal of making its service across desktop, iOS and Android feel more engaging and dynamic.

Messaging

  • Messenger partnered with four creators to expand its new lineup of Group Effects (AR effects that can be applied to everyone on the call at once). The new effects hail from King Bach, Emma Chamberlain, Bella Poarch and Zach King. It’s also working with Netflix on new Stranger Things soundmojis and added a new Taylor Swift soundmoji in honor of the release of “Red.”

Dating

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Image Credits: App Annie screenshot

  • Bumble surpassed the $1 billion mark in consumer spending, according to data from App Annie. The dating and networking app is one of only 15 other non-gaming apps, and the only dating app outside of Tinder, to have hit this milestone. In addition to Bumble and Tinder, other billion-dollar club members include YouTube, Netflix, Tencent Video, TikTok, iQIYI, Pandora Music, LINE, Disney+, HBO Max, BIGO LIVE, Google One, LINE Manga, piccoma and Youku. The WSJ also remarked this week that Bumble, with a fully diluted valuation of around $6.6 billion, is starting to look undervalued. 
  • Match settled its lawsuit with Tinder co-founders and execs for $441 million. The suit, filed in 2018, alleged that IAC and its then-subsidiary Match Group manipulated financial data in order to create a false, “lowball valuation” of the dating app when Tinder was merged into IAC in 2017. The employees also said they had been unlawfully stripped of their Tinder stock options. The suit sought “billions of dollars” in damages at the time of its filing. While they didn’t get quite that number, after the court dismissed some of their claims for damages, $441 million is no small number. Match said it’s paying the settlement in cash. It had around $510 million in cash and cash equivalents at the end of the third quarter.

Streaming & Entertainment

PR 2021 Top5Artists A

Image Credits: Spotify

  • Spotify’s anticipated year-end review, Wrapped 2021, has arrived. This year, the company introduced a number of new features, including artist and podcaster video messages, a version of Blend designed for Wrapped (which lets you compare your Wrapped with a friend), an in-app game based on “Two Truths and a Lie,” your “Audio Aura” (perfect for sharing when you don’t want to reveal your artists and songs) and more. The feature has become a popular way for Spotify to leverage its huge data collection in a way that’s not only engaging, but also makes Apple Music listeners green with envy.
  • Twitch’s iOS app added support for Apple’s SharePlay, allowing users and up to 31 of their friends to watch Twitch streams together while on a FaceTime call. To use the feature, everyone on the call has to log into their Twitch app and can then watch in either portrait or landscape mode along with friends.
  • YouTube on Android is testing a Material Design 3-inspired look, which includes pill-shaped bubbles surrounding the thin line-art icons, including a combined tab for likes and dislikes. The test design greatly shrinks the height of the bar under the video, however. The app has yet to get its Material You makeover, so this test is an indication that may soon on its way.
  • African streaming service WAW MUZIK partnered with B2B music streaming company Tuned Global on the relaunch of its music streaming app for French-speaking African territories.

Gaming

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Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • MrBeast’s parody video of Netflix’s “Squid Game” helped drive installs of Supercell’s Brawl Stars, reported Sensor Tower. The event had been sponsored by Supercell, which benefitted from the viral success of the video which had topped 100 million views. In the six days followed the YouTube video’s release, Brawl Stars’ downloads grew 41% week-over-week to 1.4 million. The majority (263,000) were from U.S. users. Player spending also grew 54% week-over-week worldwide to reach $8.2 million. The surge may not be all MrBeast-related, however. The Brawl Stars World Finals had just taken place November 26-28, which may have also boosted installs.
  • PUBG Mobile surpassed $7 billion in lifetime revenue after generating an average of $8.1 million per day in 2021 across the App Store and Google Play, Sensor Tower reported. Combined with the Chinese localization (Game for Peace), the title brought in $2.6 billion in 2021 so far and is the No. 2 Top Grossing game worldwide, behind Honor of Kings.

