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June 14, 2024

The Download: AI comics, and US tensions with China over EVs

The Download: AI comics, and US tensions with China over EVs

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.

I used generative AI to turn my story into a comic—and you can too

—Will Douglas Heaven

Thirteen years ago, as an assignment for a journalism class, I wrote a stupid short story about a man who eats luxury cat food. This morning, I sat and watched as a generative AI platform called Lore Machine brought my weird words to life.

Lore Machine analyzed the text, extracted descriptions of the characters and locations mentioned, and then handed those bits of information off to an image-generation model. An illustrated storyboard popped up on the screen. As I clicked through vivid comic-book renderings of my half-forgotten characters, my heart was pounding.

What sets Lore Machine apart from its rivals is how easy it is to use. Between uploading my story and downloading its storyboard, I clicked maybe half a dozen times. That makes it one of a new wave of user-friendly tools that hide the stunning power of generative models behind a one-click web interface—and heralds the arrival of one-click AI. Read the full story.

Chinese EVs have entered center stage in US-China tensions

So far, electric vehicles have mostly been discussed in the US through a scientific, economic, or environmental lens. But all of a sudden, they have become highly political. 

Last Thursday, the Biden administration announced it would investigate the security risks posed by Chinese-made smart cars, which could “collect sensitive data about our citizens and our infrastructure and send this data back to the People’s Republic of China,”

While many other technologies from China have been scrutinized because of security concerns, EVs have largely avoided that sort of attention until now. But US-China relations have been at a low point since the Trump years and the pandemic, and it seems like only a matter of time before any trade or interaction between the two countries falls under security scrutiny. Now it’s EVs’ turn. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things happening in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Elon Musk wanted to merge OpenAI with Tesla 
OpenAI is airing all its dirty laundry to counter Musk’s lawsuit. (The Verge)
+ Musk and Sam Altman used to love each other. What happened? (WSJ $)

2 Is Bitcoin really back?
It’s enjoying yet another major surge—but remains as volatile as ever. (NYT $)
+ It looks like the US regulator’s approval is to blame/thank. (The Guardian)
+ What is crypto for, exactly? (The Atlantic $)
+ Cryptomania is proving hard to kill. (Reuters)

3 Google is determined to kill off AI clickbait
Good luck with that. (Wired $)
+ We are hurtling toward a glitchy, spammy, scammy, AI-powered internet. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Self-driving cars are in crisis mode 
The bubble has burst, and no one knows where to go from here. (NY Mag $)
+ What’s next for robotaxis in 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Weight loss drugs are for the brain, not the gut
Our original scientific understanding of how they work is all wrong. (The Atlantic $)
+ Weight-loss injections have taken over the internet. But what does this mean for people IRL?  (MIT Technology Review)

6 The world’s biggest EV maker is rewriting the rules of batteries
China’s BYD is betting big on sodium ion cells. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ Why hydrogen is losing the race to power cleaner cars. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Inside the unstoppable rise of China’s retail giant Temu
US investors are rushing to finance its rapid expansion into the West, while turning a blind eye to how it’s run. (FT $)
+ The war over fast fashion is heating up. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Would you live in a 3D-printed home?
Non-profit Citizen Robotics seems to think so. (Insider $)
+ Meet the designers printing houses out of salt and clay. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Fly me to the moon, again 🌕
Lunar explorations are finally underway, after decades of inaction. (New Yorker $)
+ In other news, China and Russia want to build a nuclear power plant on the moon. (Bloomberg $)
+ What’s next for the moon. (MIT Technology Review)

10 We’re not going to define the Anthropocene after all|
And scientists are far from happy about it. (New Scientist $)

Quote of the day

“I’ve been influenced! To buy any brand but Tarte.” 

—A TikTok user is not impressed by beauty brand Tarte Cosmetics’ decision to take 30 influencers on a lavish trip to Bora Bora in the current economic climate, the New York Times reports.

The big story

Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines

August 2023

In recent years, intelligent autonomous weapons—weapons that can select and fire upon targets without any human input—have become a matter of serious concern. Giving an AI system the power to decide matters of life and death would radically change warfare forever.

Intelligent autonomous weapons that fully displace human decision-making have (likely) yet to see real-world use. 

However, these systems have become sophisticated enough to raise novel questions—ones that are surprisingly tricky to answer. What does it mean when a decision is only part human and part machine? And when, if ever, is it ethical for that decision to be a decision to kill? Read the full story.

—Arthur Holland Michel

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.)+ If you haven’t already seen it, kick back and admire the completely bonkers decision to splice beer adverts into the original Star Wars trilogy when it was aired on Chilean TV.
+ These pictures documenting the great British package holiday tradition are fantastic.
+ Brace yourself: a Manchester City docuseries is on the way. ⚽
+ What does it take to build the world’s tallest towers? Experience.

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