The Download: Geoffrey Hinton’s AI fears, and decoding our thoughts

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.

Geoffrey Hinton tells us why he’s now scared of the tech he helped build

Geoffrey Hinton is a pioneer of deep learning who helped develop some of the most important techniques at the heart of modern artificial intelligence. But after a decade at Google, he is stepping down to focus on new concerns he now has about AI.  

Stunned by the capabilities of new large language models like GPT-4, Hinton wants to raise public awareness of the serious risks that he now believes may accompany the technology he ushered in.    

Will Douglas Heaven, our senior AI editor, sat down with Hinton at his north London home just four days before the bombshell announcement of his departure. Hinton explained his belief that machines are on track to be a lot smarter than he thought they’d be—and why he’s scared about how that might play out. Read the full story.

Keep ahead of everything you need to know about AI by signing up to The Algorithm, MIT Technology Review’s weekly AI newsletter. Read the latest issue, which is all about the importance of bringing consent to AI.

Brain scans can translate a person’s thoughts into words

What’s happened: A noninvasive brain-computer interface capable of converting a person’s thoughts into words could one day help people who have lost the ability to speak as a result of injuries like strokes or conditions including ALS. 

How they did it: In a new study, published in Nature Neuroscience, a model trained on functional magnetic resonance imaging scans of three volunteers was able to predict whole sentences they were hearing with surprising accuracy—just by looking at their brain activity. 

Why it matters: The experiment raises ethical issues around the possible future use of brain decoders for surveillance and interrogation, demonstrating the need for future policies to protect our brain data. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

The must-reads

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

1 TikTok will fight deepfakes by labeling AI videos 
But it’s unclear whether it’ll be a requirement or an option. (The Information $)
+ Artists don’t know how to handle AI-generated tracks. (The Verge)
+ Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)

2 Tech companies are gaming the US foreign visa system
They’re entering applications multiple times in the hopes of boosting their chances. (WSJ $)

3 Israel is using facial recognition to track Palestinians 
The technology is making it easier to usher in “automated apartheid.” (NYT $)
+ Israeli spy company NSO Group held talks about a US distribution deal. (FT $)

4 Amazon’s health clinic is a privacy minefield
Its services authorize the company to access a person’s complete patient file. (WP $)
+ Its Halo fitness service is dead in the water. (The Verge)

5 Landlord tech is making tenants’ lives a misery
Property management software allows unscrupulous landlords to hide behind algorithms. (Motherboard)
+ House-flipping algorithms are coming to your neighborhood. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How Saudi cash took over Silicon Valley—again
Money’s tight, and cash-strapped startups are willing to look the other way. (Vox)

7 Social media scams are on the rise
Young people seem to be especially trusting when it comes to handing over their details. (WSJ $)

8 Who gets to make the rules in space?
Private companies are jostling to be the first to stake their claim. (Bloomberg $)
+ What’s next in space. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Inside the clinic that claims to have cracked life extension
Age-related diseases are tough to treat, but BioViva is confident it has a solution. (Wired $)
+ Sam Altman invested $180 million into a company trying to delay death. (MIT Technology Review)

10 TikTok is bracing itself for the UK coronation 👑
Prepare for an onslaught of outfit analysis and family drama. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“It’s like they went from ‘move fast and break things’ to ‘slow down, break things,’ then ‘maybe fix it later on a case-by-case.’”

—A Facebook worker describes how the company’s employees are losing faith in Mark Zuckerberg to the Washington Post.

The big story

A feminist internet would be better for everyone

April 2021

A vision of an internet free from harassment, hate, and misogyny might seem far-fetched, particularly if you’re a woman. But a small, growing group of activists believe the time has come to reimagine online spaces in a way that centers women’s needs rather than treating them as an afterthought. 

They aim to force tech companies to detoxify their platforms, once and for all, and are spinning up brand-new spaces built on women-friendly principles from the start. This is the dream of a “feminist internet.”

The movement might seem naïve in a world where many have given up on the idea of technology as a force for good. But aspects of the feminist internet are already taking shape. Read the full story.

—Charlotte Jee

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.)

+ Wait a minute: how come poisonous frogs and other amphibians don’t poison themselves?
+ It’s not just you: pop songs really are shorter now.
+ California’s retro gaming arcades really are a thing of beauty.
+ A heartwarming tale for fans of Babe the Sheep-pig: actor James Cromwell has saved his very own porcine friend.
+ Educate yourself on the proper names for these delicious noodle varieties.

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