The Download: Google’s AI cuteness overload, and America’s fight for gun control

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.

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Another month, another flood of weird, wonderful and cute images generated by an artificial intelligence. In April, OpenAI showed off its new picture-making neural network, DALL-E 2, which could produce remarkable high-res images of almost anything it was asked to. 

Now, just a few weeks later, Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. And it performs even better than DALL-E 2: it scores higher on a standard measure for rating the quality of computer-generated images and the pictures it produced were preferred by a group of human judges.

But like OpenAI did with DALL-E, Google is going all in on cuteness. Both firms promote their tools with a series of pictures filled with anthropomorphic animals doing adorable things: a fuzzy panda dressed as a chef making dough, a corgi sitting in a house made of sushi, a teddy bear swimming the 400m butterfly at the Olympics—and it goes on.

This cuteness hides a darker side to these tools, one that the public doesn’t get to see because it would reveal the ugly truth about how they are created. Read the full story—and see more pictures created by Imagen—here.

—Will Douglas Heaven

The must-reads

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

1 The Uvalde school shooting is strengthening urgent calls for gun control
Lawmakers are pushing for an end to America’s gun violence epidemic. (The Guardian)
+ President Biden asks when America is going to stand up to the gun lobby. (Politico)
+ Texas has some of the most lenient gun laws in the country. (NYT $)

2 Social media is woefully underprepared to archive evidence of war crimes
And pressures to remove gruesome content quickly is complicating the issue. (Coda Story)

3 Remote educational apps tracked children and hoarded their data 
They were then targeted with ads.(WP $)

4 The price of electronics is likely to rise
Along with the cost of anything else that relies on semiconductors. (CNBC)
+ The great chip crisis threatens the promise of Moore’s Law. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Facial recognition is retraumatizing revenge porn survivors
PimEyes’ paid-for service creates a database of searchable images, some of which are sexually explicit. (CNN)
+ A horrifying AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Tech hasn’t delivered on its promise to make us more productive
And experts are divided over whether it ever will. (NYT $)
+Tech alone is rarely enough to create significant benefits. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Social media challenges have become modern day relics
No, TikTok dances don’t count. (The Atlantic $)
+ There’s a fine line between following a trend and plagiarizing. (Vox) 

8 Forging Australia’s digital driving licenses is scarily easy
It takes well under an hour. (Ars Technica)
+ California should take note before it starts testing digital licenses. (LA Times

9 Musicians claim they’re being pressured by their labels to go viral on TikTok
But their objections have also been labeled as attempts to go viral. (Fast Company)

10 How you manage stress can lower your biological age
Which is the age of your cells and organs, not your chronological “birth” age. (WSJ $)
+ Aging clocks aim to predict how long you’ll live. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“The only way to protect your customers’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place.”

—An open letter from 42 Democrat lawmakers urges Google CEO Sundar Pichai to stop collecting location data that could be used to identify people seeking abortions, according to CNBC.

The big story

Artificial general intelligence: Are we close, and does it even make sense to try?

A machine that could think like a person has been the guiding vision of AI research since the earliest days—and remains its most divisive idea. Artificial General Intelligence, or AGI, has become a common buzzword for human-like or superhuman AI, as well as a catchall for the hopes and fears surrounding an entire technology. But is it a reckless, misleading dream—or the ultimate goal? Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

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.)

+ Cool fact of the day— dolphins can identify their friends by taste.
+ France’s first fondue championship looks like an absolute riot.
+ Some kind-hearted paddleboarders rescued a stranded deer found in a cave in England.
+ The top item of clothing Americans bought during the pandemic? Turns out it was socks.
+ Hold the front page—naps are officially good for you.

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