Happy Tuesday and Happy February.
Hopefully you're all doing well out there and that the year has started off on a good note.
As has become almost customary the past few months, a lot of the stories we've gathered from the web to share with you have to do with AI. There's just no denying it, AI is going to continue to dominate our headlines this year in unprecedented and bizarro ways. In this issue, which has not been written using ChatGPT, we're going to dive into the following headline stories:
- 🧠 Davos "Battle for Your Brain" presentation shows a dystopian near future
- 🤖 AI was used to imitate human evolution and got better results than reality
- 🦹 Job boards on the dark web offering competitive pay, PTO, and more
Let's get into it!
📰 From the Newsroom
🧠 Davos "Battle for Your Brain" presentation shows a dystopian near future
The World Economic Forum recently wrapped up their annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, and while a lot was discussed, there was one particular presentation by Nita Farahany, a Duke University futurist, that really stood out. It was titled "The Battle for Your Brain" and began with an eerie ~2.5 minute cartoon. In the cartoon, a narrator gives an overview of what life might be like in the not-so-distant future, where we'll be able to interact with our devices with simply the power of our thoughts. However, the video quickly turns dystopian, when those same thoughts are shown to be monitored by the cartoon character's employer, who then shares that data with law enforcement.
- Companies are testing technology that can use wearable devices to pick up EEG signals and decode a person's emotional state, concentration levels, and even bank card PIN.
- As more people track their brainwaves, the data sets get larger, making more of what is in the brain transparent.
- In her presentation, Farahany wanted to raise awareness of the consequences and potential exploitation of this technology, and also for the protection of cognitive liberties, freedom of thoughts, and mental privacy.
If you'd prefer to watch the presentation, or even just check out the eerie cartoon segment part of it, you can do so here. The cartoon starts at 0:40 and ends at 3:17, which is when Nita comes on for her presentation.
🤖 AI was used to imitate human evolution and got better results than reality
Salesforce is a well-known SaaS and is typically associated with the CRM (customer relationship management) space, but now it's making big news in an unexpected place - at the crossroads of AI and biology. Salesforce Research has developed an AI powered system called ProGen that can create artificial enzymes from scratch, using language processing to learn about biology. The system takes amino acid sequences and turns them into proteins and has already outpaced the work of at least one Nobel Prize-winning biologist.
- ProGen was made using language processing - yes, like the kind used to make ChatGPT - and learned the rules and structure of proteins by looking at a large amount of data. It generated one million protein sequences, of which five were tested in cells, and two were found to be just as good as natural enzymes in breaking down bacteria.
- Besides breaking down bacteria, it has been able to create new proteins that are capable of various things, such as breaking down plastic in landfills.
- The code for ProGen is available on Github for anyone to use or contribute to.
The implications of this technology are far-reaching, and could potentially make large positive impacts in various ways. New medicines is the most obvious example that stands out, but other areas, including food production and environmental protection, also come to mind.
🦹 Job boards on the dark web offering competitive pay, PTO, and more
Remember back in issue 135 when we brought you the story about the cost of goods on the dark web? Well, those goods aren't just listing themselves on the dark web. There are actual humans doing it, and for many of those humans, working on the dark web is a full time job. Somewhat surprisingly - or not, depending on how you think about it - working for dark web employers is not as different as you might initially think.
- The appeal of easy money and large financial gain are common reasons why individuals seek employment on the dark web. Many candidates are drawn to the freedom offered, with no office, dress code, or restrictions on schedule.
- From Jan 2020 to June 2022, roughly 200,000 employment-related ads were posted on 155 dark web forums. Cybercrime communities used the same methods for recruiting new employees as legitimate companies, and job ads they posted often resembled those published on regular job boards. The most in-demand professionals were developers, followed by attackers, and then designers.
- Some ads boasted annual salaries as high as $1.2 million for skilled hackers, while others offered benefit packages that included paid time off, raises, bonuses, and referral bonuses. Interestingly enough, many of the jobs had strong requirements against drug and alcohol abuse. It makes sense, but how this was enforced is unclear, given the remote, anonymous nature of the work.
