The MIT Media Lab controversy and getting back to ‘radical courage’, with Media Lab student Arwa Mboya – gpgmail


People win prestigious prizes in tech all the time, but there is something different about The Bold Prize. Unless you’ve been living under a literal or proverbial rock, you’ve probably heard something about the late Jeffrey Epstein, a notorious child molester and human trafficker who also happened to be a billionaire philanthropist and managed to become a ubiquitous figure in certain elite science and tech circles.

And if you’re involved in tech, the rock you’ve been living under would have had to be fully insulated from the internet to avoid reading about Epstein’s connections with MIT’s Media Lab, a leading destination for the world’s most brilliant technological minds, also known as “the future factory.” 

This past week, conversations around the Media Lab were hotter than the fuel rods at Fukushima, as The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, perhaps the most feared and famous investigative journalist in America today, blasted out what for some were new revelations that Bill Gates, among others, had given millions of dollars to the Media Lab at Jeffrey (no fucking relation, thank you very much!) Epstein’s behest. Hours after Farrow’s piece was published, Joi Ito, the legendary but now embattled Media Lab director, resigned.

But well before before Farrow weighed in or Ito stepped away, students, faculty, and other leaders at MIT and far beyond were already on full alert about this story, thanks in large part to Arwa Michelle Mboya, a graduate student at the Media Lab, from Kenya by way of college at Yale, where she studied economics and filmmaking and learned to create virtual reality. Mboya, 25, was among the first public voices (arguably the very first) to forcefully and thoughtfully call on Ito to step down from his position.

Imagine: you’re heading into the second year of your first graduate degree, and you find yourself taking on a man who, when Barack Obama took over Wired magazine for an issue as guest editor, was one of just a couple of people the then sitting President of the United States asked to personally interview. And imagine that man was the director of your graduate program, and the reason you decided to study in it in the first place.

Imagine the pressure involved, the courage required. And imagine, soon thereafter, being completely vindicated and celebrated for your actions. 

Arwa Mboya. Image via MIT Media Lab

That is precisely the journey that Arwa Mboya has been on these past few weeks, including when human rights technologist Sabrina Hersi Issa decided to crowd-fund the Bold Prize to honor Mboya’s courage, which has now brought in over $10,000 to support her ongoing work (full disclosure: I am among the over 120 contributors to the prize).

Mboya’s advocacy was never about Joi Ito personally. If you get to know her through the interview below, in fact, you’ll see she doesn’t wish him ill.

As she wrote in MIT’s The Tech nine days before Farrow’s essay and ten before Ito’s resignation, “This is not an MIT issue, and this is not a Joi Ito issue. This is an international issue where a global network of powerful individuals have used their influence to secure their privilege at the expense of women’s bodies and lives. The MIT Media Lab was nicknamed “The Future Factory” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. We are supposed to reflect the future, not just of technology but of society. When I call for Ito’s resignation, I’m fighting for the future of women.”

From the moment I read it, I thought this was a beautiful and truly bold statement by a student leader who is an inspiring example of the extraordinary caliber of student that the Media Lab draws.

But in getting to know her a bit since reading it, I’ve learned that her message is also about even more. It’s about the fact that the women and men who called for a new direction in light of Jeffrey Epstein’s abuses and other leaders’ complicity did so in pursuit of their own inspiring dreams for a better world.

Arwa, as you’ll see below, spoke out at MIT because of her passion to use tech to inspire radical imagination among potentially millions of African youth. As she discusses both the Media Lab and her broader vision, I believe she’s already beginning to provide that inspiration. 

Greg Epstein: You have had a few of the most dramatic weeks of any student I’ve met in 15 years as a chaplain at two universities. How are you doing right now?

Arwa Mboya: I’m actually pretty good. I’m not saying that for the sake of saying. I have a great support network. I’m in a lab where everyone is amazing. I’m very tired, I’ll say that. I’ve been traveling a lot and dealing with this while still trying to focus on writing a thesis. If anything, it’s more like overwhelmed and exhausted as opposed to not doing well in and of itself.

