The Download: AI job panic, and concussion-preventing mouthguards

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.

People are worried that AI will take everyone’s jobs. We’ve been here before.

It was 1938, and the pain of the Great Depression was still very real. Unemployment in the US was around 20%. New machinery was transforming factories and farms, and everyone was worried about jobs.

Were the impressive technological achievements that were making life easier for many also destroying jobs and wreaking havoc on the economy? To make sense of it all, Karl T. Compton, the president of MIT from 1930 to 1948 and one of the leading scientists of the day, wrote in the December 1938 issue of this publication about the “Bogey of Technological Unemployment.”

His essay concisely framed the debate over jobs and technical progress in a way that remains relevant, especially given today’s fears over the impact of artificial intelligence. It’s a worthwhile reminder that worries over the future of jobs are not new and are best addressed by applying an understanding of economics, rather than conjuring up genies and monsters. Read the full story.

David Rotman

This high-tech mouthguard might help prevent concussions

When athletes or soldiers have a concussion, the most beneficial course of action is to simply get them off the playing field or out of the action so they can recover. Yet much about head injuries remains a mystery, including the reasons why some impacts result in concussion while others don’t.

New measuring devices, such as the Impact Monitoring Mouthguard, are being developed that could help deliver a wealth of information about head impacts. By giving an immediate warning that a person needs to be removed from action or play, they could help protect soldiers and athletes alike from brain damage. Read the full story.

—David Hambling

Join us to discuss critical AI issues in Europe and beyond

Artificial intelligence took the world by storm in 2023. Its future—and ours—will be shaped by what we do next. Register now to join MIT Technology Review journalists for a free LinkedIn Live discussion tomorrow at 11am ET as they explore what’s next for AI in Europe, the US, and beyond.

The must-reads

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

1 X has blocked all searches for Taylor Swift 
It’s a heavy-handed attempt to stop the circulation of AI-generated explicit images of her. (FT $)
+ X is reportedly working on a new content moderation HQ in Texas. (Bloomberg $)
+ The viral AI avatar app Lensa undressed me—without my consent. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Big Tech is desperate to sever its dependence on Nvidia’s chips
Unfortunately for them, it’s not as easy as simply building their own semiconductors. (NYT $)
+ Japan is investing heavily in its own chip production lines. (FT $)
+ Huawei’s 5G chip breakthrough needs a reality check. (MIT Technology Review)

3 China has approved dozens of AI models for public use
Regulators approved 14 in the past week alone. (Reuters)
+ The US is spooked, and wants cloud firms to flag foreign clients. (Bloomberg $)
+ Four things to know about China’s new AI rules in 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Meta is optimistic about going head-to-head with Apple
The war of the mixed reality headsets is starting to heat up. (WSJ $)
+ 2024 hasn’t been plain sailing for Apple so far. (Economist $)
+ These minuscule pixels are poised to take augmented reality by storm. (MIT Technology Review)

5 A George Carlin “AI comedy special” was, in fact, written by a human
Faced with a lawsuit, the video’s creators admitted an algorithm had not generated the material. (NYT $)

6 US spies are sifting through vast amounts of public data
They’re finally tapping into OSINT data. (Bloomberg $)
+ Leaked datasets are a trove of information, if you know what you’re looking for. (Motherboard)

7 Decarbonizing the economy is easier said than done
The legal obstacles are even tougher to navigate than the high costs. (The Atlantic $)
+ That doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing, though. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Instacart is using gross AI-generated food photographs
Which makes the entire platform look spammy. (Insider $)

9 BeReal is courting celebrities now
The problem is, they aren’t exactly known for their authenticity. (Wired $)

10 What it takes to grow food in space
Mmm, tasty 3D-printed meals! (The Guardian)
+ Future space food could be made from astronaut breath. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“Organizations want to say, ‘Yeah, we have a chief AI officer,’ because that makes them look good.”

—Consultant Randy Bean suggests that companies’ rush to capitalize on the AI boom is mostly a form of corporate bragging, he tells the New York Times.

The big story

How existential risk became the biggest meme in AI

June 2023 

Who’s afraid of the big bad bots? A lot of people, it seems. Hundreds of scientists, business leaders, and policymakers have recently made public pronouncements or signed open letters warning of the catastrophic dangers of artificial intelligence, from deep learning pioneer Geoffrey Hinton to California congressman Ted Lieu.

We’ve been here before: AI doom follows AI hype. But this time feels different. What were once extreme views are now mainstream talking points, grabbing not only headlines but the attention of world leaders.

Has AI really become (more) dangerous? And why are the people who ushered in this tech now the ones raising the alarm? Or is the looming specter of regulation to blame? Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

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.)

+ Patrick Swayze classic Road House has had a 2024 makeover.
+ I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but taprooms are pretty fancy these days.
+ The champagne bottles onboard the fateful Titanic are still intact. How?
+ Happy 57th anniversary to the Mantra-Rock Dance, the apex of San Francisco’s hippie era.
+ A Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot is in the pipeline, according to, err, Dolly Parton.

By 111 Tech

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