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The Download: how babies can teach AI, and new mRNA vaccines

The Download: how babies can teach AI, and new mRNA vaccines

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.

This baby with a head camera helped teach an AI how kids learn language

Human babies are far better at learning than even the very best large language models. To be able to write in passable English, ChatGPT had to be trained on massive data sets that contain millions upon millions of words. Children, on the other hand, have access to only a tiny fraction of that data, yet by age three they’re communicating in quite sophisticated ways.

A team of researchers at New York University wondered if AI could learn like a baby. What could an AI model do when given a far smaller data set—the sights and sounds experienced by a single child learning to talk?

A lot, it turns out. This work, published in Science, not only provides insights into how babies learn but could also lead to better AI models. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

The next generation of mRNA vaccines is on its way

Japan recently approved a new mRNA vaccine for covid, and this one is pretty exciting. Just like the mRNA vaccines you know and love, it delivers the instructions for making the virus’s spike protein. But here’s what makes it novel: it also tells the body how to make more mRNA. Essentially, it’s self-amplifying.

These kinds of vaccines offer a couple of important advantages over conventional mRNA vaccines, at least in theory. The dose can be much lower, and it’s possible that they will induce a more durable immune response.

The company that makes the Japan-approved vaccine has already filed for approval in Europe. It’s also working on a self-amplifying mRNA vaccine for flu, both seasonal and pandemic. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly newsletter covering health and biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

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

1 The world’s largest music label has yanked its artists’ music off TikTok
Universal Music Group claims TikTok is unwilling to compensate musicians appropriately. (The Guardian)
+ Taylor Swift fans are kicking off. (Wired $)
+ Indie record labels don’t like the sound of Apple’s pay plans either. (FT $)

2 Los Angeles has made digital discrimination a crime
Internet providers can no longer withhold deals from marginalized neighborhoods. (The Markup)
+ How climate vulnerability and the digital divide are linked. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Big Tech’s cloud services are raking in serious money
But we still need some concrete use cases for all those AI models. (WSJ $)
+ Unsurprisingly, AI chipmaker Nvidia’s market value is skyrocketing too. (Reuters)
+ An AI data center startup plans to go public off the back of the AI boom. (The Information $)

4 Amazon has released an AI shopping bot called Rufus
To helpfully steer you towards buying more stuff from Amazon. (The Verge)
+ The company’s racing to catch up with its generative AI-embracing rivals. (NYT $)

5 A new kind of plastic can be molded to shift shape
Heating and cooling cause it to take on new properties, meaning a single sheet could become multiple different objects. (NYT $)
+ Google DeepMind’s new AI tool helped create more than 700 new materials. (MIT Technology Review)

6 A prestigious art competition is allowing AI-generated entries
But artists need to own full copyright over their creation. (The Guardian)
+ This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it. (MIT Technology Review)

7 What we lost in the switch from analog to digital
A sense of ownership helps us to forge connections with our devices. (FT $)
+ The first musical synthesizers are much older than you may realize. (IEEE Spectrum)

8 Artists are burning out promoting themselves online
It’s a whole extra job on top of their day job. (Vox)

9 Free yourself from the Apple Watch’s tyranny
It’s good to be active, but it’s better to be free. (The Atlantic $)

10 A Tesla that crashed into a Norwegian harbor was rescued by a floating sauna 🚢
Insert joke about getting into hot water here. (WP $)

Quote of the day

“We have to move to (Instagram) Reels I fear.” 

—An anonymous TikTok user jokes about abandoning the platform in favor of Meta’s less cool competitor, after the music label Universal pulled its music from TikTok due to a row about compensation, Reuters reports.

The big story

The iPad was meant to revolutionize accessibility. What happened?

June 2023

On April 3, 2010, Steve Jobs debuted the iPad. What for most people was basically a more convenient form factor was something far more consequential for non-speakers: a life-­changing revolution in access to a portable, powerful communication device for just a few hundred dollars.

But a piece of hardware, however impressively designed and engineered, is only as valuable as what a person can do with it. After the iPad’s release, the flood of new, easy-to-use augmentative and alternative communication apps that users were in desperate need of never came.

Today, there are only around half a dozen apps, each retailing for $200 to $300, that ask users to select from menus of crudely drawn icons to produce text and synthesized speech. It’s a depressingly slow pace of development for such an essential human function. Read the full story.

—Julie Kim

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.)

+ Let’s hear it for the unseen cameramen of extreme sports! (Including the one who shot the video of this guy.)
+ I can’t believe Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark is 50 years old.
+ This innocent pigeon has finally been released after being detained as a spy. 🐦
+ Pst—can you keep a secret?
+ Justice for British food! (It’s actually delicious.)

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