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Meta announces significant layoffs involving 11,000 workers

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The corporation has had a difficult year as a result of TikTok’s growth and the public (and costly) failure of its attempt to enter the metaverse.
Meta has declared that it will let go of 11,000 workers, or roughly 13% of the entire workforce. In a blog post announcing the news, CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted blame for being too bullish about the company‘s prospects for growth in the wake of the epidemic rise.

According to Zuckerberg, “during the beginning of Covid, the world quickly migrated online and the explosion of e-commerce contributed to outsized revenue growth.” “Many individuals believed that this acceleration would be permanent and carry on long after the pandemic was over. I decided to dramatically boost our investments because I felt the same way. Sadly, things didn’t turn out the way I had hoped.

By reducing spending and staff, Zuckerberg said the firm would become “leaner and more efficient” and devote more resources to “a smaller number of high priority growth areas,” including as advertising, artificial intelligence, and the metaverse. According to Zuckerberg, the company’s hiring staff would be “disproportionately harmed” by the reduction. With today’s layoffs being the first significant reductions since the company’s foundation in 2004, Meta reported approximately 87,000 employees in September.

Why has Meta taken such a beating? Well, a predicted slowdown in the US economy has slowed momentum for many tech stocks, but the prospects of the company have also been impacted by fierce rivalry from competitors and poor strategy.
The phenomenally profitable ad business of Meta has been squeezed by TikTok’s growth and changes to Apple’s privacy policies, and the company’s investments in the developing metaverse are beginning to look increasingly misplaced. As of now in 2022, Meta has lost $9.4 billion on its metaverse technology, and it anticipates spending significantly more in the future. In the meantime, Horizon Worlds, the company’s primary metaverse social platform, is so unreliable and unpopular that Meta’s own managers have had to intimidate staff into using it.
Meta’s stock has plummeted as the bad news has mounted. Its market value has decreased by $700 billion over the last few weeks, and its stock price has fallen by more than 70% this year. However, the company’s stock price increased by more than 4% in pre-market trade after Zuckerberg announced the job layoffs.

However, Meta is not the only tech company experiencing significant layoffs. This week, Salesforce reported that it had fired hundreds of people; in August, Snap announced plans to reduce its employment by 20%; and, under the direction of its new owner, Elon Musk, Twitter fired thousands of employees.

Zuckeberg wrote in the blog post announcing Meta’s layoffs that employees in the US will receive 16 weeks of base salary plus an additional two weeks for each year of service, six months of health insurance, and assistance with finding new employment and resolving immigration concerns. Through the first quarter of 2023, the business would implement a hiring freeze, according to Zuckerberg, “with a tiny number of exceptions.”

The CEO of Meta concluded his letter to staff with a statement that seemed to be directed at outside onlookers, particularly those who were dubious of the company’s foray into the metaverse.

I think that as a firm, we are presently greatly underrated,” Zuckerberg stated. “Billions of individuals connect using our services, and our communities are always expanding. One of the most profitable companies ever founded, our main business has enormous future potential. We are also at the forefront of inventing the technologies that will determine how people will connect in the future and the next platform for computers.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

Artificial Intelligence

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas humanoid robot has transitioned to electric power

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Atlas is immobile, lying face down on a stack of connected gym mats. The only audio accompaniment is the humming of an electric motor. While it may not be completely silent, the noise level is significantly lower compared to the abrupt movements of its predecessors.

While the camera rotates, the robot’s legs flex at the knees. Initially, it is a spontaneous motion that gradually transitions into an eerie domain, reminiscent of scenes from a Sam Raimi film. The robot has successfully changed its position by cleverly rotating its legs, appearing as if it is lying on its back.

Atlas is positioned with its back facing the camera. Currently, the head rotates in a complete 180-degree motion, and subsequently, the torso mimics this movement. The object pauses briefly, allowing the camera to get a clear picture of its head—a circular screen with a ring-shaped light surrounding it. Once again, the torso rotates in alignment with the head’s 180-degree turn as Atlas moves away from the camera and exits the frame.

Boston Dynamics has recently announced that their humanoid robot, Atlas, has transitioned from a hydraulic system to an electric one, following in the footsteps of Bob Dylan.

The pace is rapid, with the steps still somewhat abrupt, although noticeably smoother than many of the recent commercial humanoids that have been introduced in the past few years. If anything, the gait evokes the bold self-assurance of Spot, a relative of Atlas who diverged from the humanoid lineage a few generations ago.

Brand new Atlas

The latest iteration of the robot is nearly indistinguishable. The top-heavy torso, bowed legs, and plated armor have been eliminated. There are no visible cables present on the sleek and slender new mechanical framework. The company, which has successfully defended against reactionary concerns about robopocalypse for many years, has chosen a more compassionate and considerate design compared to both the original Atlas and more modern robots such as the Figure 01 and Tesla Optimus.

