Monday, June 10, 2024

On Our "Virtual Route 66" : On The Tech Scene This Week


Our team presents a snapshot of the Tech and Future Scene in our World Courtesy Crypto Briefers, InformationWeek; inside tech 
 & Robinhood snacks:

The Lithium Boom

Did you know it takes 10,000 iPhone batteries worth of Lithium to make just 1 EV? 

With 350M+ EVs projected to be sold globally by 2030, demand for Li is projected to soar and current extraction methods won’t be able to meet the demand. So when EnergyX revealed that their technology could extract 300% more lithium than traditional methods, investors everywhere took note.

Bitcoin is inching closer to its all-time high, with the price soaring to $71,200 on Tuesday, just 4% away from the historic peak of $73,700 established earlier in March. The rally is fueled by massive inflows into US spot Bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs), with data from HODL15Capital showing that these funds collectively witnessed $887 million in net inflows on June 4, marking the second-highest such inflow ever recorded.

Meanwhile, Marathon Digital, one of the largest Bitcoin mining firms, has sold over 60% of all Bitcoin it mined since the halving took place in late April. The company's move to sell a significant portion of its BTC production in May highlights the adjustments miners are making to their operations following the reduction in mining rewards. As the competition intensifies, miners are seeking to expand their fleets, improve efficiency, and explore overseas expansion to remain competitive.

VanEck, a prominent asset manager, has projected Ethereum to reach $22,000 by 2030, representing a 487% increase from current levels. The forecast is based on Ethereum's anticipated generation of $66 billion in "free cashflows" and its potential in the artificial intelligence (AI) sector. The recent approval of spot Ethereum exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in the US has also contributed to VanEck's optimistic outlook for the second-largest cryptocurrency.

 Courtesy the Information ; Crypto Briefing:

This was Jensen Huang’s week. As we saw when he appeared at the Computex conference in Taipei this week, Huang is now a fully fledged celebrity CEO. (See Qianer Liu’s report on Computex below). Fittingly, Nvidia also this week briefly passed Apple as the second most valuable company, with a $3 trillion market capitalization. It’s extraordinary that someone who runs a company that two years ago most people wouldn’t have heard of and whose products are among the most arcane in tech has risen to nearly Elon Musk’s level of stardom. 

Nvidia is at the nexus of two of the big stories in tech right now, artificial intelligence and China-U.S. trade relations. That was clear in my colleague Anissa Gardizy’s scoop this week revealing that Chinese firms like ByteDance are getting around U.S. export controls on Nvidia’s most advanced AI chips by buying or renting them in the U.S.

Next week, the focus of tech news will shift to Apple and Elon Musk. Let’s face it, the focus is rarely off either of them, but next week will be particularly intense, so buckle up. On Monday, Apple kicks off its annual developer conference, where it typically unveils all sorts of news about upcoming software and hardware. The chatter ahead of next week’s event has been about how Apple will add lots of AI-enhanced features to the iPhone and other products. 

Then on Thursday, Tesla shareholders are due to weigh in on Musk’s $45 billion pay package, the one a judge in Delaware rescinded earlier this year. That could be a close vote. On the one side are the Musk superfans, whom we profiled here. They include Tesla chair Robyn Denholm, who wrote a letter to shareholders this week saying the vote was about “retaining Elon’s attention and motivating him to focus on achieving astonishing growth for our company.” (Shouldn’t lifting the value of his existing 12.8% stake be motivation enough?) Meanwhile, some big shareholders aren’t so keen on the pay package. The outcome of this vote will unquestionably be a big story. Stay tuned!

Jensen Huang and Lisa Su in the Spotlight

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang and Advanced Micro Devices CEO Lisa Su, the two biggest luminaries of the chip world, were the stars of the Computex tech conference held in Taipei this week. Smart minds from around the globe converged to explore the realm of AI, particularly in chip manufacturing and the supply chain that supports AI infrastructure. 

Huang and Su each showcased their companies’ next generation of chips, which aim to drive the future AI frenzy. Throngs of press chased the two executives, both born in southern Taiwan and maternally related to one another, across town like rock stars. Huang, of course, was the bigger name, inspiring a craze dubbed “Jensanity.”

Amid the hustle and bustle of trade shows and industry gatherings, the chances of securing a table at any nearby eatery were akin to winning the lottery. I often had to squeeze into the space in front of a 7-11, gobbling up rice balls quickly while exchanging bits of industry gossip with other attendees. 

Although OpenAI wasn’t present at the exhibition, Sam Altman’s chips gambit was ever present in my conversations with industry veterans in Taiwan’s chip manufacturing and hardware supply chain. I encountered an intriguing mix of skepticism and admiration. The consensus was that Altman is both too idealistic and too radical to build or fund chipmaking plants. The sentiment echoed the approach of TSMC chair and CEO CC Wei, who commented after Tuesday’s TSMC annual shareholders meeting: “Sam Altman, he’s just too aggressive, too aggressive for me to believe.”

