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In today’s edition, we look at the effort of more than 1,000 people who have offered to fill in for ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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October 13, 2023
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Technology

Technology
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Reed Albergotti
Reed Albergotti

Hi, and welcome back to Semafor Tech.

Many in the tech industry have rallied around Israel this week, pledging money and support for the country known as “Startup Nation.” But I caught wind of another interesting effort that I thought you should know about. A couple based in the U.S. is building a list of people willing to work for Israeli startups — for free.

Israelis are resilient, but it’s going to be tough for startups that have seen the majority of their employees called into military duty. What these companies need more than money is people to answer phones, and keep businesses up and running.

As I write this, about 1,000 people have signed up to volunteer and 25 Israeli startups have filled out a separate form indicating they’d like the support. This is a new kind of relief that wouldn’t be possible without all the advances in tech that enabled remote work during the pandemic. I could see this being useful in other circumstances, too, like natural disasters.

But it’s also just a story about people being creative in figuring out how to help one another during an awful time. Read below for more.

Move Fast/Break Things

➚ MOVE FAST: Teleconferencing. In a bet that hybrid and remote work are here to stay, Atlassian agreed to buy video-conferencing startup Loom for $975 million, or around the same amount as its previous 20 acquisitions combined.

➘ BREAK THINGS: Telepsychiatry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers about the risks of taking ketamine from online mental health platforms without supervision.

Psychonaught/Wikimedia Commons
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Artificial Flavor

AI is speeding up the pace of scientific breakthroughs. For the first time, amateur researchers have deciphered letters on an unopened ancient scroll, using artificial intelligence to isolate the letters.

The achievement announced Thursday was the result of a contest launched in the spring, dubbed the the Vesuvius Challenge, by former Github CEO Nat Friedman and fellow entrepreneur Daniel Gross. As more people, mainly from the tech industry, have gotten involved, the award money has increased, with a grand prize of $700,000.

Luke Farritor, a 21-year-old computer scientist, was the first to uncover a word in the scroll and received a $40,000 “First Letters Prize.” The result could lead to a significant increase in the number of ancient texts that are available for scholars to study, and offers an example of how AI is poised to revolutionize nearly every industry.

“This will change papyrology in general,” said Federica Nicolardi, an assistant professor at the University of Naples who was involved in the effort. “It opens up a new part of the discipline.”

Vesuvius Challenge
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Reed Albergotti

U.S. tech workers offer to help Israeli startups

THE SCENE

More than 1,000 startup founders, operators, and coders in the U.S. have volunteered to help Israeli tech companies that have lost workers, who are reservists who have been called up by Israel after the Hamas attack.

Because of Israel’s compulsory military service and large number of reservists, some startups have seen nearly their entire staff go off to war, according to interviews with half a dozen people connected to the Israeli tech industry.

Zoe and Michael Burian, New York city residents who work in tech and have lived in Israel, came up with the idea to help startups stay afloat: They created a Google form and asked family and friends if they could donate their time to Israeli startups.

Michael said company representatives have told him one of the most immediate needs is administrative. “They don’t have people to answer the phones,” he said.

Some people have offered to volunteer up to 20 hours a week. About 25 Israeli companies had also signed up (on a separate form), and the couple on Thursday was in the process of matching employees with companies.

Sonny Gindi, an entrepreneur in New York city, follows Zoe on Instagram, where he learned of the fledgling project. He signed up, offering three hours of his time per day, despite having a six-month-old newborn and a startup of his own, a retail operations company called Stour.

Gindi said he could help with everything from marketing to social media to creative strategy.

“As a founder, I know how volatile it is to run your own company and how important every single day is to the survival of your business,” he said, adding that he didn’t think twice about spending the extra time. “Every Jew right now is in a fight for their lives.”

 

For Reed's view and the rest of the story, read here. →

 

Reuters/Amir Cohen
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Live Journalism

One of the biggest questions about AI is how it will change cybersecurity. What kinds of new hacking threats will emerge in an era where anyone can generate code? We’ll try to answer that question and plenty of others next week during a live conversation in Washington, D.C.

RSVP here to to join us in person on Tuesday, October 17, where we’ll hear insights from former NSA Director Mike Rogers, Justice Department computer crimes chief John Lynch, and many other top names in the world of cybersecurity. We look forward to seeing you there!

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Semafor Stat

Amount the U.S. Internal Revenue Service says Microsoft owes in back taxes, plus penalties and interest, according to a new public filing. The IRS came up with the figure after concluding “one of the largest” audits in its history, examining how the company reported its profits in different countries and jurisdictions from 2004 to 2013. Microsoft said it plans to appeal the decision.

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Intel

Reuters/Craig Hudson

ChatGPT creator OpenAI quietly revised all of the “Core values” listed on its website in recent weeks, putting a greater emphasis on the development of AGI — artificial general intelligence. CEO Sam Altman has described AGI as “the equivalent of a median human that you could hire as a co-worker.”

As of Sept. 25, OpenAI listed six core values on its website: “Audacious, Thoughtful, Unpretentious, Impact-driven, Collaborative, and Growth-oriented.” Those have now been replaced by five new ones, starting with “AGI focus.” The company says that anything that doesn’t help with “building safe, beneficial AGI” is “out of scope.”

I’ve always found it fascinating to track the changes companies make to their websites because it provides a window into how the public story they’re telling is evolving. Interconnected writer Kevin Xu pointed out to me that OpenAI used to have a version of its official charter in Chinese, but it disappeared earlier this year.

Louise

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Watchdogs

Two laws passed in California this week could have major ramifications for the tech industry. When Senate Bill 54 goes into effect in 2025, venture capital firms in the state will have to publicly report demographic information about the founders they back, including their race, gender identity, and disability status. The disclosures could push VCs to invest in more companies founded by women, who receive less than 2% of venture capital dollars in both the U.S. and Europe nearly every year.

Governor Gavin Newsom also signed the Delete Act, which directs the California Privacy Protection Agency to create a single webpage where people can request for their information to be removed by all data brokers in the state at the same time. Given that Congress has failed to pass a national digital privacy law, the new California rule is one of the strongest measures on the books in the U.S. The webpage is supposed to be up and running by 2026.

Reuters/Mike Blake
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