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.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink hopes to test its brain implant in a human next year
Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company Neuralink is planning to test a brain implant in humans in six months, the company has announced.
At a ‘show and tell’ event yesterday, Musk said that the company was in the process of submitting paperwork to the US Food and Drug Administration, which has the power to approve or deny the company’s application to start clinical trials in humans.
When Musk launched Neuralink in 2017, he outlined plans for “a high-bandwidth, long-lasting, biocompatible, bidirectional” brain implant. This brain modem, he claimed, could somehow allow humans to keep pace with artificial intelligence. Now, after years of delays and experiments on monkeys, he’s hoping to prove it can be safely implanted in humans.
Musk also announced that the company is working on repurposing the implant for two further parts of the body: the spinal cord, to potentially help to restore movement in someone who is paralysed, and an ocular implant to restore vision in people with sight loss. He demonstrated the latter product with a video explaining how a Neuralink implant had stimulated a flash of light in a monkey’s brain.
Antonio Regalado, our senior biomedicine editor, correctly predicted that a vision implant capable of generating images in an animal’s brain would make its way into the company’s presentation. Read why that matters—and what, in theory, it could mean for humans.
While everyone waits for GPT-4, OpenAI is still fixing its predecessor
Buzz around GPT-4, the anticipated but as-yet-unannounced follow-up to OpenAI’s groundbreaking large language model, GPT-3, is growing by the week. But OpenAI is not yet done tinkering with the previous version.
The San Francisco-based company has released a demo of a new model called ChatGPT, a spin-off of GPT-3 that is geared toward answering questions via back-and-forth dialogue. But while the conversational format allows ChatGPT to admit its mistakes, and reject inappropriate requests, it’s still far from perfect. Read the full story.
—Will Douglas Heaven
In defense of plastic (sort of)
Plastics have a bad reputation, there’s no denying it. They’re an environmental, climate, and public health disaster. But, simultaneously, they’ve brought down costs across industries and saved lives, thanks to their use in everything from medical equipment to electronics.
The question is, where do we go from here? Taking steps to cut down on gratuitous plastic use is a start, and finding ways to reinvent plastic recycling could also play a huge role in cutting down on its negative impacts. Among the most promising of these is chemical recycling, which, if chemists successfully pull it off, could allow us to handle different plastics using a single process. Read the full story.
Casey’s story is from The Spark, her weekly climate and energy newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 The European Central Bank thinks bitcoin is on its last gasp
It says the cryptocurrency is on “the road to irrelevance.” (The Guardian)
+ Sam Bankman-Fried has given another disastrous interview. (NYT $)
+ Unsurprisingly, he said his lawyers had advised him against speaking publicly. (Vox)
+ Times aren’t great for NFT artists right now. (New Yorker $)
+ It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)
2 Chinese protests could be the beginning of the end for zero covid
It is damaging the country’s economy, and much of the population has had enough. (Vox)
+ Xi Jinping has painted himself into a corner. (The Atlantic $)
+ Simply lifting the restrictions won’t magically return life to normal, though. (Wired $)
3 An American journalist is suing NSO Group
He and his colleagues allege they were surveilled using the company’s Pegasus spyware. (New Yorker $)
+ Password manager LastPass says some user data was exposed in a hack. (The Verge)
+ The war in Ukraine has shifted cybercriminals’ focus away from stealing money. (Economist $)
+ Google has blocked a Spanish hacking tool. (Wired $)
+ The hacking industry faces the end of an era. (MIT Technology Review)
4 San Francisco police can now deploy killer robots
They can kill someone in order to save the life of a civilian or an officer. (TechCrunch)
+ The policy could easily end up harming the city’s most vulnerable people. (Wired $)
5 Children are still dying from TikTok’s blackout challenge
Parents feel the platform’s not doing enough to prevent other minors from copying the videos. (Bloomberg $)
6 California wants to punish doctors who spread covid misinformation
But two legal challenges claim the new law is unconstitutional. (NYT $)
7 Gasoline consumption in the US barely fell last year
Despite more electric vehicles hitting the roads, gas use fell by just 0.54%. (Wired $)
+ Electric vehicle startups are struggling to survive. (The Information $)
+ Where are those superbatteries we were promised? (IEEE Spectrum)
8 A Singapore therapy chatbot has been accused of gaslighting
The government-backed bot is designed to help teachers, but seems to be doing anything but. (Rest of World)
9 Gen Z really doesn’t like Instagram
Its cringey pivot to video isn’t cutting through. (The Atlantic $)
+ Social networks in general are shrinking. (Slate $)
10 You can still poke someone on Facebook
Why not brighten up a friend’s day? (BuzzFeed News)
Quote of the day
“If you look at all the major competing platforms that have existed — iOS, Android, Windows — Apple stands out. It is the only one where one company can control what apps get on the device. I don’t think it’s sustainable or good.”
—Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg (no stranger to accusations of monopolistic behavior himself) joins Elon Musk in criticizing Apple’s power as a gatekeeper for apps in comments made at a New York Times conference.
The big story
Finding homes for the waste that will (probably) outlive humanity
Since 2013, when regulators decided to shut California’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station down, teams of scientists, engineers, and policymakers have been hard at work to make sure it could be safely decommissioned.
The big question is: what to do with all the spent nuclear fuel? Its radioactive waste could outlast the human race, and is being kept in storage holes buried along the seismically active California coastline.
They are sitting ducks for the next big earthquake, which is likely to hit within the next century. If the nuclear waste somehow got out, the results would be devastating. And the fact the problem exists at all highlights how the US government has so far been unable to fulfill its legal duty to find a long-term home for America’s radioactive waste. Read the full story.
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.)
+ How to maintain a healthy, nutritious diet when everything’s so expensive.
+ I’d be pretty happy with any one of these robot presents, to be honest.
+ While Christine McVie gave us so many amazing songs, Songbird may just be the best.
+ Leftovers aren’t just tasty—they’re literal works of art.
+ There’s a group of tens of thousands of manta rays just vibing off the coast of Ecuador.