Nat Versus the Volcano: Can an AI Investor Solve an Ancient Mystery from the Ashes of Vesuvius?Read more

culture policy media/telecom

Ban It, Divest It or Regulate It? Washington Looks for an Answer to TikTok

Hi, welcome to your Weekend!

Interesting dinner table discussion this week: My 13-year-old daughter, hearing about Nancy Scola’s cover story on TikTok’s war in Washington, offered her prediction for what would happen if the U.S. took the drastic step of banning the app.

“Every teenager in America would refuse to come out of their rooms,” she said. “They’d be so mad. They just wouldn’t go out anymore.”

“So like a nationwide teenager strike?” I asked.

“Yeah. But why would the government even want to do that?”

Why, indeed. Clearly, there are some persuasive reasons why the nation’s intelligence and security apparatus should banish TikTok. Also, some solid cultural reasons. (Did you catch the recent 60 Minutes episode showing how different the Chinese version of the app is to the American one? Chilling.)

But if there was ever a platform around which lawmakers and regulators might tread lightly, it’s this one. Fact is, TikTok has already captured the hearts and minds of 100 million Americans. Chinese ownership or not, TikTok is this generation’s MTV, its graffiti art, its jazz. To completely disappear it would be like telling the youth of America to sit up straight, cut their hair and stop listening to that godawful Elvis. It won’t end well.

I suspect U.S. authorities will need to take a more nuanced approach to the TikTok problem, which the Biden Administration appears to be doing, albeit in classic Biden fashion—slooowly. Of course, they also have to lock down Americans’ data, and ensure that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t have keys to the safe. It isn’t going to be easy.

But banning the app outright feels, to this father, like a mistake our lawmakers might come to regret. Now onto this week’s stories...

the big read

TikTok’s Last Stand: Can an Army of Lobbyists Quell a Washington Uprising?

How do you solve a problem like TikTok? In Washington, that question has become an enigma wrapped in a quagmire. No matter how hard TikTok tries to win over the capitol—and it has recently been trying real, real hard—Democrats and Republicans alike are coming around to the notion that the app poses a grave threat to American security. Reporter Nancy Scola explores the Biden administration’s predicament, and the company’s existential struggle. 

the 1:1

Bari Weiss Brings the Culture Wars Home

From her Los Angeles bungalow-meets-headquarters, the former New York Times columnist is juggling a new media company, a newborn baby, 300,000 readers and one perturbed Elon Musk. Annie spends the morning at home with Weiss, her wife and the staff of The Free Press, asking, can anti-woke outrage produce a great media business?

social studies

At Google, Meta and Other Tech Companies, the Layoffs Are Streaming Live on TikTok

Since January 1, 57,601 tech employees have been eliminated from 185 companies’ payrolls. An increasing number are turning to TikTok to share their raw, real-time reactions. The recordings signal a generational shift in how people respond to layoffs, from a moment of private shame, to a public outpouring of catharsis and connection. Chris Stokel-Walker explores how the tech recession will be TikToked. 

Reading: A startup founders fountain of youth
We all want to live a long life. Many of us are even willing to torture ourselves for the privilege, perhaps by practicing intermittent fasting or enduring HIIT workouts. But few people have taken this quest as far as Bryan Johnson, the serial startup founder profiled by Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance this week. Johnson, 45, spends upwards of $2 million a year trying to coax his body back to its unspoiled teenage form. His daily protocol: a cocktail of two dozen vitamins; a strict vegan and mostly liquid diet; an hour of exercise; light therapy for his skin; sound therapy for his ears; and a device that administers electromagnetic pulses for muscle toning—all supervised by a team of 30-plus doctors who monitor every input and output. After reading about this human guinea pig routine, I arrived at the same conclusion Vance did: “Johnson’s lifestyle isn’t for me.” — Arielle

