The Download: Chatbots could one day replace search engines. Here’s why that’s a terrible idea.

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.

Chatbots could one day replace search engines. Here’s why that’s a terrible idea.

Large AI models can simulate natural language with remarkable realism. Trained on hundreds of books and much of the internet, they absorb vast amounts of information.

There’s growing excitement in the tech sector that they might one day replace search engines. In theory we could simply ask a computer a question and it could return a bite-size answer. The trouble is, language models are mindless mimics. They do not understand what they are saying, and cannot reason about what their words convey.

Some researchers are concerned that chatbot search engines could worsen our existing lack of critical thinking around search results. A natural language answer can hide complexity behind a veneer of authority that is not deserved. Experts also fear that it could lead to more misinformation and more polarized debate. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

Why using the oceans to suck up CO2 might not be as easy as hoped

The world’s oceans are amazing carbon sponges, capturing a quarter of human-produced carbon dioxide when surface waters react with the greenhouse gas in the air or marine organisms gobble it up as they grow.

Some research groups and start-ups want to help accelerate this natural process by adding certain minerals to the oceans that could help them lock up even more carbon and slow climate change. The idea has attracted a lot of excitement and investment.

However, a number of recent studies suggest that some of these approaches may not be as effective as scientists had hoped.

That’s disappointing news, because the world may need to suck up an additional 10 billion tons of carbon annually by midcentury to limit warming to 2 ˚C, according to a recent report. Read the full story.

—James Temple

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 The BA.2 omicron subvariant is now dominant in the US
It’s even more contagious than its predecessor—but hasn’t caused more severe illness. (NYT $) 
Covid’s ability to adapt and spread is remarkable. (NYT $)
BA.2 has swept across southeast Asia, Africa and Europe, too. (The Hill)
Americans aged 50 and older are eligible for a second booster. (CNN)

2 How Britain’s worst cyberstalker evaded justice for over a decade
And inflicted misery on at least 62 women in the process. (The Guardian)
3 Tactical nuclear weapons would not help Putin win the war
But fears are growing that he will use them anyway. (WP $)
Cutting Russian civilians’ tech access will help end the war, says a Ukrainian government minister. (WP $)
Ukraine fears Russia could sabotage nuclear plants from the inside. (IEEE Spectrum)
Russia’s telecom regulator wants to fine YouTube up to 8 million rubles. (WP $)
+ A game had to pull its chat function because players kept arguing about the war. (Motherboard
4 The EU’s new tech legislation looks unworkable
It doesn’t look like there’s a way to force messaging apps to be interoperable without compromising security. (Wired $)
But the legislation could help to avoid disinformation and hate speech in the metaverse. (FT $)
5 Toddlers are being left to scroll TikTok 
Eeek. (The Guardian)
+ Meanwhile, adults overestimate their abilities to spot fake social media profiles. (BBC)
6 Apple may have won an Oscar, but does it really matter?
And crucially, is the amount of money it’s sinking into streaming sustainable? (NYT $)
At last, Apple has stopped repairing iPhones marked as missing. (MacRumors)
7 French Polynesia has created its own e-retail network to rival Amazon
Local couriers have flourished where commerce giants dare not tread. (Rest of World
8  Pluto’s huge ice volcanoes suggest it’s warmer than we thought 
That’s the conclusion of a new study analyzing data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which flew past in 2015. (New Scientist $)
9 Photo models can now sign away their biometric data
The information will be used to train third party AI and ML systems. (Motherboard)
Canada’s biometrics screening process is delaying settling Ukrainians.(CBA
10 AI conquered chess and Go—now it’s coming for Bridge 
Can it cheat, though? (The Guardian)
Did you know gifs were around for eight years before they could loop? (Slate)

Quote of the day

“De-escalation is a euphemism for retreat.”

Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of War Studies at King’s College London, tells the New York Times that Russia is trying to re-frame its heavy losses in Ukraine.

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.)

+ Enter this sport in the Olympics immediately.
+ The only thing better than reading about food is eating said food.
+ This is a sweet meditation on raising a hair-loving baby bird (thanks Stefan!)
+A boomer-themed birthday party? I’m in.
+ Sean Paul on his seminal masterpiece “Temperature.
+ Ever wondered what Mean Girls’ Kevin G is up to? Turns out he’s making candles.
+ Ameera, Sesame Street’s new wheelchair-using muppet, looks adorable.

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