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The blistering heat waves that set temperature records across much of the US in recent days have strained electricity systems, threatening to knock out power in vulnerable regions of the country. 

The electricity has largely stayed online so far this summer, but there have been scattered problems and close calls already. 

Heavy use of energy-sucking air-conditioners is the biggest problem. But intense heat can also reduce the output of power plants, blow transformers, and force power lines to sag. Severe droughts across large parts of the country have also significantly reduced the availability of hydroelectric power, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). 

It’s unlikely to get better soon. A number of grid operators may struggle to meet peak summer demand, creating the risk of rolling blackouts, the NERC report notes.

The nation’s isolated and antiquated grids are in desperate need of upgrades to keep the lights, heat, and air-conditioning on in the midst of extreme weather events that climate change is making more common, severe, and dangerous. One clear way to ease many of these issues is to more tightly integrate the country’s regional grids, stitching them together with more long-range transmission lines. 

If electricity generated in one area can be more easily shared across much wider regions, power can simply flow to where it’s needed at those moments when customers crank up air-conditioners en masse, or when power plants or fuel supply lines fail amid soaring temperatures, wildfires, hurricanes, or other events, says Liza Reed, a research manager focused on transmission at the Niskanen Center, a Washington, DC, think tank.  

The problem is it’s proved difficult to build more long-range transmission and grid interconnections for a variety of reasons, including the permitting challenges of erecting wires through private and public lands across cities, counties, and states and the reluctance of local authorities to forfeit control or submit to greater federal oversight.

The case of Texas

The unreliability of the US grid is not a new problem. Severe heat and winter storms have repeatedly exposed the frailty of electricity systems in recent years, leaving thousands to millions of people without power as temperatures spiked or plunged.

One of the fundamental challenges is that the grids today are highly fragmented. There are three main electricity networks within the US: the Eastern Grid, the Western Grid, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). But there are numerous regional transmission organizations within those first two systems, including the California Independent System Operator, Southwest Power Pool, PJM Interconnection, New York ISO, and more. 

These grids form a complex web of networks operating under different regulators, rules and market structures, and often with limited connections between them.

Map USA grid
A variety of regional transmission organizations oversee different parts of the nation’s aging and fragmented grids, which operate under different rules and with often limited connections between them.
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ERCOT is especially isolated, in part because of the desire among local politicians, citizens, and power companies to avoid added competition, the hassle of following other states’ rules, and oversight from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). But the state offers a case study in why that can be a serious problem amid increasingly harsh climate conditions, Reed says.

The Texas grid operator pleaded with customers several times earlier this month to cut electricity use as blistering summer temperatures created  demand surges that threatened to outstrip supply and require rolling blackouts.  Low wind conditions, cloud cover, and outages at fossil-fuel power plants added to the strains.

Shutting off the electricity needed to run air-conditioning in triple-digit temperatures

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By: James Temple
Title: Stitching together the grid will save lives as extreme weather worsens
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/07/28/1056483/stitching-together-the-grid-will-save-lives-as-extreme-weather-worsens/
Published Date: Thu, 28 Jul 2022 08:00:00 +0000

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Tech

Algorithms are everywhere

cover.filterworld jpg

Like a lot of Netflix subscribers, I find that my personal feed tends to be hit or miss. Usually more miss. The movies and shows the algorithms recommend often seem less predicated on my viewing history and ratings, and more geared toward promoting whatever’s newly available. Still, when a superhero movie starring one of the world’s most famous actresses appeared in my “Top Picks” list, I dutifully did what 78 million other households did and clicked.

As I watched the movie, something dawned on me: recommendation algorithms like the ones Netflix pioneered weren’t just serving me what they thought I’d like—they were also shaping what gets made. And not in a good way.

cover of Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture by Kyle Chayka
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The movie in question wasn’t bad, necessarily. The acting was serviceable, and it had high production values and a discernible plot (at least for a superhero movie). What struck me, though, was a vague sense of déjà vu—as if I’d watched this movie before, even though I hadn’t. When it ended, I promptly forgot all about it.

That is, until I started reading Kyle Chayka’s recent book, Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture. A staff writer for the New Yorker, Chayka is an astute observer of the ways the internet and social media affect culture. “Filterworld” is his coinage for “the vast, interlocking … network of algorithms” that influence both our daily lives and the “way culture is distributed and consumed.”

Music, film, the visual arts, literature, fashion, journalism, food—Chayka argues that algorithmic recommendations have fundamentally altered all these cultural products, not just influencing what gets seen or ignored but creating a kind of self-reinforcing blandness we are all contending with now.

That superhero movie I watched is a prime example. Despite my general ambivalence toward the genre, Netflix’s algorithm placed the film at the very top of my feed, where I was far more likely to click on it. And click I did. That “choice” was then recorded by the algorithms, which probably surmised that I liked the movie and then recommended it to even more viewers. Watch, wince, repeat.

