/ digital-digest

Digital Digest 69

It certainly wouldn't be the digital digest this week if I didn't mention the reason I was up and cheering at my TV until 3:30am on Saturday. It was the week of the DOTA2 International, the seventh one, and the finals that evening, broadcast live from Seattle, were for a $10 million first place prize.

I've watched esports for years, and my first memories of it hover around 2009/10. Though global, with tournaments all over the world, tournament total prize pools were in the tens of thousands of dollars, and it was rare for a single player to win more than $10,000.
On Saturday, each of Team Liquid's five players won over $2 million each.
What's more though, is that OpenAI were in attendance, and revealed that (like Google's DeepMind working on playing Starcraft (that link is super interesting btw)), they had built a self-teaching DOTA bot that had beaten several professional players in one-on-one matchups.

This bot learned from the equivalent of tens of thousands of hours of human play, optimising itself against itself to discover how to even pick up the game. It's worth watching this short video where Dendi, a famous professional 'mid lane' player, gets trounced by a faultless AI. DOTA is a team game, and a massively complex one, so humans aren't totally beaten yet, but OpenAI promise they will return next year with more improvements.
(However, if you know anything about DOTA, the bot was beaten by fifty human players later that day, using absurd strategies that would never work against another person, but fooled the bot enough into an unknown scenario it effectively self-destructed. Beaten by trolls.)


Speaking of machine learning, BuzzFeed applied similar principles to a system that used data from FlightRadar24 to identify suspicious planes, in an effort to find spy planes.
Using knowledge of the methods by which spy planes usually fly: altitude, direction, speed, model etc. the bot tried to learn the difference between known spy planes and commercial and civilian aircraft, before being let loose.
But it did find some great stuff, and it sounds like a super fun thing to work on.


Facebook have introduced another nail in the coffin for Snapchat, which lost out heavily this quarter, by introducing a new video product for its US audience. Watch is their effort at partnering with content producers to create unique shows for the platform. The hub will be available on all platforms, including Facebook's new TV effort on Apple TV devices, and will showcase both live and pre-produced content including some of the sports rights Facebook have been bidding for, and more generally a huge amount of reality TV.

Oh, and we should ask Snap how their life as a camera company is going, given that the only hardware camera they sell dropped 35% in sales in the last quarter.


The FT is back in the Apple App Store after six years of promoting an HTML5-based web-app that sat outside of the gateway. Disputes started after Apple introduced rules to newsstand apps that required them to also sell memberships via Apple, which meant not only a 30% cut, but also Apple's retention of all user data.

These rules have since been relaxed, and for a while apps have been able to exist with external accounts being the only method of access. The FT will take this route, and the app will offer only a login method and the words 'You can join the Financial Times by going to our website'. Otherwise the app is exactly the same as the web wrapper that already existed.


Facebook's quiet acquisition of an Israeli VPN startup, Onavo, is the key to their discovery of competitors they must crush. That's the buried lede in this WSJ story about the app Houseparty, which Facebook is currently in stealth mode to destroy with a competitor they are internally calling Bonfire. Houseparty has been a hit amongst the US audience, allowing users to get together on spontaneous video chats of up to 8 people.

Onavo is an app that on Android monitors data use by other applications to let you know when one is spinning out of control, and on iOS helps you block malicous websites and ads. I'm sure it is of little knoweldge to their users, however, that all their internet data, anonymised, is being sent back to Facebook. This is how the social giant knew that Houseparty (and WhatsApp) was building traction.

The worst part is how Facebook initially looked to acquire Houseparty, which the team were seemingly on board with, before those talks went cold. Brutal.


Benchmark Capital, one of the earliest investors in Uber with a significant stake in the company, are suing Travis Kalanick, and asking him to be removed from Uber entirely, over his attempts to control the board as Chairman after he was ousted as CEO. This is as Benchmark and other investors are looking to dump Uber stock as a uncertain time in the business' life.

The lawsuit leans on the Waymo case as evidence for Kalanick's dangerous potential breach of duty to the company, in stating that he did not expose to the board his understanding of the Otto acquisition at the time. It also mentions the rape case in India, to which Kalanick took dubious action; the sexual harassment allegations at the company which led to numerous executive departures; and the 'Greyball' programme to track regulators.

Spicy. Read the full thing here.