The Download: Malaysia’s LGBTQ activists, and 4Chan’s toxic AI
Vile online abuse escalated into accusations she was to blame for the outbreak of covid-19 in Malaysia, death threats, and eventually being arrested and charged with “insulting Islam.” Earlier this year, she fled to Australia to escape a court hearing.
Although Nur Sajat’s story is by far the most high-profile, it is just one of many that illustrate how online platforms have evolved into a double-edged sword for Malaysia’s LGBTQ communities.
Despite creating invaluable opportunities for LGBTQ people to connect, communicate, and advocate for their rights, online participation also leaves them exposed to censorship, surveillance, and attack. Read the full story.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 An AI trained on 4Chan spews out toxic hate speech
Considering the material it was trained on, this outcome was depressingly inevitable. (Motherboard)
+ AI still sucks at moderating hate speech. (MIT Technology Review)
2 Apple is going to have to change how it charges iPhones
A new deal requires all phones sold in the European Union to use USB-C ports by 2024. (The Verge)
+ iPhones sold in the UK won’t have to comply with the demand. (BBC)
+ It’s good news for reducing electronic waste. (Protocol)
3 There’s a fight brewing over crypto mining in New York 🗽
And crypto enthusiasts are worrying other states may follow suit. (NYT $)
+ How Bitcoin mining devastated this New York town. (MIT Technology Review)
+ The crypto industry is happy about its newly-proposed regulator. (WP $)
4 How the Amazon’s rivers made it a biodiversity haven
Creating lush microenvironments for wildlife to thrive in. (Quanta)
+ We aren’t terrified enough about losing the Amazon. (MIT Technology Review)
5 These YouTubers are exposing the video games industry’s failings
And they’re facing plenty of backlash along the way. (WP $)
6 Disinformation is running rampant in Kenya ahead of its elections
Including attempts to stoke ethnic tensions. (Rest of World)
7 Neptune is a mystery
And it’s possible it may stay that way until into the 2050s. (The Atlantic $)
+ On the other hand, we’ll get an indepth look at Venus in 2030. (Inverse)
+ Space debris is a growing problem. (FT $)
8 How a fake juror in the Depp v Heard trial went viral
And contributed to the slew of cruel anti-Heard content circulating online. (CNN)
9 What the lived experiences of people with schizophrenia can teach us
First-person accounts of delusions help experts understand how they actually work. (Wired $)
10 How TikTok turned Gen Z into bookworms 📖
And gave the publishing industry a vital shot in the arm. (The Guardian)
Quote of the day
“We can do this without the technology, but why would we? We’re using technology in a way that doesn’t conﬂict with our morals.”
—Ben, an office manager who is Amish, discusses how his company makes millions of dollars selling products online, reports Wired.
The big story
A nonprofit promised to preserve wildlife. Then it made millions claiming it could cut down trees
The emergent industrial metaverse
Annika Hauptvogel, head of technology and innovation management at Siemens, describes the industrial metaverse as “immersive, making users feel as if they’re in a real environment; collaborative in real time; open enough for different applications to seamlessly interact; and trusted by the individuals and businesses that participate”—far more than simply a digital world.
The industrial metaverse will revolutionize the way work is done, but it will also unlock significant new value for business and societies. By allowing businesses to model, prototype, and test dozens, hundreds, or millions of design iterations in real time and in an immersive, physics-based environment before committing physical and human resources to a project, industrial metaverse tools will usher in a new era of solving real-world problems digitally.
“The real world is very messy, noisy, and sometimes hard to really understand,” says Danny Lange, senior vice president of artificial intelligence at Unity Technologies, a leading platform for creating and growing real-time 3-D content. “The idea of the industrial metaverse is to create a cleaner connection between the real world and the virtual world, because the virtual world is so much easier and cheaper to work with.”
While real-life applications of the consumer metaverse are still developing, industrial metaverse use cases are purpose-driven, well aligned with real-world problems and business imperatives. The resource efficiencies enabled by industrial metaverse solutions may increase business competitiveness while also continually driving progress toward the sustainability, resilience, decarbonization, and dematerialization goals that are essential to human flourishing.
