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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.

The FDA just approved rub-on gene therapy that helps “butterfly” children

The news: Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration approved sales of the first gene therapy that is directly applied to the body—as well as the first intended to be used on the same person repeatedly.

How it works: The treatment introduces a missing gene to skin cells so they can make collagen. It’s already helping people with dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, a rare inherited disease that makes skin incredibly fragile. The topical ointment helps to heal the disease’s chronic, blistering wounds, while an eyedrop version can prevent scar tissue from building up in their eyeballs and improve their vision.

The next steps: The gene treatment is unusual as it doesn’t involve injection or altering immune cells outside the body. It suggests similar approaches could have lucrative applications. The biggest question right now, however, is how much it will cost the families who need it. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

How to preserve your digital memories

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

My email archive holds treasured messages marking the important days of my life: a letter of acceptance to graduate school, travel plans with my sisters, a job offer at Tech Review, an invitation to reconnect with a close friend with whom I’d lost touch.

I’ve never thought all that much about what to do with all these digital records. I have had a sort of expectation that I’ll always be able to access and manage my emails on my own terms. And while I don’t currently save particularly important ones, I probably need to change that.

That’s because, in reality, I’m just renting space owned by a tech company. Google and Twitter recently announced new policies to remove inactive accounts, and it’s a reminder of just how impermanent and fragile our digital lives really are. Read the full story.

Tate’s story is from The Technocrat, her weekly newsletter covering policy power struggles in Silicon Valley. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

The must-reads

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

1 The EU has slapped Meta with a record €1.2 billion fine
For failing to safeguard users’ data during its transfer from Europe to the US. (Politico)
Meta’s been given five months to stop any further personal data transfer to the US. (Bloomberg $)

2 Carbon removal is becoming big business
That doesn’t mean it necessarily does much to combat climate change. (Economist $)
Grassy roofs are helping Brazil’s favelas to beat the punishing heat. (Undark)
What it will take to achieve affordable carbon removal. (MIT Technology Review)

3 The chip industry is under threat
Crackdowns on “forever chemicals” are threatening chipmakers’ manufacturing processes. (FT $)+ China claims it’s unearthed security risks in US-made Micron chips. (Bloomberg $)

4 China’s ramping up its satellite network plans
Launch sites are being prepared, and new companies are cropping up. (WSJ $)
Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not. (MIT Technology Review)

5 SpaceX’s second private mission is on its way to the IS
The three paying customers will spend a week aboard the space station. (CNN)

6 E-sports isn’t the money-spinner it once was
Viewers seem to be losing interest, and team owners are selling up. (NYT $)

7 Bitcoin’s blockchain is being taken over by memecoins and NFTs
And bitcoin purists aren’t happy about it. (Bloomberg $)

8 Caregiving robots don’t always deliver on their promises
Some human carers find they can be more trouble than they’re worth. (The Guardian)
Inside Japan’s long experiment in automating elder care. (MIT Technology Review)

9 MDMA therapy could be on the horizon
But taking psychedelics in medical environments doesn’t always produce the desired effect. (Vox)
Mind-altering substances are being overhyped as wonder drugs. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Why voicemail isn’t going anywhere
There’s no better alternative, for one. (The Atlantic $)

Quote of the day

“AI is not magic. There are a lot of people involved – humans.”

—Timnit Gebru, the computer scientist fired by Google in 2020 for sounding the alarm on AI bias, dismisses the tendency to treat the technology as something fantastical to the Guardian.

The big story

What cities need now

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: rub-on gene therapy, and safeguarding email memories
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Published Date: Mon, 22 May 2023 12:10:00 +0000

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Chinese creators use Midjourney’s AI to generate retro urban “photography”



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China Report is MIT Technology Review’s newsletter about technology developments in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

If you saw these images pop up on your timeline, would you be able to tell if they were real photographs of the southwestern city of Chongqing in the 1990s?

Three AI-generated images representing workers in China in a retro photographic style
Zhang Haijun via MidjourneyZHANG HAIJUN VIA MIDJOURNEY

In fact, none of them are real. Zhang Haijun, a street photographer in Chongqing, generated these images with Midjourney, an image-making artificial-intelligence program.

A number of artists and creators are generating nostalgic photographs of China with the help of AI. Even though these images still get some details wrong, like the number of fingers that humans have or what Chinese characters look like, they are realistic enough to trick and impress many social media followers, including me.

