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Hydropower is a staple of clean energy—the modern version has been around for over a century, and it’s one of the world’s largest sources of renewable electricity.

But last year, weather conditions caused hydropower to fall short in a major way, with generation dropping by a record amount. In fact, the decrease was significant enough to have a measurable effect on global emissions. Total energy-related emissions rose by about 1.1% in 2023, and a shortfall of hydroelectric power accounts for 40% of that rise, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

Between year-to-year weather variability and climate change, there could be rocky times ahead for hydropower. Here’s what we can expect from the power source and what it might mean for climate goals.

Drying up

Hydroelectric power plants use moving water to generate electricity. The majority of plants today use dams to hold back water, creating reservoirs. Operators can allow water to flow through the power plant as needed, creating an energy source that can be turned on and off on demand.

This dispatchability is a godsend for the grid, especially because some renewables, like wind and solar, aren’t quite so easy to control. (If anyone figures out how to send more sunshine my way, please let me know—I could use more of it.)

But while most hydroelectric plants do have some level of dispatchability, the power source is still reliant on the weather, since rain and snow are generally what fills up reservoirs. That’s been a problem for the past few years, when many regions around the world have faced major droughts.

The world actually added about 20 gigawatts of hydropower capacity in 2023, but because of weather conditions, the amount of electricity generated from hydropower fell overall.

The shortfall was especially bad in China, with generation falling by 4.9% there. North America also faced droughts that contributed to hydro’s troubles, partly because El Niño brought warmer and drier conditions. Europe was one of the few places where conditions improved in 2023—mostly because 2022 was an even worse year for drought on the continent.

As hydroelectric plants fell short, fossil fuels like coal and natural gas stepped in to fill the gap, contributing to a rise in global emissions. In total, changes in hydropower output had more of an effect on global emissions than the post-pandemic aviation industry’s growth from 2022 to 2023.

trickle

Some of the changes in the weather that caused falling hydropower output last year can be chalked up to expected yearly variation. But in a changing climate, a question looms: Is hydropower in trouble?

The effects of climate change on rainfall patterns can be complicated and not entirely clear. But there are a few key mechanisms by which hydropower is likely to be affected, as one 2022 review paper outlined: 

Rising temperatures will mean more droughts, since warmer air sucks up more moisture, causing rivers, soil, and plants to dry out more quickly. Winters will generally be warmer, meaning less snowpack and ice, which often fills up reservoirs in the early spring in places like the western US. There’s going to be more variability in precipitation, with periods of more extreme rainfall that can cause flooding (meaning water isn’t stored neatly in reservoirs for later use in a power plant).

What all this will mean for electricity generation depends on the region of the world in question. One global study from 2021 found that around half of countries with hydropower capacity could expect to see a 20% reduction in generation once per decade. Another report focused on China found that in more extreme emissions scenarios, nearly a quarter of power plants in the country could see that level of reduced generation consistently. 

It’s not likely that hydropower will slow to a mere trickle, even during dry years. But the grid of the future will need to be prepared for variations in the weather. Having a wide range of electricity sources and tying them together with transmission infrastructure over wide geographic areas will help keep the grid robust and ready for our changing climate.

Related reading

Droughts across the western US have been cutting into hydropower for years. Here’s how changing weather could affect climate goals in California.

While adaptation can help people avoid the worst impacts of climate change, there’s a limit to how much adapting can really help, as I found when I traveled to El Paso, Texas, famously called the “drought-proof city.”

Drought is creating new challenges for herders, who have to handle a litany of threats to their animals and way of life.

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By: Casey Crownhart
Title: Emissions hit a record high in 2023. Blame hydropower.
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/03/07/1089585/hydropower-trouble-droughts/
Published Date: Thu, 07 Mar 2024 11:00:00 +0000

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Open-sourcing generative AI

Smith forwebh

The views expressed in this video are those of the speakers, and do not represent any endorsement or sponsorship.

Is the open-source approach, which has democratized access to software, ensured transparency, and improved security for decades, now poised to have a similar impact on AI? We dissect the balance between collaboration and control, legal ramifications, ethical considerations, and innovation barriers as the AI industry seeks to democratize the development of large language models.

