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  • AI startup Perplexity wants to upend search business. News outlet Forbes says it’s ripping them off
    on June 14, 2024 at 6:18 am

    The artificial intelligence startup Perplexity AI has raised tens of millions of dollars from the likes of Jeff Bezos and other prominent tech investors for its mission to rival Google in the business of searching for information. But its AI-driven search chatbot is already facing challenges as some news media companies object to its business practices and tech giants Google, and now Apple, are increasingly fusing similar AI features into their core products. Perplexity CEO Aravind Srinivas has spent much of the past week defending the company after it published a summarized news story with information and similar wording to a Forbes investigative story but without citing the media outlet or asking for its permission. Forbes said it later found similar “knock-off” stories lifted from other publications. The Associated Press separately found another Perplexity product feature inventing fake quotes from real people, including a former elected town official from Martha’s Vineyard falsely quoted to say he didn’t want the Massachusetts island to become a destination for marijuana. “I never said that,” said Bill Rossi, a former member of the island town of Chilmark’s select board. Srinivas told The Associated Press that his company is trying to build positive relationships with news publishers that ensure their news content “reaches more people.” “We can definitely coexist and help each other,” he said. Asked about Forbes, he said his product “never ripped off content from anybody. Our engine is not training on anyone else’s content,” in part because the company is simply aggregating what other companies’ AI systems generate. “We are actually more of an aggregator of information and providing it to the people with the right attribution,” Srinivas said. But, he added, “It was accurately pointed out by Forbes that they preferred a more prominent highlighting of the source. We took that feedback immediately and updated changes that day itself. And now the sources are more prominently highlighted.” Perplexity also revealed this week that it has been seeking revenue-sharing partnerships that would pay news publishers a portion of Perplexity’s advertising revenue each time an outlet’s news content is referenced as a source. Randall Lane, chief content officer of Forbes Media, called the dispute an “inflection point” in the conversation about AI. “It’s a case study in where we’re heading,” Lane told the AP. “If the people who are leading the charge don’t have a fundamental respect for the hard work of doing proprietary reporting, and keeping people informed with value-added content, we’ve got a big problem.” A self-described “AI bull” who believes that the technology could help make many news organizations more efficient, Lane said the dispute between Perplexity and Forbes is important because it is a “metaphor for what can happen if the people controlling the AI don’t respect the people doing the work.” Perplexity bills itself as a search engine while “acting like a media company and publishing a story” that only Forbes had reported, Lane said. “The whole thing was very disingenuous. And what we didn’t hear was, ‘Oops, yeah we messed that one up and we need to do better,’” he said. “Instead, it was just putting out more content, little tweaks to the model and treating journalism like it’s just a commodity to be manufactured.” Srinivas, a computer scientist and former AI researcher at OpenAI and Google, co-founded Perplexity in the summer of 2022, not long before the AI image-generator Stable Diffusion and OpenAI’s ChatGPT began sparking the public’s fascination with the possibilities of generative AI. Inspired, in part, by his childhood love of Wikipedia, he described Perplexity to the AP as “like a marriage of Wikipedia and ChatGPT” that can instantly answer a person’s questions without the “huge cluttered mess” of Google’s conventional search results. “You ask a question, you get an answer with clean sources, and there’s like three or four suggested (follow-up) questions and that’s it,” he said of Perplexity. “That way people’s minds can be free from distractions, and they can just focus on learning and digging deeper.” The company sells a subscription for premium features and is planning to start an advertising-based service as it grows its user base. “We are not profitable as a company today, but we are also more sustainably run than foundation model companies because we do not train our own foundation models,” which requires huge amounts of computing power, he said. Perplexity relies on existing AI large language models such as those built by OpenAI, Anthropic and Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook; and then “post-trains” them. “We shape them to be really good summarizers,” he said. It’s not always clear where the summarized information is coming from. One Perplexity feature called Writing — which enables a user to “generate text or chat without searching the web” — produces lengthy and unsourced commentary, often in the style of a news article. Tests of the feature by an AP reporter asking it to write about the lack of