The Download: the battle for satellite internet, and detecting biased 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.

Amazon is about to go head to head with SpaceX in a battle for satellite internet dominance 

What’s coming: Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are about to lock horns once again. Last month, the US Federal Communications Commission approved the final aspects of Project Kuiper, Amazon’s effort to deliver high-speed internet access from space. In May, the company will test its satellites in an effort to take on SpaceX’s own venture, Starlink, and tap into a potentially very lucrative market.

The catch: The key difference is that Starlink is operational, and has been for years, whereas Amazon doesn’t plan to start offering Kuiper as a service until 2024, giving SpaceX a considerable head start. Also, none of the rockets Amazon has bought a ride on has yet made it to space. Read the full story.

—Jonathan O’Callaghan

These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are

The news: A set of new interactive online tools allow people to examine biases in three popular AI image-generating models: DALL-E 2 and the two recent versions of Stable Diffusion. The tools, built by researchers at AI startup Hugging Face and Leipzig University, are detailed in a non-peer-reviewed paper.

Why it matters: It’s well-known that AI image-generating models tend to amplify harmful biases and stereotypes. For example, the researchers found that DALL-E 2 generated white men 97% of the time when given prompts like “CEO” or “director.” Now, people don’t just have to take the experts at their word: they can use these tools to see the problem for themselves. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Taking stock of our climate past, present, and future

Earlier this week, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a major climate report digging deep into the state of climate change research. 

The IPCC works in seven-year cycles, give or take. Each cycle, the group looks at all the published literature on climate change and puts together a handful of reports on different topics, leading up to a synthesis report that sums it all up. This week’s release was one of those synthesis reports.

Because these reports are a sort of summary of existing research, our climate reporter Casey Crownhart has been taking a look at where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we’re going on climate change. What she found was surprisingly heartening. 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. 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 How ChatGPT stole Alexa’s thunder  
The once-ubiquitous voice assistant’s capabilities pale in comparison to language model AIs. (The Information $)
+ Conservatives are building political chatbots to counter ‘woke AI.’ (NYT $)
+ Why the businesses banning ChatGPT could actually benefit from using it. (WSJ $)
+ Google’s Bard isn’t as exciting as its fancier rivals. (Vox)

+ Google and Microsoft’s chatbots are already citing each other in a misinformation nightmare. (The Verge)
+ The inside story of how ChatGPT was built from the people who made it. (MIT Technology Review)

2 TikTok stars are protesting the app’s potential ban
They’ve united in Washington ahead of the firm’s Congress hearing today. (WSJ $)
+ The company’s CEO is facing a tough few hours. (TechCrunch)

3 Celebrities have been charged over crypto endorsements
The SEC claims they illegally touted the currencies to fans online. (The Guardian)
+ It’s also warned exchange Coinbase that it may have violated US law. (CNBC)

4 Chipmakers are joining forces to fight the US ‘forever chemicals’ crackdown
Controversial chemicals are key elements in the chip manufacturing process. (FT $)
+ These simple design rules could turn the chip industry on its head. (MIT Technology Review)

5 What it’ll take to make fusion power viable
A handful of optimistic firms are confident their stations will be functional by the early 2030s. (Economist $)
+ What you really need to know about that fusion news. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Crypto’s climate emissions are still appalling
The industry may be down, but its carbon footprint is still crazily high. (The Atlantic $)
+ Ethereum moved to proof of stake. Why can’t Bitcoin? (MIT Technology Review)

7 The secret threat lurking within photo cropping tools
A bug is revealing people’s location data, even after they’d deliberately removed it. (Wired $)

8 Inside China’s aspirational ‘little red book’ app 🛍
Xiaohongshu sells its users a glossy lifestyle that millions covet. (Rest of World)

9 Blockbuster is back, maybe 📼
Its website has mysteriously reactivated, a decade after the company shut down. (WP $)

10 What it’s like to be dumped by a chatbot
People are mourning the loss of their AI partners. (Bloomberg $)
+ Would you let ChatGPT write your wedding vows? These people would. (Vice)

Quote of the day

“A lot of this is a game of chicken.”

—James A. Lewis, who runs the cyberthreats program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells the New York Times he doesn’t believe the US will actually ban TikTok. 

The big story

We used to get excited about technology. What happened?

October 2022

As a philosopher who studies AI and data, Shannon Vallor’s Twitter feed is always filled with the latest tech news. Increasingly, she’s realized that the constant stream of information, detailing everything from Mark Zuckerberg’s dead-eyed metaverse cartoon avatar, from Amazon’s Ring Nation surveillance reality show, is no longer inspiring joy, but a sense of resignation.

Joy is missing from our lives, and from our technology. Its absence is feeding a growing unease being voiced by many who work in tech or study it. Fixing it depends on understanding how and why the priorities in our tech ecosystem have changed, triggering a sea change in the entire model for innovation and the incentives that drive it. Read the full story.

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.)

+ Pride and Prejudice reenacted with pinecones? Absolutely.
+ Wow, labradors are no longer the USA’s favorite dog—but who’s the replacement
+ Virginia Woolf’s take on Sex and the City courtesy of ChatGPT is….quite something.
+ This cat really, really wanted to play in the orchestra.
+ Stone the crows: why rock is such a popular medium for artists these days.

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