The Download: Google’s big bet on AI, and a new human genome map

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.

Google is throwing generative AI at everything

The news: Google is stuffing powerful new AI tools into tons of its existing products and launching a slew of new ones, including a coding assistant, it announced at its annual I/O conference on Wednesday. 

What’s changing: Billions of users will soon see Google’s latest AI language mode, PaLM 2, integrated into over 25 products like Maps, Docs, Gmail, Sheets, and the company’s chatbot, Bard, which it’s opening up to a bigger pool of users. This is the company’s biggest push yet to integrate the latest wave of AI technology into a variety of products.

Why it matters: Because of safety and reputational risks, Google has been slower than competitors to launch AI-powered products. But fierce competition from competitors like Microsoft, OpenAI and others have left it feeling it has no choice but to push ahead. Experts warn that it’s a risky strategy that could backfire and run afoul of the regulators. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

This new genome map tries to capture all human genetic variation

After more than 20 years of claiming they completed the human genome project, researchers have announced yet another version of the human genome map.

Whereas past versions of the project claimed to be a draft of the genetic blueprint for a human being, this update combines the complete DNA of 47 diverse individuals—Africans, Native Americans, and Asians, among other groups—into one giant genetic atlas that they say better captures the genetic diversity of our species.

The new map, called a “pangenome,” has been a decade in the making, and researchers say it will only get bigger. Crucially, it could hold exciting possibilities for diagnosing rare diseases. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

How sodium could change the game for batteries

Although lithium-ion batteries power most EVs and devices like cell phones and laptops today, there’s a new contender on the horizon.

Sodium-ion batteries could squeeze their way into some corners of the battery market as soon as the end of this year, and they could be huge in cutting costs for EVs. 

Casey Crownhart, our climate reporter, has dug into the chemistry behind sodium batteries, and what their wider adoption by automakers could mean for the future of EVs. Read the full story.

Casey’s story is from The Spark, her weekly newsletter covering all the latest climate and energy developments. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

1 US Congress is going to hear from OpenAI’s Sam Altman next week
It comes as AI starts to face growing scrutiny in Washington. (WP $)
+ European lawmakers are formalizing their requirements for AI makers. (TechCrunch)
+ China’s AI chatbots are lagging behind the US’ recent releases. (Economist $)
+ The EU wants to regulate your favorite AI tools. (MIT Technology Review)

2 We’re still working out covid’s mysterious new variants
The baffling ways its proteins fit together—and disappear—are confounding scientists. (The Atlantic $)

3 A shadowy hacking group is targeting both Russia and Ukraine
It’s gathered a surprising amount of unusual data, including microphone recordings. (Wired $)
+ The war in Ukraine has turned the defense industry on its head. (FT $)
+ Why business is booming for military AI startups. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Things are looking up for Chinese chipmakers
One of the industry’s leading companies won’t be hindered by US export controls after all. (FT $)
+ What’s next for the chip industry. (MIT Technology Review)

5 WhatsApp has a spam calls problem
Its users in India are contending with a deluge of unwanted phone calls. (BBC)
+ The people using humor to troll their spam texts. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Prison messaging apps are notoriously unreliable
Their glitches leave inmates cut off from the outside world. (Slate $) 

7 Inside the wild plot to steal Coca-Cola’s secretive technology 
It’s nothing to do with its drink formula. (Bloomberg $)

8 A scammer has been cashing in on AI-generated Frank Ocean tracks
The problem is, the buyers were convinced they were genuine leaks. (Motherboard)

9 Live shopping is coming to the US
But are shoppers really ready to embrace it? (NYT $)
+ This obscure shopping app is now America’s most downloaded. (MIT Technology Review)

10 How an innocent capybara sparked an online revolt 
Brazilian authorities were concerned for the famous rodent’s welfare. (Rest of World)

Quote of the day

“We want it to be trustworthy for users… Today, we are not there.”

—Prabhakar Raghavan, a senior vice president at Google, admits that large language AI models cannot be relied upon to be factually accurate, despite the company’s decision to embed them across its products, Bloomberg reports.

The big story

California’s coming offshore wind boom faces big engineering hurdles

December 2022

The state of California has an ambitious goal: building 25 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2045. That’s equivalent to nearly a third of the state’s total generating capacity today, or enough to power 25 million homes.

But the plans are facing a daunting geological challenge: the continental shelf drops steeply just a few miles off the California coast. They also face enormous engineering and regulatory obstacles.  Read the full story.

—James Temple

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.)

+ The internet is tying itself in knots trying to work out whether the sun is white or yellow.
+ This is a fun look at how The Legend of Zelda influenced so much of modern music.
+ The fascinating story behind how the electric guitar really came to be.
+ This collection of laughably awful metal album covers is the gift that keeps on giving.
+ Why hibernating in space is more possible than you may realize.

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