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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.

Everything you need to know about the wild world of alternative jet fuels

The aviation industry is responsible for about 3% of all human-caused global warming. One way it hopes to reduce that is by using new fuels, which could help it meet its climate target: net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

These alternatives are made from a wide range of sources, including used cooking oils, and landfill trash. They can largely be used by existing planes.

But the actual impact of alternative fuels will depend on a lot of factors. Our climate reporter Casey Crownhart dug into the science. Read the full story.

Casey’s story is part of our Tech Review Explains series, dedicated to untangling the complex, sometimes messy, world of science and technology to help you understand what’s going on. Check out the other stories in the series

I ordered a bubble tea by drone in Shenzhen

—Zeyi Yang

During a recent trip to China, I learned that the dominant Chinese food delivery platform, Meituan, has been flying delivery drones in the city for more than a year now.

The reality of drone delivery is still far from ideal, and people may be turned away by the steep learning curve. Ordering a bubble tea is fraught with obstacles, from having to locate and travel to a pickup kiosk, to bugs in the ordering system.

But at the same time, it was an exciting experience—the prospect of routine drone delivery feels more realistic than it’s ever been. Read the full story.

This story is from China Report, Zeyi’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Predators are using AI to create child sexual abuse images
It’s a deeply grim trend that’s sadly only poised to grow. (Bloomberg $)
The viral AI avatar app Lensa undressed me—without my consent. (MIT Technology Review)

2 We still don’t fully know how social media affects adolescents
But it’s clear that for some, the risks do outweigh the benefits. (WSJ $)
The first generation to grow up on social media are unhappy, too. (The Atlantic $)

3 Ron DeSantis is launching his US presidential bid on Twitter
In a live broadcast with Elon Musk, no less. (The Guardian)
Twitter is basically a far-right social platform these days. (The Atlantic $)
We’re witnessing the brain death of Twitter. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Virgin Orbit is being carved up
It’s a sad end for the once-promising rocket company. (CNBC)
What’s next in space. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Chinese labs are selling deadly fentanyl in exchange for crypto
Technically, the amount they produce is enough to kill every person on earth. (Wired $)

6 Netflix’s great password crackdown is upon us
?
Good luck sharing logins between households now. (The Verge)
Anyone still sharing will be asked to cough up $7.99 a month. (WP $)

7 How three teenagers nearly crashed the internet
The Mirai botnet they created quickly became a devastating hacking tool. (IEEE Spectrum)
These days, students are being trained to defend businesses instead. (Bloomberg $)

8 The internet is obsessed with purity culture
Anti-sex campaigners are clashing repeatedly with pro-sex advocates online. (Vox)

9 Would you watch a full movie on TikTok?
Millions of users are discovering previously-unknown films, in 10 minute chunks. (The Atlantic $)

10 What happens when the digital nomads come to town
Locals tend to be priced out, for starters… (Rest of World)

Quote of the day

“If we are deprived of the Chinese market, we don’t have a contingency for that. There is no other China, there is only one China.”

—Jensen Huang, CEO of semiconductor giant Nvidia, tells the Financial Times that smothering trade with China could end up damaging American companies.

The big story

Why venture capital doesn’t build the things we really need

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: alternative aviation fuels, and drone-delivered bubble tea
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/05/24/1073582/the-download-alternative-aviation-fuels-and-drone-delivered-bubble-tea/
Published Date: Wed, 24 May 2023 12:10:00 +0000

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The cost of building the perfect wave

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For nearly as long as surfing has existed, surfers have been obsessed with the search for the perfect wave. It’s not just a question of size, but also of shape, surface conditions, and duration—ideally in a beautiful natural environment.

While this hunt has taken surfers from tropical coastlines reachable only by boat to swells breaking off icebergs, these days—as the sport goes mainstream—that search may take place closer to home. That is, at least, the vision presented by developers and boosters in the growing industry of surf pools, spurred by advances in wave-­generating technology that have finally created artificial waves surfers actually want to ride.

Some surf evangelists think these pools will democratize the sport, making it accessible to more communities far from the coasts—while others are simply interested in cashing in. But a years-long fight over a planned surf pool in Thermal, California, shows that for many people who live in the places where they’re being built, the calculus isn’t about surf at all.

Just some 30 miles from Palm Springs, on the southeastern edge of the Coachella Valley desert, Thermal is the future home of the 118-acre private, members-only Thermal Beach Club (TBC). The developers promise over 300 luxury homes with a dazzling array of amenities; the planned centerpiece is a 20-plus-acre artificial lagoon with a 3.8-acre surf pool offering waves up to seven feet high. According to an early version of the website, club memberships will start at $175,000 a year. (TBC’s developers did not respond to multiple emails asking for comment.)

That price tag makes it clear that the club is not meant for locals. Thermal, an unincorporated desert community, currently has a median family income of $32,340. Most of its residents are Latino; many are farmworkers. The community lacks much of the basic infrastructure that serves the western Coachella Valley, including public water service—leaving residents dependent on aging private wells for drinking water.

