The Download: watermarking AI text, and freezing eggs
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.
A watermark for chatbots can spot text written by an AI
What’s happened: A new method could help us to spot AI-generated texts. Watermarking buries hidden patterns in the text that are invisible to the human eye, but lets computers detect that the text probably comes from an AI system or a human.
Why it matters: ChatGPT is one of a new breed of large language models that generate fluent text that reads like a human could have written it. These AI models regurgitate facts confidently, but are notorious for spewing falsehoods, which makes it worrying that they’re already being adopted for everything from essays to workout plans. To the untrained eye, it is almost impossible to detect whether a passage is written by an AI model or human.
And it works? In studies, these watermarks have already shown that they can identify AI-generated text with near certainty. If they’re embedded in large language models, they could help prevent some of the problems that these models have already caused. Read the full story.
How do I know if egg freezing is for me?
The decision to freeze your eggs is incredibly personal, and not always easy. While egg freezing is often sold as a fertility insurance policy, we’re still not entirely sure how successful the procedure is likely to be for any individual person, or how success rates vary by age.
We do know that it is expensive—we’re talking potentially tens of thousands of dollars for hormonal treatments, egg collection procedures, and years of cryopreservation. And we know that it’s not without risks.
That’s why the team behind a new decision-making tool hope it will help to clear up some of the misconceptions around the procedure—and give would-be parents a much-needed insight into its real costs, benefits, and potential pitfalls. Read the full story.
This story is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things health and biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Elon Musk held a surprise meeting with US political leaders
Allegedly in the interest of ensuring Twitter is “fair to both parties.” (Insider $)
+ Kanye West’s presidential campaign advisors have been booted off Twitter. (Rolling Stone $)
+ Twitter’s trust and safety head is Musk’s biggest champion. (Bloomberg $)
2 We’re treating covid like flu now
Annual covid shots are the next logical step. (The Atlantic $)
3 The worst thing about Sam Bankman-Fried’s spell in jail?
Being cut off from the internet. (Forbes $)
+ Most crypto criminals use just five exchanges. (Wired $)
+ Collapsed crypto firmFTX has objected to a new investigation request. (Reuters)
4 Israel’s tech sector is rising up against its government
Tech workers fear its hardline policies will harm startups. (FT $)
5 It’s possible to power the world solely using renewable energy
At least, according to Stanford academic Mark Jacobson. (The Guardian)
+ Tech bros love the environment these days. (Slate $)
+ How new versions of solar, wind, and batteries could help the grid. (MIT Technology Review)
6 Generative AI is wildly expensive to run
And that’s why promising startups like OpenAI need to hitch their wagons to the likes of Microsoft. (Bloomberg $)
+ How Microsoft benefits from the ChatGPT hype. (Vox)
+ BuzzFeed is planning to make quizzes supercharged by OpenAI. (WSJ $)
+ Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)
7 It’s hard not to blame self-driving cars for accidents
Even when it’s not technically their fault. (WSJ $)
8 What it’s like to swap Google for TikTok
It’s great for food suggestions and hacks, but hopeless for anything work-related. (Wired $)
+ The platform really wants to stay operational in the US. (Vox)
+ TikTok is mired in an eyelash controversy. (Rolling Stone $)
9 CRISPR gene editing kits are available to buy online
But there’s no guarantee these experiments will actually work. (Motherboard)
+ Next up for CRISPR: Gene editing for the masses? (MIT Technology Review)
10 Tech workers are livestreaming their layoffs
It’s a candid window into how these notoriously secretive companies treat their staff. (The Information $)
Quote of the day
“Based on your profile you’re very attractive. I’m not sure if that’s a very good thing or a very bad thing.”
—A suggestion from Keys AI, a startup that offers pre-written messages for users to send to potential love interests, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The big story
How Worldcoin recruited its first half a million test users
In December 2021, residents of the village of Gunungguruh, Indonesia, were curious when technology company Worldcoin turned up at a local school. The company described Worldcoin as an Ethereum-based “new, collectively owned global currency that will be distributed fairly to as many people as possible,” in exchange for an iris scan and other personal data.
Gunungguruh was not alone in receiving a visit from Worldcoin. MIT Technology Review has interviewed over 35 individuals in six countries—Indonesia, Kenya, Sudan, Ghana, Chile, and Norway—who either worked for or on behalf of Worldcoin, had been scanned, or were unsuccessfully recruited to participate.
Our investigation reveals wide gaps between Worldcoin’s public messaging, which focused on protecting privacy, and what users experienced. We found that the company’s representatives used deceptive marketing practices, and failed to obtain meaningful informed consent. Read the full investigation.
—Eileen Guo and Adi Renaldi
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.)
+ Super Nintendo World sounds like one giant headache waiting to happen.
+ This one goes out to anyone who’s ever considered trying to make their pet pay rent (thanks Melissa!)
+ The exact science of writing the perfect breakup song? It’s all in the hook.
+ The egg price crisis is no joke, but at least memes can lessen the pain.
+ If you loved Emily in Paris, these real-life accounts of Americans living in the French capital may make for painful reading.