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The Download

The Download: AI lobbyists, and delayed electric planes

Plus: Silicon Valley Bank's clients are breathing a sigh of relief

This is today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.

How AI could write our laws

Nathan E. Sanders is a data scientist and an affiliate with the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University. Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and a fellow and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Lobbying has long been part of the give-and-take among policymakers and advocates working to balance their competing interests, but some corporate entities are adept at using legal-but-sneaky strategies for tilting the rules in their favor. 

AI tools could make these kinds of sneaky strategies more widespread and effective. A natural opening for this technology comes in the form of microlegislation, a term for small pieces of proposed law that cater to narrow interests. 

Computer models can predict the likely fate of proposed legislative amendments, as well as the paths by which lobbyists can most effectively secure their desired outcomes, a critical piece of creating an AI lobbyist. 

The danger of microlegislation—a danger greatly exacerbated by AI—is that it can be used in a way that makes it difficult to figure out who the legislation truly benefits. Read the full story.

The runway for futuristic electric planes is still a long one

The news: The future of flight just got delayed, for one startup at least. Today Beta Technologies pushed back the debut of its futuristic electric aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter. Instead, it announced plans to certify a more conventional version of its electric plane by 2025.

Why it matters: Beta is one of a growing number of companies working to build small electric aircraft that can carry several passengers or small cargo loads for short distances. Electric aircraft could help cut emissions, but technical and regulatory hurdles still loom for the industry. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Silicon Valley Bank customers are able to access their accounts again
Which is a huge relief for its anxious clients. (WP $)|
+ Not everyone outside the tech industry is feeling sympathetic. (NYT $)
+ Its failure illustrates the problem with banks that are big but not massive. (Economist $)
+ The bank’s leaders are under the microscope. (WSJ $)
+ How a single banking law laid the foundations of the bank’s collapse. (Vox)

2 Microsoft has laid off its AI ethics team
Just as it doubles down on integrating AI into its products. (Platformer $)
+ The company created a colossal supercomputer for OpenAI. (Bloomberg $)
+ It feels like an AI crisis is happening before our very eyes. (The Atlantic $)
+ Responsible AI has a burnout problem. (MIT Technology Review)

3 What we can learn from the first generation to grow up with covid 
The virus will be among the first today’s babies and toddlers encounter. (The Atlantic $)
+ A battle is raging over long covid in children. (MIT Technology Review)

4 China is obstructing subsea internet cable projects
It’s part of a power play to exert greater control over the infrastructure. (FT $)

5 California ruled Uber drivers must be treated as independent contractors
It comes as a blow to employees pushing for employment rights. (BBC)

6 What the Section 230 legal cases overlook
By focusing on user-generated content, they ignore platforms’ negligent design choices. (Wired $)
+ The Supreme Court may overhaul how you live online. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Meta is giving up working on NFTs
Just like the rest of the industry, then. (The Verge)

8 Can seaweed really deliver on its promises?
It’s touted as a solution for everything from food shortages to climate change. (Hakai Magazine)+ Inside Alphabet X’s new effort to combat climate change with seagrass. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Venmo is a surprising source of drama
Users are uncovering affairs and betrayals by the dozen. (The Guardian)

10 The metaverse has spawned its first breakout band
Kpop quartet Mave are making waves across the internet. (Reuters)

Quote of the day

“Supercharged spies are exactly what you want, and what you deserve.”

—David Cohen, deputy director of the CIA, makes the case for the tech industry to get more involved with government espionage during a panel at South by Southwest, Bloomberg reports. 

The big story

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

September 2022

Long before Alexander Cohen—or anyone else—had heard of the alpha, delta, or omicron variants of covid-19, he and his graduate school advisor Pamela Bjorkman were doing the research that might soon make it possible for a single vaccine to defeat the rapidly evolving virus—along with any other covid-19 variant that might arise in the future.

The pair and their collaborators are now tantalizingly close to achieving their goal of manufacturing a vaccine that broadly triggers an immune response not just to covid and its variants but to a wider variety of coronaviruses. If it works, it could protect us against ever having to endure another covid-related lockdown again. Read the full story.

—Adam Piore

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+ I never knew that baby scorpions are called scorplings, but this, and many other cool bug-adjacent facts can now be yours.
+ Woah: ichthyosaurs may have evolved a lot earlier than we thought they did.
+ What could be better than this Staten Island eatery staffed by a rotating cast of grandmothers!?
+ Prince may have been Prince’s real name, but he also used a range of entertaining pseudonyms.
+ These physics posters are fab.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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