Tech

The Download: generative AI’s carbon footprint, and a CRISPR patent battle

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.

Making an image with generative AI uses as much energy as charging your phone

The news: Generating a single image using a powerful AI model takes as much energy as fully charging your smartphone, according to a new study. This is the first time researchers have calculated the carbon emissions caused by using an AI model for different tasks. 

The significance: These emissions will add up quickly. The generative-AI boom has led big tech companies to integrate powerful AI models into many different products, from email to word processing. They are now used millions, if not billions, of times every single day. 

The bigger picture: The study shows that while training massive AI models is incredibly energy intensive, it’s only one part of the puzzle. Most of their carbon footprint comes from their actual use. Read the full story

—Melissa Heikkilä

The first CRISPR cure might kickstart the next big patent battle

By the middle of December, Vertex Pharmaceuticals is expected to receive FDA approval to sell a revolutionary new treatment for sickle-cell disease that’s the first in the US to use CRISPR to alter the DNA inside human cells. (Vertex has already received regulatory approval in the UK.)

But there’s a problem. The US patent on editing human cells with CRISPR isn’t owned by Vertex—it is owned by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, probably America’s largest gene research center, and exclusively licensed to a Vertex competitor, Editas Medicine, which has its own sickle-cell treatment in testing.

That means Editas will want Vertex to pay. And if it doesn’t, Editas and Broad could go to the courts to claim patent infringement, demand royalties and damages, or even potentially try to stop the treatment from being sold. Odds are we’re about to see a blockbuster lawsuit. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things health and biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

A high school’s deepfake porn scandal is pushing US lawmakers into action

On October 20, Francesca Mani was called to the counselor’s office at her New Jersey high school. A 14-year-old sophomore and a competitive fencer, Francesca wasn’t one for getting in trouble. But it turned out that over the summer, boys in the school had used artificial intelligence to create sexually explicit pictures of some of their classmates. The school administration told Francesca that she was one of more than 30 girls who had been victimized. 

Francesca didn’t see the photo of herself that day. And she still doesn’t intend to. Instead, she’s put all her energy into ensuring that no one else is targeted this way. 

And, in the past few weeks, her advocacy has already fueled new legislative momentum to regulate nonconsensual deepfake pornography in the US. Read the full story

—Tate Ryan-Mosley 

The must-reads

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

1 This is why we’re all sick right now
We’re contending with a lot more illnesses than we did in the pre-covid world. (The Atlantic $)
And covid hasn’t gone away either. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Climate disinformation is a big obstacle to action
And much of it is generated by influential nations, including China and Russia. (NYT $)
The US government has stopped warning social networks about foreign disinformation campaigns. (WP $)

3 Is the Turing Test dead? 
It was arguably never that reliable a measure of intelligence to begin with. (IEEE Spectrum)
Mustafa Suleyman: My new Turing test would see if AI can make $1 million. (MIT Technology Review)
Hiring is still hot for prompt engineers, a year since ChatGPT launched. (Bloomberg $)

4 The long-delayed Tesla Cybertruck is finally on sale
And the price tag starts at $60,990. (The Guardian)
+ It has its detractors. But it has plenty of fans, too. (The Atlantic $)

5 College students are subject to alarming levels of surveillance 
Which is adding to their stress levels at an already stressful time in their lives. (The Markup)
Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University can’t agree on what privacy means. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How Huawei stunned the US with a new Chinese-made chip
Getting around sanctions will have been difficult, and very expensive. (FT $)
Huawei’s 5G chip breakthrough needs a reality check. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Anduril has launched a wild new jet-powered AI drone
The company says it could be used in Ukraine to intercept Russian drones. (Wired $)

8 Startups have had a bad year
Bankruptcies, layoffs, lower valuations and trouble fundraising have all featured heavily. (Bloomberg $)

9 AI is making LinkedIn even more boring
Its new AI features are convenient, but they have a flattening, homogenizing effect. (WP $)

10 What it takes to be in the 1%—of Taylor Swift fans 🎧
More than 6,000 hours of listening to her music, for one. (WSJ $)
It seems Spotify Wrapped was subject to some form of hacking this year. (Vice)

Quote of the day

“It’s almost like election night.”

—Louisa Ferguson, Spotify’s global head of marketing experience, explains to The Guardian why the launch of the company’s Wrapped annual rundown is its busiest time of the year.

The big story

The uneasy coexistence of Yandex and the Kremlin

Yandex

MARCIN WOLSKI

August 2020

While Moscow was under coronavirus lockdown between March and June 2020, the Russian capital emptied out—apart from the streams of cyclists in the trademark yellow uniform of Yandex’s food delivery service.

Often referred to in the West as Russia’s Google, Yandex is really more like Google, Amazon, Uber, and maybe a few other companies combined. It’s a Russian Silicon Valley unto itself. 

But Yandex’s success has come at a price. The Kremlin has long viewed the internet as a battlefield in its escalating tensions with the West and has become increasingly concerned that a company like Yandex, with the heaps of data it has on Russian citizens, could one day fall into foreign hands. Read the full story.

—Evan Gershkovich

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ Remembering the legend that was Shane MacGowan (RIP).
+ The US Transportation Security Administration wins all the awards for the cutest calendar of the year, featuring some of their cutest canine colleagues.
+ We already know that spending time in the great outdoors is good for us, but here’s how and why it’s so important.
+ How to write a love poem like a pro.
+ Who’s who in American fine dining? Read this handy list to find out.




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