The Download: Big Tech’s big AI bet, and crypto’s day in court

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.

Why Big Tech’s bet on AI assistants is so risky

Since the beginning of the generative AI boom, tech companies have been feverishly trying to come up with the killer app for the technology. First it was online search, with mixed results. Now it’s AI assistants. Last week, OpenAI, Meta, and Google launched new features for their AI chatbots that allow them to search the web and act as a sort of personal assistant.

This is a risky bet, given the limitations of the technology. Tech companies have not solved some of the persistent problems with AI language models, such as their propensity to make things. But perhaps the most concerning aspect is their security and privacy weaknesses. By putting this deeply flawed tech in our hands, Big Tech is making us all vulnerable to scams, phishing, and hacks on a massive scale. Read the full story.

Melissa Heikkilä

This story is from The Algorithm, our weekly AI newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

Read more of our fascinating AI reporting:

+ Melissa breaks down exactly why you shouldn’t trust AI search engines.

+ Three ways AI chatbots are a security disaster. Large language models are full of security vulnerabilities, yet they’re being embedded into tech products on a vast scale. Read the full story.

+ Now you can chat with ChatGPT using your voice. The new feature is part of a round of updates for OpenAI’s app, including the ability to answer questions about images. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 Meet the key players in Sam Bankman-Fried’s fraud trial
The FTX founder’s former inner circle will be giving evidence from today. (FT $)
+ He’s facing charges of fraud and money laundering. (NYT $)
+ Why Silicon Valley loves fraud. (Wired $)

2 There’s an battle brewing over making AI open-source
Meta wants to make its code readily available. OpenAI doesn’t agree. (The Information $)
+ The open-source AI boom is built on Big Tech’s handouts. How long will it last? (MIT Technology Review)

3 A satellite TV company has been slapped with a space debris fine 

Dish Network admitted it hadn’t disposed of its defunct satellite properly. (CNBC)
+ The race to privatize space is well under way. (Slate $)
+ Earth is probably safe from a killer asteroid for 1,000 years. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Amazon is launching its own AI-powered search engine
In a bid to boost its flagging mobile sales. (Insider $)

5 The year’s worst hack keeps getting worse
Months after it was initially uncovered, new victims are still being discovered. (Wired $)

6 An ad-free version of Instagram could soon be a reality
But only if you live in Europe and are willing to pay $14 a month for it. (WSJ $)
+ TikTok seems to be experimenting with an ad-free version too. (The Verge)

7 New salty batteries are on the horizon
Humble rock salt could be our best bet to replace lithium cathodes. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ How sodium could change the game for batteries. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Our gaming ethics are highly personal
While some people relish in killing and cheating, others choose the moral high ground. (The Guardian)

9 Silicon Valley is embracing quiet luxury 🧢
They’re all dressing like Kendall Roy now. (NY Mag $)

10 TikTok snoops are making us scared to gossip
Venting in public could get you canceled these days. (Vox)

Quote of the day

“It’s a knife fight right now.”

—Colin Butler, global head of institutional capital at blockchain firm Polygon Labs, tells Reuters investors are competing for new ways to make money from blockchain technology.

The big story

Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone?

December 2022

It was clear that OpenAI was on to something. In late 2021, a small team of researchers was playing around with a new version of OpenAI’s text-to-image model, DALL-E, an AI that converts short written descriptions into pictures: a fox painted by Van Gogh, perhaps, or a corgi made of pizza. Now they just had to figure out what to do with it.

Nobody could have predicted just how big a splash this product was going to make. The rapid release of other generative models has inspired hundreds of newspaper headlines and magazine covers, filled social media with memes, kicked a hype machine into overdrive—and set off an intense backlash from creators.

The exciting truth is, we don’t really know what’s coming next. While creative industries will feel the impact first, this tech will give creative superpowers to everybody. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

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 live in North or South America, an eclipse is on the horizon. Here’s how to best enjoy it.
+ A peaceful bit of paint mixing is exactly what I needed this morning.
+ How many of these highest-ranking restaurants in the world have you visited?
+ This celebration of 70s funk soundtracks is undeniably funky.
+ A mysterious circular island in Argentina sounds like something out of a sci-fi blockbuster, but it’s completely real.

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