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Once a VR true believer, a “wearied” John Carmack leaves Meta

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Artist's conception of Carmack's VR avatar waving goodbye to Meta.

Enlarge / Artist's conception of Carmack's VR avatar waving goodbye to Meta.

After nearly 10 years, John Carmack's time helping to guide VR hardware efforts at Meta (and at Facebook/Oculus before that) have come to a close. The id Software co-founder and Doom co-creator officially left Meta on Friday night, according to an internal company memo obtained by Insider and confirmed by The New York Times.

Carmack's departure message serves as a scathing indictment of crippling inefficiency at Meta that he said he was "offended by" and that he compared to a GPU with a measly 5 percent utilization rate. "We have a ridiculous amount of people and resources, but we constantly self-sabotage and squander effort. There is no way to sugar coat this," he wrote. "I think our organization is operating at half the effectiveness that would make me happy."

More personally, Carmack complained that it has been a "struggle" for him to influence Meta's overall direction and that he's "wearied of the fight." Despite his high-ranking "consulting CTO / executive advisor" title, Carmack complained that he is "evidently not persuasive enough" to change Meta's VR efforts for the better.

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John Carmack is leaving Meta

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A photo of John Carmack onstage.
John Carmack onstage. | GABRIELLE LURIE/AFP via Getty Images

John Carmack, a titan of the technology industry known for his work on virtual reality as well as classic games like Doom and Quake, is stepping down from his role as a consulting CTO at Meta, as reported by Business Insider and The New York Times.

Carmack originally joined Oculus as CTO in 2013, after helping to promote the original Oculus Rift prototypes that he received from Palmer Luckey, and got pulled into Meta when the company (then Facebook) acquired Oculus in 2014. However, in 2019, he took a reduced role at the company, stepping down as the CTO of Oculus to move into a new consulting CTO role.

At the time, he said he was going to go work on artificial general intelligence — and this August, we learned that work would not be for Meta, but rather his new startup Keen Technologies. Carmack had been giving about 20 percent of his time to Meta, he tweeted in August.

Based Carmack’s frank internal departure post for employees at Meta, which he has shared on his personal Facebook page, he seems to be unhappy with the way things are currently going at Meta. He reportedly wrote that things have been a “struggle” for him, and even though “I have a voice at the highest levels here” and that “it feels like I should be able to move things,” he reflected that “I’m evidently not persuasive enough.”

“We built something pretty close to the right thing,” Carmack wrote about the Quest 2. He also said that he “wearied of the fight” with Meta, which is burning billions in its Reality Labs division to build things like VR headsets and software for its vision of the metaverse. Carmack would also write internal posts criticizing CEO Mark Zuckerberg and CTO Andrew Bosworth’s decision making while at Meta, The New York Times reported.

Bosworth, in a tweet thanking Carmack on Friday evening, said that it is “impossible to overstate the impact you’ve had on our work and the industry as a whole. Your technical prowess is widely known, but it is your relentless focus on creating value for people that we will remember most.”

This isn’t not the first time Carmack has been unhappy with Meta’s priorities for VR. The company also killed off his mobile efforts with the Samsung Gear VR — “we missed an opportunity,” he said at the time — and the low-cost Oculus Go, both of which were his projects.

He was also remarkably candid about his frustrations in his unscripted talk at Meta Connect this October, saying “there’s a bunch that I’m grumpy about” in virtual reality. He pointed out how it’s difficult for users to quickly update headsets, and seemed very skeptical about its progress with Horizon Worlds as a social platform and about Meta’s decision to raise prices for the Quest 2 and the introduction of a $1,500 Quest Pro. “I’ve always been clear that I’m all about the cost-effective mass-market headsets being the most important thing for us and for the adoption of VR,” he said.

You can watch that full unscripted talk below.

Carmack also co-founded id Software, known for games like Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein 3D, and Commander Keen, in 1991. The studio was purchased by Bethesda owner ZeniMax Media in 2009. ZeniMax and id sued Oculus and Luckey in 2014 for allegedly misappropriating trade secrets, and the complaint frequently noted Carmack’s role assisting Oculus while he was still an employee at ZeniMax. The parties settled in 2018.

Carmack will now focus his efforts on Keen Technologies.

Here is Carmack’s full message to employees, from his Facebook page:

I resigned from my position as an executive consultant for VR with Meta. My internal post to the company got leaked to the press, but that just results in them picking a few choice bits out of it. Here is the full post, just as the internal employees saw it.

-------------

This is the end of my decade in VR.

I have mixed feelings.

Quest 2 is almost exactly what I wanted to see from the beginning — mobile hardware, inside out tracking, optional PC streaming, 4k (ish) screen, cost effective. Despite all the complaints I have about our software, millions of people are still getting value out of it. We have a good product. It is successful, and successful products make the world a better place. It could have happened a bit faster and been going better if different decisions had been made, but we built something pretty close to The Right Thing.

The issue is our efficiency.