Travel & Transportation

  • Uber will begin testing an audio recording safety feature in the U.S. The company says it will begin piloting the program, which will allow drivers to send trip recordings to Uber in the case of a safety incident, in three U.S. markets:  Kansas City, Missouri; Louisville, Kentucky; and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.
  • Uber in India added ride-booking via WhatsApp, a first for both companies, Uber and Meta. The partnership lets users access Uber by sending a message to a chatbot, and follows WhatsApp’s rollout of in-app grocery shopping in partnership with JioMart.
  • As part of the Android winter update, Android Auto added support for digital car key for compatible BMW vehicles on Pixel 6 devices and Samsung Galaxy 21. It also now auto-launches when your phone is connected to your car, and is adding an always-on play button to its Home screen, as well as a new search icon. (The latter is coming in the “months” ahead.) Also planned is support for Smart Reply for responding to texts within Android Auto.
  • Spotify has decided to retire “Car View,” its easy-to-use interface that appears when Spotify is used while driving. The company didn’t offer an immediate replacement, which angered some users who worried that using Spotify in the car now won’t be as safe. Others, however, hated the feature and are glad to see it go.

Government & Policy

  • Some Chinese state-run companies have restricted the use of Tencent’s domestic messaging app, Weixin, citing security concerns. At least nine companies were told to stop the practice of using the app for work chats, including China Mobile, China Construction Bank Corp., China National Petroleum Corp. and others.
  • Apple and Google were fined €10 million apiece by Italy’s competition and market authority (AGCM), which said the companies didn’t provide their users with clear enough information on commercial uses of their data. Both were accused of omitting information during the account creation phase. For Apple, that includes when users first set up their Apple ID to access its digital storefronts, like the App Store.
  • U.K.’s antitrust watchdog has ordered Facebook (now called Meta) to sell Giphy, the online and mobile GIF platform it acquired for $400 million in May 2020.

Security & Privacy

  • Android devices will soon automatically turn off runtime permissions — which allow apps to access data or take actions on your behalf — for downloaded apps you haven’t used in a while. The feature was also a part of Android’s winter update and will roll out this month on Android 6.0 and higher.
  • Researchers discovered a batch of Android apps with a combined 300,000 installs that were revealed to be banking trojans that stole user passwords and two-factor authentication codes, logged user keystrokes and took screenshots. The apps had posed as QR scanners, PDF scanners and cryptocurrency wallets that had been discovered on Google Play for months.
  • Twitter expanded its safety policy by banning the posting of images and videos of private individuals without their consent. This doesn’t mean users can’t post images, necessarily, but if the private individual asks for the image to be taken down, Twitter will do so. The Columbia Journalism Review cautioned that the new policy’s wording could lead to difficulties in balancing what’s in the public interest (which is permitted) with individual privacy. Already things are not going well. Twitter Safety has locked the account of an extremism researcher who had posted videos of right-wing extremists who were discussing plans for assaulting a reporter in public, where legally, there’s no expectation of privacy.

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Image Credits: Lowkey

🤝 Pokémon GO maker Niantic acquired social gaming platform Lowkey, which allows gamers a way to capture and share their favorite gaming moments. The company said it will bring on Lowkey’s team to help it build out the future of Niantic’s social experiences.

🤝 Digital creation platform Picsart announced the acquisition of R&D company DeepDraft in a seven-figure cash and stock deal. The company brings to Picsart deep expertise in AI and machine learning, which Picsart will leverage as it pushes further into the video space.

🤝 Social app IRL made its first acquisition with a deal for the “digital nutrition” company AeBeZe Labs. The company had been developing a range of products with an understanding of how digital content can impact people’s moods. IRL aims to use its technology to improve its event and community recommendations in a healthier way compared with how existing social rivals manage their own algorithms. Deal terms weren’t offered.

💰 Glorify, a Christian-focused subscription app offering meditation, bible passages and Christian music, raised $40 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from SoftBank Latin America Fund, K5 Global and others. Notable angel investors include Kris Jenner, Corey Gamble, Michael Ovitz, Jason Derulo and Michael Bublé.

📉 Southeast Asian super app Grab started trading on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol GRAB after merging with the SPAC Altimeter Growth in the biggest Wall Steet debut by a Southeast Asian company, which saw the company raising $4.5 billion, valuing its business at nearly $40 billion. After an initial jump on Thursday, shares dropped more than 20% as investors reacted to its falling revenues and rising losses.

💰 Vinehealth, the makers of an app offering digital support for cancer patients and SaaS for R&D, raised $5.5 million in seed funding led by Talis Capital. The London-based startup has now launched the app, which has around 15,000 downloads, in the U.S.