This report explores what it will take to create the industrial metaverse, its potential impacts on business and society, the challenges ahead, and innovative use cases that will shape the future. Its key findings are as follows:
• The industrial metaverse will bring together the digital and real worlds. It will enable a constant exchange of information, data, and decisions and empower industries to solve extraordinarily complex real-world problems digitally, changing how organizations operate and unlocking significant societal benefits.
• The digital twin is a core metaverse building block. These virtual models simulate real-world objects in detail. The next generation of digital twins will be photorealistic, physics-based, AI-enabled, and linked in metaverse ecosystems.
• The industrial metaverse will transform every industry. Currently existing digital twins illustrate the power and potential of the industrial metaverse to revolutionize design and engineering, testing, operations, and training.
The Download: China’s retro AI photos, and experts’ AI fears
Across social media, a number of creators are generating nostalgic photographs of China with the help of AI. Even though these images get some details wrong, they are realistic enough to trick and impress many of their followers.
The pictures look sophisticated in terms of definition, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. Their realism is partly down to a recent major update of image-making artificial-intelligence program Midjourney that was released in mid-March, which is better not only at generating human hands but also at simulating various photography styles.
It’s still relatively easy, even for untrained eyes, to tell that the photos are generated by an AI. But for some creators, their experiments are more about trying to recall a specific era in time than trying to trick their audience. Read the full story.
Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.
Read more of our reporting on AI-generated images:
+ These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are. Bias and stereotyping are still huge problems for systems like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion, despite companies’ attempts to fix it. Read the full story.
Evolutionary organizations reimagine the future
The global technology consultancy Thoughtworks describes organizations that can respond to marketplace changes with continuous adaptation as “evolutionary organizations.” It argues that, instead of focusing only on technology change, organizations should focus on building capabilities that support ongoing reinvention. While many organizations recognize the benefit of adopting agile approaches in their technology capabilities and architectures, they have not extended these structures and ways of thinking throughout the operating model, which would allow their impact to extend beyond that of a single transformation project.
Global spending on digital transformation is growing at a brisk pace: 16.4% per year according to IDC. The firm’s 2021 “Worldwide Digital Transformation Spending Guide” forecasts that annual transformation expenditures will reach $2.8 trillion in 2025, more than double the spending in 2020.1 At the same time, research from Boston Consulting Group shows that 7 out of 10 digital transformation initiatives fall short of their objectives. Organizations that succeed, however, achieve almost double the earnings growth of those that fail and more than double the growth in the total value of their enterprises.2 Understanding how to make these transitions successful, then, should be of key interest to all business leaders.
This MIT Technology Review Insights report is based on a survey of 275 corporate leaders, supplemented by interviews with seven experts in digital transformation. Its key findings include the following:
• Digital transformation is not solely a technology issue. Adopting new technology for its own sake does not set the organization up to continue to adapt to changing circumstances. Among survey respondents, however, transformation is still synonymous with tech, with 70% planning to adopt a new technology in the next year, but only 41% pursuing changes to their business model.
• The business environment is changing faster than many organizations think. Most survey respondents (81%) believe their organization is more adaptable than average and nearly all (89%) say that they’re keeping up with or ahead of their competitors—suggesting a wide gap between the rapidly evolving reality and executives’ perceptions of their preparedness.
• All organizations must build capabilities for continuous reinvention. The only way to keep up is for organizations to continuously change and evolve, but most traditional businesses lack the strategic flexibility necessary to do this. Nearly half of business leaders outside the C-suite (44%), for example, say organizational structure, silos, or hierarchy are the biggest obstacle to transformation at their firm.
• Focusing on customer value and empowering employees are keys to organizational evolution. The most successful transformations prioritize creating customer value and enhancing customer and employee experience. Meeting evolving customer needs is the constant source of value in a world where everything is changing, but many traditional organizations fail to take this long view, with only 15% of respondents most concerned about failing to meet customer expectations if they fail to transform.
• Rapid experimentation requires the ability to fail and recover quickly. Organizations agree that iterative, experimental processes are essential to finding the right solutions, with 81% saying they have adopted agile practices. Fewer are confident, however, in their ability to execute decisions quickly (76%)—or to shut down initiatives that aren’t working (60%).