TSMC produces the majority of powerful advanced chips globally for everything from AI systems to smartphones, including Nvidia’s highly sought-after silicon chips. Huang reiterated multiple times during Computex how important TSMC is to Nvidia and then said he would support TSMC’s plan to raise its prices. That’s a rare move for a cost-sensitive company like Nvidia. 

As for Altman: Creating complex chipmaking infrastructure requires substantial capital, time and talent. Constructing a chip factory alone can take several years, from setting up the facility to installing and testing equipment, as well as fine-tuning production lines and improving yield. If Altman is serious about building multiple chip factories, he had better get a move on soon. If he was already underway, you can bet talent scouts and equipment vendors would have caught wind of it. But the whispers in the Taiwanese circle are few and far between.—Qianer Liu

The Information's Stories From This Week:

  • The U.S. government forbids Nvidia to sell some of its most advanced AI chips to customers in China. But it doesn’t stop Chinese firms from buying or renting Nvidia’s chips if they’re used within the U.S. Anissa Gardizy reported on that loophole in export controls, which is how ByteDance got access to Nvidia’s chips.
  • Yueqi Yang scooped that custodian giant State Street is rebuilding its digital assets team with hiring plans, after cutting jobs in the department earlier this year, signaling growing confidence in crypto and tokenized assets.
  • Ann Gehan reported on details of Etsy’s efforts to rid its site, typically known for handmade and vintage items, of cheap goods sold on other marketplaces like Shein and Temu. It’s part of a broader push to revive Etsy’s sales growth, which has stalled over the past three years following the e-commerce boom of 2020 and 2021.
  • Steve LeVine wrote about the shutdown of next-generation battery maker Ionic Materials, which let go of over 40 employees after it failed in its efforts to develop a new polymer for dealing with lithium.
  • Natasha Mascarenhas broke the news that several venture capitalists are leaving their firms to start their own funds, despite how extraordinarily difficult it is to raise new funding right now. 
  • Wayne Ma reported that Apple talked with China Mobile about launching Apple TV+ in the country, which would make it the only streaming service from a U.S. company available in that market.
  • ByteDance is looking to fundraise up to $800 million for Dongchedi, the company’s car marketplace division, which is looking to eventually go public, our Asia correspondents Jing Yang, Qianer Liu, and Juro Osawa reported.  
  • Anita Ramaswamy made the case in her column that Amazon Web Services should be able to keep its high operating margins in place for some time, thanks to new higher-margin products and an opportunity to sell its own chips. Plus, the company’s AI assistant could help, she wrote. 
  • Franklin Templeton, the $1.6 trillion asset manager, is exploring launching a new crypto fund that will invest in a range of tokens beyond bitcoin and ether, Yueqi scooped, a move that would introduce institutional capital to the broader crypto universe.
  • Start your weekend reading with Larissa Zimberoff’s story about Prolific Machines, a secretive lab-grown meat company that recently received an injection of more cash from investors. The story begins with a taste test inside a former jelly bean factory. 

In Other News

  • Microsoft is making changes to its new AI-powered Recall feature on Windows after it drew harsh criticism from security experts in recent weeks. Recall takes a screenshot of users’ screen every five seconds and lets them use an AI-powered search engine to find apps or windows they used in recent months (more here).
  • DocuSign swung to an operating profit of $22.6 million in the April quarter, compared with a loss of $4.6 million a year earlier. The profit turnaround continues a notable improvement in free cash flow demonstrated last year, even as growth remains tepid (more here).
  • A federal judge in Virginia overseeing the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Google’s dominant ad tech business gave the company a small victory Friday by rejecting the DOJ’s request for a jury trial, a Google spokesperson said (more here).
  • Alphabet shareholders on Friday reelected the company’s 10 board directors and rejected 12 stockholder proposals, easily overcoming a recommendation from shareholder proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services to remove five directors and pass five of the proposals, which aimed to increase transparency and shareholder rights (more here). 
  • Bakkt Holdings, the digital asset marketplace backed by the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange, is working with a financial adviser to explore strategic options, including a potential sale or breakup, Bloomberg reported Friday.

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New From Our Reporters

More or Less

Startups to Start: Media Edition

By Jessica E. Lessin



SpaceX successfully test-flew its Starship rocket and booster on Thursday, a key step toward sending astronauts to the moon and Mars. The world's most powerful rocket and its Super Heavy booster both returned to Earth intact, avoiding any explosions.


  • Previous tests saw Starship and Super Heavy unable to achieve controlled landings.
  • Starship's first two test flights resulted in explosions, while its third test flight successfully launched but did not survive re-entry.
  • In Thursday's test, Starship separated from the booster, which did a controlled descent and splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Starship flew for an hour, reaching hypersonic speeds at 125 miles of altitude. The spacecraft then made a tense controlled landing in the Indian Ocean, surviving reentry.
  • SpaceX owner Elon Musk said Starship made the soft landing despite a damaged flap and loss of many tiles.

