The Download: 2022’s best stories, and what’s next for AI

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 Hamzelou

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.

The must-reads

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

December 2020

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.

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