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This story first appeared in China Report, MIT Technology Review’s newsletter about technology developments in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

This year, car buyers in China are constantly bombarded with claims about how advanced Navigation on Autopilot (NOA) systems are coming to their city. These software systems are not quite fully autonomous driving—your hands are still supposed to be holding the wheel—but they let cars stop, steer, and accelerate in the city by themselves.

Both EV makers and AI startups have published aggressive roadmaps for national rollouts of their city NOA services, claiming their customers in dozens or hundreds of Chinese cities will soon be able to experience being driven by their cars through narrow city streets.

This morning, I published a story that took a closer look at how city NOAs have become the industry darling in 2023, including how they actually perform and the difficulty in educating drivers on using the system responsibly. You can read all of it here.

But during my interview with Zhang Xiang, a Chinese auto industry analyst and visiting professor at Huanghe Science and Technology College, one comment stuck out to me. “The auto industry is very competitive now. Consumers are expecting those vehicles to be tech products, like smartphones. It’d be hard for auto brands to sell their cars if they didn’t advertise their products this way,” he said.

Zhang’s observation is consistent with what I saw this year, particularly when I went to the massive auto show this April in Shanghai. Not only was everyone boasting about their brand’s autonomous driving capabilities, but companies were also showcasing all kinds of other advanced software features.

For example, SenseTime, an AI company, uses facial recognition tech to monitor driver fatigue and also to identify children left in the car; SAIC Volkswagen is using augmented reality to display map information on the windshield; Baidu is incorporating its generative AI model in the in-car audio chatbot for route planning.

NIO, one of the frontrunner companies in China’s homegrown EV industry, has embraced the subscription model. By paying 380 RMB ($52) a month, NIO owners can get the basic version of an NOA system in their cars, which works on highways and major urban roads. In the future, they will be able to pay double the amount for a more advanced version. Meanwhile, as batteries make up the majority of the costs and upkeep of an EV model, NIO also launched a monthly battery-swap service in China and a monthly battery-rental subscription in Europe.

All of these examples show that we are increasingly seeing auto companies turn into tech companies. Beyond horsepower and exterior/interior design, companies are now also competing on who can adapt the latest technology into a consumer-facing product. Globally, this trend is spearheaded by Tesla, with traditional auto brands slowly playing catch-up. But that transition is happening even faster in China.

Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a business consulting firm that specializes in transportation, breaks down the ongoing auto industry evolution into four phases: electrification, smartification, servicification, and autonomization. (While the first two are easy to understand, the third phase means the auto companies’ business models revolve around selling services, and the fourth phase means the proliferation of robotaxis.)

As I wrote earlier this year, China has managed to achieve a significant lead with the development and adoption of EVs, through a mix of different factors like government subsidies and battery tech innovations. That enables the Chinese auto industry to hop on the next phase earlier than everyone else. “The United States and Europe are in phase one, electrification; China is in phase two, smartification,” Tu says.

The third phase is not far away, he believes. “Once more and more EVs on Chinese roads have ADAS [advanced driver-assistance systems]—the free systems and the premium systems—then we will get to servicification. Then they will start adding more features and trying to charge you,” he says.

Chinese car companies aren’t just becoming tech companies, Chinese tech companies are also turning into car companies. Autonomous driving tech is one of Baidu’s main focuses now that it has transitioned from a search engine to an AI company. Xiaomi, one of China’s smartphone giants, has spent nearly a billion dollars on becoming an EV company. Even Huawei, forced by US sanctions to reinvent itself, is now targeting smart cars as its next strategic focus.

With these tech juggernauts joining the race, Chinese car companies are being forced to up their tech game to have a chance of competing.

At the end of the day, is that a good thing? I’m not sure. The heated competition is pushing

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: China’s car companies are turning into tech companies
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/08/16/1077942/chinas-car-companies-turn-tech/
Published Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2023 10:00:00 +0000

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How Antarctica’s history of isolation is ending—thanks to Starlink

Mawson and sledge Adelie Land Antarctica 1912 scaled

“This is one of the least visited places on planet Earth and I got to open the door,” Matty Jordan, a construction specialist at New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica, wrote in the caption to the video he posted to Instagram and TikTok in October 2023.

In the video, he guides viewers through an empty, echoing hut, pointing out where the men of Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 expedition lived and worked—the socks still hung up to dry and the provisions still stacked neatly in place, preserved by the cold.

Jordan, who started making TikToks to keep family and friends up to date with his life in Antarctica, has now found himself at the center of a phenomenon. His channels have over a million followers. The video of Shackleton’s hut alone has racked up millions of views from all over the world. It’s also kind of a miracle: until very recently, those who lived and worked on Antarctic bases had no hope of communicating so readily with the outside world.