The new robot’s appearance is more similar to that of Agility’s Digit and Apptronik’s Phoenix. The traffic-light-headed robot features a gentler and more whimsical design. According to the video, it is referred to as the “All New Atlas.” Boston Dynamics has deviated from its usual practice by retaining the research name for a product that it intends to market commercially. SpotMini was renamed Spot. The handle was transformed into a stretch. Currently, Atlas remains unchanged and is still referred to as Atlas.

“We may reconsider this when we are fully prepared to construct and distribute on a large scale,” states Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter in an interview with. “However, I believe that at present, it is beneficial to preserve the branding.”

The executive’s statement reveals the project is still in its initial phases. Boston Dynamics intends to start pilot testing of the electric Atlas at Hyundai facilities soon, with full-scale production following in a few years.

“Starting next year, we will be conducting on-site experiments with Hyundai,” states Playter. “We currently possess Hyundai equipment at our location.” We have been engaged in this task for a considerable period of time. In order to achieve success, it is imperative to possess a plethora of attributes beyond merely possessing innovative technology. In order to justify the investment in a robot, it is crucial to fully comprehend the use case and ensure that there is enough productivity to make it worthwhile.

Performing a complete reversal

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The most remarkable aspect of the 40-second “All New Atlas” teaser is the robot’s motions. They serve as a reminder that constructing a humanoid robot does not necessitate maximizing its human-like qualities. Despite billions of years of evolution, as one investor pointed out in the past, humans have not yet perfected themselves as machines. If we are going to design machines that resemble us, why not construct ones that possess capabilities beyond our own?

“We have constructed a collection of bespoke actuators that are powerful and adaptable, installed at the majority of joints,” states Playter. “The range of motion is extensive.” The compact design of this robot effectively harnesses the strength and agility of an exceptional athlete, allowing us to utilize its capabilities in various applications.

It is important to remember that Boston Dynamics has built its reputation through a series of popular videos over the course of many years. New additions to the canon are equally likely to feature a robot’s dance moves as they are to offer anything truly practical in an industrial environment. Therefore, it is challenging to separate the features that the company considers genuinely functional from those that are merely intended to impress.

Commencing in the prone position, for example, provides an opportunity to demonstrate the impressive reverse crab leg maneuver while also serving a practical purpose. Boston Dynamics proudly demonstrated in the farewell video of the hydraulic Atlas that falling down is an inherent aspect of its function, as is the ability to recover and stand up again. In reality, the majority of the current generation of industrial robots necessitates human intervention in the event of a failure. Conversely, a robot that can autonomously remove dust from its surface and resume its tasks is highly advantageous for enhancing productivity.

The system’s agility significantly enhances its potential for productivity. It reminds me of Agility’s Digit demonstrations (the company is notably the only one of its kind demonstrating systems at this magnitude), in which a robot walks to a shelf, rotates, walks to the conveyor belt, rotates again, and walks back. When you multiply that task by hundreds, or even thousands, per day, you start to realize the importance of saving valuable seconds.

“It will possess a range of movements that surpass human capabilities,” Playter explains. “There will be highly utilitarian applications for that.”

Minimizing the robot’s turning radius is crucial in confined areas. These machines are intended to be brownfield solutions, meaning they are specifically designed to be seamlessly integrated into pre-existing workflows within existing spaces. Enhanced maneuverability could ultimately determine whether one can effectively operate in a particular environment or if the layout needs to be redone.

Cranium and upper extremities

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The hands featured in the video are not newly created, as they have previously been used on the hydraulic model. However, they also signify the company’s choice to not strictly adhere to human design as a guiding principle. The distinction lies in the choice of using three fingers instead of four on the end effectors.

“A hand contains a great deal of intricacy,” states Playter. When using actuators to interact with the world, it is essential to anticipate and ensure both reliability and robustness. Therefore, we intentionally designed these objects with less than five fingers in order to manage and reduce their level of complexity. We are currently investigating various generations of individuals. We desire a grasping mechanism that adheres to regulations and is capable of adjusting to various shapes while possessing advanced sensing capabilities to accurately detect contact.

Internally, the head is likely the most controversial element of the design. The large, circular screen bears resemblance to a vanity mirror.

“It was a design element that we were greatly concerned about,” says Playter. “All the other individuals possessed a humanoid form.” I desired it to be distinct. We desire a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. It offers a range of colors for a visual presentation. Undoubtedly, the object contains concealed sensors, but its design primarily aims to convey a sense of amicability. That knowledge will be crucial for effectively engaging with these entities in the future.

A Christmas Atlas

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The landscape has undergone significant changes in the past decade since the hydraulic Atlas was first introduced. There are several other companies, such as Figure, Apptronik, Tesla, and 1X, that also have humanoid robots like Electric Atlas.

