The Download: Neuralink updates, and GPT-3 fixes

The Download: Neuralink updates, and GPT-3 fixes

Elon Musk’s brain-computer-interface company Neuralink has announced that it will test a brain implant in human beings in six months.

Yesterday, Musk announced that the company was in the process to submit paperwork to the US Food and Drug Administration. This agency has the power to approve or reject the company’s application for clinical trials in humans.

When Musk launched Neuralink in 2017, he outlined plans for “a high-bandwidth, long-lasting, biocompatible, bidirectional” brain implant. Musk claimed that this brain modem could allow humans to keep up with artificial intelligence. After years of delays and experiments with monkeys, he now hopes to show that it can be safely implanted in humans.

Musk announced that the company is repurposing its implant for two additional parts of the body. The spinal cord to help paralysed people move again and an ocular implant which will restore vision to those with sight loss. He demonstrated the latter product by showing how a Neuralink implant stimulated a flash in a monkey’s mind.

Antonio Regalado was our senior biomedicine editor and correctly predicted that a vision device capable of creating images in an animal’s mind would be included in the company’s presentation. Read why that matters–and what, in theory, it could mean for humans.

While everyone waits for GPT-4, OpenAI is still fixing its predecessor

Buzz around GPT-4, the anticipated but as-yet-unannounced follow-up to OpenAI’s groundbreaking large language model, GPT-3, is growing by the week. OpenAI is still tweaking the previous version.

A demo of ChatGPT has been released by the San Francisco-based company. This new model is a spin-off from GPT-3 and is designed to answer questions via back-and forth dialogue. ChatGPT’s conversational format allows it to admit its mistakes and reject inappropriate requests. However, it is still far from perfect. Read the complete story .

–Will Douglas Heaven

In defense of plastic (sort of)

Plastics have a bad reputation, there’s no denying it. They are a public health, climate, and environmental disaster. They have also helped to reduce costs and saved lives through their use in medical equipment and electronics.

The question is: Where do we go from there? It is important to reduce the use of plastics, but also to find ways to recycle plastics more efficiently. Chemical recycling is one of the most promising options. If chemists succeed, it could allow us to deal with different plastics in one process. Read more .

Casey’s story is from The Spark, her weekly climate and energy newsletter. Sign up and receive it in your email every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

1 The European Central Bank thinks bitcoin is on its last gasp
It says the cryptocurrency is on “the road to irrelevance.” (The Guardian)
Sam Bankman-Fried has given another disastrous interview. (NYT $)
Unsurprisingly, he said his lawyers had advised him against speaking publicly. (Vox)
Times aren’t great for NFT artists right now. (New Yorker $)
It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Chinese protests could be the beginning of the end for zero covid
It is damaging the country’s economy, and much of the population has had enough. (Vox)
Xi Jinping has painted himself into a corner. (The Atlantic $)
Simply lifting the restrictions won’t magically return life to normal, though. (Wired $)

3 An American journalist is suing NSO Group
He and his colleagues allege they were surveilled using the company’s Pegasus spyware. (New Yorker $)
Password manager LastPass says some user data was exposed in a hack. (The Verge)
The war in Ukraine has shifted cybercriminals’ focus away from stealing money. (Economist $)
Google has blocked a Spanish hacking tool. (Wired $)
The hacking industry faces the end of an era. (MIT Technology Review)

4 San Francisco police can now deploy killer robots
They can kill someone in order to save the life of a civilian or an officer. (TechCrunch)
The policy could easily end up harming the city’s most vulnerable people. (Wired $)

5 Children are still dying from TikTok’s blackout challenge
Parents feel the platform’s not doing enough to prevent other minors from copying the videos. (Bloomberg $)

6 California wants to punish doctors who spread covid misinformation
But two legal challenges claim the new law is unconstitutional. (NYT $)

7 Gasoline consumption in the US barely fell last year
Despite more electric vehicles hitting the roads, gas use fell by just 0.54%. (Wired $)
Electric vehicle startups are struggling to survive. (The Information $)
Where are those superbatteries we were promised? (IEEE Spectrum)

8 A Singapore therapy chatbot has been accused of gaslighting
The government-backed bot is designed to help teachers, but seems to be doing anything but. (Rest of World)

9 Gen Z really doesn’t like Instagram
Its cringey pivot to video isn’t cutting through. (The Atlantic $)
Social networks in general are shrinking. (Slate $)

10 You can still poke someone on Facebook
Why not brighten up a friend’s day? (BuzzFeed News)

Quote of the day

“If you look at all the major competing platforms that have existed — iOS, Android, Windows — Apple stands out. It is the only platform where one company can decide which apps are installed on the device. It’s not sustainable or good .”


–Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg (no stranger to accusations of monopolistic behavior himself) joins Elon Musk in criticizing Apple’s power as a gatekeeper for apps in comments made at a New York Times conference.

The big story

Finding homes for the waste that will (probably) outlive humanity

October 2020

Since 2013, when regulators decided to shut California’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station down, teams of scientists, engineers, and policymakers have been hard at work to make sure it could be safely decommissioned. The big question is what to do about all the spent nuclear fuel. Its radioactive waste, which could outlast humanity, is being stored in storage holes along the seismically active California coast.

They are preparing for the next major earthquake, which is expected to strike within the next century. The consequences would be catastrophic if the nuclear waste were to escape. The fact that the problem exists at all shows how the US government has failed to fulfill its legal obligation to find a permanent home for America’s radioactive materials. Read the full story.

–Wudan Yan

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. )

How to maintain a healthy, nutritious diet when everything’s so expensive.
I’d be pretty happy with any one of these robot presents, to be honest.
While Christine McVie gave us so many amazing songs, Songbird may just be the best.
Leftovers aren’t just tasty–they’re literal works of art.
There’s a group of tens of thousands of manta rays just vibing off the coast of Ecuador.

Read More