Hi, welcome to your Weekend!
While the tech press was freaking out over Microsoft’s new AI search capabilities this week (present company included), a war in Ukraine lurched toward an awful anniversary. This Friday marks one year since Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded the country, extinguishing hundreds of thousands of lives and permanently altering millions of others.
Some of the people directly affected by the war could well be our readers. They are building generative AI apps, designing security systems and manufacturing camera hardware from offices and factories that look and feel very much like our own. (Just check out the photos of AI startup Reface’s office-turned-bomb shelter in Kyiv—they could be sheltering in SoMA.)
For this week’s cover story, we asked writer Flora Tsapovsky to tell the stories of six Ukrainian startups that have spent the past year enduring the unimaginable. With no end to the war in sight, it’s important that we keep bearing witness to their experiences.
It’s all too easy to get distracted by the early-life crises of a hallucinating chatbot. We should keep actual human struggles in the front of our minds as well. Now onto our stories…
Little could have prepared Ukrainian startup leaders for the realities of the Russian invasion last February. But, one year later, their teams have found novel ways to stabilize—and even grow—their businesses. Flora sat down with six founders and executives whose companies are based in the country, asking them to reflect on 12 months of hell.
Arielle takes a stroll around Palo Alto with prodigal son Malcolm Harris, author of a 720-page history about his hometown and its “haunted” 150-year legacy. The book tells the story of “the gold rush and the next gold rush and the one after that,” arriving at a sweeping critique of modern capitalism—and present day Palo Alto.
To see whether the new Bing truly represents a threat to the old Google, journalist Chris Stokel-Walker spent the last week using Microsoft’s new “AI-powered answer engine,” which also goes by the code name Sydney. It was the most he’d used a Microsoft web browser in 19 years, and the experience was… belligerent.
If you’ve ever thought about throwing a leg over an electric motorcycle, now may be the time. Reporter Tim Stevens, a passionate biker, breaks down the new class of EV motorcycles, which sport better design, longer ranges and lower prices. “I’ve always been charmed by the pure joy of carving across a road in utter silence,” Tim writes. « Nothing feels more like flying.”
Generating: Recipes for short attention spans
As writer April Glaser once asked, why does every recipe blog begin with 3,000 words of memoir? By now, plenty of home cooks have figured out that you can ask AI-powered chatbots like ChatGPT for recipe instructions. Soon, this functionality will be built right into browsers like Google, Bing and You.com. What, then, will happen to all the Proustian food blogs that rely on referral traffic from search engines? That is for the engines (and the bloggers) to figure out during the looming AI search wars. Regardless, AI for recipe generation seems like it’s here to stay. Not only is it immediate, but it responds well to substitutions: ChatGPT recently gave me a vegan version of a bœuf bourguignon recipe, adjusting the proportions to make a single serving. Show me a recipe blog that can do that! —Arielle
Noticing: Is BeReal be-reeling?
In December, I predicted that BeReal, the hit photo-sharing app of 2022, would face its demise in 2023. I based my assumption on the app’s inability to release new features, the arrival of a blatant knockoff from TikTok and the frequent glitches and crashes when it’s “Time to BeReal.” The data backs me up. This week, Sensor Tower figures noted that the app’s downloads are down roughly 95% from their 2022 peak. Now, in what feels like a last-ditch attempt at relevancy, BeReal is releasing its first new feature since its launch: allowing users to share Spotify tracks alongside their selfies. It’s hard to imagine this is a silver bullet for BeReal. Really, to stave off irrelevance, it needs to add opportunities for creator monetization. Or allow users to post more than once a day. Or something else totally out of left field. Fiddling on the margins won’t revive this app. It’s time to BeCreative. —Annie
Reading: A real-life Olivia Pope
What do Jeff Zucker, Jeffrey Toobin and Anthony Weiner have in common—besides career-derailing sex scandals? All have hired Risa Heller, media fixer for the rich and canceled. For New York magazine, Shawn McCreesh writes about the 43-year-old public relations wiz, who came up in politics as a press secretary for Senator Chuck Schumer and former New York Governor David Paterson. She eventually opened her own communications firm, choosing Weiner as her first client, and later flacking for Jared Kushner, Arcade Fire lead singer Win Butler, and, more recently, the parents of Sam Bankman-Fried. Supposedly, Heller never lies to reporters. Rather “she will provide them with facts and contingencies that might generate reasonable doubt…She invites you into the gray zone.” —Margaux
Makes You Think
Sydney is FINE, okay??
Until next Weekend, thanks for reading.
Weekend Editor, The Information