Retro AI artwork like Zhang’s has also caught the attention of Tong Bingxue, a collector of Chinese historical photographs. He reposted some of them to his popular Twitter account China in Pictures last week.

These generated photos are indeed aesthetically pleasing, Tong says. They look sophisticated in terms of standard photography metrics, like definition, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. “When people look at things on social media, these [attributes] are the first things that catch the eye. The authenticity of the photo comes second,” he says. Real historical photos, on the other hand, sometimes look amateur or come with material imperfections.

Zhang, the creator of the AI images above, was born in Chongqing in 1992. He grew up near the Chongqing Iron and Steel Company, one of the oldest and largest steel factories in China, and remembers watching the workers when he was about seven years old. “When I was little, I would often watch them come out of the factory during their break, sit on the ground, smoke a cigarette, and look into the distance. There were stories in their eyes,” he says.

When he turned that experience into an image-generating prompt for Midjourney, he was amazed by the results. “What the AI generated—the look of resilience in their eyes and the way they are dressed—it looks exactly the same as what I described to it,” he says.

Now, Zhang pays more than $200 a year for Midjourney, and uses it to generate new retro photographs with different themes: rural weddings in the ’90s, physical laborers for hire waiting in the market, and Chongqing street fashion. Each time, he writes the prompts in Chinese, uses machine translation tools to convert them to English, feeds them into Midjourney, and spends about 20 minutes tweaking them to get the ideal result.

ai chongqing 6
Zhang Haijun via Midjourney

Some artists working with AI are inspired by the discovery of real photos. Diaspora youth in the West have been forming communities on Instagram where they crowdsource and curate historical photos in orderto rebuild memories free from a Western framing.

Kim Wang, a 28-year-old UI designer and photographer in Hangzhou, was inspired by Beijing Silvermine, a project by the French artist Thomas Sauvin, who rescued 850,000 discarded color negatives, dating from around 1985, from a recycling factory in Beijing.

She used Midjourneyto create photos of China in the 1980s and ’90s.

“For our generation, I feel like there’s a massive leap from 1995 to 2023,” says Wang. “Now is a completely different era, but I kind of want to go back to that era.” In particular, she wanted to re-create what Hangzhou looked like before it became a tech hub and home to multiple Chinese tech companies, including Alibaba,

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: Chinese creators use Midjourney’s AI to generate retro urban “photography”
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Published Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2023 10:00:00 +0000

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The Download: China’s retro AI photos, and experts’ AI fears




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.

Chinese creators use Midjourney’s AI to generate retro urban “photography”

Across social media, a number of creators are generating nostalgic photographs of China with the help of AI. Even though these images get some details wrong, they are realistic enough to trick and impress many of their followers.

The pictures look sophisticated in terms of definition, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. Their realism is partly down to a recent major update of image-making artificial-intelligence program Midjourney that was released in mid-March, which is better not only at generating human hands but also at simulating various photography styles.

It’s still relatively easy, even for untrained eyes, to tell that the photos are generated by an AI. But for some creators, their experiments are more about trying to recall a specific era in time than trying to trick their audience. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

Read more of our reporting on AI-generated images:

+ These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are. Bias and stereotyping are still huge problems for systems like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion, despite companies’ attempts to fix it. Read the full story.

+ AI models spit out photos of real people and copyrighted images. The finding could strengthen artists’ claims that AI companies are infringing their rights. Read the full story.

+ This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it. Greg Rutkowski is a more popular prompt than Picasso. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 AI experts want to pause the development of powerful systems
They worry about the “profound” risks that could accompany models like GPT-4. (The Verge)
How OpenAI tested GPT-4’s responses to dangerous queries. (Insider $)
It’s a bad time for Big Tech to cull its AI ethics teams. (FT $)
There’s still a lot of unanswered questions about how AI is trained. (New Yorker $)
AI prompt engineer is looking to be a very lucrative career path. (Bloomberg $)
Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)

2 US police have run almost one million Clearview AI searches 
The controversial facial recognition firm has been fined extensively for privacy breaches. (BBC)
The walls are closing in on Clearview AI. (MIT Technology Review)

