This is today’s edition of The Download, Our weekday newsletter provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the world of technology.
What’s next for AI in 2024?
This time last year our AI writers did something reckless. In an industry where nothing stands still, they tried to predict the future.
It turns out that their predictions were quite accurate. They suggested that the next big development in chatbots would be multimodal (check), and that policymakers would draft strict new regulations (another check). Elsewhere, they were half right in predicting that big tech companies would feel the pressure from open source startups.
This year they do it again. Check out their predictions for the industry in 2024.
—Melissa Heikkilä and Will Douglas Heaven
+ If you’re interested in this topic, why not take a look at how these six questions will dictate the future of generative AI? Their future (and ours) will be determined by what we do next.
Quantum computing faces its biggest challenge: noise
Over the past 20 years, hundreds of companies have staked their claim in the rush to establish quantum computing. Investors have contributed more than $5 billion so far. All of this effort has one purpose: to create the world’s next big thing.
But ultimately evaluating our progress in building useful quantum computers comes down to one central factor: whether we can handle the noise. The delicate nature of their systems makes them extremely vulnerable to the slightest perturbation, which can lead to errors or even stop a quantum calculation in its tracks.
In recent years, a series of advances have led researchers to declare that the noise problem could finally be on the ropes. Read the full story.
This story is from the next issue of MIT Technology Review, which will be published on January 8 and is about innovation. If you are not yet subscribed, take advantage of our seasonal subscription offers to get a copy when it arrives.
The online art catalog that chronicles a stolen African heritage
When British forces attacked the African kingdom of Benin in the late 19th century, they took away thousands of sculptures dating back centuries. The artifacts, known as Benin Bronzes, were sold to private collectors and museums in the Global North and, despite long-standing pressure, many institutions, particularly in Germany and the United Kingdom, have resisted calls to share information about the Benin Bronzes in his collection.
The launch in November 2022 of a pioneering platform called Digital Benin is helping to determine for the first time how many are outside Nigeria and where. But the site is just one step on the path toward restoring the artifacts to the Edo people to which they belong. Read the full story.
The hidden climate cost of everything around us
The world is building and manufacturing things like never before, from roads and hospitals to vehicles and furniture. That’s good news for the people who benefit from it, but it has also made industries like manufacturing and construction hungry for raw materials.
This is a growing climate concern, because manufacturing, using and disposing of certain materials can generate massive amounts of emissions. Adding all this up, global materials production accounts for something like a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions today.
Our climate reporter Casey Crownhart has investigated why materials are the climate problem we don’t talk about enough. Read the full story.
This story is from The Checkup, our weekly climate and energy newsletter. Register to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.
The required readings
I’ve searched the Internet to find the funniest, most important, most terrifying, and most fascinating stories about technology today.
1 SpaceX has been accused of firing workers critical of Elon Musk
Eight employees who expressed concern about the company’s founder were reportedly illegally fired. (New York $)
+ Workers say SpaceX is immersed in a toxic work culture. (BBC)
2 What happens when chatbots unleash each other?
Things get really complicated, for example. (Motherboard)
+ Three ways AI chatbots are a security disaster. (MIT Technology Review)
3 Crypto Scams Are Getting More Convincing
Courtesy of easily accessible deepfake tools. (The edge)
4 Off-the-radar fishing threatens to deplete fish stocks
The vast majority of fishing vessels are not tracked and the ocean is suffering as a result. (FT$)
+ But artificial intelligence tools could help shed light on nautical blind spots. (Economist $)
+ Ghost ships, crop circles and soft gold: a GPS mystery in Shanghai. (MIT Technology Review)
Five women in the US are stockpiling abortion pills
Uncertainty about whether their area will limit access to abortion medications is prompting some women to stock up preemptively. ($wired)
+ Texas is testing new tactics to restrict access to abortion pills online. (MIT Technology Review)
Six American museums have been affected by a major cyberattack
Visitors have not been able to browse the institution’s online collections. (New York $)
7 chipmakers could soon detect vulnerabilities on the assembly line
Thanks to a revamped version of a familiar instability detection technique. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ The United States will issue some early subsidies to boost indigenous chip production. (Reuters)
8 brands clamoring to work with AI influencers
But there is no guarantee that they can whip products more effectively. (New magazine $)
+ Chinese influencer deepfakes are broadcast live 24/7. (MIT Technology Review)
9 Maybe think twice before sending that voice note
The recipient may not always be in the right frame of mind to listen. (The Atlantic $)
10 A teenager has become the first player to ‘beat’ Tetris
But Willis Gibson’s victory was far from conventional. (Bloomberg$)
+ The 13-year-old used a revolutionary method to play faster. (404 Media)
Quote of the day
“At SpaceX the rockets may be reusable, but the people who build them are treated as expendable.”
—Paige Holland-Thielen, a former SpaceX employee who was fired after circulating a letter criticizing Elon Musk, takes aim at the company’s business practices, the Financial Times reports.
the great story
How touch graphics can help end image poverty
In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic lockdown, my husband and I bought a house in Brooklyn and decided to rebuild the interior. He taught me some key architectural symbols and before long I was drawing my own concepts, working towards a shared vision of the house we ultimately designed.
It’s a common story, except for one key factor: I am blind, and my mission is to ensure that blind New Yorkers can create and explore images. As a blind technology educator, my job (and passion) is to introduce blind and low vision users to tools that help them navigate daily life with autonomy and ease. Read the full story.
We can still have nice things.
A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these strange times. (Do you have any idea? drop me a line either tweet them to me.)
+ Oh, maybe opposites don’t attract after all.
+ These twins born on either side of midnight on New Year’s Eve will not share the same date or year of birth!
+ If you joined a gym last week, don’t forget these essential rules.
+ Lose yourself in the winning images of the latest International Landscape Photographer of the Year competition.
+ Are you lucky enough to live in one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world?