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It’s a picture you may have seen before: a large white robot with a cute teddy bear face cradling a smiling woman in its arms. Images of Robear, a prototype lifting robot, have been reproduced endlessly. They still hold a prominent position in Google Image search results for “care robot.” The photos seem designed to evoke a sense of how far robots have come—and how we might be able to rely on them in the near future to help care for others. But devices such as Robear, which was developed in Japan in 2015, have yet to be normalized in care facilities or private homes. 

Why haven’t they taken off? The answer tells us something about the limitations of techno-solutionism and the urgent need to rethink our approach to care.

Japan has been developing robots to care for older people for over two decades, with public and private investment accelerating markedly in the 2010s. By 2018, the national government alone had spent well in excess of $300 million funding research and development for such devices. At first glance, the reason for racing to roboticize care may seem obvious. Almost any news article, presentation, or academic paper on the subject is prefaced by an array of anxiety-­inducing facts and figures about Japan’s aging population: birth rates are below replacement levels, the population has started to shrink, and though in 2000 there were about four working-age adults for every person over 65, by 2050 the two groups will be near parity. The number of older people requiring care is increasing rapidly, as is the cost of caring for them. At the same time, the already large shortage of care workers is expected to get much worse over the next decade. There’s little doubt that many people in Japan see robots as a way to fill in for these missing workers without paying higher wages or confronting difficult questions about importing cheap immigrant labor, which successive conservative Japanese governments have tried to curtail.

Care robots come in various shapes and sizes. Some are meant for physical care, including machines that can help lift older people if they’re unable to get up by themselves; assist with mobility and exercise; monitor their physical activity and detect falls; feed them; and help them take a bath or use the toilet. Others are aimed at engaging older people socially and emotionally in order to manage, reduce, and even prevent cognitive decline; they might also provide companionship and therapy for lonely older people, make those with dementia-related conditions easier for care staff to manage, and reduce the number of caregivers required for day-to-day care. These robots tend to be expensive to buy or lease, and so far most have been marketed toward residential care facilities.

A growing body of evidence is finding that robots tend to end up creating more work for caregivers.

In Japan, robots are often assumed to be a natural solution to the “problem” of elder care. The country has extensive expertise in industrial robotics and led the world for decades in humanoid-robot research. At the same time, many Japanese people seem—on the surface, at least—to welcome the idea of interacting with robots in everyday life. Commentators often point to supposed religious and cultural explanations for this apparent affinity—specifically, an animist worldview that encourages people to view robots as having some kind of spirit of their own, and the huge popularity of robot characters in manga and animation. Robotics companies and supportive policy makers have promoted the idea that care robots will relieve the burden on human care workers and become a major new export industry for Japanese manufacturers. The title of not one but two books (published in 2006 and 2011 and written by Nakayama Shin and Kishi Nobuhito, respectively) sums up this belief: Robots Will Save Japan.

Robear poised to lift a person during a press demonstration.
Japan is a pioneer in care automation. Well-known devices include this prototype lifting robot, Robear.

The reality, of course, is more complex, and the popularity of robots among Japanese people relies in

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By: James Wright
Title: Inside Japan’s long experiment in automating elder care
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/01/09/1065135/japan-automating-eldercare-robots/
Published Date: Mon, 09 Jan 2023 11:00:00 +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

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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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