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Facebook Develops New AI That Can Predict Future Process Steps, and Help Guide Activity

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This could be interesting, particularly in the context of Facebook’s ongoing development of AR wearables.

The Social Network has today outlined a new machine learning process called ‘Anticipative Video Transformer (AVT)’, which is able to predict future actions in a process based on visual interpretation.

Overview of Facebook's visual anticipation process

As you can see in this example, the new process is able to analyze an activity, then anticipate what action is likely to come next as a result.

Which could have a range of applications – as explained by Facebook:

“AVT could be especially useful for applications such as an AR “action coach” or an AI assistant, by prompting someone that they may be about to make a mistake in completing a task or by reacting ahead of time with a helpful prompt for the next step in a task. For example, AVT could warn someone that the pan they’re about to pick up is hot, based on the person’s previous interactions with the pan.

That sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, facilitating all new smart home applications. And again, in the context of AR glasses, that could provide a range of useful pointers to help guide people, at home or at work, in undertaking a wide variety of tasks.

“We train the model to predict future actions and features using three losses. First, we classify the features in the last frame of a video clip in order to predict labeled future action; second, we regress the intermediate frame feature to the features of the succeeding frames, which trains the model to predict what comes next; third, we train the model to classify intermediate actions. We’ve shown that by jointly optimizing the three losses, our model predicts future actions 10 percent to 30 percent better than models trained only with bidirectional attention.”

It’s not something that Facebook’s looking to roll out right away, but the potential here is significant, and it could eventually facilitate all new ways of guiding user actions, and minimizing mistakes by anticipating future steps.

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Facebook uses the example of changing a car tire, with AR glasses helping to point you in the right direction, while it might also serve as a reminder for your morning routines, based on visually assessing where you are and what you’re doing.

Really, the potential applications here are endless, and when you also consider how Google Glass evolved to become a key tool in industrial workplaces, by providing in-view pointers and instructions for technical applications, the added potential for Facebook’s wearable AR devices is significant.   

It’s some way off being a consumer-facing product, in any form, but the project underlines Facebook’s ongoing AI development, and points to the evolving functionality that’ll likely be built into a coming stage of its AR glasses projects.

You can read more about Facebook’s Anticipative Video Transformer (AVT) process here.

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Meta Looks to Sell Off its Diem Cryptocurrency Project Due to Ongoing Challenges and Restrictions

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Meta Looks to Sell Off its Diem Cryptocurrency Project Due to Ongoing Challenges and Restrictions


After three years of development, and a raft of changes to its name, scope, leadership and purpose, it seems like Meta’s trouble cryptocurrency project may soon come to an end.

According to reports, Meta’s looking to pull the pin on its Diem/Novi crypto project, with company representatives seeking expressions of interest on its sale.

As reported by Bloomberg:

The Diem Association, a cryptocurrency initiative once known as Libra backed by Meta Platforms Inc., is weighing a sale of its assets as a way to return capital to its investor members, according to people familiar with the matter. Diem is in discussions with investment bankers about how best to sell its intellectual property and find a new home for the engineers who developed the technology, cashing out whatever value remains in its once-ambitious Diem coin venture, said the people, asking not to be identified because the discussions aren’t public.”

That would be a significant step back for Meta, which launched its original Libra crypto project to much fanfare in 2019, with former PayPal chief David Marcus at the helm of the initiative.

But the project saw strong resistance from the start.

Maybe it’s because it was coming from Meta (then Facebook), or maybe it was due to widespread distrust of crypto projects, but many regions came straight out and said that they would not support the company creating its own currency. The public backlash saw many of the initial big-name backers pull out, including Visa, Mastercard and PayPal, all key names which had leant credibility to the initial concept.

That, already, put the entire experiment in limbo, because without the support of major financial institutions, Meta’s options for the project were limited. It seemed, then, that the project would likely fade away, but then in May 2020, Meta announced that it was changing the name of its crypto wallet from Calibra to Novi.

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In October last year, after a long period of no news, then Novi chief David Marcus announced the next major step forward for the project, with the launch of a pilot of its Novi digital wallet in the US and Guatemala, enabling users to send and receive money between the two regions.

Novi

That was the first concrete steps we’d seen in making the project a workable reality, but still, many regions are still very skeptical of cryptocurrency, and with India, in particular, moving to ban cryptocurrencies outright, the value of the project was also lessened, potentially to the point where it’s now no longer viable in broader terms.

