Social networking app BeFake raised $3 million in seed funding to develop an AI-enhanced social network that borrows ideas from the successful Gen Z app BeReal. The name of the app is obviously a play on BeReal, which emphasizes genuine photo sharing among friends. Instead of sharing your current activities, BeFake users can use the app’s front and back cameras to take photos, which they can then edit with artificial intelligence (AI) using the app’s presets or their own individualized prompts.
Alias Technologies, an applied AI firm, developed the app with the help of generative media and multi-modal AI systems.
Kristen Garcia Dumont and Tracy Tracy Lane, the executive team behind the gaming giant Machine Zone before it was acquired by AppLovin in 2020, founded Alias in 2021. World War Rising and Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire, two mobile games that Dumont oversaw at Machine Zone and helped bring to market, have combined sales of over $1 billion. Meanwhile, as COO, Lane was in charge of all things related to the platform’s community, moderators, and regulations.
With Alias’ AI technology, users can input text prompts to transform their photos into AI-augmented visuals, and the founders hope to create a parody of the real-time social network BeReal’s push notification-driven posting concept with their app. The goal is to encourage genuine expression of one’s creativity rather than one’s true self.
Dumont claims that the gaming industry has a lot more in common with his own than may at first be apparent.
“We used AI to make money,” she says. To wit: “What is it that a player ought to be offered…?”When to offer a discount, what to discount, how to discount, and how to best monetize that user are all questions that need answers. To continue, Dumont. But we also began to use it to better pair players.
They discovered that when the algorithms functioned properly, players were more engaged and were able to form relationships with one another despite their differences in geography.
The inspiration for BeFake came from the idea of gamers forming relationships online without disclosing their true identities to each other.
They use a completely separate online persona. It was a spark moment, Dumont says, to see the magical connection form because the algorithms got it right.
Other front-back apps like BeReal and Frontback work similarly to BeFake. Users take front and back photos on their phones and then choose a preset or type a prompt to create an AI image.
The app offers style and custom location prompts, such as fantasy imagery or Mount Everest. Otherwise, users can type their own prompts to imagine themselves in different scenarios.
The company uses Stable Diffusion with a custom denoising loop. Its proprietary pipeline components emphasize the app’s social network nature. That means it must work with candids, zoomed-in photos, multi-person photos, etc.
BeFake doesn’t require dozens of selfies to start, unlike other AI apps. Also, it applies AI-powered changes in under 30 seconds, usually less than 10. However, users spend at least 10 minutes per session designing AI.
Augmented photos can be shared with friends, in the main discovery feed where AI creators can build a following, or on other social media. You can also switch between the normal and AI photos, which is fun. Since every photo will be unique, the company thinks its feed will be more interesting than BeReal.
When asked why they chose the name “BeFake,” which makes the app sound like a parody of BeReal rather than a serious attempt to build a standalone social network, Dumont said they wanted to reject the “whole concept where you either need to Facetune yourself or perfectly curate yourself.”
Since users started curating their “real” moments on BeReal, she says it’s fake.
“Hurry downstairs and pretend you have 20 friends. Brush your hair, take a side pic, right? It was unauthentic, she says. “So it’s less about BeReal and much more about this full and total rejection of the authenticity movement, which is inauthentic,” Dumant says.
Subscriptions allow users to post outside the time window or more than once per day by paying for compute time to create AI images on BeFake. The plans cost $2.99/week, $9.99/month, or $99.99/year. However, the company sends a daily push notification alerting users to a 20-minute free AI image making period.
BeFake founders believe their gaming background will help them stay relevant because they learned you must quickly adapt to users’ changing tastes to retain them.
Dumont says, “Part of what we’ve built under the hood is the ability to deploy changes to the app almost on a dime, similar to gaming so we can respond to consumer tastes.”
The moat for most AI apps is not the technology. We have a proprietary pipeline. Other people probably do too. You want to use open-source tools. As open source tools improve, so do you because you can use them, she says. “So don’t be too precious about your engineering pipeline. In AI apps, your moat is your community. We’re focused on building that community, which requires hyper-responsiveness.”
The company is already learning what AI images users like to improve its algorithms.
The 12-person, remotely-distributed company also announced $3 million in seed funding from Khosla Ventures. Next Coast Ventures, Maveron Ventures, Peter Thiel, Joe Lonsdale, and WS Investments also invested. The round closed in April 2022 but was not reported.
Pixel 8 Pro runs Google’s generative AI models
Rick Osterloh, Google’s SVP of devices and services, says the Pixel 8 Pro will be the first hardware to run Google’s generative AI models.
