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June 14, 2024

The Download: what social media can teach us about AI

The Download: what social media can teach us about AI

Plus: we’re all Kate Middleton truthers now

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.

Let’s not make the same mistakes with AI that we made with social media

Nathan E. Sanders is a data scientist and an affiliate with the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University. Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and a fellow and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School.

A decade ago, social media was celebrated for sparking democratic uprisings in the Arab world and beyond. Now front pages are splashed with stories of social platforms’ role in misinformation, business conspiracy, malfeasance, and risks to mental health. 

Today, tech’s darling is artificial intelligence. Like social media, it has the potential to change the world in many ways, some favorable to democracy. But at the same time, it has the potential to do incredible damage to society.

There is a lot we can learn about social media’s unregulated evolution over the past decade that directly applies to AI companies and technologies. These lessons can help us avoid making the same mistakes with AI that we did with social media. 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 Google is restricting its Gemini chatbot from answering election queries 
Out of an “abundance of caution.” (The Guardian)
+ Gemini will recommend users try Google Search for election questions instead. (Reuters)
+ Three technology trends shaping 2024’s elections. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Kate Middleton conspiracy theories are gaining traction
Everyone is rapidly becoming a royal truther, much to the Palace’s dismay. (The Atlantic $)
+ Here’s a list of everything that was wrong with the infamous photo. (Wired $)
+ The scandal reflects our increasing mistrust of what’s shared online. (The Verge)

3 The pressure is mounting on TikTok to find new owners
It might be the most logical way to avoid an outright ban in the States. (Economist $)
+It’s the undisputed social media success story of the past few years. (WP $)

4 Bitcoin fever is officially back, baby
But we still don’t know what it’s worth, exactly. (Wired $)
+ The cryptocurrency has passed yet another milestone. (Cointelegraph)

5 AI computing costs an arm and a leg
So the UK is launching a new program to try and slash costs. (FT $)

6 Donald Trump approached Elon Musk about buying Truth Social
It appears the pair have stayed in closer contact than was previously known. (WP $)
+ Trump has admitted helping the billionaire in unspecified ways. (CNBC)

7 The simple solution to combat the junkification of the internet
Prioritizing human creations is one way to cut through the AI-generated spam. (The Atlantic $)
+ How to fix the internet. (MIT Technology Review)

8 A nurse wore Apple’s Vision Pro headset during a spinal surgery operation
It helped them prepare and to select the right assistive tools. (Insider $)
+ These minuscule pixels are poised to take augmented reality by storm. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Gen Z doesn’t want to pay for dating apps
And who can blame them? (NYT $)
+ Bumble is considering dropping the requirement for women to message first. (Insider $)

10 Inside the US Patent’s Office’s wonderfully weird collection
For decades, inventors were required to submit whacky models with their patent ideas. (New Yorker $)

Quote of the day

“Close your eyes and think about something that makes you happy.”

—Amazon instructs its fulfillment center workers to practice mindfulness during shifts, 404 Media reports.

The big story

How sounds can turn us on to the wonders of the universe

June 2023

Astronomy should, in principle, be a welcoming field for blind researchers. But across the board, science is full of charts, graphs, databases, and images that are designed to be seen.

So researcher Sarah Kane, who is legally blind, was thrilled three years ago when she encountered a technology known as sonification, designed to transform information into sound. Since then she’s been working with a project called Astronify, which presents astronomical information in audio form. 

For millions of blind and visually impaired people, sonification could be transformative—opening access to education, to once unimaginable careers, and even to the secrets of the universe. Read the full story.

—Corey S. Powell

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.)

+ It’s time to get into metal detecting (no really, it is!)
+ Meanwhile, over on Mars
+ A couple in the UK decided to get married on a moving train, because why not?
+ Even giant manta rays need a little TLC every now and again.

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