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Another month, another flood of weird and wonderful images generated by an artificial intelligence. In April, OpenAI showed off its new picture-making neural network, DALL-E 2, which could produce remarkable high-res images of almost anything it was asked to. It outstripped the original DALL-E in almost every way.

Now, just a few weeks later, Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. And it performs even better than DALL-E 2: it scores higher on a standard measure for rating the quality of computer-generated images, and the pictures it produced were preferred by a group of human judges.

“We’re living through the AI space race!” one Twitter user commented. “The stock image industry is officially toast,” tweeted another.

We are thrilled to announce Imagen, a text-to-image model with unprecedented photorealism and deep language understanding. Explore https://t.co/mSplg4FlsM and Imagen!

A large rusted ship stuck in a frozen lake. Snowy mountains and beautiful sunset in the background. #imagen pic.twitter.com/96Vfo2kXJz

— Chitwan Saharia (@Chitwan_Saharia) May 24, 2022

Many of Imagen’s images are indeed jaw-dropping. At a glance, some of its outdoor scenes could have been lifted from the pages of National Geographic. Marketing teams could use Imagen to produce billboard-ready advertisements with just a few clicks.

But as OpenAI did with DALL-E, Google is going all in on cuteness. Both firms promote their tools with pictures of anthropomorphic animals doing adorable things: a fuzzy panda dressed as a chef making dough, a corgi sitting in a house made of sushi, a teddy bear swimming the 400-meter butterfly at the Olympics—and it goes on.

New @GoogleAI work:

Input: “Two meerkats sitting next to each other on top of a mountain and looking at the beautiful landscape. There is a mountain, a river lake, and fields of yellow flowers. There are hot air balloons in the sky.”#imagen https://t.co/JEgyNrcJjl

Output: https://t.co/uj4urjnZPF pic.twitter.com/I1zx8ZARBl

— Jeff Dean (@

) (@JeffDean) May 24, 2022

There’s a technical, as well as PR, reason for this. Mixing concepts like “fuzzy panda” and “making dough” forces the neural network to learn how to manipulate those concepts in a way that makes sense. But the cuteness hides a darker side to these tools, one that the public doesn’t get to see because it would reveal the ugly truth about how they are created.

Most of the images that OpenAI and Google make public are cherry-picked. We only see cute images that match their prompts with uncanny accuracy—that’s to be expected. But we also see no images that contain hateful stereotypes, racism, or misogyny. There is no violent, sexist imagery. There is no panda porn. And from what we know about how these tools are built—there should be.

Not a single human face depicted in the hundreds of pictures in the paper, haha. I guess that’s one way to eliminate concerns over representation bias. https://t.co/tKX8khoTDR

— mike cook (@mtrc) May 23, 2022

It’s no secret that large models, such as DALL-E 2 and Imagen, trained on vast numbers of documents and images taken from the web, absorb the worst aspects of that data as well as the best. OpenAI and Google explicitly acknowledge this.   

Scroll down the Imagen website—past the dragon fruit wearing a karate belt and the small cactus wearing a hat and sunglasses—to the section on societal impact and you get this: “While a subset of our training data was filtered to removed noise and undesirable content, such as pornographic imagery and toxic language, we also utilized [the] LAION-400M dataset which is known to contain a wide range of inappropriate content including pornographic imagery, racist slurs, and harmful social stereotypes. Imagen relies on text encoders trained on uncurated web-scale data, and thus inherits the social biases and limitations of large language models. As such, there is a risk that Imagen has encoded harmful stereotypes and representations, which guides our decision to not release Imagen for public use without further safeguards in place.”

It’s the same kind of acknowledgement that OpenAI made when it revealed GPT-3 in 2019: “internet-trained models have internet-scale biases.” And as Mike Cook, who researches AI creativity at Queen Mary University of London, has pointed out, it’s in the ethics statements that accompanied Google’s large language model PaLM and OpenAI’s DALL-E 2. In short, these firms know that their models are capable of producing awful content, and they have no idea how to fix that. 

I feel like at some point in the last few years we somehow confused “AI ethics” with “pointing at the mess you made and shrugging”.https://t.co/JEu2ngilEZ pic.twitter.com/mMbNQUzgXW

— mike

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By: Will Douglas Heaven
Title: The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/05/25/1052695/dark-secret-cute-ai-animal-images-dalle-openai-imagen-google/
Published Date: Wed, 25 May 2022 11:52:23 +0000

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Why China’s EV ambitions need virtual power plants

This story first appeared in China Report, MIT Technology Review’s newsletter about technology in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The first time I heard the term “virtual power plants,” I was reporting on how extreme heat waves in 2022 had overwhelmed the Chinese grid and led the government to restrict electric-vehicle charging as an emergency solution. I was told at the time that virtual power plants (VPPs) could make grid breakdowns like that less likely to happen again, but I didn’t have a chance to delve in to learn what that meant.