marijuana on Martha’s Vineyard led it to produce a 465-word document that resembled a news article and included fabricated quotations from the former town official and another real person. The AP is not repeating the false quotes in order to avoid perpetuating misinformation. Srinivas said that the Writing feature of Perplexity is a “minor use case” that was intended for helping to compose essays or correcting grammar when primary source information isn’t needed. He said it’s “more prone to hallucinations” — a common problem with AI large language models — because it isn’t tethered to the web search capabilities of Perplexity’s core product. “There is no doubt that generative AI is upending journalism, content creation, and search,” said Sarah Kreps, director of Cornell University’s Tech Policy Institute. She pointed to Google’s new, Perplexity-like approach that summarizes answers based on information pulled from crawling the web, as an example. That, too, led to false information and forced Google to make adjustments to the product after its public release. “But their whole model of advertising is based on sending people to websites,” she said in an email. “Why will people go to websites if they can have the one-stop-shop of the answer in the AI output?” Srinivas claimed to the AP that “a lot of people get referrals from Perplexity, and I’m happy that they’re getting referrals from a new player in the internet.” For now, much of that benefit may be aspirational. Perplexity’s worldwide user base has grown rapidly this year to more than 85 million web visits in May, but that barely registers compared to the billions of users of ChatGPT and other popular platforms from Microsoft and Google, according to data from Similarweb. The debate demonstrates the “uncertain and challenging times” for online content creators in general and journalism in particular because aggregators only work if publications such as Forbes exist, said Stephen Lind, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Using AI as a synthesizing tool works for widespread dissemination of information until “you run out of originals,” he said. “There are whole companies or whole applications that are also doing this, where they are rolling out new services without fully thinking through the implications or best practices or safeguards because they’re rolling out applications for industries that maybe they’re not native to,” he said. Lind said it’s good that companies like Perplexity are “taking at least some steps to course correct when an industry or a user pushes back.” But some of the changes should have been baked in from the beginning, he added. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • Stock market today: Asian shares mixed after AI hopes nudge Wall St to records. BOJ stands pat
    on June 14, 2024 at 6:18 am

    TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mixed Friday after Wall Street’s continued frenzy around artificial-intelligence technology nudged indexes on Wall Street to more records. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 gained 0.4% to 38,868.94 after the Bank of Japan kept its monetary policy intact, though it did say it intends to begin reducing its government bond purchases as it eases itself out of its ultra-lax stance. “Even if the BOJ wants to convey that the direction of travel is for tightening, the key guiding principle is gradualism,” Tan Jing Yi at Mizuho Bank said in a commentary. “Fact is, underlying economic confidence is at best fragile if not fraught.” Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.3% to 7,724.80. South Korea’s Kospi edged up 0.3% to 2,763.24. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.6% to 18,004.71, while the Shanghai Composite fell 0.1% to 3,025.39. On Thursday, the S&P 500 added 0.2% to its all-time high set the day before, closing at 5,433.74, even though the majority of its stocks weakened. The Nasdaq composite climbed 0.3% from its own record, ending at 17,667.56, thanks to gains for technology stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.2% to 38,647.10. Treasury yields eased again in the bond market as traders grew convinced that inflation is slowing enough to get the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates later this year. The latest update on inflation showed prices paid at the wholesale level weren’t as bad as economists expected. They actually dropped from April into May, when economists were forecasting a rise. That followed a surprising update from Wednesday that showed inflation at the consumer level was lower than expected. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell called that report encouraging and said policymakers need more such data before lowering their main interest rate from the most punishing level in two decades. “It’s a question of when they cut, not if,” said Niladri “Neel” Mukherjee, chief investment officer of TIAA Wealth Management. High interest rates have been dragging on some parts of the economy, particularly manufacturing. A separate report on Thursday showed more U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week than economists expected, though the number is still low relative to history. The hope on Wall Street is that growth for the job market and economy continues to slow in order to take pressure off inflation, but not so much that it creates a deep recession. Companies whose profits are most closely tied to the strength of the economy lagged the market Thursday following the reports, such as oil-and-gas producers and industrial companies. Dave & Buster’s Entertainment sank 10.9% after reporting worse drops in profit and revenue for the latest quarter than analysts expected, citing a “complex macroeconomic environment” among other reasons. Other companies have recently been detailing a split among their customers, where lower-income households are struggling to keep up with still-high inflation. Some companies have been able to skyrocket regardless of the pressures on the economy because of an ongoing frenzy around artificial-intelligence technology. Broadcom jumped 12.3% after the semiconductor company reported stronger profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected, aided once again by AI demand. It also raised its forecast for revenue this year. Tesla rose 2.9% after CEO Elon Musk said early voting results indicated shareholders were leaning toward approving his pay package. Without it, Musk had threatened to take AI research to one of his other companies. In the bond market, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 4.24% from 4.32% late Wednesday and from 4.60% late last month. The two-year yield, which moves more on expectations for the Fed, fell to 4.69% from 4.76%. Most Fed officials are penciling in either one or two cuts to interest rates this year, and traders are hopeful they can begin as soon as September. In other dealings, benchmark U.S. crude shed 44 cents to $78.18 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 36 cents to $82.39 a barrel. The U.S. dollar rose to 157.95 Japanese yen from 157.02 yen. The euro cost $1.0735, little changed from $1.0739. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • Sudan tops UN envoy’s concerns about children caught in conflicts, with Congo and Haiti next
    on June 14, 2024 at 5:18 am

    UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations envoy charged with reporting on violations against children in conflicts around the world said Thursday that first and foremost she is worried about what’s happening to youngsters in war-torn Sudan, followed by Congo and Haiti. Virginia Gamba told a news conference officially launching the secretary-general’s annual report and U.N. blacklist of violators that she is also very worried about children caught in Myanmar’s civil war and the spillover into neighboring Bangladesh. “For the future, on the horizon,” she said, “I’m worried about Somalia and Afghanistan.” The report for the first time put both Israeli forces and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants on the blacklist for violating children’s rights in 2023 during Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise invasion of southern Israel and its massive military retaliation in Gaza that is ongoing. The U.N. also kept the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups on the blacklist for a second year over their killing and maiming of Ukrainian children and attacks on schools and hospitals in 2023. Gamba said she remains very concerned about the plight of children in the wars in Ukraine and in Gaza, as well as in the West Bank and Jerusalem. “But the ones that I’m really worried about for, let’s say, the rest of this year and beginning of next year, are first and foremost Sudan, particularly Darfur, and Chad because it is expanding,” she said. Sudan plunged into conflict in mid-April 2023, when long-simmering tensions between its military and paramilitary leaders broke out in the capital Khartoum and spread to other regions including Darfur, which became synonymous with genocide and war crimes two decades ago. The U.N. says over 14,000 people have been killed and 33,000 injured. Gamba said their “ferocious armed struggle” led to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces being put on the blacklist for killing and maiming, raping and committing other acts of sexual violence, as well as attacking schools and hospitals. The Sudanese Armed Forces were listed for killing and injuring children and attacking schools and hospitals. In Congo, the 13,500-strong U.N. peacekeeping force is in the process of withdrawing by the end of December, leaving rebel groups and government forces fighting in its mineral-rich east where security has deteriorated. Gamba said “massive sexual violence” against children is taking place and “is going to swell.” The new report has Congo’s armed forces and 16 armed groups fighting in the country on the U.N. blacklist for violating children’s rights. When the U.N. withdrawal is completed, Gamba said, “I lose my eyes.” Though monitoring of abuses will continue, it won’t be the same level of engagement, she said. The violence in Haiti only became “a situation of concern” for her office in June 2023, Gamba said, so it only monitored violence against children for the last six months of that year. This meant Secretary-General Antonio Guterres didn’t have enough data to decide whether any parties should go on the blacklist. Gangs have grown in power since the July 7, 2021, assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, and are now estimated to control up to 80% of the capital. The surge in killings, rapes and kidnappings has led to a violent uprising by civilian vigilante group s. In the report, the U.N. chief expressed deep concern at the “indiscriminate armed gang violence and grave violations against children.” It says the U.N. verified 383 grave violations against 307 children in the last six months of 2023 — 160 boys, 117 girls and 30 whose sex wasn’t known — and it lists about a dozen gangs that were responsible for the violations. Gamba said she is very concerned because grave violations of children’s rights seem to be “endemic, and particularly systemic (is) the rape of girls.” Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • Micro communities for the homeless sprout in US cities eager for small, quick and cheap solutions
    on June 14, 2024 at 5:18 am

    ATLANTA (AP) — In a dreary part of downtown Atlanta, shipping containers have been transformed into an oasis for dozens of previously unsheltered people who now proudly call a former parking lot home. The gated micro community known as “The Melody” doesn’t look like a parking lot anymore. Artificial turf is spread across the asphalt. Potted plants and red Adirondack chairs abound. There’s even a dog park. The shipping containers have been divided into 40 insulated studio apartments that include a single bed, HVAC unit, desk, microwave, small refrigerator, TV, sink and bathroom. On a recent afternoon, a half-dozen residents were chatting around a table in The Melody’s smoking area. “I’m just so grateful,” said Cynthia Diamond, a 61-year-old former line cook who uses a wheelchair and used to be chronically homeless. “I have my own door key. I ain’t got to worry about nobody knocking on my door, telling me when to eat, sleep or do anything. I’m going to stay here as long as the Lord allows me to stay here.” Faced with years of rising homelessness rates and failed solutions, city officials across the U.S. have been embracing rapid housing options emphasizing three factors: small, quick and cheap. Officials believe micro communities, unlike shelters, offer stability that, when combined with wraparound services, can more effectively put residents on the path to secure housing. Denver has opened three micro communities and converted another five hotels for people who used to be homeless. In Austin, Texas, there are three villages of “tiny homes.” In Los Angeles, a 232-unit complex features two three-floor buildings of stacked shipping containers. “Housing is a ladder. You start with the very first rung. Folks that are literally sleeping on the ground aren’t even on the first rung,” said Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, sitting in one of the city’s new micro communities that offer tiny, transitional homes for that first rung. More than 1,500 people have been moved indoors through the program, with over 80% still in the housing as of last month, according to city data. The inexpensive units are particularly a boon for cities with high housing costs, where moving that many people directly into apartments wouldn’t be financially feasible. Both Atlanta’s and Denver’s program act as a stepping stone as they work to get people jobs and more permanent housing, with Denver aiming to move people out within six months. That includes Eric Martinez, 28, who has been in limbo between the street and the bottom rung for most of his life. At birth Martinez was flung into the revolving door of foster care, and he’s wrestled with substance use while surfing couches and pitching tents. “It’s kind of demeaning, it makes me feel less of a person,” said Martinez, his eyes downcast. “I had to get out of it and look out for myself at that point: It’s fight or flight, and I flew.” Martinez’s Denver tent encampment was swept and he along with the others were directed into the micro communities of small cabin-like structures with a twin bed, desk and closet. The city built three such communities with nearly 160 units total in about six months, at roughly $25,000 per unit, said Johnston. The 1,000 converted hotel units cost about $100,000 each. On site at the micro community are bathrooms, showers, washing machines, small dog parks and kitchens, though the Salvation Army delivers meals. The program represents an about-face from policies that for years focused on short-term group shelters and the ceaseless shuffle of encampments from one city block to the next. That system made it difficult to keep people who were scattered through the city connected to services and on the path to permanent housing. Those services in Denver’s and Atlanta’s micro communities are largely centralized. They offer residents case management, counseling, mental health and substance abuse therapy, housing guidance and assistance obtaining anything from vocational skills training to a new pair of dentures. “We’re able to meet every level of the hierarchy of needs — from security and shelter, all the way up to self-actualization and the sense of community,” said Peter Cumiskey, the Atlanta site clinician. The Melody, and projects like it, are a “very promising, feasible and cost-effective way” to tackle homelessness, said Michael Rich, an Emory University political science professor who studies housing policy. Rich