India, it’s worth noting, is where Meta sees the most potential for money transfers and eCommerce, as it looks to cement its apps as key connective tools in the emerging market.

Shortly after the launch of the Novi payments pilot, David Marcus left the project, and maybe that was the final flag, the signal that it was just never going to make it.

Which now leads to these new reports, that Meta’s looking to sell it off – though it is worth noting that the reports suggest that Meta is looking to get out of the Diem Association, the parent group overseeing the project, with no mention of the Novi payment project specifically.

I would assume that they are intrinsically tied together, but maybe there’s a way for Meta to continue to support and develop its Novi payments option independently, though that does seem like a stretch.

So what would a sale of Diem, and the failure of Meta’s crypto push, mean for crypto more broadly?

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I mean, resistance is steadily growing for cryptocurrencies in general, with more regions now moving to cut them off completely, including Russia, China and Indonesia in recent months. A report published the Library Law of Congress late last year showed that the number of countries and jurisdictions that have either banned or restricted cryptocurrencies has more than doubled since 2018, due to concerns around scam activity, market price fluctuations, and environmental impacts as a result of crypto ‘mining’.

Yet, at the same time, many western nations are seeing a boom in sales of crypto-aligned projects like NFTs, and with Web3 advocates essentially tying the growing tech movement into crypto development, it is actually gaining momentum in some circles, despite concurrently rising concerns.

But as noted, western markets are not where Meta saw the most potential value in its crypto project. Meta’s real aim has been to build native, in-stream payments into its apps, in order to further embed their use into developing markets, like India and Indonesia. Both of these regions see high remittance activity, with people transferring money back to family, and Meta originally saw Diem as a vehicle for removing fees from such exchanges, which would then get more people moving their money through Facebook and WhatsApp.

And once they’re already shifting their money around in its apps, that would make it much easier for Meta to parlay that behavior into eCommerce, expanding utility, and importance, for the millions of people in these markets.

But it does seem like that’s not to be – and given that, it makes sense for Meta to move on.

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Though it’s not a great endorsement for the potential of crypto, in a broader sense. If Meta, with all of its resources and influence, can’t find a real use case for crypto, does that suggest that its potential value is not as high as some advocates think?

That might be a stretch, but as more regions move to ban crypto projects, and more big players step away from the sector, it does seem like the challenges are rising, which could, eventually, put the brakes on the entire crypto movement.    





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China restricts activists’ social media ahead of Olympics

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Multiple Chinese activists have seen their WeChat accounts restricted or disabled entirely in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Beijing


Multiple Chinese activists have seen their WeChat accounts restricted or disabled entirely in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Beijing – Copyright AFP Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

Laurie CHEN

Human rights activists and some academics in China have had their WeChat messaging app accounts restricted in recent weeks, multiple people affected have told AFP, as Beijing cracks down on dissent before the Winter Olympics.

China hopes to make next week’s Games a soft power triumph, although the lead-up has seen some Western powers launch a diplomatic boycott over Beijing’s rights record and cybersecurity firms warn athletes of digital surveillance risks.

For China’s ever-dwindling community of activists, the imminent arrival of the world’s best athletes has triggered a familiar clampdown.

Eight individuals told AFP that their WeChat accounts had been restricted in some form since early December, with some unable to use their accounts entirely and forced to re-register.

The restrictions came as authorities detained two prominent human rights activists, lawyer Xie Feng and writer Yang Maodong, while a third rights lawyer missing since early December is believed by relatives to be in secret detention.

“This storm of shuttering WeChat accounts is too strong and unprecedented,” said veteran journalist Gao Yu, whose account had features like group chat messaging permanently disabled for the first time on December 20.

China routinely suppresses the social media accounts and physical movements of dissidents during politically sensitive periods such as Communist Party gatherings in Beijing or key anniversaries like the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

A major Party Congress will take place towards the end of this year when President Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian leader in a generation, is expected to further cement his rule with a third term.

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The arrival of the Winter Olympics has presaged a clampdown similar to those surrounding other major events.

“The government now wants to make sure that people don’t cross the line online to poke the facade of a perfect Winter Olympic Games,” said Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

– Ubiquitous app –

Tencent’s app WeChat is a mainstay of daily life in China, with users relying on it for a range of services including payments and scanning health codes that permit entry to public venues.

“I know many people who’ve been banned from posting in group chats or posting WeChat Moments lately,” a Beijing lawyer whose account was restricted last month said on condition of anonymity.