Just a few blocks away from the TBC site is the 60-acre Oasis Mobile Home Park. A dilapidated development designed for some 1,500 people in about 300 mobile homes, Oasis has been plagued for decades by a lack of clean drinking water. The park owners have been cited numerous times by the Environmental Protection Agency for providing tap water contaminated with high levels of arsenic, and last year, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against them for violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. Some residents have received assistance to relocate, but many of those who remain rely on weekly state-funded deliveries of bottled water and on the local high school for showers.

Stephanie Ambriz, a 28-year-old special-needs teacher who grew up near Thermal, recalls feeling “a lot of rage” back in early 2020 when she first heard about plans for the TBC development. Ambriz and other locals organized a campaign against the proposed club, which she says the community doesn’t want and won’t be able to access. What residents do want, she tells me, is drinkable water, affordable housing, and clean air—and to have their concerns heard and taken seriously by local officials.

Despite the grassroots pushback, which twice led to delays to allow more time for community feedback, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the plans for the club in October 2020. It was, Ambriz says, “a shock to see that the county is willing to approve these luxurious developments when they’ve ignored community members” for decades. (A Riverside County representative did not respond to specific questions about TBC.)

The desert may seem like a counterintuitive place to build a water-intensive surf pool, but the Coachella Valley is actually “the very best place to possibly put one of these things,” argues Doug Sheres, the developer behind DSRT Surf, another private pool planned for the area. It is “close to the largest [and] wealthiest surf population in the world,” he says, featuring “360 days a year of surfable weather” and mountain and lake views in “a beautiful resort setting” served by “a very robust aquifer.”

In addition to the two planned projects, the Palm Springs Surf Club (PSSC) has already opened locally. The trifecta is turning the Coachella Valley into “the North Shore of wave pools,” as one aficionado described it to Surfer magazine.

The effect is an acute cognitive dissonance—one that I experienced after spending a few recent days crisscrossing the valley and trying out the waves at PSSC. But as odd as this setting may seem, an analysis by MIT Technology Review reveals that the Coachella Valley is not the exception. Of an estimated 162 surf pools that have been built or announced around the world, as tracked by the industry publication Wave Pool Magazine, 54 are in areas considered by the nonprofit World Resources Institute

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By: Eileen Guo
Title: The cost of building the perfect wave
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/17/1093388/surf-pools-ocean-climate-change-water-scarcity/
Published Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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The Download: artificial surf pools, and unfunny AI

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.

The cost of building the perfect wave

For nearly as long as surfing has existed, surfers have been obsessed with the search for the perfect wave.

While this hunt has taken surfers from tropical coastlines to icebergs, these days that search may take place closer to home. That is, at least, the vision presented by developers and boosters in the growing industry of surf pools, spurred by advances in wave-­generating technology that have finally created artificial waves surfers actually want to ride.

But there’s a problem: some of these pools are in drought-ridden areas, and face fierce local opposition. At the core of these fights is a question that’s also at the heart of the sport: What is the cost of finding, or now creating, the perfect wave—and who will have to bear it? Read the full story.

—Eileen Guo

This story is from the forthcoming print issue of MIT Technology Review, which explores the theme of Play. It’s set to go live on Wednesday June 26, so if you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands.

What happened when 20 comedians got AI to write their routines

AI is good at lots of things: spotting patterns in data, creating fantastical images, and condensing thousands of words into just a few paragraphs. But can it be a useful tool for writing comedy?

New research from Google DeepMind suggests that it can, but only to a very limited extent. It’s an intriguing finding that hints at the ways AI can—and cannot—assist with creative endeavors more generally. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

The must-reads

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

1 Meta has paused plans to train AI on European user data
Data regulators rebuffed its claims it had “legitimate interests” in doing so. (Ars Technica)
Meta claims it sent more than two billion warning notifications. (TechCrunch)
How to opt out of Meta’s AI training. (MIT Technology Review)

2 AI assistants and chatbots can’t say who won the 2020 US election
And that’s a major problem as we get closer to the 2024 polls opening. (WP $)
Online conspiracy theorists are targeting political abuse researchers. (The Atlantic $)
Asking Meta AI how to disable it triggers some interesting conversations. (Insider $)
Meta says AI-generated election content is not happening at a “systemic level.” (MIT Technology Review)

3 A smartphone battery maker claims to have made a breakthrough
Japanese firm TDK says its new material could revolutionize its solid-state batteries. (FT $)
And it’s not just phones that could stand to benefit. (CNBC)
Meet the new batteries unlocking cheaper electric vehicles. (MIT Technology Review)

4 What should AI logos look like?
Simple, abstract and non-threatening, if these are anything to go by. (TechCrunch)

5 Radiopharmaceuticals fight cancer with molecular precision
Their accuracy can lead to fewer side effects for patients. (Knowable Magazine)

