The Download: the AI Bill of Rights, and fixing the Nord Stream pipelines

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 White House just unveiled a new AI Bill of Rights

The news: US President Biden has today unveiled a new AI Bill of Rights, which outlines five protections Americans should have in the AI age. Biden has in the past called for better privacy safeguards and for tech companies to stop collecting data. But the US — home to some of the world’s biggest tech and AI companies — has so far been one of the only Western nations without clear guidance on how to protect its citizens against AI harms.

Why it matters: AI is a powerful technology that is transforming our societies. The announcement is the White House’s vision of how the US government as well as technology companies and citizens should work together to hold AI accountable. However, critics say the blueprint lacks teeth, and the US needs even stronger regulation around AI. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Here’s how the Nord Stream gas pipelines could be fixed

What’s happened: Until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines were a key part of Europe’s energy infrastructure. Russia has since used Nord Stream as a geopolitical pawn in retaliation to the economic sanctions imposed upon it, and in late September, unexpected damage caused four leaks in the subsea pipeline system. Everyone except Russia believes it’s deliberate sabotage to squeeze gas supplies ahead of a tricky winter shortage in Europe, and now the race is on to fix the vital pipelines before winter—if that’s even possible.

What’s the damage? Any mission will be an unprecedented challenge for the oil and gas sector, requiring complex robotics and imaginative engineering. While we don’t even know for sure how bad the situation is at this stage, the damage is expected to be significant, and could take months—and a great deal of money—to repair. And even if repairs can be made, it’s unlikely that Nord Stream will recommence supplies any time soon. Read the full story.

—Chris Stokel-Walker

Get ready for the next generation of AI

Just when the AI community was wrapping its head around the astounding progress of text-to-image systems, we’re already moving on to the next frontier: text-to-video.

Late last week, Meta unveiled Make-A-Video, an AI that generates five-second videos from text prompts. The development is a breakthrough in generative AI that also raises some tough ethical questions, sparking fears  it could be harnessed as a powerful tool to create and disseminate misinformation. Read the full story.

This story is from The Algorithm, MIT Technology Review’s new weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all the latest cutting-edge AI developments. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

The must-reads

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

1 The US Supreme Court will probe Big Tech’s liability for terror content 
It’s the first time the Court has agreed to examine the limits of Section 230, the law that shields internet firms from legal liability for hosted content. (WSJ $)
+ Why there’s no right to free speech on the internet. (WP $)
+ Why the most controversial US internet law is worth saving. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Elon Musk has sparked fury in Ukraine
President Volodymyr Zelensky hit back at a poll the billionaire tweeted asking whether Ukraine should cede ground to Russia. (BBC)
+ One of Ukraine’s top officials had some choice language for Musk. (CNBC)

3 Conspiracy theorists are threatening a tiny elections company
Despite the fact it has nothing to do with collecting or counting ballots. (NYT $)

4 The US is cracking down on Chinese-made chips
The new rules are the toughest to date. (WP $)
+ Taiwan is caught up in the US and China’s chip war. (The Atlantic $)
+ Samsung has some seriously ambitious semiconductor plans. (CNBC)
+ Inside the software that will become the next battle front in the US-China chip war. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Hurricanes are becoming more destructive
The US is spending millions on supercomputers to keep tabs on them. (FT $)

6 Brazil is split over the trustworthiness of its voting tech
Citizens have been voting electronically for decades, but there are still concerns over rigging. (Rest of World)
+ The presidential candidates will face each other later in the month. (Economist $)

7 You are not your internet identity 
For the perpetually online, it’s getting harder to know the difference. (Wired $)

8 Inside the industry that composts your deceased loved ones
The process, which takes at least two months, is part of a new wave of deathcare. (The Verge
+ US cities have been composting trees, too. (Wired $)

9 The frantic race to equip New York with EV chargers 
Very few drivers have private driveways, meaning public chargers will have to pick up the slack. (Motherboard)
+ The U.S. only has 6,000 fast charging stations for EVs. Here’s where they all are. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Here’s how to encourage people to care about carbon emissions. (Slate $)

10 The world’s biggest camera is nearing completion 🔭
It could be in use in Chile as soon as 2024. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ NASA’s DART asteroid crash last week left a 10,000km tail. (New Scientist $)

Quote of the day

“You can imagine my stress level.”

—Sybren Stüvel, a software developer who lives in Amsterdam, recalls the frustration of an airline check-in system refusing to recognize the umlaut in his surname before a flight to the Wall Street Journal.

The big story

Why are products for older people so ugly?

August 2019

On a drizzly Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco, people are filtering into a small conference room appointed with a whiteboard and subdued black-and-white photography. They’re here to talk about technology—a scene that should be entirely unremarkable in a city filled with small white conference rooms where people are doing exactly the same.

The key difference is that the average age of the 11 women and five men gathered here is somewhere in the mid-70s. They are the Longevity Explorers, part of an experiment to improve the way technology is developed for older adults.

Experts say older adults who still work, or who spend time with younger family members who use technology, are more apt to pick it up. Yet the list of lousy products for older people is long—and progress is incremental. Read the full story.

—Andy Wright

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.)

+ I wish my memory was as good as this dog’s.
+ A banana bread recipe for the ages.
+ Kurt Steiner, stone-skimming legend, has lived a fascinating life.
+ If we could recreate artifacts and paintings using digital recordings of the real things, would we still need to keep precious ancient items in museums?
+ A couple who married after being mixed up as babies? I smell a big screen adaptation!

Main Menu