Hashtag Trending Nov.23rd- Altman back at OpenAI; Google’s war on ad blockers; Cisco looks to protect Ukrainian infrastructure

Sam is back at OpenAI. At least today. Microsoft employees angered at the company being willing to hire everyone from OpenAI in the middle of cutbacks and layoffs for the common folk. Google goes to war against ad blockers and CISCO brings in innovations to protect Ukrainian infrastructure.

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I’m your host Jim Love, CIO of IT World Canada and Tech News Day in the US.

These and more top tech stories on Hashtag Trending

Okay, I know I’m old and some of my audience must wonder at some of my analogies, but I can’t resist this. If anyone remembers the season of Dallas, the hit TV show, where they tried to change things up but it all worked out so badly that they just pretended it was a dream and didn’t really happen?

That’s how I feel about this Open AI drama. 

Sam’s back. Let’s pretend it all didn’t happen.

Altman has been reappointed as the CEO of OpenAI. This decision is a part of a wider agreement that also introduces a new board chaired by Bret Taylor, former co-CEO of Salesforce.

The restructured board includes former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Adam D’Angelo, co-founder of Quora. Independent directors Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, along with OpenAI’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, will exit the board. Greg Brockman, previously OpenAI’s board chair and president, is off the board, but will rejoin the company.

There is an agreement for an independent investigation into the events leading to Altman’s original dismissal. How much of that will go public is anyone’s guess, but I think everyone wants to know what on earth caused this. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that something major happened that caused these people to risk blowing up an 80 billion dollar company.

Rumours including one reportedly publicized by Elon Musk that Altman had a problem with employees didn’t hold much given that the letter signed by nearly every employee, that they would resign en masse if Altman didn’t return was crucial in reversing the situation. 

The board itself stated that there was no “malfeasance” from Altman. 

So what was it?

Will we ever find out?  Maybe not.

Altman seemed like he was ready to move on, stating, “i love openai, and everything i’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together. when i decided to join msft on sun evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella continued his support of Altman and OpenAI, “We are encouraged by the changes to the OpenAI board. We believe this is a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance.”

But Nadella had earlier indicated that there would have to be changes in the way OpenAI was governed to avoid future surprises. And since Microsoft has well over 10 billion dollars invested in OpenAI you can bet that even if it never goes public, to quote another old TV show, somebody got some ‘splaining to do.

Sources include: Axios

Okay, one more story on OpenAI.  And there’s a lesson for us all. 

The announcement by Microsoft’s CTO, Kevin Scott, about hiring hundreds of OpenAI employees and matching their current compensation has sparked some discontent among Microsoft workers. This came at a time when many Microsoft employees have been grappling with job security concerns and increased workloads.

An employee expressed their frustration, saying, “How many loyal employees who stayed at Microsoft while working 12+ hours daily and living in constant fear of being laid off all year? Now here comes OpenAI. We worked even harder when we were told there’s no budget to hire more people. 14-hour days?” 

And it’s true. Microsoft’s 2023 has been marked by uncertainty for its employees, with the company announcing plans in January to lay off 10,000 workers. This unease extended even to staff in cloud and AI — areas prioritized for growth. In May, CEO Satya Nadella announced a freeze on salaries and reductions in the bonus and stock award budget, exacerbating concerns about job security and compensation.

Further layoffs were reported in July, surpassing the initial figure of 10,000. Microsoft also closed projects and laid off staff in its “industrial metaverse,” a significant AI initiative. This backdrop of cutbacks and uncertainty contrasts sharply with the recent news of hiring from OpenAI, creating a sense of disparity among employees.

Will the fact that Altman returned to OpenAI and no staff came over placate the Microsoft staff? Who knows. 

But it’s a lesson many of us have had to learn. If the new folks always get the better treatment, and even better salaries, what incentive is there for those loyal employees? 

Sources include: Business Insider

Google has recently acknowledged that it is intentionally creating a “suboptimal viewing” experience on YouTube for users employing ad blockers. This strategy includes delaying the start of videos, a move designed to discourage ad blocker usage. Earlier, YouTube began interrupting videos with pop-ups urging users to disable ad blockers or subscribe to its ad-free premium tier. 

These actions align with Google’s business model, which heavily relies on advertising revenue. Ad blockers, according to Google, violate its terms of service and challenge its primary revenue source. The company’s approach has led to unintended consequences; several users reported delays in video playback on browsers like Firefox and Microsoft’s Edge, even without ad blockers installed. 

Google’s spokesperson stated, “Ads are a vital lifeline for our creators that helps them run and grow their businesses.” However, the detection method for ad blockers has been reported to cause false positives, leading to delays for some users not using ad blockers

Furthering its efforts against ad blockers, Google is set to implement an API change in June that will affect legacy Chrome extensions, including ad blockers. This change, known as Manifest V3, may limit certain functionalities of content blocking. Andrey Meshkov, CTO of AdGuard, remains optimistic about adapting to the new platform, though the full extent of the impact remains unclear.

These developments reflect Google’s ongoing struggle to balance its advertising-driven business model with user experience and the evolving landscape of online content consumption.

Sources include: The Register

Cisco has proactively shipped modified switches to Ukrenergo, the state-owned electricity grid operator in Ukraine, to bolster its defenses against Russian cyberattacks targeting energy infrastructure. These attacks have included the use of GPS-jamming tactics, which disrupt the high-voltage energy subsystems crucial for power distribution and damage assessment.

The reliance of Ukraine’s substations on GPS for time synchronization, a standard in industrial control systems for its accuracy and affordability, becomes a vulnerability when faced with such jamming. Disruptions in GPS signals hamper the synchronization of electricity subsystems, affecting the grid’s operational status reporting and hindering the identification of issues like line breaks.

Cisco’s response involved shipping a large order of modified equipment, specifically designed to maintain accurate time even under radio jamming conditions. 

These modified versions of the Cisco Industrial Ethernet 5000 series switches, tested and stress-tested in Cisco’s Austin, Texas lab, were sent to Ukrenergo. 

Illia Vitiuk, head of cybersecurity for the Ukrainian security service SBU, anticipates continued cyberattacks through the winter, underlining the critical nature of these measures. Cisco ensured that the devices were capable of operating accurately in extreme cold, a crucial factor given Ukraine’s harsh winter conditions.

The inception of this initiative traces back to a February meeting at a Stanford steakhouse, where U.S. and Ukrainian officials, along with Cisco executives, discussed countermeasures against Russian electronic warfare. Joe Marshall, a senior security strategist at Cisco Talos, led the development of this specialized hardware.

Marshall described the development as an “eight-month emotional journey,” highlighting the team’s commitment to supporting Ukraine. Cisco’s expanded involvement with Ukrenergo includes modernizing the grid infrastructure for better European grid synchronization and other support projects, further cementing its role in aiding Ukraine’s resilience against cyber threats.

While we can applaud Cisco’s team for helping to keep civilians from freezing in the midst of the war this winter, we hope that what they are learning will also be used to harden our own infrastructure which is all too often, sadly vulnerable. 

Sources include: The Register

And that’s the top tech news for today.

Hashtag Trending goes to air 5 days a week with a special weekend interview show we call “the Weekend Edition.”

You can get us anywhere you get audio podcasts and there is a copy of the show notes at itworldcanada.com/podcasts 

For those interested in cybersecurity you can also check out our hit cybersecurity podcast featuring Howard Solomon and called CybersecurityToday.  It’s often rated as one of North America’s top 10 tech podcasts. 

I’m your host Jim Love.  Have a Thrilling Thursday!

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