The Download: inside an AI gym, and how to make the internet safer

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.

Welcome to the AI gym staffed by virtual trainers 

Like any good gym, Lumin Fitness prides itself on the quality of its trainers. Chloe, an energetic young coach, promises to help you crush your fitness goals. The disciplined Rex, who has the air of a drill sergeant, encourages his clients to strive for excellence, but he is quick to warn that there won’t be any shortcuts. If you’re after a more mellow approach, Emma and Ethan are warm and quietly confident.

But Lumin Fitness is no ordinary gym. These trainers don’t exist—at least not physically. They’re virtual AI coaches, designed to guide gym goers through vigorous workouts on the tall LED screens that line the walls of the company’s first studio, which opened last month in Las Colinas, Texas.

The company’s founders say AI trainers could encourage people to start working out even if they were previously put off gyms. And there’s reason to believe they might be right. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

How to fight for internet freedom

You may not be shocked to hear that governments are using generative AI to manipulate conversations and censor what’s online. But now we have a better sense of how this is happening, when, and where.

A new report published last week shows that political actors in 16 countries, including Pakistan, Nigeria, and the United States, have used generative AI over the past year to exert increased control over the internet.

This comes at a time when global internet freedom has never been lower. But Freedom House, the human rights advocacy group behind the report, has three actionable things that tech companies and lawmakers should do to make the internet safer and freer. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

This story is from The Technocrat, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things power in Silicon Valley. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

Leah Stokes on the challenges ahead for the Inflation Reduction Act

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), often dubbed the “Climate Bill,” was signed into law more than a year ago in the US and catalyzed more than $390 billion of investment in the clean energy sector. But what changes has it brought about, and what obstacles remain?

Leah Stokes, an environmental policy professor at UC Santa Barbara who frequently advises Democrats on climate legislation, spoke with James Temple, our senior editor for climate and energy, at MIT Technology Review’s ClimateTech conference last week about the IRA’s early impact on the energy transition. Watch the full video of their chat here.

2023 Climate Tech Companies to Watch: Ørsted and its offshore wind factories

Offshore wind power has tremendous potential to help the world meet its climate goals. Former fossil-fuel company Ørsted is leading the charge to unlock that potential by building massive offshore wind farms in Europe and installing some of the first turbines in US waters.

Ørsted is part of our 2023 list of 15 Climate Tech Companies to Watch. Read the rest of the list here.

The must-reads

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

1 Effective Accelerationism is the new Effective Altruism
Silicon Valley’s AI crowd have moved on, and this new movement prioritizes growth at any cost. (The Information $)
+ The G7 will ask AI firms to agree to new safeguarding rules. (Bloomberg $)
+ Why don’t firms seem to care that generative AI is problematic? (Motherboard)
+ Inside effective altruism, where the far future counts a lot more than the present. (MIT Technology Review) 

2 Hackers have leaked the 23andMe user data of Ashkenazi Jews
The personal information was listed for sale on dark web forums last week. (Wired $)

3 The second week of Sam Bankman-Fried’s fraud trial promises more drama
FTX’s former chief executive Caroline Ellison, who has already pleaded guilty, should testify tomorrow. (Slate $)
+ The trial is painting a picture of a seriously flawed company. (New Yorker $)
+ How FTX frittered away billions of customer dollars. (WSJ $)

4 You can’t report garbage clickbait ads on X

It’s hard to tell whether it’s a deliberate experiment, or yet another glitch. (The Verge)

5 Taiwan’s commitment to chips is wavering
All that chipmaking isn’t environmentally-friendly. Some Taiwanese officials say enough is enough. (WP $)
+ Microsoft is reportedly planning to debut its own AI chip. (The Information $)
+ As is OpenAI, apparently. (Reuters)
+ China, meanwhile, is doubling down on its AI commitments. (Bloomberg $)
+ The chip patterning machines that will shape computing’s next act. (MIT Technology Review) 

6 Where does social media go from here?
Each platform reflects its users. What happens when the users leave? (The Atlantic $)

7 We all need the Amazon rainforest
New data suggests its demise is imminent unless we stop deforestation. (Vox)
+ We aren’t terrified enough about losing the Amazon. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Big Tech is already looking to the next wave of mixed reality headsets
Current models aren’t comfy enough, apparently. (Bloomberg $)

9 AI is being trained to become more empathetic
That doesn’t mean it actually understands you, though. (WSJ $)
+ How Disney managed to make robots appear emotional. (IEEE Spectrum)

10 The JWST is unveiling the first post-Big Bang stars
We’re glimpsing further back into the universe’s history. (New Scientist $)
+ Luxury spacesuits are on the horizon, thanks to Prada. (Insider $)

Quote of the day

“The public space gets boring because everyone’s being boring. Everyone’s in their own entertaining world.”

—Mack Hagood, a professor at Miami University, laments how noise-canceling headphones discourage people from speaking with each other, he tells the Wall Street Journal.

The big story

The US agency in charge of developing fossil fuels has a new job: cleaning them up

September 2022

In his first month in office, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling for the nation to eliminate carbon pollution from the electricity sector by 2035 and achieve net-zero emissions across the economy by 2050.

That move redefined the mandate of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy, the research agency whose mission has been to develop more effective ways of producing fossil fuels for almost half a century. Now it’s responsible for helping to clean up the industry. 

While the agency continues to research the production of oil, gas, and coal, its central task is now to minimize the impacts from the production of those fossil fuels. Read the full story.

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