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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.

Make no mistake—AI is owned by Big Tech

—By Amba Kak, Sarah Myers West and Meredith Whittaker, members of the AI Now Institute

Until late November, when the epic saga of OpenAI’s board breakdown unfolded, the casual observer could be forgiven for assuming that the ecosystem around generative AI was vibrant and competitive.

But this is not the case—nor has it ever been. And understanding why is fundamental to understanding what AI is, and what threats it poses. Put simply, in the context of the current paradigm of building larger- and larger-scale AI systems, there is no AI without Big Tech.

With vanishingly few exceptions, every startup, new entrant, and even AI research lab is dependent on these firms. Those with the money make the rules. And right now, they’re engaged in a race to the bottom, releasing systems before they’re ready in an attempt to retain their dominance. Read the full story.

I received the new gene-editing drug for sickle cell disease. It changed my life.

—By Jimi Olaghere, a patient advocate and tech entrepreneur

One day a few years ago, I received a package that would change my life. It was from Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and it contained a consent form to participate in a clinical trial for a new gene-editing drug to treat sickle cell disease.

I’d lived with sickle cell my whole life—experiencing chronic pain, organ damage, and hopelessness. To me, this opportunity meant finally taking control of my life.

The drug I received, called exa-cel, could soon become the first CRISPR-based treatment to win approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. But many people who need these treatments may never receive them. Read the full story.

Fossil-fuel emissions are over a million times greater than carbon removal efforts

Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are on track to reach a record high by the end of 2023. And a new report shows just how insignificant technologies that pull greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere are by comparison.

Emissions are projected to reach 36.8 billion metric tons in 2023, a 1.1% increase from 2022 levels, according to this year’s Global Carbon Budget Report. And it also found that one technology that’s sometimes touted as a cure-all for the emissions problems has severe limitations: carbon dioxide removal. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

AI’s carbon footprint is bigger than you think

World leaders are currently in Dubai for the UN COP28 climate talks. But there’s one thing people aren’t talking enough about, and that’s the carbon footprint of AI.

One part of the reason is that big tech companies don’t share the carbon footprint of training and using their massive models, and we don’t have standardized ways of measuring the emissions AI is responsible for. That is, until now. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

This story is from The Algorithm, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things AI. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

The must-reads

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

1 America isn’t ready for future wars
As conflict becomes increasingly AI-powered, red tape is getting in the way. (Axios)
The internet is the new frontier of warfare. (Motherboard)+ Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)

2 It’s a rocky time for renewable energy
Its costs are soaring, and the industry is in trouble. (Economist $)
Yes, we have enough materials to power the world with renewable energy. (MIT Technology Review)

3 We’re waiting for all those robot trucks we were promised
But companies are understandably nervous about automating massive rigs. (The Verge)
Cruise has been accused of withholding key details about its robotaxi accident. (TechCrunch)

4 IBM says it’s hit a quantum computing research milestone
The two new systems should be able to execute the most powerful quantum algorithms to date. (Ars Technica)
Though it appears to have made little progress on finding commercial uses for the technology. (FT $)

5 Internet censorship in US schools is a growing problem
And it’s preventing kids from finding out crucial info about their health, identity, and the subjects they’re studying. (Wired $)
AI is about to make spying a whole lot easier. (Slate $)
The book ban movement has a chilling new tactic: harassing teachers on social media. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Brain implants are helping people recover from traumatic injuries
The implants appear to help them regain the ability to focus. (NYT $)
A brain implant changed her life. Then it was

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: Big Tech’s AI stranglehold, and gene-editing treatments
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/12/05/1084425/the-download-big-techs-ai-stranglehold-and-gene-editing-treatments/
Published Date: Tue, 05 Dec 2023 13:10:00 +0000

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The citizen scientists chronicling a neglected but vital Mexican river

LIZ AAA00202 scaled

The city of Monterrey in northeastern Mexico is an industrial powerhouse that has rapidly devoured green space to make room for its 5.3 million people. The Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range around the city is still holding strong, though the hills are increasingly encroached on by the urban sprawl of skyscrapers, apartment buildings, industrial parks, and highways. The same can’t be said for the Río Santa Catarina, the river that has been the vital core of the city for hundreds of years.

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Lizbeth Ovalle, founder of Viaje al Microcosmos, gathers water from
the Río Santa CatarinaANDREA VILLARREAL
circle of approx 25 people seated on the rocky shore of a river
Participants in one of the Viaje al Microcosmos river walks sit to share their observations and reflect on their findings.
DSC08667 scaled
Andrea Villarreal, a member of the citizen science group, shows a participant how to use the iNaturalist app, which can help identify plants and animals.

overgrowth in the area below an overpass
Viaje al Micrososmos
organized a walk along this stretch of the Río Santa Catarina in October 2023.LORENA RíOS

Today, the Río Santa Catarina looks more like a forest than a river. It is mostly a dry jumble of rocks whose water is diverted to supply the city’s growing needs. Much of the riverbed is obscured by vegetation that has grown wild since a hurricane in 2010 destroyed many structures along the river, including soccer fields, parking lots, and a mini-golf course. But despite what many city officials and residents make of it, this urban river is very much alive, and a group of young women wants to prove it.

