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The Download: mind-controlled prosthetics, and the price of AI training data


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The Download: mind-controlled prosthetics, and the price of AI training data

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.

People can move this bionic leg just by thinking about it 

What’s new: When someone loses part of a leg, a prosthetic can make it easier to get around. But most prosthetics are static, cumbersome, and hard to move. A new neural interface connects a bionic limb to nerve endings in the thigh, allowing the limb to be controlled by the brain.

How they did it: First, patients undergo surgery to connect shin muscle, which contracts to make the ankle flex upward, to calf muscle, which counteracts this movement. The prosthetic can also be fitted at this point. In step two, surface electrodes measure nerve activity from the brain to the calf and shin muscles, indicating an intention to move the lower leg. A small computer in the bionic leg decodes those nerve signals and moves the leg accordingly, allowing the patient to move the limb more naturally. 

Why it matters: The new device could help people with lower-leg amputations feel as if their prosthesis is part of them, and make walking easier. Read the full story.

—Sarah Ward

AI companies are finally being forced to cough up for training data

The generative AI boom is built on scale. The more training data, the more powerful the model. But many websites and data set owners have started restricting the ability to scrape their websites. Last week three major record labels announced they were suing the AI music companies Suno and Udio over alleged copyright infringement, claiming the firms had made use of copyrighted music in their training data “at an almost unimaginable scale.”  

But this moment also sets an interesting precedent for all of generative AI development. Thanks to the scarcity of high-quality data and the immense pressure and demand to build even bigger and better models, we’re in a rare moment where data owners actually have some leverage. The music industry’s lawsuit sends the loudest message yet: High-quality training data is not free. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

This story is from The Algorithm , our weekly newsletter all about demystifying the world of AI. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

The must-reads

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

1 The US Supreme Court has dodged ruling on tech’s free speech rights 
It all hinges on whether the First Amendments protects social media platforms’ rights. (WSJ $)
+ The justices sidestepped ruling on the validity of laws in Texas and Florida. (Reuters)

2 EU regulators claim that Meta has violated competition law
By requiring its users to pay to prevent their data being used to generate ads. (WP $)
+ It’s yet another example of how Europe is telling Big Tech how to operate. (The Information $)

3 The war in Ukraine is fueling a deadly new era of killer robots
In which human involvement is increasingly sidelined. (NYT $)
+ But spying is becoming trickier. (Economist $)
+ Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)

4 How AI can (and can’t) help us do our jobs
This handy mini-series is here to help you navigate the newest tools. (FT $)

5 How to build a reusable rocket 🚀
These companies want to make single-use space equipment a thing of the past. (Ars Technica)
+ Space debris engineers could play a key role in helping them. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Online shopping warehouses are changing the face of rural America
The colossal buildings have birthed new jobs—and university degrees. (Bloomberg $)

7 Canned water distilled from the air is going on sale 💧
What a refreshing idea. (New Scientist $)

8 Spotify has been accused of boosting the viral song of the summer
Users are complaining about being played Sabrina Carpenter’s Espresso, regardless of whether it fits with their listening tastes. (Vox

9 Forget business cards—LinkedIn QR codes are hot new networking tools
For lucky conference attendees the world over. (Insider $)
+ Next slide, please: A brief history of the corporate presentation. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Gen Z has fallen in love with Kindles
All the better to read their #BookTok recommendations. (WSJ $)
+ The internet hasn’t killed physical travel books, though. (Economist $)

Quote of the day

“They say I hit it so I must be a good shot… I’m going to wind up having to find a real good defense lawyer.”

—Dennis Winn, a 72-year old Florida resident, explains how he shot a Walmart delivery drone after he tried to shoo it away, USA Today reports.

The big story

Responsible AI has a burnout problem

October 2022

Margaret Mitchell had been working at Google for two years before she realized she needed a break. Only after she spoke with a therapist did she understand the problem: she was burnt out.

Mitchell, who now works as chief ethics scientist at the AI startup Hugging Face, is far from alone in her experience. Burnout is becoming increasingly common in responsible AI teams.

All the practitioners MIT Technology Review interviewed spoke enthusiastically about their work: it is fueled by passion, a sense of urgency, and the satisfaction of building solutions for real problems. But that sense of mission can be overwhelming without the right support. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ You never know how big an impact a small act of kindness might have.
+ Looking for some book recommendations for the summer? The New Yorker has you covered.
+ If you have fond memories of playing Myst and Riven, check out the new remake!
+ Follow these habits to get a better night’s sleep.

Source: technologyreview.com