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Inflation: Inflation is coming, and big tech won’t protect you

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By Shuli Ren


Over the past decade, it’s almost been too easy for Americans to manage their wealth. A textbook 60/40 portfolio — in its simplest incarnation, exposure to the S&P 500 Index and Treasury bonds — was an effortless winner. The U.S. boasted the world’s best stock market, and bonds, apart from offering interest income, provided a nice hedge against equity risks.

Now we live in extraordinary times that demand a reshuffle. Swapping out some bonds for gold and some U.S. technology stocks for Chinese ones could offer a better hedge: Both can be considered credit default swaps against President Donald Trump’s chaotic policymaking.

You could argue that the wreckage left by Covid-19, combined with what’s quickly shaping up to be a cold war between the world’s two largest economies, is the closest we’ve come to World War III. And just like wartime episodes of the past, we’re seeing disrupted global supply chains, border lockdowns and restricted movements in labor.

War is inflationary. The cheap car parts made in China’s inland city of Wuhan can no longer land in the U.S., and your French wine could cost more as transportation logistics get trickier. Moreover, the Federal Reserve has been flooding its financial system with cash. In just three months, assets held by the central bank ballooned by two-thirds, to almost $7 trillion. To make matters worse, the Fed is mulling a more relaxed stance toward inflation, ready to abandon preemptive rate hikes — even though consumer expectations have been ticking up since May.

As I’ve argued in a recent piece for Bloomberg Businessweek, bonds are no longer effective equity hedges in an ultra-low-rate world that faces inflationary pressure; gold can do a better job. But after a neck-breaking rally, it’s natural to ask if we’re already too late to the game.

History can be our guide. After the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, gold broke out and continued marching higher until September 2011, even as Tea Party belt-tighteners took control of the national narrative in the 2010 midterm election. A decade on, the Republican Party’s libertarian wing has all but disappeared, and is replaced by a cross-the-aisle nod to modern monetary theorists, who brush aside fiscal austerity. The Tea Party is no longer here to sour the gold rally.

Meanwhile, since we’re at war, might it be smart to hedge against the possibility of losing? This cold war isn’t over a plot of land or sea, but domination over next-generation technology.

The U.S. has the absolute advantage now, with chip and robotic designs far ahead of China’s, but that edge is slipping away. While Washington is wrangling over trillions of dollars of stimulus to fend off a recession caused by waves of coronavirus outbreaks, China, which has the pandemic relatively under control, is only strengthening its tech resolve.

For Beijing, it’s killing two birds with one stone. The $1.4 trillion hard tech invesment is the nation’s new fiscal stimulus package. Instead of building more roads to nowhere, China is installing 5G base stations.

It’s high time to consider diversifying from U.S. stocks, anyhow. There have been nagging worries about the market being on a tear even with the economy in the dumps. Meanwhile, Big Tech has become too dominant, with the top five mega-cap names now accounting for more than 20 per cent of the S&P 500 and its entire gain this year. This might help explain why mainland firms that recently went public in New York are outperforming their U.S. counterparts, despite the Trump administration’s attempt to delist China Inc.

Now, I am not advocating that investors plow their money into China’s big tech companies, because they face the exact same problems that U.S. Big Tech has — overbought stocks and impossible expectations. This year’s passive flows only worsened the concentration risk of benchmark indexes. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. account for a third of the MSCI China Index and about 14 per cent of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

Rather, investors should do their homework on smaller hard-tech companies. The truth is, once you identify a promising tech seedling, it doesn’t take a venture capitalist’s patience to watch it blossom. India’s Reliance Industries Ltd. joined the Century Club — stocks with over $100 billion market cap — in just three months. Tencent is another example of a melt-up.

Good wealth management is all about diversification. If you’re unsure of Trump’s wartime strategies, add some of gold and China exposure to your portfolio.



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Mozilla retires Firefox Send and Firefox Notes services

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Mozilla shut down Firefox Send on September 17, 2020 and plans to shut down Firefox Notes no November 1, 2020. Firefox Send was launched as an experiment in 2017 to improve the sending of files on the Internet. It was the first experiment that Mozilla created that was created as a web service and not an add-on or feature for Firefox.

