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The Download

The Download: join us at EmTech Digital Europe in London!

Plus: the FCC has banned AI robocalls

February 12, 2024

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.

Join us at EmTech Digital Europe in London

For over ten years, academics, policymakers, and business and technology leaders have gathered at our EmTech Digital event in Silicon Valley and on the MIT campus.

Now, for the first time ever, we are bringing EmTech Digital to London on 16-17 April for an exclusive gathering where we’ll hear about the most cutting-edge uses (and abuses) of AI from some of the most respected global names in the field, plus our own reporters and editors. There’ll also be plenty of time to network over food and drinks—this is London after all! 

Best of all, we’ve even got a hefty 30% discount on tickets for Download readers. So come and join us!

There are so many great speakers lined up. Here’s who I’m speaking to onstage:

+ I’m going to be speaking to Paul Murphy, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, about the impressive, growing cohort of AI companies emerging out of Europe, for example Mistral AI. 

+ I’ll also talk with Vincenzo Ciancaglini, Senior Threat Researcher at TrendMicro, about the booming business of AI within the criminal underground and the emerging risks he’s seeing.

+ And I’ll chat to Lee Glazier, Head of Digital Integrity at Rolls-Royce. He’s responsible for making sure AI is adopted as safely and ethically as possible, while remaining at the cutting-edge. 

We’ll also hear from: 

+ David Knott, Chief Technology Officer, UK Government
David will take a top-level look at the key concerns in the UK and Europe, along with some of the most pressing technology issues that leaders are facing with AI today and how to foster responsible AI innovation within their borders in the future. 

+ Zoubin Ghahramani, VP of Research, Google DeepMind
As AI continues its march into our everyday lives, Zoubin will discuss realistic timelines, new collaborations, and the need for an overall strategy to map out steps to a safe and productive AI future for Europe and beyond.

+ Victor Riparbelli, CEO and Cofounder, Synthesia
Digital humans are here, and people are replicating themselves for hire, blending physical and digital worlds. Victor will guide us through current and future use cases of 3D avatars, alongside exploring the potential risks associated with avatars that look, act, and sound like real human beings.+ Bonnie Kruft, Partner / Deputy Director of AI4Science, Microsoft
Generative AI is unlocking new research tools for bold scientific discoveries. Bonnie will cut through the hype and take a deep dive into the groundbreaking research enabled by generative AI—from small molecular inhibitors for treating infectious disease, to the discovery of new materials for energy storage. 

This chart shows why heat pumps are still hot in the US

Heat pumps are still a hot technology, though sales in the US, one of the world’s largest markets, fell in 2023. Even with the drop, the appliances saw their overall market share increase.

Heat pumps heat and cool spaces using electricity, and they could be a major tool in the effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions. (About 10% of global emissions are generated from heating buildings.) Check out this chart and accompanying story to learn more about where heat pump adoption in the US is set to go next. 

—Casey Crownhart

The must-reads

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

1 The Biden campaign just joined TikTok
As part of an effort to get younger voters onside. (WP $)
Imran Khan used an AI voice to declare victory in Pakistan’s election from behind bars. (NYT $)
+ Instagram and Threads will let people decide if they want to see political content or not. (Quartz

2 A crowd destroyed an autonomous Waymo car in San Francisco 
This sort of incident has been brewing for a long time. (The Verge)
+ What’s next for robotaxis in 2024. (MIT Technology Review)
Why people might never use autonomous cars. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Climate change is ruining winter sports 
It’s doing far worse things, but this is one affluent people will notice. (Axios
+ For one competitive skier, climate change might have helped them achieve the incredible feat of going from last to first place. (Wired $)

4 What AI cannot do
It can assist with creative tasks, but it can’t generate them. (Wired $)
AI just beat a human test for creativity. What does that even mean? (MIT Technology Review)

5 What’s the Apple Vision Pro for?
Reviews so far seem to have converged on “work” being the answer. (WSJ $)
+ But there are so many other things VR can be used for. For example, pain relief. (MIT Technology Review
+ Sorry Zuck, Fortnite is winning the metaverse. (The Verge)

6 The first endometriosis drug in decades is within reach
Promising news for the hundreds of millions of women it affects. (The Economist $)
Tiny faux organs could crack the mystery of menstruation. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Cultivated meat might never make money 🥩
As VC cash dries up, startups in the sector are having to reckon with the financial realities. (NYT $)
Here’s what we know about lab-grown meat and climate change. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Lab diamonds are becoming flawless
And it’s putting people off, as it makes it too obvious they’re not “real”. (The Atlantic $)

9 A spreadsheet error cost a Norwegian wealth fund $92 million 
For real. Ouch. (FT $)

10 Is artificial turf really safer for (American) football? 🏈
It’s surprisingly hard to reach a firm conclusion. (Ars Technica)


Quote of the day

“You’ve basically got a faulty product here: they need to fix it.”

—Beeban Kidron, a UK lawmaker, tells The Guardian that campaigns to protect children’s rights online need to go deeper than just removing harmful content, into platforms’ underlying designs.

The big story

Future space food could be made from astronaut breath

artist's rendering of two biopods on the moon with astronauts walking nearby.
INTERSTELLAR LAB

May 2023

The future of space food could be as simple—and weird—as a protein shake made with astronaut breath or a burger made from fungus.

For decades, astronauts have relied mostly on pre-packaged food during their forays off our planet. With missions beyond Earth orbit in sight, a NASA-led competition is hoping to change all that and usher in a new era of sustainable space food.

To solve the problem of feeding astronauts on long-duration missions, NASA asked companies to propose novel ways to develop sustainable foods for future missions. Around 200 rose to the challenge—creating nutritious (and outlandish) culinary creations in the process. Read the full story.

—Jonathan O'Callaghan

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.)

+ It seems as though we are living in the puppet age.
+ Celebrities love writing poetry. But are they any good at it?
+ Here’s why we find hold music so darned annoying.
+ Mountain Town Hockey sounds incredibly intense.
+ Teeny tiny dogs are back in style—maybe don’t lug them around in your handbag, though 🐕

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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