The Download: AI for good, and China’s shrinking internet


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.

What I learned from the UN’s “AI for Good” summit

—Melissa Heikkilä

Last week, Geneva played host to the UN’s AI for Good Summit. The summit’s big focus was how AI can be used to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, such as eradicating poverty and hunger, achieving gender equality, promoting clean energy and climate action and so on. 

The conference managed to convene people working in AI from around the globe, featuring speakers from China, the Middle East, and Africa too. AI can be very US-centric and male dominated, and any effort to make the conversation more global and diverse is laudable.
But honestly, I didn’t leave the conference feeling confident AI was going to play a meaningful role in advancing any of the UN goals. In fact, the most interesting speeches were about how AI is doing the opposite. Read the full story.

This story is from The Algorithm, our weekly AI newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

Read more of Melissa’s stories about the issues within the AI sector:
+ How generative AI has made phishing, scamming, and doxxing easier than ever.

+ We are all AI’s free data workers. Fancy AI models rely on human labor, which can often be brutal and upsetting. Read the full story.

+ The viral AI avatar app Lensa undressed me—without my consent.
+ Making an image with generative AI uses as much energy as charging your phone. Each time you use AI to generate an image, write an email, or ask a chatbot a question, it comes at a cost to the planet. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 The Chinese internet is collapsing
Websites are being yanked offline, and history is being lost in the process. (NYT $)
+ The end of anonymity online in China. (MIT Technology Review)

2 The United Arab Emirates want to cozy up to the US over AI
And it’s more than willing to spend billions of dollars in the process. (FT $)
 
3 Google inadvertently collected voice data from children
Alongside users’ home addresses and YouTube recommendations. (404 Media)
+ Why child safety bills are popping up all over the US. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Our appetite for data centers is at odds with zero-carbon goals
Demand for electricity is rising, and decarbonizing the grid is becoming an even bigger challenge. (Undark Magazine)
+ A massive part of why we need more power? Surprise, surprise—it’s AI. (Wired $)+ Energy-hungry data centers are quietly moving into cities. (MIT Technology Review)

5 X is formally allowing X-rated content
NSFW images and videos have been rife on it for years anyway. (TechCrunch)
+ It’s supposed to block under-18s from seeing NSFW material. (The Guardian)

6 AI is getting much better at predicting the weather 🌩
Which is handy, given that the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season is coming. (Ars Technica)
+ Google DeepMind’s weather AI can forecast extreme weather faster and more accurately. (MIT Technology Review)

7 This new startup wants to bring cryonics to the masses
By focusing on the reviving, rather than the freezing part. (Bloomberg $)
+ Why the sci-fi dream of cryonics never died. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Retailers love it when you buy things on your mobile
If you’re making an impulse purchase, chances are it’s on a phone, not a laptop. (WSJ $)

9 Dying stars produce glitching radio waves
Scientists are getting better at reproducing these pulsar glitches. (New Scientist $)

10 Amazon sold fake copies of a major UFO book 🛸
Scammers produced false versions of the hotly-anticipated title, some of which contain AI-generated text. (404 Media)

Quote of the day

“We are still behind them, but we are breathing down their back.”

—Vladimir Milov, a YouTube creator, tells Wired how he helped to create a direct competitor to Putin’s TV propaganda on the platform.

The big story

Broadband funding for Native communities could finally connect some of America’s most isolated places

September 2022

Rural and Native communities in the US have long had lower rates of cellular and broadband connectivity than urban areas, where four out of every five Americans live. Outside the cities and suburbs, which occupy barely 3% of US land, reliable internet service can still be hard to come by.

The covid-19 pandemic underscored the problem as Native communities locked down and moved school and other essential daily activities online. But it also kicked off an unprecedented surge of relief funding to solve it. Read the full story.

—Robert Chaney

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ Bats have incredibly sweet little feet.
+ Too many gardens aren’t overly hospitable to nature. Here’s how to make your green spaces into wild wonderlands.
+ Summer is here, and honey garlic parmesan biscuits seem like a great way to celebrate.
+ This sunset ocean painting is really quite something.





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