Maybe you have not had the best year. But take some consolation from the fact that you did not YOLO yourself into overpaying for an unprofitable social-media platform, publicly try to wriggle out of the deal, get lawyered into ponying up, liquidate billions of dollars of stock in a down market to do so, take over a company you did not really want, shitpost your way into a revenue crisis, quit paying your bills, antagonize your super-users, wink-wink at Nazis, and decimate your staff, all the while damaging your other, more lucrative businesses. Or at least probably not, unless you are Elon Musk. Twitter's new owner might have fared better than Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced cryptocurrency magnate who improbably saved Musk from winning the title of Tech Fortune–Craterer of the Year. But Musk nevertheless spent 2022 lighting billions of dollars and his reputation on fire.
Musk's behavior raises many questions, such as Why?, Why?, and Why?! And Is he going to bankrupt this thing? He looks like he is trying to: On Tuesday evening, Musk vowed to resign as CEO of Twitter "as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job!" He and whoever is foolish enough to succeed him certainly face a challenging year ahead. The once–richest man on Earth took over a company losing $220 million a year and multiplied its losses by 10, if not more, according to one analyst's estimate. Twitter looks likely to bleed users, advertisers, and money for the foreseeable future. But the social network is Musk's to fund, not just run. And he's one of the few people on the planet with essentially limitless amounts of money to lose.
[Caroline Mimbs-Nyce: This is what it looks like when Twitter falls apart]
Musk's Twitter purchase never made much financial sense. The company's core microblogging product has scarcely changed since its debut in the mid-aughts. Its user base has stopped expanding in the United States. Its engagement levels are declining. And the company—less than one-third the size of TikTok and one-tenth the size of Facebook, as measured by monthly active users—has turned a profit in just two of the past 10 years.
But Musk bought the platform for personal and ideological reasons, not financial ones. In the spring, he bought a large chunk of the site's shares, promising to push Twitter to be friendlier to the political right. Shortly after that, he offered to take the company private, to turn it into "the platform for free speech around the globe," he wrote in a letter to its then-chair, by which he seems to have meant the platform for anti-Semitism, racism, and white-nationalist incitement. Plus, Musk is an impulsive rich dude who just really, really loves to post: suggesting we nuke Mars, defaming a hero who saved a bunch of schoolkids, making "boner" jokes at Bill Gates's expense, getting in a fight with the Securities and Exchange Commission by falsely claiming he had "secured" funding to take Tesla private at—deep breath—$420 a share.
In Musk, idiosyncratic ends had endless means. And in April, he offered to buy Twitter at—inhale again—$54.20 a share, significantly higher than its share price at the time. Twitter's executives naturally took the offer. The price tag might have been hefty, but the plan was a straightforward one: Get control of Twitter. Narrow its losses. Expand its revenue base. Make the company profitable. Hold it, sell it, or, most likely, have it go public again. Make bank.
On the cost side, Musk did trim the budget, if as erratically as possible. He purged more than half of the company's workforce, firing many employees outright and asking those remaining to sign up for an "extremely hardcore" cultural reset. This produced "significant savings," Drew Pascarella, who teaches corporate finance to M.B.A. students at Cornell, told me, adding that Musk also seems to have positioned the company to renegotiate its rent and other contracts.
But Musk has slashed Twitter's income as erratically as possible too. Nearly all of the social network's revenue comes from advertisements. Numerous deep-pocketed companies—Chevrolet, Ford, Jeep, BlackRock, Citigroup, Chanel, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Merck, Verizon, Wells Fargo, the list goes on and on—have pulled or paused advertising in the past two months. Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, told me he estimated that Musk's takeover has cost the company as much as $4 billion. "That's a gut punch," Ives said.
Those companies have stopped putting ads on the site, I would note, because of Musk. "Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers," Musk himself wrote on Twitter. "Extremely messed up! They're trying to destroy free speech in America." He also insisted that hate speech has declined during his tenure. But independent researchers have found the opposite. After his takeover, use of the N-word increased by 202 percent; the use of homophobic, misogynist, and transphobic slurs went up at double-digit rates; the use of the slur groomer has increased exponentially. Coca-Cola does not want to put its ads next to vile terminology and anti-Semitic Pepe memes, including ones Musk himself is posting.
[Tom Nichols: The childish drama of Elon Musk]
Plus, Musk loaded Twitter up with debt—some $13 billion of it—when he acquired it via a leveraged buyout. The company is going to need to make loan payments, roughly $1 billion a year, even if it is running in the red. It has options. Musk could write the checks; he is "unfathomably wealthy," Pascarella told me. "While most of his wealth is not liquid, I have no reason to believe he won't be able to come up with several billion dollars of cash if need be." Musk could buy the debt from the company's creditors. He could raise new equity investment, something he seems to be trying to do already. Or, in an extreme case, Twitter could go bankrupt.
Right now Musk is using "Tesla stock as his personal ATM machine to fund the losses from Twitter," Ives noted. But his behavior has cratered Tesla's stock, which has dropped 42 percent in the past six months. (By comparison, shares in Toyota are down 13 percent and Ford's stock is flat.) If Tesla becomes even more distressed, that could be a problem; the company's shareholders are uneasy and rightly angry. A broader economic downturn could hurt the carmaker and the social network alike. Perhaps the most personally salient risk for Musk is that he could end up losing control of Tesla.
Musk keeps personally funding this thing that he bought, hates, and is ruining is not exactly a happy financial equilibrium. Some adult needs to come in to return the social network to that general plan: keep it running, cut losses, and get it ready to go public again several years down the road. Good luck to whoever is foolish enough to want to do that.
In 2017, the Scottish philosopher William MacAskill coined the name "longtermism" to describe the idea "that positively affecting the long-run future is a key moral priority of our time." The label took off among like-minded philosophers and members of the "effective altruism" movement, which sets out to use evidence and reason to determine how individuals can best help the world.
This year, the notion has leapt from philosophical discussions to headlines. In August, MacAskill published a book on his ideas, accompanied by a barrage of media coverage and endorsements from the likes of Elon Musk. November saw more media attention as a company set up by Sam Bankman-Fried, a prominent financial backer of the movement, collapsed in spectacular fashion.
Critics say longtermism relies on making impossible predictions about the future, gets caught up in speculation about robot apocalypses and asteroid strikes, depends on wrongheaded moral views, and ultimately fails to give present needs the attention they deserve.
But it would be a mistake to simply dismiss longtermism. It raises thorny philosophical problems—and even if we disagree with some of the answers, we can't ignore the questions.
Why all the Fuss?
It's hardly novel to note that modern society has a huge impact on the prospects of future generations. Environmentalists and peace activists have been making this point for a long time—and emphasizing the importance of wielding our power responsibly.
In particular, "intergenerational justice" has become a familiar phrase, most often with reference to climate change.
Seen in this light, longtermism may look like simple common sense. So why the buzz and rapid uptake of this term? Does the novelty lie simply in bold speculation about the future of technology—such as biotechnology and artificial intelligence—and its implications for humanity's future?
For example, MacAskill acknowledges we are not doing enough about the threat of climate change, but points out other potential future sources of human misery or extinction that could be even worse. What about a tyrannical regime enabled by AI from which there is no escape? Or an engineered biological pathogen that wipes out the human species?
These are conceivable scenarios, but there is a real danger in getting carried away with sci-fi thrills. To the extent that longtermism chases headlines through rash predictions about unfamiliar future threats, the movement is wide open for criticism.
Moreover, the predictions that really matter are about whether and how we can change the probability of any given future threat. What sort of actions would best protect humankind?
Longtermism, like effective altruism more broadly, has been criticized for a bias towards philanthropic direct action—targeted, outcome-oriented projects—to save humanity from specific ills. It is quite plausible that less direct strategies, such as building solidarity and strengthening shared institutions, would be better ways to equip the world to respond to future challenges, however surprising they turn out to be.
Optimizing the Future
There are in any case interesting and probing insights to be found in longtermism. Its novelty arguably lies not in the way it might guide our particular choices, but in how it provokes us to reckon with the reasoning behind our choices.
A core principle of effective altruism is that, regardless of how large an effort we make towards promoting the "general good"—or benefiting others from an impartial point of view —we should try to optimize: we should try to do as much good as possible with our effort. By this test, most of us may be less altruistic than we thought.
For example, say you volunteer for a local charity supporting homeless people, and you think you are doing this for the "general good." If you would better achieve that end, however, by joining a different campaign, you are either making a strategic mistake or else your motivations are more nuanced. For better or worse, perhaps you are less impartial, and more committed to special relationships with particular local people, than you thought.
In this context, impartiality means regarding all people's wellbeing as equally worthy of promotion. Effective altruism was initially preoccupied with what this demands in the spatial sense: equal concern for people's wellbeing wherever they are in the world.
Longtermism extends this thinking to what impartiality demands in the temporal sense: equal concern for people's wellbeing wherever they are in time. If we care about the wellbeing of unborn people in the distant future, we can't outright dismiss potential far-off threats to humanity—especially since there may be truly staggering numbers of future people.
How Should We Think About Future Generations and Risky Ethical Choices?
An explicit focus on the wellbeing of future people unearths difficult questions that tend to get glossed over in traditional discussions of altruism and intergenerational justice.
For instance: is a world history containing more lives of positive wellbeing, all else being equal, better? If the answer is yes, it clearly raises the stakes of preventing human extinction.
A number of philosophers insist the answer is no—more positive lives is not better. Some suggest that, once we realize this, we see that longtermism is overblown or else uninteresting.
But the implications of this moral stance are less simple and intuitive than its proponents might wish. And premature human extinction is not the only concern of longtermism.
Speculation about the future also provokes reflection on how an altruist should respond to uncertainty.
For instance, is doing something with a one percent chance of helping a trillion people in the future better than doing something that is certain to help a billion people today? (The "expectation value" of the number of people helped by the speculative action is one percent of a trillion, or 10 billion—so it might outweigh the billion people to be helped today).
For many people, this may seem like gambling with people's lives, and not a great idea. But what about gambles with more favorable odds, and which involve only contemporaneous people?
There are important philosophical questions here about apt risk aversion when lives are at stake. And, going back a step, there are philosophical questions about the authority of any prediction: how certain can we be about whether a possible catastrophe will eventuate, given various actions we might take?
Making Philosophy Everybody's Business
As we have seen, longtermist reasoning can lead to counter-intuitive places. Some critics respond by eschewing rational choice and "optimization" altogether. But where would that leave us?
The wiser response is to reflect on the combination of moral and empirical assumptions underpinning how we see a given choice. And to consider how changes to these assumptions would change the optimal choice.
Philosophers are used to dealing in extreme hypothetical scenarios. Our reactions to these can illuminate commitments that are ordinarily obscured.
The longtermism movement makes this kind of philosophical reflection everybody's business, by tabling extreme future threats as real possibilities.
But there remains a big jump between what is possible (and provokes clearer thinking) and what is in the end pertinent to our actual choices. Even whether we should further investigate any such jump is a complex, partly empirical question.
Humanity already faces many threats that we understand quite well, like climate change and massive loss of biodiversity. And, in responding to those threats, time is not on our side.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Image Credit: Drew Beamer / Unsplash
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Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35645-zAuthor Correction: JAK2V617F mutation drives vascular resident macrophages toward a pathogenic phenotype and promotes dissecting
- That same day, the Oakland, California, city council voted unanimously to again require people to mask up in government buildings.
Winter is here, and so, once more, are mask mandates. After last winter's crushing Omicron spike, much of America did away with masking requirements. But with cases once again on the rise and other respiratory illnesses such as RSV and influenza wreaking havoc, some scattered institutions have begun reinstating them. On Monday, one of Iowa's largest health systems reissued its mandate for staff. That same day, the Oakland, California, city council voted unanimously to again require people to mask up in government buildings. A New Jersey school district revived its own mandate, and the Philadelphia school district announced that it would temporarily do the same after winter break.
The reinstated mandates are by no means widespread, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon. But as we trudge into yet another pandemic winter, they do raise some questions. What role should masking play in winters to come? Is every winter going to be like this? Should we now consider the holiday season … masking season?
These questions don't have simple answers. Regardless of what public-health research tells us we should do, we've clearly seen throughout the pandemic that limits exist to what Americans will do. Predictably, the few recent mandates have elicited a good deal of aggrievement and derision from the anti-masking set. But even many Americans who diligently masked earlier in the pandemic seem to have lost their appetite for this sort of intervention as the pandemic has eased. In its most recent national survey of health behavior, the COVID States Project found that only about a quarter of Americans still mask when they go out, down from more than 80 percent at its peak. Some steadfast maskers have started feeling awkward: "I have personally felt like I get weird looks now wearing a mask," Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason University, told me.
Even so, masking remains one of the best and least obtrusive infection-prevention measures we have at our disposal. We haven't yet been slammed this winter by another Omicronlike variant, but the pandemic is still here. COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all rising nationally, possibly the signs of another wave. Kids have been hit especially hard by the unwelcome return of influenza, RSV, and other respiratory viruses. All of this is playing out against the backdrop of low COVID-19-booster uptake, leaving people more vulnerable to death and severe disease if they get infected.
All of which is to say: If you're only going to mask for a couple of months of the year, now is a good time. "Should people be masking? Absolutely yes, right now," Seema Lakdawala, a flu-transmission expert at Emory University, told me. That doesn't mean masking everywhere all the time. Lakdawala masks at the grocery store, at the office, and while using public transportation, but not when she goes out to dinner or attends parties. Those activities pose a risk of infection, but Lakdawala's goal is to reduce her risk, not to minimize it at all costs. A strategy that prevents you from enjoying the things you love most is not sustainable.
Both Lakdawala and Popescu were willing to go so far as to suggest that masking should indeed become a seasonal fixture—just like skiing and snowmen, only potentially lifesaving and politically radioactive. Even before the pandemic, influenza alone killed tens of thousands of Americans every year, and more masking, even if only in certain targeted settings, could go a long way toward reducing the toll. "If we could just say, Hey, from November to February, we should all just mask indoors," Lakdawala said, that would do a lot of good. "The idea of the unknown and the perpetualness of two years of things coming on and off, and then the confusing CDC county-by-county guideline—it just sort of makes it harder for everybody than if we had a simple message." Universal mandates or recommendations that people mask at small social gatherings are probably too much to ask, Lakdawala told me. Instead, she favors some limited, seasonal mandates, such as on public transportation or in schools dealing with viral surges.