Besides the fact that a lot of the work is illegal - which is obviously not something to just brush aside - it's still fascinating to see the parallels that the dark web job boards have with the normal job market. It's actually probably more similar than it is different, but of course the aspects that make it different are rightfully and justifiably non-negotiables for most people.
⛓️ Ten Must See Links of the Month
- Precision Neuroscience has developed the Layer 7 Cortical Interface, a type of revolutionary brain implant. Its name is a reference to the brain’s six biological layers, with the device becoming the seventh - hence "layer 7". It will allow paralyzed people to manage digital equipment using nothing more than the power of their thoughts.
- Scientists have discovered a plant toxin whose unique method of dispatching bacteria could be used to create a powerful new range of antibiotics.
- Translated, a Rome-based translation company, has been tracking AI’s ability to translate speech at the accuracy of a human. From 2014 to 2022, after analyzing over 2 billion post-edits, Translated’s AI has gradually closed the gap with human-level translation quality. Does this mean we're on the verge of reaching "singularity"?
- DARPA, the U.S. Pentagon's R&D wing, recently announced the next steps of a program to create an aircraft designed to fly entirely on control surfaces that lack the moving parts that airplanes typically use to maneuver. If successful, it would redefine flight technology.
- China’s search engine behemoth, Baidu, is aiming to launch its own ChatGPT-style application native to Baidu’s Google-esque search engine. March is the anticipated release month.
- Global crime gangs are using UK shell companies in lucrative “pig butchering” crypto scams. The term “pig butchering” comes from the Chinese sha zhu pan and refers to the process of slowly fattening a pig for slaughter.
- In newly reported research, scientists demonstrated that a single administration of the BPIFB4 gene, which shows up frequently in centenarians, halted the decay of heart function in middle-aged mice. Even more remarkably, when given to elderly mice, the gene reversed the heart’s biological clock age by the human equivalent of more than ten years.
- In order to build moderation tools into its AI systems, OpenAI apparently paid people in Kenya less than $2 USD per hour to look at the most disturbing content imaginable - material reportedly so disturbing that OpenAI's outside moderation contractor, Sama, is scheduled to end its contract with OpenAI eight months earlier than scheduled.
- WordPress aficionados have been gradually shifting away from third party page builders and embracing the native WordPress (Gutenberg) Block Editor to build their sites. In a nod to the direction WordPress development is heading, the community itself has been developing more block-based themes - here are 10 of the best ones.
- Knowing the full range of CSS selector types available when writing modern CSS today is crucial to using CSS to the fullest. In this complete guide to CSS selector types, you'll find a selector toolset that you can comfortably use in all your production sites, along with some useful code snippets.
🎤 It’s How They Said It
"Oooooh nooooo, people used my thingy for things I don’t like. I need money now!!!!." - One of the many upset ElevenLabs users on Twitter voicing displeasure at the company's decision to roll out a paywall in response to its free tier being misused.
🧮 The numbers game
- 350.5 million is how many registered domain names there are on the internet. The number of domain names has grown by 13.2 million or 3.9% since last year.
- $1,000 USD is how much a man spent in cloud computing credits to build himself a virtual "wife" using a combination of ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion 2. He eventually "euthanized" his virtual companion because he said that his real-life girlfriend made him do it.
- Less than 1 second is how long it would take a hacker to crack the 3 most commonly used passwords on the internet, based on research done across 30 countries. And the most commonly used password in 2022 was..."password"...with "123456" coming in a distant second place.
⚒️ Tools and Resources
All Things AI is a neatly organized resource page that lists every AI powered tool available on the web. You can browse tools by all sorts of categories, ranging from the more well-known chatbots and image generators, to more niche ones used for things like biology and presentations.
Alright, that wraps up another bizarro issue filled with stories and fun facts. If you have any interesting links to share, please send them my way. All you need to do is reply to this email, and they'll land in my inbox. Maybe they'll even wind up in next month's issue!
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Have a great month,