💰 Francophone African super app Gozem raised $5 million in Series A funding from AAIC, Thunes (TransferTo), Momentum Ventures (SMRT), Innoport Ventures (Schulte Group), CMC Ventures (National Express) and Liil Ventures (Mobility ADO). The app offers transportation, e-commerce and financial services across 13 cities, including Gabon and Cameroon. Users have now completed over 5 million trips using its services.

💰 Financial literacy app for kids Goalsetter raised $15 million in Series A funding, led by Seae Ventures. The app allows kids to receive an allowance and financial gifts from family and friends, which comes to their Goalsetter debit card. But they can only unlock the money by taking financial literacy quizzes. The company now plans to sell a white-labled version of its service to banks.

💰 London-based money management app Plum raised $24 million in Series A funding from dmg Ventures and others, bringing its total raise to date to $43 million. The fintech company reported 189% YoY increase in revenue.

💰 Southeast Asian investment app Endowu raised $25.6 million in new funding following its $23 million Series A just seven months ago. The new round — which the company says is in between an A and a B — was led by Prosus Ventures, the venture firm majority-owned by Naspers, and EDBI. The app has $1.5 billion SGD in total assets under management.

💰 Algeria-based Yassir raised $30 million in Series A funding to build a super app for North Africa that includes ride-hailing, last-mile delivery, payments and more. The company had previously raised $13.25 million in seed funding.

Indie App Santa

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Image Credits: Indie App Santa

The new Indie App Santa app is an advent calendar of sorts for those who love to download and try out iOS apps. The idea began last year as a Twitter account, which drove around 40,000 downloads to the apps the day they were featured. This year, the team at App Craft Studio decided to expand the project to the web, a native iOS app (with Home Widgets and Push notifications), in addition to social accounts on Twitter, Gumroad and Patreon.

According to creator and indie developer François Boulis, the team wasn’t sure if Apple’s App Store Review would approve their new app because it could be considered a “mini App Store” — which is against Apple’s rules. But the app passed through App Review on its first try, he says.

The new iOS app presents an advent calendar-like interface where each day you can tap to open a door and reveal a new deal on an indie developer’s app. The app will work from December 1 through December 24, and is a free download (with the option to pay to support its development).

So far, the app has revealed deals including a free version of MrClockface, a clock widget app; a free version of visual calendar Structured Pro; and puzzle game Blackbox. Most of the apps featured throughout the month will also be free, except for YarnBuddy (December 8), which will offer its $39.99 IAP for just $9.99 on the day of its featuring. Other coming app deals include those for Jinks!, Twidget, Vinyls, Crouton, Bluebird, PastePal, Wynk, Guessing Game, Inventory List, Skaffer, Sticker Doodle, Calory, Sync Flashlight, HabitMinder, un:safe, FitnessView, Times Up! Timer, Luxilux, Pile and Wordsmyth.

But India App Santa’s deals don’t last forever — you have to grab them as they arrive, or you’ll miss out.

Alms

Alms preview

Image Credits: Alms

A new startup called Alms is building a social network that focuses on users’ well-being through participation in creator-led challenges in areas like personal growth, sustainability and others focused on positive impacts. Instead of driving the collection of “likes,” as on other social apps, Alms aims to encourage real-world engagement through its challenges and the specific steps and actions that must be taken. The idea, explains Alms founder Alexander Nevedovsky, is to design an app that guides users to a happier and more meaningful life when they use it. At launch Alms has 30 creators on board, and more in the pipeline, and has attracted a couple of thousand users in its first few days on the App Store.

(Read a full review at TechCrunch.)

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How Auto-GPT will revolutionize AI chatbots as we know them

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How Auto-GPT will revolutionize AI chatbots as we know them

Artificial intelligence chatbots such as OpenAI LP’s ChatGPT have reached a fever pitch of popularity recently not just for their ability to hold humanlike conversations, but because they can perform knowledge tasks such as research, searches and content generation.

Now there’s a new contender taking social media by storm that extends the capabilities of OpenAI’s offering by automating its abilities even further: Auto-GPT. It’s part of a new class of AI tools called “autonomous AI agents” that take the power of GPT-3.5 and GPT-4, the generative AI technologies behind ChatGPT, to approach a task, build on its own knowledge, and connect apps and services to automate tasks and perform actions on the behalf of users.