David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is all for masking season, he told me, but he'd be more hesitant to resort to mandates. "It's hard to impose mandates without a very strong public-health rationale," he said, especially in our current, hyperpolarized climate. And although that rationale clearly existed for much of the past two crisis-ridden years, it's less clear now. "COVID is no longer this public-health emergency, but it's still killing thousands of people every week, hundreds a day … so it becomes a more challenging balancing act," Dowdy said.
Rather than requirements, he favors broad recommendations. The CDC, for instance, could suggest that during flu season, people should consider wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces, the same way it recommends that everyone old enough get a flu shot each year. (Although the agency has hardly updated its "Interim Guidance" on masks and the flu since 2004, Director Rochelle Walensky has encouraged people to mask up this winter.) Another strategy, Dowdy said, could be making masks more accessible to people, so that every time they enter a public indoor space, they have the option of grabbing an N95.
The course of the pandemic has both demonstrated the efficacy of widespread masking and rendered that strategy so controversial in America as to be virtually impossible. The question now is how to negotiate those two realities. Whatever answer we come up with this year, the question will remain next year, and for years after that. The pandemic will fade, but the coronavirus, like the other surging viruses this winter, will continue to haunt us in one form or another. "These viruses are here," Lakdawala said. "They're not going anywhere."
Editor's note: This week's newsletter is a rerun.
We'll be back with a fresh newsletter soon.
Naz Deravian, the author of the cookbook Bottom of the Pot, grew up in a family that shunned recipes in favor of spontaneous cooking—an attitude that initially impeded her effort to write a cookbook. However, as she wrote in an article for The Atlantic, the specificity and certainty of following a recipe eventually became a source of comfort for her, especially as she grappled with national and personal stressors.
Even for those who are not facing such upheaval, recipes can be reassuring safety nets. Spontaneity has become a glamorous ideal in the food world (see, for example, the editor Sam Sifton's recent work The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes). But at-home cooks tend to need more guidance before they're prepared for complete freedom. Recipes can provide that. So can guidebooks, such as Samin Nosrat's Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Nosrat's work, which my colleague Joe Pinsker called a "metacookbook," not only teaches readers how to prepare specific dishes but also helps them to develop the culinary intuition needed for successful experimentation in the kitchen. And that knowledge comes with another added benefit: efficiency. Rather than seeking out complex dishes with long prep times, intuitive cookers can follow their instincts to prepare something quick and delicious.
Still, when one does have the time, nothing beats the meditative calm of slowly preparing a longer recipe. The experience reminds us that, as Michael Pollan, a chef and the author of Cooked says, "This process we're being told is pure drudgery is actually interesting and gratifying and satisfying."
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.
When you buy a book using a link in this newsletter, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.
What We're Reading
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35644-0Author Correction:
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26830-7Author Correction: Dominant change pattern of extreme precipitation and its potential causes in Shandong Province, China
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-25981-xPublisher Correction: A short exposure to a semi-natural habitat alleviates the honey bee hive microbial imbalance caused by agricultural stress
Respiratory viruses have rebounded hard after COVID seclusion, and masks are one of the best ways to avoid getting them
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This is the final installment of a special three-part Famous People series about a single weekend in California. If you missed parts one and two, you can read them here.
Kaitlyn: Here we are, at the end of a trip you have been hearing about for days now.
As our 36 hours in Sideways country were winding down, we made a second stop at the Hitching Post II. Our favorite place in California, possibly the nation! Lizzie and Frank needed to purchase matching Forever Sideways sweatshirts, and the hostess very generously helped them select their sizes while people waiting for tables lined up behind us. It was pouring rain, so again we were tempted to stay put in the romantic, cozy, gorgeous, meat-scented Hitching Post II, but again we were pushed on by our absurd list of movie-fandom-related tasks.
We were picked up by a man in a Tesla who told us that, in addition to driving for Uber, he has a private-car service. He said that one of the celebrities he used to drive was Michael Jackson, and that Neverland Ranch was actually not far from where we were at the moment. (Fact check: This was apparently true.) He had driven Jackson there many times, he claimed. "Oh," I said.
Lizzie: "Put it this way: I used to deliver pizza to Michael Jackson," was actually his response to the question "Are you from here?," which felt to us like he had skipped a few steps. Then, when I asked him if he'd met any other celebrities, he responded, "You name one, I've been to their house." I didn't really want to start naming celebrities, but he rattled them off anyway: Jeff Bridges, Orlando Bloom, "Caddy" Perry, Pink. He told us that Pink was really nice and that Michael Jackson was always dressed "as Spider-Man or Peter Pan, or in his pajamas."
Our driver (who, by the way, was barefoot) dropped us off in—I guess—what you would consider "downtown Solvang." It felt like a New Jersey beach town except with windmills instead of Ferris wheels. Most of the stores were touristy souvenir shops where you could buy a miniature Dutch clog or a big T-shirt gown for sleeping in. We wandered from shop to shop, dodging the rain and making pointless purchases for our loved ones. Frank bought some kind of Dutch Santa Claus figurine, Kaitlyn bought green-army-men gummy candy, and I bought a toylike object called "Suddenly! Giant Fish Eggs" that allows you, the owner of this object, to "Create Mounds of Clear Spheres Instantly!" It "Makes 6 Full Cups!" I haven't created the six full cups of mounds of clear spheres yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
Kaitlyn: The gummy army guys were for Nathan—I also got him a postcard with some sliced barbecued pork and a California landscape on it. Our next stop was the Red Viking Restaurant, which only real Sideways-heads will recognize, as it appears in the movie for less than one second, when the guys pass by it on their way to Solvang Restaurant, which was closed by the time we were ready for dinner. We shared an order of aebleskiver and I had a piece of bread with pork and cabbage on it. I also ordered a Diet Coke and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, and poured one into the other. I said I felt ready to stay up all night. I said I would go to a club, but not literally.
When we got back to our room, Lizzie put on the Japanese remake of Sideways from 2009 and I fell asleep almost instantly.
Lizzie: I found Japanese Sideways, or Saidoweizu, when I was trying to download Sideways for the plane ride home. The premise is essentially the same (two old friends letting loose before one of them gets married) except they go to Napa instead of Santa Barbara and there's like seven additional plotlines. I recognize that Sideways is not the most thrilling movie of all time, but that's part of its charm. You're wine-drunk! You move slowly! It seems like the team behind Saidoweizu attempted to compensate for the leisurely plot pace by adding in elements such as a lady-cop ball-gag scene, a wild goose chase to find rare wine, and a running joke that everyone assumes the Miles character and the Jack character are dating.
Throughout this somewhat confusing experience, Frank was trying to make his way through a bottle of local Chardonnay he'd had delivered to his room. He kept telling me how bad it tasted, then asking me if I wanted some. With each new pour, he would say something like, "I think it's poison," or "It's starting to burn my lips," and inhale deeply before going in for another sip.
At one point, he was trying to determine what opera the Saidoweizu soundtrack reminded him of, and started singing loudly into his Shazam app, "BUM BUM BUM BUMMMM," punctuated by yelling Kaitlyn's name in an attempt to wake her up and make her drink more gas-station Chard. Kaitlyn, amazingly, kept sleeping.
Kaitlyn: Apparently, while he was suffering from self-inflicted poisoning, Frank was also sending me and Lizzie a bunch of links to haunting TikTok videos. So the first thing I laid eyes on in the morning was a short clip of a pink-haired middle-aged woman stepping slowly but confidently into a decorative fountain at a mall while Rihanna's "Umbrella" played.
We had a subdued morning, post-whirlwind-wine-tour day. Sort of like at the end of Sideways, when the boys are wrapping the trip up in silent understanding of each other's hangovers and general fatigue and character flaws. The rolling hills of California, covered with those "not too useful" California oaks, were, I said sleepily, probably full of militias. I wanted to be back in New York, as I always do. We picked up Starbucks and stopped for one minute on the side of the road outside of the ostrich farm mentioned in Sideways. The ostriches were, I don't know, huge? You could pay to feed them, but we didn't have time. We had to drive back down the coast to Los Angeles in reflective silence, broken only by Lizzie reciting the monologue from Jerry Maguire and then by Lizzie reciting two Robert Frost poems she had memorized.
Lizzie: Just so we're clear, I didn't memorize the poems for entertainment purposes. It was one of those pointless tasks they make you do in junior high or whatever, and the poems, I guess, will remain lodged in my head for the rest of my life. I did memorize the "Who's coming with me?" monologue from Jerry Maguire for fun, but I missed some parts, probably due to the lingering Gamay haze.
As we drove back along the cow-studded coast, I settled back to take in the local landmarks. My last note of the trip is "San Lucas Breeding Facility," I suppose in reference to some kind of breeding facility in San Lucas.
When we got to L.A., we had to first get rid of Frank. We unceremoniously dropped him off on the side of the road somewhere in Culver City, hugged goodbye, and waved out the back window as he stood there, hungover with all of his luggage, watching us drive away, like in a movie. "Go! You're better off without me!" From there, it was the usual scramble to the airport, a crawling journey on the Hertz bus, and a brisk, sweaty walk through three terminals while trying to keep my pants up (I had left my belt at home since I didn't want to go through the process of taking it off at security).
Kaitlyn: Another time, on the way to the airport, I happened upon a tweet that said "I really don't think JFK would like this airport." It was funny timing, since I was going there, so it stuck with me. And it's also kind of an interesting thought experiment. Would JFK like it? You could argue it in either direction I think. It doesn't matter. I'm only bringing this up so I can say that it's good that LAX doesn't have a namesake. There's no way they would like it. It's crowded and ugly and a visual insult to the very idea of coastal elitism. There's a big glass wall that says The Los Angeles Times, but you cannot buy a newspaper?
While we waited to board, Lizzie and I ate potato burritos and downloaded Sideways, finally, onto our devices. I flipped through my notes and research materials and tried to decide if I had learned anything. In the 1998 version of Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Wine Course—the classic wine text I had purchased to prepare for this trip, which was based on Zraly's time running the wine program at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center (which was destroyed on 9/11), I underlined the part where he shares that he likes his wines "bright, rich, mature, developed, seductive, and with nice legs!!" He also noted that America did not really have much of a wine culture at that time. Just 5 percent of Americans were drinking 95 percent of the wine—that's different now because of Sideways! Reportedly, the movie shamed Americans into feeling that they were idiots if they didn't know about Pinot Noir, and that is, in a roundabout way, how Lizzie and I ended up at Red Viking Restaurant, mixing soda with an $8 Cab. Yet I never figured out what it would mean for a wine to have nice legs. And I thought the Chardonnay that poisoned Frank tasted pretty much fine.
So what about the other stuff? In advance of this trip, many people asked Lizzie and I if we were going to have sexual affairs in California, betraying our romantic partners but solidifying our bond through shared secrets. We didn't bother with that.
Lizzie: There truly wasn't enough time! And as for the learning-more-about-wine part, I think we needed a real-life Miles to lead us, when unfortunately we just had ourselves.
On the flight back, we both watched Sideways. I was struck by how insufferable and boring Miles was—his only redeeming quality is that he sort of, vaguely, silently, disapproves of Jack cheating on his fiancée the week before their wedding. Makes you think that Maya's marbles weren't all there, since she seems to find Miles intriguing solely because he's a writer, and because he wrote a book that was too long for anyone but her to want to read it. Don't read anything a man hands you from the back of his Saab!
Kaitlyn: I have always said that it would make me so sad to be Paul Giamatti's character in Sideways: Thomas Haden Church using me, ignoring me, ruining my favorite restaurant, then crashing my car on purpose to cover up his own misdeeds. But watching Sideways again on the plane, I realized that Jack is not that bad of a friend after all. He is awful to most women but he is supportive of Miles's writing career, he was nice to Miles's mom, and he is really funny when he chases those guys on the golf course. And Miles is a poor sport for most of Jack's bachelor trip, making everything about himself—his failed marriage and his snobby opinions.
I guess if I learned anything by going "sideways," it's that I would rather be a Jack than a Miles. Also, I am actually very young, even though I tend to feel old. It will be so many years until my first divorce. And then? Who knows, maybe it will be time for me and Lizzie to "do" Sideways again.
Lizzie: I'll find my scratch-and-sniff book by then.
The congressional committee investigating the January 6 insurrection delivered a comprehensive and compelling case for the criminal prosecution of Donald Trump and his closest allies for their attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
But the committee zoomed in so tightly on the culpability of Trump and his inner circle that it largely cropped out the dozens of other state and federal Republican officials who supported or enabled the president's multifaceted, months-long plot. The committee downplayed the involvement of the legion of local Republican officials who enlisted as fake electors and said almost nothing about the dozens of congressional Republicans who supported Trump's efforts—even to the point, in one case, of urging him to declare "Marshall Law" to overturn the result.
With these choices, the committee likely increased the odds that Trump and his allies will face personal accountability—but diminished the prospect of a complete reckoning within the GOP.
[David Frum: Justice is coming for Donald Trump]
That reality points to the larger question lingering over the committee's final report: Would convicting Trump defang the threat to democracy that culminated on January 6, or does that require a much broader confrontation with all of the forces in extremist movements, and even the mainstream Republican coalition, that rallied behind Trump's efforts?
"If we imagine" that preventing another assault on the democratic process "is only about preventing the misconduct of a single person," Grant Tudor, a policy advocate at the nonpartisan group Protect Democracy, told me, "we are probably not setting up ourselves for success."
Both the 154-page executive summary unveiled Monday and the 845-page final report released last night made clear that the committee is focused preponderantly on Trump. The summary in particular read more like a draft criminal indictment than a typical congressional report. It contained breathtaking detail on Trump's efforts to overturn the election and concluded with an extensive legal analysis recommending that the Justice Department indict Trump on four separate offenses, including obstruction of a government proceeding and providing "aid and comfort" to an insurrection.
Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the former special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the first Trump impeachment, told me the report showed that the committee members and staff "were thinking like prosecutors." The report's structure, he said, made clear that for the committee, criminal referrals for Trump and his closest allies were the endpoint that all of the hearings were building toward. "I think they believe that it's important not to dilute the narrative," he said. "The utmost imperative is to have some actual consequences and to tell a story to the American people." Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney who has closely followed the investigation, agreed that the report underscored the committee's prioritization of a single goal: making the case that the Justice Department should prosecute Trump and some of the people around him.
