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The Download: OpenAI’s wild year, and tech’s cult of personality

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.

Inside OpenAI’s wild year

Few companies can say they’ve had more of a rollercoaster year than OpenAI. At the beginning of 2023, the world’s hottest AI startup was riding high on the success of its ChatGPT chatbot. Now, it’s dusting itself off from an attempted coup which saw Sam Altman ousted and reinstated as the company’s CEO within a few short days.

Our AI experts have been following OpenAI’s every move throughout the year, often with exclusive access to the people building the revolutionary products and systems. Check out just some of the highlights from the past year—and what we think is coming next.

+ ChatGPT is everywhere. Here’s where it came from. While ChatGPT may have looked like an overnight sensation, it was actually built on decades of research.

+ Back in April, our senior AI editor Will Douglas Heaven had exclusive conversations with four OpenAI insiders to learn more about how they built the viral chatbot.

+ One of the year’s hottest topics was how ChatGPT was already changing education—from cutting corners for science homework, to writing entire theses. But some teachers believe that generative AI could actually make learning better. (Bonus: check out high school senior Rohan Mehta’s robust defense of ChatGPT in the classroom)

+ OpenAI’s hunger for data is coming back to bite it. The company’s AI services may be breaking data protection laws, and there is no resolution in sight. Read the full story.

+ Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist, was one of the key executives to turn against and try to overthrow CEO Sam Altman in the recent OpenAI revolt. When Will Douglas Heaven met him earlier this year, Sutskever told him about his new priority—figuring out how to stop an artificial superintelligence from going rogue. Read the full story.

+ What’s next for OpenAI. Read our timeline of how the recent drama unfolded, and what it means for the AI industry at large. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 X and OpenAI are cults of personality
While both companies claim to be reshaping the world, they each really answer to one man. (WP $)
+ We shouldn’t miss the chance to hold OpenAI accountable. (FT $)
+ Wall Street still sees an opportunity to make money, though. (Motherboard)
+ AI is a real capitalist’s game these days. (NYT $)

2 Pro-China foreign influencers are Beijing’s latest propaganda tool
Vloggers based in the US are doing the Chinese government’s job for them. (FT $)
+ China’s young workers are embracing the digital nomad dream. (Reuters)

3 No, AI isn’t human
It’s important to keep reminding ourselves that no matter how convincingly its systems mimic us, they aren’t rational beings. (Vox)
+ We’re living in the age of uncensored AI. (The Atlantic $)
+ AI just beat a human test for creativity. What does that even mean? (MIT Technology Review)

4 Australia doesn’t exist
That’s according to Microsoft’s Bing search results, fueled by conspiracy theories. (The Guardian)

5 India’s powerful influencers could sway its elections 
Marketing firms are racing to hire the social media personalities with the biggest followings. (Wired $)

6 Keep an eye on these retail bots this Black Friday
Some are a lot more helpful than others. (WSJ $)

7 Crypto pig butchering schemes are a billion-dollar industry 
But we still know next to nothing about the criminals orchestrating them. (Reuters)
+ Crypto’s biggest beasts are falling, one by one. (NY Mag $)
+ The involuntary criminals behind pig-butchering scams. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Social media these days is seriously depressing
Negative news doesn’t just affect us—it changes society, too. (Wired $)
+ It’s not just you—Zoom meetings really are exhausting. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ How to log off. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Your messy bedroom’s days are numbered
This laundry-grasping robot is ready to pick up the slack—and stinky socks. (New Scientist $)

10 It’s time to read Napoleon’s sprawling Wikipedia page
Because Ridley Scott, his latest biographer, certainly won’t have. (Slate $)
+ The new biopic is a surprising lol-fest. (The Atlantic $)

Quote of the day

“When Sam didn’t have a home, Microsoft gave him one without hesitation — and when the whole company didn’t have a home, Microsoft gave them one.”

—Barry Briggs, a former Microsoft executive, tells the Financial Times how Satya Nadella’s savvy handling of the OpenAI drama is likely to further cement the relationship between the two companies.

The big story

California’s coming offshore wind boom faces big engineering hurdles

December 2022

The state of California has an ambitious goal: building 25 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2045. That’s equivalent to nearly a third of the state’s total generating capacity today, or enough to power 25 million homes.

But the plans are facing a daunting geological challenge: the continental shelf drops steeply just a few miles off the California coast. They also face enormous engineering and regulatory obstacles. Read the full story.

—James Temple

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.)

+ I wish a tiny orchestra jogged after me playing the Rocky theme every time I go running.
+ What I wouldn’t give for a Mrs Doubtfire documentary.
+ Add some dramatic flair to your day with these suspense accents.
+ Take a relaxing vacation—from the comfort of your own home.
+ Here’s some smart ways to use up those Thanksgiving leftovers.



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