Skip to Content
The Download

The Download: using AI to access mental health services, and the natural gas debate

Plus: China is on track to make its own advanced processors

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.

A chatbot helped more people access mental-health services

The news: An AI chatbot helped increase the number of patients referred for mental-health services through England’s National Health Service (NHS), particularly among underrepresented groups who are less likely to seek help, new research has found.

What happened: The new study from the AI company Limbic, examined data from 129,400 people visiting websites to refer themselves to 28 mental health services across England, half of which used the chatbot on their website and half of which did not. The number of referrals from services using the Limbic chatbot rose by 15% during the study’s three-month time period, compared with a 6% rise in referrals for the services that weren’t using it. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

We are having the wrong debate about Biden’s decision on liquefied natural gas

—Arvind P. Ravikumar is a research associate professor in the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Late last month, the Biden administration announced it’s suspending permit applications for exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) as it reevaluates the economic, environmental, and climate impacts of the fuel.

LNG is produced by cooling natural gas into a liquid state, making it easier to store and ship to overseas markets. Natural gas itself has been a core but controversial part of the clean-energy debate for decades. When burned, it emits about half as much greenhouse gas as coal. But it’s mostly made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Methane leaks along the supply chain, threatening to erode the benefits natural gas offers as a cleaner-burning fuel. 

Immediate reactions to the government decision have been predictable. Some environmental organizations hailed the announcement as a much-needed course correction, arguing that it could help the US meet its global climate commitments. Industry trade groups insist it’s a counterproductive way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

Who is right? Turns out we are asking the wrong question. Read the full story.

What babies can teach AI

Human babies are fascinating creatures. They have an innate understanding of the physics of our world and can learn new concepts and languages quickly, even with limited information.

Even the most powerful AI systems we have today lack those abilities. Language models that power systems like ChatGPT, for example, are great at predicting the next word in a sentence but don’t have anything even close to the common sense of a toddler.  

But what if an AI could learn like a baby? Researchers at New York University wanted to see what such models could do when they were trained on a much smaller data set: the sights and sounds experienced by a curious child learning to talk. Their findings are just one example of how babies could take us a step closer to teaching computers to learn like humans—and ultimately build AI systems that are as intelligent as we are. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

This story is from The Algorithm, our 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 China is forging ahead in the global chip race
Its companies are on course to mass produce the next wave of processors, in spite of US sanctions. (FT $)
+ Demand for chips is starting to fall in certain sectors, though. (Bloomberg $)
+ Huawei’s 5G chip breakthrough needs a reality check. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Whatever you do, don’t forget your Vision Pro passcode
There’s currently no way for you to reset it without the help of Apple staff. (Bloomberg $)
+ Please don’t wear the Vision Pro while driving, either. (The Guardian)
+ A YouTube app for the headset is on its way, apparently. (The Verge)
+ These minuscule pixels are poised to take augmented reality by storm. (MIT Technology Review)+ The Vision Pro is one of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies for 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

3 The US is banning visas for spyware abusers
And it’s going after the manufacturers that make the software, too. (Reuters)

4 We’re still vaccinating against a rarely-seen form of flu

In fact, it hasn’t been spotted since March 2020. (The Atlantic $)
+ The next generation of mRNA vaccines is on its way.  (MIT Technology Review)

5 Why Big Tech keeps cutting jobs
Firms are funneling the money saved into building AI systems. (NYT $)
+ Snap is the latest firm to let staff go. (The Guardian)
+ Big Tech’s vision of the future isn’t what it used to be. (Motherboard)

6 Police are relying on AI to review bodycam footage
It’s unlikely the public will ever get to know what it finds, though. (Undark Magazine)
+ Welcome to Chula Vista, where police drones respond to 911 calls. (MIT Technology Review)

7 4Chan users are digitally editing clothes onto photos of women
It’s a conservative inversion of  ‘nudifying’ apps. (404 Media)
+ Three ways we can fight deepfake porn. (MIT Technology Review)

8 We’re edging closer towards clean fusion energy
Thanks to a reaction that released close to twice the energy put into it. But it’s still a way off. (New Scientist $)
+ What’s coming next for fusion research. (MIT Technology Review)

9 An Australian computer scientist claims he is the inventor of bitcoin
However, the group of crypto exchanges currently suing him aren’t convinced. (The Guardian)
+ How crypto’s biggest YouTuber lost it all. (NYT $)

10 A Russian cosmonaut has spent longer in space than anyone else
879 days in orbit and counting, in fact. (Gizmodo)

Quote of the day

“A $3,500 chastity belt.”

—A virtual reality porn fan expresses their annoyance at Apple’s decision to ban adult material from its new Vision Pro headset, 404 Media reports.

The big story

Who gets to decide who receives experimental medical treatments?

August 2023

There has been a trend toward lowering the bar for new medicines, and it is becoming easier for people to access treatments that might not help them—and could even harm them. Anecdotes appear to be overpowering evidence in decisions on drug approval. As a result, we’re ending up with some drugs that don’t work. 

We urgently need to question how these decisions are made. Who should have access to experimental therapies? And who should get to decide? Such questions are especially pressing considering how quickly biotechnology is advancing. We’re not just improving on existing classes of treatments—we’re creating entirely new ones.

For many, especially those with severe diseases, an experimental treatment may be better than nothing. But if companies struggle to get funding following a bad outcome, it can delay progress in an entire research field. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

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.)

+ I’ve never heard a recorder played well—until now.
+ When is a goat not a goat? When it’s closer to a crocodile.
+ If you haven’t seen Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs uniting to perform Fast Car at the Grammys, it’s well worth your time.
+ From burnt eggplant to potatoes: how to level up your chili con carne.
+  Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar really loves tortilla chips.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.