ChatGPT might seem magical to users for its ability to answer questions and produce content based on user prompts, such as summarizing large documents or generating poems and stories or writing computer code. However, it’s limited in what it can do because it’s capable of doing only one task at a time. During a session with ChatGPT, a user can prompt the AI with only one question at a time and refining those prompts or questions can be a slow and tedious journey.

Auto-GPT, created by game developer Toran Bruce Richards, takes away these limitations by allowing users to give the AI an objective and a set of goals to meet. Then it spawns a bot that acts like a person would, using OpenAI’s GPT model to perform AI prompts in order to approach that goal. Along the way, it learns to refine its prompts and questions in order to get better results with every iteration.

It also has internet connectivity in order to gather additional information from searches. Moreover, it has short- and long-term memory through database connections so that it can keep track of sub-tasks. And it uses GPT-4 to produce content such as text or code when required. Auto-GPT is also capable of challenging itself when a task is incomplete and filling in the gaps by changing its own prompts to get better results.

According to Richards, although current AI chatbots are extremely powerful, their inability to refine their own prompts on the fly and automate tasks is a bottleneck. “This inspiration led me to develop Auto-GPT, which can apply GPT-4’s reasoning to broader, more complex problems that require long-term planning and multiple steps,” he told Vice.

Auto-GPT is available as open source on GitHub. It requires an application programming interface key from OpenAI to access GPT-4. And to use it, people will need to install Python and a development environment such as Docker or VS Code with a Dev Container extension. As a result, it might take a little bit of technical knowhow to get going, though there’s extensive setup documentation.

How does it work?

In a text interface, Auto-GPT asks the user to give the AI a name, a role, an objective and up to five goals that it should reach. Each of these defines how the AI agents will approach the action the user wants and how it will deliver the final product.

First, the user sets a name for the AI, such as “RestaurantMappingApp-GPT,” and then set a role, such as “Develop a web app that will provide interactive maps for nearby restaurants.” The user can then set a series of goals, such as “Write a back-end in Python” and “Program a front end in HTML,” or “Offer links to menus if available” and “Link to delivery apps.”

Once the user hits enter, Auto-GPT will begin launching agents, which will produce prompts for GPT-4, then approach the original role and each of the different goals. Finally, it will then begin refining and recursing through the different prompts that will allow it to connect to Google Maps using Python or JavaScript.

It does this by breaking the overall job into smaller tasks to work on each, and it uses a primary monitoring AI bot that acts as a “manager” to make sure that they coordinate. This particular prompt asks the bot to build a somewhat complex app that could go awry if it doesn’t keep track of a number of different moving parts, so it might take a large number of steps to get there.

With each step, each AI instance will “narrate” what it’s doing and even criticize itself in order to refine its prompts depending on its approach toward the given goal. Once it reaches a particular goal, each instance will finalize its process and return its answer back to the main management task.

Trying to get ChatGPT or even the more advanced, subscription-based GPT-4 to do this without supervision would take a large number of manual steps that would have to be attended to by a human being. Auto-GPT does them on its own.

The capabilities of Auto-GPT are beneficial for neophyte developers looking to get ahead in the game, Brandon Jung, vice president of ecosystem at AI-code completion tool provider Tabnine Ltd., told SiliconANGLE.

“One benefit is that it’s a good introduction for those that are new to coding, and it allows for quick prototyping,” Jung said. “For use cases that don’t require exactness or have security concerns, it could speed up the creation process without having to be part of a broader system that includes an expert for review.”

Being able to build apps rapidly, including all the code all at once, from a simple series of text prompts would bring a lot of new templates for code into the hands of developers. Essentially providing them with rapid solutions and foundations to build on. However, they would have to go through a thorough review first before being put into production.

What kind of applications can Auto-GPT be used for?

That’s just one example of Auto-GPT’s capabilities. With its capabilities, it has wide-reaching possibilities that are currently being explored by developers, project managers, AI researchers and anyone else who can download its source code.

“There are numerous examples of people using Auto-GPT to do market research, create business plans, create apps, automate complex tasks in pursuit of a goal, such as planning a meal, identifying recipes and ordering all the ingredients, and even execute transactions on behalf of the user,” Sheldon Monteiro, chief product officer at the digital business transformation firm Publicis Sapient, told SiliconANGLE.

With its ability to search the internet, Auto-GPT can be tasked with quick market research such as “Find me five gaming keyboards under $200 and list their pros and cons.” With its ability to break a task up into multiple subtasks, the autonomous AI could then rapidly search multiple review sites, produce a market research report and come back with a list of gaming keyboards that come in under that amount and supply their prices as well as information about them.

