The Download: Marseille’s surveillance fightback, and the endless AI sentience debate
Video cameras are now a common feature of urban life. Many cities in China have dense networks of video cameras, with London and New Delhi following suit.
Now France is trying to catch up. Since 2015, the year of the Bataclan terrorist attacks, the number of cameras in Paris has increased fourfold. These cameras have been used by the police to enforce pandemic lockdowns and monitor protests.
Concerns were raised across the country. Marseille, France’s second largest city, has resisted the surveillance rollout. Last year, President Emmanuel Macron announced that 500 more security cameras would be given to the city council and placed in an area of the city that is home to high numbers of immigrants.
This rebellious, boisterous Mediterranean town is located on the fault lines that run through modern France. It is well-known for its hip bars, artist studios and startup hubs. However, it is also known for drug, poverty, and criminal activities. It is not surprising that activists are fighting back against surveillance systems, highlighting its overreach, underperformance, and other concerns. But are they succeeding in their mission? Read more .
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 One of Google’s engineers thinks its AI is sentient
It’s almost definitely not–but that hasn’t stopped a new round of speculation and debate in the research community. (WP $)
Google’s vice president thinks the network is striding towards consciousness. (Economist $)
Machine consciousness is the debate that never goes away. (MIT Technology Review)
Text-to-image AI DALL-E struggled to draw a self-portrait. (Motherboard)
2 The rise and rise of digital twins
Experimenting with digital copies of everything from vital organs to planet Earth can help simulate disasters. (BBC)
How digital twins help weather the world’s supply chain nightmare. (MIT Technology Review)
3 We’re making the world too bright
And it’s harming our wildlife. (The Atlantic $)
5 Meta is investigating how Sheryl Sandberg used company resources
Mainly in relation to her own personal projects, including the promotion of her second book. (WSJ $)
6 A microchip that tests for more than 200 viruses could be on the horizon
Molecular electronics could accelerate drug discovery–if they work. (Neo.Life)
This startup wants to make electronics out of single molecules. (MIT Technology Review)
Doctor check-in software has been gathering user data for marketing. (WP $)
7 Even with a TV is turned off, some ads keep playing on streaming services
Which is a complete waste of money for advertisers. (WSJ $)
8 It’s tougher than ever to be a parent in America
But it’s worth remembering that children themselves are still incredibly resilient. (Vox)
9 Facebook groups are being used to couple up young Pakistanis
After the country banned more conventional dating apps, including Tinder. (Rest of World)
There’s a growing backlash against the apps around the world. (The Guardian)
10 Like it or not, we’re all influencers now
And the endless effort to appease the algorithm is making us anxious. (Real Life)
Quote of the day
“It took me hours to understand what it was, why I was weeping. I realized that I was in grief. I was grieving for the end of the Earth. “
–William Shatner, Star Trek actor, was deeply moved by the sight of Earth from space during his trip to orbit last year, he tells CNN.
The big story
AI’s Language Problem
Around halfway through a highly competitive game of Go in Seoul, South Korea between Lee Sedol (one of the greatest players of all time) and AlphaGo (an artificial intelligence created by Google), the AI program made an unnerving move that gave it an edge over its human opponent.
On move 37, AlphaGo chose to put a black stone in what seemed, at first, like a ridiculous position. It seemed certain to give up substantial territory, a rookie mistake in a game that’s all about controlling the board space. Two television commentators wondered if they misread the move or if something had gone wrong with the machine. Contrary to popular belief, the Google program had won the game using a move no human would have thought of.
AlphaGo’s win was especially impressive, as the ancient game of Go is often viewed as a test for intuition and it’s extremely difficult to play well. Read the full story.
We can still have nice things
Having trouble remembering the songs played by your favorite artist at the last concert? This handy website crowdsources setlists.
In a thoroughly British bit of news: this couple has collected more than 8,000 teapots.
This architectural project in Iceland is jaw dropping – although I bet that pool is freezing.
Would you believe you could outrun an horse? This man did–over a grueling 22.5-mile race.
The Kardashians’ cream of wheat recipe is…groundbreaking.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.