Epstein: Looking at your writing — you’ve got a great Medium blog that you started long before MIT and maintained while you’ve been here — it struck me that in speaking your mind and heart about this Media Lab issue, you’ve done exactly what you set out to do when you came here. You set out to be brave, to live life, as the Helen Keller quote on your website says, as either a great adventure or nothing. 

Also, when you came to the Media Lab, you were the best-case scenario for anyone who works on publicizing this place. You spoke and wrote about the Lab as your absolute dream. When you were in Africa, or Australia, or at Yale, how did you come to see this as the best place in the world for you to express the creative and civic dreams that you had?

Mboya: That’s a good question — what drew me here? The Media Lab is amazing. I read Whiplash, which is Joi Ito’s book about the nine principles of the Media Lab, and it really resonated with me. It was a place for misfits. It was a place for people who are curious and who just want to explore and experiment and mix different fields, which is exactly what I’ve been doing before.

From high school, I was very narrow in my focus; at Yale I did Econ and film, so that had a little more edge. After I graduated I insisted on not taking a more conventional path many students from Yale take, so [I] moved back to Kenya and worked on many different projects, got into adventure sports, got into travel more.

Epstein: Your website is full of pictures of you flipping over, skydiving, gymnastics — things that require both strength and courage. 

Mboya: I’d always been an athlete, loved the outdoors.

I remember being in Vietnam; I’d never done a backflip. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to learn how to do this.” But it’s really scary jumping backwards; the fear. Is, you can’t see where you’re going. I remember telling myself, ” Okay, just jump over the fear. Just shut it off and do it. Your body will follow.” I did and I was like, “Oh, that was easy.” It’s not complicated. Most people could do it if they just said, “Okay, I’ll jump.”

It really stuck with me. A lot of decisions I’ve [since] made, that I’m scared of, I think, “Okay, just jump, and your body will follow.” The Media Lab was like that as well.

I really wanted to go there, I just didn’t think there was a place for me. It was like, I’m not techie enough, I’m not anything enough. Applying was, ’just jump,’ you never know what will happen.

image 4

Image from Arwa Mboya

Epstein: Back when you were applying, you wrote about experiencing what applicants to elite schools often call “imposter syndrome.” This is where I want to be, but will they want me?

Mboya: Exactly.




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Walmart’s Vudu adds Family Play feature so viewers can skip sex, violence and substance abuse – gpgmail


Vudu, the streaming service owned by Walmart, announced a new feature today that will make it easier for viewers to avoid sex and violence in movies.

Anyone who’s watched an R-rated movie on broadcast television or on an airplane is probably familiar with films that have been “edited for content,” but Vudu’s new Family Play option gives viewers more control over what they find objectionable.

Specifically, they can turn filters on and off for sex/nudity, violence, substance abuse and language. In the first three instances, Vudu will skip the relevant scenes, and in the case of strong language, it will mute the dialog. The feature is already supported in more than 500 films.

At an advertiser event in May, Vudu leaders suggested that they will stand out from the other streaming services by creating content that can be watched by entire families, with Senior Director Julian Franco declaring, “We’re not just going to be programming for Williamsburg and Silver Lake.”

It sounds like Vudu has similar ambitions for all its original content. In a blog post today, Vice President Scott Blanksteen wrote:

With so much content available and more people watching, what if we could also be a streaming service that provides a great, safe viewing environment for families? What if we could provide our customers the flexibility to ensure that content and the Vudu experience are appropriate for everyone in the family to watch, including the youngest of viewers – kids?

A streaming service called VidAngel ran into legal trouble (and eventually declared bankruptcy) a couple of years ago when it tried to sell movies that were edited to be family-friendly. However, where VidAngel was operating independently to decrypt and edit DVDs, Vudu told Variety that it’s working with the movie studios.

Vudu also says it’s partnering with advocacy group Common Sense Media to provide ratings and reviews “from a parent’s perspective,” and to create a kid-friendly viewing mode. And it’s launching its first original series today — a remake of “Mr. Mom,” with new episodes streaming every Thursday.