Some will ask why I care how the progress is happening, as long as it is happening?

If I am trying to sway others, I would say that an org that has only known inefficiency is ill prepared for the inevitable competition and/or belt tightening, but really, it is the more personal pain of seeing a 5% GPU utilization number in production. I am offended by it.

[edit: I was being overly poetic here, as several people have missed the intention. As a systems optimization person, I care deeply about efficiency. When you work at optimization for most of your life, seeing something that is grossly inefficient hurts your soul. I was likening observing our organization’s performance to seeing tragically low number on a profiling tool.]

We have a ridiculous amount of people and resources, but we constantly self-sabotage and squander effort. There is no way to sugar coat this; I think our organization is operating at half the effectiveness that would make me happy. Some may scoff and contend we are doing just fine, but others will laugh and say “Half? Ha! I’m at quarter efficiency!”

It has been a struggle for me. I have a voice at the highest levels here, so it feels like I should be able to move things, but I’m evidently not persuasive enough. A good fraction of the things I complain about eventually turn my way after a year or two passes and evidence piles up, but I have never been able to kill stupid things before they cause damage, or set a direction and have a team actually stick to it. I think my influence at the margins has been positive, but it has never been a prime mover.

This was admittedly self-inflicted — I could have moved to Menlo Park after the Oculus acquisition and tried to wage battles with generations of leadership, but I was busy programming, and I assumed I would hate it, be bad at it, and probably lose anyway.

Enough complaining. I wearied of the fight and have my own startup to run, but the fight is still winnable! VR can bring value to most of the people in the world, and no company is better positioned to do it than Meta. Maybe it actually is possible to get there by just plowing ahead with current practices, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

Make better decisions and fill your products with “Give a Damn”!

Update December 16th, 9:41PM ET: Added post from Carmack and tweet from Bosworth.

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Epic is taking over a dozen games offline, including Rock Band and Unreal titles

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Epic Games is shutting down "out-of-date online services" and servers for several of its older games, including multiple Rock Band and Unreal titles, starting today. The company notes that most affected games will still be available offline, but others will no longer work. It says the move is part of a shift that will only see it support online functions through Epic Online Services, which offers a unified friends system, voice chat, parental controls and parental verification.

Epic is removing the mobile title DropMix and the Mac and Linux versions of Hatoful Boyfriend and Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star from storefronts today. You'll still be able to play these games if you already own them.

Servers for several games will be shut down on January 24th, but Epic has already started delisting them from digital storefronts and turning off in-game purchases. After that date, you'll still be able to play the following offline in single or local multiplayer modes:

  • 1000 Tiny Claws

  • Dance Central 1-3

  • Green Day: Rock Band

  • Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess

  • Rock Band 1-3

  • The Beatles: Rock Band

  • Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars

  • Unreal Gold

  • Unreal II: The Awakening

  • Unreal Tournament 2003

  • Unreal Tournament 2004

  • Unreal Tournament 3

  • Unreal Tournament: Game of the Year Edition

Dance Central VR and Rock Band 4 online multiplayer features will remain available. Epic also plans to restore online features to Unreal Tournament 3 down the line. It will integrate Epic Online Services into the game.

Battle Breakers, a hero collector RPG that a small team of Epic developers built inhouse and released in 2019, will shut down on December 30th. Epic will refund all in-game purchases made through its direct payment system in the 180 days before today. As of January 24th, the alpha of the Unreal Tournament reboot, Rock Band Blitz, the Rock Band companion app and SingSpace will no longer be available.

It's unclear how many people are still playing the Unreal Tournament and Rock Band titles but at their peaks, they were among the biggest franchises around. It's a shame to see Epic sunsetting these games and all the others on the list. Still, if you happen to have a Rock Band guitar or drum set gathering dust, this may at least be a decent reminder to bust those out and play along to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" or "Basket Case."

Meanwhile, Rock Band developer Harmonix, which Epic bought last year, recently announced that its most recent game, Fuser, will go offline. The studio will also stop selling the game and in-game purchases on December 19th.





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cbenard
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freeAgent
43 days ago
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It hurts to see the old Unreal Tournament games kicked offline.
Los Angeles, CA

Apple Abandons Plans to Detect Known CSAM Stored in iCloud Photos

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In addition to making end-to-end encryption available for iCloud Photos, Apple today announced that it has abandoned its controversial plans to detect known Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) stored in iCloud Photos, according to a statement shared with WIRED.


Apple's full statement:
After extensive consultation with experts to gather feedback on child protection initiatives we proposed last year, we are deepening our investment in the Communication Safety feature that we first made available in December 2021. We have further decided to not move forward with our previously proposed CSAM detection tool for iCloud Photos. Children can be protected without companies combing through personal data, and we will continue working with governments, child advocates, and other companies to help protect young people, preserve their right to privacy, and make the internet a safer place for children and for us all.
In August 2021, Apple announced plans for three new child safety features, including a system to detect known CSAM images stored in iCloud Photos, a Communication Safety option that blurs sexually explicit photos in the Messages app, and child exploitation resources for Siri. Communication Safety launched in the U.S. with iOS 15.2 in December 2021 and has since expanded to the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and the Siri resources are also available, but CSAM detection never ended up launching.

