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The Battle for the Soul of Silicon Valley

Plus: ‘I hate my AI boyfriend,’ Bari’s DEI monologue, and more.

If you’re looking for last-minute gift ideas this Christmas, why not consider something more stimulating than a scented candle? This week only, we’re offering a 25 percent discount on a yearlong subscription to The Free Press. Click here to take advantage of the offer. 

Are you a doomer or a devotee of “Beff Jezos”? Or do you have no idea what I’m talking about? Probably the latter, right? All this jargon comes from the weird world of e/acc, a burgeoning band of techies who helped fuel the recent fallout at OpenAI and believes our lives can improve only through innovation.

In our first story, The Free Press’s Julia Steinberg meets members of e/acc (pronounced ee-ack), an eclectic subculture of young tech workers, thinkers, and founders pushing back against the idea that AI will destroy humanity.

E/acc, according to 23-year-old entrepreneur Augustus Doricko, is “a revolt from the Zoomers against the death cult that we’re so sick of because we spent our whole life in it.” Doricko wants to solve world drought. And when he’s done, he hopes to build a cathedral one day.

Click below to learn more about the force that wants to claim the soul of Silicon Valley—and return it to its pioneering spirit.

“It was so nice talking to you today. Honestly, I’ve never met anyone like you.” So says Digi, a new AI girlfriend that you can download in the App Store and who its makers bill as “the future of AI Romantic Companionship.” If you’re only just coming around to the idea of dating apps, buckle up, because things are about to get a lot weirder. 

One person embracing that change is Free Press contributor Zoe Strimpel, who decided to create an AI boyfriend as “a simple, cost-effective way to wrangle the support I needed.” But what happened between Zoe and “Alex” ended up in a dark place. To find out more, click below to read our second story. 

Exciting Free Press news: we’re going to post more to our YouTube channel, which you can subscribe to here. Check out our latest video, a monologue from Bari about why DEI must end. 

From our newsroom:

Back in October, Eli Lake reported for The Free Press on the $4.7 billion lavished on American universities by Qatar, the Arab nation that harbors the leaders of Hamas.

The figure cited by Eli is based on data colleges must report to the Department of Education. But a new report from the Network Contagion Research Institute has found that a new DoE portal aimed at bringing transparency to foreign funding of universities has instead muddied the data even more.

The report finds that recent changes by the Department of Education after September 2020 “make vast amounts of data impossible to fully and accurately resolve.” 

For example, over 52,000 donor names and over 4,100 dates of receipt of donations “have been inexplicably removed from currently available online reporting.” 

As a result, previous reporting of Qatari donations to major universities, worth $2.2 billion, have been dropped from the DoE’s website.

As Eli put it to me: “The irony here is that the new DoE portal was meant to bring more transparency to foreign funding of universities. In practice, this new website has obscured an already dense thicket of data.” 

On our radar:

→ Claudine Gay’s unacknowledged acknowledgments: Harvard president Claudine Gay faces 40 new allegations of plagiarism in a formal complaint submitted Tuesday. The claims relate to seven of her eleven published scholarly articles, but one in particular stood out from the rest: Gay appears to have copied exact phrases for the acknowledgments to her dissertation from the acknowledgments section of another academic’s book. It’s not the most serious allegation in the complaint, but if you can’t even say thank you in your own words, are you really fit to run Harvard? 

No wonder Harvard applications are down: In the wake of, well, everything, Harvard reported a 17 percent drop in early applications from last year, its lowest total number of early applications in four years. Its acceptance rate rose by a percentage point from last year, too. 

Harvard’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to attend a university—may well be down this year as well. The New York Post reported that students are turning down their offers. Christopher Rim, a college admissions consultant, told the Post that he thinks it’s “. . . current events at play. . . [Harvard is] getting the worst PR ever right now.” 

Turns out, you can’t afford to be quite as selective when people associate your name with plagiarism and antisemitism as opposed to, you know, teaching and research. 

→ D.C. crime is up—a lot: Things are going badly in our nation’s capital. Very badly. Since 2020, only five cities have faced a population decline greater than D.C.’s, and rates of math proficiency have fallen precipitously for public school students while absenteeism and truancy have shot up. Perhaps most shocking of all is the city’s steep rise in violent crime, which is up nearly 40 percent this year—the steepest rise of any major city—while property crime is up 25 percent. As Connor O’Brien puts it in an end-of-year look at the city, “the vibes in D.C. are grim.” 

A thought: perhaps D.C.’s chief prosecutor should, you know, prosecute some crimes

→ Nuclear fusion breakthrough paves the way for clean energy: The future of clean energy looks brighter by the day. Scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) of the Livermore National Laboratory in California have for the first time discovered a way to repeatedly produce nuclear fusion ignition reactions, which create more energy than they consume. This could lead to “near-limitless clean energy at scale,” according to NucNet, an independent news agency for the global nuclear industry.

The breakthrough comes after many failed attempts and setbacks for the NIF. Their story is not only an unequivocal triumph for American science but a testament to the value of persevering—and funding that perseverance. 

→ Eric Adams, 9/11 booster: Step aside, Kamala “Joe Biden is very much alive” Harris. We have a late front-runner in the contest for the worst answer given by a politician in 2023. Asked to sum up the past year in one word in an interview Monday, Eric Adams offered two: “New York.” The city’s mayor continued: “This is a place where every day you wake up, you could experience everything from a plane crashing into our Trade Center to a person who’s celebrating a new business that’s open. This is a very, very complicated city, and that’s why it’s the greatest city on the globe.”

How should Adams have answered the question? What one word would you pick to sum up the past year? Answers in the comments. 

Oliver Wiseman is an editor and writer for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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