The Download:  biased AI warnings, and experimental CRISPR therapies

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.

Meet the AI expert who says we should stop using AI so much

Meredith Broussard is unusually well placed to dissect the ongoing hype around AI. She’s a data scientist and associate professor at New York University, and she’s been one of the leading researchers in the field of algorithmic bias for years.

And though her own work leaves her buried in math problems, she’s spent the last few years thinking about problems that mathematics can’t solve. Broussard argues that we are consistently too eager to apply artificial intelligence to social problems in inappropriate and damaging ways—particularly when race, gender, and ability is not taken into consideration. 

Broussard spoke with our senior tech policy reporter Tate Ryan-Mosley about the problems with the use of technology by police, the limits of “AI fairness,” and the solutions she sees for some of the challenges AI is posing. Read the full story.

More than 200 people have been treated with experimental CRISPR therapies

Jessica Hamzelou, senior biotech reporter at MIT Technology Review, has spent the last few days listening to scientists, ethicists, and patient groups wrestle with emotive and ethical dilemmas. 

They’ve been debating how, when, and if we should use gene-editing tools to change the human genome at the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing in London. 

There’s plenty to get excited about. In the decade since scientists found they could use CRISPR to edit cell genomes, the technology has already been used to save some lives and transform others. 

In fact, more than 200 people have been treated with CRISPR-based therapies in clinical trials, some of which are already success stories. But there are still concerns over who gets to be treated using CRISPR, and, crucially, who can afford it. Read the full story.

Jessica’s story is from The Checkup, her weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

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

1 Meta is working on a decentralized social network
It’s a text-based network that sounds a whole lot like…Twitter. (Platformer $)
+ The app, codenamed P92, is still under development. (TechCrunch)

2 Silicon Valley Bank is spiraling out of control
Its market valuation has plummeted by close to $10 billion, and startup founders are fleeing. (The Information $)+ Shares in the bank are in free fall. (FT $)

3 You may not need a covid booster after all
We don’t know how long their protection lasts for, and that’s an issue. (Wired $)+ China’s faith in its leadership was shaken by its covid zero U-turn. (Bloomberg $)
+ This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Elon Musk is planning to build his own town in Texas
He’s purchased land and wants to build homes for his Boring Company employees. (WSJ $)
+ The argument for calling Musk a visionary is growing weaker by the day. (The Atlantic $)

5 Conservative Catholics spent millions on app data to out gay priests
The group shared information collected from hookup apps with bishops. (WP $)

6 Germany is reconsidering how its police use Palantir software
Privacy advocates have sounded the alarm over the company’s privacy track record. (FT $)
+ Predictive policing algorithms are racist. They need to be dismantled. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Are parents ready for artificial breast milk?
Last year’s baby formula shortage highlights how precarious the market is. (New Yorker $)
+ Startups are racing to reproduce breast milk in the lab. (MIT Technology Review)

8 A medical firm implanted patients with fake devices
It claimed that implanting bits of plastic into people would treat their chronic pain.  (Motherboard)

9 Autocorrect is still garbage
Chatbots can write poetry, but our iPhones continue to misspell simple words. (The Atlantic $)

10 BORG is the internet’s hottest drink
If you’re aged under 21, that is. (NYT $)
+ TikTok memes are spreading among kids who’ve never used the app. (WP $)

Quote of the day

“Chatbots are very useful to a straight man like me.”

—Liu Shuai, a tech worker in Hangzhou, China, has been using ChatGPT to draft heartfelt texts to his girlfriend, he tells Rest of World.

The big story

Meetings suck. Can we make them more fun?

September 2021

Since the pandemic made working remotely commonplace, workers have complained about getting “Zoomed out” or dealing with “Zoom fatigue.”

No wonder that other tech companies wonder how they could reinvent meetings too, especially since it doesn’t seem as if remote work is going anywhere soon. But to take Zoom’s crown they’ll need to get creative, and come up with ways to keep employees from feeling burned out by endless video calls. Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu

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.)

 + The gatekeepers of New York’s most coveted restaurant tables have seen some things.
+ Stop! Relax—and decorate some cookies.
+ The in-depth case for why Jackass Forever deserves an Oscar.
+ Why AI gets involved with architecture, the resulting buildings are seriously odd.
+ Every single one of these food trends sounds absolutely delicious.


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