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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.

How the James Webb Space Telescope broke the universe

When the James Webb Space Telescope sent its first images back to Earth in July last year, researchers gathered excitedly to pore over them. JWST, a NASA-led collaboration between the US, Canada, and Europe, is the most powerful space telescope in history and can view objects 100 times fainter than the Hubble Space Telescope. Those images contained the first clear evidence for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside the solar system.

Almost immediately after it started full operations, incredible vistas from across the universe poured down, from images of remote galaxies at the dawn of time to amazing landscapes of nebulae, the dust-filled birthplaces of stars.

Months later, JWST continues to send down reams of data to astonished astronomers on Earth, and it is expected to transform our understanding of the distant universe, exoplanets, planet formation, galactic structure, and much more. Read the full story.

—Jonathan O’Callaghan

The James Webb Space Telescope is one of MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2023. Explore the rest of the list, and vote in our poll to help us decide our final 11th technology.

What Mexico’s planned geoengineering restrictions mean for the future of the field

What’s happened: Last month, a US startup called Make Sunsets claimed it had conducted a solar geoengineering experiment in Baja California, Mexico, launching a pair of weather balloons laden with a few grams of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. Now, the Mexican government plans to ban related experiments.

Why it matters: Scientists believe that spraying sulfur dioxide or other reflective particles into the stratosphere in sufficient quantities might be able to offset some level of global warming. But the unknown side effects, coupled with the difficult questions over how to govern a temperature-tweaking technology, make it highly controversial.

What’s next: The startup didn’t seek approval before its balloon launch. Now, by announcing plans to prohibit any future solar geoengineering experiments, Mexico may be one of the first nations, if not the first, to announce an explicit ban on such projects. Read the full story.

—James Temple

Read next: What is geoengineering—and why should you care? As the threats of climate change grow, we’re all likely to hear more and more about the possibilities, and dangers, of geoengineering. Here’s what it means.

The must-reads

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

1 Pressure is mounting on Germany to send tanks to Ukraine  
Ukraine is desperate for them, but Germany fears provoking Russia. (Vox)
NATO allies are growing increasingly exasperated. (FT $)
Germany’s foreign minister wouldn’t stop Poland from sending theirs. (BBC)
If released, the tanks could help secure a Ukrainian victory (Economist $)

2 Thousands marched to mark the 50th anniversary of Roe v Wade
Protestors demonstrated in 46 states across the US. (NYT $)
What the Roe verdict leak can teach future leakers. (The Intercept)
The future of medical abortion will end up being fought over in court. (Vox)
The cognitive dissonance of watching the end of Roe unfold online. (MIT Technology Review)

3  Crypto’s pseudo-banks are dying
And they may be taking some people’s life savings with them. (WSJ $)
FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried sure isn’t going quietly. (Slate $)
Investors in the crypto exchange Gemini are growing understandably worried. (FT $)

4 Confidential US police files were stolen in a major hack
The thieves also stole tactical raid plans and a suspect report. (TechCrunch)

5 Donald Trump is reportedly going to ditch his own social media platform
He wants to return to Twitter just as the Republican primary heats up in June. (Rolling Stone $)

6 Ultrasound tech isn’t just for pregnancy scans
AI and other advances have turned it into a powerful diagnostic tool. (New Yorker $)

7 Livestreaming is one of Big Tech’s biggest challenges
It’s fiendishly difficult to moderate. (FT $)

8 How Wikipedia edits change how we see the world
For better or worse, it’s hugely influential. (The Atlantic $)

9 Japan’s sushi-making robots are on the rise
?
Don’t expect them to slice fish unaided, though. (The Guardian)
This robot walks using mouse muscles grown in a lab. (Inverse)

10 NASA is seriously creative right now 
Its outlandish projects could transform how we explore space. (Wired $)
Why we can’t stop

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: amazing space, and geoengineering restrictions
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/01/23/1067184/download-amazing-space-geoengineering-restrictions/
Published Date: Mon, 23 Jan 2023 13:10:00 +0000

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Three frequently asked questions about EVs, answered

This article is from The Spark, MIT Technology Review’s weekly climate newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here

For someone who does not own or drive a car, I sure do have a lot of thoughts about them.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about transportation in general, since it’s one of the biggest areas we need to clean up to address climate change: it accounts for something like a quarter of global emissions. And the vehicles that we use to shuttle around to work, school, and the grocery store in many parts of the world are a huge piece of the problem.

Last week, MIT Technology Review hosted an event where my colleagues and I dug into a conversation about the future of batteries and the materials that go into them. We got so many great questions, and we answered quite a few of them (subscribers should check out the recording of the full event here).

But there were still a lot of questions, particularly about EVs, that we didn’t get to, so let’s take a look at a few. (I’ve edited these for length and clarity, but they came from subscribers, so thank you to everyone who submitted!)

Why is there not a bigger push for plug-in hybrids during the transition to full EVs? Could those play a role?

Hybrids are sometimes relegated to the fringes of the EV discussion, but I think they’re absolutely worth talking about.

