This is today’s edition of The Download,our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the tech world.
What does GPT-3 “know” about me?
One of the biggest stories in tech this year was the rise of large language models (LLM). These are AI models that produce text that a human might have written — sometimes so convincingly that they’ve tricked people into thinking they’re intelligent.
The power of these models comes from a wealth of publicly available human-authored text that has been downloaded from the Internet. If you’ve posted anything even remotely personal in English on the internet, chances are your details are part of some of the most popular LLMs in the world.
My colleague Melissa Heikkila, our AI reporter, recently began to wonder what data these models might have about her and how it might be abused. A harrowing experience a decade ago left her paranoid about sharing personal data online, so she put OpenAI’s GPT-3 to the test to see what it “knew” about her. Read what she found.
How ammonia can help clean up global shipping
The news: Foul-smelling ammonia may seem like an unlikely fuel to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it could also play a key role in decarbonising global shipping, providing an efficient way to store the energy needed to power large ships on long voyages.
What is happening: The US Bureau of Shipping recently gave early stage approval for some ammonia-powered ships and fueling infrastructure, meaning such ships could hit the seas in the next few years. Although the fuel would require new engines and fuel systems, replacing it with the fossil fuels that ships burn today could help significantly reduce global carbon emissions.
What next: Some companies are looking even further into the future, with New York-based Amogy raising nearly $50 million earlier this year to use the chemical in fuel cells that promise even greater emissions reductions. If the early ammonia tests are successful, these new technologies could help the shipping industry significantly reduce its emissions. Read the full story.
— Casey Crownhart
The required readings
I’ve scoured the internet to find you today’s funniest/important/scary/fascinating tech stories.
1 Pakistan is reeling from its devastating floods
Poor policymaking mixed with a climate change-induced monsoon has displaced millions of people and destroyed homes, food and livelihoods. (Vox)
+ These images highlight the extent of the destruction. (The Keeper)
+ Residents are trying to save their belongings from the waters. (BBC)
2 California passed new rules to keep kids safe online
The legislation will force websites and apps to add safeguards for under-18s. (NYT$)
+The state also wants to punish doctors who spread health misinformation. (NYT$)
3 NASA will try to launch its Artemis rocket again on Saturday
An inaccurate sensor reading is believed to have caused Monday’s failed takeoff. (BBC)
4 Elon Musk has found a new tactic to try to get out of buying Twitter
He used the recent accusations of whistleblowers. (FT$)
+ What you need to know about the upcoming legal battle. (WSJ$)
+ Twitter is failing to adequately address self-harming content. (Ars Technica)
5 Deepfakes are breaking into the mainstream
Technology is improving every day and we should be worried. (WP$)
+ A terrifying new AI app switches women into porn videos with one click. (MIT Technology Review)
6 Cyber insurance is not equipped to deal with cyber warfare
Insurers cannot agree on what should and should not be covered. (with cable $)
7 A program to clean up contaminated wetlands in Nigeria has worsened the problem
The people of Ogoniland are left to fend for themselves in the oil drenched lands. (Bloomberg $)
+ Companies that caused an oil spill in California have been fined $13 million. (CNN)
8 How Giant Isopods Got So Giant
The roly-poly’s relative genes explain why it can grow to the size of a chihuahua. (Hakai magazine)
+ The primordial coelacanth was an expert in energy conservation. (New Scientist $)
9 Gen Z really likes to make collages
Naturally, there’s an app for that. (The $ info)
10 Dadcore fads have gone viral
Leaving behind a generation of iconic anglers. (Input)
Quote of the day
“I’ve definitely had days where I’ve accomplished all of that, but it’s exhausting.”
— Dynasty de Gouville, 22, describes the pressure she felt to join the #ThatGirl lifestyle of early-rising, grueling exercise and restrictive diets offered by TikTok clips of thin, white women to the Wall Street Journal.
The big story
Humanity is stuck in short-term thinking. Here’s how to escape.
Humans have evolved over millennia to grasp an ever-expanding sense of time. We have minds capable of imagining the distant future. Although we may have this ability, it is rarely used in everyday life. If our descendants were to diagnose the ills of 21st-century civilization, they would observe a dangerous short-term plan: a collective failure to escape the present moment and look ahead.
The world is saturated with information and the standard of living has never been higher, but so often it is difficult to see beyond the next news cycle, political term or business quarter. How to explain this contradiction? Why are we so stuck in the “now”? Read the full story.
— Richard Fisher
We can still have good things
A place of comfort, entertainment and distraction in these strange times. (Any ideas? Email me ortweet them to me.)
+ This dog slide it looks like endless delight.
+ Three hours of underground hip-hop from the 90s guaranteed to put you in a good mood.
+ After a two-year hiatus, the World Gravy Wrestling Championship is back!
+ Electro icon Gary Numan has some interesting words of wisdom.
+ The Perseverance rover is poking around for evidence of past life on Mars.