Explore more from Booz Allen Hamilton on the future of AI

bout the speakers

Smith forwebh 1

lison Smith, Director of Generative AI, Booz Allen Hamilton

Alison Smith is a Director of Generative AI at Booz Allen Hamilton where she helps clients address their missions with innovative solutions. Leading Booz Allen’s investments in Generative AI and grounding them in real business needs, Alison employs a pragmatic approach to designing, implementing, and deploying Generative AI that blends existing tools with additional customization. She is also responsible for disseminating best practices and key solutions throughout the firm to ensure that all teams are up-to-date on the latest available tools, solutions, and approaches to common client problems.

In addition to her role at Booz Allen which balances technical solutions and business growth, Alison also enjoys staying connected to and serving her local community. From 2017-2021, Alison served on the board of a non-profit, DC Open Government Coalition (DCOGC), a group that seeks to enhance public access to government information and ensure transparent government operations; in November 2021, Alison was recognized as a Power Woman in Code by DCFemTech.

Alison has an MBA from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a BA from Middlebury College.

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By: Elana Wilner
Title: Open-sourcing generative AI
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/04/09/1087440/open-sourcing-generative-ai/
Published Date: Tue, 09 Apr 2024 18:35:09 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/is-robotics-about-to-have-its-own-chatgpt-moment/

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Is robotics about to have its own ChatGPT moment?

henry evans P0005882 scaled

Silent. Rigid. Clumsy.

Henry and Jane Evans are used to awkward houseguests. For more than a decade, the couple, who live in Los Altos Hills, California, have hosted a slew of robots in their home.

In 2002, at age 40, Henry had a massive stroke, which left him with quadriplegia and an inability to speak. Since then, he’s learned how to communicate by moving his eyes over a letter board, but he is highly reliant on caregivers and his wife, Jane.

Henry got a glimmer of a different kind of life when he saw Charlie Kemp on CNN in 2010. Kemp, a robotics professor at Georgia Tech, was on TV talking about PR2, a robot developed by the company Willow Garage. PR2 was a massive two-armed machine on wheels that looked like a crude metal butler. Kemp was demonstrating how the robot worked, and talking about his research on how health-care robots could help people. He showed how the PR2 robot could hand some medicine to the television host.

“All of a sudden, Henry turns to me and says, ‘Why can’t that robot be an extension of my body?’ And I said, ‘Why not?’” Jane says.

There was a solid reason why not. While engineers have made great progress in getting robots to work in tightly controlled environments like labs and factories, the home has proved difficult to design for. Out in the real, messy world, furniture and floor plans differ wildly; children and pets can jump in a robot’s way; and clothes that need folding come in different shapes, colors, and sizes. Managing such unpredictable settings and varied conditions has been beyond the capabilities of even the most advanced robot prototypes.

That seems to finally be changing, in large part thanks to artificial intelligence. For decades, roboticists have more or less focused on controlling robots’ “bodies”—their arms, legs, levers, wheels, and the like—via purpose-­driven software. But a new generation of scientists and inventors believes that the previously missing ingredient of AI can give robots the ability to learn new skills and adapt to new environments faster than ever before. This new approach, just maybe, can finally bring robots out of the factory and into our homes.

Progress won’t happen overnight, though, as the Evanses know far too well from their many years of using various robot prototypes.

PR2 was the first robot they brought in, and it opened entirely new skills for Henry. It would hold a beard shaver and Henry would move his face against it, allowing him to shave and scratch an itch by himself for the first time in a decade. But at 450 pounds (200 kilograms) or so and $400,000, the robot was difficult to have around. “It could easily take out a wall in your house,” Jane says. “I wasn’t a big fan.”

More recently, the Evanses have been testing out a smaller robot called Stretch, which Kemp developed through his startup Hello Robot. The first iteration launched during the pandemic with a much more reasonable price tag of around $18,000.

