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The Download

The Download: AI coding assistants, and China’s app disputes

Plus: the world is nearing crisis climate tipping points

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.

Millions of coders are now using AI assistants. How will that change software?

Two weeks into the coding class he was teaching at Duke University in North Carolina this spring, Noah Gift told his students they’d no longer be working with Python, one of the most popular entry-level programming languages. Instead, they’d be using an AI tool called Copilot, a turbocharged autocomplete for computer code, to use Rust, a language that was newer, more powerful, and much harder to learn.

Gift isn't alone. Ask a room of programmers if they use Copilot, and many now raise a hand. Like ChatGPT with education, Copilot is up-ending an entire profession by giving people new ways to perform old tasks.

With Microsoft and Google about to embed similar AI models into office software used by billions around the world, it’s worth asking exactly what these tools do for programmers. And just how big a difference will they make? Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

Chinese apps are letting public juries settle customer disputes

If you’ve ordered food through a delivery app lately, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of frustration when you have to wait too long for your order or, when you finally receive it, the food isn’t what you asked for. These feelings are then often exacerbated by the difficulty of trying to make things right via app. 

Meituan, the most popular food delivery app in China, has proposed one solution: inviting ordinary users to serve on “juries” that weigh in on disputes between other customers and restaurants. It could be anything from missing rice to not-spicy-enough noodles to the food being completely cold.

And beyond helping resolve grievances for others, it turns out users are having quite a bit of fun being “cyber judges.” Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Earth is lurching toward catastrophic climate tipping points
Once we breach them, experts warn it’ll unleash untold, irreversible damage. (The Guardian)
+ COP28 could be on the verge of promising to ban fossil fuels. (BBC)
+ The flawed logic of rushing out extreme climate interventions. (MIT Technology Review)

2 How to avoid a second OpenAI breakdown
A better board structure might be a good place to start. (Wired $)
+ Has it really only been a year since ChatGPT was released? (NYT $)
+ What’s next for OpenAI. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Alibaba’s new AI model is trained on TikTok dancers
It’s ripping off their work and creating a worse AI version. (404 Media)

4 Twitch is shutting down in South Korea
It’s one of the world’s largest esports markets, but running Twitch there is proving too expensive. (TechCrunch)

5 The carbon credit market is on the brink of booming
But a lack of guardrails mean many of its trades could end up being far from fair. (FT $)
+ The war in the Congo has kept the planet cooler. (The Atlantic $)
+ The growing signs of trouble for global carbon markets. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Minnesota mail workers aren’t allowed to blame Amazon for delays
They’ve been warned by postal management to keep schtum—or risk repercussions. (WP $)
+ Amazon workers are quitting in droves right now. (Insider $)
+ The company’s pilots are fed up too. (Wired $)

7 Meet the man who developed drugs to treat his children’s deadly disease
Now John Crowley has set his sights on making drug reviews faster and smoother. (WSJ $)
+ This family raised millions to get experimental gene therapy for their children. (MIT Technology Review)

8 What are we looking for in space?
When we say ‘life,’ we don’t really know what that looks like. (The Atlantic $)

9 You should beware crossing delivery drivers in Brazil
Or you might just find your home being bombarded by fireworks. (Rest of World)

10 Why it feels like your phone is bankrupting you
Phones used to be one-off purchases. Now, they demand more and more money from us. (NY Mag $)

Quote of the day

“It’s a heartwarming story of love, of loss, of hope and of joy. But most of all, it’s a wonderful sleep story.”

—The AI-generated voice of actor Jimmy Stewart recites a bedtime story for sleep and meditation app Calm, the New York Times reports.

The big story

This is how AI bias really happens—and why it’s so hard to fix

February 2019

If we want to be able to fix bias in AI, we need to understand the mechanics of how it arises in the first place.

We often shorthand our explanation of AI bias by blaming it on biased training data, but the reality is more nuanced. Bias can creep in long before the data is collected as well as at many other stages of the deep-learning process—and can be incredibly hard to fix. Read the full story.

—Karen Hao

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.)

+ All hail the golden mole—recently rediscovered after being thought extinct for over eight decades!
+ The British Film Institute’s list of the 101 greatest films you’ve never seen is a great untapped resource.
+ Star Trek’s cast has carved out a remarkably robust second collective career: as video game voice actors.
+ Master of Puppets, but make it…folky.
+ The new GTA VI trailer looks out of this world.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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