There has been a significant increase in interest from our end. Three significant events, in my opinion, are what have caused the increase. Hyundai paid almost one billion dollars to acquire Boston Dynamics. That really caught everyone’s attention, making them realize there was a way out. Tesla’s expression of interest in manufacturing has confirmed the validity of our long-standing efforts. Furthermore, the rise of AI as a valuable tool in addressing general challenges is making all of this possible. We have taken our time to make this announcement, as we wanted to conduct thorough research to ensure that we can effectively address manipulation issues and have full confidence in our new generation of machines.

Despite Boston Dynamics’ significant advantage in the field of humanoids, Playter mentions that the company managed to assemble the initial version of the new robot around Christmas 2023. Prior to that, it was addressing numerous intricate issues in simulation.

This week, it appears that the company is prepared to showcase the capabilities of the robot, or at least provide a glimpse into its initial plans for the system.

Intelligence in a broad sense
One thing that can be said about Elon Musk is that he consistently makes ambitious commitments. During the initial stages of Optimus’ public debut, when the Tesla ‘bot seemed to resemble a human in spandex, the executive discussed a comprehensive system capable of performing various tasks. Imagine having an Optimus that can handle your factory work, run errands, and even prepare a delicious dinner for you. That’s the aspiration, isn’t it?

The reality is, of course, one that is built upon taking small steps forward. Robotics companies are currently engaged in discussions about “general-purpose humanoids,” but their systems are currently focused on scaling one task at a time. For many individuals, the primary objective is to transport payloads from one location to another. To fully leverage the form factor, a broader level of intelligence will be necessary.

The app store model seems to offer the most straightforward solution. Developer access has indeed played a significant role in expanding Spot’s range of features. According to Playter, Boston Dynamics has a different approach in mind for Atlas.

“We will focus on developing an application rather than creating a platform,” he states. In our experience, the key to making progress quickly is to prioritize a specific application and actively work towards solving any challenges that arise. We cannot rely on others to solve these problems for us. I believe that AI is a crucial component in this context. To ensure the efficiency of tasks, they will be enhanced with AI techniques.

Developers now have access to Spot’s reinforcement learning algorithm, thanks to the company’s recent decision. This work will be crucial for Atlas’ expanding skillset.

Thinking creatively

In order to achieve success, Playter emphasizes the importance of thinking outside the box.

“I believe there are numerous other robots capable of accomplishing that,” he remarks. Humanoids should be capable of handling a wide range of tasks. You have two hands. As a business owner, you need to be able to handle intricate and heavy geometric shapes that a basic box picker wouldn’t be able to manage. And you have to handle a massive volume of these shapes, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. I believe the era of the single-task robot is long gone. Stretch is a unique application where a robot can efficiently navigate and handle boxes.

What other responsibilities will the new Atlas have on the Hyundai show floor, similar to those of a business owner? The company shared a video in February that contains the solution. The video shows the hydraulic version of the robot interacting with the Hyundai parts that Playter previously mentioned.

“With our extensive experience in the field of dynamic mobility, we possess the strength and expertise to handle substantial payloads while ensuring exceptional mobility,” he explains. Being able to handle heavy, complex, and massive objects will set us apart from the competition. The strut in the video likely weighs around 25 pounds. Acquiring wheels: we will be releasing a video later on as part of our comprehensive initiative, showcasing the various manipulation tasks we have been conducting with Atlas using real-world objects. I’m quite certain we have a good grasp on how to handle that aspect, and I haven’t observed anyone else attempting it thus far.

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Elon Musk intends to impose a fee on new X members in order to grant them the ability to make posts

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Elon Musk intends to impose a small fee on new X members to grant them the ability to make posts on the social network and to address the issue of automated accounts.

Musk responded to an X account that had mentioned modifications on X’s website by stating that imposing a little cost on new accounts was the sole method to prevent the overwhelming influx of automated programs, known as bots.

“The current state of artificial intelligence, including troll farms, can easily pass the ‘are you a bot’ test,” Musk stated, alluding to techniques such as CAPTCHA.

In response to another user, Musk then stated that newly created accounts would have the ability to post without incurring a fee after a period of three months.

Currently, there is a lack of information regarding the timeline for implementing this policy and the potential charges that may be imposed on new members, which is consistent with the pattern of limited disclosure often seen in announcements pertaining to the social network.

In October of last year, X implemented a policy of charging new members who have not been verified a fee of $1 per year in both New Zealand and the Philippines. Users that register for the site from these regions will have the ability to view the posts, but they will not be able to engage with them. In order to publish, endorse, share, respond to, save, and cite posts, a monetary charge was required. Musk may implement a charge that is comparable to fees in other areas.

