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The Download

The Download: Biden’s executive order, and calling out AI harms

Plus: how generative AI images are affecting the Israel-Hamas conflict

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.

Three things to know about the White House’s executive order on AI

The US has set out its most sweeping set of AI rules and guidelines yet in an executive order issued by President Joe Biden yesterday. The order will require more transparency from AI companies about how their models work and will establish a raft of new standards, most notably for labeling AI-generated content.

Although the executive order advances the voluntary requirements for AI policy that the White House set back in August, it lacks specifics on how the rules will be enforced. It has also divided AI experts over whether it goes far enough to protect people against AI’s immediate harms.

Read our story to find out the three most important things you need to know about the executive order and the impact it could have. 

—Tate Ryan-Mosley & Melissa Heikkilä

This story is part of MIT Technology Review Explains, our series untangling the complex, messy world of technology to help you understand what's coming next. You can read more from the series here.

People shouldn’t pay such a high price for calling out AI harms

People who point out problems caused by AI systems often face aggressive criticism online, as well as pushback from their employers. In a recent interview, renowned AI activist and researcher Joy Buolamwini described having to fend off public attacks on her research from one of the most powerful technology companies in the world: Amazon. 

When Buolamwini was first starting out, she had to convince people that AI was worth worrying about. Now, people are more aware that AI systems can be biased and harmful. That’s the good news. 

The bad news is that speaking up against powerful technology companies still carries risks. That is a shame. The voices trying to shift the Overton window on what kinds of risks are being discussed and regulated are growing louder than ever. If the culture around AI actively silences other voices, that comes at a price to us all. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

This story is from The Algorithm, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things AI. 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 How generative AI is affecting the Israel-Hamas conflict
Not as much as feared, so far. (Wired $)
+ Employees are being urged not to post about the war on social media. (NY Mag $)

2 US Congress is failing to protect kids online
Experts are split over whether proposed policies would actually help, too. (The Atlantic $)
+ Child online safety laws will actually hurt kids, critics say. (MIT Technology Review)

3 The offshore wind industry is struggling
It’s a seriously costly business, and developers are increasingly wary. (FT $)
+ The wild new technology coming to offshore wind power. (MIT Technology Review)

4 X is worth less than half of what Elon Musk paid for it
It’s now worth around $19 billion, down from $44 billion just a year ago. (NYT $)
+ Musk still believes he can boost its worth to $250 billion, though. (WSJ $)

5 The US government is suing SolarWinds
The software company reportedly failed to disclose vulnerabilities that lead to it being hacked on numerous occasions. (WP $)
+ How Russian hackers infiltrated the US government for months without being spotted. (MIT Technology Review)

6 An internal rift is tearing Block apart
And cofounder Jack Dorsey isn’t intervening to smooth things over. (The Information $)

7 The clean energy revolution isn’t good news for everyone
Fossil fuel workers could lose their jobs, and the industry is ill-equipped to support them. (Vox)

8 Voice cloning clips of Narendra Modi are rife online
The technology could bridge India’s language barrier ahead of next year’s election. (Rest of World)

9 Indie developers are making a killing from horror games
The little guys have the freedom to revel in the truly macabre. (The Guardian)

10 The recent partial lunar eclipse was pretty spectacular 🌖
Onlookers in some countries were treated to a ‘blood moon’ too. (New Scientist $)

Quote of the day

“In terms of being behind the tech, the tech has had a bit of a head start.”

—Ben Buchanan, an advisor to the White House, admits that the US government is facing a real challenge in trying to legislate rapidly-evolving AI to Insider.

The big story

What happens when you donate your body to science

October 2022 

Rebecca George doesn’t mind the vultures that complain from the trees that surround the Western Carolina University body farm. George studies human decomposition, and part of decomposing is becoming food. Scavengers are welcome.

George, a forensic anthropologist, places the body of a donor in the Forensic Osteology Research Station—known as the FOREST. This is Enclosure One, where donors decompose naturally above ground. Nearby is Enclosure Two, where researchers study bodies that have been buried in soil. She is the facility’s curator, and monitors the donors—sometimes for years—as they become nothing but bones.

In the US, about 20,000 people or their families donate their bodies to scientific research and education each year. Whatever the reason, the decision becomes a gift. Western Carolina’s FOREST is among the places where watchful caretakers know that the dead and the living are deeply connected, and the way you treat the first reflects how you treat the second. Read the full story.

—Abby Ohlheiser

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.)

+ The US’s sole museum dedicated to ouija boards sounds terrifying—especially after dark.
+ I’m not convinced Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger are going to win any pumpkin carving competitions.
+ Charles Darwin the tortoise has a novel way of opening a new university building.
+ If you’re after a seriously scary horror film, you could do worse than check out this list.
+ Okay, that’s enough ambience for one night.

Deep Dive

The Download

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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