US lawmakers held a combative hearing on Wednesday with former senior staffers at Twitter over the social media platform’s handling of reporting on Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden.
The proceedings set the stage for the agenda of a newly Republican-controlled House, underscoring its intention to hone in on longstanding and unsubstantiated allegations that big tech platforms have an anti-conservative bias.
The House oversight committee called for questioning recently departed Twitter employees including Vijaya Gadde, the social network’s former chief legal officer, former deputy general counsel James Baker, former head of safety and integrity Yoel Roth and former safety leader Anika Collier Navaroli.
The hearing centered on a question that has long dogged Republicans – why Twitter decided to temporarily restrict the sharing of a story about Hunter Biden in the New York Post, released in October 2020, the month before the US presidential election. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle used the opportunity to interrogate moderation practices at Twitter and other tech firms.
“The government doesn’t have any role in suppressing speech,” said Republican committee chairman James Comer, hammering the former employees for censoring the Post story.
In that report, the Post said it received a copy of a laptop hard drive from Donald Trump’s then-personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, that Hunter Biden had dropped off 18 months earlier at a Delaware computer repair shop and never retrieved. Twitter initially blocked people from sharing links to the article for several days, citing concerns over misinformation and spreading a report containing potentially hacked materials.
In opening statements on Wednesday, the former Twitter staffers described the process by which the story was blocked. While the company explicitly allowed “reporting on a hack, or sharing press coverage of hacking”, it blocked stories that shared “personal and private information – like email addresses and phone numbers” – which the Post story appeared to include. The platform amended these rules following the Biden controversy, and the then CEO, Jack Dorsey, later called the company’s communications about the Post article “not great”.
Roth, the former head of safety and integrity, said on Wednesday that Twitter acknowledged that censoring the story was a mistake.
“Defending free expression and maintaining the health of the platform required difficult judgment calls,” he said. “There is no easy way to run a global communications platform that satisfies business and revenue goals, individual customer expectations, local laws and cultural norms and get it right every time.”
Elon Musk, who purchased the company last year, has since shared a series of internal records, known as the Twitter Files, showing how the company initially stopped the story being shared, citing concerns from the Biden campaign, among other factors.
Republican theories that Democrats are colluding with big tech to suppress conservative speech have become a hot button issue in Washington, with congress members using various tech hearings to grill executives. But experts say claims of anti-conservative bias have been disproven by independent researchers.
“What we’ve seen time and again is that companies are de-platforming people who are spreading racism and conspiracy theories in violation of the company’s rule,” said Jessica J González, co-chief executive officer of the civil rights group Free Press.
“The fact that those people are disproportionately Republicans has nothing to do with it,” she added. “This is about right or wrong, not left or right.”
Musk’s decision to release information about the laptop story comes after he allowed the return of high-profile figures banned for spreading misinformation and engaging in hate speech, including the former president. The executive has shared and engaged with conspiracy theories on his personal account.
Republican lawmakers seem to have found an ally in Musk, and repeatedly praised him during Wednesday’s proceedings. The rightwing congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene used her time on the floor to personally attack the former Twitter employees and complain about her own account, which was suspended for violating the platform’s policies on coronavirus misinformation.
“I’m so glad you’ve lost your jobs,” she said. “I am so glad Elon Musk bought Twitter.”
But Democrats on Wednesday used their time in the House to explore how the Trump administration engaged with Twitter, revealing that the former president himself tried to interfere with content decisions.
In response to questioning from the new representative Maxwell Frost of Florida, the former Twitter content moderation executive Navaroli confirmed that in 2019 Trump tried to have an insulting tweet from internet personality Chrissy Teigen removed from the platform. In the tweet, which was read for the record, Teigen referred to Trump as a “pussy ass bitch”. Twitter denied the White House’s request, and it remains online today.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez further sought to disprove bias against conservative speech on Twitter when she asked about an instance in 2019, when a tweet from Trump including hate speech was kept online despite violating platform policies.
The former president told Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to their countries, a clear violation of Twitter’s policies regarding abuse against immigrants, but was not penalized, Navaroli confirmed, and the rules were changed.