The group, called Viaje al Microcosmos de Nuevo LeónJourney into the Microcosm of Nuevo León), is not made up of scientists but, rather, of concerned citizens. Through the use of art and citizen science, its members are documenting and sharing with others the river’s forgotten nature—its trees, bushes, birds, flowers, insects, and even microorganisms (from which the group takes its name).

IMG 8109 scaledRead More

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By: Lorena Ríos
Title: The citizen scientists chronicling a neglected but vital Mexican river
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/28/1088234/monterrey-mexico-rio-santa-catarina-viaje-al-microcosmos/
Published Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/what-luddites-can-teach-us-about-resisting-an-automated-future/

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What Luddites can teach us about resisting an automated future

PAGE1 ONLINE 1 jpg

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A story in comic format. In this first panel, two figures in silhouette look out at a modern city skyline.  The text reads,

A person's smiling headshot being uploaded.  The text reads,

The headshot from the previous panel with distroted features and a wavy new background. The text reads,

Two people look at the blank space where the framed picture of a flower has been stolen by a giant robot hand. The text reads,

Two panels. In the first, a scrabbly line resembling a signature. The text reads,

The text reads,

Text across the top continues, Read More

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By: Tom Humberstone
Title: What Luddites can teach us about resisting an automated future
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/28/1088262/luddites-resisting-automated-future-technology/
Published Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/the-worlds-most-famous-concert-pianos-got-a-major-tech-upgrade/

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The world’s most famous concert pianos got a major tech upgrade

steinway 2 scaled

At a showroom in a Boston suburb, Patrick Elisha sat down and began to play the opening measures of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2 to demonstrate why Steinway & Sons grand pianos are celebrated in concert halls around the world.

Steinways are meticulously crafted instruments: it takes around 250 workers a year to assemble each grand piano’s 12,000 individual parts. Everything, from the hand-bent rims (made of more than a dozen layers of rock maple, each heated and shaped to form a grand piano’s classic curves) to the small felt rollers in the piano’s action (which help dictate how much pressure it takes to play an individual note), is crafted to produce clarion, resonant tones that range from the pianissimo bell-like chimes that open the concerto to the thundering fortissimo chords that seem to rise from the depths over its next eight measures.

Elisha, who runs the education division of M. Steinert & Sons, the world’s oldest Steinway dealer, is an award-winning pianist and composer—but I wanted to hear how the piano handled a virtuoso like Lang Lang going to town on, say, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit from the Disney film Encanto.

a Steinway piano with a tablet resting on the sheet music stand, showing a screen from the Spirio app with 6 options for songs
STEINWAY

No problem: Elisha called up a video of Lang performing in New York’s Steinway Hall on a nearby wide-screen TV. Once he hit Play on the video, whatever Lang played was perfectly reproduced on the piano in front of me. When Lang’s right hand flew up the keyboard to produce the opening flourish in the “Bruno” video, the keys on the piano in the room where I stood were depressed with precisely the same velocity for precisely the same amount of time.

This was, I realized, the first time I had ever heard a truly lossless recording. Acoustically, I was getting the equivalent of a private concert from one of the most famous pianists alive, courtesy of Steinway’s Spirio. It’s a thoroughly modern take on the player piano—a device, popular in the early 20th century, that used rolls of paper with holes punched in them to play specific tunes, no pianist required.

Roughly half of all new Steinways sold last year included Spirio technology, which adds between $29,000 and $48,000 to what is already a $150,000 instrument. The most recent addition to the line is the Spirio | r, which has recording, editing, and playback technology. A pianist who’s learning a new piece can play it, record the effort, and then essentially watch the piano play it back—making it possible to pick up on nuances in timing and tone that might be harder to discern from an audio recording alone.

The Spirio, which launched in 2015, added an entirely new set of engineering challenges to what was already one of the most deliberately constructed instruments in history. Before it came to market, Steinway had to ensure that the Spirio tech was, as Elisha puts it, “non-parasitic.” In other words, adding pressure sensors and anything else that could cause friction between the musician and the instrument was verboten; altering the feel in any way would destroy what makes a Steinway a Steinway.

Instead, performances are recorded by dozens of gray-scale optical sensors mounted behind the keyboard that calculate the velocity at which hammers strike the piano wires whenever any of the piano’s 88 keys is pressed. (The sensors have 1,020 levels of sensitivity and can take 800 measurements per second.) A different set of sensors underneath the piano measures the pedal-guided dampers; playback of both the keys and the pedals is controlled by solenoid plungers.

Each Spirio comes with a dedicated iPad; with a couple of swipes, Spirio | r users can edit their performances in an almost infinite number of ways. Everything from individual notes to entire chords can be erased or transposed, elongated or shortened, made louder or softer—if you can imagine it, you can hear what it will sound like as it’s played back to you.

But it’s the constantly updated Spirio library, which currently includes more than 4,000 recordings and more than 100 videos, that really makes this an instrument like no

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By: Seth Mnookin
Title: The world’s most famous concert pianos got a major tech upgrade
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/28/1088268/steinway-spirio-concert-pianos-performance-upgrade/
Published Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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