The Download: generative AI and psychedelic hype

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.

Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone?

It was clear that OpenAI was up to something. In late 2021, a small group of researchers experimented with a new version of OpenAI’s text-to-image model, DALL-E, an AI that converts short written descriptions into images: perhaps a fox drawn by Van Gogh or a pizza corgi. Now it was just a matter of deciding what to do with it.

No one could have predicted how big a splash this product would make. The rapid release of other generative models inspired hundreds of newspaper headlines and magazine covers, flooded social media with memes, set off the hype machine, and caused a strong backlash from creators.

The exciting truth is that we really don’t know what’s going to happen next. While the creative industries will be the first to feel the impact, this technology will bring creative superpowers to everyone. In the long run, it can be used to design just about anything. The problem is that these models still have no idea what they are doing. Read the full story.

— Will Douglas Haven

This story is part of our upcoming 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023 series. Download readers will be the first to see the full list in January.

+ Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, talks to Will Douglas Haven, our Senior AI Editor, about what he learned from DALL-E 2 and what the model means for society. Read the full story.

Coming soon: A new MIT Technology Review report on how industrial design and engineering companies are using generative AI. Subscribe to be notified when it is released.

Artists can now opt out of the next version of Stable Diffusion.

What happened: Artists can now opt out of the next version of one of the world’s most popular text-to-image AI generators, Stable Diffusion, the company behind it has announced. Creators can search the HaveIBeenTrained website for their work in the dataset used to train Stable Diffusion and choose which work they want to exclude from the training data.

Why is it important: The decision comes amid a heated public debate between artists and tech companies about how AI models that convert text into images should be trained. The artist couple who created the website hope the opt-out service will temporarily make up for the lack of legislation to regulate the sector. Read the full story.

— Melissa Heikkila

Mind-altering drugs advertised as miracle cures

In the past five years, not a week goes by without research, comment, or press releases on the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. A growing number of scientists, therapists and companies are interested in the potential of psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD for the treatment of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders, to name a few.

Over the past 70 years or so, the reputation of psychedelics has gone through something of a rollercoaster ride. They have gone from exciting to instilling fear and distrust, and to a recent resurgence. But despite the current hype, the truth is that we don’t yet have evidence that psychedelics will actually change healthcare, raising concerns that psychedelic research is “stuck in a hype bubble.” Read the full story.

— Jessica Hamzelu

Jessica’s story is from The Checkup, her weekly biotechnology newsletter. Subscribe to receive it in your mailbox every Thursday.

Required Reading

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

1 Twitter suspends journalist accounts
The common thread is that they all reported Elon Musk’s decision to suspend the account that tracks his private jet. (The keeper)
+ The account of the rival platform Mastodon was also suspended. (TechCrunch)
+ So much for Musk’s commitment to free speech. (Voice)
+ Musk said he would never ban the @elonjet account last month. (Motherboard)
+ The plane’s location is still easy to trace because the data is publicly available. (insider $)

2 A covert attempt to bury wood to remove carbon just raised millions
If the test is successful, it could be a relatively simple and easy way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Bitcoin Enthusiasts Screaming FTX Crash
Although Bitcoin itself has been hit hard. (Slate $)
+ NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal has denied any involvement with FTX. (insider $)

4 Biobased plastics are still plastics
Switching to plastics made from plant-derived carbon could allow the industry to green up the process. (Wired $)

5 Streaming is no longer interesting
There isn’t much money left, and Netflix and others are as reluctant to take the risk as they used to be. (edge)
+ Mass shows are now in the order of things. (insider $)

6. Changes in a child’s microbiome can cause fear
This can affect how they experience anxiety and depression later in life. (Neo.Life)

7 How Online Stores Try to Scam You
The essence of this is to force buyers to make quick decisions. (Voice)
+ Ads for ads is the last thing on TikTok. (FT $)
+ TV advertising is also becoming more and more meta. (Atlantic Ocean $)

8 Gen Z returns to the dark ages of technology
They are changing what it means to be a Luddite in the digital age. (New York Times $)

9 TikTok Wants To Rehabilitate Pigeons’ Bad Reputation
But catching wild birds off the street is a bad idea. (Atlantic Ocean $)
+ How to make friends with a crow. (MIT Technology Review)

10. Strength training in old age pays off.
It’s never too late to start, and this can help you stay independent longer. (famous magazine)

Quote of the Day

“Looks like he’s just trying to scare me and it’s not going to work.”

says Jack Sweeney, a college student who tracks Elon Musk’s private jet on Twitter using publicly available data. insider why he refuses to be appalled by Musk’s claim that he is suing Sweeney.

big story

How to fix your pandemic-broken brain

July 2021

Americans are slowly coming out of the pandemic, but as they return, they still have a lot of trauma to deal with. Not only have our families, our communities, and our work changed; our brains have changed too. We are no longer the people we were.

In the winter of 2020, more than 40% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, twice as many as in the previous year. While that happened the following summer as vaccination rates rose and Covid cases dropped, many Americans are still struggling with their mental health. Now the question is, can our brains change back? And how can we help them do this? Read the full story.

— Dana Smith

We can still have good things

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

+Here’s how not to succumb hanger.
+ If you like adrenaline-inducing shots, GoPro Heroes will be right on your street.
+ A no bake raspberry cheesecake sounds like the least fuss, the maximum pleasure.
+ These fabulous houses look so inviting. 🧚
+ At last we solved the riddle why prehistoric patterns were carved in the Middle Eastern desert.

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