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The Download

The Download: hunting for new matter, and Gary Marcus’ AI critiques

Plus: the FCC has banned AI robocalls

February 20, 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.

Inside the hunt for new physics at the world’s largest particle collider

In 2012, using data from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, researchers discovered a particle called the Higgs boson. In the process, they answered a nagging question: Where do fundamental particles, such as the ones that make up all the protons and neutrons in our bodies, get their mass?

When the particle was finally found, scientists celebrated with champagne. A Nobel for two of the physicists who predicted the Higgs boson soon followed. 

But now, more than a decade later, there is a sense of unease. That’s because there are still so many unanswered questions about the fundamental constituents of the universe. 

So researchers are trying something new. They are repurposing detectors to search for unusual-looking particles, squeezing what they can out of the data with machine learning, and planning for entirely new kinds of colliders. Read the full story.

—Dan Garisto

This story is from the upcoming print issue of MIT Technology Review, dedicated to exploring hidden worlds. Want to get your hands on a copy when it publishes next Wednesday? Subscribe now.

I went for a walk with Gary Marcus, AI’s loudest critic

Gary Marcus, a professor emeritus at NYU, is a prominent AI researcher and cognitive scientist who has positioned himself as a vocal critic of deep learning and AI. He is a divisive figure, and can often be found engaged in spats on social media with AI heavyweights such as Yann LeCun and Geoffrey Hinton (“All attempts to socialize me have failed,” he jokes.) 

Marcus does much of his tweeting on scenic walks around his hometown of Vancouver. Our senior AI reporter Melissa Heikkilä decided to join him on one such stroll while she was visiting the city, to hear his thoughts on the latest product releases and goings-on in AI. Here’s what he had to say to her

This story is from The Algorithm, our weekly newsletter all about AI. 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 A new class of satellites could change everything 🛰️
They’re armed with cameras powerful enough to capture peoples’ individual features. (NYT $)
A big European satellite is set to return to Earth tomorrow. (Ars Technica)
A new satellite will use Google’s AI to map methane leaks from space. (MIT Technology Review)

2 How much electricity does AI consume?
It’s a lot—but working out exact sums can be tricky. (The Verge)
Making an image with generative AI uses as much energy as charging your phone. (MIT Technology Review)

3 How Silicon Valley learned to love the military
The world is feeling like a more dangerous place these days, and that’s drowning out any ethical concerns. (WP $)
Why business is booming for military AI startups. (MIT Technology Review)
+ SpaceX is getting closer to US intelligence and military agencies. (WSJ $)
Ukraine is in desperate need of better methods to clear land mines. (Wired $)

4 The EU is investigating TikTok over child safety
It alleges the company isn’t doing enough to verify users’ ages. (Mashable)

5 It’s hard to get all that excited about Bluesky 
It’s just more of the same social media. (Wired $)
How to fix the internet. (MIT Technology Review)
Why millions of people are flocking to decentralized social media services. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Ozempic is taking off in China
A lack of official approval there yet isn’t stopping anyone. (WSJ $)
We’ve never understood how hunger works. That might be about to change. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Meet the people trying to make ethical AI porn
Sex work is a sector that’s already being heavily disrupted by AI. (The Guardian)

8 Why we need DNA data drives
We’re rapidly running out of storage space, but DNA is a surprisingly viable option. (IEEE Spectrum)

9 You don’t need to keep closing your phone’s background apps
It does nothing for your battery life. In fact, it can even drain it further. (Gizmodo)
Here’s another myth worth busting: you shouldn’t put your wet phone in rice. (The Verge)

10 The mysterious math of billiard tables
If you struggle to play pool, take comfort in the fact mathematicians get stumped by it too. (Quanta $)

Quote of the day

“We realized how easy it is for people to be against something, to reject something new.” 

—Silas Heineken, a 17-year-old from Grünheide, a suburb near Berlin in Germany, tells the New York Times why he’s in favor of Tesla’s plans to expand there.

The big story

Meet the wannabe kidfluencers struggling for stardom

photo collage of youtube personality Dane

December 2019 

On YouTube, children can become millionaires—seemingly overnight. The highest paid of them, eight-year-old Ryan Kaji, made $22 million in 2018 by playing with toys on his channel Ryan ToysReview (now Ryan’s World). 

There are now thousands of similarly famous child YouTubers: babies who have been vlogged since the moment of their birth, 10-year-old streamers showing off video-game tricks, teenage girls giving acne advice from their bedrooms.

Why do so many kids want to be YouTubers? How are their parents helping them? And what happens if, after spending thousands of dollars or dropping out of school, it doesn’t work out? Read the full story.

—Amelia Tait

We can still have nice things

+ Cillian Murphy sounds like he’s got life pretty much figured out. 
+ Some quick, simple ways to instantly lower your stress levels. 
+ My love for PG Wodehouse is pure and eternal. 
+ Carrots can be a real standout ingredient—here’s how to put them to work.

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

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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