The Download: fetal brain surgery, and a White House AI summit

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.

Doctors have performed brain surgery on a fetus in one of the first operations of its kind

What’s happened: A seven-week-old baby girl is one of the first people to have undergone an experimental brain operation while still in the womb. She had developed a dangerous condition that led blood to pool in a tiny pocket in her brain, which could have resulted in brain damage, heart problems, and breathing difficulties after birth. The operation might have saved her life.

How they did it: Doctors used ultrasound imaging to help them guide a needle through the mother’s abdomen, the uterus wall, and the fetus’s skull and into the malformation in the brain. They then fed a tiny catheter through the needle to deliver a series of tiny platinum coils into the blood-filled pocket. Once each was released, it expanded, helping to block the point where the artery joined the vein. The baby girl was born healthy a couple of days later.

What’s next: The team behind the operation now plans to treat more fetuses with similar brain conditions in the same way. For conditions like these, fetal brain surgery could be the future. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

If you’d like to read more about this fascinating story, check out the latest issue of The Checkup, Jessica’s weekly biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

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

1 The White House is trying to persuade AI firms to be more ethical
Good luck with that. (NYT $)
+ Everyone seems to agree we need new regulations, but the US government doesn’t seem to know how to proceed. (WP $)
+ The UK’s competition watchdog is reviewing the AI market. (The Guardian)

2 The FDA has approved the first RSV vaccine
The cold-like virus kills thousands of Americans each year. (Vox)

3 Google is rapidly accelerating its work on AI 
Just as calls for the industry to slow everything down grow louder. (WP $)
+ Its biggest rival, OpenAI, is burning through money. (The Information $)
+ Microsoft’s AI-powered Bing still isn’t delivering on its promises. (The Atlantic $)

4  Neuralink’s oversights board is riddled with potential conflicts
The majority of its 22 members are its own staff. (Reuters)
+ Elon Musk’s Neuralink is neuroscience theater. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Bluesky is a haven for Twitter’s marginalized users
The early adopters hope to shape the platform’s community. (NBC News)
+ We’re witnessing the brain death of Twitter. (MIT Technology Review)

6 What it’ll take to tap into geothermal energy in Texas
Drilling pipes into hot rocks, controversial fracking and a whole lot of money. (Wired $)
+ An ambitious startup wants to pull carbon dioxide straight out of the ocean. (The Verge)

7 Therapy apps aren’t looking after their users’ data 
Sensitive information is vulnerable to interception thanks to deceptive privacy policies.  (The Verge)

8 Why e-fuels for EVs aren’t taking off 
The industry is paying all its attention to planes, rather than Earth-bound vehicles. (The Guardian)
+ Hydrogen-powered planes take off with startup’s test flight. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Would you eat a 3D-printed fish fillet? 🐟
A foodtech company claims to have created the first ever fillet using lab-grown cells. (Reuters)
+ Will lab-grown meat reach our plates? (MIT Technology Review)

10 What the rise of Temu means for modern shopping 🛍
It’s making companies like Amazon look like unnecessary middlemen. (NY Mag $)
+ Why my bittersweet relationship with Shein had to end. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“We have no secret sauce.”

—A leaked Google document lays bare senior software engineer Luke Sernau’s concerns that open-source AI models will quickly eclipse both Google and OpenAI’s efforts, Bloomberg reports.

The big story

How to spot AI-generated text

December 2022

This sentence was written by an AI—or was it? OpenAI’s chatbot, ChatGPT, presents us with a problem: How will we know whether what we read online is written by a human or a machine?

Since it was released in November 2022, ChatGPT has been used by over a million people. It has the AI community enthralled, and it is clear the internet is increasingly being flooded with AI-generated text. 

We’re in desperate need of ways to differentiate between human- and AI-written text in order to counter potential misuses of the technology. And while labs are racing to develop tools tasked with spotting AI-generated text, they’re not always reliable. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

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.)

+ What I wouldn’t give to pop by this relaxing cat spa
+ The history of so-called ‘fairy butter’ stretches back hundreds of years. 🧚 
+ What keeps us coming back to playing the lottery, even when we know our odds of winning are staggeringly slim.
+ Take a look at the trials and tribulations of becoming a writer.
+ What happens to the guide dogs who don’t quite make the cut? They’re still very good boys (and girls)

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