A Twitter user named MOE created an Auto-GPT bot named “Isabella” that can autonomously analyze market data and outsource to other AIs. It does so by using the AI framework Lang-chain to gather data autonomously and do sentiment analysis on different markets.

Because Auto-GPT has access to the internet, and it can take actions on behalf of the user, it can also install applications. In the case of Twitter user Varun Mayya, who ask the bot to build some software, it discovered that he did not have Node.js installed – an environment that allows JavaScript to be run locally instead of in a web browser. As a result, it searched the internet, discovered a StackOverflow tutorial and installed it for him so it could proceed with building the app.

Auto-GPT isn’t the only autonomous agent AI currently available. Another that has come into vogue is BabyAGI, which was created by Yohei Nakajima, a venture capitalist and artificial intelligence researcher. AGI refers to “artificial general intelligence,” a hypothetical type of AI that would have the ability to perform any intellectual task – but no existing AI is anywhere close. BabyAGI is a Python-based task management system that uses the OpenAI API, like Auto-GPT, that prioritizes and builds new tasks toward an objective.

There are also AgentGPT and GodMode, which are much more user-friendly in that they use a web interface instead of needing an installation on a computer, so they can be accessed as a service. These services lower the barrier to entry by making it simple for users because they don’t require any technical knowledge to use and will perform similar tasks to Auto-GPT, such as generating code, answering questions and doing research. However, they can’t write documents to the computer or install software.

Autonomous agents are powerful but experimental

These tools do have drawbacks, however, Monteiro warned. The examples on the internet are cherry-picked and paint the technology in a glowing light. For all the successes, there are a lot of issues that can happen when using it.

“It can get stuck in task loops and get confused,” Monteiro said. “And those task loops can get pretty expensive, very fast with the costs of GPT-4 API calls. Even when it does work as intended, it might take a fairly lengthy sequence of reasoning steps, each of which eats up expensive GPT-4 tokens.”

Accessing GPT-4 can cost money that varies depending on how many tokens are used. Tokens are based on words or parts of phrases sent through the chatbot. Charges range from three cents per 1,000 tokens for prompts to six cents per 1,000 tokens for results. That means using Auto-GPT running through a complex project or getting stuck in a loop unattended could end up costing a few dollars.

At the same time, GPT-4 can be prone to errors, known as “hallucinations,” which could spell trouble during the process. It could come up with totally incorrect or erroneous actions or, worse, produce insecure or disastrously bad code when asked to create an application.

“[Auto-GPT] has the ability to execute on previous output, even if it gets something wrong it keeps going on,” said Bern Elliot, a distinguished vice president analyst at Gartner. “It needs strong controls to avoid it going off the rails and keeping on going. I expect misuse without proper guardrails will cause some damaging unexpected and unintended outcomes.”

The software development side could be equally problematic. Even if Auto-GPT doesn’t make a mistake that causes it to produce broken code, which would cause the software to simply fail, it could create an application riddled with security issues.

“Auto-GPT is not part of a full software development lifecycle — testing, security, et cetera — nor is it integrated into an IDE,” Jung said, warning about the potential issues that could arise from the misuse of the tool. “Abstracting complexity is fine if you are building on a strong foundation. However, these tools are by definition not building strong code and are encouraging bad and insecure code to be pushed into production.”

The future of Auto-GPT and other autonomous agents

Tools such as Auto-GPT, BabyAGI, AgentGPT and GodMode are still experimental, but there are broader implications in how they could be used to replace routine tasks such as vacation planning or shopping, explained Monteiro.

Right now, Microsoft has even developed simple examples of a plugin for Bing Chat. It allows users to ask it to offer them dinner suggestions that will have its AI – which is powered by GPT-4 – will roll up a list of ingredients and then launch Instacart to have them prepared for delivery. Although this is a step in the direction of automation, bots such as Auto-GPT are edging toward a potential future of all-out autonomous behaviors.

A user could ask for Auto-GPT to look through local stores, prepare lists of ingredients, compare prices and quality, set up a shopping cart and even complete orders autonomously. At this experimental point, many users may not be willing to allow the bot to go all the way through with using their credit card and deliver orders all on its own, for fear that it could go haywire and send them several hundred bunches of basil.

