The Download: explaining the recent AI panic, and digital inequality in the US

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.

How existential risk became the biggest meme in AI

Who’s afraid of the big bad bots? A lot of people, it seems. Hundreds of scientists, business leaders, and policymakers have recently made public pronouncements or signed open letters warning of the catastrophic dangers of artificial intelligence, from deep learning pioneer Geoffrey Hinton to California congressman Ted Lieu.

We’ve been here before: AI doom follows AI hype. But this time feels different. What were once extreme views are now mainstream talking points, grabbing not only headlines but the attention of world leaders.

Has AI really become (more) dangerous? And why are the people who ushered in this tech now the ones raising the alarm? Or is the looming specter of regulation to blame? Read the full story.

Will Douglas Heaven

If you’re interested in reading more about AI existential risk, check out the most recent edition of The Algorithm, our weekly AI newsletter written by Melissa Heikkilä—and don’t forget to sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

How climate vulnerability and the digital divide are linked

Walking around low-income neighborhoods throughout the US, Monica Sanders has noticed a pattern. The adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University measures Wi-Fi speeds as part of a project drawing connections between a host of indicators at the intersection of internet availability, environmental risk, and historical racial inequity.

Sanders has found that a lack of internet access mirrors other inequities. In neighborhoods shaped by racism and insufficient infrastructure investment, residents can face disproportionate risk from climate change, affecting everything from flood vulnerability to the ability to get disaster warnings. And she wants to empower them to tackle whatever next comes their way.  Read the full story.

—Colleen Hagerty

This story is from our forthcoming print issue, which is all about accessibility. If you haven’t already, subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out on future stories—subscriptions start from just $80 a year.

The must-reads

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

1 OpenAI lobbied the EU to water down AI regulation
And it appears as though its suggestions were heeded. (Time $)
+ Asset managers are freaking out about AI and human rights issues. (FT $)
+ Our quick guide to the 6 ways we can regulate AI. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Twitter’s new rules could thwart war crime investigations
Charging for access to its previously-free API will shut out researchers. (WSJ $)
+ The online volunteers hunting for war crimes in Ukraine. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Redditors are coming up with new, creative forms of protest
Landed gentry memes are taking over, because why not? (TechCrunch)
+ Pictures of talk show host John Oliver are rife, too. (BBC)

4 China’s tech industry is bouncing back
It’s been a tough year, but the AI boom is lending a helping hand. (Bloomberg $)

5 Apple is going after intellectual property rights to pictures of apples 🍏
Switzerland’s largest fruit farmer’s organization isn’t taking it lying down. (Wired $)

6 Transitioning away from plastic comes with a hidden cost
Millions of waste pickers are likely to be left without livelihoods. (Slate)
+ In defense of plastic (sort of). (MIT Technology Review)

7 Employers don’t want to pay for your Ozempic
That’s not stopping pharma companies from trying to persuade them to, though. (Insider $)

+ Weight-loss injections have taken over the internet. But what does this mean for people IRL? (MIT Technology Review)

8 Deadly fungal infections are on the rise
They can be hard to treat, but scientists are racing to develop the first anti-fungal vaccine. (Inverse)

9 Even carsellers are confused by EVs
Plenty of savings are hiding in plain sight, but not everyone takes advantage of them. (Vox)
+ China’s an EV leader, but its residents aren’t buying. (Bloomberg $)
+ Europe, meanwhile, is lagging behind. (Reuters)
+ In the clash of the EV chargers, it’s Tesla vs. everyone else. (MIT Technology Review)

10 You can become a millionaire influencer 💰
Brazilian company Hotmart has the track record to prove it—if you can afford its fees. (Rest of World)

Quote of the day

“There’s no way to escape, even if you rise to the surface by yourself. You cannot get out of the sub without a crew on the outside letting you out.”

—David Pogue, a CBS reporter who’s previously traveled in the tourist submarine that has disappeared during a dive to the Titanic’s wreck, describes the severity of the crew’s situation to the BBC.

The big story

House-flipping algorithms are coming to your neighborhood

April 2022

When Michael Maxson found his dream home in Nevada, it was not owned by a person but by a tech company, Zillow. When he went to take a look at the property, however, he discovered it damaged by a huge water leak. Despite offering to handle the costly repairs himself, Maxson discovered that the house had already been sold to another family, at the same price he had offered.

During this time, Zillow lost more than $420 million in three months of erratic house buying and unprofitable sales, leading analysts to question whether the entire tech-driven model is really viable. For the rest of us, a bigger question remains: Does the arrival of Silicon Valley tech point to a better future for housing or an industry disruption to fear? Read the full story.

—Matthew Ponsford

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’re looking to expand your video game repertoire, these 10 hits from lesser-known studios are a great place to start.
+ Elusive graffiti artist Banksy is back—with a new show.
+ What better way to see the sights of Boston than by bike?
+ Real life, or Black Mirror episode? You be the judge.
+ This ‘primitive hut’ looks pretty swanky to me.

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