“Filterworld culture is ultimately homogenous,” writes Chayka, “marked by a pervasive sense of sameness even when its artifacts aren’t literally the same.” We may all see different things in our feeds, he says, but they are increasingly the same kind of different. Through these milquetoast feedback loops, what’s popular becomes more popular, what’s obscure quickly disappears, and the lowest-­common-denominator forms of entertainment inevitably rise to the top again and again.

This is actually the opposite of the personalization Netflix promises, Chayka notes. Algorithmic recommendations reduce taste—traditionally, a nuanced and evolving opinion we form about aesthetic and artistic matters—into a few easily quantifiable data points. That oversimplification subsequently forces the creators of movies, books, and music to adapt to the logic and pressures of the algorithmic system. Go viral or die. Engage. Appeal to as many people as possible. Be popular.

A joke posted on X by a Google engineer sums up the problem: “A machine learning algorithm walks into a bar. The bartender asks, ‘What’ll you have?’ The algorithm says, ‘What’s everyone else having?’” “In algorithmic culture, the right choice is always what the majority of other people have already chosen,” writes Chayka.

One challenge for someone writing a book like Filterworld—or really any book dealing with matters of cultural import—is the danger of (intentionally or not) coming across as a would-be arbiter of taste or, worse, an outright snob. As one might ask, what’s wrong with a little mindless entertainment? (Many asked just that in response to Martin Scorsese’s controversial Harper’s essay  in 2021, which decried Marvel movies and the current state of cinema.) 

Chayka addresses these questions head on. He argues that we’ve really only traded one set of gatekeepers (magazine editors, radio DJs, museum curators) for another (Google, Facebook, TikTok, Spotify). Created and controlled by a handful of unfathomably rich and powerful companies (which are usually led by a rich and powerful white man), today’s algorithms don’t even attempt to reward or

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By: Bryan Gardiner
Title: Algorithms are everywhere
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/27/1088164/algorithms-book-reviews-kyle-chayka-chris-wiggins-matthew-l-jones-josh-simons/
Published Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2024 10:15:00 +0000

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China’s next cultural export could be TikTok-style short soap operas

1031708703501 .pic hd scaled

Until last year, Ty Coker, a 28-year-old voice actor who lives in Missouri, mostly voiced video games and animations. But in December, they got a casting call for their first shot at live-action content: a Chinese series called Adored by the CEO, which was being remade for an American audience. Coker was hired to dub one of the main characters.

But you won’t find Adored by the CEO on TV or Netflix. Instead, it’s on FlexTV, a Chinese app filled with short dramas like this one. The shows on FlexTV are shot for phone screens, cut into about 90 two-minute episodes, and optimized for today’s extremely short attention span. Coker calls it “soap operas for the TikTok age.”

In the past few years, these short dramas have become hugely popular in China. They often span nearly a hundred episodes, but since each episode is only one or two minutes long, the whole series is no longer than a traditional movie. The most successful domestic productions make tens of millions of dollars in a few days. The entire market of short dramas in China was worth over $5 billion in 2023.

This success has motivated a few companies to try replicating the business model outside China. Not only is FlexTV translating and dubbing shows already released in China, but it has also started filming shows in the US for a more authentically American viewing experience.

It’s easy to compare apps like these to Quibi, a high-profile video service that infamously failed after less than a year in 2020.

But these latest Chinese apps are different. They don’t aim for slick, expensive productions. Instead, they choose simple scripts, shoot an entire series in two weeks, market it heavily online, and move on to the next project if it doesn’t stick.

“The biggest difference between short dramas and films is that they provide different things. We have to analyze the psychological needs of our audience and understand what they want to see … and we try to provide some emotional values,” Xiangchen Gao, the chief operations officer of FlexTV, tells MIT Technology Review.

When a show finds the right audience, it can generate significant revenue in the US too. The top-grossing show on FlexTV can bring in $2 million a week, while the production costs less than $150,000, Wang says.

Several other apps, like ReelShort and DramaBox, are also racing to bring Chinese short dramas to an international audience. They frequently top app stores’ download charts and produce blockbuster shows. Short dramas have been proven to work in China. It’s not always easy to replicate a business model in a different market, but if they succeed, they could be China’s next big cultural export.

The roots in Chinese web novels

Short dramas like Adored by the CEO are often adapted from another cultural product that is distinctly Chinese: web novels.

Web novels are a unique form of literature that has been popular on the Chinese internet for much of the last two decades: long stories that are written and posted chapter by chapter every day. Each chapter can be read in less than 10 minutes, but installments will keep being added for months if not years. Readers become avid fans, waiting for the new chapter to come out every day and paying a few cents to access it.