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How Kobalt is simplifying the killer complexities of the music industry – gpgmail


Backed by over $200 million in VC funding, Kobalt is changing the way the music industry does business and putting more money into musicians’ pockets in the process.

In Part I of this series, I walked through the company’s founding story and its overall structure. There are two core theses that Kobalt bet on: 1) that the shift to digital music could transform the way royalties are tracked and paid, and 2) that music streaming will empower a growing middle class of DIY musicians who find success across countless niches.

This article focuses on the complex way royalties flow through the industry and how Kobalt is restructuring that process (while Part III will focus on music’s middle class). The music industry runs on copyright administration and royalty collections. If the system breaks — if people lose track of where songs are being played and who is owed how much in royalties — everything halts.

Kobalt is as much a compliance tech company as it is a music company: it has built a quasi “operating system” to more accurately and quickly handle this using software and a centralized approach to collections, upending a broken, inefficient system so everything can run more smoothly and predictably on top of it. The big question is whether it can maintain its initial lead in doing this, however.

The business of a song

Image via Getty Images / Mykyta Dolmatov


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Apple TV+ will cost $5.99 in Canada, £4.99 in the UK and INR 99 in India – gpgmail


At its big press event yesterday, Apple announced that its TV+ streaming service would cost $4.99 per month and a launch date on November 1. But it’s supposed to be available in more than 100 countries, so what does that pricing look like outside the United States?

The Streamable has rounded up TV+ pricing in different countries — and you can verify the number yourself by checking out the country–specific versions of Apple’s announcement.

The service will cost $5.99 CAD ($4.54 US) in Canada, £4.99 ($6.15) in the United Kingdom, 4.99€ ($5.50) in the rest of Europe, A$7.99 ($5.48) in Australia, 600 JPY ($5.57) in Japan and INR 99 ($1.38) in India. That’s significantly cheaper than Netflix or Disney+ across-the-board — though in India, it’s still more expensive than Disney-owned Hotstar.

And if that’s not affordable enough for you, you’ll also get a year of free access when you purchase select Apple hardware.

The launch titles should include “The Morning Show” (a drama set in the world of morning TV and starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell) and “See” (a post-apocalyptic series starring Jason Momoa).


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Quibi is partnering with the BBC on international news show for millennials – gpgmail


The BBC and Quibi are partnering to make a new daily international news show for millennials.

The two companies said that the new programming, which will be featured as part of Quibi’s “Daily Essentials” programming, will be filmed in the Beeb’s central London headquarters five days a week and each segment will be five minutes long.

The show aims to catch viewers up with all the news from around the world in five minutes, according to the two companies.

“Since the BBC began life as a start-up in 1922 we have been focused on two things: innovating to reach our audiences in new ways; and providing trustworthy news and entertainment of the highest quality,” said BBC Global News chief executive, Jim Egan in a statement. “Technology is changing constantly, as is the world at large and we’re delighted to be working with an innovative new player like Quibi to bring young audiences a daily made-for-mobile global news update of the highest quality from our unparalleled network of international correspondents and experts.”

The BBC also has news programming distributed on Snap and Facebook’s Instagram. So the company seems to be covering its bases to ensure it doesn’t miss out on the potential next big thing in media platforms.

“BBC News is one of the most respected news brands around the globe, and in particular for millennials in America today,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder and chairman of the board of Quibi. “We’re proud to partner with them to create a daily international news report for Quibi.”

The deal with the BBC follows a July announcement that Quibi had also hooked up with NBC News for programming. As we reported at the time, that deal includes a six-minute morning and evening news show for Quibi’s service.

NBC News also runs a Snapchat news show called Stay Tuned that reaches millions, and recently launched its own digital streaming news network, NBC News Now, delivered through its NBC app.

The mobile-only streaming service is set for an April 2020 launch, and has already announced a big slate of programming from top-tier filmmakers and actors.

Some of the highlights include commitments from filmmakers Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro and Antoine Fuqua and producer Jason Blum to create series for the service, plus a show called “Inspired By” with Justin Timberlake.

