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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.

DeepMind has predicted the structure of almost every protein known to science

The news: DeepMind says its AlphaFold tool has successfully predicted the structure of nearly all proteins known to science. From today, it’s offering its database of over 200 million proteins to anyone for free. It’s a massive boost to the existing database of 1 million proteins it released last year, and includes structures for plants, bacteria, animals, and many other organisms.

Why it matters: The expanded database opens up huge opportunities for AlphaFold to have impact on important issues such as sustainability, fuel, food insecurity, and neglected diseases, according to Demis Hassabis, DeepMind’s founder and CEO. Scientists could use the findings to better understand diseases, and to speed innovation in drug discovery and biology, he added. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

AI for protein folding represents such a major advance that it was chosen as one of MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies this year. Read our story explaining why it’s so exciting, and our profile of DeepMind’s founder Demis Hassabis, where he explains why this may be the company’s most significant and long-lasting contribution to science.

Stitching together the grid will save lives as extreme weather worsens

The blistering heat waves that set temperature records across much of the US in recent days have strained electricity systems, threatening to knock out power in vulnerable regions of the country. While the electricity has largely stayed online so far this summer, heavy use of energy-sucking air-conditioners and the intense heat has contributed to scattered problems and close calls.

It’s unlikely to get better soon. A number of grid operators may struggle to meet peak summer demand, creating the risk of rolling blackouts, a new report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation has found. The nation’s isolated and antiquated grids are in desperate need of upgrades.

One solution would be to more tightly integrate the country’s regional grids, stitching them together with more long-range transmission lines, allowing power to flow between regions to where it’s needed more urgently. However, that’s a mission that’s fraught with challenges. Read the full story.

—James Temple

The must-reads

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

1 Meta’s revenue dropped for the first time
The cracks in Mark Zuckerberg’s pivot to the metaverse are beginning to show. (NYT $)
More people are logging into Facebook each day, though. (WP $)
Zuck says Meta is in ‘very deep, philosophical competition’ with Apple. (The Verge)
Discord is a natural home for users disillusioned by Instagram. (WSJ $)
Ex-Facebook and Bumble workers have built their own ‘less toxic’ social network. (Protocol)

2 Senators have advanced child online safety legislation 
But others argue that such safeguards should apply to users of all ages. (WP $)
Three wannabe senators have deep links to the tech firms they’re railing against. (NYT $)

3 A Greek politician was targeted by Israeli spyware
He’s filed a lawsuit to force Greek authorities to investigate who was behind the attempted hack. (NYT $)
Carine Kanimba claimed the Rwandan government used Pegasus spyware to spy on her family. (Motherboard)
The hacking industry faces the end of an era. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Bitcoin prices are rising again
After the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. (CNBC)

5 Take a journey across the universe
?
This amazing guide walks you through everything from exoplanets to supermassive black holes. (New Scientist $)
Will the universe’s expansion mean planets no longer orbit stars? (MIT Technology Review)

7 Your modern car is leaking your data
While a lot of it’s anonymized, the risk of privacy breaches is real. (The Markup)

8 Top-quality TVs lay bare bad CGI 
Showing up all its poorly-rendered flaws. (Vulture $)

9 Is DALL-E’s art stolen?
While users can commercialize their AI creations, the model is trained on others’ work. (Engadget)
Lawyers could choose to represent AIs in future courtroom battles. (Slate)
OpenAI is ready to sell DALL-E to its first million customers. (MIT Technology Review)

10 What old dogs can teach us about our own brains
Just don’t try to teach them new tricks. (Knowable Magazine)

Quote of the day

“This is not the Instagram that we used to have.”

—Tatiana Bruening, the creator of a viral post urging Instagram to stop trying to be TikTok, laments the platform’s

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: a big DeepMind breakthrough, and fixing the US grid
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/07/28/1056519/download-deepmind-protein-folding-us-power-grid-connect-heat/
Published Date: Thu, 28 Jul 2022 12:05:14 +0000

Tech

Algorithms are everywhere

cover.filterworld jpg

Like a lot of Netflix subscribers, I find that my personal feed tends to be hit or miss. Usually more miss. The movies and shows the algorithms recommend often seem less predicated on my viewing history and ratings, and more geared toward promoting whatever’s newly available. Still, when a superhero movie starring one of the world’s most famous actresses appeared in my “Top Picks” list, I dutifully did what 78 million other households did and clicked.

As I watched the movie, something dawned on me: recommendation algorithms like the ones Netflix pioneered weren’t just serving me what they thought I’d like—they were also shaping what gets made. And not in a good way.

cover of Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture by Kyle Chayka
DOUBLEDAY

The movie in question wasn’t bad, necessarily. The acting was serviceable, and it had high production values and a discernible plot (at least for a superhero movie). What struck me, though, was a vague sense of déjà vu—as if I’d watched this movie before, even though I hadn’t. When it ended, I promptly forgot all about it.

That is, until I started reading Kyle Chayka’s recent book, Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture. A staff writer for the New Yorker, Chayka is an astute observer of the ways the internet and social media affect culture. “Filterworld” is his coinage for “the vast, interlocking … network of algorithms” that influence both our daily lives and the “way culture is distributed and consumed.”

