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The Download: generative AI, and psychedelic hype

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.

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

It was clear that OpenAI was on to something. In late 2021, a small team of researchers was playing around with a new version of OpenAI’s text-to-image model, DALL-E, an AI that converts short written descriptions into pictures: a fox painted by Van Gogh, perhaps, or a corgi made of pizza. Now they just had to figure out what to do with it.

Nobody could have predicted just how big a splash this product was going to make. The rapid release of other generative models has inspired hundreds of newspaper headlines and magazine covers, filled social media with memes, kicked a hype machine into overdrive—and set off an intense backlash from creators.

The exciting truth is, we don’t really know what’s coming next. While creative industries will feel the impact first, this tech will give creative superpowers to everybody. In the longer term, it could be used to generate designs for almost anything. The problem is, these models still have no idea what they’re doing. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

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, OpenAI’s CEO, tells Will Douglas Heaven, our senior AI editor, what he’s learned from DALL-E 2, and what the model means for society. Read the full story.

Coming soon: A new report from MIT Technology Review about how industrial design and engineering firms are using generative AI. Sign up to get notified when it’s out.

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

What’s happened: Artists are now able to 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 announced. Creators can search a website called HaveIBeenTrained for their works in the data set that was used to train Stable Diffusion, and select which works they want to exclude from the training data.

Why it’s important: The decision comes amid a heated public debate between artists and tech companies over how text-to-image AI models should be trained. The artist couple who created the website hope that the opt-out service will temporarily compensate for the absence of legislation governing the sector. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Mind-altering substances are being overhyped as wonder drugs

For the past five years or so, barely a week has gone by without a study, comment, or press release about the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. A growing number of academics, therapists, and companies are interested in the potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD to treat mental-health disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use disorders, to name a few.

The reputation of psychedelics has been through something of a rollercoaster ride over the last 70 years or so. They went from generating excitement, to instilling fear and mistrust, to experiencing a recent renaissance. But despite the current excitement, the truth is we don’t yet have evidence that psychedelics really are going to change health care, leading to concerns that psychedelics research is “trapped in a hype bubble.” Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

Jessica’s story is from The Checkup, her weekly biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

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

1 Twitter is suspending journalists’ accounts
The common thread is that they’ve all reported on Elon Musk’s decision to suspend an account that tracks his private jet. (The Guardian) 
+ The account of rival platform Mastodon has also been suspended. (TechCrunch)
+ So much for Musk’s commitment to free speech. (Vox)
+ Musk said he’d never ban the @elonjet account as recently as last month. (Motherboard)
+ It’s still easy to track the jet’s whereabouts, as the data is public. (Insider $) 

2 A stealth effort to bury wood for carbon removal has just raised millions
If the trial is successful, it could be a relatively easy and easy way of reducing greenhouse gasses. (MIT Technology Review) 

3 Bitcoin enthusiasts are crowing about FTX’s downfall
Even though bitcoin itself took a major hit. (Slate $)
+ NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal has denied any involvement with FTX. (Insider $)

4 Bio-based plastics are still plastics
Switching to plastics made from plant-extracted carbon could allow the industry to greenwash the process. (Wired $)

5 Streaming isn’t exciting anymore
There’s not as much money sloshing around, and Netflix et al don’t want to take risks in the same way they once did. (The Verge)
+ Mass-appeal shows are de rigueur now. (Insider $)

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

7 How online shopping tries to trick you
Pressuring shoppers into making quick decisions is at the heart of it. (Vox)
+ Ads for ads is the latest thing on TikTok. (FT $)
+ TV ads are getting more meta, too. (The Atlantic $)

8 Gen Z is going back to the tech dark ages
They’re reshaping what it is to be a Luddite in the digital age. (NYT $)

9 TikTok wants to rehabilitate pigeons’ bad reputation
But taking in wild birds off the street is still a bad idea. (The Atlantic $)
+ How to befriend a crow. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Strength training in older age pays off 💪
It’s never too late to start—and it can help to maintain independence for longer. (Knowable Magazine)

Quote of the day

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

—Jack Sweeney, the college student who tracks Elon Musk’s private jet on Twitter using publicly available data, tells Insider why he’s refusing to be shaken by Musk’s announcement he was suing Sweeney.

The big story

How to mend your broken pandemic brain

July 2021

Americans are slowly coming out of the pandemic, but as they reemerge, there’s still a lot of trauma to process. It’s not just our families, our communities, and our jobs that have changed; our brains have changed too. We’re not the same people we were.

During the winter of 2020, more than 40% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, double the rate of the previous year. While this fell the following summer, as vaccination rates rose and covid cases fell, 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 that? Read the full story.

—Dana Smith

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.)

+ Here’s how to avoid succumbing to hanger. 
+ If adrenaline-inducing footage is your thing, GoPro Heroes will be right up your street. 
+ A no-bake raspberry cheesecake sounds like minimal fuss, maximum enjoyment.
+ These fairytale homes look so inviting. 🧚
+ We’ve finally solved the mystery of why prehistoric patterns were carved into the Middle Eastern desert.

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