The Download: DeepMind’s AI shortcomings and China’s social media translation problem

Earlier this month, DeepMind showed off a new “general purpose” AI model called Gato. The model can play the Atari video game, caption images, chat and stack blocks with a real robot arm, the Alphabet-owned artificial intelligence lab has announced. Overall, Gato can perform hundreds of different tasks.

But while Gato is undeniably fascinating, in the week since its release, some researchers have gotten a little carried away.

One of DeepMind’s top researchers and co-author of Gato’s paper, Nando de Freitas, couldn’t contain his excitement. “The game is over!” he tweeted, suggesting there is now a clear path between Gato and artificial general intelligence, or “AGI,” a vague concept of human or superhuman AI. The way to build AGI, he claimed, is mostly about scale: making models like Gato bigger and better.

Unsurprisingly, de Freitas’ announcement sparked breathless media coverage that Deepmind is “on the verge” of human-level artificial intelligence. It’s not the first time that hype has exceeded reality. Other exciting new AI models, such as OpenAI’s GPT-3 text generator and DALL-E image generator, have generated similar claims.

For many in the field, this kind of feverish talk overshadows other important areas of AI research. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkila

The unavoidable

I’ve scoured the internet to find you today’s funniest/important/scariest/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Volunteers translate Chinese social media posts into English
Even though the messages passed China’s internet censorship regime, Beijing is unhappy. (Atlantic $)
+ WeChat wants people to use its video platform. So they did, for the digital protests. (TR)

2 Ukrainian startup community resumes business as usual
Many workers juggle their day job and volunteering after hours. (WP$)
+ Russian-speaking tech bosses living in the US are cutting ties with pro-war workers. (NYT$)
+ YouTube has removed over 9,000 war-related channels. (The Guardian)

3 Buffalo shooting exposed flaws in tech’s counterterrorism deal
Critics say the platforms have not done enough to tackle the root causes of extremism. (WSJ$)
+ America has seen more than 3,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook. (WP$)

4 Crypto seems to have an insider trading problem
Just like the banking system against which its supporters are rebelling. (WSJ$)
+ Christine Lagarde thinks crypto is worth “nothing”. ($Bloomberg)
+ The crypto is going through a bitter storm. Some still cling on for dear life. (TR)
+ The Crypto Industry Has Lost Around $1.5 Trillion Since November. (Atlantic $)
+ Stablecoin Tether has paid out $10 billion in withdrawals since the crash began. (The Guardian)

5 The nuclear fusion industry is in turmoil
It’s not even operational yet, but the fuel reserves are already running out. (Wired $)
+ A hole in the ground could be the future of fusion energy. (TR)
+ The US Midwest could face a power grid outage this summer. (Motherboard)

6 Big Tech isn’t worried about the economic downturn
Even if it loses some of its market valuation along the way. (NYT$)
+ But lawmakers are determined to contain them with antitrust legislation. (Recode)
+ Their carbon emissions are also spiraling out of control. (New Yorkers $)

7 The US Army Wants To Build A Flying Starship
The X Liberty Lifer aircraft would be independent of fixed airfields and ports. (IEEE Spectrum)

8 We need to change the way we recycle plastic
The good news is that the technology to overhaul it exists, it just needs to be refined. (Wired $)
+ French company uses enzymes to recycle one of the most common single-use plastics. (TR)

9 Why You Should Treat Using Your Phone Like Drinking Wine
Finding that delicate balance by preventing the positive-to-negative swing. (The guardian $)

10 In the healthy world of internet knitting 🧶
The creations of her favorite knitter have become cult. (Grab)
+ How the ban on pro-Trump models shook up the world of online knitting. (TR)

quote of the day

“I love the instant gratification of improving the internet.”

—Jason Moore, credited with creating more than 50,000 Wikipedia pages, tells CNN about his motivations for taking up unpaid work.

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