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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.

Where to get abortion pills and how to use them

If the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 legal decision that enshrined abortion as a constitutional right, parts of the country will be ready to plunge into a reproductive-rights dark age in which doctors are forbidden from providing any abortions, in some states even in cases of rape, incest, or a fetus with genetic abnormalities.

But there’s still one huge loophole: most of these pending state laws exempt the person seeking the abortion from any penalties. The likely result is an increase in the number of people ending pregnancies at home using so-called abortion pills.

MIT Technology Review spoke to medical professionals and reproductive-rights lawyers to find out how the abortion pills work, where to get them, and what the risks are of using them without a doctor’s care. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

The must-reads

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

1 The EU wants to make AI more ethical
But experts and major players are conflicted over how to achieve it—and even what it means. (New Statesman $)
A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of. (MIT Technology Review)
Google’s LaMDA AI is not sentient. (The Atlantic $)
+ But it’s unsurprising that people are increasingly fooled by human-like AI. (The Guardian) 
This AI is trying to recreate Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s mind. (WP $) 

2 The crypto crash is getting even worse
After a series of hacks targeted NFT project Discords. (Motherboard)
More asset exchanges are shedding workers, too. (FT $)

3 Internet Explorer is officially dead
After 27 long years of service, the browser is no more. (The Guardian)
Microsoft is under pressure to fix software vulnerabilities more quickly. (Ars Technica)

4 Brains have an inbuilt low-power mode

Which is particularly important for understanding how dieting affects people’s perceptions of the world. (Quanta)
The mysteries of the human brain. (MIT Technology Review)

5 One woman’s search for her father led to… an insemination doctor  
Joining a long list of victims of fertility fraud. (The Verge)

6 Sheryl Sandberg’s legacy looms large at Facebook 
But her specific brand of corporate feminism hasn’t aged well. (Slate $)
Experts are split over whether Meta’s plan to stop teenagers doomscrolling will work. (Protocol)

7 Fact checkers are debunking lies surrounding Sri Lanka’s crisis
Their protest tracking efforts are creating a comprehensive historical database. (Rest of World)

8 Virtual reality is helping children with autism to concentrate
By removing the distracting sensory stimuli of the real world. (NYT $)
Robots that teach autistic kids social skills could help them develop. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Minority Report tried to warn us
20 years on, maybe we should have listened. (The Atlantic $)

10 A love note to voice notes
Love them or hate them, they bridge the gap between calls and texts. (FT $)

Quote of the day

“Obviously, expensive digital images of monkeys are going to improve the world immensely.”

—Bill Gates sarcastically explains why he’s no fan of NFTs to a TechCrunch conference, reports CNBC.

The big story

Inside Timnit Gebru’s last days at Google—and what happens next

December 2020 

In December 2020, after a disagreement over the release of a research paper, Google forced out its ethical AI co-lead, Timnit Gebru. The paper was on the risks of large language models, which are a line of research core to Google’s business. Gebru, a leading voice in AI ethics, was one of the only Black women at Google Research.

The move sparked a debate about growing corporate influence over AI, the long-standing lack of diversity in tech, and what it means to do meaningful AI ethics research. Thousands of people in the industry signed a petition denouncing Gebru’s dismissal, calling it “unprecedented research censorship” and “an act of retaliation.”

We spoke to Gebru about her last days at Google—and her hopes for the future of AI. Read the full story.

—Karen Hao

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ Don’t you just hate it when you get a toilet roll stuck on your head?
+ These inspiring cooks are making delicious, hard-to-find Asian ingredients available in the States.
+ Break out the marmalade—Paddington 3 starts filming in 2023!
+ In defense of solo travel—and why everyone should try it at

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: Abortion pill access, and Europe’s ethical AI
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2022 12:00:00 +0000

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The Download: introducing the Hidden Worlds issue

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.

Introducing: the Hidden Worlds issue 

A hidden world is fundamentally different from the undiscovered. We know the hidden world is there. We just can’t see it or reach it.

Hidden worlds exist in the great depths of the ocean and high above us in the planets of the night sky. But they are also all around us in the form of waves and matter and microbes.

Technology has long played the spoiler to these worlds in hiding. We have used ships, airplanes, and rockets to shrink distances. Telescopes, cameras, satellites, drones, and radar help us peer into and map the places we cannot go ourselves. AI increasingly plays a role, too.

If this all fascinates you as much as us, you’ll love the latest issue of MIT Technology Review. It’s all about using technology to explore and expose those hidden worlds, whether they are in the ocean depths, in the far reaches of our galaxy, or swirling all around us, unseen.

Check out these stories from the magazine:

+ Why Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, is being investigated as a potential host for life.

+ Meet the intrepid divers experimenting with breathing hydrogen as part of an effort to reach depths no diver has ever been before.

+ Inside the hunt for new physics at the Large Hadron Collider, which hasn’t seen any new particles since the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012.

+ As AI develops at breakneck speed, this comic explains what we can all learn from the Luddites.

+ Here’s a job title you perhaps haven’t heard before, but will hear more in future: climate equity specialist.

This is just a small selection of what’s on offer. I urge you to dive in and enjoy the whole thing, when you find the time. Enjoy!

The first-ever mission to pull a dead rocket out of space has just begun

More than 9,000 metric tons of human-made metal and machinery are orbiting Earth, including satellites, shrapnel, and the International Space Station. But a significant bulk of that mass comes from one source: the nearly a thousand dead rockets that have been discarded in space since the space age began.

Now, for the first time, a mission has begun to remove one of those dead rockets. Funded by the Japanese space agency JAXA, it was launched on Sunday, February 18, and is currently on its way to rendezvous with such a rocket in the coming weeks.

It’ll inspect it and then work out how a follow-up mission might be able to pull the dead rocket back into the atmosphere. If it succeeds, it could demonstrate how we could remove large, dangerous, and uncontrolled pieces of space junk from orbit—objects that could cause a monumental disaster if they collided with satellites or spacecraft. Read the full story.

—Jonathan O’Callaghan

Why hydrogen is losing the race to power cleaner cars

Imagine a car that doesn’t emit any planet-warming gases—or any pollution at all, for that matter. Unlike the EVs on the roads today, it doesn’t take an hour or more to charge—just fuel up and go.

It sounds too good to be true, but it’s the reality of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. And almost nobody wants one.

Don’t get me wrong: hydrogen vehicles are sold around the world. But they appear to be lurching toward something of a dead end, with fuel prices going up, vehicle sales stagnating, and fueling stations shutting down. Read our story to find out why that is, and what we’d need to get these cars on the road.

—Casey Crownhart

The story above is for subscribers-only. But subscriptions start from just $8 a month to get access to all of MIT Technology Review’s award-winning journalismwhy not try it out

Why Chinese apps chose to film super-short soap operas in Southeast Asia

A handful of Chinese companies are betting that short videos can disrupt the movie and TV industry. These “soap operas for the TikTok age” have found a huge audience in China, creating a market worth $5 billion. Now, they’re betting that these shows, once adapted, can appeal to an American audience.

But rather than just jumping straight into the US, many of these firms are using Southeast Asia as both a testing ground, and a production hub. And they’re treading a well-worn path for using that region as the first frontier for expansion outside China. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter about China’s tech scene and how it interacts with the world. 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

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: introducing the Hidden Worlds issue
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2024 13:02:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…

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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

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:
Published Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2024 10:15:00 +0000

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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.

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: China’s next cultural export could be TikTok-style short soap operas
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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