Music, film, the visual arts, literature, fashion, journalism, food—Chayka argues that algorithmic recommendations have fundamentally altered all these cultural products, not just influencing what gets seen or ignored but creating a kind of self-reinforcing blandness we are all contending with now.

That superhero movie I watched is a prime example. Despite my general ambivalence toward the genre, Netflix’s algorithm placed the film at the very top of my feed, where I was far more likely to click on it. And click I did. That “choice” was then recorded by the algorithms, which probably surmised that I liked the movie and then recommended it to even more viewers. Watch, wince, repeat.

“Filterworld culture is ultimately homogenous,” writes Chayka, “marked by a pervasive sense of sameness even when its artifacts aren’t literally the same.” We may all see different things in our feeds, he says, but they are increasingly the same kind of different. Through these milquetoast feedback loops, what’s popular becomes more popular, what’s obscure quickly disappears, and the lowest-­common-denominator forms of entertainment inevitably rise to the top again and again.

This is actually the opposite of the personalization Netflix promises, Chayka notes. Algorithmic recommendations reduce taste—traditionally, a nuanced and evolving opinion we form about aesthetic and artistic matters—into a few easily quantifiable data points. That oversimplification subsequently forces the creators of movies, books, and music to adapt to the logic and pressures of the algorithmic system. Go viral or die. Engage. Appeal to as many people as possible. Be popular.

A joke posted on X by a Google engineer sums up the problem: “A machine learning algorithm walks into a bar. The bartender asks, ‘What’ll you have?’ The algorithm says, ‘What’s everyone else having?’” “In algorithmic culture, the right choice is always what the majority of other people have already chosen,” writes Chayka.

One challenge for someone writing a book like Filterworld—or really any book dealing with matters of cultural import—is the danger of (intentionally or not) coming across as a would-be arbiter of taste or, worse, an outright snob. As one might ask, what’s wrong with a little mindless entertainment? (Many asked just that in response to Martin Scorsese’s controversial Harper’s essay  in 2021, which decried Marvel movies and the current state of cinema.) 

Chayka addresses these questions head on. He argues that we’ve really only traded one set of gatekeepers (magazine editors, radio DJs, museum curators) for another (Google, Facebook, TikTok, Spotify). Created and controlled by a handful of unfathomably rich and powerful companies (which are usually led by a rich and powerful white man), today’s algorithms don’t even attempt to reward or

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By: Bryan Gardiner
Title: Algorithms are everywhere
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/27/1088164/algorithms-book-reviews-kyle-chayka-chris-wiggins-matthew-l-jones-josh-simons/
Published Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2024 10:15:00 +0000

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Tech

China’s next cultural export could be TikTok-style short soap operas

1031708703501 .pic hd scaled

Until last year, Ty Coker, a 28-year-old voice actor who lives in Missouri, mostly voiced video games and animations. But in December, they got a casting call for their first shot at live-action content: a Chinese series called Adored by the CEO, which was being remade for an American audience. Coker was hired to dub one of the main characters.

But you won’t find Adored by the CEO on TV or Netflix. Instead, it’s on FlexTV, a Chinese app filled with short dramas like this one. The shows on FlexTV are shot for phone screens, cut into about 90 two-minute episodes, and optimized for today’s extremely short attention span. Coker calls it “soap operas for the TikTok age.”

In the past few years, these short dramas have become hugely popular in China. They often span nearly a hundred episodes, but since each episode is only one or two minutes long, the whole series is no longer than a traditional movie. The most successful domestic productions make tens of millions of dollars in a few days. The entire market of short dramas in China was worth over $5 billion in 2023.

This success has motivated a few companies to try replicating the business model outside China. Not only is FlexTV translating and dubbing shows already released in China, but it has also started filming shows in the US for a more authentically American viewing experience.

It’s easy to compare apps like these to Quibi, a high-profile video service that infamously failed after less than a year in 2020.

But these latest Chinese apps are different. They don’t aim for slick, expensive productions. Instead, they choose simple scripts, shoot an entire series in two weeks, market it heavily online, and move on to the next project if it doesn’t stick.

“The biggest difference between short dramas and films is that they provide different things. We have to analyze the psychological needs of our audience and understand what they want to see … and we try to provide some emotional values,” Xiangchen Gao, the chief operations officer of FlexTV, tells MIT Technology Review.

When a show finds the right audience, it can generate significant revenue in the US too. The top-grossing show on FlexTV can bring in $2 million a week, while the production costs less than $150,000, Wang says.

Several other apps, like ReelShort and DramaBox, are also racing to bring Chinese short dramas to an international audience. They frequently top app stores’ download charts and produce blockbuster shows. Short dramas have been proven to work in China. It’s not always easy to replicate a business model in a different market, but if they succeed, they could be China’s next big cultural export.

The roots in Chinese web novels

Short dramas like Adored by the CEO are often adapted from another cultural product that is distinctly Chinese: web novels.