Listening: Drake-ify your life

We’ve heard a lot about the booming generative AI scene in Silicon Valley (in this publication, especially). But have you thought about using AI to make Drake songs? Sorry, someone beat you to it. is an AI generator that uses GPT-3 to turn any prompt into a Drake track. Obviously, the songs aren’t exactly Spotify-ready, but they do indeed sound like him. I ordered up a song about tech journalism and subscription media (ever on brand) and it is indeed… something. Yes, AI Drake is a cute gimmick, but it also poses interesting questions about AI’s effect on the music industry: Once the technology improves, will AI Drake make thousands of new songs? Could other entities profit from his voice and likeness? Will we hear “Hotline Bling” in hundreds of languages? Yes, the future may belong to AI artists—they started from the bottom, now they’re here. —Annie

Following: the parody app mashup creator
Soren Iverson, a designer at CashApp, noticed all those terrible knockoffs of Spotify’s year-end Wrapped feature and got inspired. What would happen if apps swiped features from each other—“like, what if things just got unhinged?” he wondered. For the past month, Iverson has been tweeting answers to that question. His imagined mashups include Slack with read receipts, Juul with Instagram-like parental controls, a Live Nation checkout system that charges higher fees if users can’t enter three album titles from the performing artist and an iPhone group alarm that won’t stop blaring until everyone in the group wakes up. (When he shared the latter idea with his wife, she had a curt reply: “Why does your brain work like that?”) What makes his parodies so sharp is how close to plausibility they come. “You can almost see a really weird world where some of this stuff starts getting shipped,” he said. —Abe

Makes You Think

New app idea, soon to be acquired by Discord. 

Until next Weekend, thanks for reading.


Weekend Editor, The Information

Jon Steinberg is the Weekend Editor at The Information. He is a former editor-in-chief of San Francisco magazine and senior editor at New York magazine, where his work won many National Magazine Awards.
Access on the go
View stories on our mobile app and tune into our weekly podcast.
Join live video Q&A’s
Deep-dive into topics like startups and autonomous vehicles with our top reporters and other executives.
Enjoy a clutter-free experience
Read without any banner ads.
OpenAI's Greg Brockman (left) and Google's Demis Hassabis (right). Photos by Getty.
AI Agenda google ai
OpenAI Hustles to Beat Google to Launch ‘Multimodal’ LLM
As fall approaches, Google and OpenAI are locked in a good ol’ fashioned software race, aiming to launch the next generation of large-language models: multimodal.
From left, a Google TPU, Broadcom CEO Hock Tan and Google Cloud chief Thomas Kurian. Photos via Getty, Google and YouTube.
Exclusive google semiconductors
To Reduce AI Costs, Google Wants to Ditch Broadcom as Its TPU Server Chip Supplier
Google executives have extensively discussed dropping Broadcom as a supplier of artificial intelligence chips as early as 2027, according to a person with direct knowledge of the effort.
Photo via Midjourney.
AI Agenda startups ai
The Rise of Startups That Help Other Startups Evaluate LLMs
All but a handful of artificial intelligence startups typically fall into one of two camps. The first group uses a single large-language model, typically OpenAI’s GPT-4, to power their applications.
Photos via Eiso Kant (left) and YouTube/VMWare Tanzu (right)
AI Agenda startups ai
How GitHub Copilot’s Co-Creator Raised $126 Million to Compete with His Former Employer
Recent interest in artificial intelligence has focused on large-language models that aim to do everything from writing Shakespearean poetry to solving math riddles.
Art by Clark Miller
The Big Read policy
Europe Has Figured Out How to Tame Big Tech. Can the U.S. Learn Its Tricks?
Late last month in Belgium, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) had a pressing question for Paul Tang, a Dutch politician and member of the European Parliament.
Art by Mike Sullivan
entertainment media/telecom
Disney-Charter Deal Could Prompt More Cable TV-Streaming Bundles
Last week, Charter Communications, the No. 2 cable provider, and Walt Disney Co. cut a deal to include Disney streaming services, such as Disney+ and a new ESPN service still in the works, with Charter’s cable television packages.