The Download: what’s next for AI, and fighting digital censorship

The Download: what’s next for AI, and fighting digital censorship

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.

DeepMind’s cofounder: Generative AI is just a phase. What’s next is interactive AI.

DeepMind cofounder Mustafa Suleyman wants to build a chatbot that does a whole lot more than chat. In a recent conversation he had with our senior AI editor Will Douglas Heaven, he explained his view that generative AI is just a phase. 

What’s next, he says, is interactive AI: bots that can carry out tasks you set for them by calling on other software and people to get stuff done. He also calls for robust regulation—and doesn’t think that’ll be hard to achieve.

While many will scoff at Suleyman’s brand of techno-optimism—even naïveté—he is not the only one talking up a future filled with ever more autonomous software. And, unlike most people, he has a new billion-dollar company, Inflection, with a roster of top-tier talent. It may just put him in a position to change the world in the ways he’s always wanted to. Read the full story.

How new tech is helping people circumvent digital authoritarianism

Questions about who gets to control the internet and who gets access to online information are central to the future of our world. They have ramifications for geopolitics, free speech, national security, political organizing, human rights, equity, and power distribution in general.

We’re in the midst of a quiet technological arms race between the censors and those trying to evade them. And as people grow more dependent on digital tools and platforms, the harm done by online censorship becomes more serious. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

This story is from The Technocrat, Tate’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things power and policy in Silicon Valley. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

This startup plans to power a tugboat with ammonia later this year

Transportation is one of the world’s most polluting industries, accounting for roughly 15% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Electric vehicles will make a dent in those emissions in the coming decades, but batteries can’t hold enough energy to power vehicles like long-range trucks and transoceanic ships.

Young Suk Jo, 34, came up with a possible solution in an unlikely chemical: ammonia. Amogy, a startup Jo cofounded in 2020, is building systems that can use ammonia, typically a component of fertilizer, as a fuel to power trucks and ships. 

While Amogy has successfully demonstrated its technology in a small drone and a truck, Jo has now set his tights on a slightly more ambitious form of transportation: a tugboat. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

Young Suk Jo is one of MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 for 2023. Read the full list of this year’s honorees, including those making a difference in robotics, computing, biotech, climate and energy, and AI.

The must-reads

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

1 Chipmaker Arm isn’t reaping the benefits of the AI boom yet

But it has managed to side-step the US-China chip war. (WSJ $)

+ The US is keen to source chips from Vietnam. (Rest of World)

+ The chip patterning machines that will shape computing’s next act. (MIT Technology Review)

2 A cultivated meat startup concealed how its ‘meat’ was really produced

Upside Foods’ chicken filets were not brewed in a bioreactor, as it claimed. (Wired $)

+ Two companies can now sell lab-grown chicken in the US. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Abortion care providers have created a trustworthy chatbot

The Charley bot is designed to provide up-to-date, reliable information on clinics. (WP $)

+ Texas is trying out new tactics to restrict access to abortion pills online. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Reducing air pollution could unintentionally speed up global warming

But ultimately, cleaner air makes for a healthier planet—and human inhabitants. (Vox)

+ A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Apple is facing tough times in China

While it avoided outright bans imposed on other US tech giants, its days could be numbered. (FT $)

6 The days of the digital town square are over

Social media feels a lot more fragmented as a result. (NY Mag $)

7 What it’s like to attend an internet addiction support group

Even though it’s not officially recognized as an addiction by medical standards bodies. (The Guardian)

+ How to log off. (MIT Technology Review)

8 How Spotify transformed music 

Shorter songs, and mega-collaborations are some of its calling cards. (WSJ $)

9 The perfect time to buy concert tickets? It depends on the artist

Resale prices can fluctuate wildly, depending on when you’re browsing. (Bloomberg $)

10 The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a newborn star 🌌  

The spectacular image depicts powerful winds emanating from the young star. (New Scientist $)

+ The US military is shooting satellites into space super quickly. (Ars Technica)

+ How the James Webb Space Telescope broke the universe. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“Time to try a new hobby.”

—A user reacts to AI image-generator Mage Space’s decision to restrict its users from generating sexual images of celebrities, 404 Media reports.

The big story

Cops built a shadowy surveillance machine in Minnesota after George Floyd’s murder

March 2022

Law enforcement agencies in Minnesota have been carrying out a secretive, long-running surveillance program targeting civil rights activists and journalists in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

Run under a consortium known as Operation Safety Net, the program was set up in spring 2021, ostensibly to maintain public order as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin went on trial for Floyd’s murder.

But an investigation by MIT Technology Review reveals that the initiative expanded far beyond its publicly announced scope to include expansive use of tools to scour social media, track cell phones, and amass detailed images of people’s faces. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley & Sam Richards

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.)

+ These oceanic pictures are really something (thanks Mike!)

+ A plastic Ikea bag is an unorthodox storage method for a Van Gogh painting, I’ll give you that.

+ An Early Middle English version of Running Up That Hill? Sure, why not.

+ Now we’re nearing fall, this glass squash is the perfect harbinger of the new season.

+ Gen Z has discovered nu metal and is interpreting it in their own unique way.

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