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The Download: longevity for the uber-rich, and wrongful prosecutions of Chinese scientists




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 billion-dollar meeting for the mega-rich who want to live forever

Back in September, Jessica Hamzelou, our senior biotech reporter, traveled to Gstaad, a swanky ski-resort town in the Swiss Alps, to attend the first in-person Longevity Investors Conference.

Over the two-day event, scientists and biotech founders made the case for various approaches to prolonging the number of years we might spend in good health. The majority of them were trying to win over deep-pocketed investors.

As the field of longevity attempts to define itself as scientifically sound, plenty of “anti-aging treatments” based on little-to-no human evidence continue to enter the market. But can billions of investor money—some of it from ethically dubious sources—ever offer a concrete path to evidence-based life extension? Read the full story.

Read more about the quest to extend our healthy years:

+ How scientists want to make you young again. Research labs are pursuing technology to “reprogram” aging bodies back to youth. Read the full story.

+ Aging clocks aim to predict how long you’ll live. These clocks promise to measure biological age and help identify anti-aging drugs, but there are lingering questions over their accuracy. Read the full story.

A big settlement for one Chinese-American scientist won’t end wrongful prosecutions

Last week, our senior investigative reporter Eileen Guo wrote about a historic settlement won by Chinese-American scientist Sherry Chen, who was wrongly accused of being a Chinese spy.

Her case illustrates just how hard it is to go up against a powerful federal agency and hold it accountable. It’s also an anomaly—it’s usually incredibly difficult to prove racial bias in court, but a broad pattern of misconduct by her accusers was proven definitively.

However, Chen’s win doesn’t necessarily mean others in her situation will have an easier time getting justice. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter covering everything you need to know about China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

Podcast: Farming a war zone

Tune into the latest episode of our In Machines We Trust podcast, where we look at how shortages of everything from seeds to fertilizer might accelerate the adoption of technologies that can help supplies go further in war-torn Ukraine. Listen to it on Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you usually listen.

The must-reads

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

1 Donald Trump is going to run for the presidency again 
He’s ignoring the critics, particularly those within his own party. (Vox)
+ Republicans aren’t thrilled by their midterms performance. (The Atlantic $)
+ His decision to run hasn’t exactly come as a surprise. (New Yorker $)
+ Trump and Elon Musk are now social media rivals, technically. (Insider $)

2 FTX boss Sam Bankman-Fried is hustling for money (again)
He’s desperately trying to fix the $8 billion hole in the crypto exchange’s finances. (WSJ $)
+ The Bahamas arm of FTX has filed for bankruptcy, too. (Bloomberg $)

3 Twitter is playing with fire in the EU
The increasingly volatile platform could fall foul of its new rules policing Big Tech. (FT $)
+ Twitter’s Blue Verified service is relaunching on 29 November. (Reuters)
+ Social media giants could be forced to disclose details about their algorithms in the UK. (FT $)
+ Musk has a snarky new nickname: Elmo. (Insider $)
+ What exactly is Musk thinking right now? (Vox)

4 NASA’s Artemis 1 mission has finally taken off
After months of setbacks, it took flight in the early hours. (CNN)
+ The mission hopes to shed light on what space does to our bodies. (Vox)
+ Watch the moment NASA’s DART spacecraft crashed into an asteroid. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Taylor Swift has exposed just how awful Ticketmaster’s system is
Buying concert tickets is increasingly like battling a rigged lottery. (WP $)

6 The world’s population has reached 8 billion people
But that’s neither a reason to panic—nor relax. (Economist $)
+ New global map shows populations are growing faster in flood-prone areas. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Millions of Indians are relying on businesses controlled by one man
Mukesh Ambani’s conglomerate has made him uber-powerful. (Rest of World)

8 Boston Dynamics is suing a rival over its robot dog
It claims Ghost Robotics’ four-legged design was a bit too similar to its own. (The Register)
+ This robot dog just taught itself to walk. (MIT Technology Review)

9 TikTok has emboldened brands to clap back at customers 👏
Unfortunately, it means they’re more irritating than ever. (Wired $)
+ The platform is also repackaging MTV Cribs for a new generation. (The Guardian)

10 Your next Tinder match could be AI-generated
For just $19, you too could be “the best you’ve ever looked.” (Motherboard)
+ No one knows what’s next for AI copyright. (The Verge)

Quote of the day

“The higher-ups, they mostly played chess and board games. There was no partying. They were undersexed, if anything.”

—Dr George Lerner, crypto exchange FTX’s in-house performance coach, tells the New York Times that reports of hedonistic behavior at the firm are wildly overblown.

The big story

The delivery apps reshaping life in India’s megacities

From 7am until well past dusk, seven days a week, N. Sudhakar sits behind the counter of his hole-in-the wall grocery store in the south Indian city of Bangalore. Packed floor to ceiling with everything from 20-kilogram sacks of rice to one-rupee ($.01) shampoo sachets, this one-stop shop supplies most of the daily needs for many in the neighborhood. It’s a carbon copy of the roughly 12 million family-run “kiranas” found on almost every street corner in India.

Increasingly, the technology industry is presenting stores like his with a new challenge. Across the road, a steady stream of delivery drivers line up to grab groceries from a “dark store”—a mini-warehouse built to enable ultra-fast deliveries run by Dunzo, a Bangalore-based startup.

In India’s megacities, the urban middle class is gradually getting hooked on online shopping. These shoppers make up a fraction of the population, but their spending power is considerable, and in more affluent pockets of big cities, the battle for India’s street corner is well underway. Read the full story.

—Edd Gent

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.)

