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The Download

The Download: cuddly robots to help dementia, and what Daedalus taught us

Plus: OpenAI has struck a deal with Reddit

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.

How cuddly robots could change dementia care

Companion animals can stave off some of the loneliness, anxiety, and agitation that come with Alzheimer’s disease, according to studies. Sadly, people with Alzheimer’s aren’t always equipped to look after pets, which can require a lot of care and attention.

Enter cuddly robots. The most famous are Golden Pup, a robotic golden retriever toy that cocks its head, barks and wags its tail, and Paro the seal, which can sense touch, light, sound, temperature, and posture. As robots go they’re decidedly low tech, but they can provide comfort and entertainment to people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Now researchers are working on much more sophisticated robots for people with cognitive disorders—devices that leverage AI to converse and play games—that could change the future of dementia care. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly health and biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

What tech learned from Daedalus

Today’s climate-change kraken may have been unleashed by human activity, but reversing course and taming nature’s growing fury seems beyond human means, a quest only mythical heroes could fulfill. 

Yet the dream of human-powered flight—of rising over the Mediterranean fueled merely by the strength of mortal limbs—was also the stuff of myths for thousands of years. Until 1988.

That year, in October, MIT Technology Review published the aeronautical engineer John Langford’s account of his mission to retrace the legendary flight of Daedalus, described in an ancient Greek myth. Read about how he got on.

—Bill Gourgey

The story is from the current print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is on the fascinating theme of Build. If you don’t already, subscribe now to receive future copies once they land.

Get ready for EmTech Digital 

AI is everywhere these days. If you want to learn about how Google plans to develop and deploy AI, come and hear from its vice president of AI, Jay Yagnik, at our flagship AI conference, EmTech Digital. We’ll hear from OpenAI about its video generation model Sora too, and Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, will also join MIT Technology Review’s executive editor Amy Nordrum for an exclusive interview on stage. 

It’ll be held at the MIT campus and streamed live online next week on May 22-23. Readers of The Download get 30% off tickets with the code DOWNLOADD24—register here for more information. See you there! 

Thermal batteries are hot property

Thermal batteries could be a key part of cleaning up heavy industry and cutting emissions. Casey Crownhart, our in-house battery expert, held a subscriber-only online Roundtables event yesterday digging into why they’re such a big deal. If you missed it, we’ve got you covered—you can watch a recording of how it unfolded here

To keep ahead of future Roundtables events, make sure you subscribe to MIT Technology Review. Subscriptions start from as little as $8 a month.

The must-reads

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

1 OpenAI has struck a deal with Reddit 
Shortly after Google agreed to give the AI firm access to its content. (WSJ $)
+ The forum’s vocal community are unlikely to be thrilled by the decision. (The Verge)
+ Reddit’s shares rocketed after news of the deal broke. (FT $)
+ We could run out of data to train AI language programs. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Tesla’s European gigafactory is going to get even bigger
But it still needs German environmental authorities’ permission. (Wired $)

3 Help! AI stole my voice
Voice actors are suing a startup for creating digital clones without their permission. (NYT $)
+ The lawsuit is seeking to represent other voiceover artists, too. (Hollywood Reporter $)

4 The days of twitter.com are over
The platform’s urls had retained its old moniker. But no more. (The Verge)

5 The aviation industry is desperate for greener fuels

The future of their businesses depends on it. (FT $)
+ A new report has warned there’s no realistic or scalable alternative. (The Guardian)
+ Everything you need to know about the wild world of alternative jet fuels. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The time for a superconducting supercomputer is now
We need to overhaul how we compute. Superconductors could be the answer. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ What’s next for the world’s fastest supercomputers. (MIT Technology Review)

7 How AI destroyed a once-vibrant online art community
DeviantArt used to be a hotbed of creativity. Now it’s full of bots. (Slate $)
+ This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it. (MIT Technology Review)

8 TV bundles are back in a big way 📺
Streaming hasn’t delivered on its many promises. (The Atlantic $)

9 This creator couple act as “digital parents” to their fans in China
Jiang Xiuping and Pan Huqian’s loving clips resonate with their million followers. (Rest of World)
+ Deepfakes of your dead loved ones are a booming Chinese business. (MIT Technology Review)

10 We’re addicted to the exquisite pain of sharing memes 💔
If your friend has already seen it, their reaction could ruin your day. (GQ)

Quote of the day

“It was a good idea, but unfortunately people took advantage of it and it brought out their lewd side. People got carried away.”

—Aaron Cohen, who visited the video portal connecting New York and Dublin, is disappointed that the art installation was shut down after enthusiastic users took things too far, he tells the Guardian.

The big story

Psychedelics are having a moment and women could be the ones to benefit

August 2022

Psychedelics are having a moment. After decades of prohibition, they are increasingly being employed as therapeutics. Drugs like ketamine, MDMA, and psilocybin mushrooms are being studied in clinical trials to treat depression, substance abuse, and a range of other maladies.

And as these long-taboo drugs stage a comeback in the scientific community, it’s possible they could be especially promising for women. Read the full story.

—Taylor Majewski

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.)

+ Is it possible to live by the original constitution in present day New York City? The answer is yes: if you don’t mind being bombarded with questions.
+ These Balkan recipes sound absolutely delicious.
+ The Star Wars: The Phantom Menace backlash is mind boggling to this day.
+ Love to party? Get yourself to these cities, stat.

Deep Dive

The Download

The Download: Apple’s AI plans, and a carbon storage boom

Plus: Elon Musk has withdrawn his lawsuit against OpenAI

The Download: more energy-efficient AI, and the problem with QWERTY keyboards

Plus: an FDA panel has voted against approving MDMA as a treatment for PTSD

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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