"If they wind up with Trump facing charges, I think they will see it as a victory," Litman told me. "My sense is they are also a little suspicious about the [Justice] Department; they think it's overly conservative or wussy and if they served up too big an agenda to them, it might have been rejected. The real focus was on Trump."
In one sense, the committee's single-minded focus on Trump has already recorded a significant though largely unrecognized achievement. Although there's no exact parallel to what the Justice Department now faces, in scandals during previous decades, many people thought it would be too divisive and turbulent for one administration to "look back" with criminal proceedings against a former administration's officials. President Gerald Ford raised that argument when he pardoned his disgraced predecessor Richard Nixon, who had resigned while facing impeachment over the Watergate scandal, in 1974. Barack Obama made a similar case in 2009 when he opted against prosecuting officials from the George W. Bush administration for the torture of alleged terrorists. ("Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past," Obama said at the time.)
As Tudor pointed out, it is a measure of the committee's impact that virtually no political or opinion leaders outside of hard-core Trump allies are making such arguments against looking back. If anything, the opposite argument—that the real risk to U.S. society would come from not holding Trump accountable—is much more common.
"There are very few folks in elite opinion-making who are not advocating for accountability in some form, and that was not a given two years ago," Tudor told me.
Yet Tudor is one of several experts I spoke with who expressed ambivalence about the committee's choice to focus so tightly on Trump while downplaying the role of other Republicans, either in the states or in Congress. "I think it's an important lost opportunity," he said, that could "narrow the public's understanding as to the totality of what happened and, in some respects, to risk trivializing it."
[Read: The January 6 committee's most damning revelation yet]
Bill Kristol, the longtime conservative strategist turned staunch Trump critic, similarly told me that although he believes the committee was mostly correct to focus its limited time and resources primarily on Trump's role, the report "doesn't quite convey how much the antidemocratic, authoritarian sentiments have metastasized" across the GOP.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the executive summary was its treatment of the dozens of state Republicans who signed on as "fake electors," who Trump hoped could supplant the actual electors pledged to Joe Biden in the decisive states. The committee suggested that the fake electors—some of whom face federal and state investigations for their actions—were largely duped by Trump and his allies. "Multiple Republicans who were persuaded to sign the fake certificates also testified that they felt misled or betrayed, and would not have done so had they known that the fake votes would be used on January 6th without an intervening court ruling," the committee wrote. Likewise, the report portrays Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, who agreed to help organize the fake electors, as more of a victim than an ally in the effort. The full report does note that "some officials eagerly assisted President Trump with his plans," but it identifies only one by name: Doug Mastriano, the GOP state senator and losing Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate this year. Even more than the executive summary, the full report emphasizes testimony from the fake electors in which they claimed to harbor doubts and concerns about the scheme.
Eisen, a co-author of a recent Brookings Institution report on the fake electors, told me that the committee seemed "to go out of their way" to give the fake electors the benefit of the doubt. Some of them may have been misled, he said, and in other cases, it's not clear whether their actions cross the standard for criminal liability. But, Eisen said, "if you ask me do I think these fake electors knew exactly what was going on, I believe a bunch of them did." When the fake electors met in Georgia, for instance, Eisen said that they already knew Trump "had not won the state, it was clear he had not won in court and had no prospect of winning in court, they were invited to the gathering of the fake electors in secrecy, and they knew that the governor had not and would not sign these fake electoral certificates." It's hard to view the participants in such a process as innocent dupes.
The executive summary and final report both said very little about the role of other members of Congress in Trump's drive to overturn the election. The committee did recommend Ethics Committee investigations of four House Republicans who had defied its subpoenas (including GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the presumptive incoming speaker). And it identified GOP Representative Jim Jordan, the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, as "a significant player in President Trump's efforts" while also citing the sustained involvement of Representatives Scott Perry and Andy Biggs.
But neither the executive summary nor the full report chose quoted exchanges involving House and Senate Republicans in the trove of texts the committee obtained from former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. The website Talking Points Memo, quoting from those texts, recently reported that 34 congressional Republicans exchanged ideas with Meadows on how to overturn the election, including the suggestion from Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina that Trump simply declare "Marshall Law" to remain in power. Even Representative Adam Schiff of California, a member of the committee, acknowledged in an op-ed published today that the report devoted "scant attention …[to] the willingness of so many members of Congress to vote to overturn it."
Nor did the committee recommend disciplinary action against the House members who strategized with Meadows or Trump about overturning the result—although it did say that such members "should be questioned in a public forum about their advance knowledge of and role in President Trump's plan to prevent the peaceful transition of power." (While one of the committee's concluding recommendations was that lawyers who participated in the efforts to overturn the election face disciplinary action, the report is silent on whether that same standard should apply to members of Congress.) In that, the committee stopped short of the call from a bipartisan group of former House members for discipline (potentially to the point of expulsion) against any participants in Trump's plot. "Surely, taking part in an effort to overturn an election warrants an institutional response; previous colleagues have been investigated and disciplined for far less," the group wrote.
By any measure, experts agree, the January 6 committee has provided a model of tenacity in investigation and creativity in presentation. The record it has compiled offers both a powerful testament for history and a spur to immediate action by the Justice Department. It has buried, under a mountain of evidence, the Trump apologists who tried to whitewash the riot as "a normal tourist visit" or minimize the former president's responsibility for it. In all of these ways, the committee has made it more difficult for Trump to obscure how gravely he abused the power of the presidency as he begins his campaign to re-obtain it. As Tudor said, "It's pretty hard to imagine January 6 would still be headline news day in and day out absent the committee's work."
But Trump could not have mounted such a threat to American democracy alone. Thousands of far-right extremists responded to his call to assemble in Washington. Seventeen Republican state attorneys general signed on to a lawsuit to invalidate the election results in key states; 139 Republican House members and eight GOP senators voted to reject the outcome even after the riot on January 6. Nearly three dozen congressional Republicans exchanged ideas with Meadows on how to overturn the result, or exhorted him to do so. Dozens of prominent Republicans across the key battleground states signed on as fake electors. Nearly 300 Republicans who echoed Trump's lies about the 2020 election were nominated in November—more than half of all GOP candidates, according to The Washington Post. And although many of the highest-profile election deniers were defeated, about 170 deniers won their campaign and now hold office, where they could be in position to threaten the integrity of future elections.
[From the November 2022 issue: Bad losers]
The January 6 committee's dogged investigation has stripped Trump's defenses and revealed the full magnitude of his assault on democracy. But whatever happens next to Trump, it would be naive to assume that the committee has extinguished, or even fully mapped, a threat that has now spread far beyond him.
Young men in some US zip codes face disproportionately higher risks of firearm-related injuries and deaths, according to a new study.
In 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults. The new study shows that risk is far from even.
"While most city residents are relatively safe from gun violence, the risks are more severe than war for some demographics."
To better understand the magnitude of the gun violence crisis and put it in perspective, researchers compared the risk of firearm-related death for young adult men living in the most violent areas in four major US cities with the risks of combat death and injury faced by US military personnel who served in Afghanistan and Iraq during active periods of war.
The results were mixed: The study, published in JAMA Network Open, finds that young men from zip codes with the most firearm violence in Chicago and Philadelphia faced a notably higher risk of firearm-related death than US military personnel deployed to wartime service in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the opposite was true in two other cities: The most violent areas in New York and Los Angeles were associated with much less risk for young men than those in the two wars.
In all zip codes studied, young men from minority racial and ethnic groups overwhelmingly bore the risks, according to the study.
"These results are an urgent wake-up call for understanding, appreciating, and responding to the risks and attendant traumas faced by this demographic of young men," says Brandon del Pozo, an assistant professor of medicine (research) at Brown University's Warren Alpert Medical School and an assistant professor of health services, policy and practice (research) at Brown's the School of Public Health.
Gun deaths in US cities
Del Pozo conducts research at the intersection of public health, public safety and justice, focusing on substance use, the overdose crisis, and violence. His new book, The Police and the State: Security, Social Cooperation, and the Public Good (Cambridge University Press, 2022), is based on his academic research as well as his 23 years of experience as a police officer in New York City and as chief of police of Burlington, Vermont.
"Working as a police officer, I witnessed the toll of gun violence, and how disruptive it was for families and communities," del Pozo says. "It stood out to me that the burden was not distributed evenly by geography or demographic. Some communities felt the brunt of gun violence much more acutely than others. By analyzing publicly available data on firearm fatalities in cities and in war, we sought to place that burden in sharp relief."
At the same time, del Pozo says, he and his coauthors were responding to oft-repeated inflammatory claims about gun violence in American cities.
"We often hear opposing claims about gun violence that fall along partisan lines: One is that big cities are war zones that require a severe crackdown on crime, and the other is that our fears about homicides are greatly exaggerated and don't require drastic action," del Pozo says.
"We wanted to use data to explore these claims—and it turns out both are wrong. While most city residents are relatively safe from gun violence, the risks are more severe than war for some demographics."
Magnitude of the crisis
To conduct their analysis, the researchers obtained information on all fatal and nonfatal shootings of 18- to 29-year-old men recorded as crimes in 2020 and 2021 in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia—the four largest US cities for which public data on those who were shot were available.
For New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, they used shooting death and injury data sets made public by each city; for Los Angeles, they extracted firearm death and injury data from a larger public data set of recorded crimes. They aggregated data to the zip code level and linked to corresponding demographic characteristics from the US Census Bureau's 2019 American Community Survey.
The researchers acquired wartime combat-related mortality and injury counts for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan from peer-reviewed analyses of US military data covering the years 2001 to 2014 for the war in Afghanistan and 2003 to 2009 for the war in Iraq, both of which were periods of active combat.
Because there is limited data about the risks of serving in different military units at different times during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the researchers considered the mortality and injury data of a single, de-identified Army brigade combat team engaged in combat during a 15-month period of the Iraq War that involved notably above-average combat death and injury rates at a time considered to be the height of the conflict.
The analysis included 129,826 young men residing in the four cities considered in the study.
The researchers found that compared to the risk of combat death faced by US soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan, the more dangerous of the two wars, young men living in the most violent zip code of Chicago (2,585 individuals) had a 3.23 times higher average risk of firearm-related homicide, and those in Philadelphia (2,448 people) faced a 1.9 times higher average risk of firearm-related homicide. Singling out the elevated dangers faced by the US Army combat brigade in Iraq, the young men studied in Chicago still faced notably greater risks, and the ones faced in Philadelphia were comparable.
However, these findings were not observed in the most violent zip codes of Los Angeles and New York, where young men faced a 70% to 91% lower risk than soldiers in the Afghanistan war across fatal and nonfatal categories.
When the researchers looked at the demographics of the young men in the zip codes studied, they determined that the risk of violent death and injury observed in the zip codes studied was almost entirely borne by individuals from minority racial and ethnic groups: Black and Hispanic males represented 96.2% of those who were fatally shot and 97.3% of those who experienced nonfatal injury across all four cities.
In the study, the researchers make the point that the risk of firearm death is not the only thing that young men living in violent US zip codes have in common with young men at war.
"Exposure to combat has been associated with stress-inducing hypervigilance and elevated rates of homelessness, alcohol use, mental illness, and substance use, which, in turn, are associated with a steep discounting of future rewards," they write.
"Our findings—which show that young men in some of the communities we studied were subject to annual firearm homicide and violent injury rates in excess of 3.0% and as high as 5.8%—lend support to the hypothesis that beyond the deaths and injuries of firearm violence, ongoing exposure to these violent events and their risks are a significant contributor to other health problems and risk behaviors in many US communities."
The health risks are likely even higher for people in cities, because they need to face their "battles" every day over a lifetime, as opposed to military personnel in a tour of duty in Afghanistan, which typically lasted 12 months, del Pozo says. The study results help illustrate the magnitude of the firearms crisis, a necessary understanding to municipalities seeking to formulate an effective public health response.
"The findings suggest that urban health strategies should prioritize violence reduction and take a trauma-informed approach to addressing the health needs of these communities," del Pozo says.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences funded the work.
Source: Brown University
The post Young men have higher risk of gun death in some US cities than in war appeared first on Futurity.
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35628-0Designing efficient sensing-memory-computing systems remains a challenge. Here, the authors propose a self-powered vertical tribo-transistor based on MXenes to implement the multi-sensing-memory-computing function and the interaction of multisensory integration.
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35484-yAntibiotic and anti-cancer therapy are challenged by mutation-mediated treatment resistance despite many mutations being maladaptive. Here, the authors introduce a system that shows how the probability of the long-term persistence of drug-resistant mutant lineages can be increased in dense microbial populations by acquiring multiple mutations.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-25936-2Effects of rifampin on the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of milvexian, a potent, selective, oral small molecule factor XIa inhibitor
When a virtual stranger helped my grandfather, it reminded me that for all the bad in the world, behind the scenes lie untold stories of extraordinary good
I heard some good news recently. My 91-year-old grandfather called me to test his new hearing aid. For the first time in a long time, he could hear my voice. It thrilled us both.
He and my grandmother had been trying to replace his previous hearing aid for more than a month but confusing instructions, impatient explanations and faulty hardware meant they'd almost given up. Now they had me on speakerphone and were giving me an update in excited voices. This time their story didn't evoke sympathy but joy.Continue reading…
Historic events and significant change have punctuated the year worldwide. Space tech company Maxar Technologies has kept an eye on developments from roughly 724km above Earth, capturing all the news from spaceContinue reading…
Nature, Published online: 22 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04573-9A model embryo helps researchers model human congenital spine diseases. Plus, hints of how cochlear implants help hearing and a pivotal year for working scientists.
Under Mars-like conditions, manganese oxides can readily form without atmospheric oxygen, research finds.
When NASA's Mars rovers found manganese oxides in the Gale and Endeavor craters in 2014, it sparked suggestions that the red planet might have had more oxygen in its atmosphere billions of years ago.
The minerals probably required abundant water and strongly oxidizing conditions to form, the scientists said. Using lessons learned from Earth's geologic record, they conclude that the presence of manganese oxides indicated that Mars had experienced periodic increases in atmospheric oxygen in its past—before declining to today's low levels.
