The Download: playing games with AI

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.

How generative AI could reinvent what it means to play

To make them feel alive, open-world games like Red Dead Redemption 2 are inhabited by vast crowds of computer-controlled characters. These animated people—called NPCs, for “nonplayer characters”—make these virtual worlds feel lived in and full. Often—but not always—you can talk to them.

After a while, however, the repetitive chitchat (or threats) of a passing stranger forces you to bump up against the truth: This is just a game. It’s still fun, but the illusion starts to weaken when you poke at it. 

It’s only natural. Video games are carefully crafted objects, part of a multibillion-dollar industry, that are designed to be consumed. You play them, you finish, you move on. 

It may not always be like that. Just as it is upending other industries, generative AI is opening the door to entirely new kinds of in-game interactions that are open-ended, creative, and unexpected. The game may not always have to end. Read the full story.

—Niall Firth

The Future of AI Games

If you’re interested in hearing more about how generative AI will revolutionize how we play games in the future, register now for our next exclusive subscriber-only Roundtable discussion

Our executive editor Niall Firth and editorial director Allison Arieff will be talking about games without limits, the future of play, and much more. Join us next Monday 24 June at 11:30am ET!

The must-reads

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

1 Ilya Sutskever is launching a new AI research lab  
The OpenAI cofounder’s Safe Superintelligence project aims to create just that. (Bloomberg $)
+ He’s the latest in a line of former OpenAI workers to tackle safe AI. (FT $)
+ Check out our interview with Sutskever on his fears for the future of AI. (MIT Technology Review)

2 India’s grid is struggling to cope with its searing heat wave
Prolonged power outages in the north of the country look likely. (The Guardian)
+ Here’s how much heat your body can take. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Silicon Valley is increasing wary of Chinese espionage
Firms are stepping up security and staff screening. (FT $)

4 Chatbots can detect other chatbots’ mistakes
But there’s a danger they could introduce new biases, too. (WP $)
+ The people paid to train AI are outsourcing their work… to AI. (MIT Technology Review)

5 AI search engine Perplexity has a hallucination problem
It makes up quotes and summarizes news articles inaccurately. (Wired $)
+ Why you shouldn’t trust AI search engines. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The EU has canceled a vote on private chat apps
Ambassadors have clashed over how best to safeguard user privacy. (Politico)

7 Semi-solid batteries are the next big thing
With gel electrolytes, specifically. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ How does an EV battery actually work? (MIT Technology Review)

8 Singapore is going all-in on lab-grown meat
Just as the rest of the world reconsiders. (Rest of World)
+ Here’s what a lab-grown burger tastes like. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Dark energy is changing how we think about the universe
Its density appears to have been changing over time. (Economist $)

10 Europe’s trees have synced their fruiting to the sun
One species times its seed release to the summer solstice. (Quanta Magazine)

Quote of the day

“The poorest bear the cost of such climate change.”

—Sunil Kumar Aledia, who runs a homeless charity in India, tells Reuters why the first victims of the country’s deadly heat wave have been people living out in the open.

The big story

Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines

August 2023

In recent years, intelligent autonomous weapons have become a matter of serious concern. Giving an AI system the power to decide matters of life and death would radically change warfare forever.

But weapons that fully displace human decision-making have (likely) yet to see real-world use. Even the “autonomous” drones and ships fielded by the US and other powers are used under close human supervision.

However, these systems have become sophisticated enough to raise novel questions. What does it mean when a decision is only part human and part machine? And when, if ever, is it ethical for that decision to be a decision to kill? Read the full story.

—Arthur Holland Michel

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ How are these ducklings so cute?
+ Those mysterious monoliths are back! This time, near Las Vegas.
+ 1999 was a seminal year for cinema: but which film is your favorite?
+ Happy summer solstice! Here’s how sun-worshiping communities across Europe celebrate the longest day. ☀

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