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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.

Facebook is bombarding cancer patients with ads for unproven treatments

The ad reads like an offer of salvation: Cancer kills many people. But there is hope in Apatone, a proprietary vitamin C–based mixture, that is “KILLING cancer.” The substance, an unproven treatment that is not approved by the FDA, is not available in the United States. If you want Apatone, the ad suggests, you need to travel to a clinic in Mexico.

If you’re on Facebook or Instagram and Meta has determined you may be interested in cancer treatments, it’s possible you’ve seen this ad. It is part of a pattern on Facebook of ads that make misleading or false health claims, targeted at cancer patients.

Evidence from Facebook and Instagram users, medical researchers, and its own Ad Library suggests that Meta is rife with ads containing sensational health claims, which the company directly profits from, with some misleading ads remaining unchallenged for months and even years.Read the full story.

—Abby Ohlheiser

The hacking industry faces the end of an era

The news: NSO Group, the world’s most notorious hacking company, could soon cease to exist. The Israeli firm, still reeling from US sanctions, has been in talks about a possible acquisition by the American military contractor L3 Harris. The deal is far from certain, but if it goes through, it’s likely to involve the dismantling of NSO Group and the end of an era. 

Industry-wide turbulence: No matter what happens to NSO, the changes afoot in the global hacking industry are far bigger than any single company. That’s mostly down to two major changes: the US sanctioned NSO in late 2021, and days later the Israeli government severely restricted its hacking industry, cutting the number of countries firms can sell to from over 100 to just 37. 

But… The industry is adjusting rather than disappearing. One thing we’re learning is that a vacuum can’t last long in a market where demand is so high. Read the full story.

—Patrick Howell O’Neill

We need smarter cities, not “smart cities”

The term “smart cities” originated as a marketing strategy for large IT vendors. It has now become synonymous with urban uses of technology, particularly advanced and emerging technologies. But cities are more than 5G, big data, driverless vehicles, and AI, and a focus on building “smart cities” risks turning cities into technology projects.

Truly smart cities recognize the ambiguity of lives and livelihoods, and they are driven by outcomes far beyond the implementation of “solutions.” They are defined by their residents’ talents, relationships, and sense of ownership—and not by the technology deployed there. Read the full story.

—Riad Meddeb and Calum Handforth

Coming soon: The TR35 list of innovators for 2022

On Wednesday, we’re announcing this year’s list of 35 Innovators Under 35: a chance to take a look at not just where technology is now, but where it’s going and the brilliant young minds that are making it happen.

The full list is in the latest issue of our print magazine and online from 29 June. You can subscribe here.

The must-reads

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

1  Period tracking apps are rushing to anonymize their user data
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v Wade, experts are concerned menstrual data could be exploited to incriminate people seeking abortions. (WSJ $)
How people seeking abortions can avoid leaving a digital trail. (WP $)
Roe discussions among Big Tech workers quickly soured last week. (Bloomberg $)
It’s mostly safe to store abortion pills for later use. (New York Mag)
+ High quality sex education is also under threat. (Vox)
Where to get abortion pills and how to use them. (MIT Technology Review)

2 China’s surveillance network is predicting crime and dissent before it happens
And surveilling vulnerable people, including those experiencing mental illnesses. (NYT $)

3 Inflation isn’t going away any time soon

But falling prices could provide a welcome respite. (Economist $)

4 Crypto’s elites don’t care about you
They also don’t care if you lose your life savings investing in their dodgy wares. (The Atlantic $)
Singapore has had enough of crypto cowboys. (The Register)
Crypto is weathering a bitter storm. Some still hold on for dear life. (MIT Technology Review)

5 The US is bungling its big semiconductor opportunity
And the chance to create thousands of jobs in the process. (WP $)
Taiwan, the world’s biggest chip producer, is

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: Facebook’s misleading cancer ads, and hacking’s next era
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Published Date: Mon, 27 Jun 2022 13:11:33 +0000


The Download: fusion power’s future, and robotic running



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.

Why the dream of fusion power isn’t going away

There’s a joke about fusion power that always comes up when people start talking about the technology. It goes like this: Fusion is the energy of the future … and it always will be.

Fusion reactors could someday deliver cheap, abundant power with no carbon emissions. But the promise of “someday” has been around for a long time without payoff. Fusion has generated so much excitement but also so much skepticism. It’s the ultimate long shot in energy technology.

But despite the massive technical challenges, the promise of fusion’s round-the-clock power with no carbon emissions means that experts say we mustn’t give up on it. Read the full story.

Psst: our climate reporter Casey Crownhart will be discussing the future of long-shot climate technologies like fusion during our second annual ClimateTech conference, taking place at MIT on October 4 and 5. Nab your ticket now

This story first appeared in The Spark, our weekly climate and energy newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

This robotic exoskeleton can help runners sprint faster

What’s happened: A wearable exoskeleton can help runners increase their speed by encouraging them to take more steps, allowing them to cover short distances more quickly, a new study has found.

