The Download: a new Turing test, and working with ChatGPT

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.

My new Turing test would see if AI can make $1 million

—Mustafa Suleyman is the co-founder and CEO of Inflection AI and a venture partner at Greylock, a venture capital firm. Before that, he co-founded DeepMind, one of the world’s leading artificial intelligence companies.

AI systems are increasingly everywhere and are becoming more powerful almost by the day. But how can we know if a machine is truly “intelligent”? For decades this has been defined by the Turing test, which argues that an AI that’s able to replicate language convincingly enough to trick a human into thinking it was also human should be considered intelligent.

But there’s now a problem: the Turing test has almost been passed—it arguably already has been. The latest generation of large language models are on the cusp of acing it.

So where does that leave AI? We need something better. I propose the Modern Turing Test—one equal to the coming AIs that would give them a simple instruction:  “Go make $1 million on a retail web platform in a few months with just a $100,000 investment.” Read the full story.

ChatGPT can turn bad writers into better ones

The news: A new study suggests that ChatGPT could help reduce gaps in writing ability between employees, helping less experienced workers who lack writing skills to produce work similar in quality to that of more skilled colleagues.

How the researchers did it: Hundreds of college-educated professionals were asked to complete two tasks they’d normally undertake as part of their jobs, such as writing press releases, short reports, or analysis plans. Half were given the option of using ChatGPT for the second task. A group of assessors then quality-checked the results, and scored the output of those who’d used ChatGPT 18% higher in quality than that of the participants who didn’t use it.

Why it matters: The research hints at how AI could be helpful in the workplace by acting as a sort of virtual assistant. But it’s also crucial to remember that generative AI models’ output is far from reliable, meaning workers run the risk of introducing errors. Read the full story.

Rhiannon Williams

If you’d like to read more about ChatGPT, take a look at:

+ Our exclusive look at how ChatGPT was built, according to the people who made it.

+ How ChatGPT will revolutionize the economy. New large language models will transform many jobs. Whether they will lead to widespread prosperity or not is up to us. Read the full story.

+ AI-text detection tools are really easy to fool. A recent crop of systems claiming to detect ChatGPT-generated text perform poorly—and it doesn’t take much to get past them. Read the full story.

The personal stories at the heart of cutting-edge biotech

However exciting the science behind breakthroughs in medicine and biotechnology, the beating heart of these cutting-edge stories is always the people affected.

Jessica Hamzelou, our senior biotech reporter, has been covering these fascinating advances in the Checkup, her weekly newsletter, for the past 10 months. Before she (temporarily) leaves the MIT Technology Review team to undertake a Knight Science Journalism fellowship at MIT, she’s taken a look back at some of the most thought-provoking stories she’s covered, from brain implants to microbiomes. Read the full story.

Good luck Jess. We’ll miss you! 

The Checkup is taking a short break, but will be back in August. 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 Hollywood’s actors are striking over AI 
Their trade body reportedly failed to reassure them that AI wouldn’t threaten their livelihoods. (The Verge)
+ It’s the first double strike in more than 60 years. (Vox)
+ Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)

2 OpenAI is being investigated by US regulators
It looks like the first step towards forthcoming AI legislation. (WP $)
+ Uhoh: one of the StabilityAI co-founders is suing his business partner. (FT $)
+ OpenAI’s hunger for data is coming back to bite it. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Far-right influencers are making money from Twitter
Andrew Tate says the company has paid him more than $20,000. (WP $)
+ Paying content creators with ad revenue rewards divisive material. (TechCrunch)

4 The FDA has approved over-the-counter birth control pills
The question is, how much will they cost? (Vox)

5 India has successfully launched a mission to the Moon
If it lands, it will become only the fourth country to touch down on lunar soil. (BBC)
+ Meanwhile, the US Senate has slashed NASA’s Mars budget. (Ars Technica)

6 These military drones can stay aloft for months 
It means they can essentially act as mobile satellites. (WSJ $)
+ Why business is booming for military AI startups. (MIT Technology Review)

7 The Arctic is melting at a scary pace
And the methane it’s releasing is likely to warm the climate even further. (Wired $)+ Ice growth in Antarctica has massively slowed. (Vox)

8 The social media party is over
Apps are locked in fierce competition for our attention. But do we still care? (Bloomberg $)
+ Just because we’re early adopters doesn’t mean we’ll use them, either. (The Atlantic $)

9 It’s tough out there for a start-up
Lots of promising fledgling ventures now just want to be acquired. (FT $)

10 Let Instagram’s terms of service soothe you to sleep
Through this relaxing, ambient reading. (Motherboard)
+ Retro wants to replace Instagram in your affections. (Wired $)

Quote of the day

“When AI knows how to destroy a hotel room, I’ll pay attention to it.”

—Joe Walsh, guitarist of the Eagles, offers a frank insight into why AI doesn’t bother him, Insider reports.

The big story

Startups are racing to reproduce breast milk in the lab


December 2020

Like many mothers, Leila Strickland found breastfeeding difficult. She struggled to feed her babies, and spent all day, every day, nursing or pumping to stimulate her milk flow.

Strickland, a professor of vascular physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, began thinking about how she might be able to use a process like that pioneered by Dutch food technology company Mosa Meat to create artificial beef, but for cells that produce breast milk.

In May 2020, her company Biomilq received $3.5 million from a group of investors led by Bill Gates. It is now in a race with competitors to shake up the world of infant nutrition in a way not seen since the birth of the now $42 billion formula industry. Read the full story.

—Haley Cohen Gilliland

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.)

+ Funny pictures of animals. What more can I say?
+ If you ever get lost in a maze, good old mathematics can help you escape unscathed.
+ Comics and the beach is a brilliant combination. Here’s some of the best reads to take on vacation.
+ Vintage rail cars are still rolling across the US thanks to the valiant efforts of these enthusiasts.
+ An excellent question: why was The Idol quite so hysterically awful?

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