Skip to Content
The Download

The Download: China’s retro AI photos, and experts’ AI fears

Plus: US police have used Clearview AI close to one million times

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.

Chinese creators use Midjourney’s AI to generate retro urban “photography”

Across social media, a number of creators are generating nostalgic photographs of China with the help of AI. Even though these images get some details wrong, they are realistic enough to trick and impress many of their followers.

The pictures look sophisticated in terms of definition, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. Their realism is partly down to a recent major update of image-making artificial-intelligence program Midjourney that was released in mid-March, which is better not only at generating human hands but also at simulating various photography styles. 

It’s still relatively easy, even for untrained eyes, to tell that the photos are generated by an AI. But for some creators, their experiments are more about trying to recall a specific era in time than trying to trick their audience. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

Read more of our reporting on AI-generated images:

+ These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are. Bias and stereotyping are still huge problems for systems like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion, despite companies’ attempts to fix it. Read the full story.

+ AI models spit out photos of real people and copyrighted images. The finding could strengthen artists’ claims that AI companies are infringing their rights. Read the full story.

+ This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it. Greg Rutkowski is a more popular prompt than Picasso. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 AI experts want to pause the development of powerful systems
They worry about the “profound” risks that could accompany models like GPT-4. (The Verge)
+ How OpenAI tested GPT-4’s responses to dangerous queries. (Insider $)
+ It’s a bad time for Big Tech to cull its AI ethics teams. (FT $)
+ There’s still a lot of unanswered questions about how AI is trained. (New Yorker $)
+ AI prompt engineer is looking to be a very lucrative career path. (Bloomberg $)
+ Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)

2 US police have run almost one million Clearview AI searches 
The controversial facial recognition firm has been fined extensively for privacy breaches. (BBC)
+ The walls are closing in on Clearview AI. (MIT Technology Review)

3 How North Korea is laundering stolen crypto
The process conceals the pilfered coins while unearthing new, untainted ones. (Wired $)
+ Crypto venture capitalists are going back to basics. (The Information $)
+ Sam Bankman-Fried allegedly tried to bribe Chinese officials. (CNN)

4 How urban planning became embroiled in a conspiracy theory quagmire

Scientist Carlos Moreno has received death threats for climate-friendly city proposals. (NYT $)
+ How to talk to conspiracy theorists. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Twitter is getting closer to finding out who leaked its code
A court has granted it permission to subpoena GitHub to share its leaker data. (Bloomberg $)+ Bafflingly, Twitter has stopped showing who users are replying to. (The Verge)
+ The company has reversed its recent For You page changes, though. (Insider $)
+ Certain celebrity accounts receive special treatment. (Platformer $)

6 Amazon is warning customers about frequently returned items
In theory, it should help to counter fake reviews that boost dodgy products. (The Information $)

7 Makeshift delivery bikes are polluting Latin America
Their powerful engines benefit delivery riders, but are a pain for everyone else. (Rest of World

8 It’s incredibly tough to render water in video games 🌊 
But modern graphics processing units are rising to the challenge. (WP $)

9 We’re strangely obsessed with merch belonging to collapsed tech firms
There’s a burgeoning market on eBay to prove it. (The Guardian)

10 The next wave of TikTok stars are behind the camera 🎥
Not everyone can be an influencer, but editors and producers are in high demand. (WSJ $)
+ TikTok’s CEO is becoming a star in his own right. (NYT $)

Quote of the day

“What the heck happened? The supposedly bright people out in Silicon Valley couldn’t put that together and do a little calculus?”

—Kim Forrest, chief investment officer at Bokeh Capital Partners, can’t believe Silicon Valley Bank’s executives failed to spot the risks they were taking, she tells Bloomberg.

The big story

A new tick-borne disease is killing cattle in the US

cows at pasture in Virginia

November 2021

In the spring of 2021, Cynthia and John Grano, who own a cattle operation in Culpeper County, Virginia, started noticing some of their cows slowing down and acting “spacey.” They figured the animals were suffering from a common infectious disease that causes anemia in cattle. But their veterinarian had warned them that another disease carried by a parasite was spreading rapidly in the area.

After a third cow died, the Granos decided to test its blood. Sure enough, the test came back positive for the disease: theileria. And with no treatment available, the cows kept dying.

Livestock producers around the US are confronting this new and unfamiliar disease without much information, and researchers still don’t know how theileria will unfold, even as it quickly spreads west across the country. Read the full story.

—Britta Lokting

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 was somewhat surprised to learn I live in one of the world’s top 20 happiest countries (well, number 19)—does your country appear in the list?
+ Here’s how the much-lauded Resident Evil 4 remake differs from the original.
+ These female aquanauts sound incredibly cool.
+ Can you guess which of two Wikipedia pages are longer? This fun site tests your instincts.
+ If there’s nothing you enjoy more than getting chills, this is a fantastic resource for the best movies to elicit them.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.