The Download: Meta’s new AI system, and covert Chinese social media activity

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.

Meta’s latest AI model is free for all 

The news: Meta is going all in on open-source AI. The company has unveiled LLaMA 2, its first large language model that’s available for anyone to use—for free. It’s also releasing a version of the AI model that people can build into ChatGPT-style chatbots.

Why it matters: The idea is that by releasing the model into the wild and letting developers and companies tinker with it, Meta will learn important lessons about how to make its models safer, less biased, and more efficient.

But… Many caveats still remain. Meta is not releasing information about the data set that it used to train LLaMA 2, and it still spews offensive, harmful, and otherwise problematic language, just like rival models. Meta also cannot guarantee that it didn’t include copyrighted works or personal data, according to a company research paper shared exclusively with MIT Technology Review. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Spotting Chinese state media social accounts continues to be a challenge

It’s no secret that Chinese state-owned media are active on Western social platforms. But sometimes they take a covert approach and distance themselves from China, perhaps to reach more unsuspecting audiences. 

Such operations have been found to target Chinese- and English-speaking users in the past. Now, a study published last week has discovered another network of Twitter accounts that seems to be obscuring its China ties—and this time, it’s made up of Spanish-language news accounts targeting Latin America. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, Zeyi’s weekly newsletter covering tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 ChatGPT could become an advanced facial recognition machine
But OpenAI wants to avoid that outcome at all costs. (NYT $)
+ China is concerned AI could become a “runaway horse.” (Reuters)
+ How to stop AI from recognizing your face in selfies. (MIT Technology Review)

2 North Carolina is policing online abortion discussions
In theory, users could be prevented from posting and reading about abortion access. (Wired $)

3 Calls for AI companies to recompense authors are growing louder
Margaret Atwood is among the high-profile names to join the charge. (WSJ $)
+ Microsoft has started charging $30 a month for its generative AI. (FT $)
+ OpenAI’s hunger for data is coming back to bite it.  (MIT Technology Review)

4 The US has blacklisted more overseas spyware companies
In a bid to deter investors from sinking cash into seemingly-dodgy companies. (WP $)
+ US lawmakers are cracking down on surveillance overreach. (Wired $)
+ Snapchat has been accused of promoting Saudi Arabia’s royals. (The Guardian)

5 Temperatures are soaring in Death Valley
And it’s looking increasingly likely it’ll break its all-time record. (LA Times $)
+ Tourists are getting in on the act, too. (BBC)

6 The Pentagon doesn’t want you to track its planes
It’s had enough of civilians keeping an eye on mysterious aircraft. (The Intercept)

7 Lemon8 is flopping
ByteDance’s other social media platform’s biggest problem? It’s bland. (Rest of World)
+ New apps need to break out of the social doom cycle. (The Atlantic $)

8 Who uses WeightWatchers in the age of Ozempic?
Loyal WeightWatchers feel betrayed by the company’s decision to embrace weight-loss medications. (Bloomberg $)
+ Weight-loss injections have taken over the internet. But what does this mean for people IRL? (MIT Technology Review)

9 How to tell if your baby monitor is vulnerable to hacking
A new label will help consumers in the US to decide. (Vox)
+ Electric vehicles are at high risk, too. (Slate $)

10 Your phone number isn’t dead yet
For many people, it’s a reminder of where they’ve come from. (The Atlantic $)

Quote of the day

“I’m worried about regular intelligence!”

—Actor Danny Trejo tells CNBC he’s got bigger concerns than the rise of AI during an interview about the Hollywood strikes.

The big story

Minneapolis police used fake social media profiles to surveil Black people

April 2022

The Minneapolis Police Department violated civil rights law through a pattern of racist policing practices, according to a damning report by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. 

The report found that officers stop, search, arrest, and use force against people of color at a much higher rate than white people, and covertly surveilled Black people not suspected of any crimes via social media. 

The findings are consistent with MIT Technology Review’s investigation of Minnesota law enforcement agencies, which has revealed an extensive surveillance network that targeted activists in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley and Sam Richards

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.)

+ Interesting—Paul McCartney has a new podcast.
+ This ‘doomsday fish’ rising from the deep is pretty unnerving.
+ I wish I was small enough to benefit from this teeny tiny LEGO waterpark.
+ H.G Wells was a man of many talents, including incredibly prescient future gazing.
+ This is fun: what birdwatching in the Garden of Earthly Delights can teach us.

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