The Download: AI conquers Minecraft, and babies after death

The Download: AI conquers Minecraft, and babies after death

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.

A bot that watched 70,000 hours of Minecraft could unlock AI’s next big thing

The news: An AI that binged on 70,000 hours of people playing Minecraft has learned how to play the game better than any AI before. OpenAI created the bot. It showcases a new technique that can be used to train machines to perform a wide range tasks. The bot was trained by watching hours of Minecraft.

How they did it: The Minecraft AI learned to use complex sequences of keyboard and mouse clicks in order to complete tasks within the game. It’s the first bot that can craft so-called diamond tools, a task that typically takes good human players 20 minutes of high-speed clicking.

Why it is important: This breakthrough is for imitation learning, a technique in which neural networks learn how to perform tasks from watching humans. It can be used to teach AI how to drive cars, control robot arms, and navigate websites. Read the complete story .

–Will Douglas Heaven

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You can now use cells taken from deceased people to create new lives. But who decides?

Peter Zhu was just 19 years old when he died following a skiing accident. His donor card clearly indicated that he wanted to donate his organs. His parents wanted to collect his fertilized eggs.

His parents told a court they wanted to keep the chance of having children with Peter’s sperm. The court granted their wishes and Peter’s sperm were taken from his body and placed in a local bank. We have the technology to use sperm and eggs from deceased people to create embryos and eventually babies. There are millions of embryos and eggs, as well as even more sperm, that are stored and ready for use. Who gets to decide what happens to the cells after the person who gave them is gone, as Peter did. Read the full story.

–Jessica Hamzelou

This story comes from The Checkup, our weekly newsletter that gives you the inside scoop on all things biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

Read more of our fascinating reproductive technology stories:

Inside the race to create egg and sperm cells in the lab. This technique could solve infertility issues and allow more people have children who are genetically related to them. Read the full story.

Scientists have found a way to mature eggs from transgender men in the lab. This could allow them to start families without the need for IVF. Read the full story. How reproductive technology is changing the definition of parenthood. The advancements in reproductive technology could result in babies with four or more biological parents, requiring us to rethink parenthood. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 Elon Musk wants to reinstate banned Twitter accounts
It’s an incredibly dangerous decision with widespread repercussions. (WP $)
Recent departures have hit Twitter’s policy and safety divisions hard. (WSJ $)
It looks like Musk’s promise of no further layoffs was premature. (Insider $)
Meanwhile, Twitter Blue is still reportedly launching next week. (Reuters)
Imagine simply transferring your followers to another platform. (FT $)
Twitter’s potential collapse could wipe out vast records of recent human history. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Russia’s energy withdrawal could kill tens of thousands in Europe
High fuel costs could result in more deaths this winter than the war in Ukraine. (Economist $)
Higher gas prices will also hit Americans as the weather worsens. (Vox)
Ukraine’s invasion underscores Europe’s deep reliance on Russian fossil fuels. (MIT Technology Review)

3 FTX is unable to honor the grants it promised various organizations
Many of them are having to seek emergency funding to plug the gaps. (WSJ $)
Bahamians aren’t thrilled about what its collapse could mean for them. (WP $)

4 It’s a quieter Black Friday than usual
Shopping isn’t much of a priority right now. (Bloomberg $)
If you do decide to shop, make sure you don’t get scammed. (Wired $)

5 The UK is curbing its use of Chinese surveillance systems
But only on “sensitive” government sites. (FT $)
The world’s biggest surveillance company you’ve never heard of. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Long covid is still incredibly hard to treat
Its symptoms vary wildy, which can make it hard to track, too. (Undark)
A universal flu vaccine is looking promising. (New Scientist $)

7 San Francisco’s police is considering letting robots use deadly force
The force has 12 remotely piloted robots that could, in theory, kill someone. (The Verge)

8 Human hibernation could be the key to getting us to Mars
It could be the closest we can get to time travel. (Wired $)

9 Why TikTok is suddenly so obsessed with dabloons
It’s a form of choose-your-own-adventure fun. (The Guardian)

10 We can’t stop trying to reinvent mousetraps
There are thousands of versions out there, yet we keep coming up with new designs. (New Yorker $)

Quote of the day

“I get compared to a car crash or a train wreck a lot, where people can’t look away, which I enjoy hearing very much.”–Eli Betchik, one of TikTok’s most popular rage-bait chefs, explains their joy at concocting–and consuming–the most revolting recipes possible in front of a horrified audience to The Verge.

The big story

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

June 2022

In February, the city of Toronto announced plans for a new development along its waterfront. They read like a wish list for any passionate urbanist: 800 affordable apartments, a two-acre forest, a rooftop farm, a new arts venue focused on indigenous culture, and a pledge to be zero-carbon. The idea of an affordable, off the grid Eden in the heart the city sounds wonderful. But there was an entirely different urban utopia planned for the same 12-acre plot, known as Quayside, just a few years ago.

But controversy ensued almost from the moment the project, run by Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation arm of Alphabet, was announced in 2017. It struggled to build a neighborhood “from the internet up,” and the company pulled the plug in May 2020. Sidewalk’s top-down approach to Toronto’s civic culture did not work and it cost Sidewalk its vision of a smart city. Read the full story.

–Karrie Jacobs

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. Have any other ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me. )

This one’s for all of Duolingo’s victims across the world.
David Lynch is the master of musical suspense. Here’s just a couple of his best moments.
These fisherman sweaters, or jumpers, as we call them in the UK, look both beautiful and incredibly cozy.
Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chilli Crisp, a spicy chilli sauce and national Chinese treasure, sounds right up my street.
Happy-almost birthday to Flossie, who at 26 is officially the world’s oldest living cat!

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