How it works: The researchers built a lightweight exosuit with steel cables powered by electrical motors attached to the runner’s thighs. The motors pull the cables, mimicking the contraction of muscles. The exosuit helps people run faster by assisting their hip extension—the powerful motion that propels a runner forward.

Big ambitions: Buoyed by their findings, the researchers want to see if their exosuit can help a runner to beat the men’s world record for running 100 meters. They’re working on a customized exosuit for Kyung-soo Oh, a former national elite runner in South Korea who had retired, in a bid to break Usain Bolt’s record of 9.58 seconds. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

MIT Technology Review flash sale!

It’s the final day of our flash sale, allowing you to subscribe to MIT Technology Review from just $8 a month for digital-only access, or $99 a year for both digital access and to receive our print issues in the post.

Even better, you’ll receive a free copy of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2023 issue as well. Sign up today and save 17% off the full price.

The must-reads

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

1 Meta has released a slew of AI chatbots with famous personas
Paris Hilton and Snoop Dogg-inspired AI chatbots are coming to its apps. (The Verge)
Its new conversational chatbot Meta AI is its answer to ChatGPT. (WP $)
Meta is confident that private data hasn’t been used to train the model. (Reuters)
Chinese AI chatbots want to be your emotional support. (MIT Technology Review)

2 The Hollywood writers’ strike is over
After they managed to secure protections against AI writing scripts. (TechCrunch)
Studios can still present writers with AI-generated material, though. (Motherboard)
There’s no contracted agreement with the major AI firms in place, either. (Wired $)

3 OpenAI is secretly working on a consumer device 
In conjunction with tech design supremo Jony Ive, no less. (FT $)
Hardware for the AI age is an interesting proposition. (The Information $)
The inside story of how ChatGPT was built from the people who made it. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Google is increasingly handing over location data to the police
And innocent people’s information is often caught up in the process. (Bloomberg $)

5 X’s CEO Linda Yaccarino says it will make a profit next year
Despite Elon Musk’s recent announcement about a major drop in advertising revenue. (WSJ $)
Yaccarino says 90% of its top advertisers have returned. (Bloomberg $)

6 We’re living in the age of the austerity influencer
Money-saving experts hold a huge sway over their budget-conscious audience. (The Guardian)

7 We don’t build cities anymore
But trying to fix the ones we already have isn’t simple, either. (The Atlantic $)
The smart city is a perpetually unrealized utopia. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Wikiracing is seriously wholesome
The art of racing between Wikipedia articles in as few clicks as possible is harder than it sounds. (Slate $)

9 Online creators are having an identity crisis
They’ve outgrown their personal brands, but their fans won’t let them change. (Bustle)

10 Scientists are releasing armies of crabs in Florida
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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: fusion power’s future, and robotic running
Sourced From:
Published Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2023 12:10:00 +0000

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The Download: Uber’s flawed facial recognition, and police drones




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.

Uber’s facial recognition is locking Indian drivers out of their accounts

One evening in February last year, a 23-year-old Uber driver named Niradi Srikanth was getting ready to start another shift, ferrying passengers around the south Indian city of Hyderabad. He pointed the phone at his face to take a selfie to verify his identity. The process usually worked seamlessly. But this time he was unable to log in.

Srikanth suspected it was because he had recently shaved his head. After further attempts to log in were rejected, Uber informed him that his account had been blocked. He is not alone. In a survey conducted by MIT Technology Review of 150 Uber drivers in the country, almost half had been either temporarily or permanently locked out of their accounts because of problems with their selfie.

Hundreds of thousands of India’s gig economy workers are at the mercy of facial recognition technology, with few legal, policy or regulatory protections. For workers like Srikanth, getting blocked from or kicked off a platform can have devastating consequences. Read the full story.

—Varsha Bansal

I met a police drone in VR—and hated it

Police departments across the world are embracing drones, deploying them for everything from surveillance and intelligence gathering to even chasing criminals. Yet none of them seem to be trying to find out how encounters with drones leave people feeling—or whether the technology will help or hinder policing work.

A team from University College London and the London School of Economics is filling in the gaps, studying how people react when meeting police drones in virtual reality, and whether they come away feeling more or less trusting of the police.

MIT Technology Review’s Melissa Heikkilä came away from her encounter with a VR police drone feeling unnerved. If others feel the same way, the big question is whether these drones are effective tools for policing in the first place. Read the full story.

Melissa’s story is from The Algorithm, her weekly newsletter covering AI and its effects on society. 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 Twitter won’t be able to cope with the next natural disaster
Its looser moderation and verification make it harder to sift out reliable information. (Wired $)
The platform is now poorly equipped to fend off bad actors too. (Slate $)
There’s still no clear viable alternative to Twitter. (The Verge)
Twitter’s potential collapse could wipe out vast records of recent human history. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Crypto’s staunchest defenders are trying to rewrite history 
The same people who lobbied against regulations are now criticizing the US government for not reigning in Sam Bankman-Fried. (The Atlantic $)
FTX’s collapse was triggered by its reliance on four tokens. (WSJ $)
Goldman Sachs is planning a crypto spending spree. (Reuters)

