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This Week’s Awesome Tech Stories From Around the Web (Through January 21)


What Happens When AI Has Read Everything?
Ross Andersen | The Atlantic
“Artificial intelligence has in recent years proved itself to be a quick study, although it is being educated in a manner that would shame the most brutal headmaster. Locked into airtight Borgesian libraries for months with no bathroom breaks or sleep, AIs are told not to emerge until they’ve finished a self-paced speed course in human culture. On the syllabus: a decent fraction of all the surviving text that we have ever produced.”

Next Up for CRISPR: Gene Editing for the Masses?
Jessica Hamzelou | MIT Technology Review
We know the basics of healthy living by now. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress reduction can help us avoid heart disease—the world’s biggest killer. But what if you could take a vaccine, too? And not a typical vaccine—one shot that would alter your DNA to provide lifelong protection? That vision is not far off, researchers say. Advances in gene editing, and CRISPR technology in particular, may soon make it possible.

OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers on Less Than $2 Per Hour to Make ChatGPT Less Toxic
Billy Perrigo | Time
“ChatGPT’s creator, OpenAI, is now reportedly in talks with investors to raise funds at a $29 billion valuation, including a potential $10 billion investment by Microsoft. That would make OpenAI, which was founded in San Francisco in 2015 with the aim of building superintelligent machines, one of the world’s most valuable AI companies. But the success story is not one of Silicon Valley genius alone. In its quest to make ChatGPT less toxic, OpenAI used outsourced Kenyan laborers earning less than $2 per hour, a TIME investigation has found.”

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Grows a Set of Hands, Attempts Construction Work
Ron Amadeo | Ars Technica
“Atlas isn’t just clumsily picking things up and carrying them, though. It’s running, jumping, and spinning while carrying heavy objects. At one point it jumps and throws the heavy toolbox up to its construction partner, all without losing balance. It’s doing all this on rickety scaffolding and improvised plank walkways, too, so the ground is constantly moving under Atlas’ feet with every step. Picking up stuff is the start of teaching the robot to do actual work, and it looks right at home on a rough-and-tumble construction site.”

These Scientists Used CRISPR to Put an Alligator Gene Into Catfish
Jessica Hamzelou | MIT Technology Review
“Millions of fish are farmed in the US every year, but many of them die from infections. In theory, genetically engineering fish with genes that protect them from disease could reduce waste and help limit the environmental impact of fish farming. A team of scientists have attempted to do just that—by inserting an alligator gene into the genomes of catfish.”

Can 3D Printing Help Solve the Housing Crisis?
Rachel Monroe | The New Yorker
“Until last year, Icon, one of the biggest and best-funded companies in the field, had printed fewer than two dozen houses, most of them essentially test cases. But, when I met Ballard, the company had recently announced a partnership with Lennar, the second-largest home-builder in the United States, to print a hundred houses in a development outside Austin. A lot was riding on the project, which would be a test of whether the technology was ready for the mainstream.”

1923 Cartoon Eerily Predicted 2023’s AI Art Generators
Benj Edwards | Ars Technica
“[The vintage cartoon] depicts a cartoonist standing by his drawing table and making plans for social events while an ‘idea dynamo’ generates ideas and a ‘cartoon dynamo’ renders the artwork. Interestingly, this separation of labor feels similar to our neural networks of today. In the actual 2023, the ‘idea dynamo’ would likely be a large language model like GPT-3 (albeit imperfectly), and the ‘cartoon dynamo’ is most similar to an image-synthesis model like Stable Diffusion.”

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on GPT-4: ‘People Are Begging to Be Disappointed and They Will Be’
James Vincent | The Verge
“GPT-3 came out in 2020, and an improved version, GPT 3.5, was used to create ChatGPT. The launch of GPT-4 is much anticipated, with more excitable members of the AI community and Silicon Valley world already declaring it to be a huge leap forward. …’The GPT-4 rumor mill is a ridiculous thing. I don’t know where it all comes from,’ said the OpenAI CEO. ‘People are begging to be disappointed and they will be. The hype is just like… We don’t have an actual AGI and that’s sort of what’s expected of us.’i

Are We Living in a Computer Simulation, and Can We Hack It?
Dennis Overbye | The New York Times
“If you could change the laws of nature, what would you change? Maybe it’s that pesky speed-of-light limit on cosmic travel—not to mention war, pestilence and the eventual asteroid that has Earth’s name on it. Maybe you would like the ability to go back in time— to tell your teenage self how to deal with your parents, or to buy Google stock. Couldn’t the universe use a few improvements?”

Image Credit: Victor Crespo / Unsplash



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