But a new experimental study upends this view. And, using kinetic modeling, the scientists show that manganese oxidation is not possible in the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere expected on ancient Mars.
"The link between manganese oxides and oxygen suffers from an array of fundamental geochemical problems," says Jeffrey Catalano, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and corresponding author of the study in Nature Geoscience.
Kaushik Mitra, now a postdoctoral research associate at Stony Brook University, who completed this work as part of his graduate research at Washington University, is the paper's first author.
Mars is a planet rich in the halogen elements chlorine and bromine compared to Earth. "Halogens occur on Mars in forms different from on the Earth, and in much larger amounts, and we guessed that they would be important to the fate of manganese," says Catalano,
Catalano and Mitra conducted laboratory experiments using chlorate and bromate to oxidize manganese in water samples that they made to replicate fluids on the Mars surface in the ancient past.
"We were inspired by reactions seen during chlorination of drinking water," Catalano says. "Understanding other planets sometimes requires us to apply knowledge gained from seemingly unrelated fields of science and engineering."
The scientists found that halogens converted manganese dissolved in water into manganese oxide minerals thousands to millions of times faster than by oxygen. Further, under the weakly acidic conditions that scientists believe were found on the surface of early Mars, bromate produces manganese oxide minerals more quickly than any other available oxidant. Under many of these conditions, oxygen is altogether incapable of forming manganese oxides.
"Oxidation does not necessitate the involvement of oxygen by definition," Mitra says. "Earlier, we proposed viable oxidants on Mars, other than oxygen or via UV photooxidation, that help explain why the red planet is red. In the case of manganese, we just did not have a viable alternative to oxygen that could explain manganese oxides until now."
The new results alter foundational interpretations of the habitability of early Mars, which is an important driver of ongoing research by NASA and the European Space Agency.
But just because there was likely no atmospheric oxygen in the past, there's no particular reason to believe that there was no life, the scientists say.
"There are several life forms even on Earth that do not require oxygen to survive," Mitra says. "I don't think of it as a 'setback' to habitability—only that there was probably no oxygen-based lifeforms."
Extremophile organisms that can survive in a halogen-rich environment—like the salt-loving single-celled organisms and bacteria that thrive in the Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea on Earth—might also do well on Mars.
"We need more experiments conducted in diverse geochemical conditions that are more relevant to specific planets like Mars, Venus, and 'ocean worlds' like Europa and Enceladus in order to have the correct and full understanding of the geochemical and geological environments on these planetary bodies," Mitra says.
"Every planet is unique in its own right, and we cannot extrapolate the observations made on one planet to exactly understand a different planet."
Source: Washington University in St. Louis
The post Manganese oxides on Mars probably don't indicate O2 appeared first on Futurity.
Facilitated communication (FC) is a technique that involves a facilitator supporting the hand or arm of a person with severe communication disabilities, such as autism or cerebral palsy, as they type on a keyboard or communicate through other means. The theory behind FC is that the facilitator's physical support allows the person to overcome any motor impairments and communicate more effectively. However, FC has been the subject of considerable controversy and skepticism within the scientific community.
One major issue with FC is that there is little scientific evidence to support its effectiveness. Despite being used for decades, FC has never been rigorously tested in controlled, double-blind studies. This is problematic because it is impossible to determine whether the messages being communicated through FC are actually coming from the person with disabilities or from the facilitator. Some researchers have suggested that FC may be susceptible to ideomotor effect, which is when unconscious movements or responses are influenced by a person's thoughts or beliefs. This means that the facilitator's own thoughts and beliefs could be influencing the messages that are being communicated.
Another issue with FC is that there have been numerous cases where the messages communicated through FC have been shown to be incorrect or misleading. For example, in one well-known case, a woman with severe communication disabilities was believed to have communicated through FC that she had been sexually abused as a child. However, subsequent investigations revealed that the allegations were not true and that the facilitator had likely influenced the woman's responses.
Given these concerns, it is important to be cautious about the validity of FC as a means of communication. While it may be tempting to believe that FC can provide a way for people with severe communication disabilities to express themselves, the lack of scientific evidence and the potential for misleading or false messages make it difficult to rely on FC as a reliable source of information. Instead, it may be more productive to focus on other, more established communication methods, such as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices or sign language.
In conclusion, while FC may be a well-intentioned approach to helping people with severe communication disabilities communicate, the lack of scientific evidence and the potential for misleading or false messages make it difficult to rely on as a reliable source of information. Until there is more rigorous scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of FC, it is important to approach it with skepticism and consider alternative methods for communication.
As I suspect many regular readers here figured out, I did not write the above brief essay. That was written by ChatGPT based on the prompt: "Write a skeptical essay about facilitated communication." For a narrow AI that's just essentially a really good chatbot, predicting word sequences from its vast database without any real understanding, that's pretty good. The essay was coherent, reasonably well written, had a structure to it, and of course is grammatically correct.
At the same time I find it lacking. It has no style, no flair, and no truly creative insight. It's what I call a "book report" format – it reads like it was a book report written by a grade-schooler. Just get the facts down, follow an obvious format, but no more. It could have been written by anyone, or by a committee, and is suitable for an encyclopedia entry. In fact I suspect it is largely based on data scrubbed from Wikipedia.
I don't always have time to bring my A game to my daily blog, but I try. I try to connect different ideas with a common deeper meaning, or add some unique insight into what I think is going on. At the very least I will try to layer in some humor, pop culture reference, or an interesting turn of phrase. I also have a certain unconscious style, created by my word choices and vocabulary, the logical pathways I tend to follow, and the way I build arguments. I have had the experience (in the context of gaming) of trying to write as another person, but my style was immediately picked up by those very familiar with it. By contrast, for lack of a better word, the essay above is "soulless". It is dry, mechanical, and frankly a little boring, if informative.
What does all this mean? I think there is a good analogy to be made with AI art, such as that created by Midjourney. I have been playing with Midjourney for a few months now. It is an incredibly fun and useful tool. But similarly, I find the results dry and mechanical, without any unique artistic flair. It doesn't grip the soul the way a great piece of human-created art can. At best it mimics such art. I found the most interesting results when I prompt the AI to mash up the styles of two known artists. I get their style, but with a twist. At the same time, I have seen the results that talented artists can get using Midjourney as a tool. I happen to know Michael Whelan (a famous Sci Fi / Fantasy artist) and I asked him what he thought about Midjourney. He was excited by it – he uses it as an idea generator.
What do these powerful AI applications mean for the future? For now, I don't think that people have anything to worry about in terms of being replaced. Truly creative writers and artists cannot be replaced by this narrow AI approach. Rather, these can serve as tools for creativity. They are fun for hacks like me to play around with, but in the hands of an artist are just another tool, and a powerful one.
Regarding ChatGPT, it is incredibly versatile. It can write and debug code. Again, for now, that makes it a useful tool for coders, and non-coders may be able to manage some basic operations. But it won't replace coders anytime soon (although keeping an eye on alternative careers may be a good idea). Perhaps its most useful function may be as the core of an AI digital assistant. It can "understand" natural language prompts, and return with readable results. It is not yet connected to the internet for new information (it is using only data scrubbed up to 2021), but when it is I can imagine a lot of functionality. It can book reservations and tickets (or at least find and suggest them, for you to approve and hit the "buy" button), find items for sale you are looking for, do internet-research, find specific information, and perhaps even help manage your social media. That all seems well within its capability.
Sure, it can also write essays for students to hand in as their own work. Right now teachers can use software to detect plagiarism, but such software will not help here. The essays ChatGPT creates are unique, not just copied. They are regenerated from the sources it scrubbed. Perhaps someone will come out with new software that can detect the products of ChatGPT. Meanwhile, teachers will need to learn how to detect it themselves. Or they will need to give assignments that cannot be completed with ChatGPT alone, and will have to grade students on their insight and creativity, not just getting the facts down in a coherent but dry format. This is certainly a challenge, but doable. In the end I can imagine that the existence of ChatGPT may improve education and grading, rather than destroy it.
As an analogy, calculators did not destroy math education. Teachers just needed to give students assignments and tests that would be a valuable marker of their knowledge even while using a calculator. Likewise teachers may need to design assignments with the assumption that students will use ChatGPT, but require some added value that would represent the student's own work.
The more difficult question to answer is this – where are these AI applications headed? For any of the shortcomings I listed above, can they be fixed with incremental improvements to the algorithm? Can the AI be tweaked to add flair, humor, style, even some random elements to make them unpredictable? Or is what we are seeing a limitation inherent to this approach? Is this type of AI essentially a dead end when it comes to true creativity. If history is any guide, I would not bet against the power and potential of narrow AI. So far it has surpassed all of the milestones that experts said it never would. It could never beat a human in chess, until it did.
Then again, we tend to extrapolate new technologies in a linear fashion, but this is often not the case. Sometimes progress is geometric, but at other time problems are geometric and progress stalls. I keep thinking of high temperature superconductivity – we had a breakthrough in the 1980s, and everyone thought room temperature superconductivity was right around the corner, but it wasn't. We are arguably no closer almost four decades later, and an entirely new approach may be needed.
Which path will applications like ChatGPT and Midjourney follow? In 10 or 20 years will the latest versions of these AI programs produce results that are indistinguishable (or even better than) human creators? Or are there inherent limits to this approach, and will the results forever remain "soulless"? I suspect we will find out soon enough.
Note: This is my final blog post of the year. Have a great New Year and Happy Holidays to all my readers. New essays will appear in January.
The post A Quick Review of Facilitated Communication first appeared on NeuroLogica Blog.
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If an advanced, alien life made a non-hostile contact with humans, how would you break the news to the general public, if you were in charge?
I'm seeing lots of optimistic posts regarding AI as of recently (ignoring the various AI art protests) about how it will result in the end of work, and how things like UBI are the future.
I wouldn't be so optimistic if I were you.
Let's be real for a moment. The sociopaths in control of the planet will merely turn this technology against this.
Here's what I predict will probably happen.
They will probably create a UBI system for us in the early stages because they know that massive hordes of unemployed people would result in instability. But the amount of money given would be very basic. Just enough to survive. Furthermore, they will also probably look for excuses to vastly limit our standard of living via rationing of energy.
For the record, I'm not saying enviormental issues aren't real. But I will say that even if there are legimate issues, that doesn't mean those issues cannot be weaponized against us in bad ways. Imagine a system where you only get 2 hours of electricity a day and can only leave your 'zone' infrequently, because otherwise you're 'harming the planet'. This will be used to control you.
But the ruling class won't have a reason to keep even this system around forever. Once AI makes us utterly useless, they will 'cull' us. It's open for debate how they'll do it. I don't think they will use killer robots like some predict, but they'll find some method.
So no. I don't think we're going to be living in some Star Trek-esque socialist utopia in the future. If anything, this is the beginning of the end for us.
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After using the all new product of openai, i have fell in love with it. Its clearly a winner against
search engine as of now. No one wants to search something and become overwhelmed with 1000s of website results. The way chat gpt interacts and compiles information to present us is so humane. Even in its primitive stage its far better than what Google have at their disposal right now. Other than that it has additional features of followup questions, answers to individual specific queries an other features which we would expect from an ai. Its so up to the point. I have a strong feeling that open ai can disrupt google's business model with this monster. After all no one stays forever. Everything will be replaced at some point.
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Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35497-7Author Correction: A potential explanation for the global increase in tropical cyclone rapid intensification
Our opinion section took us to the front lines of COVID, revealed how racists misuse evolutionary biology, illuminated a mental health epidemic in kids, and more
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26286-9Development and experimental verification of C-arm camera shooting locator
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-25581-9Effect of thermal
For a lavish and expensive epic about 1920s Hollywood, Damien Chazelle's new film, Babylon, introduces itself about as scatologically as possible. In its first sequence, a harried gofer named Manny Torres (played by Diego Calva) tries to transport an elephant into the Hollywood Hills for a big-shot producer's party, a farcical task that ends with the elephant pooping on the camera lens—in a way, on the viewers themselves. We then cut to a giggling movie star getting urinated on as part of some private sexcapade while the party ensues on the floors below—a sweaty, drug-fueled orgy that Chazelle presents in a bravura unbroken take.
The scene, filled with wondrous and horrifying sights, massively overstays its welcome. And that sets the tone perfectly for Chazelle's ensuing poison-pen letter to Hollywood's silent era, a three-hour-plus extravaganza of debauchery, general misery, and overflowing movie magic that sets the industry aflame and invites the audience to dance around the bonfire. It's a daring thing for a major studio to put out these days, when big budgets tend to be lavished on superheroes, and Babylon's caustic indulgence will likely put many theatergoers off. But Chazelle is trying to make a point with all the excess: that the joy of cinema has always gone hand in hand with exploitation, abuse, and off-screen villainy.
On its face, Babylon would seem to be the flip-side narrative to La La Land, the director's Oscar-winning musical about filmmaking, which took a much gauzier approach. In it, people sang winsome ballads saluting "the fools who dream," and stardom was granted to those who strived hard enough for it, though it came at the cost of love. But La La Land was a film with a bittersweet edge; Chazelle seemed to be critiquing his own nostalgia while still letting it play out on-screen to delight viewers. In Babylon, his affection for the fame-seeking business he works in has only curdled further, but his passion for film as a medium hasn't diminished in the slightest. The subsequent raging contrast between these two notions is fascinating to watch.
[Read: La La Land's double-edged nostalgia]
A huge ensemble piece, Babylon focuses on three main characters. There's Manny, a Mexican American assistant who rises through the ranks of a fictional studio to become a film executive right as movies begin their transition to "talkies." At the frenzied party in the film's opening act, he meets two actors: Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), a newcomer looking to break into the biz, and Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), an established superstar who can't get out of bed before downing a few cocktails. Babylon follows each person's rise and fall as their arcs intertwine and come apart, but it also delves into other tales of an industry stumbling toward a veneer of respectability during one of its most volatile eras.
Hollywood in the 1920s was, Chazelle insistently tells us, absolutely anarchic. Bankrolled by shady figures, filmmakers were still inventing basic storytelling concepts on the fly, and codes for on-screen decency and morality were a few years off. At one point, Chazelle virtuosically shoots a series of gigantic film productions all taking place simultaneously in the same California hills, a conceit that was feasible when movies didn't have to worry about capturing sound. While one director wrangles thousands of extras for a colossal medieval-combat scene (somewhat reminiscent of the famed 1916 epic Intolerance), other productions play out on intimate sets that have been knocked together. Chazelle's camera roams from location to location, drinking in the wild glory of it all.