In a recent announcement, X stated that the platform would be initiating a significant elimination of spam accounts. Users were cautioned that their follower count could be impacted. Nevertheless, by implementing a strategy to impose fees on new members, the social media corporation appears to be striving to address the issue of bots more effectively.

Although Musk has expressed concerns about AI bots, X recently updated its policy to state that public posts may be utilized for training machine learning algorithms or artificial intelligence models. In July 2023, Musk mentioned that his AI company, xAI, would utilize public posts for training models.

In recent weeks, xAI has introduced its Grok chatbot to premium users of X, who are charged a monthly fee of $8. The chatbot was previously accessible to users who subscribed to the Premium+ tier for $16 per month. Last week, Fortune reported that X intends to offer Grok to users for composing posts.

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According to insiders, Tesla has laid off high-performing employees and made significant cuts in certain departments

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According to a reliable source, Tesla management informed employees on Monday that the recent layoffs, which resulted in a significant reduction of staff in certain divisions, including high-performing individuals, were primarily a result of the company’s weak financial performance.

The team was informed of the layoffs only one week prior to Tesla’s anticipated release of its first-quarter earnings. Tesla’s decision to take this step is a response to the ongoing electric vehicle (EV) price competition, which has caused a decline in the company’s profit margin for multiple consecutive quarters. In 2023, the corporation achieved a remarkable milestone by delivering a total of 1.81 million automobiles, setting a new record. However, Tesla’s profit margins were negatively impacted as they constantly reduced prices in order to increase sales and gain a competitive advantage.

Tesla has notified its employees that around 14,000 workers, which accounts for over 10% of the global organization’s workforce, will be laid off. These job cuts will affect Tesla’s businesses in the United States, Europe, and China. The layoffs, which impacted staff in all departments and at various levels of seniority, were implemented to decrease expenses and enhance efficiency in anticipation of the company’s forthcoming expansion, as stated in an internal email from CEO Elon Musk that has been accessed.

High achievers also reduce
According to two anonymous sources who spoke, a significant number of the people that were let go were highly skilled and accomplished. A source expressed astonishment at the magnitude of skilled personnel laid off and observed that a significant percentage of those impacted were engaged in projects that had been deprioritized by Tesla. The source refrained from specifying the particular projects.

According to sources, certain divisions experienced layoffs that exceeded the 10% reduction mentioned in the companywide email. Management informed me that a reduction of 20% was made to their workforce.

“I experienced a 20% reduction in my team, including some highly skilled players,” they stated.

The shakeup is occurring concurrently with Musk’s ongoing efforts to steer the company towards the development of fully autonomous vehicles. Tesla has lately abandoned its ambitions to manufacture a more affordable electric vehicle (EV) with a starting price of approximately $25,000. Instead, they have decided to utilize the ongoing development of a foundational platform to support a purported robotaxi, which Elon Musk claims will be unveiled on August 8th.

According to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, Musk made an effort in the past to give priority to the project focused on developing vehicles specifically for robotaxi services. In 2022, he informed the employees of his desire for a “clean robotaxi” devoid of any steering wheel or pedals. Tesla’s lead designer, Franz von Holzhausen, and engineering VP, Lars Moravy, clandestinely spearheaded the development of the affordable electric vehicle (EV) project and eventually persuaded Elon Musk to pursue both options. However, recent reports indicate that Musk has now reversed his decision.

High-level executives depart
Two prominent executives, Drew Baglino, Tesla’s Senior Vice President of Powertrain and Energy, and Rohan Patel, Vice President of Public Policy and Business Development, have both departed from the business.

Patel informed me that he made the decision to resign from Tesla on Sunday evening due to significant general changes occurring within the firm. Patel, who had been routinely interacting with Tesla customers and enthusiasts on X in recent months, chose not to provide detailed information. In his message, he acknowledged that it would be more prudent for him to refrain from making conjectures. “Tesla will experience a significant increase in strength and resilience, and change will be beneficial,” he further stated.

Baglino informed me that he decided to depart from Tesla after a period of 18 years. “I am satisfied with the positive influence I have had; my leadership team is competent, and the energy businesses under my responsibility are performing well,” he expressed in a message.

“Baglino’s responsibility included overseeing powerdrives and new battery projects. According to Sandeep Rao, the head of research at Leverage Shares, a financial services company based in London, there is a perception that there is currently a lack of sustainable innovation. This perception may be one of the reasons why Baglino is leaving,” speculated Rao in an interview.

Baglino’s resignation occurred shortly after the departure of Tesla’s former CFO, Zachary Kirkhorn. In January, Musk expressed his desire on X, then known as Twitter, to obtain approximately 25% voting control of Tesla. His intention is to devote more attention to the firm itself than to his other ventures and contribute to Tesla’s leadership in the fields of AI and robots.

 

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