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 open-source AI boom is built on Big Tech’s handouts. How long will it last?
Last week a leaked memo reported to have been written by Luke Sernau, a senior engineer at Google, said out loud what many in Silicon Valley must have been whispering for weeks: an open-source free-for-all is threatening Big Tech’s grip on AI.
New open-source large language models—alternatives to Google’s Bard or OpenAI’s ChatGPT that researchers and app developers can study, build on, and modify—are dropping like candy from a piñata. These are smaller, cheaper versions of the best-in-class AI models created by the big firms that (almost) match them in performance—and they’re shared for free.
In many ways, that’s a good thing. AI won’t thrive if just a few mega-rich companies get to gatekeep this technology or decide how it is used. But this open-source boom is precarious, and if Big Tech decides to shut up shop, a boomtown could become a backwater. Read the full story.
—Will Douglas Heaven
That wasn’t Google I/O — it was Google AI
Everything about life in the AI era is a bit confusing and weird. Nowhere has this been more apparent than at Google I/O, the company’s annual conference showcasing what it’s been working on—and this year’s show was all about AI.
When Google CEO Sundar Pichai stepped on stage earlier this week, he launched straight into the ways AI is in everything the company does now, making it pretty clear that AI itself now is the core product, or at least, the backbone of it.
Mat Honan, our editor in chief, went to watch the Big Google AI Show. Despite the impressive-looking demos, ultimately he left with a deep sense of unease. Read his story to find out why.
Why tiny viruses could be our best bet against antimicrobial resistance
As you read this, billions of bacteria are crawling all over your body, playing a vital role in your health, and influencing everything from digestion to immune health and even your moods.
But there’s something else that makes a home inside us. Bacteriophages—or phages for short—are microscopic viruses even smaller than our gut microbes. They infect bacteria and turn them into factories to make more of themselves and, excitingly, could usher in a fascinating new method of fighting infection as the deadly threat of antimicrobial resistance looms large. Read the full story.
Jessica’s story is from The Checkup, her weekly biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Twitter has a new CEO
Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s head of advertising, is believed to be preparing to take over. (WSJ $)
+ Her appointment is likely to come as a relief to skittish advertisers. (WP $)
+ Don’t expect Elon Musk to go anywhere, though. (Vox)
2 A new undersea internet cable is in the works
It’s the European Union’s way of lessening reliance on lines in Russia. (FT $)
3 A YouTuber has been accused of deliberately crashing a plane for views
Trevor Jacob could face up to 20 years in prison. (The Guardian)
4 Chiplets could help to kickstart the US’ chipmaking ambitions
They link smaller chips together to create powerful packages. (NYT $)
+ Germany is spending billions on its own chip industry, too. (FT $)
+ What’s next for the chip industry. (MIT Technology Review)
5 Crypto’s true believers are still keeping the faith
No matter how bitter the crypto winter becomes. (Bloomberg $)
+ Uhoh, memecoins are back. (Slate $)
+ It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)
6 Climate lawsuits are seriously risky
While some cases can enact positive change, some can end up thwarting progress altogether. (Knowable Magazine)
+ This startup says its first fusion plant is five years away. Experts doubt it. (MIT Technology Review)
7 Encrypted phones are an essential part of criminals’ arsenal
Unfortunately for them, the companies that make them keep getting shut down. (Motherboard)
+ Erik Prince wants to sell you a “secure” smartphone that’s too good to be true. (MIT Technology Review)
8 Venezuela’s victims of crime are seeking justice on social media
Influencers are taking up their cases when the authorities turn a blind eye. (Rest of World)
9 The biggest cosmic explosion ever seen is happening right now
It was first spotted three years ago, and is showing no signs of slowing. (New Scientist $)
10 The weird world of Uber’s lost property
Okay, who left the rat traps? (Gizmodo)
Quote of the day
“If our incapacity was a problem with traditional internet platforms like Facebook, the issue is ten times as urgent with AI.”
—Sen. Michael Bennet tells Vox that ignorance among US lawmakers is seriously hampering their ability to regulate rapidly-evolving technology.
The big story
Why it’s so hard to make tech more diverse
Tracy Chou has a long history of working to expose Silicon Valley’s diversity issues. As an engineer at Pinterest, she published a widely circulated blog post calling for tech companies to share data on how many women worked on their engineering team, and collected their responses in a public database that revealed how homogeneous many technical teams at top companies still were.
About a year later, she started a company called Block Party that targets online harassment by giving Twitter users more control over which tweets appear in their feed and mentions.
Here, we check in with Chou, who is based in San Francisco, to learn more about what it takes to make change in the tech sector, and what entrepreneurs like her are up against. Read the full story.
We can still have nice things
+ These wood markings are mesmerizing.
+ Airline food has a bad rep, but it wasn’t always this way.
+ Would you like some extra grids with your grids? This useful robot is on hand to help.
+ Here’s how to retain some good old fashioned optimism, even when things are looking pretty bad.
+ If you’ve never seen the original Wicker Man before (not the Nic Cage remake), consider this your official reminder to watch it.