It might be the best sequence Chazelle has ever put together, and he's staged quite a few dazzling set pieces in his short career. He wants the viewer to consider the sheer audacity of early moviemaking, particularly delighting in the contrast between the immense battle being orchestrated for one movie and an emotional barroom scene being produced for another, in which Nellie, a last-minute replacement, proves herself the saucy new star the studio's been looking for. By the time the sequence ended, I was ready to proclaim Babylon a masterpiece, except that the film wasn't even halfway done.
What follows is a dizzying series of concentric spirals for the ensemble that start feeling almost nauseating. Nellie's initial triumphant success begins to falter because of her scandalous off-screen behavior; Jack's image begins to fade with age, alcoholism, and changing trends; Manny's desire to rise to the top compels him to make a set of morally compromising decisions. There are other characters with narratives rooted in film history that are equally fascinating, though they sadly get shorter shrift in Chazelle's screenplay. Li Jun Li plays Lady Fay Zhu, a cabaret singer and an actress with a gift for painting silent-film title cards, and Jovan Adepo plays a trumpeter named Sidney Palmer who briefly enjoys fame during the early years of films with sound.
[Read: When Hollywood's power players were women]
Almost all of these figures have historical analogues, with many of them blending classic bits of Hollywood lore—Nellie is obviously inspired by the flapper queen Clara Bow, Jack is the tragic silent star John Gilbert, Fay Zhu is much indebted to Anna May Wong, and so on. But Chazelle turns up the volume with each portrayal, mixing fact and fiction and giving his dialogue more contemporary snap and crackle to underline the ways the industry hasn't changed after almost 100 years. Although I was moved and agitated by the cavalcades of failure Babylon depicts, the film almost deliberately becomes a drag, wringing out every last golden drop of nostalgia until everyone, on-screen and off, is miserable and exhausted.
But before ushering ticket buyers out the door, Chazelle presents a coda that is so absurd and daring, so simultaneously cornball and avant-garde, that I wasn't sure whether to doff my cap or throw fruit at the screen. I shan't describe it entirely, but it includes a montage that exists to underscore Chazelle's core message about the world he's working in. Yes, he seems to be saying, Hollywood is a fetid pit of exploitation that has sucked many souls dry over the decades, but it is all in service of the best entertainment money can buy. I'm not sure if I agree or if I was simply beaten into submission after more than three hours, but Babylon is the kind of grandiose folly that at least gives the viewer a big old mess to chew on.
"Do they know it's Christmas?" the musician Bob Geldof once asked. Nearly three decades on, the answer in the United States is that they know perfectly well, but what that means, and how they express it, is in flux.
For years, conservatives have warned of a "war on Christmas." Former President Donald Trump adopted it as a major cause, and nearly four in 10 Americans said in a poll last December that politicians are waging a campaign to take religion out of the holiday. Liberals have scoffed at the idea that anyone is trying to downplay Christmas, dismissing the whole thing as either earnest paranoia or cynical politics. They are right that there's no coordinated push to downplay the holiday or its religious roots, but conservatives aren't reacting to nothing: Christmas is becoming less of a religious holiday for millions of people. If a war on Christmas exists, it's gaining ground in a long battle of attrition.
[Read: Christmas's war on America]
Americans still love Christmas, if not quite as much as they used to. In 1995, 96 percent celebrated the holiday, per Gallup; by 2019, that had dipped slightly, to 93 percent. What has changed significantly is the way people mark it. From 2005 to 2019, the portion of Americans who say their Christmas celebrations are "strongly religious" dropped from 47 percent to 35 percent. (The group that says its celebration is "somewhat religious" has stayed pretty stable, going from 30 percent in 2005 to 32 percent in 2019.) A majority of Americans are still willing to accept Christmas displays on public property (at least when they're combined with Hanukkah displays), but that number sank from almost three-quarters in 2014 to just two-thirds in 2017.
For Trump, one of the key elements of the war on Christmas was a supposed unwillingness to say "Merry Christmas," as the phrase has been replaced by more inclusive but less explicitly Christian phrases. "If I become president, we're going to be saying 'Merry Christmas' at every store," he promised in 2015. "You can leave 'Happy holidays' at the corner." And after Trump's victory in 2016, his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski proclaimed, "You can say again, 'Merry Christmas,' because Donald Trump is now the president."
It appears that people weren't afraid to say "Merry Christmas." They just didn't care. A real shift has occurred, not because of animosity but because of apathy. In 2005, roughly equal portions of Americans told Pew Research that they wanted stores to say "Merry Christmas" and that they didn't care what stores said (with another 12 percent favoring "Happy holidays" or "Season's greetings"). Over the next decade, those numbers diverged. By 2017, less than a third (32 percent) preferred "Merry Christmas," while more than half (52 percent) said it didn't matter which greeting stores used.
When people offer a holiday greeting, do you hear what I hear? It depends a lot on where you live and with whom you're speaking. FiveThirtyEight, drawing on data from the Public Religion Research Institute, showed sharp regional differences in a 2016 analysis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the West and Northeast, generally more liberal areas, lean toward "Happy holidays" over "Merry Christmas." It is not, however, the conservative South that leads the way for "Merry Christmas" (the region is about evenly split), but the Midwest.
Age makes a difference too. Millennials are more likely than previous generations to see Christmas as a cultural rather than a religious holiday—a reversal of how older Americans feel. And a 2018 NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll found that 53 percent of Millennials prefer "Happy holidays," versus 38 percent who like "Merry Christmas." Although few good polls have delved into the views of Generation Z, these trends all point to a continued secularization in celebration and vagueness in greeting.
[Max Khan Hayward: Eat, drink, and be marry! No, really.]
The big shift behind these changes is that even when all the faithful come, they are a shrinking group, and Christianity, in particular, is in steep decline. Robert P. Jones, PRRI's president and founder, told me that the shift goes hand in hand with an increase in the number of Americans who identify as not religious. As a portion of the population, adherents to religions other than Christianity have barely increased over the past half century, but unaffiliated Americans are now a big share of the population even in historically very religious states. "Because of these shifts, younger adults who are religiously unaffiliated are also now much more likely to marry religiously unaffiliated partners," Jones wrote in an email. "So the phenomenon of one partner bringing a religious celebration into the home happens less with the youngest generation."
In 2021, as he left office, Trump declared he had triumphed against the war on Christmas: "When I started campaigning, I said, 'You're going to say "Merry Christmas" again.' And now people are saying it." But this seems like yet another premature victory celebration and another unfulfilled promise. If anything, the religious element of Christmas slipped in importance during Trump's presidency, and like many of the cultural trends against which he railed, this one appears likely to continue into the future. In short, it's beginning to look a lot like happy holidays, everywhere you go.
The United States is in danger of missing a profound change in the economic component of China's geopolitical strategy. Chinese President Xi Jinping has downgraded the Communist Party's ambition to overtake the U.S. in economic size (though that is still officially a goal). Instead, his priority is to minimize China's dependence on other countries and maximize its ability to coerce them economically. This is an implicit acknowledgment that China can't achieve the aim of being a truly rich nation anytime soon. But the U.S. cannot afford to be complacent: China can wield its very large economy as a strategic weapon.
Just as the U.S. previously needed to respond to a China that was bent on becoming the world's foremost economy, Washington now needs to respond to a China bent on long-term economic coercion to secure the interests of the Communist party and the Chinese nation. Domestic action by the U.S. is important, and is easier to achieve, starting with better understanding Xi's goals. Internationally, to persuade friends and allies to limit their reliance on China, the U.S. must revive a moribund trade policy.
Xi clarified China's new approach in a series of speeches in 2020, claiming that the "powerful gravitational field" of the state-controlled Chinese market can be used to reshape supply chains in Beijing's favor. In Xi's view, this is essential in what he's called the "great struggle" against Western efforts to limit China's technological advancement and target its import vulnerabilities.
China has, of course, long engaged in industrial espionage and coercive technology transfer. And Xi's "Made in China 2025" industrial plan has, since 2015, provided sweeping government assistance to such sectors as semiconductors and electric vehicles. Xi now seems to believe that China must redouble efforts to tilt economic leverage in its favor, as Beijing responds to what it views as an evolving American strategy of containment. Xi may see the decoupling of the two countries' economies as ultimately inevitable—and may now be actively advancing it, on his preferred terms.
[Read: Taiwan faces its Ukraine moment]
At home, Xi evidently fears that a thriving private sector risks powerful constituencies developing outside party control—he has cracked down on activities perceived as threatening in this respect. With the party determined to retain control of the economy, potentially productive industries face many barriers to expansion. In their place are sectors that serve the party's interests first. This is not conducive to innovation and scientific breakthrough and, along with deteriorating demographics and high debt, will continue to limit growth.
This hardly means that China has given up on competing with the U.S. and others, but it will do so through state-shaped technological development and, crucially, its preeminent position in global supply chains. China will be neither the world's low-tech factory nor its leading tech pioneer, but will aim instead to make itself indispensable as a producer of high-value goods upon which even its adversaries depend. This is a perceptive and potentially fruitful alternative to rapid economic growth.
Regarding electric vehicles, for instance, China owns substantial overseas reserves of lithium and cobalt and is rushing to add more. It also seeks to become the premier processor for these minerals. Green-energy equipment may be made elsewhere, but it will rely on Chinese materials. In biopharma, China dominates the production and export of basic pharmaceutical ingredients and is looking to expand final manufacturing of pharmaceuticals.
[Read: Why Biden's block on chips to China is a big deal]
In aerospace, Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier will soon face a Chinese competitor, COMAC, whose planes look a lot like theirs. If the Chinese planes improve, the foreign firms will have more trouble selling theirs to China. Then COMAC will start exporting on a large scale, beginning with poorer countries. For semiconductors, the PRC has a strong position in testing and packaging at the end of the supply chain. It seeks to greatly expand the production of low-end chips. Without a better defense against Chinese oversupply, foreign competitors will be killed off, and China could dominate major parts of the industry.
If this proves to be the new order, the U.S. and a few other countries will remain richer than China, and their industries will make big breakthroughs, such as in mRNA vaccines and high-end microchips. Beijing will continue to largely absorb foreign innovation and then eventually drive foreign producers out of business. The dominant feature of the Sino-American commercial competition will not be a race based on economic growth or on technological advancement, as many anticipate. Rather, through subsidies, coercive technology transfer, and unbalanced market access, inferior Chinese firms will win market share at the expense of more dynamic competitors.
China will still seek growth, just not as its main priority. It will spend heavily on science and technology. But its focus will be on strategic economic leverage. Beijing's theory of victory in this clash is that its combination of strategic planning, manufacturing prowess, and a huge market will undermine foreign innovation, insulate the party from American pressure, and arm Beijing with more tools of economic coercion. This could also force more deindustrialization in the U.S.
If American policy makers and the private sector want to avoid this fate, considerable decoupling must occur. The U.S. will need to revise its economic strategy or it will continue on a course toward asymmetric dependence on China. This must start with changes to the world's wealthiest national economy. The low-cost consumption that Americans enjoy through trade with China will have to give way so that more reliable production is a priority. This will cause some short-term economic pain, but it is protection against China's inevitable disruptions of future American consumption.
The coronavirus pandemic has already pushed the private sector in this direction. Government policy must now codify and amplify the shift. These policies cannot be pushed through by executive fiat; they require a bipartisan consensus and new or modified law.
Some production will need to leave China so the U.S. can exchange cheap goods for greater economic resilience. A new economic strategy will mix producing more in North America with importing goods from trustworthy trading partners. There is already bipartisan support for boosting production at home—the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act is the best example to date.
[Read: Where U.S.-China competition leaves climate change]
The international component of American strategy is more difficult because there is bipartisan support for protectionism as well. To tackle this problem, Washington should consider updating free-trade agreements, complex as that will be, after exploring narrower, sector-specific agreements for crucial supply chains and creating bilateral technology agreements. All of these measures should get congressional approval.
Bilateral technology agreements are relatively simple: Only a handful of countries matter in technology development, and the American goal should be only to limit transfer to China. America's partners will be activated by their own national-security concerns, as well as worry over China's record of copying technology, then driving out the original developers. But some of them will also have to free themselves from entrenched dependence on China, which will require time and consistent American policy to overcome.
Agreements covering particular industrial sectors can be useful, involving not only tech but others, such as pharmaceuticals, as well. The approach involves strictly enforcing limits on Chinese participation in a supply chain serving the U.S. This same enforcement creates opportunities for firms to make gains in the American market as the subsidized Chinese competition is blocked. Some partners, with their own concerns about Chinese participation in supply chains, may not need much incentive.
An administration and Congress—both motivated by unfair Chinese competition—should be able to agree on pursuing such negotiations under the Trade Promotion Authority, through which Congress gives the president negotiation instructions in exchange for an up-or-down vote on any deal. If this occurs, the next step is to make the case to partners to partly replace the role played by China's large labor force; South Asian and Southeast Asian countries such as India, Indonesia, and the Philippines are well positioned to benefit.
How far and fast Xi's new economic strategy will go is debatable, but some signs of coercive economics are already apparent. In 2017, China blocked consumer products, travel, and cultural trade with South Korea because it deployed a U.S. anti-missile system (aimed at North Korea). In 2020, Beijing restricted trade with Australia as punishment for Canberra's desire to investigate COVID-19's origins. In late 2021, China began boycotting Lithuanian goods in response to the Baltic nation's establishing closer diplomatic ties with Taiwan. If unchallenged, China's bid on supply chains will further shift patterns of production and trade in its favor.
China is creating more enterprises like Huawei in semiconductors, biotechnology, and other industries. At some point, if Washington does something Beijing dislikes, China may simply stop the supply of crucial goods in these sectors. The nature of China's economic challenge has changed. America must adapt to meet it.
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.
Our favorite stories of 2022
We like to think we've had a great year here at MIT Technology Review. Our stories have won numerous awards (this story from our magazine won Gold in the AAAS awards) and our investigations have helped shed light on unjust policies.
So this year we asked our writers and editors to comb back through the past 12 months and try to pick just one story that they loved the most—and then tell us why. This is what they said.