“So Twitter changed their own policy after Trump violated it to accommodate his tweets?” Ocasio-Cortez said. “So much for bias against the rightwing on Twitter.”
The White House has sought to discredit the Republican investigation into Hunter Biden, calling them “divorced-from-reality political stunts”. Nonetheless, Republicans now hold subpoena power in the House, giving them the authority to compel testimony and conduct an aggressive investigation.
In opening statements at Wednesday’s hearing, Democratic representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland expressed frustration that the first tech-focused panel of the session is focused on the Hunter Biden story, which he called a “faux scandal”. He said private companies under the first amendment are free to decide what is allowed on their platforms.
“Silly does not even begin to capture this obsession,” he said of the laptop story. “What’s more, Twitter’s editorial decision has been analyzed and debated ad nauseam. Some people think it was the right decision. Some people think it was the wrong decision. But the key point here is that it was Twitter’s decision.”
The Digital4Business consortium, which has several Irish members, aims to launch its first MSc programmes in January 2024.
The National College of Ireland (NCI) helped to launch a new pan-European digital and entrepreneurial skills project that aims to provide a steady pipeline of talent to SMEs in the region.
NCI is one of 15 partners from seven European countries that are taking part in the consortium leading the project, which is called Digital4Business.
Digital4Business is a four-year initiative that will see various EU institutions and businesses work together to devise and deliver a market-led postgraduate programme to help SMEs access a pipeline of digital talent.
Other programmes launching in the coming few months and years will concentrate on key topics such as cloud, data analytics, AI, cybersecurity, blockchain, IoT and quantum computing.
Overall, the project will cost €19.92m. The programmes that will result from it will offer both industry and academic accreditation. The consortium will be focused on the practical application of advanced digital skills within European companies.
The initiative is being funded by the European Commission’s Digital Europe programme, which focuses on the digital transformation of Europe’s society and economy. The funding award to Digital4Business is one of the largest awards the programme has made to date.
Digital4Business was officially launched at an event in the IFSC in Dublin today (21 March).
The project began in December 2022. The consortium aims to launch the first part-time and full-time MSc programmes in January 2024.
Speaking by video link at the event, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, TD, highlighted the project’s relevance as part of the European Year of Skills.
“2023 is European Year of Skills – the focus is on helping people get the right education to be prepared for quality jobs, and to address specific skills shortages that businesses are experiencing – particularly SMEs. Digital4Business directly serves this mission.”
Dara Calleary TD, Minister of State for Trade Promotion and Digital Transformation attended the event in person.
“Digital4Business’ focus on the practical application of advanced digital skills within companies, and especially, within our small and medium businesses, is of great importance. This type of talent development is essential to ensure that the skills and the expertise are in place for businesses to maximise their digital potential – to take advantage of the opportunities digital presents and to assist them in maintaining their competitive edge,” he said.
As well as NCI, the other Irish partners involved in Digital4Business are IT company Terawe, Skillnet Ireland and Digital Technology Skills Limited. Digital agency Matrix Internet co-headquartered between Ireland and Belgium is also involved.
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With a click of the right-mouse button, my musclebound barbarian sinks his axe into the ground behind him, sweeps it forward and creates a shock wave that obliterates everything in its path. Ahead, a horde of undead creatures is repulsed by the blast, zombies flayed by the force of the air, skeletons scattered across the ground, wraiths dissipating into spectral dust. The room’s furnishing fly with them, chairs, candlesticks and barrels smashing into the far wall. The ground itself is scarred by the attack, a conical depression left in the floor as if struck by a meteorite airburst.
I’ve performed this attack countless times over the last weekend, and it never fails to light up my brain like Blackpool in September. The Diablo series represents video gaming in its purest and perhaps most reductive form and has exploited these feedback loops to enormous success in the last 25 years, reworking the complex rulesets of role-playing games into something less cerebral and more sensory. While there’s an argument to be had about how intellectually nourishing these games may be, Diablo 4 has a lot of seductive power. Clicking monsters to death in this game feels dangerously good.