While some talented Chinese book authors got their big break by writing web novels, the majority of these works are the popcorn of literature, offering daily bite-size dopamine hits. For a while in the 2010s, some found an audience overseas too, with Chinese companies setting up websites to translate web novels into English.

But in the age of TikTok, long text posts have become less popular online, and the web-novel industry is looking to pivot. Business executives have realized they can adapt these novels into super-short dramas. Both forms aim for the same market: people who want something quick to kill time in their commute, or during breaks and lunch.

Many of the leading Chinese short-drama apps today work closely with Chinese web-novel companies. ReelShort is partially owned by COL Group, one of the largest digital publishers in China, with a treasure trove of novels that are ready for adaptation.

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: China’s next cultural export could be TikTok-style short soap operas
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/27/1088980/chinese-short-drama-tiktok-flextv/
Published Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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The Download: tiny TikTok-style soap operas, and how algorithms change us

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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.

China’s next cultural export could be TikTok-style short soap operas

Until last year, Ty Coker, a 28-year-old voice actor who lives in Missouri, mostly voiced video games and animations. But in December, they got a casting call for their first shot at live-action content: a Chinese series called Adored by the CEO, which was being remade for an American audience. Coker was hired to dub one of the main characters.

But you won’t find Adored by the CEO on TV or Netflix. Instead, it’s on FlexTV, a Chinese app filled with short dramas like this one. The shows on FlexTV are shot for phone screens, cut into about 90 two-minute episodes, and optimized for today’s extremely short attention span. Coker calls it “soap operas for the TikTok age.”

In the past few years, these short dramas have become hugely popular in China, and the most successful domestic productions make tens of millions of dollars in a few days. This success has motivated a few companies to replicate the business model outside China. If they succeed, they could be China’s next big cultural export. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

How Wi-Fi sensing became usable tech 

Wi-Fi sensing is a tantalizing concept: that the same routers bringing you the internet could also detect your movements. But, as a way to monitor health, it’s mostly been eclipsed by other technologies, like ultra-wideband radar.

Despite that, Wi-Fi sensing hasn’t gone away. Instead, it has quietly become available in millions of homes, supported by leading internet service providers, smart-home companies, and chip manufacturers.

Wi-Fi’s ubiquity continues to make it an attractive platform to build upon, especially as networks continually become more robust. Soon, thanks to better algorithms and more standardized chip designs, it could be invisibly monitoring our day-to-day movements for all sorts of surprising—and sometimes alarming—purposes. Read the full story.

—Meg Duff

Ubiquitous algorithms are shaping culture

Music, film, the visual arts, literature, fashion, journalism, food—algorithmic recommendations have fundamentally altered all these cultural products, not just influencing what gets seen or ignored but creating a kind of self-reinforcing blandness we are all contending with now.

This is actually the opposite of the personalization Netflix and other tech platforms promise. But why does it matter? And how did we get here? Three recently-released books try to get at some answers. Read our review of them.

—Bryan Gardiner

The two stories above are from the next issue of MIT Technology Review, set to land tomorrow. The theme of the magazine is hidden worlds. Subscribe 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 US spacecraft that landed on the moon is about to stop functioning
But another lunar lander, from Japan, has unexpectedly popped back to life. (NYT $)

2 Meet the nine-month-old $2 billion French AI startup
Mistral claims it’ll rival US giants—but it’s also just taken money from Microsoft. (WSJ $)
Microsoft is investing an undisclosed amount into Mistral. (FT $)

3 How a local news website became an AI-generated clickbait farm
This case provides a fascinating insight into how generative AI is starting to fill the internet up with trash. (Wired $)
We are hurtling toward a glitchy, spammy, scammy, AI-powered internet. (MIT Technology Review)

4 A Democrat consultant admitted to being behind the Biden robocall
📞
Well, that was pretty dumb, as campaigning strategies go. (WP $)
The US is not ready for what AI is going to do to its elections. (The Guardian)
Meta is promising it’ll form a team to tackle deceptive uses of AI in the upcoming EU elections. (BBC)

5 The US is reportedly using AI to choose where to bomb
It used machine learning algorithms to identify targets in the Middle East this month, a defense official said. (Bloomberg $)
Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)

6 What a huge solar storm could do to us
☀
We’re poorly prepared for the havoc it could wreak on our energy grids and communication systems. (New Yorker $)

7 Bans on deepfakes take us only so far—here’s what we really need
Recent moves are promising, but the open source boom makes things tricky.

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: tiny TikTok-style soap operas, and how algorithms change us
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/27/1089015/tiny-soap-operas-algorithms-change-us/
Published Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2024 13:01:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/how-antarcticas-history-of-isolation-is-endingthanks-to-starlink/

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