If you, like me, are unsure how a power plant can be virtual, my colleague June Kim just published an insightful article explaining the technology and how it works. For this week’s newsletter, I took the chance to ask her some more questions about VPPs. It turns out the technology has a particularly good synergy with the EV industry, which is why the Chinese government has started to invest in VPPs.

“VPPs are basically just aggregations of distributed energy resources that can balance electricity on the grid,” June says—resources including electric-vehicle chargers, heat pumps, rooftop solar panels, and home battery packs for power backups. “They’re working in coordination to replace the function of a centralized coal plant or gas plant … but also add a whole host of other functionalities that are beneficial for the grid,” she says.

To really make the most of these resources, VPPs introduce another layer: a central smart system that coordinates energy consumption and supply.

This system allows utility companies to handle times of higher energy demand by making adjustments like shifting EV charge time to 2 a.m. to avoid peak hours.

The US government is working to triple VPP capacity by 2030, June says. That capacity is equivalent to 80 to 160 fossil-fuel plants that don’t have to be built. “They expect that EV batteries and the EV charging infrastructure are going to be the biggest factor in building up this additional VPP capacity,” she says.

Considering the significant impact that EVs have on the grid, it’s no surprise that China, where an EV revolution is taking place faster than in any other country, has also turned its attention to VPPs.

By the end of 2023, there were over 20 million EVs in China, almost half the global total. Together, these cars can consume monstrous amounts of energy—but their batteries can also be an emergency backup source. The power shortage that happens in China almost every summer is an urgent reminder that the country needs to figure out how to incorporate these millions of EVs into the existing grid.

Luckily, there are already some moves in this area, both from the Chinese government and from Chinese EV companies.

In January 2024, China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning authority, released a blueprint for integrating EV charging infrastructure into the grid. The country plans to start pilot programs with dynamic electricity pricing in a few cities: lower prices late at night can incentivize EV owners to charge their vehicles when the grid is not stressed. The goal is that no more than 40% of EV charging will take place outside these “trough hours.” There will also be a batch of bidirectional charging stations in public and private spaces. At these chargers, batteries can either draw electricity from the grid or send it back.

Meanwhile, NIO, a leading Chinese EV company, is transforming its own charging networks. Last month, 10 NIO charging stations opened in Shanghai that allow vehicles to feed energy back into the grid. The company also has over 2,000 battery-swapping stations across the country. These are ideal energy storage resources for the VPP network. Some of them have already been connected to VPP pilot programs in eastern China, the company said in July 2023.

One of the key obstacles to adoption of VPPs is getting people to sign up to participate. But there’s a compelling reward on offer: money.

If the reverse-charging infrastructure grows larger, millions of Chinese EV owners could make a little income by charging at the right times and selling electricity at others.

We don’t know how much earning potential there is, since these pilot programs are still in their very early stages in China. But existing VPP projects in the US can offer some reference. Over the course of one summer, a Massachusetts home can make an estimated $550; participants in a separate VPP project in Texas can earn an estimated $150 per year. “It’s not huge, but it’s not nothing,” June says.

Obviously, it will take a long time to transform our electric grids. But developing VPPs along with the EV charging network seems like a win-win situation for China: it helps the country maintain its lead in the EV industry, and it also makes the grid more

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: Why China’s EV ambitions need virtual power plants
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/21/1088748/virtual-power-plant-electric-vehicle/
Published Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2024 11:00:00 +0000

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The Download: deep diving, and virtual power plants in China

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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.

Meet the divers trying to figure out how deep humans can go

Two hundred thirty meters into one of the deepest underwater caves on Earth, Richard “Harry” Harris knew that not far ahead of him was a 15-meter drop leading to a place no human being had seen before.

Getting there had taken two helicopters, three weeks of test dives, two tons of equipment, and hard work to overcome an unexpected number of technical problems. But in the moment, Harris was hypnotized by what was before him: the vast, black, gaping unknown.

Staring into it, he felt the familiar pull—maybe he could go just a little farther. Instead, he and his diving partner, Craig Challen, decided to turn back. They weren’t there to exceed 245 meters—a depth they’d reached three years earlier. Nor were they there to set a depth record—that would mean going past 308 meters.

They were there to test what they saw as a possible key to unlocking depths beyond even 310 meters: breathing hydrogen. Read the full story.

—Samantha Schuyler

This story is from the next print issue of MIT Technology Review, all about exploring hidden worlds. Want to get your hands on a copy when it publishes next Wednesday? Subscribe now

Why China’s EV ambitions need virtual power plants

Virtual power plants (VPPs) are an idea whose time has arrived. They’re basically a layer on top of resources like electric vehicle chargers, solar panels, and battery packs, which allow you to coordinate energy consumption and supply. This lets utility companies handle times of higher energy demand by adjusting the end use of electricity, for example reducing the efficiency of an EV charger so it takes longer to finish and thus puts less burden on the grid.

In China, which is adopting electric vehicles faster than any other country, VPPs could be transformational. The country has just started testing programs which incentivize EV owners to charge their vehicles late at night, when there’s less demand on the grid.