Yet having spent 48 hours with the game during its beta phase, it’s clear there’s more to this than mindless monster-bashing. Diablo 4 sees the series return from a long hiatus after a third game that proved controversial in more ways than one. Partly because of this, it looks both backward and forward, addressing some criticisms of Diablo 3 while striving to compete in a world that has changed dramatically since 2012.
After a mixed reception to the colourful visuals of Diablo 3, Diablo 4 returns to being the moody goth kid of its RPG social group: pale-faced, clad in black and obsessed with death. The opening area, named Fractured Peaks, is an oppressive place where muddy, monster-ravaged villages cling to the edges of a snowy mountain range, with warrens of caves and dungeons concealed beneath the frozen surface. Said dungeons revel in their own dinginess. Painted in abundant dark shades, much like FromSoftware’s Bloodborne, the blackened walls and floors are slick with decaying viscera and often writhe with strange tendrils that grasp at you from the stonework.
Diablo 4’s appeal to the past isn’t purely stylistic. As your character accrues power across the game’s dark fantasy adventure, you must choose how to channel that power, picking skills and abilities that complement one another to make your chosen warrior an unstoppable destructive force. Diablo 4 ditches the previous game’s overly streamlined approach, returning to a more traditional skill tree that shows your character’s entire power trip at a glance.
I tested two of the five available character classes in the open beta – the barbarian and the sorcerer. What became obvious during my time with them is how intuitive character progression is. My sorceress, for example, offered an array of elemental powers to choose from. I could have made her an incandescent pyromancer, or a weaponised Elsa who froze her enemies to death. Instead, I focused on electrical abilities, Emperor Palpatine-ing my way through dungeons by zapping demons with bouncing bolts of lightning. This wasn’t the limit of my options, either. Diablo 4 let me further tailor these attacks to produce a collectible item known as “Crackling Energy”. As I plucked these orbs of static electricity from fallen foes, they’d discharge automatically when approaching new enemies. Hence, my sorceress could fry whole groups of demons before casting her first spell – a delightful sensation.
Structurally, Diablo 4 is different, as players now carve their way through a huge open world. For the beta, only the Fractured Peaks area was available to explore, but this nonetheless represents a sizeable and impressively freeform area. Although there is a central story to follow, it’s easy to get side-tracked into some offshoot adventure, helping a villager find her missing husband in some shadowy forest or delving into optional dungeons with foreboding names such as the Black Asylum. These secondary activities are tied together by “Renown”, a currency that, when accrued, periodically rewards players with extra gold, skill points, and other bonuses.
The looser structure creates a more coherent world, but it doesn’t radically change how Diablo plays. Instead, the open world exists mainly to facilitate Diablo 4’s new status as a persistent online game. Diablo 4 has extensive multiplayer features, with other players wandering freely around the game world able to periodically fight together as they explore individually, or actively join clans and embark on quests together. This ever-present multiplayer element could prove controversial, but interaction with other players isn’t mandatory, and you can happily plunder dungeons and pursue the central storyline solo.
While the story has always been a part of Diablo, its role is small compared with other RPGs – largely an excuse for players to mash monsters by the million. But Diablo 4 makes a more concerted effort to grab the player’s attention, breaking up the action with more elaborate cutscenes and dialogue that dwell on individual characters, and takes more time to explore the game’s pseudo-Christian lore. These sequences bring with them all the flair you’d expect from Blizzard, and an impressive cast that includes veteran voice actors such as Troy Baker and Jennifer Hale, alongside Hollywood names like Ralph Ineson.
Broadly, it’s a typical fantasy adventure, a grand battle between good and evil. There are cults. There are prophecies. There are more helpless villagers than you can shake a pitchfork at. But there is also an attempt at more nuanced characterisation. The main antagonist – the demonic goddess Lilith – is not wholly villainous, while the fallen angel Inarius, a central figure in the religion of the game’s longsuffering humans, is not wholly good. There’s enough of interest to be audible above the sound of battle, and it helps that the game takes itself seriously, avoiding the temptation to lace the narrative with knowing side-glances and ironic gags.