At an event today, Osterloh said the Pixel 8 Pro’s custom-built Tensor G3 chip, which accelerates AI workloads, can run “distilled” versions of Google’s text- and image-generating models to power image editing and other apps.
Osterloh said, “We’ve worked closely with our research teams across Google to take advantage of their most advanced foundation models and distill them into a version efficient enough to run on our flagship Pixel.”
Google improved Magic Eraser, its photo-editing tool, to remove larger objects and people smudge-free using on-device models. Osterloh claims that this improved Magic Eraser creates new pixels to fill in shot gaps, producing a higher-quality image.
Osterloh says a new on-device model will “intelligently” sharpen and enhance photo details, improving zoom.
On-device processing benefits audio recording. The Pixel 8 Pro’s recording app will soon summarize meeting highlights.
Gboard will use a large language model on the Pixel 8 Pro to power smart replies. Osterloh claims that the upgraded Gboard will provide “higher-quality” reply suggestions and better conversational awareness.
Osterloh said an update in December will add on-device generative AI features except for Magic Eraser, which appears on the Pixel 8 Pro at launch.
Telegram launches a global self-custodial crypto wallet, excluding the US
Telegram, with 800 million monthly users, is launching a self-custodial crypto wallet. The move will solidify its presence in the vibrant crypto community that has grown from its chat platform and may attract more people to crypto.
Telegram and TON Foundation announced TON Space, a self-custodial wallet, on Wednesday at Singapore’s Token2049 crypto conference, which draws over 10,000 attendees.
Telegram has a complicated blockchain relationship. After the SEC sued Telegram over a massive initial coin offering, the chat app abandoned its Telegram Open Network (TON) blockchain project in 2020. The Open Network Foundation (TON Foundation), founded by open-source developers and blockchain enthusiasts, supports the development of The Open Network (TON), the blockchain powering a growing number of Telegram applications, including the wallet.
The Open Platform (TOP) and TOP Labs, a venture-building division, created the TON-based wallet.
TON Space will be available to Telegram users worldwide without wallet registration in November. The U.S., which has cracked down on the crypto industry and promoted many crypto apps to geofence users, is currently excluded from the feature.
Google’s massive antitrust trial begins, with bigger implications
The Justice Department’s landmark antitrust case against Google began in court today, setting off a months-long trial that could upend the tech world.
At issue is Google’s search business. The Justice Department claims that Google has violated antitrust laws to maintain its search title, but the company claims that it does so by providing a superior product.
The Justice Department sued Google for civil antitrust in late 2020 after a year-long investigation.
“If the government does not enforce the antitrust laws to enable competition, we will lose the next wave of innovation,” said then-Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. “If that happens, Americans may never see the ‘next Google.’”
A large coalition of state attorneys general filed their own parallel suit against Google, but Judge Amit Mehta ruled that the states did not meet the bar to go to trial with their search ranking complaints.
The search business case against Google is separate from a federal antitrust lawsuit filed earlier this year. The Justice Department claims Google used “anticompetitive, exclusionary, and unlawful means” to neutralize threats to its digital advertising empire in that lawsuit.
Justice Department attorney Kenneth Dintzer set the stakes for the first major tech antitrust trial since Microsoft’s late 1990s reckoning on Tuesday. “This case is about the future of the internet, and whether Google’s search engine will ever face meaningful competition,” Dintzer said.
Beginning the trial, the government focused on Google’s deals with phone makers, most notably Apple, that give its search product top billing on new devices. Dintzer claimed that Google maintains and grows its search engine dominance by paying $10 billion annually for those arrangements.
“This feedback loop, this wheel, has been turning for more than 12 years,” he said. “And it always benefits Google.”
Google lawyer John Schmidtlein refuted that claim, hinting at the company’s legal defense in the coming weeks.
“Users today have more search options and more ways to access information online than ever before,” Schmidtlein said. Google will argue that it competes with Amazon, Expedia, and DoorDash, as well as Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
Google planted the seeds for this defense. According to internal research, Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan said last year that more young people are using TikTok to search for information than Google Search.
In our studies, almost 40% of young people don’t use Google Maps or Search to find lunch, Raghavan said. “They use TikTok or Instagram.”
Google will be decided by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in the coming months. We’re far from that decision, but the company could be fined heavily or ordered to sell parts of its business.
The trial could change Google’s digital empire if the Justice Department wins. Other tech companies that dominated online markets in the last decade are also watching. If the government fails to hold an iconic Silicon Valley giant accountable, big tech will likely continue its aggressive growth trajectory.
If the Justice Department succeeds, the next decade could be different. The industry-wide reckoning could cripple incumbents and allow upstarts to define the next era of the internet, wresting the future from tech titans.
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