The Download: inside the US defense tech aid package, and how AI is improving vegan cheese

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.

Here’s the defense tech at the center of US aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan

After weeks of drawn-out congressional debate over how much the United States should spend on conflicts abroad, President Joe Biden signed a $95 billion aid package into law last week.

The bill will send a significant quantity of supplies to Ukraine and Israel, while also supporting Taiwan with submarine technology to aid its defenses against China. It’s also sparked renewed calls for stronger crackdowns on Iranian-produced drones. 

James O’Donnell, our AI reporter, spoke to Andrew Metrick, a fellow with the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank, to discuss how the spending bill provides a window into US strategies around four key defense technologies with the power to reshape how today’s major conflicts are being fought. Read the full story.

This piece is part of MIT Technology Review Explains: a series delving into the complex, messy world of technology to help you understand what’s coming next. You can read more from the series here.

Hear more about how AI intersects with hardware

Hear first-hand from James in our latest subscribers-only Rountables session, as he walks news editor Charlotte Jee through the latest goings-on in his beat, from rapid advances in robotics to autonomous military drones, wearable devices, and tools for AI-powered surgeries Register now to join the discussion tomorrow at 11:30am ET.

Check out some more of James’ reporting:

This creamy vegan cheese was made with AI

Most vegan cheese falls into an edible uncanny valley full of discomforting not-quite-right versions of the real thing. But machine learning is ushering in a new age of completely vegan cheese that’s much closer in taste and texture to traditional fromage.

Several startups are using AI to design plant-based foods including cheese, training algorithms on datasets of ingredients with desirable traits like flavor, scent, or stretchability. Then they use AI to comb troves of data to develop new combinations of those ingredients that perform similarly. But not everyone in the industry is bullish about AI-assisted ingredient discovery. Read the full story.

—Andrew Rosenblum

The must-reads

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

1 Tesla has struck a deal to bring its self-driving tech to China 

It’ll use mapping and navigation functions from native self-driving car company Baidu. (WSJ $)

+ Tesla is facing at least eight legal cases over the tech in the next year. (WP $)

+ It’s also struggling with a major union issue in Sweden. (Bloomberg $)

+ Baidu’s self-driving cars have been on Beijing’s streets for years. (MIT Technology Review)

 2 OpenAI will train its models on a paywalled British newspaper’s articles

ChatGPT will include links to Financial Times articles in its future responses. (FT $)

+ We could run out of data to train AI language programs. (MIT Technology Review)

3 This summer could be our hottest yet

Extreme weather events are likely to be on the horizon across the globe. (Vox)

+ One of the biggest untapped resources of renewable energy? Tidal power. (Undark Magazine)

+ Here’s how much heat your body can take. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The UK institute that helped popularize effective altruism has shut down

The controversial philosophies it championed are extremely divisive. (The Guardian)

+ Inside effective altruism, where the far future counts a lot more than the present. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Human soldiers aren’t sure how to feel about their robot counterparts

Some teams get attached to their bots. Others hate them. (IEEE Spectrum)

+ Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The US and China are locked in a race to build ultrafast submarines

But China’s claims that it’s made a laser breakthrough may be overblown. (Insider $)

7 Recruiters are fighting an influx of AI job applications

Tech roles are few and far between, and generative AI is making it easier to mass-apply for what’s available. (Wired $)

+ African universities aren’t preparing graduates for work in the age of AI. (Rest of World)

8 This firm uses a robotic arm to chisel marble sculptures

But it still needs a helping hand from humans. (Bloomberg $)

9 Our email accounts are modern day diaries

It’s an instantly-searchable record of our lives. (NY Mag $)

10 TikTok has fallen in love with Super 8 cameras 🎥

Even though they’re prohibitively expensive. (WSJ $)

+ Gen Z is ditching smartphones in favor of simpler devices. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“I have little in common with people who take cold plunges and want to live forever.”

Ethan Mollick, a business school professor at the University of Pennsylvania who advises major companies and policymakers about AI, insists he is far from the Silicon Valley tech bro stereotype to the Wall Street Journal.

The big story

How big science failed to unlock the mysteries of the human brain

August 2021

In September 2011, Columbia University neurobiologist Rafael Yuste and Harvard geneticist George Church made a not-so-modest proposal: to map the activity of the entire human brain.

That knowledge could be harnessed to treat brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, depression, and traumatic brain injury, and help answer one of the great questions of science: How does the brain bring about consciousness?

A decade on, the US project has wound down, and the EU project faces its deadline to build a digital brain. So have we begun to unwrap the secrets of the human brain? Or have we spent a decade and billions of dollars chasing a vision that remains as elusive as ever? Read the full story.

—Emily Mullin

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ I hope Fat Albert the polar bear is doing well.

+ Classic novels can’t please everyone—even if they’re classics for a reason.

+ Turns out we may have been mishearing Neil Armstrong’s famous first words as he set foot on the moon.

+ Hang onto those DVDs, you never know when Netflix is going to fail you. 📀

Read More

Rhiannon Williams