The service launched officially in 2019; it allowed anyone to share files with a size of up to 1 Gigabyte and Firefox account users to share files up to 2.5 Gigabyte in size. Users with a Firefox account got extra features such as the managing of all files uploaded to the service or changing expiration times.

One of the main features of Firefox Send was that files uploaded to the service expired after a certain number of downloads or an expiration time.

firefox send final

Mozilla pulled the service earlier this year promising that it would return at a later point in time. The main reason for the taking down was that bad actors used the platform to distribute malware and other unwanted files. The free nature of the service coupled with automatic deletions of files after a number of downloads or a set expiration time benefited bad actors significantly.

Firefox Send’s homepage redirects to the main Mozilla homepage. A support article on Mozilla’s support website provides confirmation that the service has been retired for good. A blog post on Mozilla’s official blog reveals additional information.

According to the post on the blog, Firefox Send is being retired as part of Mozilla’s restructuring. The company laid off 250 employees this year and announced that it would “tighten and refine its product focus”.

Firefox Send was a promising tool for encrypted file sharing. Send garnered good reach, a loyal audience, and real signs of value throughout its life. Unfortunately, some abusive users were beginning to use Send to ship malware and conduct spear phishing attacks. This summer we took Firefox Send offline to address this challenge.

In the intervening period, as we weighed the cost of our overall portfolio and strategic focus, we made the decision not to relaunch the service.

Firefox Notes was launched as an experiment in 2017 as well. Unlike Firefox Send, which was a web service decoupled from Firefox, Firefox Notes was an internal feature of Firefox that added note taking to the browser. Most browsers rely on third-party extensions for note taking functionality; Vivaldi is an exception to that as it launched with note taking support.

Notes was updated several times to improve functionality. The latest version supports multiple notes, formatting options, and the exporting of notes as HTML files.

firefox notes

Mozilla will shut down Firefox Notes on November 1, 2020. The Firefox browser extension will remain installed but it won’t be available anymore for installation. Mozilla won’t provide updates, security or otherwise, for the browser extension anymore, and Notes syncing will not be available. The Notes application for Android won’t work anymore at that time.

Firefox users who do use Notes may use the Export All Notes option of the extension to save all notes as HTML. All that is required for that is to click on the three dots in the notes extension interface and select the option. Individual notes can also be exported.

Now You: Have you used Firefox Send or Notes? What is your take on the termination of these services?

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Mozilla retires Firefox Send and Firefox Notes services

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Mozilla retires Firefox Send and Firefox Notes services

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Mozilla shut down Firefox Send on September 17, 2020 and plans to shut down Firefox Notes no November 1, 2020.

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Martin Brinkmann

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Ghacks Technology News

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Have you read something written by GPT-3? Probably not, but it’s hard to be sure

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In August, a blog post about personal productivity surfaced at the top of Hacker News, a website and message board well known in Silicon Valley circles that focuses on computer science and entrepreneurship.

There was nothing terribly unique about the post. It offered simple, relatively common advice. Some readers discussed its merits in comments and offered their own thoughts about how to be more productive.

A few people, however, found the post a little suspicious.

“This is either something written by GPT-3, or the human equivalent,” one person commented. “Zero substantive content, pure regurgitation.”

Another person had the same assessment: “I think this was written by GPT-3.”

It turns out that they were right. The blog post was written almost entirely by a piece of software called Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, or GPT-3. Liam Porr, a computer science student at the University of California, Berkeley, used the new machine learning model to generate the post with the intention of fooling the public into believing it was the product of a human mind.

He wanted to see just how good GPT-3 is.

“With something like a language model, there’s not a good quantitative way to see how good it is, because language and writing is qualitative,” Porr said. “With this kind of experiment, I can concretely say 20,000 unique people came to my website and only three actually had the sense to say it was written by a robot.”

GPT-3 is not the first natural language program of its kind, but it has already gotten widespread attention for how good it is at mimicking simple human writing. But its release into the world, while not entirely public, has caused some concern that it could be used to quickly and cheaply generate misinformation or propaganda. While it was a harmless experiment, Porr’s post offered a concrete example of the risk.

