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May 28, 2024

The Download: the problem with police bodycams, and how to make useful robots

When police departments first started buying and deploying bodycams in the wake of the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a decade ago, activists hoped it would bring about real change.

Years later, despite what’s become a multibillion-dollar market for these devices, the tech is far from a panacea. Most of the vast reams of footage they generate go unwatched.  Officers often don’t use them properly. And if they do finally provide video to the public, it’s often selectively edited, lacking context and failing to tell the complete story.

A handful of AI startups see this problem as an opportunity to create what are essentially bodycam-to-text programs for different players in the legal system, mining this footage for misdeeds. But like the bodycams themselves, the technology still faces procedural, legal, and cultural barriers to success. Read the full story.

—Patrick Sisson

Three reasons robots are about to become more way useful

The holy grail of robotics since the field’s beginning has been to build a robot that can do our housework. But for a long time, that has just been a dream. While roboticists have been able to get robots to do impressive things in the lab, these feats haven’t translated to the messy realities of our homes.

Thanks to AI, this is now changing. Robots are starting to become capable of doing tasks such as folding laundry, cooking and unloading shopping baskets, which not too long ago were seen as almost impossible tasks. 

In our most recent cover story for the MIT Technology Review print magazine, senior AI reporter Melissa Heikkilä looked at how robotics as a field is at an inflection point. 

A really exciting mix of things are converging in robotics research, which could usher in robots that might—just might—make it out of the lab and into our homes. Read the three reasons why robotics is on the brink of having its own “ChatGPT moment.”

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

The must-reads

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

1 AI startups are covertly developing their chatbots using OpenAI data
Which raises questions about why investors are paying them, exactly. (The Information $)
+ Training an AI model is seriously expensive. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ We could run out of data to train AI language programs. (MIT Technology Review)

2 SpaceX is running rings around its competition 🚀
But for how much longer is unclear. (WP $)

3 Why the dream of flying cars refuses to die
Hundreds of startups are committed to making the fantastical vehicles a reality. (New Yorker $)
+ These aircraft could change how we fly. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The future of advanced chips hangs on how they’re packaged
Stacking semiconductors closely together makes them more efficient. (FT $)
+ Why China is betting big on chiplets. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Meta is working on a new VR product for schools
It’s part of the company’s latest foray into populating the metaverse. (Bloomberg $)
+ How many schools will be able to afford it, though? (The Verge)
+ Welcome to the oldest part of the metaverse. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The US government keeps giving Microsoft free passes
It keeps buying the company’s products, despite a series of cybersecurity failures. (Wired $)

7 We don’t know what taking Ozempic for 20 years could do to someone
We should look at how we treat diabetes as a cautionary tale. (The Atlantic $)
+ Hundreds of drugs are in short supply across the US. (Ars Technica)

8 How to save a coral reef 🪸
Reefs in East Asia are thriving when others are struggling to survive. (Vox)
+ The race is on to save coral reefs—by freezing them. (MIT Technology Review)

9 What it’s like to eat at an autonomous restaurant 
CaliExpress in Los Angeles encourages its customers to “pay with your face.” (The Guardian)
+ An Argentine startup gives gig workers coffee in exchange for their data. (Rest of World)

10 We may be living in a colossal cosmic void 🪐
If it can be proved, it would upend everything we know about the cosmos. (New Scientist $)

Margaret Mitchell had been working at Google for two years before she realized she needed a break. Only after she spoke with a therapist did she understand the problem: she was burnt out.

Mitchell, who now works as chief ethics scientist at the AI startup Hugging Face, is far from alone in her experience. Burnout is becoming increasingly common in responsible AI teams.

All the practitioners MIT Technology Review interviewed spoke enthusiastically about their work: it is fueled by passion, a sense of urgency, and the satisfaction of building solutions for real problems. But that sense of mission can be overwhelming without the right support. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

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.)

+ Give this vacuum cleaner a Coachella slot, stat.
+ Here’s how philosophy can make your life easier.
+ Moving across continents is no mean feat.
+ How on earth is Pokémon Pinball 35 years old!?

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