The Download: China’s AI chatbots go public, and how climate change is affecting hurricanes

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.

Chinese ChatGPT alternatives just got approved for the general public

The news: Baidu, one of China’s leading artificial-intelligence companies, has announced it’s opening up access to its ChatGPT-like large language model, Ernie Bot, to the general public.

The context:  Launched in mid-March, Ernie Bot was the first Chinese ChatGPT rival. Since then, many Chinese tech companies, including Alibaba and ByteDance, have followed suit and released their own models. Yet all of them force users to sit on waitlists or go through approval systems, making the products mostly inaccessible for ordinary users

What’s next: On August 30, Baidu posted on social media that it will also release a batch of new AI applications within the Ernie Bot as the company rolls out open registration today. But even with the new access, it’s unclear how many people will use the products. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Here’s what we know about hurricanes and climate change

It’s now possible to link climate change to all kinds of extreme weather, from droughts to flooding to wildfires.

Hurricanes are no exception—scientists have found that warming temperatures are causing stronger and less predictable storms. That’s a concern, because hurricanes are already among the most deadly and destructive extreme weather events around the world. In the US alone, three hurricanes each caused over $1 billion in damages in 2022. In a warming world, we can expect the totals to rise.

But the relationship between climate change and hurricanes is more complicated than most people realize. Here’s what we know, and—as Hurricane Idalia batters the Florida coast—what to expect from the storms to come. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

Casey’s story is part of MIT Technology Review Explains, designed to help you make sense of what’s coming next. Check out the rest of the stories in the series.

If you’d like to read more about how climate charge can supercharge hurricanes, take a look at the most recent edition of The Spark, Casey’s weekly climate newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

The must-reads

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

1 X wants to collect your biometric data
Elon Musk’s ongoing crusade to rid the platform of bot accounts has taken a sinister turn. (Bloomberg $)
+ Audio and video calls are also in the company’s pipeline. (Mashable)

2 The United Arab Emirates is getting into generative AI
It hopes to bring bilingual LLMs to more than 400 million Arabic speakers worldwide. (FT $)
+ German startup Aleph Alpha wants to be the European OpenAI. (Wired $)
+ How AWS spectacularly fumbled its AI lead. (The Information $)
+ The inside story of how ChatGPT was built from the people who made it. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Meta has declined to suspend the account of Cambodia’s leader
Despite the request coming from its own board. (WP $)
+ The company has internally admitted stifling legitimate political speech. (The Intercept)

4 A grocery delivery app encouraged its workers to brave Hurricane Idalia  
‘Bad Weather = Good Tips,’ it told them. (Motherboard)
+ Georgia has declared a state of emergency. (The Guardian)
+ Conspiracy theorists are attempting to downplay natural disasters online. (NYT $)

5 YouTube’s radicalization crackdown appears to have worked
Extremist videos are harder to find, but learning from the past remains critical. (The Atlantic $)
+ YouTube’s algorithm seems to be funneling people to alt-right videos. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Cheap Chromebooks aren’t the good deal they used to be
And schools end up stuck with piles of increasingly useless machines. (WSJ $)

7 It’s scarily easy to track someone on the NYC subway
Your journey history is available to anyone with your financial details. (404 Media)

8 Burning Man is seriously bad for the planet
Just traveling to the festival comes has a high environmental cost. (Vox)

9 Smashing up asteroids creates new space debris ☄
Which we need to keep an eye on to make sure it’s not more dangerous than the original threat. (Wired $)
+ Watch the moment NASA’s DART spacecraft crashed into an asteroid. (MIT Technology Review)

10 We’re learning more about how to treat chronic pain
For some patients, electrical nerve stimulation is offering relief when nothing else works. (Economist $)
+ Brain waves can tell us how much pain someone is in. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“It just gives me a negative vibe.”

—Belinda Davey, a 36-year-old retail worker in Australia, tells the Wall Street Journal why she created a shortcut that replaces X’s new logo with the original Twitter bird.

The big story

We used to get excited about technology. What happened?

October 2022

As a philosopher who studies AI and data, Shannon Vallor’s Twitter feed is always filled with the latest tech news. Increasingly, she’s realized that the constant stream of information is no longer inspiring joy, but a sense of resignation.

Joy is missing from our lives, and from our technology. Its absence is feeding a growing unease being voiced by many who work in tech or study it. Fixing it depends on understanding how and why the priorities in our tech ecosystem have changed. Read the full story.

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.)

+ I’m loving these photos of the blue supermoon from across the world (did you see it?)
+ Wait, is that Bob Dylan?
+ Dreaming isn’t just for humans—spiders may do it too.
+ It’s officially time to bring back 1930s slang (it’ll blow your wig)
+ Who doesn’t love pistachios?

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