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The Download: inside chipmaking giant ASML, and why Taiwan loves Threads

The Download: inside chipmaking giant ASML, and why Taiwan loves Threads

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.

How ASML took over the chipmaking chessboard

On a drab Monday February morning in California, at the drab San Jose Convention Center, attendees of the SPIE Advanced Lithography and Patterning Conference gathered to hear tech industry luminaries extol the late Gordon Moore, Intel’s cofounder and first CEO, who passed in March last year. 

Moore is best known for pioneering Moore’s Law, the observation that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years or so. But if Moore deserves credit for creating the law that drove the progress of the industry, it is Dutch company ASML, which makes the machines that in turn let manufacturers produce the most advanced computer chips in the world, that deserves much of the credit for ensuring that progress remains possible. 

Yet that also means the pressure is on. ASML has to continue making sure chipmakers can keep pace with the law. Will that be possible? Read the full story.

—Mat Honan & James O’Donnell

Why Threads is suddenly popular in Taiwan

For most people around the world, Meta’s text-based social network Threads is a platform they likely haven’t thought about for months. But for Liu, a design professional in Taipei, it’s where she’s receiving unprecedented attention. 

She’s not the only person feeling this surge of popularity. Threads has dominated app-store download charts in Taiwan for months. Prominent officials have set up accounts, and it’s become the most popular platform among young people. But Threads’ unexpected success on the island is complex, and precarious. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

A conversation with OpenAI’s first artist in residence

Alex Reben’s work is often absurd, sometimes surreal: a mash-up of giant ears imagined by DALL-E and sculpted by hand out of marble; critical burns generated by ChatGPT that thumb the nose at AI art. But its message is relevant to everyone. Reben is interested in the roles humans play in a world filled with machines, and how those roles are changing.

Reben is OpenAI’s first artist in residence, and is also now director of technology and research at Stochastic Labs, a nonprofit incubator for artists and engineers in Berkeley, California. He spoke with our AI editor Will Douglas Heaven about the unresolved tension between art and technology, and the future of human creativity. Read the full interview.

It’s easy to tamper with watermarks from AI-generated text

The news: Watermarks for AI-generated text are easy to remove and can be stolen and copied, rendering them useless, researchers have found. They say these kinds of attacks discredit watermarks and can fool people into trusting text they shouldn’t. 

Why it matters: Watermarking works by inserting hidden patterns in AI-generated text, which allow computers to detect that the text comes from an AI system. They’re a fairly new invention, but they have already become a popular (and, as it turns out, deeply flawed) solution for fighting AI-generated misinformation and plagiarism. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

The must-reads

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

1 Google has agreed to delete billions of records
After a class action accused the company of misleading Incognito Mode users over how it tracked them. (NYT $)
+ The move could end up costing Google billions in additional lawsuits. (WP $)
+ It’s an exceptionally busy legal year for the tech giant. (WSJ $)

2 Brain-cell transplants could help treat epilepsy 
It’s early days, but it’s looking like a breakthrough for stem-cell technology. (MIT Technology Review)

3 The UK and US have signed an AI safety risk partnership
It outlines how to pool technical know-how, talent and other information. (FT $)
+ The countries will perform a joint testing exercise on a public AI model. (Reuters)
+ Do AI systems need to come with safety warnings? (MIT Technology Review)

4  The US is urging South Korea to restrict chip exports to China
Officials in Seoul are mulling over the request ahead of the G7 summit in June. (Bloomberg $)
+ How to build a GPU with one trillion transistors. (IEEE Spectrum)

5 AI is making search engines dumber
And that’s a serious problem when we’re supposed to rely on them. (WP $)
+ Google DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis is fed up of AI grifting. (FT $)
+ OpenAI has deemed its own voice cloning tool too risky to release. (The Guardian)
+ Why you shouldn’t trust AI search engines. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The ability to repair your own car is under threat 🚗
And the rapid rise of proprietary auto software is to blame. (404 Media)
+ Argentina’s EV lithium drive is benefiting everyone but Argentina. (Rest of World)

7 A sinking “ghost ship” is likely to have caused a major internet outage
After it was attacked by Houthi rebels. (Wired $)

8 The web is too small for data-hungry AI models
In the hunt for untapped resources, AI-generated data could fill the void. (WSJ $)
+ We could run out of data to train AI language programs. (MIT Technology Review)

9 It ain’t easy being a diehard DVD fan 📀
Streaming services are unreliable. But is building an extensive DVD library the answer? (The Guardian)

10 These smart contact lenses are powered by blinking
They harvest energy from both light and their wearer’s tears. (IEEE Spectrum)

Quote of the day

“Maybe retention editing is like the impressionist period for YouTube.”

—Nick Cicero, who teaches social media and digital marketing at Syracuse University, reflects on the demise of ‘retention editing,’ a flashy, attention-grabbing style of video editing that appears to be dying out, he tells the Washington Post.

The big story

Meet the wounded veteran who got a penis transplant

October 2019

Penis transplantation is a radical frontier of modern medicine: extremely rare, expensive, and difficult to perform. Grafting a penis from a deceased donor onto a living recipient is a chaotic amalgamation that entails stitching millimeters-wide blood vessels and nerves with minuscule sutures.

Ray, a military veteran, lost his genitals in a bomb blast while he was on patrol in Afghanistan—eight years before he got the call to say the hospital had a donor penis ready for him. The procedure would be the most extensive penis transplant ever performed, and the first for a military veteran anywhere in the world. Read the full story.

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