Before we get into this, let’s get a couple of terms straight. All hybrid vehicles use both an internal-combustion engine that burns gasoline and a battery, but there are two key types to know about. Plug-in hybrids can be charged up using an EV charger and run for short distances on electricity. Conventional hybrids have a small battery to help recapture energy that would otherwise be wasted, which boosts gas mileage, but they always run on gasoline.

Any technology that helps reduce emissions immediately can help address climate change, and even a conventional hybrid will cut emissions by something like 20%.

Personally, I think plug-in hybrids in particular are a great option for people who can’t commit to an EV just yet. These vehicles often have a range of around 50 miles on electricity, so if you’re commuting short distances, nearly all your driving can be zero-emissions. 

Plug-ins aren’t the perfect solution, though. For one thing, the vehicles may have higher rates of problems than both EVs and gas-powered vehicles, and they need a bit more maintenance. And some studies have shown that plug-in hybrids don’t tend to get the full emissions benefits advertised, because people use the electric mode less than expected.

Ultimately, we need to stop burning fossil fuels, so we’ll need to get used to vehicles that run without gasoline at all. But in the meantime, dipping a toe into the world of electric vehicles could be a good option for many drivers.

Will current charging technology be able to support EVs? How practical is it to bring chargers to remote areas of the country?

These questions hit on one of the biggest potential barriers to EV adoption: charging availability.

In many parts of the world, there’s a massive need to build more chargers to support the EVs already on the road, not to mention all the new ones being built and sold each year. Some agencies have recommended that there should be one public charger for every 10 EVs on the road, though factors like density and rates of at-home charging mean different communities will have different needs. 

The US had about 24 EVs per charger as of the end of 2022, while the EU is at about 13, and China is among the leading nations with around eight. Improving that ratio is crucial to getting more drivers comfortable with EVs.

But building out the charging network is a big project, and one that looks different for different communities. In dense cities, many people live in apartments as opposed to single-family homes with garages, so even more public chargers will be needed to make up for the lack of at-home charging. For rural communities, or those that are less wealthy, getting any chargers built at all can be a challenge. 

These so-called charging deserts often suffer from a sort of chicken-and-egg problem: there’s a lack of demand for chargers because people aren’t driving EVs, and people aren’t driving EVs because there are no chargers.

Public funding will be key to filling in gaps left by private companies installing charging networks. In the US, some money is tied to making sure that disadvantaged communities will benefit.

The bottom line is that it’s possible to make chargers available and equitable, but it’s definitely going to take a while, and it’s going to be expensive. 

What about hydrogen—could that be an alternative to batteries?

I’ve been digging into this question, so stay

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By: Casey Crownhart
Title: Three frequently asked questions about EVs, answered
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/22/1088800/ev-faqs/
Published Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/ready-set-grow-these-are-the-biotech-plants-you-can-buy-now/

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Ready, set, grow: These are the biotech plants you can buy now

Purple Tomato Caprese scaled

This spring I am looking forward to growing some biotech in my backyard for the first time. It’s possible because of startups that have started selling genetically engineered plants directly to consumers, including a bright-purple tomato and a petunia that glows in the dark.

This week, for $73, I ordered both by pressing a few buttons online.

Biotech seeds have been a huge business for a while. In fact, by sheer mass, GMOs are probably the single most significant product of genetic engineering ever. Except most of us aren’t planting rows of cotton or corn that can resist worms or survive a spritz of RoundUp, the big gene-splicing innovations that companies like Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred first introduced in the 1990s.

What makes these new plants different is that you can buy them directly from their creators and then plant them in the yard, on a balcony, or just in a pot.

caprese salad in a bowl made with halved yellow, red and purple-fleshed cherry tomatoes
Purple tomatoes developed by Norfolk Health Produce. NORFOLK HEALTHY PRODUCE

Purple tomato

Starting off my biotech shopping spree, I first spent $20 to order 10 tomato seeds from Norfolk Health Produce, a small company in Davis, California, that created what it calls the Purple Tomato. The seeds have a gene introduced from a snapdragon flower, which adds a nutrient, anthocyanin, that also gives the fruits their striking color.

According to Channa S. Prakash, a geneticist and dean at Tuskegee University, the tomato is the “the first-of-its kind GMO food crop marketed directly to home gardeners.”

The CEO of the company, Nathan Pumplin, was packing seeds when I reached him by phone. He claimed that anthocyanin has health benefits—it’s an antioxidant—but he agreed that the color is a useful sales pitch.

“I don’t need to make a label that says this red tomato is better for you than the other red tomato,” says Pumplin. “We can simply put out the purple tomato, and people say, ‘Oh my gosh, this tomato is purple.’ Its beauty is a distinguishing characteristic that people can just immediately see and understand.”

There is a plan to mass-produce the purple tomatoes for sale in supermarkets. But Pumplin says the company couldn’t ignore thousands of requests from regular gardeners. “It’s not the main focus of our business, but we are very interested in having people grow these at home,” he says. And “if home gardeners want to save the seed and replant it in their gardens for their own use, that is okay.”

couple in their glowing garden of gmo petunias
A promotional video for Light Bio’s firefly petunia.LIGHT BIO

Glowing flower

I next decided to shell out for the “firefly petunia,” so called because the plant is supposed to glow in the dark. It’s sold by Light Bio, a startup backed by the venture capital firm NFX .