And it adds GPT-3 to other pieces of advanced software that have been disseminated through the internet and have caused alarm. Deepfake technology, which can make doctored videos of people, has become common enough to spur congressional hearings.

But the technology has also been warmly welcomed by some technologists who are already using it to automate parts of their operations.

OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research lab, announced GPT-3 in July. To simulate human language, the autocomplete model was trained on a massive dataset — 60 million domains on the internet and the sites they navigate to, as well as other sites and text the researchers spoon-fed it.

The program can’t think for itself. Instead, it can take a simple thought from a person and guess what will come next.

People interested in experimenting with the language generator can request access from the research lab. Porr himself said it was pretty easy for him to gain access thanks to his connections to his college machine-learning community. OpenAI has also made GPT-3’s API commercially available.

Based on the numerous use cases popping up online, everyone from hobbyists to machine learning experts to a friend of a friend of a machine learning expert hasn’t had too much trouble gaining access to the simple yet powerful piece of tech.

Francis Jervis, founder of the automated luxury tenants rights organization Augrented, is one of those who gained early access to GPT-3.

Jervis uses the tool to help tenants automate eviction forms to landlords. Renters are able to enter four to five bullet points arguing against their eviction, and GPT-3 will generate a paragraph that fits into a negotiation letter template. Jervis notes that users should still fact-check the text that the language model generates.

“It’ll occasionally add in creative details, which might not be 100 percent appropriate to use in this kind of context,” he said. “This is why I wouldn’t use it for DIY legal documentation.”

Qasim Munye, who is studying medicine at Kings College London, applied for access to GPT-3 as soon as it was released and was approved a few weeks later. He built the tool into his existing app, Shortly, which helps users write short stories.

“For me it’s like, I might not want to use this tech where truth is important,” he said. “A lot of the times it will be very confidently wrong, a very wrong answer but in a confident way, so I wanted a use case where truth wasn’t important, and fiction is one example of that.”

GPT-3’s potential to be profoundly inaccurate hasn’t inhibited those with access to use it as a source for knowledge and enlightenment. Learn From Anyone, a software that creates one-on-one conversations with any famous or historical figures, is powered by GPT-3.

“Ever wanted to learn about rockets from Elon Musk? How to write better from Shakespeare? Philosophy from Aristotle? GPT-3 made it possible,” founder McKay Wrigley tweeted in July.

And there aren’t just issues of validity to be considered. GPT-3 is a model trained on a breathless expanse of the internet, including nearly 500 billion words from Wikipedia, fan fiction and Reddit. As it has been repeatedly shown, the internet is rife with bias and discrimination — something that can get baked into automated systems.

Animashree Anandkumar, professor of computing at the California Institute of Technology and director of Machine Learning research at Nvidia, a computer graphics chip company, said that as a researcher working in AI, she wants to use these types of models for the benefit of humanity, and that that means rebuilding the foundations of the industry itself.

She noted that GPT-3’s use of parts of the internet to train its systems, such as Reddit, can introduce biases.

“It was certainly not a minority person who decided to use links from Reddits,” she said, adding that she has been threatened on the news aggregation site. She pointed out that a decision like that highlights the lack of diversity in the teams that build these technologies.

“There are already many examples of hiring apps discriminating against women and minorities based on indirect cues,” Anandkumar said. “If this is used as a way to generate text, it would only be generating certain types of gendered-language and not handle applications that require an unbiased approach to gender, race, religion and many other attributes.”

OpenAI declined to comment, but did address the potential harms and biases of its AI model in a blog post.

Anandkumar said that it can’t replace a human journalist because it doesn’t know the facts of the world, and cannot differentiate fact versus fiction. She said it will be a great source for fake news, and while in fiction it can be a fun way to see what the tool generates, there are still issues there.

“If you are constantly looking at stories GPT-3 generates and it’s gendered and it has sexism and racism, that furthers as a positive feedback loop,” she said.

“I worry if we are constantly exposed to AI models like GPT-3 that are biased, that further amplify the bias and continue to propagate it, what is the impact on human psychology?”



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Autonomous vehicle firm Aurora gears up for move to the Strip District – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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