Stretch weighs about 50 pounds. It has a small mobile base, a stick with a camera dangling off it, and an adjustable arm featuring a gripper with suction cups at the ends. It can be controlled with a console controller. Henry controls Stretch using a laptop, with a tool that that tracks his head movements to move a cursor around. He is able to move his thumb and index finger enough to click a computer mouse. Last summer, Stretch was with the couple for more than a month, and Henry says it gave him a whole new level of autonomy. “It was practical, and I could see using it every day,” he says.

a robot arm holds a brush over the head of Henry Evans which rests on a pillow
Henry Evans used the Stretch robot to brush his hair, eat, and even
play with his granddaughter.PETER ADAMS

Using his laptop, he could get the robot to brush his hair and have it hold fruit kebabs for him to snack on. It also opened up Henry’s relationship with his granddaughter Teddie. Before, they barely interacted. “She didn’t hug him at all goodbye. Nothing like

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By: Melissa Heikkilä
Title: Is robotics about to have its own ChatGPT moment?
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/04/11/1090718/household-robots-ai-data-robotics/
Published Date: Thu, 11 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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https://mansbrand.com/a-brief-weird-history-of-brainwashing/

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A brief, weird history of brainwashing

Liang Qichao portrait jpg

On an early spring day in 1959, Edward Hunter testified before a US Senate subcommittee investigating “the effect of Red China Communes on the United States.” It was the kind of opportunity he relished. A war correspondent who had spent considerable time in Asia, Hunter had achieved brief media stardom in 1951 after his book Brain-Washing in Red China introduced a new concept to the American public: a supposedly scientific system for changing people’s minds, even making them love things they once hated.

But Hunter wasn’t just a reporter, objectively chronicling conditions in China. As he told the assembled senators, he was also an anticommunist activist who served as a propagandist for the OSS, or Office of Strategic Services—something that was considered normal and patriotic at the time. His reporting blurred the line between fact and political mythology.

portrait of Liang Qichao
Chinese reformists like Liang Qichao used the term xinao—a play on an older word, xixin, or “washing the heart”—in an attempt to bring ideas from Western science into Chinese philosophyWIKIMEDIA COMMONS

When a senator asked about Hunter’s work for the OSS, the operative boasted that he was the first to “discover the technique of mind-attack” in mainland China, the first to use the word “brainwashing” in writing in any language, and “the first, except for the Chinese, to use the word in speech in any language.”

None of this was true. Other operatives associated with the OSS had used the word in reports before Hunter published articles about it. More important, as the University of Hong Kong legal scholar Ryan Mitchell has pointed out, the Chinese word Hunter used at the hearing—xinao (), translated as “wash brain”—has a long history going back to scientifically minded Chinese philosophers of the late 19th century, who used it to mean something more akin to enlightenment.

Yet Hunter’s sensational tales still became an important part of the disinformation and pseudoscience that fueled a “mind-control race” during the Cold War, much like the space race. Inspired by new studies on brain function, the US military and intelligence communities prepared themselves for a psychic war with the Soviet Union and China by spending millions of dollars on research into manipulating the human brain. But while the science never exactly panned out, residual beliefs fostered by this bizarre conflict continue to play a role in ideological and scientific debates to this day.

Coercive persuasion and pseudoscience

Ironically, “brainwashing” was not a widely used term among communists in China. The word xinao, Mitchell told me in an email, is actually a play on an older word, xixin, or washing the heart, which alludes to a Confucian and Buddhist ideal of self-awareness. In the late 1800s, Chinese reformists such as Liang Qichao began using xinao—replacing the character for “heart” with “brain”—in part because they were trying to modernize Chinese philosophy. “They were eager to receive and internalize as much as they could of Western science in general, and discourse about the brain as the seat of consciousness was just one aspect of that set of imported ideas,” Mitchell said.

For Liang and his circle, brainwashing wasn’t some kind of mind-wiping process. “It was a sort of notion of epistemic virtue,” Mitchell said, “or a personal duty to make oneself modern in order to behave properly in the modern world.”

Meanwhile, scientists outside China were investigating “brainwashing” in the sense we usually think of, with experiments into mind clearing and reprogramming. Some of the earliest research into the possibility began in the 1890s, when Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist who had famously conditioned dogs to drool at the sound of a bell, worked on Soviet-funded projects to investigate how trauma could change animal behavior. He found that even the most well-conditioned dogs would forget their training after intensely stressful experiences such as nearly drowning, especially when those were combined with sleep deprivation and isolation. It seemed that Pavlov had hit upon a quick way to wipe animals’ memories. Scientists on both sides of the Iron Curtain subsequently wondered whether it might work on humans. And once memories were wiped, they wondered, could something else be installed their place?

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By: Annalee Newitz
Title: A brief, weird history of brainwashing
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/04/12/1090726/brainwashing-mind-control-history-operation-midnight-climax/
Published Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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