The plant is such a novelty that it’s being sold in a preorder, with promises they will arrive by May. One petunia plant costs $29 plus $24 for shipping. The company’s marketing promises that your plant will unveil “mesmerizing luminescence after dusk” and that “its soothing light is produced from living energy, cultivating a deeper connection with the inner life of the plant.”

Finally, “Your nurturing care will be rewarded with even greater brilliance.”

It joins a short list of ornamental plants with gene modifications. Another is an orange petunia, approved in the US in 2021, that got its unusual color from a corn gene. (When some copies got loose prior to approval, officials in the US and Europe demanded its eradication in what became known as “the petunia carnage.”)

Karen Sarkisyan, a synthetic biologist at the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences in the UK, is one of the petunia’s creators, and also the chief scientist of Light Bio. His lab is interested in using bioluminescence as a reporter system—a plant could reveal, for instance, how it

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By: Antonio Regalado
Title: Ready, set, grow: These are the biotech plants you can buy now
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/22/1088768/glowing-plant-lightbio-purple-tomato-norfolk/
Published Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2024 11:45:00 +0000

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The Download: tracking animals, and biotech plants

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.

How tracking animal movement may save the planet

Animals have long been able to offer unique insights about the natural world around us, acting as organic sensors picking up phenomena invisible to humans. Canaries warned of looming catastrophe in coal mines until the 1980s, for example.

These days, we have more insight into animal behavior than ever before thanks to technologies like sensor tags. But the data we gather from these animals still adds up to only a relatively narrow slice of the whole picture. Results are often confined to silos, and for many years tags were big and expensive, suitable only for a handful of animal species.

This is beginning to change. Researchers are asking: What will we find if we follow even the smallest animals? What if we could see how different species’ lives intersect? What could we learn from a system of animal movement, continuously monitoring how creatures big and small adapt to the world around us? It may be, some researchers believe, a vital tool in the effort to save our increasingly crisis-plagued planet. Read the full story.

—Matthew Ponsford

This story is from the upcoming print issue of MIT Technology Review, dedicated to exploring hidden worlds. Buy a subscription to get your hands on a copy when it publishes on February 28th! Deals start at just $8 a month.

These are the biotech plants you can buy now

—Antonio Regalado

This spring I am looking forward to growing some biotech in my backyard for the first time. It’s possible because of startups that have started selling genetically engineered plants directly to consumers, including a bright-purple tomato and a petunia that glows in the dark.

This week, for $73, I ordered both by pressing a few buttons online.

Biotech seeds have been a huge business for a while. In fact, by sheer mass, GMOs are probably the single most significant product of genetic engineering ever. But the difference now is that people are able to plant and grow GMO houseplants in their homes. Read the full story.

Watch this robot as it learns to stitch up wounds

The news: A new AI-trained surgical robot can make stitches on its own. A video taken by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, shows the two-armed robot completing stitches in a row on a simple wound in imitation skin. It managed to make six stitches before a human had to intervene.

Why it matters: It’s common for surgeons today to get help from robots, but we’re a long way from them being able to fully replace many tasks. This new research marks progress toward robots that can operate more autonomously on very intricate, complicated tasks. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

Three frequently asked questions about EVs, answered

Transportation is a critical part of the climate change puzzle: it accounts for something like a quarter of global emissions. And the vehicles that we use to shuttle around to work, school, and the grocery store in many parts of the world are a huge piece of the problem.

Last week, MIT Technology Review hosted an event where we dug into the future of batteries and the materials that go into them. We got so many great questions, and we answered quite a few of them (subscribers should check out the recording of the full event).

But there were still a lot of questions, particularly about EVs, that we didn’t get to. So let’s take a look at a few of those.

—Casey Crownhart

This story is from The Spark, our weekly newsletter all about the technology that could combat the climate crisis. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

1 The first US moon landing for over 50 years is due today
If all goes to plan, Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus spacecraft will touch down at 5.30pm ET. (WP $)
Here’s how you can watch it. (NYT $)

2 ChatGPT had a meltdown yesterday
Which is not necessarily worrying in itself… but it isn’t great that we have no idea why. (Ars Technica)
Gab’s racist chatbots have been trained to deny the Holocaust. (Wired $)
Soon, we might be using AI to do all sorts of tasks for us. (NPR)

3 You can buy Vision Pro headsets in Russia
Two years after Apple quit the country. (NBC)

4 Google is racing to fix a new “overly woke” AI-powered tool
It was returning women and people of color when asked to produce images of America’s founding fathers, for example. (BBC)
It’s pausing the ability for Gemini AI to generate images until it’s fixed the issue. (The Verge)
These

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: tracking animals, and biotech plants
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/22/1088821/tracking-animals-biotech-plants/
Published Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2024 13:10:00 +0000

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