Web novels are a unique form of literature that has been popular on the Chinese internet for much of the last two decades: long stories that are written and posted chapter by chapter every day. Each chapter can be read in less than 10 minutes, but installments will keep being added for months if not years. Readers become avid fans, waiting for the new chapter to come out every day and paying a few cents to access it.

While some talented Chinese book authors got their big break by writing web novels, the majority of these works are the popcorn of literature, offering daily bite-size dopamine hits. For a while in the 2010s, some found an audience overseas too, with Chinese companies setting up websites to translate web novels into English.

But in the age of TikTok, long text posts have become less popular online, and the web-novel industry is looking to pivot. Business executives have realized they can adapt these novels into super-short dramas. Both forms aim for the same market: people who want something quick to kill time in their commute, or during breaks and lunch.

Many of the leading Chinese short-drama apps today work closely with Chinese web-novel companies. ReelShort is partially owned by COL Group, one of the largest digital publishers in China, with a treasure trove of novels that are ready for adaptation.

Read More

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: China’s next cultural export could be TikTok-style short soap operas
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/27/1088980/chinese-short-drama-tiktok-flextv/
Published Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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Tech

The Download: tiny TikTok-style soap operas, and how algorithms change us

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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.

China’s next cultural export could be TikTok-style short soap operas

Until last year, Ty Coker, a 28-year-old voice actor who lives in Missouri, mostly voiced video games and animations. But in December, they got a casting call for their first shot at live-action content: a Chinese series called Adored by the CEO, which was being remade for an American audience. Coker was hired to dub one of the main characters.

But you won’t find Adored by the CEO on TV or Netflix. Instead, it’s on FlexTV, a Chinese app filled with short dramas like this one. The shows on FlexTV are shot for phone screens, cut into about 90 two-minute episodes, and optimized for today’s extremely short attention span. Coker calls it “soap operas for the TikTok age.”

In the past few years, these short dramas have become hugely popular in China, and the most successful domestic productions make tens of millions of dollars in a few days. This success has motivated a few companies to replicate the business model outside China. If they succeed, they could be China’s next big cultural export. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

How Wi-Fi sensing became usable tech 

Wi-Fi sensing is a tantalizing concept: that the same routers bringing you the internet could also detect your movements. But, as a way to monitor health, it’s mostly been eclipsed by other technologies, like ultra-wideband radar.

Despite that, Wi-Fi sensing hasn’t gone away. Instead, it has quietly become available in millions of homes, supported by leading internet service providers, smart-home companies, and chip manufacturers.

Wi-Fi’s ubiquity continues to make it an attractive platform to build upon, especially as networks continually become more robust. Soon, thanks to better algorithms and more standardized chip designs, it could be invisibly monitoring our day-to-day movements for all sorts of surprising—and sometimes alarming—purposes. Read the full story.

—Meg Duff

Ubiquitous algorithms are shaping culture

Music, film, the visual arts, literature, fashion, journalism, food—algorithmic recommendations have fundamentally altered all these cultural products, not just influencing what gets seen or ignored but creating a kind of self-reinforcing blandness we are all contending with now.

This is actually the opposite of the personalization Netflix and other tech platforms promise. But why does it matter? And how did we get here? Three recently-released books try to get at some answers. Read our review of them.

—Bryan Gardiner

The two stories above are from the next issue of MIT Technology Review, set to land tomorrow. The theme of the magazine is hidden worlds. Subscribe to get your copy!

The must-reads

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

1 The US spacecraft that landed on the moon is about to stop functioning
But another lunar lander, from Japan, has unexpectedly popped back to life. (NYT $)

2 Meet the nine-month-old $2 billion French AI startup
Mistral claims it’ll rival US giants—but it’s also just taken money from Microsoft. (WSJ $)
Microsoft is investing an undisclosed amount into Mistral. (FT $)

3 How a local news website became an AI-generated clickbait farm
This case provides a fascinating insight into how generative AI is starting to fill the internet up with trash. (Wired $)
We are hurtling toward a glitchy, spammy, scammy, AI-powered internet. (MIT Technology Review)

4 A Democrat consultant admitted to being behind the Biden robocall
📞
Well, that was pretty dumb, as campaigning strategies go. (WP $)
The US is not ready for what AI is going to do to its elections. (The Guardian)
Meta is promising it’ll form a team to tackle deceptive uses of AI in the upcoming EU elections. (BBC)

5 The US is reportedly using AI to choose where to bomb
It used machine learning algorithms to identify targets in the Middle East this month, a defense official said. (Bloomberg $)
Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)

6 What a huge solar storm could do to us
☀
We’re poorly prepared for the havoc it could wreak on our energy grids and communication systems. (New Yorker $)

7 Bans on deepfakes take us only so far—here’s what we really need
Recent moves are promising, but the open source boom makes things tricky.

Read More

————

By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: tiny TikTok-style soap operas, and how algorithms change us
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/27/1089015/tiny-soap-operas-algorithms-change-us/
Published Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2024 13:01:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/how-antarcticas-history-of-isolation-is-endingthanks-to-starlink/

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