Download: Neuralink updates and GPT-3 fixes

This is today’s issue of the magazine. The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the tech world.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink hopes to test his brain implant on a human next year

Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company Neuralink plans to test a brain implant in humans in six months, the company has announced.

Musk said at a show-and-tell event yesterday that the company is in the process of filing paperwork with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has the power to approve or deny the company’s application to begin human clinical trials.

When Musk launched Neuralink in 2017, he laid out plans for a “broadband, durable, biocompatible, bi-directional” brain implant. He argued that this brain modem could somehow allow humans to keep up with artificial intelligence. Now, after years of delays and experiments on monkeys, he hopes to prove that it can be safely implanted in humans.

Musk also announced that the company is working on repurposing an implant for two other body parts: the spinal cord, to potentially help restore movement in a paralyzed person, and an eye implant to restore vision in people with vision loss. He demonstrated the latest product with a video explaining how a Neuralink implant stimulated a flash of light in a monkey’s brain.

Antonio Regalado, our senior biomedical editor, correctly predicted that a visual implant capable of generating images in an animal’s brain would appear in a company presentation. Read why it’s important and what it could theoretically mean for people.

While everyone is waiting for GPT-4, OpenAI is still fixing its predecessor

The hype around GPT-4, the expected but as yet unannounced addition to OpenAI’s pioneering large language model, GPT-3, is growing week by week. But OpenAI hasn’t finished messing with the previous version yet.

The San Francisco-based company has released a demo of a new model called ChatGPT, a spin-off of GPT-3, that is designed to answer questions through a two-way conversation. But while the conversational format allows ChatGPT to admit its mistakes and reject irrelevant requests, it’s still far from perfect. Read the full story.

— Will Douglas Haven

In defense of plastic (sort of)

Plastics have a bad reputation, there’s no denying that. This is a disaster for the environment, climate and public health. But at the same time, they drive down costs across industries and save lives through their use in everything from medical equipment to electronics.

The question is where do we go from here? Taking action to reduce gratuitous use of plastic is a start, and finding ways to reinvent plastic recycling can also play a huge role in reducing its negative effects. One of the most promising of these is chemical recycling, which, if successfully implemented by chemists, could allow us to recycle different plastics using a single process. Read the full story.

Casey’s story comes from The Spark, her weekly climate and energy newsletter. Subscribe to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

Required Reading

I scoured the internet to find the most hilarious/important/scary/exciting tech stories to date.

1 The European Central Bank Thinks Bitcoin is on its last legs
It states that the cryptocurrency is “on the way to irrelevance.” (The keeper)
+ Sam Bankman-Fried gave another disastrous interview. (New York Times $)
+ Not surprisingly, he said his lawyers advised him not to speak in public. (Voice)
+ These are not the best times for NFT artists. (New Yorker $)
+ You can opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Chinese protests could be the beginning of the end of zero covid
This is hurting the country’s economy, and most of the population is already fed up. (Voice)
+ Xi Jinping has painted himself into a corner. (Atlantic Ocean $)
+ However, simply lifting restrictions won’t magically bring life back to normal. (Wired $)

3 American journalist sues NSO Group
He and his colleagues claim they were followed using Pegasus spyware. (New Yorker $)
+ Password manager LastPass reports that some user data has been compromised in a hack. (edge)
+ The war in Ukraine has diverted the attention of cybercriminals from stealing money. (Economist $)
+ Google has blocked the Spanish hacking tool. (Wired $)
+ The hacker industry is on the threshold of an era. (MIT Technology Review)

4 San Francisco Police Can Now Use Killer Robots
They may kill someone to save the life of a civilian or an officer. (TechCrunch)
+ This policy can easily lead to harm to the city’s most vulnerable residents. (Wired $)

5. Kids are still dying due to power outages on TikTok
Parents feel that the platform is not doing enough to prevent other minors from copying videos. (bloomberg $)

6 California Wants To Punish Doctors Who Spread Coronavirus Misinformation
But two legal suits allege that the new law is unconstitutional. (New York Times $)

7 Gasoline consumption in the US almost did not fall last year
Despite the fact that more electric vehicles have appeared on the roads, gas consumption has decreased by only 0.54%. (Wired $)
+ Electric vehicle startups are fighting for survival. (Information $)
+ Where are those superbatteries that we were promised? (IEEE Spectrum)

8. Singapore therapy chatbot accused of gaslighting.
The government-backed bot is designed to help teachers but doesn’t seem to do much else. (The rest of the world)

9 Gen Z really doesn’t like Instagram
Its clumsy twist to the video doesn’t cut through. (Atlantic Ocean $)
+ Social media in general is shrinking. (Slate $)

10 You Can Still Poke Someone On Facebook
Why not brighten up a friend’s day? (Buzz Feed News)

Quote of the Day

“If you look at all the major competing platforms that have existed — iOS, Android, Windows — Apple stands out. This is the only case where one company can control which apps get on the device. I don’t think it’s sustainable or good.”

— Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg (himself no stranger to allegations of monopolistic behavior) joins Elon Musk in criticizing Apple’s power as a gatekeeper for apps in comments made on The newspaper “New York Times conference.

big story

Searching for waste homes that will (probably) outlast humanity

October 2020

Since 2013, when regulators decided to shut down the San Onofre nuclear power plant in California, teams of scientists, engineers and policy makers have been hard at work to ensure its safe decommissioning.

The big question is what to do with all the spent nuclear fuel? Its radioactive waste could outlive the human race, and it is stored in storage pits buried along California’s seismically active coastline.

They are easy ducks before the next big earthquake, which is likely to happen in the next century. If the nuclear waste somehow got out, the results would be devastating. And the fact that the problem exists at all highlights the fact that the US government still cannot fulfill its legal obligation to find a long-term home for US radioactive waste. Read the full story.

— Wudang Yang

We can still have good things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction during these strange times. (Any ideas?Write meorwrite me.)

+ How to maintain healthy, nutritious food when everything is so expensive.
+ I would be very happy with any of these robot gifts, to be honest.
+ Although Christine McVie gave us so many great songs, Songbird maybe just the best.
+ Leftovers aren’t just delicious—they’re literally works of art.
+ There is a group of tens of thousands manta rays just relaxing off the coast of Ecuador.

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