A similar future where an AI does this for travel agents using Auto-GPT may not be far away. “Give it your parameters — beach, four-hour max travel, hotel class — and your budget, and it will happily do all the web browsing for you, comparing options in quest of your goal,” said Monteiro. “When it is done, it will present you with its findings, and you can also see how it got there.”

As these tools begin to mature, they have a real chance of providing a way for people to automate away mundane step-by-step tasks that happen on the internet. That could have some interesting implications, especially in e-commerce.

“How will companies adapt when these agents are browsing sites and eliminating your product from the consideration set before a human even sees the brand?” said Monteiro. “From an e-commerce standpoint, if people start using Auto-GPT tools to buy goods and services online, retailers will have to adapt their customer experience.”

* Image: Freepik

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The Top 10 Benefits of Amazon AWS Lightsail: Why It’s a Great Choice for Businesses

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Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a popular cloud computing platform that offers a wide range of services to individuals and businesses alike. One of the services offered by AWS is Amazon Lightsail, which is a simplified and user-friendly way to launch and manage virtual private servers (VPS). In this article, we will discuss the benefits of using Amazon Lightsail for your business.

Cost-effective

One of the primary advantages of using Amazon Lightsail is its cost-effectiveness. The service offers a flat monthly fee for each instance, which makes it easy to predict costs and plan for your budget. Moreover, the pricing is transparent, with no hidden costs or surprises.

Lightsail Pricing

User-friendly

Amazon Lightsail is designed to be user-friendly, making it easy for even non-technical users to deploy and manage virtual private servers. The platform provides a simplified control panel that includes pre-configured software packages, such as WordPress, LAMP, and more. These packages are preconfigured, making it easy to deploy and set up a web application in minutes.

Scalable

Amazon Lightsail is designed to be scalable, which means you can easily upgrade your resources as your business grows. The platform provides a range of instance sizes to choose from, with varying CPU, RAM, and storage options. You can also scale up or down as needed, making it easy to manage your resources and costs.

Reliable

Amazon Lightsail is built on top of the AWS infrastructure, which means it benefits from AWS’s robust and reliable cloud infrastructure. This ensures that your applications and data are always available and accessible, with minimal downtime.

Secure

Amazon Lightsail provides a secure and reliable environment for your applications and data. The platform includes a range of security features, such as built-in firewalls, DDoS protection, and SSL/TLS encryption. Moreover, Lightsail instances are isolated from each other, which provides an additional layer of security.

Integrated with AWS services

Amazon Lightsail is fully integrated with other AWS services, making it easy to use Lightsail with other AWS services such as Amazon S3, Amazon RDS, and more. This integration provides a comprehensive cloud computing platform, enabling you to build and run complex applications.

Quick and easy deployment

Amazon Lightsail provides a quick and easy way to deploy web applications, with pre-configured templates for popular applications such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and more. This makes it easy to deploy a web application in just a few clicks, without the need for technical knowledge.

High-performance

Amazon Lightsail instances are built on top of the latest generation of AWS infrastructure, providing high-performance and low-latency connectivity. This ensures that your applications and data are always accessible and responsive, with fast and efficient data transfer.

Easy to manage

Amazon Lightsail provides a simplified management interface, making it easy to manage your virtual private servers. The platform includes tools for monitoring your instances, configuring backups, managing DNS records, and more. Moreover, the platform provides a range of APIs and CLI tools, making it easy to automate management tasks.

Flexible

Amazon Lightsail is flexible, allowing you to choose the operating system and software stack that best suits your needs. The platform supports a range of operating systems, including Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS, and more. Moreover, you can install and configure any software stack that you need, giving you complete control over your environment.

In conclusion, Amazon Lightsail is a cost-effective, user-friendly, scalable, reliable, secure, integrated, quick, high-performance, easy-to-manage, and flexible platform for deploying and managing virtual private servers. If you’re looking for a simplified and efficient way to manage your cloud computing resources, Amazon Lightsail is definitely worth considering.

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Binance’s BNB Chain to Offer New Decentralized Storage System

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Binance’s BNB Chain to Offer New Decentralized Storage System

The release of the decentralized storage system’s white paper was having a modest effect on the price of other storage tokens on Wednesday. Filecoin (FIL), storj (STORJ), and arweave (AR) are now trading 2%, 5% and 6%, respectively, above their pre-announcement prices.

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