The Download: Chatbots could one day replace search engines. Here’s why that’s a terrible idea.

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.

Chatbots could one day replace search engines. Here are some reasons why this is a terrible idea.

Large AI models can imitate natural language with astonishing realism. They are able to absorb vast amounts information, thanks to their extensive training in hundreds of books and the internet. There is growing excitement in tech that computers might eventually replace search engines. It could be as simple as asking a computer a question, and it would return a concise answer. The trouble is, language models are mindless mimics. They don’t understand what they’re saying and can’t reason about the meaning of their words. Some researchers are concerned that chatbots could make it harder to think critically about search results. Chatbot search engines can mask complexity behind a veneer that is not appropriate. Experts fear that this could lead to more misinformation, and more polarized discussion. Read the complete story .

–Will Douglas Heaven

Why using the oceans to suck up CO2 might not be as easy as hoped

The world’s oceans are amazing carbon sponges, capturing a quarter of human-produced carbon dioxide when surface waters react with the greenhouse gas in the air or marine organisms gobble it up as they grow. Some start-ups and research groups want to accelerate this natural process by adding minerals to the oceans to lock up more carbon and slow climate change. This idea has received a lot of attention and investment.

However, recent studies have shown that some of these methods may not be as effective.

That’s disappointing news, because the world may need to suck up an additional 10 billion tons of carbon annually by midcentury to limit warming to 2 @C, according to a recent report. Read the entire story.

–James Temple

The must-reads

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

1 The BA.2 omicron subvariant is now dominant in the US
It’s even more contagious than its predecessor–but hasn’t caused more severe illness. (NYT $)
Covid’s ability to adapt and spread is remarkable. (NYT $)
BA.2 has swept across southeast Asia, Africa and Europe, too. (The Hill)
Americans aged 50 and older are eligible for a second booster. (CNN)

2 How Britain’s worst cyberstalker evaded justice for over a decade
And inflicted misery on at least 62 women in the process. (The Guardian)

3 Tactical nuclear weapons would not help Putin win the war
But fears are growing that he will use them anyway. (WP $)
Cutting Russian civilians’ tech access will help end the war, says a Ukrainian government minister. (WP $)
Ukraine fears Russia could sabotage nuclear plants from the inside. (IEEE Spectrum)
Russia’s telecom regulator wants to fine YouTube up to 8 million rubles. (WP $)
A game had to pull its chat function because players kept arguing about the war. (Motherboard)

4 The EU’s new tech legislation looks unworkable
It doesn’t look like there’s a way to force messaging apps to be interoperable without compromising security. (Wired $)
But the legislation could help to avoid disinformation and hate speech in the metaverse. (FT $)

5 Toddlers are being left to scroll TikTok
Eeek. (The Guardian)
Meanwhile, adults overestimate their abilities to spot fake social media profiles. (BBC)

6 Apple may have won an Oscar, but does it really matter?
And crucially, is the amount of money it’s sinking into streaming sustainable? (NYT $)
At last, Apple has stopped repairing iPhones marked as missing. (MacRumors)

7 French Polynesia has created its own e-retail network to rival Amazon
Local couriers have flourished where commerce giants dare not tread. (Rest of World)

8 Pluto’s huge ice volcanoes suggest it’s warmer than we thought
That’s the conclusion of a new study analyzing data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which flew past in 2015. (New Scientist $)

9 Photo models can now sign away their biometric data
The information will be used to train third party AI and ML systems. (Motherboard)
Canada’s biometrics screening process is delaying settling Ukrainians. (CBA)

10 AI conquered chess and Go–now it’s coming for Bridge
Can it cheat, though? (The Guardian)
Did you know gifs were around for eight years before they could loop? (Slate)

Quote of the day

“De-escalation is a euphemism for retreat. “

Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of War Studies at King’s College London, tells the New York Times that Russia is trying to re-frame its heavy losses in Ukraine.

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