Plus: Prison inmates are using VR to learn basic life skills
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.
Introducing: The Education issue
—Mat Honan, editor in chief
Welcome to the Education Issue, our latest print magazine. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we’re in an entirely new place when it comes to the use of AI in education, and it is far from clear what that is going to mean. The world has changed, and there’s no going back.
Technologies like ChatGPT, OpenAI’s massively mind-blowing generative AI software, will have all sorts of genuinely useful and transformative applications in the classroom. Yes, they will almost certainly also be used for cheating. But banishing these kinds of technologies from the classroom, rather than trying to harness them, is shortsighted.
These were just some of the things on our minds when we started putting together the latest print issue of MIT Technology Review: looking to the future of education and the role technology will play in shaping it.
Here’s just a selection of the great stories you can look forward to reading:
+ Why the narrative around students using ChatGPT to cheat on their assignments doesn’t tell the whole story.
+ What it’s like to write a history of keyboards— from typewriters to iPhones.
+ How AI is being used to help further our analysis and understanding of centuries-old texts, transforming humanities research in the process.
+ Why simply learning to code isn’t enough to thrive in the digital economy.
+ A high school senior’s perspective on why banning ChatGPT from the classroom would do more harm than good.
+ Inside the challenges of teaching kids who flip between books and screens.
+ Why teachers in Denmark are using apps to audit their students’ moods.
Read the full magazine, and if you haven’t already, take advantage of our limited offer to subscribe from just $60 a year.
Inmates are using VR to learn real-world skills
Atorrus Rainer, 41, is standing in the center of a stuffy room wearing a virtual-reality headset. Every so often, he extends his arm, using the VR controller to pick up garbage bags, a toothbrush, and toilet paper during a simulated trip to the supermarket.
The self-checkout station overwhelms him: those didn’t exist in 2001, when Rainer, then a teenager, was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. His first experience with one is this virtual interaction taking place inside Fremont Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison about two hours south of Denver.
Rainer is practicing in the hopes of stepping into a real store in the near future thanks to a program that teaches certain prisoners basic life skills. But is VR the long-missing piece in an unwieldy puzzle of resources and programs meant to help reverse reoffending statistics?
Or is it yet another experiment that will fail to adequately prepare incarcerated individuals for life beyond lockup? Read the full story, also from our latest print issue.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Japan’s lunar lander appears to have crashed
The private company behind the launch has lost contact with the spacecraft. (CNN)
+ Its engineers are working to find out where it all went wrong. (Ars Technica)
+ The US is concerned about its rivals’ firepower in space. (WP $)
2 Sudan is at risk of becoming a biohazard
Fighters have captured a biolab containing dangerous pathogens—and the WHO is worried. (Motherboard)
3 Apple is getting into the AI health game
In a bid to keep users motivated to keep exercising. (Bloomberg $)
+ Hugging Face has released an open source alternative to ChatGPT. (TechCrunch)
+ OpenAI is giving web users the chance to opt out of training ChatGPT. (Axios)+ ChatGPT has a distinctive tone that feels extremely familiar. (The Atlantic $)
4 The pressure is mounting on Binance
The crypto exchange is a canary down the mine for the rest of the embattled industry. (NYT $)
+ Binance has walked away from a $1 billion acquisition deal. (FT $)
5 GM is axing its Chevy Bolt EV
Electric cars are out, electric trucks are in. (The Verge)
+ EVs just got a big boost. We’re going to need a lot more chargers. (MIT Technology Review)
6 Inside the race to protect Earth’s most precious ice
Scientists are concerned that interfering could cause more harm than good. (New Yorker $)
7 There are more effective alternatives to weight loss drugs
But Ozempic’s relative accessibility is what’s grabbing people’s attention. (The Atlantic $)
8 China’s metaverse is a fun-free zone
Its virtual spaces are all work and no play. (Wired $)
+ Inside the cozy but creepy world of VR sleep rooms. (MIT Technology Review)
9 Here come the momfluencers
The perfect-seeming lives they’re peddling often make their fellow mothers feel worse about themselves. (Vox)
+ Performing motherhood so publicly can be exhausting. (Wired $)
+ Chore apps were meant to make mothers’ lives easier. They often don’t. (MIT Technology Review)
10 Harrison Ford is being given the de-aging treatment
The fifth installment of Indiana Jones is the latest blockbuster to trot out AI to make a star appear younger. (Engadget)
Quote of the day
“It is sad that several of you are not understanding the potential of AI and open AI and as a consequence have decided to fight it.”
—Romain Beaumont, the creator of a tool that scrapes the internet for images to train AI image generators, takes issue with website owners who want to opt out, Motherboard reports.
The big story
What happens when your prescription drug becomes the center of covid misinformation
By the time Joe Rogan mentioned ivermectin as one ingredient in an experimental cocktail he was taking to treat his covid infection, the drug was a meme. In the days and weeks leading up to the hugely popular podcaster’s revelation, the drug had already become a flashpoint in the covid culture wars.
But Ivermectin isn’t some new or experimental drug: in addition to its use as an anti-parasite treatment for livestock, it’s commonly employed in humans to treat a form of rosacea, among other things. So for those of us who have been using it for years, its sudden infamy was unexpected and unwelcome. Read the full story.
We can still have nice things
A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)
+ This fun website generates a random airport from somewhere in the world every time you visit (thanks Stefan and Craig!)
+ AI does a passable job imitating the one and only Oasis.
+ I’ve got nothing but respect for these TV fans in India going above and beyond to watch Succession.
+ Venus has 85,000 known volcanoes—and now they’re all mapped out.
+ Who doesn’t love finding out the origin of an iconic sample?