As we’ve reported, subscribers to Quibi can also expect a show about Snapchat’s founding, an action-thriller starring Liam Hemsworth, a murder mystery comedy from SNL’s Lorne Michaels, a beauty docuseries from Tyra Banks, a Steven Spielberg horror show, a comedy from Thomas Lennon, a car-stunt series with Idris Elba and more.


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Peloton plots $1.2B Nasdaq IPO – gpgmail


Peloton, which debuted its IPO prospectus last month, plans to charge as much as $29 per share in its upcoming Nasdaq listing.

In an amended S-1 filing released Tuesday afternoon, the developer of internet-connected stationary bikes and treadmills announced a proposed price range of $26 to $29 per share, allowing the company to raise as much as $1.2 billion in its 2019 public offering.

At the high end of the proposed price, Peloton’s valuation would surpass $8 billion. The business is expected to launch its IPO roadshow as soon as Wednesday, according to Bloomberg.

New York-based Peloton will trade under the ticker symbol PTON. Goldman Sachs & Co. and J.P. Morgan Securities are managing the IPO as lead underwriters.

Peloton, founded in 2012, raised $550 million in venture capital funding last year at a valuation of $4.15 billion. In total, the company has attracted $994 million in venture capital investment, according to PitchBook. Its S-1 filing lists CP Interactive Fitness (5.4% pre-IPO stake) — an entity connected to the private equity firm Catterton — TCV (6.7%), Tiger Global (19.8%), True Ventures (12%) and Fidelity Investments (6.8%) as principal stakeholders, or investors with at least a 5% stake in the company.

Peloton reported an impressive $915 million in total revenue for the year ending June 30, 2019, an increase of 110% from $435 million in fiscal 2018 and $218.6 million in 2017. Its losses, meanwhile, hit $245.7 million in 2019, up significantly from a reported net loss of $47.9 million last year.

The company’s upcoming float is expected to be one of the largest of the year.


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Why am I seeing this ad? AI, ML & human error in advertising – gpgmail


Ad platforms create equal opportunities for businesses but not equal outcomes.

They’re mostly marketed as self-service and easy to use, however, there are new features added regularly and open-ended ways to set, structure and target. Meaning, countless ways to spend—creating winners and losers in advertising.

This is where machines and digital advertisers are needed, to provide a profitable outcome.

Enter AI, ML and experts as freelancers, via agencies or housed in some of the world’s biggest companies, equipped with ample data, tech and educational resources to match people with companies via ads on search, social, and elsewhere on the web.

But, are the machines still in infancy or too heavily relied upon and do the experts always get it right?

Well, how often are you seeing ads that are irrelevant to what you wanted or where you were or who you are?

An irrelevant ad is an ad paid for by the company advertising but can return zero value as it’s of no use to the person receiving the ad.

As a digital advertiser via my company Adboy.com, I’m always curious as to why I was served an ad and if the company paying makes or loses money from it.

Something I’ve noticed is that in easily avoidable errors, ads can be served to existing customers, people with irrelevant needs and people that can’t be or are far less likely to become customers.

With this article, I’m going to give you the lenses of a fastidious digital advertiser. You’ll spot errors like these for yourself and know how they could occur, what the negative impact could be and how they can be avoided.

Advertising to existing customers


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Freeda raises another $16 million for its media brand for women – gpgmail


Italian startup Freeda Media has raised a $16 million Series B round. Existing investor Alven is leading the round, with Endeavor Catalyst, UniCredit and others also participating. UniCredit is also granting the company a debt facility of $3 million.

The company has managed to attract millions of followers on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms. It runs short videos, quick interviews and articles. In other words, Freeda wants to create a social version of Elle, Teen Vogue, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan or Man Repeller.

Freeda is currently live in Italy, Spain and South America. The company currently has 5 million women engaging with their content every day. It reaches 80% of Italian and Spanish women aged 18-34 every month.

