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The Download

The Download: AI’s limitations

Plus: Adobe is being sued by the US government

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.

Why does AI hallucinate?

The World Health Organization’s new chatbot launched on April 2 with the best of intentions. The virtual avatar named SARAH, was designed to dispense health tips about how to eat well, quit smoking, de-stress, and more, for millions around the world. But like all chatbots, SARAH can flub its answers. It was quickly found to give out incorrect information. In one case, it came up with a list of fake names and addresses for nonexistent clinics in San Francisco.

Chatbot fails are now a familiar meme. Meta’s short-lived scientific chatbot Galactica made up academic papers and generated wiki articles about the history of bears in space. In February, Air Canada was ordered to honor a refund policy invented by its customer service chatbot. Last year, a lawyer was fined for submitting court documents filled with fake judicial opinions and legal citations made up by ChatGPT.

This tendency to make things up—known as hallucination—is one of the biggest obstacles holding chatbots back from more widespread adoption. Why do they do it? And why can’t we fix it? Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

Will’s article is the latest entry in MIT Technology Review Explains, our series explaining the complex, messy world of technology to help you understand what's coming next. You can check out the rest of the series here.

The story is also from the forthcoming magazine issue of MIT Technology Review, which explores the theme of Play. It’s set to go live on Wednesday June 26, so if you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands.

Why artists are becoming less scared of AI

Knock, knock. Who’s there? An AI with generic jokes. Researchers from Google DeepMind asked 20 professional comedians to use popular AI language models to write jokes and comedy performances. Their results were mixed. Although the tools helped them to produce initial drafts and structure their routines, AI was not able to produce anything that was original, stimulating, or, crucially, funny

The study is symptomatic of a broader trend: we’re realizing the limitations of what AI can do for artists. It can take on some of the boring, mundane, formulaic aspects of the creative process, but it can’t replace the magic and originality that humans bring. 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 The US government is suing Adobe over concealed fees
And for making it too difficult to cancel a Photoshop subscription. (The Verge)
+ Regulators are going after firms with hard-to-cancel accounts. (NYT $)
+ Adobe’s had an incredibly profitable few years. (Insider $)
+ The company recently announced its plans to safeguard artists against exploitative AI. (MIT Technology Review)

2 The year’s deadly heat waves have only just begun
But not everyone is at equal risk from extreme temperatures. (Vox)
+ Here’s what you need to know about this week’s US heat wave. (WP $)
+ Here’s how much heat your body can take. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Being an influencer isn’t as lucrative as it used to be
It’s getting tougher for content creators to earn a crust from social media alone. (WSJ $)
+ Beware the civilian creators offering to document your wedding. (The Guardian)+ Deepfakes of Chinese influencers are livestreaming 24/7. (MIT Technology Review)

4 How crypto cash could influence the US Presidential election 
‘Crypto voters’ have started mobilizing for Donald Trump, who has been making pro-crypto proclamations. (NYT $)

5 Europe is pumping money into defense tech startups
It’ll be a while until it catches up with the US though. (FT $)
+ Here’s the defense tech at the center of US aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. (MIT Technology Review)

6 China’s solar industry is in serious trouble
Its rapid growth hasn’t translated into big profits. (Economist $)
+ Recycling solar panels is still a major environmental challenge, too. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ This solar giant is moving manufacturing from China back to the US. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Brace yourself for AI reading companions
The systems are trained on famous writers’ thoughts on seminal titles. (Wired $)

8 McDonalds is ditching AI chatbots at drive-thrus
The tech just proved too unreliable. (The Guardian)

9 How ice freezes is surprisingly mysterious 🧊
It’s not as simple as cooling water to zero degrees. (Quanta Magazine)

10 Keeping your phone cool in hot weather is tough
No direct sunlight, no case, no putting it in the fridge. (WP $)

Quote of the day

“My goal was to show that nature is just so fantastic and creative, and I don’t think any machine can beat that.”

—Photographer Miles Astray explains to the Washington Post why he entered a real photograph of a surreal-looking flamingo into a competition for AI art.

The big story

The Atlantic’s vital currents could collapse. Scientists are racing to understand the dangers.

December 2021

Scientists are searching for clues about one of the most important forces in the planet’s climate system: a network of ocean currents known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. They want to better understand how global warming is changing it, and how much more it could shift, or even collapse.

The problem is the Atlantic circulation seems to be weakening, transporting less water and heat. Because of climate change, melting ice sheets are pouring fresh water into the ocean at the higher latitudes, and the surface waters are retaining more of their heat. Warmer and fresher waters are less dense and thus not as prone to sink, which may be undermining one of the currents’ core driving forces. Read the full story.

—James Temple

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.)

+ This cookie is the perfect replica of those frustrating maze games.
+ Each year, the Roland Garros tennis tournament commissions an artist to create a poster. This collection is remarkable 🎾
+ Sesame Street is the best.
+ If your plants aren’t flourishing, these tips might help to get them looking their best.

Deep Dive

The Download

The Download: defining AI, and China’s driverless ambitions

Plus: Apple and Microsoft are walking away from OpenAI's board

The Download: AI agents, and how to detect a lie

Plus: Chinese EVs have hit an EU-shaped blockade

The Download: fish-safe hydropower, and fixing space debris

Plus: Apple is planning to bring AI features to the Vision Pro

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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