The Download: protecting photos from AI, and air-conditioning’s dilemma

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.

This new tool could protect your pictures from AI manipulation

What’s happening? There’s currently nothing stopping someone taking the selfie you posted online last week and editing it using powerful generative AI systems. Even worse, it might be impossible to prove that the resulting image is fake. The good news is that a new tool, created by researchers at MIT, could prevent this. 

How does it work? The tool, called PhotoGuard, works like a protective shield by altering photos in tiny ways that are invisible to the human eye but prevent them from being manipulated. If someone tries to use an editing app based on a generative AI model to manipulate an image that has been “immunized” by PhotoGuard, the result will look unrealistic or warped. 

Why it matters: The need to find ways to detect and stop AI-powered manipulation has never been more urgent, because generative AI tools have made it quicker and easier than ever before. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Why air-conditioning is a climate antihero

Temperatures are rising around the globe, shattering extreme heat records on basically every continent. It’s making air-conditioning less of a “nice to have” and more of an absolute necessity in some parts of the world. 

But air-conditioning is becoming a monster when it comes to energy demand. We might have to add a whole US electrical grid’s worth of new energy generation just to power all the air conditioners that will come online in the next few decades. On the upside, plenty of people are working towards improving existing systems to make them more climate-friendly. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

This story is from The Spark, Casey’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things climate and energy. 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 Scientists are questioning the discovery of a room-temperature superconductor
Some are wondering if the reported breakthrough is too good to be true. (New Scientist $)
+ A major journal has retracted a paper written by one of the same authors. (NYT $)
+ Physicist Ranga Dias is facing accusations that he fabricated data. (Scientific American $)

2 Temperatures are breaking records across the world
But not all records are equal, exactly. (Vox)
+ All these climate disasters are costing us billions of dollars. (Bloomberg $)
+ Scientists are arguing over whether the Atlantic’s currents are really collapsing. (Wired $)
+ More accurate weather forecasting is on the horizon. (Economist $)
+ Weather forecasting is having an AI moment. (MIT Technology Review)

3 AI’s biggest companies are forming a safety body
But it relies on them all openly sharing data with each other which seems… unlikely. (WP $)
+ It’s looking an awful lot like a desire to self-regulate. (FT $)

4 NASA wants to build a nuclear-powered rocket 🚀
In theory, it could speed astronauts to Mars in half the time it currently takes. (NYT $)
+ Quicker journeys would be much better for cooped-up crew members. (WP $)

5 The US is finally getting new EV chargers
But even the 30,000-strong network is falling short of what’s needed. (WSJ $)
+ In the clash of the EV chargers, it’s Tesla vs. everyone else. (MIT Technology Review)

6 AI’s human workers are rising up
Data annotators say they’re overworked, underpaid and mistreated. (The Atlantic $)
+ We are all AI’s free data workers. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Texas police purchased Israeli phone-tracking tech
Authorities are cracking down on migrants attempting to cross the border from Mexico. (The Intercept)
+ The new US border wall is an app. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Fears are growing around China’s self-driving car tech
Experts fear it could build autonomous military vehicles. (Bloomberg $)
+ Meanwhile in San Francisco, a group is waging war against robotaxis. (The Guardian)
+ Robotaxis are here. It’s time to decide what to do about them. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Robots are becoming more human-like
When combined with sophisticated chatbots, the results are even more uncanny. (New Yorker $)+ This four-legged robot is equally comfortable on two legs. (IEEE Spectrum)

10 It’s virtually impossible to compete with Google Search
But a group of former Googlers are having a go. (The Verge)

Quote of the day

“At this time of day you only see tourists in the square. Everyone else is indoors.”

—Panagiotis Vahaviolos, a restaurant owner in Mystras, Greece, despairs at the intense heat wave savaging the country, he tells the Guardian.

The big story

The gig workers fighting back against the algorithms

April 2022

In the Bendungan Hilir neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from Jakarta’s glitzy business district, motorcycle drivers gather in an informal “base camp.” They are drivers with Gojek, Indonesia’s largest ride-hailing firm. They’re also part of the backbone of a growing movement of resistance against the dispatch algorithms that dominate their lives.

Base camps grew out of a tradition that existed before algorithmic ride-hailing services came to Indonesia. They’re the network through which drivers around the city stay in tight communication. 

This sense of community is now at the heart of what distinguishes Jakarta’s drivers from other gig workers around the world, and could reveal a new playbook for resistance: a way for workers to build collective power, achieve a measure of security, and take care of one another when seemingly no one else will. Read the full story.

—Karen Hao & Nadine Freischlad

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.)

+ Uni the charismatic cat sure loves squishing into boxes.
+ Why are we so gripped by near-death experiences?
+ If you’re ever passing through Kings Cross St Pancras station in London, you might be lucky enough to stumble across this kind of impressive duet.
+ The internet can be cruel, especially if you’re called Karen.
+ This is cool: Michelangelo was fond of using male models to depict his female subjects.

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