The Download: year in review, and the big problem with ChatGPT
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 ChatGPT doesn’t always tell the truth
But it states things so confidently that it’s easy to be fooled. (NYT $)
+ It’s been suggesting some disturbing anti-terror measures, including torture. (The Intercept)
+ For some users, whether it’s accurate or not isn’t important. (WP $)
+ ChatGPT won’t be stealing stand up comedians’ jobs any time soon. (WSJ $)
+ ChatGPT is OpenAI’s latest fix for GPT-3. It’s slick but still spews nonsense. (MIT Technology Review)
2 Investors are rapidly withdrawing from crypto
They’re spooked by FTX’s collapse, and are pulling record levels of bitcoin from crypto exchanges (FT $)
+ Chinese police have rumbled a massive crypto laundering gang. (SCMP $)
+ FTX boss Sam Bankman-Fried is due to testify before the US Congress this week. (The Guardian)
3 NASA’s Artemis I moon mission is complete
After 26 days, it touched back down on Earth. (New Scientist $)
+ The mission paves the way towards returning humans to the moon. (WSJ $)
+ Looking down on the Earth from space is an emotional experience. (The Atlantic $)
4 Twitter’s subscription service has relaunched
iPhone users are being asked to pay more, likely in retaliation to the App Store’s inbuilt fees. (Reuters)
+ The company’s Community Notes misinformation service has been revamped, too. (Engadget)
+ Elon Musk knows exactly who he’s appealing to. (The Atlantic $)
+ Elon Musk has created a toxic mess for the LGBTQ+ community. I would know. (MIT Technology Review)
5 It might be time to delete your photos from the internet
It’s only getting easier and easier to make deepfakes. (Ars Technica)
+ A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Lensa’s AI avatars are concerning, especially for women. (WSJ $)
6 Amazon is failing to fulfill its promise to help Tijuana residents
It pledged to develop the area surrounding its fulfillment center, but workers say nothing has changed. (Rest of World)
7 This year has been a bit of a mess
But hard data can help us understand why—and what to prepare for next year. (Vox)
8 Tech graduates are fighting over too few jobs
Talented grads are ready to work, but hardly anywhere is hiring right now. (NBC)
9 Star gazing is in jeopardy 🌌
Light pollution is to blame—and a lot of it is entirely unnecessary. (The Guardian)
10 What Match.com has learned about love
It was the first major dating site to adopt a scientific approach to calculating a couple’s compatibility. (The Atlantic $)
+ Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love. (MIT Technology Review)
Quote of the day
“It makes me feel better. Happier; freer.”
—Julian Gough, an Irish writer who penned a poignant poem that displays when a player finishes Minecraft, explains his decision to put it into the public domain for anyone to use, Motherboard reports.
The big story
Minneapolis police used fake social media profiles to surveil Black people
The Minneapolis Police Department violated civil rights law through a pattern of racist policing practices, according to a damning report by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The report found that officers stop, search, arrest, and use force against people of color at a much higher rate than white people, and covertly surveilled Black people not suspected of any crimes via social media.
The Download: AI films, and the threat of microplastics
The Frost nails its uncanny, disconcerting vibe in its first few shots. Vast icy mountains, a makeshift camp of military-style tents, a group of people huddled around a fire, barking dogs. It’s familiar stuff, yet weird enough to plant a growing seed of dread. There’s something wrong here.
Welcome to the unsettling world of AI moviemaking. The Frost is a 12-minute movie from Detroit-based video creation company Waymark in which every shot is generated by an image-making AI. It’s one of the most impressive—and bizarre—examples yet of this strange new genre. Read the full story, and take an exclusive look at the movie.
—Will Douglas Heaven
Microplastics are everywhere. What does that mean for our immune systems?
Microplastics are pretty much everywhere you look. These tiny pieces of plastic pollution, less than five millimeters across, have been found in human blood, breast milk, and placentas. They’re even in our drinking water and the air we breathe.
Given their ubiquity, it’s worth considering what we know about microplastics. What are they doing to us?