It’s also piloting bidirectional charging stations, which would let EV owners not only use electricity, but even sell it back into the grid at times of peak demand, earning them a little extra cash. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter giving you behind-the-scenes insights into China and its tech scene. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Alabama’s Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are ‘children’
It’s a worrying development, especially for people seeking infertility treatments. (CNN)
The first IVF babies conceived by a robot have been born. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Inside AI startup Anthrophic’s funding spree
Investors cannot hand money over to promising AI companies quickly enough right now, it seems. (NYT $)
OpenAI is now valued at a staggering $86 billion. (Bloomberg $)
Why the New York Times could win against OpenAI. (Ars Technica)

3 The EU is setting up rules for sucking CO2 out of the sky
It’s creating a first-of-its-kind certification framework for carbon removal technologies. (The Verge)
How carbon removal technology is like a time machine. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Researchers are imbibing AI with human-like qualities
No one is immune from anthropomorphism, it seems. (New Scientist $)
If you’ve posted on Reddit, your words are probably being used to train AI. (Ars Technica)

5 What mind-reading devices can teach us
They’re restoring functions like speech and movement. But they’re also shining a light on how the brain works. (Nature)
Elon Musk claims the first Neuralink patient can now control a computer mouse with their thoughts. (CNBC)

6 Fake funeral livestream scams are proliferating on Facebook
Beyond grim, and Meta’s doing almost nothing to prevent it. (404 Media)

7 A spacecraft is about to try to snag some space junk
If it works, it’ll be an important development for the effort to clear Earth’s orbit of debris. (Ars Technica)

8 People are breeding pythons to have ‘emoji’ patterns
🐍
But, as always amid a gold rush, some of them are doing some deeply unethical things in the process. (New Yorker $)

9 How scientists predicted Iceland’s vast volcanic eruption
And saved a lot of lives in the process. (Quanta)
How machine learning might unlock earthquake prediction. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Older people are among VR’s most enthusiastic adopters
And studies

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: deep diving, and virtual power plants in China
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/21/1088754/deep-diving-virtual-power-plants-china/
Published Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2024 13:10:00 +0000

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Cryptocurrency Payments for Insurance: Are Insurance Companies Really Embracing Bitcoin and Altcoins?

Inguard Crypto Payment for Insurance 587x330 1 jpg

It is no longer unusual to hear that a bank accepts savings in Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the like. Or that a loan company helps businesses with crypto. After all, the traditional financial and insurance industries were among the first to adopt cryptocurrencies. The latter ones have found more than one way to incorporate these means of payment into their business. This approach proved useful not only for companies but also for policyholders.

The above claim was confirmed by several recent surveys, including that of Goldman Sachs, which showed that 6% of respondents (over 300 financial executives in the insurance sector) verified that their companies invest in crypto.

Benefits for Policyholders and Insurance Companies

Several things make cryptocurrencies attractive, not only for insurance companies but also for policyholders. Some of them are beneficial to both parties, and some are specific.

So, when it comes to policyholders, they can expect several advantages of using crypto. One of the most notable is the opportunity for diversification. Thanks to crypto, they can get another asset (on top of the traditional ones) to add to their diversification strategy. By doing this, they can spread risk and keep their funds protected.

Also, policyholders can count on speedy transactions because crypto transactions are usually processed much faster than wire transfers. Receiving claim payouts on time in urgent situations is possible thanks to cryptocurrency.

We should also note that they get more privacy because they can stay pseudonymous.

On the other hand, insurance companies benefit from reduced transaction costs, faster settlements, improved security, and a few other things.

Successful Examples

It’s one thing to discuss things in theory and another to see how they work in real life. Fortunately, there are many successful examples of insurance companies accepting crypto as a payment plan.

INGUARD

Inguard Crypto Payment for Insurance 587x330 2 jpg

INGUARD is one of the leading digital insurance companies based in the U.S. It provides its services in all 50 U.S. States. What makes INGUARD truly special is that they were the first insurance companies in North America to accept Bitcoin payments in 2013.

Interestingly, this brand is partnered with numerous tech companies who share their vision for insurance, including Fitbit and Michelin.

Lemonade

Some insurance companies rely on the blockchain. Lemonade is an excellent example of this. This brand throws blockchain technology and artificial intelligence into the mix or provides pet, car, home, and other types of insurance. It goes without saying that policyholders can use cryptocurrency as a payment plan.

XA

Insurance Axa Accepting Bitcoin 587x330 1 jpg

Compiling a list of insurance companies accepting crypto without mentioning

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By: CryptoNinjas.net
Title: Cryptocurrency Payments for Insurance: Are Insurance Companies Really Embracing Bitcoin and Altcoins?
Sourced From: www.cryptoninjas.net/2023/11/20/cryptocurrency-payments-for-insurance-are-insurance-companies-really-embracing-bitcoin-and-altcoins/
Published Date: Mon, 20 Nov 2023 06:07:04 +0000

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