Zoom out:

  • NASA chose Starship to carry astronauts to the lunar surface for its Artemis III mission, which could launch in 2026.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed to split investigations into Microsoft, OpenAI, and Nvidia for possible antitrust violations. The three companies are leaders in the AI industry. The DOJ will investigate Nvidia's dominance in high-end AI chips, while the FTC will probe OpenAI and Microsoft, the ChatGPT maker's largest investor.


  • The DOJ and FTC jointly enforce U.S. antitrust laws.
  • Under the tentative agreement, each agency would be given authority to investigate the AI companies' conduct and recent deals.
  • The agreement, negotiated for nearly a year, could be finalized this week.
  • Under the terms, the FTC will also keep its oversight of Amazon, and the DOJ will maintain its control over Google, both of which face antitrust lawsuits.

Zoom out:

  • The FTC is already investigating Microsoft's deal with Inflection AI.
  • In March, Microsoft agreed to a $650M deal with Inflection to license the startup's AI models and hire most of its staff.

Robinhood is acquiring U.K.-based crypto exchange Bitstamp for $200M in cash. The deal could bolster Robinhood's international crypto presence and draw institutional clients with new products.


  • Bitstamp will become the U.S. trading app's first institutional business, fueling the global expansion of Robinhood Crypto.
  • Bitstamp, a major European crypto exchange, provides spot trading for 85+ cryptocurrencies and offers institutional lending and staking services.
  • The exchange claims over 50 active licenses and registrations worldwide.
  • Robinhood began providing crypto trading services to EU clients late last year. Its global expansion could take market share from Coinbase, which is also growing outside North America.


  • The deal, expected to close in H1 2025, comes as Robinhood's crypto business faces a potential SEC lawsuit over alleged securities law violations.
  • Robinhood's active monthly users have also declined since 2021, though its average revenue per user (ARPU) has increased.


Google Maps will end web access to Timeline, previously known as Location History. Timeline will continue to work on Google Maps for Android and iOS, storing location data locally.


  • Timeline tracks users' routes based on their phone's location, providing a history of past locations and visited places.
  • Starting in December, Google will end web access and erase most web location data.
  • That data will only be stored on devices, meaning it will no longer sync across the web and phones.
  • The move aims to keep users’ sensitive location data more private.
  • Google is advising users to save it to their mobile devices before Dec. 1.

Zoom out:

  • The update means Google will no longer have access to users' individual location history, and will not be able to provide the data to law enforcement.
  • The policy comes after a Bloomberg investigation revealed that U.S. investigators were able to access users' location data even if users were not suspected of committing any crimes.


Duolingo removed LGBTQ+ content from its Russian app following warnings from Moscow. Russia’s regulator ordered the language-learning app to censor references to what it calls “non-traditional sexual relations" under its “LGBT propaganda” law.


  • A Duolingo spokesperson said the company supports LGBTQ+ rights and believes "in normalizing LGBTQ+ representation in our content."
  • "Unfortunately, local laws prohibit us from including certain content in Russia," the person said.
  • Last year, Russia expanded its 2013 ban on what it calls "LGBT propaganda," part of its larger "culture war" with Western countries. 
  • Russia's Supreme Court labeled what it called the "international LGBT movement" as "extremist," essentially banning LGBTQ+ activism.

Zoom out:


Elon Musk's AI startup plans to build "the world's largest supercomputer" in Memphis, Tennessee. The "Gigafactory of Compute" could power a more advanced version of Grok, xAI's chatbot.


  • To plan for the project, Musk and xAI have reportedly collaborated with Memphis officials since March.
  • xAI plans to occupy a former manufacturing site in the city.
  • The project could mark the biggest multi-billion dollar investment by a new-to-market company in Memphis history.
  • The city is considering offering tax breaks to xAI for the supercomputer project, with cost and job estimates pending.

Zoom out:

  • xAI recently raised $6B with plans to use the funding to launch products, expand its infrastructure, and speed up R&D for future technologies


Quick Hits:

  • Boeing's Starliner carrying two NASA astronauts successfully docked with the International Space Station on Thursday. The maneuver came after Boeing and NASA troubleshooted failed thrusters on the spacecraft.
  • Best Buy's Geek Squad is discontinuing its program where stores repair phones with authentic Samsung parts.
  • Bitcoin mining firm Core Scientific declined a $1B cash offer from CoreWeave, saying the proposal "significantly undervalues" the firm.
  • Salesforce said it will open its first flagship AI center in London, part of its $4B commitment to the U.K.
  • Privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo launched AI Chat, a new tool aggregating different AI chatbots.