Antarctica has long been a world apart. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when dedicated expeditions began, explorers were cut off from home for years at a time, reliant on ships sailing back and forth from civilization to carry physical mail. They were utterly alone, the only humans for thousands of miles.

This made things difficult, emotionally and physically. With only the supplies they had on hand, explorers were limited in the scientific experiments they could conduct. They couldn’t send an SOS if they needed help (which was fairly often). And also—importantly, because many relied on publicity for funding—they couldn’t let the world know what was going on.

In 1911, an Australian expedition led by Douglas Mawson was the first to take an antenna to the continent and attempt to transmit and receive wireless signals. But while Mawson was able to send a few messages during the team’s first season, he never received any back, so he didn’t know if his had been successful.

The winds at their base at Cape Denison, on the Antarctic coast directly south of Australia, raged at 70 kilometers an hour—every day, every night, for months on end. They finally succeeded in raising the mast during their second winter, only to be faced with a different problem: their radio operator was unable to work, having suffered psychosis during the six months of darkness. So the expedition was left isolated again.

While Antarctic telecommunications have been steadily improving ever since the first permanent bases were established, many decades after Mawson’s ill-fated trip, life on the ice has always been characterized by some level of disconnection. And as life at home has become ever more dependent on constant connection, instant updates, streaming, and algorithms, living in Antarctica has been seen as a break—for better and for worse—from all the digital hustle-bustle.

But the end of that long-standing disparity is now in sight. Starlink, the satellite constellation developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX to service the world with high-speed broadband internet, has come to Antarctica, finally bringing with it the sort of connectivity enjoyed by the world beyond the ice.

Mawson and sledge Adelie
Douglas Mawson and his team had difficulty
raising a radio antenna during the expedition
they embarked on in 1911.
 a ticker tape parade for Admiral Byrd returning from Antartica in New York CityRead More

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By: Allegra Rosenberg
Title: How Antarctica’s history of isolation is ending—thanks to Starlink
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/26/1088144/antarctica-starlink-elon-musk-satellite-internet/
Published Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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Trump wants to unravel Biden’s landmark climate law. Here is what’s most at risk.

GettyImages 1853587512 crop scaled

President Joe Biden’s crowning legislative achievement was enacting the Inflation Reduction Act, easily the nation’s largest investment into addressing the rising dangers of climate change.

Yet Donald Trump’s advisors and associates have clearly indicated that dismantling the landmark law would sit at the top of the Republican front-runner’s to-do list should he win the presidential election. If he succeeds, it could stall the nation’s shift to cleaner industries and stunt efforts to cut the greenhouse-gas pollution warming the planet.

The IRA unleashes at least hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for renewable energy sources, electric vehicles, batteries, heat pumps, and more. It is the “backbone” of the Biden administration’s plan to meet the nation’s commitments under the Paris climate agreement, putting the US on track to cut emissions by as much as 42% from 2005 levels by the end of this decade, according to the Rhodium Group, a research firm. 

But the sprawling federal policy package marks the “biggest defeat” conservatives have suffered during Biden’s tenure, according to Myron Ebell, who led the Environmental Protection Agency transition team during Trump’s administration. And repealing the law has become an obsession among many conservatives, including the authors of the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, widely seen as a far-right road map for the early days of a second Trump administration.

The IRA’s tax credits for EVs and clean power projects appear especially vulnerable, climate policy experts say. Losing those provisions alone could reshape the nation’s emissions trajectory, potentially adding back hundreds of millions of metric tons of climate pollution this decade.

Moreover, Trump’s wide-ranging pledges to weaken international institutions, inflame global trade wars, and throw open the nation’s resources to fossil-fuel extraction could have compounding effects on any changes to the IRA, potentially undermining economic growth, the broader investment climate, and prospects for emerging green industries.

Farewell to EV tax credits

The IRA leverages government funds to accelerate the energy transition through a combination of direct grants and tax credits, which allow companies or individuals to cut their federal obligations in exchange for buying, installing, investing in, or producing cleaner power and products. It is enacted law, not a federal agency regulation or executive order, which means that any substantial changes would need to be achieved through Congress.

But the tax cuts for individuals pushed through during Trump’s time in office are set to expire next year. If he wins a second term, legislators seeking to extend those cuts could crack up the tax code and excise key components of the IRA, particularly if Republicans retain control of the House and pick up seats in the Senate. Eliminating any of those tax credits could help offset the added cost of restoring those Trump-era benefits.

Numerous policy observers believe that the pair of EV tax credits in the IRA, which together lop $7,500 off the cost of electric cars and trucks, would be one of the top targets. Subsidizing the cost of EVs polls terribly among Republicans, and throughout the primaries, most of the party’s candidates for president have fiercely attacked government support for the vehicles—none more than Trump himself. 

