The Download: year in review, and the big problem with ChatGPT

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.

MIT Technology Review’s biggest stories of the year

As 2022 starts to draw to a close, we thought it was high time to take a look back over the most popular stories we’ve published in the past 12 months. From a biotech scoop to a thoughtful interrogation of whether digital replicas of our deceased loved ones can really help to ease the grieving process, our readers have enjoyed the full gamut of our technology coverage.

If you missed them the first time round, here’s our top five most-read stories of the year. We hope you keep reading into the new year, and beyond.

+ The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The pig heart transplanted into an American patient earlier this year in a landmark operation carried a porcine virus that may have derailed the experiment and contributed to his death two months later. Our senior biotechnology editor Antonio Regalado dug into how this could have happened due to a well-known—and avoidable—risk which raises questions over whether the experiment should have taken place at all. Read the full story.

+ This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it.

Greg Rutkowski is a Polish digital artist who uses classical painting styles to create dreamy fantasy landscapes. While you may recognize his work from games including Dungeons & Dragons he reached a whole new audience when his distinctive style became one of the most commonly used prompts for AI art generator Stable Diffusion—and he’s far from thrilled. Read the full story by our senior AI reporter Melissa Heikkilä.

+ Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon Musk declined researchers’ requests to use his Starlink mega-constellation to create a more precise, more useful successor to GPS. But they went ahead anyway. For the past two years, a team at UT Austin’s Radionavigation Lab has been reverse-engineering signals sent from thousands of Starlink internet satellites in low Earth orbit to ground-based receivers. Now they believe they have cracked the problem, and that their technology could form the basis of a useful navigation system. Crucially, this could be done without any help from SpaceX at all. Read the full story.

+ Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

MIT Technology Review news editor Charlotte Jee created digital replicas of her living parents in a bid to understand whether speaking to virtual versions of our loved ones after they’ve passed on could lessen or, on the other hand, prolong our grief. Her story delves into the burgeoning sector of startups promising to help us digitally preserve the people we love so we can talk to them after they die. The technology is getting better and better, but it’s still unclear if these services will ever achieve mass adoption. Read the full story.

+ Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

This story dug into all the ways in which Twitter could start to crumble after new boss Elon Musk took over the reins. While we’ve seen some of the issues bubble to the surface already, it’s likely there may be many more to come. Read the full story.

If these sorts of stories tickle your fancy, then why not subscribe to read them the first time round? Print subscriptions are just $120 a year, and you can go digital only for just $80. And a subscription to MIT Technology Review might make the perfect Christmas present for the tech-obsessed person in your life.

The must-reads

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

1 ChatGPT doesn’t always tell the truth
But it states things so confidently that it’s easy to be fooled. (NYT $)
+ It’s been suggesting some disturbing anti-terror measures, including torture. (The Intercept)
+ For some users, whether it’s accurate or not isn’t important. (WP $)
+ ChatGPT won’t be stealing stand up comedians’ jobs any time soon. (WSJ $)
+ ChatGPT is OpenAI’s latest fix for GPT-3. It’s slick but still spews nonsense. (MIT Technology Review)
2 Investors are rapidly withdrawing from crypto 
They’re spooked by FTX’s collapse, and are pulling record levels of bitcoin from crypto exchanges (FT $)
+ Chinese police have rumbled a massive crypto laundering gang. (SCMP $)
+ FTX boss Sam Bankman-Fried is due to testify before the US Congress this week. (The Guardian)
3 NASA’s Artemis I moon mission is complete
After 26 days, it touched back down on Earth. (New Scientist $)
+ The mission paves the way towards returning humans to the moon. (WSJ $)
+ Looking down on the Earth from space is an emotional experience. (The Atlantic $)
4 Twitter’s subscription service has relaunched
iPhone users are being asked to pay more, likely in retaliation to the App Store’s inbuilt fees. (Reuters)
+ The company’s Community Notes misinformation service has been revamped, too. (Engadget)
+ Elon Musk knows exactly who he’s appealing to. (The Atlantic $)
+ Elon Musk has created a toxic mess for the LGBTQ+ community. I would know. (MIT Technology Review)
5 It might be time to delete your photos from the internet
It’s only getting easier and easier to make deepfakes. (Ars Technica)
+ A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Lensa’s AI avatars are concerning, especially for women. (WSJ $) 

6 Amazon is failing to fulfill its promise to help Tijuana residents
It pledged to develop the area surrounding its fulfillment center, but workers say nothing has changed. (Rest of World)
7 This year has been a bit of a mess
But hard data can help us understand why—and what to prepare for next year. (Vox)
8 Tech graduates are fighting over too few jobs
Talented grads are ready to work, but hardly anywhere is hiring right now. (NBC)
9 Star gazing is in jeopardy 🌌
Light pollution is to blame—and a lot of it is entirely unnecessary. (The Guardian)

10 What has learned about love
It was the first major dating site to adopt a scientific approach to calculating a couple’s compatibility. (The Atlantic $)
+ Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“It makes me feel better. Happier; freer.”

—Julian Gough, an Irish writer who penned a poignant poem that displays when a player finishes Minecraft, explains his decision to put it into the public domain for anyone to use, Motherboard reports.

The big story

Minneapolis police used fake social media profiles to surveil Black people

April 2022

The Minneapolis Police Department violated civil rights law through a pattern of racist policing practices, according to a damning report by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The report found that officers stop, search, arrest, and use force against people of color at a much higher rate than white people, and covertly surveilled Black people not suspected of any crimes via social media. 

The findings are consistent with MIT Technology Review’s investigation of Minnesota law enforcement agencies, which has revealed an extensive surveillance network that targeted activists in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley and Sam Richards

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.)

+ Rock, paper, scissors is one of those games that demands your full attention.
+ Even geniuses need a hobby.
+ I love the stories behind these pictures of The Cure.
+ Bar carts undeniably bring a touch of class to any room. Here’s what to stock yours with.
+ You’ve heard of speed reading, but did you know that slow reading is also a skill?

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