The Download: Twitter may only last weeks, and Meta’s unforced AI error

The Download: Twitter may only last weeks, and Meta’s unforced AI error

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.

Former Twitter employees fear the platform might only last weeks

Recently-departed Twitter staff have told MIT Technology Review they worry that the platform has weeks to live based on current staffing levels, mass resignations overnight, and the morale of the few who remain.

The company’s former employees estimate that 75% of its remaining workers plan to quit after Elon Musk gave them an ultimatum of adopting “extremely hardcore” working practices or to accept three months severance, a widescale revolt which looks like it will leave Twitter sorely short of key staff in the days to come.

For those who managed to escape the madness earlier, whether through layoffs, or being fired for insubordination it’s a worrying development. They are concerned that the site is not being maintained technically and that Musk’s actions could signal the end for Twitter. Read more .

–Chris Stokel-Walker

Why Meta’s latest large language model only survived three days online

On 15 November Meta unveiled a new large language model called Galactica, intended to assist scientists. After three days of intense criticism, Galactica didn’t make the big splash Meta had hoped for. Instead, it died with a whimper. Yesterday, it pulled down the public demo it had invited everyone to try.

Meta’s misstep and hubris once again shows that big tech is blind to the serious limitations of large-language models. This includes its tendency to propagate prejudices and claim falsehoods as facts. However, Meta and other companies that work on large language models such as Google have failed to treat it seriously. Read full story .

–Will Douglas Heaven

Who’s responsible for climate change? Three charts explain

Leaders at the annual UN climate conference are still in the thick of negotiations, working to find a path forward to cut emissions, as well as to address climate impacts that are already occurring.

Central to these negotiations is a question: who is responsible for climate change? This is a complex issue, but our charts may help to illuminate some of these answers .

–Casey Crownhart

I found out my biological age–and was annoyed by the result

You’re only as old as you feel, or so they say. With biological clocks, you can now pinpoint your age. These tools analyze your blood proteins, chemical markers on DNA, and even the composition of your gut bacteria to predict your death probability. It’s a tempting idea.

Our senior biotech reporter Jessica Hamzelou was offered the opportunity to determine her biological age by a company. However, she discovered that a vegetarian diet and regular yoga haven’t reversed the clock as much as she had hoped. Read the full story.

Jessica’s story is from The Checkup, her weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things biotech and biomedicine. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

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

1 Elon Musk’s demands for loyalty triggered an exodus of Twitter workers
Hundreds of employees chose to quit instead of signing up to his vision of “hardcore Twitter.” (WP $)
The soccer World Cup will be a major stress test for what remains of the platform. (The Atlantic $)
Musk’s management style is high risk, low reward. (WSJ $)
He’s undermined Twitter’s integrity and safety, senators say. (FT $)
Here’s how you can find your feet on rival Mastodon. (Wired $)
Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks. (MIT Technology Review)

2 How covid bolstered antimicrobial resistance
It made an existing problem significantly worse. (Scientific American $)
The next pandemic is already here. Covid can show us how to combat it. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Big Tech’s glory days are numbered
Which leaves a whole lot of smart people with time on their hands. (Vox)
You could say the industry is having a midlife crisis. (The Atlantic $)
It’s not just about growth at any cost anymore. (Slate $)

4 The hunt for a non-opioid treatment for pain
Marrying safety and efficacy is hard to do, but scientists aren’t giving up. (Neo.Life)
Tens of millions of people in the US are living with chronic pain. (New Scientist $)

5 Taylor Swift’s impassioned fans are going after Ticketmaster
The site botched sales for her new tour, and furious fans want to break its monopoly. (Slate $)
Ticketmaster sold nearly all the tickets in siloed presales. (Motherboard)

6 US broadband is seriously awful
It’s expensive, slow, and contains loads of hidden charges. (The Verge)
Here’s a list of the worst offenders when it comes to raising your bills. (WP $)
Temperature rises are likely to spark more global internet outages. (CNET)

7 Don’t fall for the stories we tell about the internet
A healthy dose of critical thinking can cut through the spin. (The Atlantic $)

8 AI has a trust problem
Some experts believe that demonstrating how systems learn is the solution. (WSJ $)
AI-generated deepfakes could actually help protect privacy. (New Scientist $)
We need to design distrust into AI systems to make them safer. (MIT Technology Review)

9 China’s TikTok sellers want to entice western shoppers
They’re setting their sights firmly on the US market. (Rest of World)
China wants to control how its famous livestreamers act, speak, and even dress. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Silicon Valley loves an e-bike
It’s the coolest way to flex your eco-credentials these days. (The Information $)

Quote of the day

“Never in my career have I seen such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information. “

–John Ray, the new boss of collapsed crypto exchange FTX, doesn’t hold back in condemning the company’s former leadership in a recent court filing, the Guardian reports.

The big story

Behind the painstaking process of creating Chinese computer fonts

Bruce Rosenblum switched on his Apple II. A green grid appeared, 16 units wide and 16 units tall. This was “Gridmaster”, a program Bruce had created to create one of the first digital Chinese fonts. He was creating the font for an experimental computer that was one of the first computers to be able to read and write Chinese. He had many tasks ahead of him. At the time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were no personal computers being built in China. Rosenblum’s team was programming an Apple II to run in Chinese to create a “Chinese PC”. This required both an operating system program and a Chinese word processor.

Although the machine was not commercially released, the hard work that went into it was central to a global effort to solve a difficult engineering puzzle: How to make a computer capable of handling Chinese and, in the end, make the internet available to one-sixth the population. Read the full story.

–Tom Mullaney

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