The Download: Google’s new AI agent, and our tech pessimism bias

What’s happening: Google is set to launch a new system called Astra later this year. It promises that it will be the most powerful, advanced type of AI assistant it’s ever launched. 

What’s an agent? The current generation of AI assistants, such as ChatGPT, can retrieve information and offer answers, but that is about it. But this year, Google is rebranding its assistants as more advanced “agents,” which it says could show reasoning, planning, and memory skills and are able to take multiple steps to execute tasks. 

The big picture: Tech companies are in the middle of a fierce competition over AI supremacy, and  AI agents are the latest effort from Big Tech firms to show they are pushing the frontier of development. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Technology is probably changing us for the worse—or so we always think

Do we use technology, or does it use us? Do our gadgets improve our lives or just make us weak, lazy, and dumb? These are old questions—maybe older than you think. You’re probably familiar with the way alarmed grown-ups through the decades have assailed the mind-rotting potential of search engines, video games, television, and radio—but those are just the recent examples.

Here at MIT Technology Review, writers have grappled with the effects, real or imagined, of tech on the human mind for over a century. But while we’ve always greeted new technologies with a mixture of fascination and fear, something interesting always happens. We get used to it. Read the full story.

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