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The Download, Mar 30, 2017: AI’s Future, Nevada’s Lithium Rush, and a Robotic Tentacle

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Three Things You Need to Know Today

Even AI Needs to Innovate
Is artificial intelligence stuck in a rut? That’s what Gary Marcus, former head of Uber’s AI Lab, thinks. Speaking at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital conference in San Francisco, he explained that current machine learning trends and short-termism among companies trying to commercialize AI are limiting progress. Others are more sanguine: at the same event, Apple’s director of AI, Ruslan Salakhutdinov, described how new ways to imbue neural networks with qualities like memory and general knowledge could push the field forward.

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Nevada's Lithium Rush
Forget gold—the new rush is for lithium. Driven by insatiable desire for gadgets, electric cars, and grid storage, the elements required for battery production are in ever increasing demand, and are often pulled from the ground at high human cost. But while lithium has traditionally been mined across Australia, Chile, Argentina, and China, the world’s largest suppliers of the metal are now struggling to keep up with demand. Prices have quintupled in two just years, so now, Bloomberg reports, prospectors are pinning their hopes on reserves in Nevada.

Consumerism’s Toll on Eastern Air
Western desire for cheap goods is causing pollution that kills. Industrialization and widespread use of coal mean that countries like India and China struggle with awful air quality that kills millions of people every year. Now, a new analysis shows that economic consumption in the West was linked to 100,000 premature deaths due to air pollution in China during 2007. Could Donald Trump’s ambitions to reclaim manufacturing and ease environmental regulations bring some of those effects a little closer to home?

Ten Fascinating Things

The Chinese search giant Baidu lost its renowned AI guru, Andrew Ng, last week. Here’s how it plans to move forward without him.

In the past year, several blockbuster drugs that were expected to be widely used have failed to sell. Stat considers what biotech firms should do next.

Say hello to the world's fastest switch: take atomic indium wire, hit it with a laser, and you turn it from insulator to conductor as fast as quantum mechanics allows.

By carefully tagging antibodies with radioactive isotopes, researchers are now able to use PET scans to visualize how the immune system works.

The official police report from last week’s autonomous Uber crash reveals that the incident was more complex than first reported—and surprisingly human, too.

Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 smartphone is another anonymous rectangle—but also a push for relevance, stuffed with a new AI assistant, facial recognition, and AR

Always wanted to feel like you were in a video game? A new AI-powered drone follows your moves and avoids obstacles to produce third-person views of your life.

Do not be alarmed, but a disembodied robotic tentacle can grasp smooth objects and pass them to your puny human hand. Repeat: do not be alarmed.

No sector can shy away from technology these days. Take a peek inside the tech incubator that's injecting innovation into L’Oréal’s beauty business.

Lobsters, wedding outfits, and Tasers. These are among the stranger things that people have left behind in Ubers.

Quote of the Day

"I don’t think that machines themselves just making art for art’s sake is as interesting as you might think. The question to ask is, can machines help us make a new kind of art?"

— Google’s Douglas Eck explains why music-making AIs will still require Jimi Hendrix-like experimenters if they're to produce interesting new sounds.

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A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

The viral AI avatar app Lensa undressed me—without my consent

My avatars were cartoonishly pornified, while my male colleagues got to be astronauts, explorers, and inventors.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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