Beijing-based writer Zhang Yihe said her WeChat group chat and Moments functions — similar to Facebook’s Wall or Instagram Stories — were restricted on January 8.

Tsinghua University sociology professor Guo Yuhua confirmed her account was permanently blocked the same day, while prominent legal scholar He Weifang said he encountered the same on January 9.

“Isn’t this equal to removing an individual from a public space?” said Zhang, adding she can now only send WeChat messages to individual users.

“Before and during the Olympics is a major sensitive period,” added a Beijing-based activist whose account was restricted twice in the past two months.

Tencent, the owner of WeChat, did not respond to a request for comment.

– Offline crackdown –

In recent weeks, Chinese police have detained two prominent rights activists on suspicion of “inciting state subversion”, according to official notices shared with AFP.

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One of them, Yang Maodong, was unable to reunite with his wife in the United States before her death in early January.

Relatives of Tang Jitian, a human rights lawyer who vanished last month en route to an EU Human Rights Day event in Beijing, told AFP they believe he is being held under a form of secret detention commonly used against dissidents, possibly in his home province of Jilin.

“We don’t know where he is. I’ve reported him missing to the police but with no result,” said a relative who did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal.

“They said it doesn’t meet the requirements for filing a (missing persons) case and that he had scanned the Jilin province health code.”

People arrested for national security offences in China can disappear for months at a time into incommunicado detention before authorities charge them or reveal their fate.

Both Jilin and Beijing’s public security bureaus did not respond to requests for comment.

The International Olympic Committee said in an emailed response that it “has neither the mandate nor the capability to change the laws or the political system of a sovereign country”, adding that it “must remain neutral on all global political issues”.

Beijing Games organisers told AFP they “oppose the politicisation of sports” and were “not aware of these matters”.

Meanwhile, those still free lament mounting restrictions on speech under the current political climate.

“The space for public discourse is getting smaller and smaller,” said He.



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TikTok Launches ‘Instant Pages’ Ad Display Option to Improve Load Times and Response for Promotions

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TikTok Launches 'Instant Pages' Ad Display Option to Improve Load Times and Response for Promotions


As it looks to maximize business engagement in the app, and boost its revenue opportunities, TikTok is rolling out a new ‘Instant Page’ shopping display option, which will enable brands to connect their TikTok ads through to a lightweight, native landing page, built within TikTok itself, which will load up to 11 times faster than standard mobile pages.

As explained by TikTok:

Within an Instant Page, users can view videos and images, swipe through carousels, or click on buttons to explore another destination – all without leaving the TikTok app. Instant Pages are easy to build and customize for your brand.

The process is a lot like Facebook’s Instant Articles, with the content built into the app itself, as opposed to referring users off to a third-party website. In the case of Instant Articles, that comes with inherent problems, because it limits the data collection capacity of publishers, where the IA offering is primarily aimed. TikTok’s Instant Pages are a little different, in that they’re focused, ideally, on direct conversion for brands, but it is still a consideration. If people aren’t clicking through to your site, and you’re not getting referral traffic data, that could be a concern.

How significant an issue it is will come down to your ultimate goals and process.

To set up a TikTok Instant Page, businesses will need to create an eligible ad on TikTok Ads Manager (full eligibility details here) and then build an Instant Page as the destination link for the campaign.

As you can see, the Instant Page builder tool is embedded within the ad creation flow, enabling you to incorporate a range of templates:

  • Customize: Freely create an Instant Page to provide a better experience for your target audience. 
  • Products for sale: Provide details about your products and promotions.
  • Brand story: Build brand influence by sharing your brand’s story, products, and services with customers.
  • Introduction & Brand pitch: Introduce your brand and encourage new customers to discover and try your products or services.
  • Movie trailer: Improve your brand image on TikTok by providing your viewers with a full movie trailer experience with the option of landscape view.

You can add videos, carousels or product display elements, along with coupons, product shots and more.

TikTok Instant Pages

Once you’ve created an Instant Page, you can save it to your TikTok ad library, so you can add it to multiple campaigns.

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It’s an interesting way to add more direct, engaging elements to your TikTok promotions, which could help to provide a better user experience – though again, it is worth noting that in referring users to an internal page, you do lose the immediate referral traffic benefits and insights. You can also add in a referral link to your website within your Instant Page, but it is an element to consider if you do choose to try out the option.

TikTok’s Instant Pages are currently in testing, available via a TikTok sales rep, but they’ll likely be rolled out to more businesses soon. Another consideration for your strategy.



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