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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.

Chore apps were meant to make mothers’ lives easier. They often don’t.

A few years ago, Jamie Gravell needed help. She was working full time while finishing her dissertation, her son had just turned two, and the housework was piling up, even after she’d repeatedly asked her husband to do more. So she downloaded Cozi. It’s one example of an increasingly popular solution: chore apps designed to help families split housework more fairly. Gravell’s hope was that her husband would do more to lighten her load without her having to keep asking. 

It was a disaster. “It doesn’t solve the problem: that you’re nagging someone else or parenting your partner,” she says. “It doesn’t empower or engage the other person to be a part of the family team.” Within a week, Gravell had ditched the app. Cozi “just didn’t work,” she says.

On paper, chore apps could help to solve the very real problem that women in heterosexual couples still shoulder a disproportionate amount of the housework. They could get male partners to become more like, well, partners. But as Gravell discovered, these apps might actually be doing the very opposite, by forcing women—and especially mothers—to take on the additional burden of using technology to assign tasks. Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu

The must-reads

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

1 Bitcoin’s value has fallen by more than 50% from its peak last November
A rise in interest rates, coupled with fears of a recession, is fuelling even more volatility in the crypto market than usual. (Bloomberg $)
The commissioner nicknamed “crypto mom” isn’t a fan of the moniker. (Protocol)
Social media is an easy hunting ground for crypto scammers. (LA Times)
Bored Ape’s creator is looking beyond NFTs—to sell land in an ‘open’ metaverse. (FT $)  

2 How an inexpensive Turkish drone revolutionized modern warfare
And bolstered the image of Turkey as an industrialized, military nation. (New Yorker $)
“Digital twin” copies of planes help aircraft to book themselves in for repair. (Economist $) 

3 Clearview AI has agreed not to sell its facial recognition database to private companies
But it can still do business with federal and state agencies. (NYT $)+ Your picture is probably in its database. (TR)

4 NSO Group is ignoring questions over whether it’s operating legally
The consultancy tasked with overseeing the company worries it’s being “kept in the dark.” (FT $)
NSO was about to sell hacking tools to France. Now it’s in crisis. (TR)

5 Twitter’s top lawyer isn’t the chief censor Elon Musk painted her to be
Her colleagues are worried much of Vijaya Gadde’s good work is about to be undone. (WP $)

6 Art robot Ai-Da is redefining what a celebrity artist is

Which raises questions about whether the robot or the team behind it is the creator. (Dazed)

7 Can new EU regulations rein in the use of AI across the public sector?
It’s becoming a serious issue: an AI scandal effectively topped the Dutch government last year. (Spectrum IEEE)
Meta’s new language AI system wants to combat the prejudice many systems parrot. (TR)
How the AI industry profits from catastrophe. (TR)

8 Resurrecting an extinct species is technically impossible

But that isn’t stopping scientists from trying. (Quanta)

9 How to find serenity in being hacked
Learning to let go of your tweets is half the battle. (Slate $)
Bonds with caregivers in early childhood may inform whether you obsess over social media. (WSJ $)

10 Can’t be bothered to get dressed? Deepfaking your wardrobe on Zoom?
It looks much more realistic than filters. (Nikkei Asia)

Quote of the day

“It’s like bees. Everyone does their own thing, collects their own honey—until a bear with its bloody paws comes in.”

—Taras Topolia, a popular Ukrainian singer turned soldier, explains the country’s collective resilience against the Russian invasion to the Wall Street Journal.

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

+ Ukraine has rewarded Patron, a bomb-sniffing Jack Russell, for his outstanding bravery with the country’s medal of honor.
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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: Unhelpful chore apps, and bitcoin’s plummeting value
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Published Date: Tue, 10 May 2022 12:13:57 +0000

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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
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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
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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

Read More


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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