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Artists across industries are strategizing together around AI concerns

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As creative industries grapple with AI’s explosion into every artistic medium at once, separate calls from artists warning the world to take action before it’s too late are starting to converge. From fake Drake songs to stylized Instagram profile pictures, art conjured with newly sophisticated AI tools is suddenly ubiquitous — and so are conversations about how to rein in the technology before it does irrevocable harm to creative communities.

This week, digital rights organization Fight for the Future partnered with music industry labor group United Musicians and Allied Workers to launch #AIdayofaction, a campaign that calls on Congress to block corporations from obtaining copyrights on music and other art made with AI.

The idea is that by preventing industry behemoths like major record labels, for example, from copyrighting music made with the assistance of AI, those companies will be forced to keep looping humans into the creative process. But those same concerns — and the same potential strategies for pushing back against the onslaught of AI — exist across creative industries.

“It’s funny because if you’ve talked to musicians who have these concerns, they say, ‘well, authors have been very quiet.’ If you talk to others about these concerns, they’ll say, ‘well, musicians and photographers don’t seem to care at all,’” Fight for the Future Campaigns and Communications Director Lia Holland told TechCrunch. “So part of it also is that the different creative fields, when it comes to this sort of work, are a little bit siloed.”

“That was another intent with our launching this effort with the day of action, to try to illustrate how these are these are common concerns that are shared across artistic mediums. And to create an organizing point… because when artists of different mediums move together they have a lot more power.”

The campaign targets potential corporate abuse of AI technology, but it’s realistic about the ways that musicians and some other creatives could benefit on an individual level from automating parts of their work. The goal is that AI tools “become ways for individual humans to make more money, work less, and compete with the corporations that exploit them.”

“It’s really interesting from a music perspective, specifically, because… musicians are perhaps more familiar with the idea of AI,” Holland said. “Musicians in general are more familiar with things like music production software, and AI tools like like MIDI drum loops… so I think that there is a certain amount of more progressive learning from them, when it comes to technology, and its ability to make their music better.”

When it comes to art and AI, the conversation is complicated, to say the least. Musicians are nervous about industry giants copyrighting AI music and cutting them out of the process. Major record labels are worried about AI models training on their catalogues and stealing a slice of their considerable pie. Spotify erased thousands of AI-crafted songs from its platform but also recently globally launched an AI-powered DJ that curates music for listeners while talking to them in a synthetic voice.

“The training of generative AI using our artists’ music… begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation,” Universal Music Group said after a song using AI to imitate Drake and The Weeknd, two of its artists, went viral.

These same conversations and contradictions are manifesting across creative industries, but artists themselves don’t always have a seat at the table. Independent artists in particular are learning that their voices resonate louder when coming together across disciplines to push back against what Holland describes as an “extraordinary spectrum of exploitation” that leverages their work.

In a roundtable hosted by the FTC this week, the agency brought together figures from across creative industries — from voice acting and science fiction to screenwriting, music, illustration and even fashion — to delve into how generative AI is affecting creatives.

“I know that generative AI in particular poses a unique set of opportunities and challenges to creative industries,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said. “We’ve already heard significant concerns about how these technologies could virtually overnight significantly disempower creators and artists who may watch their life’s creation be appropriated into models over which they have no control.”

In the comments, representatives from myriad creative communities expressed concerns around opt-out requirements that by default train AI models on artists’ original work, and how existing copyright law could be a useful if not comprehensive tool for setting out regulatory guardrails.

In the conversation, a representative with the WGA emphasized that while striking writers obtained their own protections in a newly-won agreement, the fight for artists’ livelihoods “doesn’t stop at the bargaining table.”

Whether Congress mobilizes in time to address mounting concerns around AI and creative industries or not, for its part the FTC does appear to be very tuned into the technology’s risks — and the power of bringing voices together across industries.

“Art is fundamentally human,” FTC Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter said.

“Humans may use technology to assist in creating art, but something cannot be art without human input. Technology is, by definition, not human… humans may endeavor to make generative AI that is ever more intelligent, [but] it cannot and will not replace human creativity.”



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How to watch the moon landing live: See the Intuitive Machines landing attempt

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We might be watching a historic moon landing today.

Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 spacecraft, the uncrewed Odysseus, could potentially land on the surface of the Moon on Feb. 22 at around 4:24 p.m. ET, after an eight-day journey through space. While we can’t be completely sure that the landing will be successful, on Wednesday Intuitive Machines said Odysseus “continues to be in excellent health in lunar orbit.”

You can watch the official stream on Intuitive Machines’ site, on NASA’s website, NASA Television, the NASA app, or on NASA+. You can also keep up by following blog updates on NASA’s website. The live coverage begins at around 3:00 p.m. ET, will continue through the potential landing, and ends with a news conference held by NASA.

The spacecraft is expected to land near Malapert A crater in the south pole region of the moon.

Odysseus launched on Feb. 15 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Its landing would make the first commercial moon landing and is quite the feat. Landing on the moon is an infamously difficult task for a variety of reasons, including the lack of GPS systems and atmospheric drag. Only five countries, including the former Soviet Union, the U.S., China, India, and Japan, have landed on the moon without a significant wreck.





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U.S. company makes history with first commercial moon landing

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A small American company’s robotic spacecraft has brought the United States back to the surface of the moon for the first time in more than a half-century.

Intuitive Machines, a Houston-based space company, landed on Thursday, becoming the first commercial company to reach the moon intact. The unprecedented achievement is a win for NASA, which has invested $2.6 billion in contracts with Intuitive Machines and several other vendors to deliver instruments to the moon over the next four years.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. A few hours before the landing, flight controllers discovered the spacecraft’s laser rangefinders, which help it avoid hazards on the ground, weren’t working. The team decided to take one more lap around the moon, which bought engineers a couple more hours to troubleshoot the problem. During that orbit, they uploaded a software patch to use onboard NASA lasers, which hadn’t previously been tested in space.

Then, there were some communication challenges, but NASA was quick to call the landing a success, even before a photo was beamed back to Earth.

“Today, for the first time in the history of humanity, a commercial company — an American company — launched and led the voyage up there,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson in a pre-recorded message during the broadcast. “Today is a day that shows the power and promise of NASA’s commercial partnerships.”

The moon lander dubbed Odysseus touched down on Malapert A crater, about 200 miles from the lunar south pole, just before 6:30 p.m. ET. Many nations and private ventures have set their sights on the region because of its ice, thought to be buried in the polar craters. The natural resource is coveted because it could supply drinking water, air, and rocket fuel for future missions, ushering a new era in spaceflight.

The success lends legitimacy to the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative (CLPS), a private sector recruitment program to support NASA’s lunar ambitions. Through several contracts, the U.S. space agency wants to establish a regular itinerary of moon missions to prepare for putting Artemis astronauts on the moon in 2026 or later.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s former head of science, once described each of the first CLPS endeavors as “taking a shot on goal.” The sports analogy means not every attempt will be victorious, but overall the program will give NASA a lot of chances to achieve its moon-to-Mars goals. By outsourcing NASA’s lunar deliveries — rather than fully owning each mission — the agency believes it will save money. The contract with Intuitive Machines for this mission was $118 million.

Odysseus, the Intuitive Machines spacecraft, passes over the near side of the moon on Feb. 21, 2024.
Credit: Intuitive Machines

“We don’t know how many of the early attempts will be successful,” said Joel Kearns, NASA science’s deputy associate administrator for exploration, during a news conference in November. “But I can tell you that these American companies are technically strong and rigorous, savvy, they’re resourceful, and they’re driven to be successful. They want to secure that first mover advantage in generating this new lunar economy.”

But observers have questioned how cost-effective the initiative will truly be, given the riskiness of flying on inexperienced spacelines. In January, Astrobotic Technologies, the first of the CLPS vendors, tried to get to the moon, but never reached lunar orbit due to a detrimental fuel leak. NASA spent $108 million on that mission and lost five payloads in the process.

“If we’re flying missions at one-tenth of the cost of a NASA mission, and we fail two of them, we still get eight missions for that same price,” Kearns said in a pre-recorded statement during the landing broadcast. “Even with one or two or three failures, this is still a very economical proposition.”

Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus moon lander snaps a photo of Bel’kovich K crater, a 30-mile-wide pit with mountains in the center from lunar orbit.
Credit: Intuitive Machines

The likelihood of success, especially for novice space programs, is still slim. Historically, less than half of all missions to land on the moon have arrived without crashing. The lunar exosphere — an extremely thin atmosphere of gasses barely held by the moon’s gravity — provides virtually no drag to slow a spacecraft down as it approaches the ground. Furthermore, there are no GPS systems on the moon to help guide a craft to its landing spot. Engineers have to compensate for these shortcomings from 239,000 miles away.

Over the past five years, the private sector has tried and failed. An Israeli nonprofit and company collaborated in 2019 on the so-called Beresheet moon mission, which crashed on the lunar surface after an orientation component malfunctioned. Last April, Japanese startup ispace ran out of fuel on its descent and ultimately crashed. Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander never made it that far and ultimately broke apart as it crashed back to Earth.

But Intuitive Machines’ landing could instill confidence in the burgeoning lunar economy.

“I know this was a nail biter, but we are on the surface, and we are transmitting,” said Stephen Altemus, Intuitive Machines’ CEO. “Welcome to the moon.”





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Zūm Rails takes in first capital to launch new banking-as-a-service, FedNow offerings

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The adoption of open banking and instant payments is moving slowly in the United States compared to other markets around the world, for example, Brazil. That said, the new program FedNow went live in July 2023, and data-sharing regulations are forthcoming, so more potential is on the horizon.

Until then, the co-founders of Zūm Rails say the experiences consumers have with payments continues to be fragmented, meaning companies have to create a tech stack to provide a wide range of services to their customers. The Montreal-based company is taking the approach of providing an all-in-one payments gateway that merges open banking with instant payments.

Marc Milewski and Miles Schwartz started the company in 2019. Milewski’s background is in treasury payments and he was an early employee at accounts receivable automation software company Versapay. While there, he worked on what ultimately became Canada’s first webhook-enabled EFT gateway.

“You learn about all the problems everyone has moving money,” Milewski told TechCrunch. “Open banking was discussed, but I thought it was more about payments. Miles and I talked about building a whole new gateway that unified these experiences. Companies don’t want to be payment experts — that’s our job.”

They started building software to simplify the complexity of moving money via different payment rails so companies can use whichever approach makes sense for their business. Their technology leverages “omni rails” for payments, whether it is traditional credit, debit or electronic funds transfer options. It also provides for real-time options through partners, including Visa Direct, Mastercard, MX and Canada’s Interac network.

Zūm Rails manages the flow of money, including the reduction of fraud and failed transactions, by verifying a customer’s identity, linking directly with bank accounts and facilitating payments via the method of the customer’s choosing.

The company now processes more than $1 billion in payments through its platform each month for over 500 companies, including Questrade, Coinsquare and Desjardins, which is a large federation of credit unions in North America. In the past year, the company grew over 200% and launched in the U.S. at the end of 2023.

Milewski and Schwartz bootstrapped Zūm Rails, building it up to a team of 30 people. Last year, the pair decided to raise venture capital.

“We reached the point where we realize that bootstrapping is no longer healthy for our business,” Schwartz told TechCrunch. “We have some big initiatives we want to work on and grow on. Now it makes sense to do it all at once, and it’s healthy for the business to now go all-in and use the fuel.”

Zūm Rails, open banking, instant payments

Zūm Rails’ technology leverages “omni rails” for payments, whether it is traditional credit, debit or electronic funds transfer options. Image Credits: Zūm Rails

They closed on a $10.5 million Series A funding round, led by Arthur Ventures, and intend to invest in growing in the U.S. and expanding its payments offerings that will include the introduction of new banking-as-a-service features for merchants. In addition, Zūm Rails is working on a FedNow offering in the U.S. that will enable businesses to send and receive FDIC-insured payments within seconds.

Zūm Rails’ performance to date “is really impressive,” Jake Olson, vice president at Arthur Ventures, told TechCrunch. He called the company “a great fit” for its investment thesis, which is high-growth and capital-efficient B2B software companies.

“Achieving profitability without any outside capital is impressive,” Olson said. “Their product positioning is also really compelling. Rather than weaving together different systems, Zūm Rails can provide organizations with a comprehensive solution that powers the entire transaction journey and enables them to have a seamless experience for their end users. Any organization that views the streamline digital financial interaction coupled with the instant payments capability as a competitive advantage will be a great fit for Zūm Rails.”



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