What's next for AI
In 2022, AI got creative. AI models can now produce remarkably convincing pieces of text, pictures, and even videos, with just a little prompting. It's only been nine months since OpenAI set off the generative AI explosion with the launch of DALL-E 2, a deep-learning model that can produce images from text instructions. That was followed by a breakthrough from Google and Meta: AIs that can produce videos from text. And it's only been a few weeks since OpenAI released ChatGPT, the latest large language model to set the internet ablaze with its surprising eloquence and coherence.
The pace of innovation this year has been remarkable—and at times overwhelming. Who could have seen it coming? And how can we predict what's next?
Our in-house experts Will Douglas Heaven and Melissa Heikkilä tell us the four biggest trends they expect to shape the AI landscape in 2023. Read the full story
Brain stimulation might be more invasive than we think
Today, there are lots of neurotechnologies that can read what's going on in our brains, modify the way they function, and change the wiring. Deep brain stimulation, for example, involves implanting electrodes deep into the brain to stimulate neurons and control the way brain regions fire. It's considered pretty invasive, in the medical sense.
Other treatments, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, which involves passing a device shaped like a figure 8 over a person's head to deliver a magnetic pulse to parts of the brain and to interfere with its activity, are considered "noninvasive" because they act from outside the brain. But if we can reach into a person's mind, even without piercing the skull, how noninvasive is the technology really? Read the full story.
Jessica's story is from The Checkup, her weekly newsletter covering everything worth knowing in biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
Podcast: the future of farming lies in space
AI is used in agriculture to precisely target weeds and optimize irrigation practices. It's also being used in ways you might not expect, like for tracking the health of cow pastures—from space. We travel from test farms to orchards in the first of a two-part series on agriculture, AI, and satellites.
Listen on Apple Podcasts or wherever you normally get your podcasts.
I've combed the internet to find you today's most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Sam Bankman-Fried has been released on $250 million bail
He's facing home detention while he awaits trial. (BBC)
+ It's one of the largest bails in US history. (Bloomberg $)
+ Crypto Twitter is not impressed by his cushy conditions. (CoinTelegraph)
2 A severe storm is forcing US airlines to cancel flights
+ Disrupting Christmas travel left, right, and center. (WSJ $)
+ It's due to sweep across most of the US and into Canada. (Wired $)
3 We don't know how effective nasal covid vaccines are
And because we're not collecting the right kind of data, we may never know. (The Atlantic $)
+ Two inhaled covid vaccines have been approved—but we don't know yet how good they are. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Life expectancy in the US has fallen again. (Axios)
4 Twitter is starting to show how many people have seen your tweets
It's yet another of Elon Musk's wheezes. (TechCrunch)
+ Twitter looks like it's crumbling right now. (The Atlantic $)
+ We're witnessing the brain death of Twitter. (MIT Technology Review)
5 ByteDance has been tracking journalists
Its staff improperly gained access to their IP addresses to try and work out if they'd crossed paths with ByteDance workers. (Forbes)
+ After all that, the company failed to find any leaks. (FT $)
+ TikTok is desperately trying to curry favor in the US. (Reuters)
6 NFTs are at a crossroads
Their value has plummeted, but evangelists are refusing to give up. (Wired $)
+ Some of the crypto faithful are trying to take their losses on the chin. (Vice)
7 Immigrant tech workers who've been laid off are caught in limbo
Losing their jobs means their families are also unable to work, leaving many with no choice but to leave the US. (The Guardian)
+ For this startup founder, his business going bust came as a bit of a relief. (The Information $)
8 This has been a landmark year for EVs
They're not just synonymous with Tesla any more. (Vox)
+ Why EVs won't replace hybrid cars anytime soon. (MIT Technology Review)
9 Japan's space agency is sending a toy-like rover to the moon
The cute ball is designed by popular toymaker Tomy. (New Yorker $)
+ The Perseverance rover has dropped off its first sample tube. (The Register)
10 We're living through the first ever BeReal Christmas
Unfortunately, originality is vanishingly rare. (Vice)
Quote of the day
"Against all odds, and doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn't fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking."
—Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanks the US Congress for its financial support of Ukraine and its people 10 months after Russia invaded, CNN reports.
The big story
Startups are racing to reproduce breast milk in the lab
Like many mothers, Leila Strickland found breastfeeding difficult. She struggled to feed her son, and three years later, her daughter, and spent all day, every day, nursing or pumping to stimulate her milk flow.
Strickland, a professor of vascular physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, began thinking about how she might be able to use a process like that pioneered by Dutch food technology company Mosa Meat to create artificial beef, but for cells that produce breast milk.
For years she struggled to keep the project funded, and she came close to abandoning the idea. But in May 2020, Biomilq, a company she had founded, received $3.5 million from a group of investors led by Bill Gates. Biomilq is now in a race with competitors to shake up the world of infant nutrition in a way not seen since the birth of the now $42 billion formula industry. Read the full story.
—Haley Cohen Gilliland
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.)
+ I must admit, I hadn't heard of flirting with onion emojis until now.
+ Even millennials are starting to find millennials cringe.
+ An intrepid guide to all Netflix's cheesy festive movies—watch at your peril.
+ This chef is bravely reimagining the Italian Christmas classic panettone, with a little Silician flair.
+ How to make new year's resolutions you'll actually stick to.
Our opinion section took us to the front lines of COVID, revealed how racists misuse evolutionary biology, illuminated a mental health epidemic in kids, and more
Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04563-xData that raised hopes of a new elementary particle has turned out to be a fluke. Plus, plastic 'nurdles' hurt sea urchins and Twitter changed science — what happens now it's in turmoil?
- In the past few years, a comically wide variety of companies have hired their own "chief metaverse officer," from Disney and Procter & Gamble to the Creative Artists Agency and the accounting firm Prager Metis.
We like to think we've had a great year here at MIT Technology Review. Our stories have won numerous awards (this story from our magazine won Gold in the AAAS awards) and our investigations have helped shed light on unjust policies.
So this year we asked our writers and editors to comb back through the past 12 months and try to pick just one story that they loved the most—and then tell us why.
This is what they said.
Will Douglas Heaven
Senior editor, AI
Story: Inside the billion-dollar meeting for the mega-rich who want to live forever
Reason: Jessica Hamzelou gets to the heart of pretty much everything she writes about. But this piece is especially good. Reporting from an exclusive billionaires' event in a luxury hotel in Switzerland that's part scientific conference and part fundraiser for the mega-rich, she introduces us to a cast of longevity researchers and their benefactors, people wealthy enough to think they just might be able to buy their way out of dying.
Jess inserts herself into this murky world and gives us a glimpse of the hidden relationships driving this exciting but still sci-fi field forward. The details are devastating, with anecdotes about conference attendees doing press-ups in the aisles between talks and performing DIY blood tests at a banquet between courses. Throughout, we're expertly guided between genuine science and Hail Mary quackery. Fascinating and hilarious, this is Jess at her best.
Story: Meet the scientist at the center of the covid lab leak controversy
Reason: There've been countless stories in the news that claimed to be the big scoop taking readers one step closer to the origin of covid-19; few delivered on their promises. This story, reported by our freelance writer Jane Qiu, is different. It combines incredible access to the central people in the lab leak theory with a genuine patience to hear all sides of the arguments. As someone who's been voraciously consuming stories about covid origins, I came out of this one—dense with details from on-the-ground reporting—not feeling pressured to take the side of the author, but equipped with more information to judge for myself.
Senior editor, biotech
Story: A day in the life of a Chinese robotaxi driver
Reason: Sometimes you can see the future in small details. Like when a Chinese driver told Zeyi Yang that after a day at work, he'd enter his own car on the wrong side. You see, Zeyi wrote about a robotaxi safety operator. It's a strange job, sitting all day in the passenger seat, just in case. And it's not a career that has great prospects. If automated taxis work, the whole idea is to make safety operators—and drivers like you and me—obsolete.
Executive editor, operations
Story: VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence
Reason: I learned from this story that certain VR experiences can be as effective as psychedelics in evoking feelings of connectedness with others. That really surprised me! And I loved that reporting fellow Hana Kiros tried out one such VR experience for herself. Her vivid description really gives you a sense of what it was like to be there and what she took from it.
What does GPT-3 "know" about me?
Reason: This was a brilliant story. It took something slightly abstract—large language AI models—and explained that even if we don't know about them, they might "know" about us. These AI models are trained on data sets hoovered up from the digital detritus we leave all over the internet. Melissa demonstrated this by delving into what one leading model—GPT-3—had to say about her, and about our editor in chief, Mat Honan. The resulting piece is personal, engaging, and witty. However, it also makes a serious point about the lack of privacy and data protections in the world of AI training data. Anyone reading it will come away seeing those stupid posts and drunken photos they've left scattered all over the web in a new, scarier light.
Story: These scientists are working to extend the life span of pet dogs—and their owners
Reason: Literally the only thing wrong with dogs is that they don't live long enough. Jess dived into how scientists are working to change that … and how their work is yet another way dogs could help us humans. I fell in love with this story even before seeing the art, but that part shouldn't be missed.
Editorial director, print
Story: Why can't tech fix its gender problem?
Reason: This story by the historian Margaret O'Mara is a fascinating but somber historical look back at how women became marginalized in the tech industry as it increasingly morphed more and more into an insider-y boys' club. Over the decades, funding and support haven't necessarily gone to the best and brightest but to the most well-connected. O'Mara shows how the problem of gender in tech isn't so much a STEM problem or a pipeline problem as a money problem. "The tech industry loves to talk about how it is changing the world," she writes. "Yet retrograde, gendered patterns and habits have long fueled tech's extraordinary moneymaking machine. Breaking out of them might ultimately be the most innovative move of all."
Senior reporter, AI
Story: An MIT Technology Review Series: AI Colonialism
Reason: This series is a must-read on the AI industry's murky practices that repeat the patterns of colonial history. Our former senior editor for AI Karen Hao spoke to communities around the world to investigate how AI is creating a colonialist global order, from South Africa's private surveillance machine to the AI industry's exploitative labor practices in Venezuela. It also offers stories of resistance and hope, and introduces us to the gig workers in Indonesia fighting back against algorithms and an Indigenous couple in New Zealand revitalizing their language with the help of AI.
Story: How to befriend a crow
Reason: Abby's reporting on digital culture is always top-notch, but this particular story sticks out as a favorite of mine. Yes, you will find out how to become pals with your neighborhood crows. Importantly, though, this story is about the power of social media algorithms and how distinctly online trends translate IRL (spoiler alert: they're not always successful). And honestly, it made me laugh.
Senior reporter, humans and technology
Story: The fight for "Instagram face"
Reason: Online beauty filters might seem like a fluffy subject on the surface—but they can have a huge impact on how we view ourselves. Tate's piece here is on the conflict between platforms' attempts to ensure people's safety and the gigantic demand for these filters. What has stayed with me about her reporting: the filters that build in deformation are the ones that often go viral. When you think about how those filters can affect how we see ourselves and our world, it's really mind boggling, and the separation between physical and virtual becomes all the more blurred as AR comes to play. It's a piece that is at once disturbing and enlightening without being preachy. Tate's work in this area is singular and important, and she's a great guide through this messy world.
Story: Inside the experimental world of animal infrastructure
Reason: I never really thought about how much roads have fractured our landscapes and ecosystems until I read freelance reporter Matthew Ponsford's feature, for the urbanism issue of the magazine. For years, researchers have been trying to see if they can help wildlife literally cross the road, by building bridges and other forms of infrastructure. Do these strategies work? Turns out that question is harder to answer than you might expect.
Story: How mobile money supercharged Kenya's sports betting addiction
Reason: Maybe it shouldn't be too surprising that a technology that has made it vastly easier to move money around has also made it a lot easier to gamble it all away. But Jonathan Rosen's dispatch from Kenya does more than simply point out an underreported aspect of the mobile money ecosystem. It shows how Kenyans are grappling with the problem—and fighting back.
Story: Technology that lets us speak to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?
Reason: This piece is such a sensitive exploration of grief and our willingness to test the technological limits of whether we can try to replicate the essence of a loved one, knowing it's never going to quite be the same. It's also a brave confrontation of the inherent risks that come with loving our friends and family, and a very human reminder of why those risks are worth taking.
Senior reporter, investigations
Story: What happens when you donate your body to science?
Reason: Sometimes the best stories answer questions you didn't even know you had, and Abby's beautifully written story on body farms is a perfect example. It treats a topic that we don't talk about enough—death and, more specifically, our dead bodies—with a really hard-to-balance mix of curiosity, compassion, and great attention to detail. This was such a delight to read, and if you missed it the first time around, I highly recommend it now!
Senior engagement editor
Story: Who's responsible for climate change? Three charts explain.
Reason: I learned so much from Casey Crownhart's stellar climate reporting this year, but I feel this piece about who is responsible for climate change will stick with me long past 2022. She does such an amazing job of contextualizing the big, big problems ahead of us, and in this case behind us, without making it feel completely doom-y. (Her newsletter The Spark is always a great read, too.)
Senior reporter, tech policy
Story: Deception, exploited workers, and cash handouts: How Worldcoin recruited its first half a million test users
Reason: One of my favorite stories this year was the Worldcoin investigation by Eileen and Adi. The reporting on this story was so substantial and took a hard look at the predatory data extraction practices that so many companies are guilty of. I really appreciated the truly global scope of this story, and the writers' examination of how the company's altruistic crypto-enthusiasm compared with the distressing reality of its implementation.
There are a number of potential problems children are facing that are related to the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, not the least of which is a rise in vaccine hesitancy and even anti-vaccine belief.The post More COVID More
Dental scanners could help researchers diagnose stressed-out baby corals
#Hypnosis – as an example of a practical application of the #paradigm of "#embodiment" and "#embededdness"
The following essay will examine hypnosis as an example of a practical application of the paradigm of "embodiment" and "embededdness" in more detail. In this context, an attempt will be made to prove the effectiveness of the hypnosis procedure with the help of empirical findings from cognitive neuroscience and to subsequently harmonize these with the concepts of neurophilosophy on "embodiment" and "embededdness". This intended "joint venture" will also be reflected in the combination of a theoretical part on the neurophysiological basics and a practical part on the concrete application possibilities of hypnosis in the guest article by Susanne Boucsein.
