The Download: urgent climate change questions, and DALL-E’s big launch

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.

Do these heatwaves mean climate change is happening faster than expected?

Blistering heat waves have smashed temperature records around the globe this summer, scorching crops, knocking out power, fueling wildfires, buckling roads and runways, and killing hundreds in Europe alone.

The sudden shift from an abstract threat to reality has many people wondering: is climate change unfolding faster than scientists had expected? Are these extreme events more extreme than studies had predicted they would be, given the levels of greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere?

As it happens, those are two distinct questions, with different and nuanced answers. Our senior climate change editor James Temple explains the issues point-by-point in this explainer.

Meanwhile, our energy and climate reporter Casey Crownhart examines the fact that recent heat waves might help to tip Europe over into adopting air conditioning en masse, and why that’s such a big problem. Read her story.

OpenAI is ready to sell DALL-E to its first million customers

The news: OpenAI will now sell its image-making program DALL-E 2 to the million people on its waiting list, MIT Technology Review can reveal. 

What’s next: Paying customers will now be able to use the images they create with DALL-E in commercial projects, such as illustrations in children’s books, concept art for games and movies, and marketing brochures. 

How much? A DALL-E subscription won’t break the bank: $15 buys you 115 credits, and one credit lets you submit a text prompt to the AI, which returns four images at a time. In other words, that’s $15 for 460 images. On top of this, users get 50 free credits in their first month and 15 free credits a month after that. Power users could soon burn through that quota.

A constant battle: An earlier version of DALL-E produced images reflecting clear gender and racial bias. OpenAI said it had fixed this problem last month, but the measures it took were superficial and don’t fix problems in the model itself or the data it is trained on. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

The must-reads

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

1 More than half of US states have extreme heat alerts right now
It hit a record-breaking 115°F in parts of Texas and Oklahoma yesterday. (WP $)
There’s no sugar-coating it: the Democrats’ inability to pass climate legislation is a disaster. (The Atlantic $)
+ Europe has descended into the age of fire. (Wired $)
The UK is wildly unprepared for extreme heat. (Slate $)
It’s amazing how many people are still trying to deny basic reality. (Ars Technica)
2 A new controversy at Twitter: vast pay disparities 💸
For once, Elon Musk can’t be blamed for this one. (Input)
Google is pausing hiring. (The Information $)
3 Software is increasingly being used to forecast battle outcomes
Its prediction for the war in Ukraine seems about right: a grinding stalemate. (The Economist $)
Can new artillery rockets make a difference? (Slate $)
+ Russian hackers tried to trick Ukrainian hackers into downloading malware. (Vice)
4 Tesla sold off 75% of its bitcoin 
At a $106 million loss. (Quartz)
5 Depression may not be caused by a lack of serotonin
Which raises some big questions about the current go-to treatments for it. (New Scientist $)
The study authors explain their findings, and how they reached them. (The Conversation)
6 Autonomous boats are, slowly but surely, becoming a reality 🚢
And, despite the challenges, they’re likely to be way easier to roll out than driverless cars. (Recode)
7 China’s digital yuan is struggling with uptake
Despite a giant promotional push from the authorities. (South China Morning Post)
+ An elegy for cash: the technology we might never replace. (MIT Technology Review)
8 What San Francisco loses by being tech’s testbed
Privacy, imagination, individuality, and creativity. (New Yorker $)
9 People are fighting the coup in Myanmar with a video game 🎮
All proceeds go to the resistance. (NYT $)
The best games this year. (NPR)
When life gets hard, video games offer us a chance to escape. (The Guardian)
10 Please, I’m begging you, stop giving robot dogs guns
We’ve all seen that Black Mirror episode. Let’s keep it fictional. (The Verge)

Quote of the day

“The speculative pricing and investment mentality around NFTs takes the focus away from playing the game and encourages profiteering, which we think is inconsistent with the long-term joy and success of our players.”

—Minecraft’s creator, Mojang, explains why it won’t support integrations of NFTs or other blockchain-based applications inside the game.

The big story

Auditors are testing hiring algorithms for bias, but there’s no easy fix 

February 2021

More and more companies are using AI-based hiring tools. A survey of over 7,300 human-resources managers worldwide by Mercer, an asset management firm, found that the proportion who said their department uses predictive analytics jumped from 10% in 2016 to 39% in 2020.

As with other AI applications, though, researchers have found that some hiring tools produce biased results—inadvertently favoring men or people from certain socioeconomic backgrounds, for instance. Many are now advocating for greater transparency and more regulation. One solution in particular is proposed again and again: AI audits.

For all the attention that AI audits have received, though, their ability to actually detect and protect against bias remains unproven. At best, audits give an incomplete picture, and at worst, they could help companies hide problematic or controversial practices behind an auditor’s stamp of approval. Read the full story.

—Hilke Schellmann

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.)

+ In love with this subreddit dedicated to showcasing TVs that are too high up. 
+ Marveling at this innovation that lets you eat dumplings AND sip your drink at the same time. 
+ Portugal, and Portuguese style, is (thoroughly deservedly) having a moment.
+ Sheet pan pizza is way cheaper than takeout—and more fun.

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