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May 26, 2024

The Download: hyperrealistic deepfakes, and clean energy’s implications for mining

The Download: hyperrealistic deepfakes, and clean energy’s implications for mining

Until now, AI-generated videos of people have tended to have some stiffness, glitchiness, or other unnatural elements that make them pretty easy to differentiate from reality.

For the past several years, AI video startup Synthesia has produced these kinds of AI-generated avatars. But today it launches a new generation, its first to take advantage of the latest advancements in generative AI, and they are more realistic and expressive than anything we’ve seen before.

While today’s release means almost anyone will now be able to make a digital double, before the technology went public, Synthesia agreed to make one of Melissa Heikkilä, our senior AI reporter.

This technological progress signals a much larger shift. Increasingly, so much of what we see on our screens is generated (or at least tinkered with) by AI, and it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish what is real from what is not. And this threatens our trust in everything we see, which could have very dangerous consequences. Read the full story and check out the synthetic version of Melissa.

Want less mining? Switch to clean energy.

Political fights over mining and minerals are heating up, and there are growing concerns about how to source the materials the world needs to build new energy technologies. 

But low-emissions energy sources, including wind, solar, and nuclear power, have a smaller mining footprint than coal and natural gas, according to a new report from the Breakthrough Institute released today.

The report’s findings add to a growing body of evidence that technologies used to address climate change will likely lead to a future with less mining than a world powered by fossil fuels. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

In the climate world, hydrogen is perhaps the ultimate multi-tool. It can be used in fuel cells or combustion engines and is sometimes called the Swiss Army knife for cleaning up emissions. But the reality today is that hydrogen is much more of a climate problem than a solution. To find out why, check out the latest edition of The Spark, our weekly climate and energy newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

A new kind of gene-edited pig kidney was just transplanted into a person

The news: A month ago, Richard Slayman became the first living person to receive a kidney transplant from a gene-edited pig. Now, a team of researchers from NYU Langone Health reports that Lisa Pisano, a 54-year-old woman from New Jersey, has become the second.

Why it matters: Pisano’s new kidney came from pigs that carry just a single genetic alteration—to eliminate a specific sugar called alpha-gal, which can trigger immediate organ rejection. In the coming weeks, doctors will be monitoring Pisano closely for signs of organ rejection. If it’s successful, researchers hope the approach could make scaling up the production of pig organs simpler. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

Almost every Chinese keyboard app has a security flaw that reveals what users type

In a nutshell: Almost all keyboard apps used by Chinese people around the world share a security loophole that makes it possible to spy on what users are typing.

Why it’s a big deal:

The vulnerability, which allows the keystroke data that these apps send to the cloud to be intercepted, has existed for years and could have been exploited by cybercriminals and state surveillance groups, according to researchers at the Citizen Lab, a technology and security research lab affiliated with the University of Toronto. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

The must-reads

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

1 Meta’s AI push is only just beginning
The company plans to sink $40 billion into its AI projects this year alone—but it hasn’t worked out how to make money from them yet. (Insider $)
+ The news didn’t go down well with Meta’s investors. (The Information $)+ Mark Zuckerberg isn’t ready to give up on the metaverse just yet. (FT $)

2 US chipmaker Micron has been given a major boost
To the tune of $13.6 billion in government funding. (FT $)
+ It could be several months before the money arrives, though. (Bloomberg $)

3 A nuclear fusion experiment has overcome two major barriers
But we don’t know if the operative ‘sweet spot’ it identified could be replicated in larger reactors. (New Scientist $)
+ The next generation of nuclear reactors is getting more advanced. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The US wants Binance’s founder to spend three years in prison
However, lawyers for Changpeng Zhao argue he shouldn’t go to prison at all. (CoinDesk)
+ The cryptocurrency exchange is attempting to distance itself from its former CEO. (NYT $)

5 Nvidia is gobbling up promising-looking startups
It’s in the company’s interests to reduce the high costs of running AI models. (The Information $)

6 In Saudi Arabia, AI is the new oil
And US tech giants are scrambling to get involved. (NYT $)

7 The Earth is rotating more slowly than it used to
You can blame climate change for the gradual slowdown. (Economist $)
+ Three climate technologies breaking through in 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

8 These men are repatriating colonial artifacts in audacious digital heists
Their work raises urgent questions about cultural ownership and appropriation. (The Guardian)
+ AI is bringing the internet to submerged Roman ruins. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Robocalls are one of life’s nuisances
David Frankel has spent an impressive 12 years trying to stop them. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ Call centers’ days could be numbered, thanks to the rise of AI. (FT $)

10 Seaweed could be a rich resource of precious minerals 
A new project is hoping to get some answers. (Hakai Magazine)

Quote of the day

“No patient should be a guinea pig, and no nurse should be replaced by a robot.”

—Cathy Kennedy, co-president of the California Nurses Association, criticizes the creep of AI into healthcare without safeguards, 404 Media reports.

The big story

The rise of the tech ethics congregation

August 2023

Just before Christmas last year, a pastor preached a gospel of morals over money to several hundred members of his flock. But the leader in question was not an ordained minister, nor even a religious man.

Polgar, 44, is the founder of All Tech Is Human, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting ethics and responsibility in tech. His congregation is undergoing dramatic growth in an age when the life of the spirit often struggles to compete with cold, hard, capitalism.

Its leaders believe there are large numbers of individuals in and around the technology world, often from marginalized backgrounds, who wish tech focused less on profits and more on being a force for ethics and justice. But attempts to stay above the fray can cause more problems than they solve. Read the full story.

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