More at: https://philosophies.de/index.php/2022/11/27/die-hypnose/
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26332-6The role of discrimination in the relation between
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26679-wThe predictability of graft thickness for Descemet's stripping automated endothelial keratoplasty using a mechanical microkeratome system
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-24183-9Leukocyte
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26268-xConcept of terahertz waveguide plasmon amplifier based on a metal groove with active graphene
Nature, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04476-9Stark scenes from China show the pandemic is far from over. One solution is a laser-like focus on strengthening public-health systems.
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35387-yChalcogenide aerogels are receiving widespread attention due to their unique properties. Here we comment on a recent work about amorphous Na–Mn–Sn–S chalcogels featuring local structural control, and provide an outlook for the development of chalcogels and the metal-organic sulfide framework.
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35578-7Existing methods for temperature estimation of warm dense matter rely on model calculations. Here the authors report a method to extract the temperature of complex materials that is previously only inferred by using model calculations.
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35489-7The development of photocatalysts is greatly hindered by false positives or non-reproducible data. Here, The authors describe the current known causes of non-reproducible results in the literature and present solutions to mitigate these false positive results.
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35463-3Electroreductive coupling of benzaldehyde is mainly hindered by the mismatch between initial formation and subsequent dimerization of the ketyl intermediates. Here the authors report a strategy to balance the active sites for the generation and dimerization of the ketyl intermediates, leading to promoted production rate of hydrobenzoin.
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35344-9Alkene diazidations represent a promising strategy for the synthesis of 1,2-diamines. Here, the authors report a protocol that enables alkene diazidation via iron-mediated ligand-to-metal charge transfer, providing a versatile platform to access structurally diverse diazides without using external oxidants.
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35595-6Analysis of a large number of Ribo-seq datasets and genomic alignments led to detection of novel non-AUG proteoforms. Unexpectedly the number of non-AUG proteoforms identified with Ribo-seq greatly exceeds those with strong phylogenetic support.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26785-9Intestinal bacterial community composition of juvenile Chinese mitten crab Eriocheir sinensis under different feeding times in lab conditions
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26677-yA new approach to designing easily recyclable printed circuit boards
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26145-7Combined effects of
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26520-4Deep learning-based 3D OCT imaging for detection of lamina cribrosa defects in eyes with high
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26631-yGalápagos tortoise stable isotope ecology and the 1850s Floreana Island Chelonoidis niger niger extinction
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26841-4Dung beetles prefer used land over natural greenspace in urban landscape
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26806-7Substance availability and use in ex-professional ice hockey enforcers
Scientific Reports, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-23371-xHigh moisture confluence in Japan Sea polar air mass convergence zone captured by hourly radiosonde launches from a ship
Nature, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04569-5Andrew Robinson reviews five of the best science picks.
|submitted by /u/Primo2000
Testing pregnant people's blood to look at free-floating DNA can tell doctors about the health of the fetus. But these tests sometime turn up DNA that might be shed by cancerous cells.
(Image credit: Isabel Seliger for NPR)
Ice-skating in England, a bearskin parade in Romania, whirling dervishes in Turkey, sheep mustering in New Zealand, welcoming the winter solstice in Ireland, a live nativity performance in Slovenia, Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and much more
This article is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review's weekly biotech newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Thursday, sign up here.
Today, there are lots of neurotechnologies that can read what's going on in our brains, modify the way they function, and change the wiring.
This is the case for plenty of treatments that are considered "noninvasive" because they act from outside the brain. But if we can reach into a person's mind, even without piercing the skull, how noninvasive is the technology really?
It's a question I've been mulling over, partly because I've just started reading The Battle for Your Brain by Nita Farahany, a law and philosophy professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Farahany's research focuses on the ethical and legal challenges that new technologies might pose for society.
In her book, Farahany covers the potential impacts of technologies that allow us to peek inside the minds of others. Neuroscientists have already used brain imaging techniques to try to detect a person's thoughts and political inclinations, or predict whether prisoners are likely to reoffend. It sounds pretty invasive to me.
There are different ways to define invasiveness, after all, as Robyn Bluhm at Michigan State and colleagues found when they asked people who have undergone treatments that target their brain activity, as well as psychiatrists and other members of the public.
Typically, in the medical sense, invasive treatments are those that involve some kind of incision in the skin. Deep brain stimulation is an obvious example. The procedure involves implanting electrodes deep into the brain to stimulate neurons and control the way brain regions fire.
For a story published last week, I spoke to a man who volunteered to have 14 electrodes implanted into his brain to understand and treat his depression. He underwent brain surgery, and was awake while doctors probed his brain to find the "sweet spot" to place one of these electrodes.
For the 10 days he was in hospital, the man (who didn't want to be identified in the piece) had wires coming out of his brain, his head wrapped up in a bandage. It was undoubtedly an invasive procedure.
Before he signed up, the man had tried plenty of other treatments, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). This involves passing a device shaped like a figure 8 over a person's head to deliver a magnetic pulse to parts of the brain and to interfere with its activity. TMS is typically considered noninvasive.
But is it? In Bluhm and colleagues' survey, responses varied. Some thought treatments that involve multiple trips to the doctor's office are invasive because they impinge on a person's time. Others thought treatments that rely on devices are less invasive than traditional talking-based therapies, because they don't require regaling a stranger with one's life story. But others said that what made TMS invasive was its impact on the brain.
The effects can spread throughout the brain. In theory, noninvasive forms of brain stimulation are designed to target specific regions, such as those involved with mood. But it's impossible to pinpoint tiny areas when you're stimulating the brain through the skull, as Nick Davis at Manchester Metropolitan University points out.
And if TMS can help treat the symptoms of chronic pain, depression, or Parkinson's disease, then it must be eliciting some sort of change in the brain. This might be in the way signaling molecules are produced, or the way brain circuits connect or fire, or perhaps some other mechanism.
And given that we still don't really understand how TMS works, it's difficult to know how, if at all, these changes might affect the brain in the long term.
Is a treatment invasive if it changes the way a person's brain works? Perhaps it depends on the impact of those changes. We know that "noninvasive" forms of brain stimulation can cause headaches, twitches, and potentially seizures. Electroconvulsive therapy, which delivers a higher dose of electrical stimulation, is designed to trigger a seizure and can cause memory loss.
This can be extremely distressing for some people. After all, our memories make us who we are. And this gets at one of the other concerns about brain-modifying technologies—the potential to change our personalities. Doctors have noticed that some people who have DBS for Parkinson's disease do experience temporary changes in their behavior. They might become more impulsive or more irritable, for example.
It's unlikely that the effects of noninvasive stimulation will be anywhere near as dramatic as that. But where do we draw the line—what counts as "invasive"?
It is an important question. Treatments that are considered invasive are generally reserved for people who have no other options. They are seen as riskier. And treatments that are considered too invasive might not ever be used, or even researched, according to Nir Lipsman, a neurosurgeon based at the University of Toronto, and his colleagues.
Funnily enough, treatments that are considered to be more invasive might be more effective, just because of the expectation that they will work. That's probably why placebo injections are more effective than placebo pills, as Bluhm and colleagues point out. At the same time, we run the risk of overlooking potential risks associated with treatments that are considered noninvasive.
To read more about neurotechnologies, check out these stories from Tech Review's archive:
TMS can change the way people make moral judgments, according to research carried out in 2010. The researchers behind the work think that the stimulation interfered with volunteers' ability to interpret the intentions of other people, as Anne Trafton wrote.
A noninvasive form of brain stimulation can improve the memory of older people. The technique, called transcranial alternating current stimulation, can be adapted to boost either long-term or short-term memory, and the benefits appear to last for at least a month, as I reported in August.
A more invasive approach uses electrodes implanted in the brain to mimic how healthy brains make memories. This "memory prosthesis" might help people with brain damage, as I reported in September.
In 2018, neuroscientists used TMS to pass information from brain signals between three people, allowing them to collaborate on a Tetris-like game. The "BrainNet" was described as a "social network of brains."
Noninvasive brain electrodes are being used to look for signs of consciousness in people who are in a state of unresponsive wakefulness, as Russ Juskalian reported last year.
From around the web
Made-to-order DNA could be used to create dangerous viruses, some scientists warn. Around 30,000 scientists worldwide have the skills to build a pandemic influenza strain, one cautions. (Undark)
Virus-infected pig hearts, deadly drugs, and zero covid—my colleague Antonio Regalado has rounded up the worst technology of 2022. (MIT Technology Review)
The scientist behind the "CRISPR babies" plans to use gene therapy to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that causes muscle loss. (Wired)
A documentary about the CRISPR baby scandal—featuring Antonio Regalado, who has exclusively reported on many of the developments in this story—is out now. (STAT)
A surge in bacterial infections has led to a global shortage of antibiotics. The high rate of infections in children was hard to predict, says the director-general of a European association of generic drugmakers. (Financial Times)
In 2022, AI got creative. AI models can now produce remarkably convincing pieces of text, pictures, and even videos, with just a little prompting.
It's only been nine months since OpenAI set off the generative AI explosion with the launch of DALL-E 2, a deep-learning model that can produce images from text instructions. That was followed by a breakthrough from Google and Meta: AIs that can produce videos from text. And it's only been a few weeks since OpenAI released ChatGPT, the latest large language model to set the internet ablaze with its surprising eloquence and coherence.
The pace of innovation this year has been remarkable—and at times overwhelming. Who could have seen it coming? And how can we predict what's next?
Luckily, here at MIT Technology Review we're blessed with not just one but two journalists who spend all day, every day obsessively following all the latest developments in AI, so we're going to give it a go.
Here, Will Douglas Heaven and Melissa Heikkilä tell us the four biggest trends they expect to shape the AI landscape in 2023.
Over to you, Will and Melissa.
Get ready for multipurpose chatbots
GPT-4 may be able to handle more than just language
The last several years have seen a steady drip of bigger and better language models. The current high-water mark is ChatGPT, released by OpenAI at the start of December. This chatbot is a slicker, tuned-up version of the company's GPT-3, the AI that started this wave of uncanny language mimics back in 2020.
But three years is a long time in AI, and though ChatGPT took the world by storm—and inspired breathless social media posts and newspaper headlines thanks to its fluid, if mindless, conversational skills—all eyes now are on the next big thing: GPT-4. Smart money says that 2023 will be the year the next generation of large language models kicks off.
What should we expect? For a start, future language models may be more than just language models. OpenAI is interested in combining different modalities—such as image or video recognition—with text. We've seen this with DALL-E. But take the conversational skills of ChatGPT and mix them up with image manipulation in a single model and you'd get something a lot more general-purpose and powerful. Imagine being able to ask a chatbot what's in an image, or asking it to generate an image, and have these interactions be part of a conversation so that you can refine the results more naturally than is possible with DALL-E.
We saw a glimpse of this with DeepMind's Flamingo, a "visual language model" revealed in April, which can answer queries about images using natural language. And then, in May, DeepMind announced Gato, a "generalist" model that was trained using the same techniques behind large language models to perform different types of tasks, from describing images to playing video games to controlling a robot arm.
If GPT-4 builds on such tech, expect the power of the best language and image-making AI (and more) in one package. Combining skills in language and images could in theory make next-gen AI better at understanding both. And it won't just be OpenAI. Expect other big labs, especially DeepMind, to push ahead with multimodal models next year.
But of course, there's a downside. Next-generation language models will inherit most of this generation's problems, such as an inability to tell fact from fiction, and a penchant for prejudice. Better language models will make it harder than ever to trust different types of media. And because nobody has fully figured out how to train models on data scraped from the internet without absorbing the worst of what the internet contains, they will still be filled with filth.
—Will Douglas Heaven
AI's first red lines
New laws and hawkish regulators around the world want to put companies on the hook
Until now, the AI industry has been a Wild West, with few rules governing the use and development of the technology. In 2023 that is going to change. Regulators and lawmakers spent 2022 sharpening their claws. Next year, they are going to pounce.
We are going to see what the final version of the EU's sweeping AI law, the AI Act, will look like as lawmakers finish amending the bill, potentially by the summer. It will almost certainly include bans on AI practices deemed detrimental to human rights, such as systems that score and rank people for trustworthiness.
The use of facial recognition in public places will also be restricted for law enforcement in Europe, and there's even momentum to forbid that altogether for both law enforcement and private companies, although a total ban will face stiff resistance from countries that want to use these technologies to fight crime. The EU is also working on a new law to hold AI companies accountable when their products cause harm, such as privacy infringements or unfair decisions made by algorithms.
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission is also closely watching how companies collect data and use AI algorithms. Earlier this year, the FTC forced weight loss company Weight Watchers to destroy data and algorithms because it had collected data on children illegally. In late December, Epic, which makes games like Fortnite, dodged the same fate by agreeing to a $520 million settlement. The regulator has spent this year gathering feedback on potential rules around how companies handle data and build algorithms, and chair Lina Khan has said the agency intends to protect Americans from unlawful commercial surveillance and data security practices with "urgency and rigor."
In China, authorities have recently banned creating deepfakes without the consent of the subject. Through the AI Act, the Europeans want to add warning signs to indicate that people are interacting with deepfakes or AI-generated images, audio, or video.
All these regulations could shape how technology companies build, use and sell AI technologies. However, regulators have to strike a tricky balance between protecting consumers and not hindering innovation — something tech lobbyists are not afraid of reminding them of.
AI is a field that is developing lightning fast, and the challenge will be to keep the rules precise enough to be effective, but not so specific that they become quickly outdated. As with EU efforts to regulate data protection, if new laws are implemented correctly, the next year could usher in a long-overdue era of AI development with more respect for privacy and fairness.
Big tech could lose its grip on fundamental AI research
AI startups flex their muscles
Big Tech companies are not the only players at the cutting edge of AI; an open-source revolution has begun to match, and sometimes surpass, what the richest labs are doing.
In 2022 we saw the first community-built, multilingual large language model, BLOOM, released by Hugging Face. We also saw an explosion of innovation around the open-source text-to-image AI model Stable Diffusion, which rivaled OpenAI's DALL-E 2.
The big companies that have historically dominated AI research are implementing massive layoffs and hiring freezes as the global economic outlook darkens. AI research is expensive, and as purse strings are tightened, companies will have to be very careful about picking which projects they invest in—and are likely to choose whichever have the potential to make them the most money, rather than the most innovative, interesting, or experimental ones, says Oren Etzioni, the CEO of the Allen Institute for AI, a research organization.