Close up of former President Trump pointing directly at camera while speaking at a campaign event in Iowa
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Iowa.SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

On the campaign trail, he has repeatedly, erroneously referred to the policy as a mandate rather than a subsidy, while geographically tailoring the critique to his audience.

At a December rally in Iowa, the nation’s biggest corn producer, he pledged to cancel “Crooked Joe Biden’s insane, ethanol-killing electric-vehicle mandate on day one.”

And in the battleground state of Michigan in September, he pandered to the fears of autoworkers.

“Crooked Joe is siding

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By: James Temple
Title: Trump wants to unravel Biden’s landmark climate law. Here is what’s most at risk.
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/26/1088921/trump-wants-to-unravel-bidens-landmark-climate-law-here-is-whats-most-at-risk/
Published Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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The Download: Trump’s potential climate impact, and the end of cheap helium

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.

Trump wants to unravel Biden’s landmark climate law. Here is what’s most at risk.

President Joe Biden’s crowning legislative achievement was enacting the Inflation Reduction Act, easily the nation’s largest investment into addressing the rising dangers of climate change.

Yet Donald Trump’s advisors and associates have clearly indicated that dismantling the landmark law would sit at the top of the Republican front-runner’s to-do list should he win the presidential election.

If he succeeds, it could stall the nation’s shift to cleaner industries and stunt efforts to cut the greenhouse-gas pollution warming the planet. The IRA’s tax credits for EVs and clean power projects appear especially vulnerable. But lots of other provisions could also come under attack. Read the full story.

—James Temple

The era of cheap helium is over—and that’s already causing problems

Helium is excellent at conducting heat. And at temperatures close to absolute zero, at which most other materials would freeze solid, helium remains a liquid. That makes it a perfect refrigerant for anything that must be kept very cold.

Liquid helium is therefore essential to any technology that uses superconducting magnets, including MRI scanners and some fusion reactors. Helium also cools particle accelerators, quantum computers, and the infrared detectors on the James Webb Space Telescope.

“It’s a critical element for the future,” says Richard Clarke, a UK-based helium resources consultant. However, it’s also played a critical role throughout the history of technology development, while remaining in tight supply.

As part of MIT Technology Review’s 125th anniversary series, we looked back at our coverage of how helium became such an important resource, and considered how demand might change in the future. Read the full story.

—Amy Nordrum

How Antarctica’s history of isolation is ending—thanks to Starlink

“This is one of the least visited places on planet Earth and I got to open the door,” Matty Jordan, a construction specialist at New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica, wrote in the caption to the video he posted to Instagram and TikTok in October 2023.

In the video, he guides viewers through the hut, pointing out where the men of Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 expedition lived and worked.

The video has racked up millions of views from all over the world. It’s also kind of a miracle: until very recently, those who lived and worked on Antarctic bases had no hope of communicating so readily with the outside world.

That’s starting to change, thanks to Starlink, the satellite constellation developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX to service the world with high-speed broadband internet. Read the full story.

—Allegra Rosenberg

Wikimedia’s CTO: In the age of AI, human contributors still matter

Selena Deckelmann is the chief product and technology officer at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that hosts and manages Wikipedia.

There she not only guides one of the most turned-to sources of information in the world but serves a vast community of “Wikipedians,” the hundreds of thousands of real-life individuals who spend their free time writing, editing, and discussing entries—in more than 300 languages—to make Wikipedia what it is today.

It is undeniable that technological advances and cultural shifts have transformed our online universe over the years—especially with the recent surge in AI-generated content—but Deckelmann still isn’t afraid of people on the internet. She believes they are its future. Read the full story.

—Rebecca Ackermann

The two stories above are from the next issue of MIT Technology Review, all about hidden worlds. It’s set to go live on Wednesday—subscribe now to get your copy!

The must-reads

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

1 The Supreme Court will decide whether states can control social media
It’ll start hearing arguments today about whether laws aimed at controlling online platforms in Texas and Florida are constitutional. (WP $)
Here’s what you need to know. (NYT $)
Texas’s law is dangerous. Striking it down could be even worse. (The Atlantic $)

2 Celebrities are being ‘deepfaked’ for adverts
AI-generated videos have them endorsing and promoting things they’ve never even heard of. (BBC)
These companies show why the next AI wave won’t revolve around chatbots. (Fast Company)

3 Inside TikTok’s live money-making machine
Live streaming can be hugely lucrative—for both the creator and TikTok

Read More

————

By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: Trump’s potential climate impact, and the end of cheap helium
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/26/1088958/climate-impact-trump-cheap-helium/
Published Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2024 13:12:00 +0000

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