Apple initially said CSAM detection would be implemented in an update to iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 by the end of 2021, but the company ultimately postponed the feature based on "feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers, and others." Now, after a year of silence, Apple has abandoned the CSAM detection plans altogether.

Apple promised its CSAM detection system was "designed with user privacy in mind." The system would have performed "on-device matching using a database of known CSAM image hashes" from child safety organizations, which Apple would transform into an "unreadable set of hashes that is securely stored on users' devices."

Apple planned to report iCloud accounts with known CSAM image hashes to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a non-profit organization that works in collaboration with U.S. law enforcement agencies. Apple said there would be a "threshold" that would ensure "less than a one in one trillion chance per year" of an account being incorrectly flagged by the system, plus a manual review of flagged accounts by a human.

Apple's plans were criticized by a wide range of individuals and organizations, including security researchers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), politicians, policy groups, university researchers, and even some Apple employees.

Some critics argued that the feature would have created a "backdoor" into devices, which governments or law enforcement agencies could use to surveil users. Another concern was false positives, including the possibility of someone intentionally adding CSAM imagery to another person's iCloud account to get their account flagged.
This article, "Apple Abandons Plans to Detect Known CSAM Stored in iCloud Photos" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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Apple is adding end-to-end encryption to iCloud backups

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Apple announced some big new security features on Wednesday. | Illustration by Nick Barclay / The Verge

Apple will finally be adding end-to-end encryption to iCloud backups, the company said as part of a major set of security announcements on Wednesday. Under what it calls Advanced Data Protection, Apple will expand the number of “data categories” protected by end-to-end encryption from 14 to 23, with backups, Notes, and Photos now covered.

Based on a screenshot from Apple, these categories are covered when you flip on Advanced Data Protection: device backups, messages backups, iCloud Drive, Notes, Photos, Reminders, Safari bookmarks, Siri Shortcuts, Voice Memos, and Wallet Passes. Apple says the only “major” categories not covered by Advanced Data Protection are iCloud Mail, Contacts, and Calendar because “of the need to interoperate with the global email, contacts, and calendar systems,” according to its press release.

You can see the full list of data categories and what is protected under standard data protection, which is the default for your account, and Advanced Data Protection on Apple’s website.

A screenshot from Apple of an iPhone showing details about Advanced Data Protection. Image: Apple
A screenshot detailing what’s included as part of Advanced Data Protection.

With standard data protection, Apple holds the encryption keys for things that aren’t end-to-end encrypted, which means the company can help you recover that data if needed. Data that’s end-to-end encrypted can only be encrypted on “your trusted devices where you’re signed in with your Apple ID,” according to Apple, meaning that the company — or law enforcement or hackers — cannot access your data from Apple’s databases.

Privacy advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have long called for Apple to expand end-to-end encryption to iCloud backups, and Apple had reportedly scrapped plans to do so after the FBI complained. Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software engineering, said he had heard that “rumor” but didn’t “know where that came from” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern.

Users on Apple’s beta program in the US will be able to enable Advanced Data Protection beginning Wednesday, Apple says. It will be available broadly to US users by the end of the year and will begin rolling out globally — including in China, according to The Wall Street Journal — in early 2023. Alongside the news of end-to-end iCloud backups, Apple confirmed that it has dropped its controversial plans for scanning child sexual abuse imagery.

Apple is also improving its two-factor authentication support by letting users secure their accounts with hardware keys starting early next year. Hardware keys, like YubiKeys, have become increasingly popular tools to provide an extra layer of security for your online accounts, and soon, you’ll be able to use a key with your iCloud account as well.

A screenshot showing what it will look like when you use a hardware security key with your iPhone. Image: Apple
Here’s what it will look like when you use a hardware security key with your iPhone.

In addition, Apple is improving iMessage security with iMessage Contact Key Verification, which the company says can alert you if state-sponsored bad actors are snooping on your chats.

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OpenAI’s new chatbot can hallucinate a Linux shell—or calling a BBS

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An AI-generated illustration of an AI-hallucinated computer.

Enlarge / An AI-generated illustration of an AI-hallucinated computer. (credit: Benj Edwards / Ars Technica)

Over the weekend, experimenters discovered that OpenAI's new chatbot, ChatGPT, can hallucinate simulations of Linux shells and imagine dialing into a bulletin board system (BBS). The chatbot, based on a deep learning AI model, uses its stored knowledge to simulate Linux with surprising results, including executing Python code and browsing virtual websites.

Last week, OpenAI made ChatGPT freely available during a testing phase, which has led to people probing its capabilities and weaknesses in novel ways.

On Saturday, a DeepMind research scientist named Jonas Degrave worked out how to instruct ChatGPT to act like a Linux shell by entering this prompt:

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