That bottom-line focus is already taking effect at Meta, which has reorganized its AI research teams and moved many of them to work within teams that build products.
But while Big Tech is tightening its belt, flashy new upstarts working on generative AI are seeing a surge in interest from venture capital funds.
Next year could be a boon for AI startups, Etzioni says. There is a lot of talent floating around, and often in recessions people tend to rethink their lives—going back into academia or leaving a big corporation for a startup, for example.
Startups and academia could become the centers of gravity for fundamental research, says Mark Surman, the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation.
"We're entering an era where [the AI research agenda] will be less defined by big companies," he says. "That's an opportunity."
Big Pharma is never going to be the same again
From AI-produced protein banks to AI-designed drugs, biotech enters a new era
In the last few years, the potential for AI to shake up the pharmaceutical industry has become clear. DeepMind's AlphaFold, an AI that can predict the structures of proteins (the key to their functions), has cleared a path for new kinds of research in molecular biology, helping researchers understand how diseases work and how to create new drugs to treat them. In November, Meta revealed ESMFold, a much faster model for predicting protein structure—a kind of autocomplete for proteins, which uses a technique based on large language models.
Between them, DeepMind and Meta have produced structures for hundreds of millions of proteins, including all that are known to science, and shared them in vast public databases. Biologists and drug makers are already benefiting from these resources, which make looking up new protein structures almost as easy as searching the web. But 2023 could be the year that this groundwork really bears fruit. DeepMind has spun off its biotech work into a separate company, Isomorphic Labs, which has been tight-lipped for more than a year now. There's a good chance it will come out with something big this year.
Further along the drug development pipeline, there are now hundreds of startups exploring ways to use AI to speed up drug discovery and even design previously unknown kinds of drugs. There are currently 19 drugs developed by AI drug companies in clinical trials (up from zero in 2020), with more to be submitted in the coming months. It's possible that initial results from some of these may come out next year, allowing the first drug developed with the help of AI to hit the market.
But clinical trials can take years, so don't hold your breath. Even so, the age of pharmatech is here and there's no going back. "If done right, I think that we will see some unbelievable and quite amazing things happening in this space," says Lovisa Afzelius at Flagship Pioneering, a venture capital firm that invests in biotech.
—Will Douglas Heaven
This story is a part of MIT Technology Review's What's Next series, where we look across industries, trends, and technologies to give you a first look at the future.
- "More recently Mr Sudula has been appointed as a Head of Education at LifePlus StemCells, first Stem Cell service in the UK to provide clinicians with quantifiable, quality assured autologous and allogenic stem cells to be prescribed as a medicine for a wide range of medical conditions including orthopaedic, manufactured under HTA and MHRA Licences."
Dr Peter Hotez says Joe Biden was wrong to say pandemic is over and warns US risks another deadly coronavirus wave soon
Joe Biden was wrong to declare the coronavirus pandemic over in the US, one of the country's leading experts on the virus has told the Guardian.
Dr Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's hospital and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said that the US president's statement in September, that "the pandemic is over", was mistaken and a poor message to send to the American public.Continue reading…
In the same vein as a recent question about immortality, I'm wondering what you guys think. Will those currently frozen will ever be able to be taken off ice, nerve damaged reversed, and the cause of death fixed? Will living people have to be frozen to even have a chance of revival?
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35590-xThe role of soluble
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35210-8The nature of the excitations in the pseudogap regime and their relation to superconductivity remain core issues in cuprate high-Tc superconductivity. Here, using resonant inelastic x-ray scattering, the authors find that high-energy excitons in optimally-doped Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ are enhanced by the onset of superconductivity, an effect possibly explained in terms of electron fractionalization.
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35643-1Here the authors show the exon junction complex (EJC) component, EIF4A3, locally restricts METTL3- mediated mRNA methylation at exon junctions to explain the observed widespread enrichment of m6A modification in 3' untranslated regions.
Nature Communications, Published online: 23 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35551-4Over several years, this study examines how biotic interactions and warming affect the entire marine prokaryotic community at a location off the coast of Southern California. Analyses show that free-living and particle-associated prokaryotes were strongly predicted by phytoplankton and viral communities, and El Niño warming shifted cyanobacteria from cold-water ecotypes to warm-water ecotypes.
Cause of puncture remains unclear as officials say damage continues to be assessed
Russia is considering a "rescue" plan to send an empty spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) to bring home three stranded crew members after their Soyuz crew capsule sprang a leak while docked to the orbiting outpost.
Roscosmos and Nasa officials said at a news conference on Thursday they were continuing to investigate how the coolant line of the capsule's external radiator sustained a tiny puncture last week, just as two cosmonauts were preparing for a routine spacewalk.Continue reading…
I don't get it
So I thought this sub was turning into an AI sub and came in to leave the Sub because I was tired of it.
Then I realized that there are a TON of other posts that are actually interesting and Non-AI related but for some reason only the AI posts are showing up on my feed.
Is this happening to anyone else?
How do you think we will travel intergalactically?
|submitted by /u/Soupjoe5
There were 38,610 people diagnosed with Covid across the state this week, along with 78 deaths
- Follow our Australia news live blog for the latest updates
- Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast
New South Wales has passed the peak of it's latest Covid-19 wave just days before Christmas, as Sydney scientists develop an innovative nasal vaccine for the virus.
"This week, as predicted, key indicators show the number of cases in NSW are stable or declining which suggests we have passed the peak of the Covid-19 wave," the chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said in a video statement.Continue reading…
Medical influencer Joel Bervell is challenging racism in health care, one
at a time.
- The UK became the first country in the world in November 2021 to approve molnupiravir for Covid, with the pill – which can be taken twice a day at home – given to patients through the Panoramic (Platform Adaptive trial of NOvel antiviRals for eArly treatMent of Covid-19 In the Community) trial.
Oxford University's Panoramic trial suggests molnupiravir can speed up recovery in vaccinated but vulnerable patients
An oral antiviral pill for Covid speeds up recovery among vaccinated yet vulnerable patients, but does not reduce their likelihood of needing hospital care or dying, research has suggested.
The UK became the first country in the world in November 2021 to approve molnupiravir for Covid, with the pill – which can be taken twice a day at home – given to patients through the Panoramic (Platform Adaptive trial of NOvel antiviRals for eArly treatMent of Covid-19 In the Community) trial.Continue reading…
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.
The Ukrainian president came to Washington not only to seek aid in the fight against Russia but to remind Americans that there is still a "free world," and only the United States can unite it.
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
- This is what it looks like when Twitter falls apart.
- Money will kill ChatGPT's magic.
- Nasal vaccines are here.
A Call to Defend Freedom
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stood before Congress last night and asked for yet more help in his fight to stop Russia from erasing his country from the map. His visit to Washington was something of a surprise, but its purpose was clear. Zelensky is facing a terrible winter, when the Russians, after terrorizing and murdering Ukrainian civilians, may well try to return to offensive operations. He came to make his case to the American people that his fight is our fight—and that the money and weapons we have sent to Ukraine are being used responsibly.
Zelensky's address, however, was much more than a plea for assistance. The speech was brilliantly written, and the Ukrainian president delivered it in English with real emotion. He made an effort to speak both to U.S. political parties in the chamber and to the entire country watching at home. Most important, Zelensky issued a call, as the leader of a nation at war in Europe, for Americans to remember who we are, what we stand for, and why our destiny is inextricably bound to the eternal fight for freedom and democracy.
Three moments stood out as inspiration and as lessons.
In a brief allusion, Zelensky name-checked the Continental Army's 1777 victory at the Battle of Saratoga, an excellent historical analogy for present-day Ukraine. If you're a bit rusty on your Revolutionary War history, recall that the fledgling United States was trying to break away from one of the strongest empires on the planet, and Britain's competitors had little interest in helping what seemed to be a doomed crusade by a bunch of colonists. At Saratoga, a British plan to divide the Colonies and thus isolate and strangle the troublemakers in New England failed, resulting instead in a stunning British defeat. At that point, the other major powers in Europe—including Britain's avowed enemy, France—realized that the Americans could fight, and fight well. Four years after Saratoga, the British suffered a final defeat in North America at the hands of a combined French-and-American force at Yorktown.
Next, Zelensky insisted that the world cannot do without American leadership. He invoked the concept that global security is indivisible, a principle that goes all the way back to the Helsinki Accords of the mid-1970s and that was reaffirmed in the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, signed by most European governments as well as the U.S. and Canada—and the then-soon-to-be-extinct Soviet Union. (Whoever wrote this speech didn't just craft the language well; they did their homework.)
"This battle," Zelensky warned, "cannot be frozen or postponed." He continued:
It cannot be ignored, hoping that the ocean or something else will provide a protection. From the United States to China, from Europe to Latin America, and from Africa to Australia, the world is too interconnected and interdependent to allow someone to stay aside and at the same time to feel safe when such a battle continues.
This almost sounds like a paean to globalization, but it is actually a restatement of America's own Cold War foreign policy. (Indeed, Americans took this to an extreme in the 1950s when then–Secretary of State John Foster Dulles growled that neutrality in the Cold War was "immoral.") Despite being better-traveled and more aware of the rest of the world than previous generations, many Americans still think that what happens in faraway places will never touch them. The shock of 9/11 wore off long ago, and traditional American provincialism—along with its toxic by-product, isolationism—has been on the rise, especially in the Republican Party.
Finally, Zelensky reminded us that national security abroad is intrinsic to our well-being at home: "Your well-being," he said, "is the product of your national security; the result of your struggle for independence and your many victories." Americans once instinctively understood this reality. After World War II, the United States helped build an international system based on laws, institutions, and trade, on the free movement of human beings and the free exchange of ideas. We did this imperfectly, and sometimes we cruelly violated our own principles. But this system of global cooperation outlasted the Cold War, and it is crucial to our own security and our ever-increasing standard of living.
We have, however, become victims of our own successes. When the Cold War ended, we experienced a new era of peace and plenty. We outsourced anti-terrorist operations and other military dangers to overworked and over-deployed volunteers while the rest of us enjoyed low unemployment and ridiculously cheap credit. We could not imagine a world controlled by our enemies, because we had no real competitors. We were ill-prepared to grasp the reality of a major war raging on NATO's borders.
Zelensky knows what a world without American leadership looks like: It is a world, as my colleague Anne Applebaum wrote today, in which he and his family are dead, and the Russians are preparing their assault on Poland and the Baltic states. China, seeing Ukraine subjugated and NATO in disarray, might have moved against Taiwan; Iran would likely complete its dash to nuclear status; and every dictatorship on the planet would almost certainly think their day had finally arrived, while from "Washington to London, from Tokyo to Canberra, the democratic world would be grimly facing up to its obsolescence." Anne's depiction of what could have happened, and what could still happen if Russia rallies to defeat Ukraine, should be a bracing blast of cold reality to anyone who thinks that America can simply pull up the drawbridges and ignore the global assault on democracy.
In the end, Zelensky made the case that Ukraine is the main front in a global fight. He's right. Vladimir Putin is counting on America and NATO to tire and to falter. It is up to us to prove him wrong, and to warn the other dictators on the planet that they will never extinguish human liberty while America and its allies in this great battle—including Ukraine—are still standing.
- The Senate passed a $1.7 trillion spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown and allocate further aid to Ukraine. The bill now goes to the House for a final vote.
- The former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was released from custody on a $250 million bond and under the condition that he will remain at home with his parents in California.
- This week's powerful winter storms are causing flight cancellations and delays across the country.
- Deep Shtetl: Yair Rosenberg reflects on the stories he's told this year, including space Jews and anti-Semitism in the Ivy League.
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Why I Left Venezuela
By Gisela Salim-Peyer
Migration, I like to tell myself, is the opposite of inertia. I left Venezuela on August 28, 2014. President Hugo Chávez had died the year before, bequeathing power over his dictatorship to his hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro. Around this time, supermarket shelves were emptying and resourceful Venezuelans were creating WhatsApp groups to tell one another where to find medicine, toilet paper, flour. Street violence was so common that seemingly everyone knew somebody who had been abducted, if only for a few hours, usually for ransom. (For me, this person was my older sister.) One morning, as I drove to a memorial service for a classmate who had been killed by the police the day before, I realized that I had to leave the country. This student had died in a protest that I had also attended, but it was not fear of death that motivated me. It was the feeling that these protests would subside and accomplish nothing.
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Many of you had some, shall we say, dissenting opinions about my recent views on Christmas music. Mark R., among others, chastised me for neglecting "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues. (I'm sorry, folks. I might be too old or too stodgy, but I just never liked that one.) A few of you—looking at you, Frank S.—unwisely tried to advocate for "Wonderful Christmastime," and all I can say is that I dare you to watch the video 50 times on Christmas Eve. Sarah G. asked me how I could exclude the soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I didn't exclude it, Sarah; some art is timeless and needn't be included in a "best of" list. I want to thank Edmund B. for agreeing with me that the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol is the best one—and, in fact, it is Charles Dickens I want to talk about before I leave you for the holiday. (This is my last Daily before Christmas; my colleagues will be with you tomorrow, and then we'll all be back next Tuesday.)
I have come to love A Christmas Carol more over the years because, in its way, it scares me more as I get older. I no longer respond very much to the parts about Scrooge's lost youth, his failed romance, or his casual cruelty. Instead, I shiver a bit more now at the appearance of Jacob Marley's ghost ("Business? Mankind was my business!") and Scrooge's final plea to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, because they are about sin and a life's redemption. Marley failed to repent and is doomed to walk the earth. Scrooge finally sees his name on a snowy tombstone and realizes that he, too, is damned. And yet, there is a chance. "Why show me this," Scrooge cries out, "if I am past all hope?" Looking at the grave, he pleads with the specter before him. "Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"
It is an article of my faith as a Christian that we can all, through repentance and, as Scrooge vows, "an altered life" erase the record before us that seems set in stone. When I was young, that reckoning seemed far away. Now, like Scrooge himself, I am an older man, and the question seems a bit more pressing. And so, on Christmas Eve, I watch the scenes of Scrooge's salvation with gratitude, rejoicing that we can all share in that same promise of renewal. I have not become "as good a man as the good old city knew," but every year—every day, really—we all get the chance to try again. May your holiday, if you celebrate, be joyful and blessed, and I'll see you next week.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.