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The Download

The Download: military personnel data for sale, and AI watermarking 

Plus: Elon Musk's new AI model, Grok, is coming

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.

It’s shockingly easy to buy sensitive data about US military personnel

For as little as $0.12 per record, data brokers in the US are selling sensitive private data about both active-duty military members and veterans, including their names, addresses, geolocation, net worth, and religion, and information about their children and health conditions. 

In an unsettling study published today, researchers from Duke University approached 12 data brokers and purchased thousands of records about American service members with minimal vetting.

The study highlights the extreme privacy and national security risks created by data brokers. These companies are part of a shadowy multibillion-dollar industry that collects, aggregates, buys, and sells data, practices that are currently legal in the US, exacerbating the erosion of personal and consumer privacy. Read the full story.

Tate Ryan-Mosley

The inside scoop on watermarking and content authentication

Last week, President Biden released his executive order on AI, a sweeping set of rules and guidelines designed to improve AI safety and security. The order put great emphasis on watermarking and content authentication tools, which aim to label content to determine whether it was made by a machine or a human. The White House is making a big bet on these methods as a way to fight AI-generated misinformation.

The White House is encouraging tech companies to create new tools to help consumers discern if audio and visual content is AI-generated, and plans to work with the group behind the open-source internet protocol known as the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity, or C2PA. Tate Ryan-Mosley, our senior tech policy reporter, has written a handy guide to C2PA, what it can achieve, and, crucially, what it can’t. Read the full story.

This story is from The Technocrat, our weekly newsletter covering tech and politics Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

How AI impacts free speech online

AI is everywhere right now. But while it may not have constitutional rights, is the content it creates or serves up protected speech? This is just one of the fascinating topics we'll be exploring at EmTech MIT 2023, our flagship technology event kicking off 14 November.

You can register now for in-person or digital access for the two-day event. And that's not all: readers of The Download get a special 30% discount too—find out more here.

The must-reads

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

1 Elon Musk’s xAI startup has released its first chatbot 

Complete with juvenile jokes and “a rebellious streak.” (WSJ $)
+ Lucky X subscribers will be first in line for access. (TechCrunch)
+ Chatbots have an even bigger hallucination problem than previously thought. (NYT $)

2 The Israel-Hamas conflict has ushered in a new age of disinformation
Researchers say the geopolitical tensions have created never-before-seen levels of propaganda. (NYT $)
+ Meta’s generative AI stickers are producing child soldiers. (The Guardian)

3 Europe’s Space Summit is kicking off today

Attendees hope to thrash out plans to compete with the US-based SpaceX. (Reuters)
+ SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched for the 18th time on Friday. (Ars Technica)

4 Surveillance is big business these days
And it’s no surprise Silicon Valley is sidelining its libertarian principles to get involved. (Economist $)+ Plenty of startups want to sell their AI wares to the US government. (NYT $)
+ The world’s biggest surveillance company you’ve never heard of. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Porn deepfakes of teenage girls are flooding the internet
And victims feel powerless to prevent the onslaught. (WP $)
+A horrifying AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Tech’s utopian Californian city is gaining traction
The project’s billionaire backers are snapping up land, and annoying locals in the process. (Bloomberg $)

7 Amazon’s delivery drone program is 10 years old
But how far has it come, really? (NYT $)

8 The universe is filled with giant black holes
And the JWST is unearthing an unexpected abundance of them. (Wired $)
+ How the James Webb Space Telescope broke the universe. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Animal influencers are the anti-meat movement’s secret weapon
Esther the lovable pig gave food a face. (Vox)
+ Lab-grown meat just reached a major milestone. Here’s what comes next. (MIT Technology Review)

10 How AI is helping us to decipher the mystery of cats
Algorithms are much better at classifying their facial expressions. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

"I'll do my own stunts, yeah. I'll do all my own typing."

—Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang jokes that while he thinks Jackie Chan should play him in a movie version of his life, he’s happy to act as his own hardworking stunt double, Insider reports.

The big story

What does GPT-3 “know” about me? 

August 2022

One of the biggest stories in tech is the rise of large language models that produce text that reads like a human might have written it.

These models’ power comes from being trained on troves of publicly available human-created text hoovered up from the internet. If you’ve posted anything even remotely personal in English on the internet, chances are your data might be part of some of the world’s most popular LLMs. 

Melissa Heikkilä, MIT Technology Review’s AI reporter, wondered what data these models might have on her—and how it could be misused. So she put OpenAI’s GPT-3 to the test. Read about what she found.

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.)

+ These never-before-seen pictures of the Rolling Stones are good fun.
+ What’s a Nazgul to do? That weekly shop won’t do itself.
+ RIP Lego Modulex, we hardly knew ye.
+ It turns out that the Sphinx may not have been built entirely from scratch after all.
+ Charlie from Girls lived in a true architectural wonder.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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