The Download: ChatGPT gets even chattier, and recreating space on Earth

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.

You can now have a voice conversation with ChatGPT 

The news: OpenAI has launched two new ways to interact with its flagship large language model in a major update. You can have a spoken conversation with the chatbot as if you were making a call, and it’s also able to answer questions about images.

How it works: The ability to talk to ChatGPT draws on two separate models. Whisper, OpenAI’s existing speech-to-text model, converts what you say into text, which is then fed to the chatbot. And a new text-to-speech model converts ChatGPT’s responses into spoken words.

Why it matters: This grab bag of updates shows just how fast OpenAI is spinning its experimental models into desirable products. OpenAI has spent much of the time since its surprise hit with ChatGPT last November polishing its technology and selling it to both private consumers and commercial partners—including Spotify. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

These scientists live like astronauts without leaving Earth

For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world by studying the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctica and other remote outposts.

Across the world, around 20 “analog” space facilities host people who volunteer to be study subjects, isolating themselves for weeks or months in polar stations, desert outposts, or even sealed habitats inside NASA centers. 

These places are intended to mimic how people might fare on Mars or the moon, or on long-term orbital stations. Such research can help test out medical and software tools, enhance indoor agriculture, and address the difficulties analog astronauts face, including those that come when their “missions” are over. Read the full story.

—Sarah Scoles

An inside look at Congress’s first AI regulation forum

Recently, we wrote a quick guide about what we might expect at Congress’s first AI Insight Forum. Well, now that meeting has happened, and we have some important information about what was discussed behind closed doors in the tech-celeb-studded confab.

Inioluwa Deborah Raji, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and a fellow at Mozilla, was among the exclusive list of attendees. An expert in AI accountability, bias, and risk assessments, she’s given us an inside look at how the first meeting went, the pernicious myths she needed to debunk, and where disagreements could be felt in the room. Read the full story.

Tate Ryan-Mosley

This story is from The Technocrat, our weekly newsletter covering technology and the politics that governs it. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

If you’re interested in how the US Congress might approach AI legislation, check out some of our recent reporting:

+ An important guide to the three things to know about how the US Congress might regulate AI. 

+ What to know about Congress’s inaugural AI meeting, held earlier this month. The forum brought together some of the top people in AI to discuss the risks and opportunities posed by advances in this technology. 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 Meta is working on chatbots with character 
AI agents with superior intellect, sharp wit, and biting sarcasm are on their way. (WSJ $)
+ AI personal assistants are on the horizon—providing you actually want them. (Vox)
+ AI’s inexhaustible march towards the workplace seems impossible to avoid. (Slate $)
+ Chinese AI chatbots want to be your emotional support. (MIT Technology Review)

2 NASA has collected an asteroid sample for the first time
It’s an incredible insight into the origins of the solar system. (The Verge)
+ The agency has a second asteroid in its sights already. (WP $)
+ NASA’s advanced batteries could hold promise for the Grid on Earth. (IEEE Spectrum)

3 Amazon is sinking up to $4 billion in Anthropic
That’s one way to give itself a much-needed generative AI boost. (Bloomberg $)
+ Anthropic also has an agreement with Google. (Reuters)

4 Building factories in space is challenging, but not impossible
Technically, space’s specific conditions could make it easier to manufacture certain goods, like crystals. (The Guardian)
+ What’s next for the moon. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Iran’s religious leaders are intrigued by AI 
Including the possibility of using robots to issue fatwas. (FT $)

6 California’s governor has blocked an autonomous truck safety bill
Human safety operators won’t be required after all.(TechCrunch)
+ This driverless car company is using chatbots to make its vehicles smarter. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Climate deniers have a new playbook
Turning activists against each other is just one of their tactics. (Vox)
+ The flawed logic of rushing out extreme climate interventions. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Obituary pirates are hijacking people’s grief
Creepy YouTube videos containing death notice summaries are on the rise. (Wired $)

9 Birth patterns in the US are shifting
Traditionally, births peak in late summer, but modern life is changing that. (The Atlantic $)

10 Would you pay $500 a month for Tinder?
Its owners are hoping the app’s super-users will cough up. (Bloomberg $)

Quote of the day

“Are you playing fantasy football, or is your team just a fantasy?”

—ChatGPT offers a stinging critique of a fantasy football player’s team, after organizer Yahoo started using the AI chatbot to tease its participants’ teams and player choices, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The big story

Finding homes for the waste that will (probably) outlive humanity

October 2020

Since 2013, when regulators decided to shut California’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station down, teams of scientists, engineers, and policymakers have been hard at work to make sure it could be safely decommissioned.

The big question is: what to do with all the spent nuclear fuel? Its radioactive waste could outlast the human race, and is being kept in storage holes buried along the seismically active California coastline.

They are sitting ducks for the next big earthquake, which is likely to hit within the next century. If the nuclear waste somehow got out, the results would be devastating. And the fact the problem exists at all highlights how the US government has so far been unable to fulfill its legal duty to find a long-term home for America’s radioactive waste. Read the full story.

—Wudan Yan

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.)

+ Welcome to the Shire!
+ Enjoy this potted history of the Revenge Dress, as made famous by Princess Di.
+ In theory, colors may appear differently on other planets, which is crazy.
+ A baby giraffe has been spotted in Namibia—without any spots 🦒
+ These photos are a fascinating insight into how children live across the world.

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