The Download: AI-generated art and YouTube’s algorithm

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.

This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it.

Those cool AI-generated images you’ve seen across the internet? There’s a good chance they are based on the works of Greg Rutkowski.

Rutkowski is a Polish digital artist who uses classical painting styles to create dreamy fantasy landscapes. His distinctive illustration style has been used in some of the world’s most popular fantasy games, including Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. 

Now he’s become a sudden hit in the new world of text-to-image AI generation, becoming one of the most commonly used prompts in the new open-source AI art generator Stable Diffusion, which was launched late last month.

But this and other open-source programs are built by scraping images from the internet, often without permission and proper attribution to artists. As a result, they are raising tricky questions about ethics and copyright. And artists like Rutkowski have had enough. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Hated that video? YouTube’s algorithm might push you another just like it.

What’s happened: YouTube’s powerful recommendation algorithm drives 70% of what people watch on the platform, and the company has created controls that purport to allow people to adjust what it shows them. But, a new study finds, those tools don’t do much. Users have little power to keep unwanted videos—including hate speech—out of their recommendations.

How they did it: Mozilla researchers analyzed seven months of YouTube activity from over 20,000 participants to evaluate the ways that YouTube says users can “tune their recommendations.” The controls had a “negligible” effect on the recommendations participants received, and that content that seemed to violate the platform’s own policies was still being actively recommended to users even after they’d sent negative feedback. Read the full story.

—Hana Kiros

The must-reads

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

1 The race to decarbonize Europe’s heavy industries
Scaling up promising technologies is among the biggest obstacles—but they’re not insurmountable. (Economist $)
+ Nature documentaries tend to skim over human suffering. (Wired $)
+ Carbon removal is now “essential.”  (MIT Technology Review)

2What we misunderstand about the abortion pill
Medical trials, politicians and the public have focused on the less important of the two drugs. (The Atlantic $)
+ Where to get abortion pills and how to use them. (MIT Technology Review)

3 A law banning social media from ‘censoring’ content has been upheld
The Texas ruling could prevent platforms from moderating user content at all. (Vox)
+ Experts are concerned by the law’s extremity. (WP $)
+ Here’s what Big Tech might do next. (Protocol)

4 AI art’s charm lies in what it gets wrong 🖼
When its images become too slick and polished, things get weird. (NY Mag $)
+ Stock image sites are quietly removing AI images. (Motherboard)
+ Graphic designers are growing increasingly uneasy. (Slate $)
+ The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images. (MIT Technology Review)

5 These women are speaking out against Tesla’s toxic culture
Time and time again, their complaints were ignored. (Rolling Stone $)

6 How Russia’s trolls undermined the US Women’s March movement 
The disinformation machine’s campaign of social media exploitation was chillingly effective. (NYT $)
+ Donald Trump’s “big lie” narrative influenced a generation of creators. (WP $)

7 Electric vehicle makers can’t keep up with demand 🚗
But frustrated customers won’t wait forever. (WSJ $)
+ EVs still represent the power grid’s best shot at solving its issues. (Wired $)
+ Detroit is also betting big on EVs. (Economist $)

8 Myanmar’s resistance groups are embracing digital currency
But concerns over its security are hard to shake. (Rest of World)

9 How VR could change theme parks for good 🎢
 Visitors want cutting-edge tech, but headsets can only take you so far. (The Guardian)

10 Gen Z loves captions 
And it’s nothing to do with hearing loss. (WSJ $)

Quote of the day

“He is obviously on the run.”

—A spokesperson for South Korean prosecutors explains why they have issued an arrest warrant for Do Kwan, the missing developer behind the collapsed TerraUSD and Luna cryptocurrencies, who denied he’s on the run from authorities, according to the Financial Times.

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 autumnal disguises are ingenious.
+ This is a really interesting behind-the-scenes look at how real estate photographs are optimized to look extra-roomy.
+ Who knew eels were so mysterious?
+ Here’s how royalty has shaped Britain’s rock music over the decades.
+ It’s all kicking off in Australia!

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