+ If you enjoyed the book Fleishman is in Trouble, a TV adaptation starts streaming on Hulu tomorrow.
+ John Wick is back, and he’s angrier than ever.
+ If your Birkenstocks are looking a little grubby, don’t worry—someone just paid $218,000 for Steve Jobs’ old pair (thanks Allison!)
+ I had no idea Skyfall was very nearly called something else entirely.
+ Paper peepshows were the 19th century’s answer to virtual reality—and just as cool.


The Download: generative AI for video, and detecting AI text



The original startup behind Stable Diffusion has launched a generative AI for video

The original startup behind Stable Diffusion has launched a generative AI for video

What’s happened: Runway, the generative AI startup that co-created last year’s breakout text-to-image model Stable Diffusion, has released an AI model that can transform existing videos into new ones by applying styles from a text prompt or reference image.

What it does: In a demo reel posted on its website, Runway shows how the model, called Gen-1, can turn people on a street into claymation puppets, and books stacked on a table into a cityscape at night. Other recent text-to-video models can generate very short video clips from scratch, but because Gen-1adapts existing footage it can produce much longer videos.

Why it matters: Last year’s explosion in generative AI was fueled by the millions of people who got their hands on powerful creative tools for the first time and shared what they made, and Runway hopes Gen-1 will have a similar effect on generated videos. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

Why detecting AI-generated text is so difficult (and what to do about it)

Last week, OpenAI unveiled a tool that can detect text produced by its AI system ChatGPT. But if you’re a teacher who fears the coming deluge of ChatGPT-generated essays, don’t get too excited.

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Why detecting AI-generated text is so difficult (and what to do about it)



Why detecting AI-generated text is so difficult (and what to do about it)

This tool is OpenAI’s response to the heat it’s gotten from educators, journalists, and others for launching ChatGPT without any ways to detect text it has generated. However, it is still very much a work in progress, and it is woefully unreliable. OpenAI says its AI text detector correctly identifies 26% of AI-written text as “likely AI-written.” 

While OpenAI clearly has a lot more work to do to refine its tool, there’s a limit to just how good it can make it. We’re extremely unlikely to ever get a tool that can spot AI-generated text with 100% certainty. It’s really hard to detect AI-generated text because the whole point of AI language models is to generate fluent and human-seeming text, and the model is mimicking text created by humans, says Muhammad Abdul-Mageed, a professor who oversees research in natural-language processing and machine learning at the University of British Columbia

We are in an arms race to build detection methods that can match the latest, most powerful models, Abdul-Mageed adds. New AI language models are more powerful and better at generating even more fluent language, which quickly makes our existing detection tool kit outdated. 

OpenAI built its detector by creating a whole new AI language model akin to ChatGPT that is specifically trained to detect outputs from models like itself. Although details are sparse, the company apparently trained the model with examples of AI-generated text and examples of human-generated text, and then asked it to spot the AI-generated text. We asked for more information, but OpenAI did not respond. 

Last month, I wrote about another method for detecting text generated by an AI: watermarks. These act as a sort of secret signal in AI-produced text that allows computer programs to detect it as such. 

Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a neat way of applying watermarks to text generated by AI language models, and they have made it freely available. These watermarks would allow us to tell with almost complete certainty when AI-generated text has been used. 

The trouble is that this method requires AI companies to embed watermarking in their chatbots right from the start. OpenAI is developing these systems but has yet to roll them out in any of its products. Why the delay? One reason might be that it’s not always desirable to have AI-generated text watermarked. 

One of the most promising ways ChatGPT could be integrated into products is as a tool to help people write emails or as an enhanced spell-checker in a word processor. That’s not exactly cheating. But watermarking all AI-generated text would automatically flag these outputs and could lead to wrongful accusations.

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The original startup behind Stable Diffusion has launched a generative AI for video



The original startup behind Stable Diffusion has launched a generative AI for video

Set up in 2018, Runway has been developing AI-powered video-editing software for several years. Its tools are used by TikTokers and YouTubers as well as mainstream movie and TV studios. The makers of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert used Runway software to edit the show’s graphics; the visual effects team behind the hit movie Everything Everywhere All at Once used the company’s tech to help create certain scenes.  

In 2021, Runway collaborated with researchers at the University of Munich to build the first version of Stable Diffusion. Stability AI, a UK-based startup, then stepped in to pay the computing costs required to train the model on much more data. In 2022, Stability AI took Stable Diffusion mainstream, transforming it from a research project into a global phenomenon. 

But the two companies no longer collaborate. Getty is now taking legal action against Stability AI—claiming that the company used Getty’s images, which appear in Stable Diffusion’s training data, without permission—and Runway is keen to keep its distance.

Gen-1 represents a new start for Runway. It follows a smattering of text-to-video models revealed late last year, including Make-a-Video from Meta and Phenaki from Google, both of which can generate very short video clips from scratch. It is also similar to Dreamix, a generative AI from Google revealed last week, which can create new videos from existing ones by applying specified styles. But at least judging from Runway’s demo reel, Gen-1 appears to be a step up in video quality. Because it transforms existing footage, it can also produce much longer videos than most previous models. (The company says it will post technical details about Gen-1 on its website in the next few days.)   

Unlike Meta and Google, Runway has built its model with customers in mind. “This is one of the first models to be developed really closely with a community of video makers,” says Valenzuela. “It comes with years of insight about how filmmakers and VFX editors actually work on post-production.”

Gen-1, which runs on the cloud via Runway’s website, is being made available to a handful of invited users today and will be launched to everyone on the waitlist in a few weeks.

Last year’s explosion in generative AI was fueled by the millions of people who got their hands on powerful creative tools for the first time and shared what they made with them. Valenzuela hopes that putting Gen-1 into the hands of creative professionals will soon have a similar impact on video.

“We’re really close to having full feature films being generated,” he says. “We’re close to a place where most of the content you’ll see online will be generated.”

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