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The Download

 The Download: the AI Edition

Plus: Facebook is being overrun by fake AI images

December 19, 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.

These six questions will dictate the future of generative AI

The internet changed everything—how we work and play, how we spend time with friends and family, how we learn, how we consume, how we fall in love, and so much more. Its downsides became clear only when people started using it in vast numbers, and killer apps like social media arrived.

Generative AI is likely to be the same. People will start using and misusing it in ways its makers never dreamed of. Generative AI was trained on the internet and so has inherited many of its unsolved issues. But we’re not going in blind. Here are six unresolved questions to bear in mind as we watch the generative-AI revolution unfold. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

Four trends that changed AI in 2023

This has been one of the craziest years in AI in a long time: endless product launches, boardroom coups, intense policy debates about AI doom, and a race to find the next big thing.

But we’ve also seen concrete tools and policies aimed at getting the AI sector to behave more responsibly and hold powerful players accountable. 

Melissa Heikkilä, our senior AI reporter, has done some reflecting on what the past year has taught her, and where she thinks the field is heading next. Read the full story.

This story is from The Algorithm, MIT Technology Review’s weekly AI newsletter. 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 Facebook is being taken over by stolen trashy AI images
And it doesn’t seem like the platform is doing much to stem the tide. (404 Media)
+ ‘Cheapfakes’ and other kinds of digital fakery are everywhere. (Wired $)
+ This new tool could protect your pictures from AI manipulation. (MIT Technology Review)

2 High-profile TikTokers get special allowances
Moderators are told to be lenient when it comes to assessing content from celebrities who get lots of engagement. (The Guardian)

3 Apple is halting sales of certain Apple Watches in the US
After losing a patent dispute over the device’s blood oxygen sensor tech. (9to5 Mac)
+ Previously sold Apple Watches won’t be affected by the ban. (WSJ $)

4 Google’s been ordered to pay $700 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit
It’s also agreed to change the way its Android system works in the US. (FT $)
+ What’s next for smartphone apps? (Slate $)

5 Adult content creators are embracing AI 
Digital models that respond to requests 24/7 are lightening the load of digital sex work. (WP $)
+ Pakistan’s former leader is using AI tools to campaign from jail. (WP $)

6 Amazon has set its sights on becoming a satellite giant
But its Project Kuiper initiative needs a helping hand—from rival SpaceX. (Bloomberg $)
+ It’s using lasers to transfer data swiftly over vast distances. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS. (MIT Technology Review)

7 It’s getting harder to know what’s going on online 
The social media town square is dead, and TikTok is a total black box. (The Atlantic $)
+ It’s time we broke out of the technopoly we’re living in. (New Yorker $)
+ How to fix the internet. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Hurricanes are depositing microplastics far and wide
As if they weren’t bad enough news already. (Wired $)
+ Microplastics are everywhere. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Nobody knows how many nukes there are
So researchers are using open source intelligence-gathering techniques to try and find out. (Motherboard)

10 Meet Santa’s robotic little helpers 🎁
They’re efficient, but not quite as cute as reindeer. (Economist $)

Quote of the day

“The time of big online platforms behaving like they are ‘too big to care’ has come to an end.”

—Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, announces a formal probe into X’s handling of illegal content and disinformation, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The big story

Money is about to enter a new era of competition

April 2022 

To many, cash now seems largely anachronistic. People across the world commonly use their smartphones to pay for things. This shift may look like a potential driver of inequality: if cash disappears, one imagines, that could disenfranchise the elderly, the poor, and others.

In practice, though, cell phones are nearly at saturation in many countries. And digital money, if implemented correctly, could be a force for financial inclusion.

The big questions now are around how we proceed, and whether the huge digital money shift ultimately benefits humanity at large—or exacerbates existing domestic and global inequities. Read the full story.

—Eswar Prasad

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.)

+ Shoegaze is back, baby.
+ This Lego Polaroid camera is seriously cute (better not shake it though) 📷
+ These classic book covers are nothing short of iconic.
+ Czech sweet bread with almonds and raisins sounds like the perfect Christmas accompaniment.
+ Mr Jingeling? Uncle Mistletoe? How many of these obscure Christmas characters do you recognize?

Deep Dive

The Download

The Download: the problem with plug-in hybrids, and China’s AI talent

Plus: Silicon Valley is desperate to snap up top AI talent—before anyone else does

The Download: defining open source AI, and replacing Siri

Plus: the EU has announced a raft of new Big Tech probes

The Download: the mystery of LLMs, and the EU’s Big Tech crackdown

Plus: the trade secret war between China and the US is hotting up

The Download: new AI regulations, and a running robot

Plus: Nvidia has unveiled a whole load of new AI chips

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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