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ChatGPT goes pro, layoffs at Alphabet, and Dungeons & Dragons flirts with restrictive new licensing

Image Credits: Paula Dani (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Hope you’re sitting comfortably with a warm beverage on this wintery Saturday afternoon. Expecting Greg’s byline? Not to worry — he’s still enjoying parental leave, as I mentioned in the January 7 edition. All’s well.

Before we get into it, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note, once again, that TC Early Stage in Boston is on the horizon. With tickets starting at $99, it’ll be a worthwhile stop along the Eastern conference circuit, packed with expert-led workshops, case studies and deep dives with technical founders. Some members of the TechCrunch editorial staff will be in attendance — don’t be a stranger if you spot us on the show floor.
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ChatGPT goes pro: OpenAI this week signaled it’ll soon begin charging for ChatGPT, its viral AI-powered chatbot that can write essays, emails, poems and even computer code. A “pro” version of the tool called ChatGPT Professional will throw in no unavailability windows, no throttling and an unlimited number of messages with ChatGPT — “at least 2x the regular daily limit.” Pricing remains up in the air.

Microsoft 365 goes Basic: Microsoft will introduce a lower-cost tier of Microsoft 365, its family of productivity software and cloud-based document editing services, starting on January 30, the company announced Wednesday. Called Microsoft 365 Basic and priced at $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year, the plan will initially include 100 GB of storage, Outlook email and access to support experts for help with Microsoft 365 and Windows 11.

Layoffs hit a news aggregator: SmartNews, the Tokyo-based news aggregation website and app, let go of 40% of its U.S. and China workforce, or around 120 people, my colleagues Sarah and Kirsten report. The company was impacted by the same macroeconomic factors that have led to a number of tech industry layoffs in recent months, in addition to complications that arose from Apple’s implementation of App Tracking Transparency, or ATT.

Robotics, too: Brian reports that this week, Alphabet joined the growing list of tech giants making staff cuts amid ongoing economic struggles. The company’s robot software firm, Intrinsic, laid off 40 employees, a move that comes less than a year after Intrinsic acquired both Vicarious and Open Robotics — the latter having been announced less than a month ago.

Licensed fun: Dungeons & Dragons content creators are fighting to protect their livelihoods, Amanda writes in a sobering deep dive. Wizards of the Coast (WotC), the Hasbro-owned publisher of the game, plans to update the game’s license for the first time in over 22 years, releasing a new licensing system that would require any D&D content creator who makes over $750,000 in revenue to pay a 25% royalty to the company on every dollar above that threshold. In a sliver of good news, WotC has delayed the rollout of the licensing scheme, following a widespread backlash.

Colors, but E Ink: One of the cooler gizmos to emerge from the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show is E Ink’s color displays, Harri writes. They can spit out 50,000 colors at 300 DPI — way, way up from the last-gen model’s max of 4,000 colors. E Ink says it aims to use them to build a magazine reading experience that’s good enough to win over even the most demanding publishers.

Keys for days: My colleague (and boss!) Frederic reviewed the Keychron Q10 this week, a keyboard akin to Keychron’s other — but smaller — Alice-style board. He approved of the gasket mount and silicon gaskets, which provide a bit of flex while reducing ping and other noise. As for the Alice layout (the keys aren’t in a straight line, but the left and right half are slightly angled), it was easy to get used to, he said — and he appreciated that the five macro buttons under the knob could be mapped to anything you’d like. Read the full review for more.

Welcome home, Welcome Homes: In a profile, Mary Ann peels back the curtains on Welcome Homes, a proptech startup launched by the co-founders of cloud service provider DigitalOcean. The New York City–based firm — which recently raised $29 million — offers people a way to design and build new homes online, similar to other venture-backed companies (e.g., Atmos, Homebound) attempting to address the housing shortage.

I hear deepfaked voices: Microsoft’s new VALL-E AI model can replicate a voice using just three seconds of audio from the target speaker. But as my colleague Devin writes, it’s not necessarily cause for alarm — or rather, cause for more alarm than was already warranted by voice-duplicating tech. Voice replication has been a subject of intense research for years, and the results have been good enough to power plenty of startups, like WellSaid, Papercup and Respeecher. VALL-E is simply the latest illustration of its potential — and dangers.

Medium joins Mastodon: Online publishing startup Medium, originally created by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, is embracing the open source social platform Mastodon. Sarah reports that Medium has created its own instance — — to support authors and their publications with reliable infrastructure, moderation and a short domain name to make it easier for authors to share their usernames, among other things.
audio roundup

As always, TechCrunch had a winning lineup of audio content this week for your listening pleasure — although I might be a little biased. On startup-focused Found, TechCrunch startup battlefield editor Neesha Tambe spoke with Sheeba Dawood, the co-founder of clean energy tech provider Minerva Lithium, about the struggles she’s faced as a woman of color trying to innovate in the mineral manufacturing industry and what’s next for the company. TC’s dedicated crypto show, Chain Reaction, featured an interview with Polygon Labs, one of the biggest market shakers and layer-2 blockchains in the crypto space that’s building on top of the Ethereum ecosystem. Meanwhile, over at Equity, Natasha, Mary Ann, and Becca chatted about incoming deals from Inflow, Deel and Fidelity; layoffs and lawsuits at Carta; Microsoft’s much-rumored investment in ChatGPT and OpenAI; and SBF’s Substack debut.

Here’s your regular reminder to subscribe to TC+ if you haven’t yet. It’s where TC takes exhaustive, exclusive looks at trends, industries and emerging technologies. Here’s some of the most popular content on TC+ this week:

Crypto rollercoaster: While some crypto-focused venture capitalists are bullish for 2023, others see it as a hazardous time, Jacquelyn reports. Internal sentiment among VCs is a “wait and see” game, according to one source quoted in the piece; competition in the market is likely to heat up as investors write fewer checks and become more selective.

ChatGPT, meet VC: Some investors are (cautiously) incorporating ChatGPT into their workflows, as it turns out. ChatGPT being a specifically text-based support tool, automation could be making its way to rejection letters, market maps or even bits of due diligence, TC found — all in order to stay afloat in a changing venture landscape. Natasha M, Christine, and I have more.

Pivot when ready: Pivots aren’t necessarily bad news. Brian Casey writes about how he pivoted his deep tech startup to become a software-as-a-service company — albeit not without major challenges. In his words: “Pivoting from hardware to SaaS was the right move for our electric motor design startup, but the process wasn’t precisely linear.”

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