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The Download

The Download: rise of the robots, and what organoids can teach us

Plus: a SpaceX crew has successfully docked at the ISS for six months

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.

The robots are coming. And that’s a good thing.

—This is an excerpt from a new book, The Heart and the Chip: Our Bright Future with Robots, by MIT CSAIL director Daniela Rus 

Robots are an incredible way to enhance and extend the reach of human capabilities. In 2009, I worked with the biologist Roger Payne to use camera-mounted drones to study whales and their life spans. 

The same drone was used to study uncontacted tribes in the Amazon, so they could be observed without the risk of bringing germs to people who had not developed immunity. 

We also built a drone that launched from a self-driving car, flying ahead and around corners to relay its video back to the car’s navigation system.

We can already pilot our eyes around corners and send them soaring off cliffs. But what if we could extend all of our senses to previously unreachable places, and throw our sight, hearing, touch, and even sense of smell to distant locales and experience these places in a more visceral way? The possibilities are endlessand endlessly exciting. Read the full extract here.

Organoids made from amniotic fluid will tell us how fetuses develop

The news: As a fetus grows in the womb, it sheds cells into the amniotic fluid that surrounds it. Now researchers have demonstrated that they can use those cells to grow organoids, three-dimensional structures that have some of the properties of human organs—in this case kidneys, small intestines, and lungs. These cells can be extracted without harming the fetus. 

Why it matters: These organoids could give doctors even more information about how fetal organs are developing, potentially enhancing prenatal diagnoses of conditions like spina bifida. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

Nobody knows how AI works

Tech companies are rushing AI-powered products to launch, despite extensive evidence that they are hard to control and often behave in unpredictable ways. 

This weird behavior happens because nobody knows exactly how—or why—deep learning, the fundamental technology behind today’s AI boom, works. It’s one of the biggest puzzles in AI.

That’s why it’s so important not to fall into the tech sector’s marketing trap by believing that these models are omniscient or factual, or even near ready for the jobs we are expecting them to do. Read the full story

—Melissa Heikkilä

This story is from The Algorithm, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things 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 US-Russian SpaceX crew has successfully docked at the ISS
They’ll stay for six months to conduct experiments, including growing artificial replicas of human organs. (BBC)

2 Apple has been slapped with a $2 billion fine by the EU
As part of a long-running dispute with arch rival Spotify. (NYT $)
+ The huge fine is one of the largest antitrust penalties to date. (WP $)
+ Antitrust regulators are racing to get ahead of the major AI players. (FT $)

3 Former Twitter executives are suing Elon Musk
In an attempt to claw back the severance benefits they claim he’s withholding. (WSJ $)
+ The banks that financed Musk’s takeover are looking to reduce their debt. (Bloomberg $)
+ We named Twitter killers among our 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Why you shouldn’t follow AI’s tax advice
Unless you’re prepared to face an audit, that is. (WP $)
+ Here’s some handy ways to tackle them without resorting to unreliable tech. (Vox)

5 China is betting big on quantum computing|It’s prioritizing developing native quantum efforts, according to a new government report. (Reuters)
+ How scientists are using quantum squeezing to push the limits of their sensors. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How Facebook fuels the trafficking of endangered species
Social media is a shop window for people looking to purchase illegal goods. (Undark Magazine)

7 Dating app murders are rising in Colombia
Drug-and-rob cases targeting foreigners are organized over Tinder and Grindr. (Rest of World)

8 Weight-loss drugs manufacturers are struggling to meet demand
Their vast success means the industry’s frontrunners are heading to a trillion dollar valuation. (Economist $)
+ We’ve never understood how hunger works. That might be about to change. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Tech job interviews are getting worse
Job seekers are facing excessive tests, assignments and mounting demands. (Wired $)

10 Why email feels so overwhelming these days 📧
It can’t be avoided, but it can be made more bearable. (The Atlantic $)

Quote of the day

“Me hate shrinkflation! Me cookies are getting smaller.”

—Cookie Monster, the beloved Sesame Street star, laments in a post on X how corporations are getting away with down-sizing his favorite snack.

 

The big story

The big new idea for making self-driving cars that can go anywhere

May 2022

When Alex Kendall sat in a car on a small road in the British countryside and took his hands off the wheel back in 2016, it was a small step in a new direction—one that a new bunch of startups bet might be the breakthrough that makes driverless cars an everyday reality.

This was the first time that reinforcement learning—an AI technique that trains a neural network to perform a task via trial and error—had been used to teach a car to drive from scratch on a real road. It took less than 20 minutes for the car to learn to stay on the road by itself, Kendall claims.

These startups are betting that smarter, cheaper tech will let them overtake current market leaders. But is this yet more hype from an industry that’s been drinking its own Kool-Aid for years? Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+ Baby goats for everyone!
+ Don’t even think about redecorating your home without full awareness of these mad TikTok trends.
+ Can’t decide what to read? This cool website recommends five random blog posts at a time.
+ Meanwhile in the UK, we’re dealing with an invasive alligator snapping turtle.
+ This computer terrarium is quite something.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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