On Instagram in particular, the startup says that it is the first female media brand in the world with 100 million interactions in 2019 alone:

With today’s founding round, the goal is clearly on international expansion. The startup is opening an office in London and plans to launch in the U.K. and other English-speaking markets. There are currently 160 people working for Freeda.

The company is still mostly focused on branded content to monetize its audience. But Freeda wants to expand beyond this revenue stream with a new direct-to-consumer brand. You can expect to be able to buy Freeda-branded products starting in 2020.


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Amazon’s ‘Carnival Row’ mixes fairies, politics and murder – gpgmail


“Carnival Row” offers an unlikely mix of genres, laying out a murder mystery in a world of fairies and other mythical creatures, while also delivering a healthy dose of allegorical politics.

And as we explain in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the show (recently released on Amazon Prime Video) does take some getting used to. There’s a certain clumsiness in the way the opening episode insists on its grittiness and adult themes — and most viewers will probably need some time before they stop gawking at the fairy sex and focus instead on the story and characters.

Once they do, though, “Carnival Row” offers plenty of rewards. Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne star as Philo and Vignette — a police investigator and a “fae” refugee, respectively, who have a complicated romantic past together. Bloom and Delevingne may not be entirely up to the task of creating complex and memorable characters, but the world that creators Travis Beacham and René Echavarria have built around them is rich, detailed and strange.

The pair is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast that includes Jared Harris (“The Crown”) and Indira Varma (“Game of Thrones”) — and ultimately, the fantasy, the politics and the mystery do come together in satisfying ways.

In addition to reviewing “Carnival Row,” we also discuss YouTube’s settlement with the FTC and listener response to last week’s review of “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.”

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Introduction
2:11 “Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” listener response
15:03 “Carnival Row” review (minor spoilers for the first episode)
33:47 “Carnival Row” spoiler discussion


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Paid streaming music subscriptions in U.S. top 60M, says RIAA – gpgmail


Streaming music subscriptions continue to drive the U.S. music industry’s growth and revenues, according to a new report from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) released this week. The organization said total music revenue grew 18% to $5.4 billion in the first half of 2019, with streaming music accounting for 80% of industry revenues. The report also noted the number of paid subscriptions topped 60 million in the U.S. for the first time.

Streaming revenues grew 26% to $4.3 billion in the first half of the year.

This broad figure includes paid versions of Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and others, as well as digital radio service revenues like those from Pandora, Sirius XM, and other internet radio, plus ad-supported streaming like YouTube, Vevo, and the ad-supported version of Spotify. Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.46.43 PM

Meanwhile, paid subscription streaming is continuing to grow, too, said the RIAA. Year-over-year, paid subscriptions grew 31% to reach $3.3 billion and remain the biggest growth driver for industry revenues.

In the first half of 2019, paid subscriptions made up 62% of all U.S. industry revenues and 77% of U.S. streaming music revenues.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.47.18 PM

The number of paid subscriptions to full on-demand streaming services grew 30% to 61.1 million in the first half of the year, at an average pace of over 1 million new subscriptions per month.

This doesn’t include the “Limited Tier” subscriptions like Pandora Plus or that Echo-only subscription to Amazon Music, for example, where various factors limit access to a full catalog across devices or restrict some on-demand features. This category saw $482 million in revenues, up 39% from the year prior.

“Thanks to that breakneck growth, plus continued modest drops in digital downloads and new physical sales, streaming now generates 80% of music business revenues and has fundamentally reshaped how fans find, share, and listen to the songs and artists they love,” wrote RIAA Chairman & CEO Mitch Glazier, about the new figures.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.47.50 PM

Ad-supported on-demand services grew 25% year-over-year to $427 million, while digital radio service grew 5% to $552 million in the first half of 2019.

However, the gains made by streaming were somewhat offset by declines in digital downloads, as Glazier noted.

Revenues in this category fell 18% to $462 million in the first half of the year, with digital track sales down 16% year-over-year and digital album revenues down 23%. Overall, digital download only accounted for 8.6% of total industry revenues.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.48.11 PM

Physical product revenues grew 5% to $485 million in the first half of 2019, but the RIAA attributed this to a reduction in returns.

 


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