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The Download: political AI models, and a wrongful arrest

August 8, 2023

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.

AI language models are rife with different political biases

The news: AI language models contain different political biases, according to a new study. Researchers conducted tests on 14 large language models and found that OpenAI’s ChatGPT and GPT-4 were the most left-wing libertarian, while Meta’s LLaMA was the most right-wing authoritarian.

How they did it: The team asked language models where they stand on various topics, such as feminism and democracy. They used the answers to plot them on a political compass, then tested whether retraining models on even more politically biased training data changed their behavior and ability to detect hate speech and misinformation (it did).

Why it matters: As AI language models are rolled out into products and services used by millions, understanding their underlying political assumptions could not be more important. That’s because they have the potential to cause real harm. A chatbot offering health-care advice might refuse to offer advice on abortion or contraception, for example. Read the full story

—Melissa Heikkilä

Read next: AI language models have recently become mixed up in the US culture wars, with some calling for developers to create unbiased, purely fact-based AI chatbots. In her weekly newsletter all about AI, The Algorithm, Melissa delves into why it’s a nice concept—but technically impossible to build. Read it to find out more, and if you don’t already, sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday. 

The must-reads

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

1 A woman was wrongfully arrested after a false face recognition match
It’s notable that every person we know this has happened to has been Black. (NYT $)
+ The movement to limit face recognition tech might finally get a win. (MIT Technology Review)
 
2 AI startups are fighting dirty 😈
We’re talking fake names, competitors posing as customers, and even bombing Zoom calls. (NYT $)
+ It’s all starting to look a lot like a bubble. (WP $) 
 
3 A vote in San Francisco could change the future of driverless cars 
All eyes are on whether the state board will approve a huge expansion of autonomous taxis on Thursday. (NBC)
Big tech companies are struggling to win over local residents and public officials. (WSJ $)
 
4 Is Texas’ electricity grid going to be able to handle electric vehicles?
There are reasons to be optimistic, not just for that state but the US as a whole. (The Atlantic $)
 
5 Criminals are enthusiastic early adopters of AI tools
On the dark web, they claim to have created two large language models that can assist with illegal activities. (Wired $)
Criminals are also using AI-generated books to scam people. (NYT $)
We are hurtling toward a glitchy, spammy, scammy, AI-powered internet. (MIT Technology Review)
 
6 The era of plentiful cheap stuff may be coming to an end 
Maybe that’s not a wholly bad thing, frankly, for the sake of the planet. (WSJ $)
 
7 People are keen to recreate Black Twitter elsewhere
There’s been a giant exodus from the site. But where should folks go? (WP $) 
 
8 Big cities need to change
To thrive, they need to reinvent themselves to be more than just places where people work. (Vox)
What cities need now. (MIT Technology Review)
 
9 WhatsApp is working on 32-person voice chats
Sounds like pure chaos! (The Verge
 
10 Even Zoom is making employees go back into the office
Ironic, perhaps. But not that surprising. (Quartz $)

Quote of the day

“Usually our technologies give with one hand and sort of slap us round the back of the head with the other.”

—Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror, expresses a surprisingly even-handed view of tech development in an interview with Vox

The big story

Meet the wounded veteran who got a penis transplant

October 2019

Penis transplantation is a radical frontier of modern medicine: extremely rare, expensive, and difficult to perform. Grafting a penis from a deceased donor onto a living recipient is a chaotic amalgamation that entails stitching millimeters-wide blood vessels and nerves with minuscule sutures.

Ray, a military veteran, lost his genitals in a bomb blast while he was on patrol in Afghanistan—eight years before he got the call to say the hospital had a donor penis ready for him. The procedure would be the most extensive penis transplant ever performed, and the first for a military veteran anywhere in the world. Read the full story.

—Andrew Zaleski

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+ I’d like a high five from Truffles please.
+ This list of shows to binge-watch this summer gets my seal of approval, for what that’s worth.
+ Sorry Gen Z, you’ll soon be joining us millennials on the ‘deeply lame’ bench. 
+ Glad to see I’m not the only unapologetically slow coach runner out there.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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