The short answer is: we don’t really know. But scientists have begun to build a picture of their potential effects from early studies in animals and clumps of cells, and new research suggests that they could affect not only the health of our body tissues, but our immune systems more generally. Read the full story.
Microplastics are everywhere. What does that mean for our immune systems?
Here, bits of plastic can end up collecting various types of bacteria, which cling to their surfaces. Seabirds that ingest them not only end up with a stomach full of plastic—which can end up starving them—but also get introduced to types of bacteria that they wouldn’t encounter otherwise. It seems to disturb their gut microbiomes.
There are similar concerns for humans. These tiny bits of plastic, floating and flying all over the world, could act as a “Trojan horse,” introducing harmful drug-resistant bacteria and their genes, as some researchers put it.
It’s a deeply unsettling thought. As research plows on, hopefully we’ll learn not only what microplastics are doing to us, but how we might tackle the problem.
Read more from Tech Review’s archive
It is too simplistic to say we should ban all plastic. But we could do with revolutionizing the way we recycle it, as my colleague Casey Crownhart pointed out in an article published last year.
We can use sewage to track the rise of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria, as I wrote in a previous edition of the Checkup. At this point, we need all the help we can get …
… which is partly why scientists are also exploring the possibility of using tiny viruses to treat drug-resistant bacterial infections. Phages were discovered around 100 years ago and are due a comeback!
Our immune systems are incredibly complicated. And sex matters: there are important differences between the immune systems of men and women, as Sandeep Ravindran wrote in this feature, which ran in our magazine issue on gender.
Welcome to the new surreal. How AI-generated video is changing film.
Fast and cheap
Artists are often the first to experiment with new technology. But the immediate future of generative video is being shaped by the advertising industry. Waymark made The Frost to explore how generative AI could be built into its products. The company makes video creation tools for businesses looking for a fast and cheap way to make commercials. Waymark is one of several startups, alongside firms such as Softcube and Vedia AI, that offer bespoke video ads for clients with just a few clicks.
Waymark’s current tech, launched at the start of the year, pulls together several different AI techniques, including large language models, image recognition, and speech synthesis, to generate a video ad on the fly. Waymark also drew on its large data set of non-AI-generated commercials created for previous customers. “We have hundreds of thousands of videos,” says CEO Alex Persky-Stern. “We’ve pulled the best of those and trained it on what a good video looks like.”
To use Waymark’s tool, which it offers as part of a tiered subscription service starting at $25 a month, users supply the web address or social media accounts for their business, and it goes off and gathers all the text and images it can find. It then uses that data to generate a commercial, using OpenAI’s GPT-3 to write a script that is read aloud by a synthesized voice over selected images that highlight the business. A slick minute-long commercial can be generated in seconds. Users can edit the result if they wish, tweaking the script, editing images, choosing a different voice, and so on. Waymark says that more than 100,000 people have used its tool so far.
The trouble is that not every business has a website or images to draw from, says Parker. “An accountant or a therapist might have no assets at all,” he says.
Waymark’s next idea is to use generative AI to create images and video for businesses that don’t yet have any—or don’t want to use the ones they have. “That’s the thrust behind making The Frost,” says Parker. “Create a world, a vibe.”
The Frost has a vibe, for sure. But it is also janky. “It’s not a perfect medium yet by any means,” says Rubin. “It was a bit of a struggle to get certain things from DALL-E, like emotional responses in faces. But at other times, it delighted us. We’d be like, ‘Oh my God, this is magic happening before our eyes.’”
This hit-and-miss process will improve as the technology gets better. DALL-E 2, which Waymark used to make The Frost, was released just a year ago. Video generation tools that generate short clips have only been around for a few months.
The most revolutionary aspect of the technology is being able to generate new shots whenever you want them, says Rubin: “With 15 minutes of trial and error, you get that shot you wanted that fits perfectly into a sequence.” He remembers cutting the film together and needing particular shots, like a close-up of a boot on a mountainside. With DALL-E, he could just call it up. “It’s mind-blowing,” he says. “That’s when it started to be a real eye-opening experience as a filmmaker.”