The Download: introducing our TR35 innovators

Plus: meet the innovator working to make AI 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.

Introducing: Our 35 Innovators Under 35 list for 2023

How do you know what’s coming next, especially with a topic as fast-moving as technology? One way is to focus on the technology itself, as we do every year with our 10 Breakthrough Technologies package. 

With our 35 Innovators Under 35, we come at the same problem from a different angle: Who are the people driving the next wave of innovation, and what does their work tell us about where technology will go in the near future?

Today, we’re excited to unveil our latest cohort of Innovators. Read the full list of this year’s honorees, including those making a difference in robotics, computing, biotech, climate and energy, and AI.

Andrew Ng: How to be an innovator

As a renowned global AI innovator, Andrew Ng knows a thing or two about innovations that make an impact, having led Google Brain to drive large-scale deep learning, and created online courses that led to the founding of course provider Coursera. 

He’s shared some of his wisdom about how to innovate responsibly, and how to sidestep any potential roadblocks along the way. Read his essay here.

Meet our 2023 Innovator of the Year: Sharon Li

As we launch AI systems from the lab into the real world, we need to be prepared for these systems to break in surprising and catastrophic ways. 

For example, a chess-playing robot arm made headlines around the world last year after it mistook a seven-year-old boy’s finger for a chess piece, only letting go after nearby adults pried open its claws.

The incident is a classic example of something Sharon Li wants to prevent. Li is a pioneer in a safety feature designed to help AI models determine when they should abstain from action if faced with something they weren’t trained on. Her work calls on the AI community to rethink its approach to training, and is a crucial step towards creating systems that are not only trustworthy, but safe. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

There’s never been a more important time in AI policy

Lawmakers are back from summer vacation and ready for action. The new school year has started with a flurry of action in AI in what is turning out to be one of the most consequential seasons for the technology. 

Thanks to the excitement around generative AI, the technology has become a kitchen table topic, and everyone is now aware something needs to be done. But as always, the devil will be in the details.Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Melissa’s story is from The Algorithm, her weekly AI newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

The must-reads

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

1 The US’s biggest antitrust trial in 20 years begins today
For decades, Google has benefited from more relaxed laws. The civil trial is seeking to hold the internet’s gatekeepers to account. (WSJ $)
+ Its outcome will have huge repercussions for other tech giants. (Vox)
+ Here’s a guide to all of the trial’s key players. (NYT $)
+ The 10-week trial will shine a light on Google’s relationship with Apple. (Bloomberg $)

2 We’re nearing the end of the era of fossil fuels
Demand for renewable energy is soaring, but reducing emissions is still a major obstacle. (FT $)
+ We need a new lexicon to discuss extreme heat. (Bloomberg $)
+ Yes, we have enough materials to power the world with renewable energy. (MIT Technology Review)

3 China is spreading disinformation about the Hawaii fires
The campaign harnessed AI-generated images to spread lies about the fires’ origin. (NYT $)
+ Why it’s so hard to tell porn spam from Chinese state bots. (MIT Technology Review)

4 We’re getting closer to making recycled batteries in the US 🔋
Lithium-ion cells are set to get a whole lot greener. (The Verge)
+ Why you might recycle a battery—and how to do it. (MIT Technology Review)

5 When it comes to regulating AI, Europe is years ahead of the US
Thierry Breton treads a thin line between antagonizing tech’s biggest leaders and being chummy with them. (Bloomberg $)
+ New benchmark tests can determine the speed of AI models. (Reuters)
+ Five big takeaways from Europe’s AI Act. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Threads is blocking searches related to covid vaccines
It appears it’s taking an overly-cautious approach to potentially sensitive searches. (WP $)
+ The new covid variant is nothing to worry about at the moment. (Wired $)

7 It’s surprisingly easy to hack an e-scooter
Hackers are bypassing their in-built speed limits—with dangerous results. (WSJ $)
+ Car hackers are accessing vast amounts of user data. (The Atlantic $)

8 What does alien life look like now?
Powerful space telescopes like the JWST are helping to narrow our definitions. (Knowable Magazine)
+ Future space food could be made from astronaut breath. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Surfers hate their sport’s premier website
Surfline attracts millions of visitors. Surf enthusiasts aren’t happy about it. (The Atlantic $)

10 We’re all girls online these days 💅
The internet is a girl’s world, and we’re just living in it. (Wired $)

Quote of the day

“It’s really difficult for them to say, with a straight face, ‘we don’t have any sensitive data.’”

—Ben Winters, a senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, criticizes Google’s lackluster approach to keeping its customers’ personal information out of its AI training data to the Washington Post.

The big story

The world is moving closer to a new cold war fought with authoritarian tech

September 2022

Despite President Biden’s assurances that the US is not seeking a new cold war, one is brewing between the world’s autocracies and democracies—and technology is fueling it.

Authoritarian states are following China’s lead and are trending toward more digital rights abuses by increasing the mass digital surveillance of citizens, censorship, and controls on individual expression.

And while democracies also use massive amounts of surveillance technology, it’s the tech trade relationships between authoritarian countries that’s enabling the rise of digitally enabled social control. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

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.)

+ Take a peek inside the long and arduous search for the world’s rarest Nintendo arcade machine.
+ This fall foliage prediction map is extremely cool. 🍂
+ I wish I had the patience to create a miniscule paper dog.
+ Here’s all the exciting new albums you should be adding to your must-listen lists this fall.
+ If your garden is looking a little patchy, these tips should help you to keep it looking its best year-round.

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