The Download: GPT-4 is here, and metaverse marriages

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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.

GPT-4 is bigger and better than ChatGPT—but OpenAI won’t say why

OpenAI has finally unveiled GPT-4, a next-generation large language model that was rumored to be in development for much of last year. The company’s last surprise hit, ChatGPT, was always going to be a hard act to follow, but OpenAI has made GPT-4 even bigger and better.

Yet how much bigger and why it’s better, OpenAI won’t say. GPT-4 is the most secretive release the company has ever put out, marking its transition from nonprofit lab to for-profit tech firm.

What we do know is that GPT-4 is a multimodal large language model, which means it can respond to both text and images. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

These people just got married in the Taco Bell metaverse

Last month, Sheel Mohnot and Amruta Godbole got married. This was no ordinary wedding, though. It was hosted on Decentraland, a virtual platform, and sponsored by Taco Bell. 

Mohnot is a big fan of Taco Bell, so they entered a competition for the company to pay for the technical aspects of a virtual wedding—the avatars, the production, and more. They won. In return, it plastered its brand everywhere.

But why would people opt to have a metaverse wedding? And will these sorts of ceremonies—especially sponsored ones—stick around, or will they fade away if virtual reality doesn’t live up to the hype? Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu

China just set up a new bureau to mine data for economic growth

China’s annual, week-long parliamentary meeting ended on Monday. Among all the changes it announced, there’s one that the tech world is avidly watching: the creation of a new regulatory body named the National Data Administration.

The NDA will help build smart cities in China, digitize government services, improve internet infrastructure, and make government agencies share data with each other. 

It seems to be part of an ongoing effort by the Chinese government to drum up a “digital economy” around collecting, sharing, and trading data. But big questions remain, especially over how much authority it will have. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter covering tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 The AI hype train is showing no signs of slowing
The launch of GPT-4 has whipped the mania up to fever pitch. (WP $)
+ Morgan Stanley is among the companies already using GPT-4. (NYT $)
+ Fellow AI firm Anthropic launched its new chatbot Claude yesterday too. (The Verge)
+ Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)

2 SIlicon Valley is still too big to fail
But there’s no denying Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse has dealt start-up culture a major blow. (Economist $)
+ Social media panic only fueled the fire. (WSJ $)
+ Is techno-optimism to blame? (The Atlantic $)
+ The bank’s demise isn’t good news for the economy, either. (Bloomberg $)

3 Meta has let another 10,000 employees go
The company is canceling “lower priority projects.” (TechCrunch)
+ It sounds like Mark Zuckerberg is prioritizing AI over the metaverse. (Insider $)

4 Stadiums across the US are tracking your face
Privacy advocates worry that they’re not being clear enough about what they’re doing. (Slate $)
+ The two-year fight to stop Amazon from selling face recognition to the police. (MIT Technology Review)

5 New DNA tests can predict your likelihood of developing diseases 🧬
That isn’t always necessarily a good thing. (New Scientist $)
+ A massive microbiome study is throwing up new shared health risks. (Quanta)

6 We still don’t know how often children contract long covid
Three years into the pandemic, experts are still divided. (Undark Magazine
+ A battle is raging over long covid in children. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Laid off tech workers from overseas are scrambling for new jobs
The 60-day visa limit to find a new role just adds to their stress. (Rest of World)

8 A new satellite will monitor America’s air pollution
The constant data collection will give scientists almost round-the-clock insights. (Inverse)

9 How to fight back against the web’s neuromarketing
Thinking critically is the first step. (Wired $)

10 Samsung has been accused of faking Moon photos 🌕
Reddit sleuths are furious at how its cameras process images. (The Verge)

Quote of the day

“We’re in that phase of the market where it’s, like, let 1,000 flowers bloom.”

—Matt Turck, an AI investor, marvels at the sudden influx of money flooding into the sector to the New York Times.

The big story

Can Afghanistan’s underground “sneakernet” survive the Taliban?

November 2021

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, Mohammad Yasin had to make some difficult decisions very quickly. He began erasing some of the sensitive data on his computer and moving the rest onto two of his largest hard drives, which he then wrapped in a layer of plastic and buried underground.

Yasin is what is locally referred to as a “computer kar”: someone who sells digital content by hand in a country where a steady internet connection can be hard to come by, selling everything from movies, music, mobile applications, to iOS updates. And despite the dangers of Taliban rule, the country’s extensive “sneakernet” isn’t planning on shutting down. Read the full story.

—Ruchi Kumar

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.)

+ Pallas cats may look fearsome, but their habit of pressing their paws on top of their tails is too cute.
+ Unpopular opinion, but sharing plates really do need to die.
+ If you couldn’t get enough of the original Rocky IV, why not check out its Stallone-sanctioned director’s cut?
+ Doctors are swallowing Lego—and it’s all in the name of science.
+ Bees are just like us, they need mentors too! 🐝