noted that transitional housing is still just the first step toward permanent housing. The programs in Denver and Atlanta, taking inspiration from similar ones in cities like Columbia, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, offer a degree of privacy and security not found in congregate shelters or encampments. Giving each resident their own bathroom and kitchen is a crucial feature that helps set The Melody apart, said Cathryn Vassell, whose nonprofit, Partners For Home, oversees the micro community. Aside from a prohibition on overnight guests, staff emphasize the tenants are treated as independent residents. Vassell acknowledged it’s unclear how long the containers will last — she’s hoping 20 years. But, she said, they were the right choice for The Melody because they were relatively inexpensive and already had handicap-accessible bathrooms since many were used by Georgia hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project, which took only about four months to complete, cost about $125,000 per unit — not “tremendously inexpensive,” Vassell said, but less than traditional construction, and much quicker. Staffing and security operations cost about $900,000 a year. The Melody is the first part of Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ target of supplying 500 units of rapid housing on city-owned land by December 2025. A 2023 “point-in-time” count found there were 738 unsheltered people in Atlanta, far fewer than many cities, but still an increase over the previous year. “We need more Melodies as fast as possible,” said Courtney English, the mayor’s chief policy officer. Few objected when The Melody was announced last year, but as city officials seek to expand the rapid-housing footprint, they know local pushback is likely. That’s what Denver faced. Mayor Johnston said he attended at least 60 town halls in six months as Denver tried to identify locations for the new communities and faced pushback from local residents worried about trash and safety. “What they are worried about is their current experience of unsheltered homelessness,” Johnston said. “We had to get them to see not the world as it used to exist, but the world as it could exist, and now we have the proof points of what that could be.” The scars of life on the street still stick with Martinez. All his belongings are prepped for a move at a moment’s notice, even though he feels secure in his tiny home alongside his cat, Appa. The community has been “very uplifting and supporting,” he said, pausing. “You don’t get that a lot.” On his wall is a calendar with a job orientation penciled in. The next step is working with staff to get a housing voucher for an apartment. “I’m always looking down on myself for some reason,” he said. But “I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job. Everyone is pretty proud of me.” ___ Bedayn reported from Denver. ____ Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • Demolition of the Parkland classroom building where 17 died in 2018 shooting is set to begin
    on June 14, 2024 at 5:18 am

    PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — A crew is scheduled Friday to begin tearing down the three-story classroom building where 17 people died in the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The victims’ families have been invited to watch the first blows and hammer off a piece themselves if they choose. Officials plan to complete the weekslong project before the school’s 3,300 students return in August from summer vacation. Most were in elementary school when the shooting happened. The building had been kept up to serve as evidence at the shooter’s 2022 penalty trial. Jurors toured its bullet-pocked and blood-stained halls, but spared him a death sentence. He is serving a term of life without parole. Broward County is not alone in taking down a school building after a mass shooting. In Connecticut, Sandy Hook Elementary School was torn down after the 2012 shooting and replaced. In Texas, officials closed Robb Elementary in Uvalde after the 2022 shooting there and plan to demolish it. Colorado’s Columbine High had its library demolished after the 1999 shooting. Over the last year, some victims’ relatives have led Vice President Kamala Harris, members of Congress, school officials, police officers and about 500 other invitees from around the country on tours of the building. They mostly demonstrated how improved safety measures like bullet-resistant glass in door windows, a better alarm system and doors that lock from the inside could have saved lives. Those who have taken the tour have called it gut-wrenching as something of a time capsule of Feb. 14, 2018. Textbooks and laptops sat open on desks, and wilted Valentine’s Day flowers, deflated balloons and abandoned teddy bears were scattered amid broken glass. Those objects have now been removed. The Broward County school board has not decided what the building will be replaced with. Teachers suggested a practice field for the band, Junior ROTC and other groups, connected by a landscaped pathway to a nearby memorial that was erected a few years ago. Several of the students killed belonged to the band or Junior ROTC. Some parents want the site turned into a memorial. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com