3 How North Korea is laundering stolen crypto
The process conceals the pilfered coins while unearthing new, untainted ones. (Wired $)
Crypto venture capitalists are going back to basics. (The Information $)
Sam Bankman-Fried allegedly tried to bribe Chinese officials. (CNN)

4 How urban planning became embroiled in a conspiracy theory quagmire
Scientist Carlos Moreno has received death threats for climate-friendly city proposals. (NYT $)
How to talk to conspiracy theorists. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Twitter is getting closer to finding out who leaked its code
A court has granted it permission to subpoena GitHub to share its leaker data. (Bloomberg $)+ Bafflingly, Twitter has stopped showing who users are replying to. (The Verge)
The company has reversed its recent For You page changes, though. (Insider $)
Certain celebrity accounts receive special treatment. (Platformer $)

6 Amazon is warning customers about frequently returned items
In theory, it should help to counter fake reviews that boost dodgy products. (The Information $)

7 Makeshift delivery bikes are polluting Latin America
Their powerful engines benefit delivery riders, but are a pain for everyone else. (Rest of World)

8 It’s incredibly tough to render water in video games
But modern graphics processing units are rising to the challenge. (WP $)

9 We’re strangely obsessed with merch belonging to collapsed tech firms
There’s a burgeoning market on eBay to prove it. (The Guardian)

10 The next wave of TikTok stars are behind the camera
Not everyone can be an influencer, but editors and producers are in high demand. (WSJ $)
TikTok’s CEO is becoming a star in his own right. (NYT $)

Quote of the day

“What the heck happened? The supposedly bright

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: China’s retro AI photos, and experts’ AI fears
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Published Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2023 12:10:00 +0000

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Evolutionary organizations reimagine the future



Thoughtworks cover 16 9

As the emergence of radically disruptive technologies over the last decades has created, destroyed, or fundamentally changed many business models, most organizations have undergone some kind of digital transformation in response. Many have been reluctant, however, to acknowledge the degree to which they need to disrupt their standard way of working to succeed in this continuously changing business environment.

Thoughtworks cover 16 9 1

These change initiatives are commonly called “digital transformation,” though, as this report outlines, successful transformation is not a one-time change or single new technology adoption. Rather, it requires the organization to acquire the ability to continuously adapt to change. Although many organizations have the digital fundamentals in place, an updated tech stack and agile IT frameworks are just the beginning. Instead, change should be an evolutionary process that’s built into the organization’s mission and every aspect of its operations and strategy.

The global technology consultancy Thoughtworks describes organizations that can respond to marketplace changes with continuous adaptation as “evolutionary organizations.” It argues that, instead of focusing only on technology change, organizations should focus on building capabilities that support ongoing reinvention. While many organizations recognize the benefit of adopting agile approaches in their technology capabilities and architectures, they have not extended these structures and ways of thinking throughout the operating model, which would allow their impact to extend beyond that of a single transformation project.

TW web ready 16 9 Graphic

Global spending on digital transformation is growing at a brisk pace: 16.4% per year according to IDC. The firm’s 2021 “Worldwide Digital Transformation Spending Guide” forecasts that annual transformation expenditures will reach $2.8 trillion in 2025, more than double the spending in 2020.1 At the same time, research from Boston Consulting Group shows that 7 out of 10 digital transformation initiatives fall short of their objectives. Organizations that succeed, however, achieve almost double the earnings growth of those that fail and more than double the growth in the total value of their enterprises.2 Understanding how to make these transitions successful, then, should be of key interest to all business leaders.

This MIT Technology Review Insights report is based on a survey of 275 corporate leaders, supplemented by interviews with seven experts in digital transformation. Its key findings include the following:

• Digital transformation is not solely a technology issue. Adopting new technology for its own sake does not set the organization up to continue to adapt to changing circumstances. Among survey respondents, however, transformation is still synonymous with tech, with 70% planning to adopt a new technology in the next year, but only 41% pursuing changes to their business model.

TW web ready 16 9 Quote

• The business environment is changing faster than many organizations think. Most survey respondents (81%) believe their organization is more adaptable than average and nearly all (89%) say that they’re keeping up with or ahead of their competitors—suggesting a wide gap between the rapidly evolving reality and executives’ perceptions of their

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By: MIT Technology Review Insights
Title: Evolutionary organizations reimagine the future
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Published Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2023 14:00:00 +0000

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