6 UK rail passengers’ emotions were assessed by AI cameras 
Major stations tested surveillance cameras designed to predict travelers’ emotions. (Wired $)
The movement to limit face recognition tech might finally get a win. (MIT Technology Review)

7 The James Webb Space Telescope has spotted dozens of new supernovae
Dating back to the early universe. (New Scientist $)

8 Rice farming in Vietnam has had a hi-tech makeover
Drones and AI systems are making the laborious work a bit simpler. (Hakai Magazine)
How one vineyard is using AI to improve its winemaking. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Meet the researchers working to cool down city parks
Using water misters, cool tubes, and other novel techniques. (Bloomberg $)
Here’s how much heat your body can take. (MIT Technology Review)

10 The latest generative AI viral trend? Pregnant male celebrities.
The stupider and weirder the image, the better. (Insider $)

Quote of the day

“It’s really easy to get people addicted to things like social media or mobile games. Learning is really hard.”

—Liz Nagler, senior director of product management at language app Duolingo, tells the Wall Street Journal it’s far trickier to get people to go back to the app every day than you might think.

The big story

The big new idea for making self-driving cars that can go anywhere

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May 2022

When Alex

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: artificial surf pools, and unfunny AI
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/17/1093925/the-download-artificial-surf-pools-and-unfunny-ai/
Published Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2024 12:10:00 +0000

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These board games want you to beat climate change

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It’s game night,and I’m crossing my fingers, hoping for a hurricane.

I roll the die and it clatters across the board, tumbling to a stop to reveal a tiny icon of a tree stump. Bad news: I just triggered deforestation in the Amazon. That seals it. I failed to stop climate change—at least this board-game representation of it.

The urgent need to address climate change might seem like unlikely fodder for a fun evening. But a growing number of games are attempting to take on the topic, including a version of the bestseller Catan released this summer.

As a climate reporter, I was curious about whether games could, even abstractly, represent the challenge of the climate crisis. Perhaps more crucially, could they possibly be any fun?

My investigation started with Daybreak, a board game released in late 2023 by a team that includes the creator of Pandemic (infectious disease—another famously light topic for a game). Daybreak is a cooperative game where players work together to cut emissions and survive disasters. The group either wins or loses as a whole.

When I opened the box, it was immediately clear that this wouldn’t be for the faint of heart. There are hundreds of tiny cardboard and wooden pieces, three different card decks, and a surprisingly thick rule book. Setting it up, learning the rules, and playing for the first time took over two hours.

the components of the game Daybreak which has Game cards depicting Special Drawing Rights, Clean Electricity Plants, and Reforestation themed play cards
Daybreak, a cooperative board game about stopping climate change.COURTESY OF CMYK

Daybreak is full of details, and I was struck by how many of them it gets right. Not only are there cards representing everything from walkable cities to methane removal, but each features a QR code players can use to learn more.

In each turn, players deploy technologies or enact policies to cut climate pollution. Just as in real life, emissions have negative effects. Winning requires slashing emissions to net zero (the point where whatever’s emitted can be soaked up by forests, oceans, or direct air capture). But there are multiple ways for the whole group to lose, including letting the global average temperature increase by 2 °C or simply running out of turns.

In an embarrassing turn of events for someone who spends most of her waking hours thinking about climate change, nearly every round of Daybreak I played ended in failure. Adding insult to injury, I’m not entirely sure that I was having fun. Sure, the abstract puzzle was engaging and challenging, and after a loss, I’d be checking the clock, seeing if there was time to play again. But once all the pieces were back in the box, I went to bed obsessing about heat waves and fossil-fuel disinformation. The game was perhaps representing climate change a little bit too well.

I wondered if a new edition of a classic would fare better. Catan, formerly Settlers of Catan, and its related games have sold over 45 million copies worldwide since the original’s release in 1995. The game’s object is to build roads and settlements, setting up a civilization.

In late 2023, Catan Studios announced that it would be releasing a version of its game called New Energies, focused on climate change. The new edition, out this summer, preserves the same central premise as the original. But this time, players will also construct power plants, generating energy with either fossil fuels or renewables. Fossil fuels are cheaper and allow for quicker expansion, but they lead to pollution, which can harm players’ societies and even end the game early.

Before I got my hands on the game, I spoke with one of its creators, Benjamin Teuber, who developed the game with his late father, Klaus Teuber, the mastermind behind the original Catan.

To Teuber, climate change is a more natural fit for a game than one might expect. “We believe that a good game is always around a dilemma,” he told me. The key is to simplify the problem sufficiently, a challenge that took the team dozens of iterations while developing New Energies. But he also thinks there’s a need to be at least somewhat encouraging. “While we have a severe topic, or maybe even especially because we have a severe topic, you can’t scare off the

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By: Casey Crownhart
Title: These board games want you to beat climate change
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/14/1093384/catan-climate-change-board-games/
Published Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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