The Download: YouTube’s deadly crafts, and DeepMind’s new chatbot
Ann Reardon are probably the last people whose content would be banned from YouTube. A former Australian youth worker and a mother of three, she’s been teaching millions of loyal subscribers how to bake since 2011. The removal email was about a video that Reardon did not make with sugar-paste.
Since 2018, Reardon has used her platform to warn viewers about dangerous new “craft hacks” that are sweeping YouTube, tackling unsafe activities such as poaching eggs in a microwave, bleaching strawberries, and using a Coke can and a flame to pop popcorn. The most dangerous is “fractal Wood Burning”, which involves using a high-voltage electric current to burn a twisting branch-like pattern in dampened wood. The practice has killed at least 33 people since 2016.
Reardon was caught up in inconsistent moderation policies that have plagued the platform for years. This exposed a flaw in the system: How could a warning about dangerous hacks be considered dangerous when the hack videos themselves don’t pose a threat? Read the complete story .
DeepMind’s new chatbot uses Google searches plus humans to give better answers
The news: The trick to making a good AI-powered chatbot might be to have humans tell it how to behave–and force the model to back up its claims using the internet, according to a new paper by Alphabet-owned AI lab DeepMind.
How it works: The chatbot, named Sparrow, is trained on DeepMind’s large language model Chinchilla. It is designed to answer questions and communicate with humans using a live Google search. It is then trained using a reinforcement-learning algorithm that learns through trial and error to achieve a particular objective. Read full story .
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I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 We still don’t know when the pandemic will be over
President Biden may have heralded its end, but there’s no denying covid is still a major issue. (The Atlantic $)
Japan is finally lifting its restrictions to tourists. (The Guardian)
Hong Kong has scrapped its hotel quarantine rules, too. (Bloomberg $)
Two inhaled covid vaccines have been approved–but we don’t know yet how good they are. (MIT Technology Review)
2 Russia’s internet regulator is now a fully-fledged intelligence agency
The county’s authorities use it to surveil and quash dissent at scale. (NYT $)
The horrifying reality of living under Russian occupation in Ukraine. (Economist $)
3 The “shameware” enabling churches to snoop on their congregations
In a bid to discourage individuals from watching porn or other “sinful” activities. (Wired $)
4 Amazon is hiring dangerous trucking contractors
More than 75 people have been killed in crashes since 2015. (WSJ $)
Amazon is desperately trying to crack India, without much success. (Rest of World)
5 How crypto rose, fell, rose again and fell again
It’s had a wild 13 years–but what’s next could be even more unpredictable. (WP $)
Coinbase has denied dabbling in proprietary trading. (WSJ $)
Crypto data center Compute North has filed for bankruptcy. (Bloomberg $)
It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)
6 Recycling dead EV batteries is the next great challenge
Mainly because reprocessing old cells is tricky, expensive and inefficient. (Knowable Magazine)
This startup wants to pack more energy into electric vehicle batteries. (MIT Technology Review)
7 It’s possible to make civilization extinction-proof
We need to lower the current existential risk first, though. (Vox)
9 Your oral microbiome could explain why your teeth are the way they are
Consumer tests make it easier to track your mouth health–but are they worth the money? (Neo.Life)
10 Why tech bros are getting into martial arts
Less silent retreat, more “put me in a chokehold.” (The Information $)
Quote of the day
“There will not be a hyperloop system constructed that will transport either goods or passengers — or I’ll eat a tractor.”
–Carlo van de Weijer, director of smart mobility at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, explains his misgivings about the promise of hyperloop transportation to the New York Times.
The big story
One man’s crusade to end a global scourge with better salt
When he was growing up, Venkatesh Mannar and his siblings treated the family saltworks as their playground. After several years in the United States, first studying and then working at salt producers that used giant mechanized harvesters, he returned to India in 1972 to run his business.
After helping to convince countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America to iodize salt to eliminate iodine deficiencies, which can cause learning difficulties as well as hypothyroidism, Mannar turned his attention towards iron, an element that many people aren’t getting enough of. Anemia is a condition that affects more than 1.6 billion people. It causes dizziness, poor maternal health and lower cognitive function.
Mannar made it a mission to end anemia using iron-enriched salt. It has been a technical challenge to add iron to salt that is already iodized. Getting manufacturers and the public to accept it is another. Mannar and his backers are hopeful that the effort will succeed, and they hope to add more essential minerals, making table salt one of the most powerful public health tools the globe has. Read the full story.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.