The Download: the human toll of ethical AI, and lab-grown meat

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.

Responsible AI has a burnout problem

Margaret Mitchell had been working at Google for two years before she realized she needed a break. Only after she spoke with a therapist did she understand the problem: she was burnt out. She ended up taking medical leave because of stress.

Mitchell, who now works as an AI researcher and chief ethics scientist at the AI startup Hugging Face, is far from alone in her experience. Burnout is becoming increasingly common in responsible-AI teams, who are unlikely to receive the same levels of support as colleagues who specialize in content moderation, although the work can be just as psychologically draining.

All the practitioners MIT Technology Review interviewed spoke enthusiastically about their work: it is fueled by passion, a sense of urgency, and the satisfaction of building solutions for real problems. But that sense of mission can be overwhelming without the right support. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Will lab-grown meat reach our plates?

Would you eat lab-grown meat? Plenty of companies have set out to generate meat products from muscle and fat cells cultured in vats—around 80 at the last count. The promise is huge: it could allow us to cut back on intensive animal farming, which can be brutal and inhumane, and to sidestep animal agriculture’s destructive effects on the environment.

But whether these companies can deliver on that promise is another matter entirely. And even if companies succeed in bringing a cheap cultured-meat product to market, would anyone eat it? Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, Jessica’s new weekly newsletter covering the ins and outs of the biotech and health sectors. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

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

1 Elon Musk has bought Twitter
What happens next is anyone’s guess. (FT $)
+ Musk wasted no time: a number of executives are set to leave. (NYT $)
+ His first instinct was to reassure advertisers. (Variety $)
+ The European Union has reminded Musk to play by its rules. (Bloomberg $)
+ Here’s how to delete your Twitter account. (WP $)

2 Everyone is ill right now
Flu and other bugs are back with a vengeance now we’re mixing again. (Vox)
+ If you’re one of the lucky ones, here’s how to stay healthy. (The Atlantic $)

3 Ethereum is hard to beat
The botched launch of a challenger blockchain demonstrates why. (Wired $) 
+ The Merge has birthed a new class of blockchain participants. (Bloomberg $)
+ Why Ethereum’s switch to proof of stake matters. (MIT Technology Review

4 Big Tech is feeling vulnerable
Their quarterly earnings are down, and executives are nervous. (WP $)
+ Even the largest companies are no longer immune to the economic downturn. (NYT $)

5 How the detention of a Huawei executive worsened US-China relations
The prisoner exchange also implicated Canada. (WSJ $)
+ Further curbs on exports to China could be on their way. (WP $)

6 The future of online speech could depend on this European law
And force them to overhaul their moderation systems in the process. (Slate $)

7 Hydroelectricity has an image problem
It’s efficient and green, so why do so few countries want to invest in it? (IEEE Spectrum
+ World leaders are set to assemble next week for COP27. (Economist $)
+ Droughts are cutting into California’s hydropower. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Here’s what a future beyond animal testing could look like
A proposed US bill could push us towards computer-based testing instead. (Neo.Life

9 Here’s how Iranian authorities are controlling protestors’ phones
The SIAM system breaks encryption and slows connections. (The Intercept)

10 Anime and manga fans are rising up against DALL-E
Illustrators aren’t thrilled about text-to-image models, either. (Rest of World)
+ It’s getting harder to differentiate between AI art and real photographs. (FT $)
+ This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“The metaverse is ‘living inside of a computer.’ The last thing I want to do when I get home from work during a long day is live inside of a computer.”

—Evan Spiegel, who founded Snapchat, has zero time for the metaverse, reports Bloomberg.

The big story

Aging clocks aim to predict how long you’ll live

April 2022

Age is much more than the number of birthdays you’ve clocked. Stress, sleep, and diet all influence how our organs cope with the wear and tear of everyday life. Factors like these might make you age faster or slower than people born on the same day. That means your biological age could be quite different from your chronological age—the number of years you’ve been alive.

Your biological age is likely a better reflection of your physical health and even your own mortality than your chronological age. But calculating it isn’t nearly as straightforward. Scientists have spent the last decade developing tools called aging clocks that assess markers in your body to reveal your biological age.

The big idea behind aging clocks is that they’ll essentially indicate how much your organs have degraded, and thus predict how many healthy years you have left. Among the hundreds of aging clocks developed in the last decade, though, accuracy varies widely. And researchers are still grappling with a vital question: What does it mean to be biologically young? Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

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.)

+ Brandi Carlile belting out A Case of You is just amazing. What a voice!
+ Are you in touch with your shadow self?
+ Sorry wedding planners—donut walls are canceled.
+ There’s a lot going on in the new Final Fantasy XVI trailer.
+ Just assume everything’s cake from now on, okay?

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