Some questions remain. While Diablo’s character progression is slick and intuitive, will it offer the same level of flexibility as other ARPGs, most notably Path of Exile, which stepped in during Diablo’s long absence? Moreover, what does this new multiplayer structure mean for Blizzard’s long-term monetisation plans – will we eventually be asked to pay for a subscription? It appears inevitable it will continue to evolve after launch, and the question is what form will that evolution take. This is a game that could change shape substantially in the coming years. In its current form at least, Diablo 4 seems like a worthy ascendant to the throne of destruction.
GTC Nvidia’s latest gambit? Entrenching itself as a key part of the semiconductor manufacturing supply chain.
At GTC this week, the chipmaker unveiled cuLitho, a software library designed to accelerate computational lithography workloads used by the likes of TSMC, ASML, and Synopsys, using its GPUs.
The idea behind the platform is to offload and parallelize the complex and computationally expensive process of generating photomasks used by lithography machines to etch nanoscale features, like transistors or wires, into silicon wafers.
“Each chip design is made up of about 100 layers and in total contains trillions of polygons or patterns. Each of these 100 layers are encoded separately into a photomask — a stencil for the design if you will — and, using a rather expensive camera, are successively printed onto silicon,” Vivek Singh, VP of Nvidia’s advanced technology group, explained during a press conference on Monday.
Originally, photomasks were just a negative of the shape engineers were trying to etch into the silicon, but as transistors have gotten smaller these photomasks became more complex to counteract the effects of optical distortion. If unchecked, this distortion can blur these features beyond recognition. This process is called optical proximity correction (OPC) and more recently has evolved into inverse lithography technology (ILT). In the case of the latter, the photomasks look nothing like the feature they’re designed to print.
And the more ornate these photomasks get, the more computational horsepower is required to produce them. However, using GPUs, Nvidia believes it can not only speed up this process, but reduce the power consumption required. The company claims that cuLitho running on its GPUs is roughly 40x faster than existing computational lithography platforms running on general purpose CPUs.
“It’ll help the semiconductor industry continue the pace of innovation that we’ve all come to rely on, and it’ll improve the time to market for all kinds of chips in the future,” Singh claimed.
However, at least in the near term, Nvidia’s expectations seem to be a little more grounded. The company expects fabs using cuLitho could produce 3-5x more photomasks a day while using 9 percent less power, which if true, should help to boost foundries’ already thin margins
And with the likes of ASML, Synopsys, and TSMC lining up to integrate Nvidia’s GPUs and libraries into their software platforms and fabs, we won’t have to wait long to see these claims put to the test.
TSMC is already investigating Nvidia’s GPUs and cuLitho to accelerate ILT photomasks, while ASML and Synopsys are working to integrate support for GPU acceleration using cuLitho in their computational lithography software platforms.
And while Nvidia execs would love to sell its latest and most expensive GPU architectures to these companies, Singh notes that the library is compatible with GPUs going back to the Volta generation, which made its debut in 2017.
While Nvidia is using GPUs to accelerate these workloads, it’s worth noting that cuLitho isn’t using machine learning or AI to optimize semiconductor design just yet. But it’s no secret that Nvidia is also working on that particular problem.
“Much of this has to do with accelerating the underlying primitive operations of computational lithography,” Singh said. “But I will say that AI is very much in the works in cuLitho.”
As our sister site The Next Platformreported last summer, Nvidia has been working on ways to accelerate computational lithography workloads for some time now. In a research paper published in July, engineers at the company used AI to design equivalent circuits 25 percent smaller than those created using traditional EDA platforms.
Nvidia is hardly the only company investigating the use of machine learning to accelerate circuit design. Synopsys and Cadence have both implemented AI technologies into their portfolios, while Google researchers developed a deep-learning model called PRIME to create smaller and faster accelerator designs. And previously, the company used reinforcement learning models to design portions of its tensor processing unit (TPU).
With that said, the addressable market for something like cuLitho isn’t that big, and thanks to efforts by the US Commerce Department to stifle China’s fledgling semiconductor industry, the number is only getting smaller.
cuLitho will almost certainly be subject to US export controls governing the sale of advanced semiconductor manufacturing equipment and software to countries of concern, which for the moment means China. Pressed on this point, Singh said the library would be “available wherever this end-to-end OPC software is available,” but declined to comment further on US trade restrictions. ®