3 Neuralink is being investigated for animal cruelty
The number of deaths is higher than it needs to be, according to staff complaints. (Reuters)

4 Women are suing Apple after their exes used AirTags to stalk them
Despite the company’s claim the device is “stalker-proof.” (Bloomberg $)

5 Facebook is threatening to pull news from its platform in the US
If Congress passes new pro-publisher legislation. (WSJ $)

6 America’s drug shortages are getting worse
Essential drug shortages are becoming more frequent, and longer-lasting. (Vox)
The pandemic has likely changed children’s microbiomes. (The Atlantic $)
The next pandemic is already here. Covid can teach us how to fight it. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Who should pay for gene therapy?
While it’s possible the cost will drop over time, we don’t know how long the effects of the therapies will last. (Wired $)
This family raised millions to get experimental gene therapy for their children. (MIT Technology Review)

8 A spirituality influencer’s fans keep getting arrested 
Rashad Jamal’s followers have been accused of killing several people. (Motherboard)

9 How TikTok makes, and breaks, aspiring singers
Wannabe artists can perform to online audiences of millions before they’ve played a single in-person show. (New Yorker $)
TikTok is expected to ride out the social media advertising freeze. (FT $)

10 Microscopic replicas of famous paintings could help to foil forgers
Thanks to a bit of inspiration from butterflies. (New Scientist $)

Quote of the day

“Do we really need to say,

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: Uber’s flawed facial recognition, and police drones
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 06 Dec 2022 13:10:00 +0000

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I met a police drone in VR—and hated it




This story originally appeared in The Algorithm, our weekly newsletter on AI. To get stories like this in your inbox first, sign up here.

I’m standing in the parking lot of an apartment building in East London, near where I live. It’s a cloudy day, and nothing seems out of the ordinary.

A small drone descends from the skies and hovers in front of my face. A voice echoes from the drone’s speakers. The police are conducting routine checks in the neighborhood.

I feel as if the drone’s camera is drilling into me. I try to turn my back to it, but the drone follows me like a heat-seeking missile. It asks me to please put my hands up, and scans my face and body. Scan completed, it leaves me alone, saying there’s an emergency elsewhere.

I got lucky—my encounter was with a drone in virtual reality as part of an experiment by a team from University College London and the London School of Economics. They’re studying how people react when meeting police drones, and whether they come away feeling more or less trusting of the police.

It seems obvious that encounters with police drones might not be pleasant. But police departments are adopting these sorts of technologies without even trying to find out.

“Nobody is even asking the question: Is this technology going to do more harm than good?” says Aziz Huq, a law professor at the University of Chicago, who is not involved in the research.

Screenshot from VR experiment

The researchers are interested in finding out if the public is willing to accept this new technology, explains Krisztián Pósch, a lecturer in crime science at UCL. People can hardly be expected to like an aggressive, rude drone. But the researchers want to know if there is any scenario where drones would be acceptable. For example, they are curious whether an automated drone or a human-operated one would be more tolerable.

If the reaction is negative across the board, the big question is whether these drones are effective tools for policing in the first place, Pósch says.

“The companies that are producing drones have an interest in saying that [the drones] are working and they are helping, but because no one has assessed it, it is very difficult to say [if they are right],” he says.

It’s important because police departments are racing way ahead and starting to use drones anyway, for everything from surveillance and intelligence gathering to chasing criminals.

Last week, San Francisco approved the use of robots, including drones that can kill people in certain emergencies, such as when dealing with a mass shooter. In the UK most police drones have thermal cameras that can be used to detect how many people are inside houses, says Pósch. This has been used for all sorts of things: catching human traffickers or rogue landlords, and even targeting people holding suspected parties during covid-19 lockdowns.

Virtual reality will let the researchers test the technology in a controlled, safe way among lots of test subjects, Pósch says.

Even though I knew I was in a VR environment, I found the encounter with the drone unnerving. My opinion of these drones did not improve, even though I’d met a supposedly polite, human-operated one (there are even more aggressive modes for the experiment, which I did not experience.)

Ultimately, it may not make much difference whether drones are “polite” or “rude” , says Christian Enemark, a professor at the University of Southampton, who specializes in the ethics of war and drones and is not involved in the research. That’s because the use of drones itself is a “reminder that the police are not here, whether they’re not bothering to be here or they’re too afraid to be here,” he says.

“So maybe there’s something fundamentally disrespectful about any encounter.”

Deeper Learning

GPT-4 is coming, but OpenAI is still fixing GPT-3

The internet is abuzz with excitement about AI lab OpenAI’s latest iteration of its famous large language model, GPT-3. The latest demo, ChatGPT, answers people’s questions via back-and-forth dialogue. Since its launch last Wednesday, the demo has crossed over 1 million users. Read Will Douglas Heaven’s story here.

GPT-3 is a confident bullshitter and can easily be prompted to say toxic things. OpenAI says it has fixed a lot of these problems with ChatGPT, which answers follow-up questions, admits its mistakes, challenges

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By: Melissa Heikkilä
Title: I met a police drone in VR—and hated it
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Published Date: Tue, 06 Dec 2022 11:05:42 +0000

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