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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.

Noise-canceling headphones could let you pick and choose the sounds you want to hear

The news: A new system for noise-canceling headphones lets users opt back in to certain sounds they’d like to hear, such as babies crying, birds tweeting, or alarms ringing.

How it works: The system, which is still in prototype, connects off-the-shelf headphones to a smartphone app. The microphones embedded in these headphones, which are used to cancel out noise, also detect the sounds in the world around the wearer. These sounds are then played back to a neural network, which has been trained to recognize 20 everyday noises; then certain sounds are boosted or suppressed in real time, depending on the user’s preferences.

Why it matters: Researchers have long tried to solve the “cocktail party problem”—that is, to get a computer to focus on a single voice in a crowded room, as humans are able to do. Experts say this new method is a significant step forward, and could pave the way for smarter hearing aids and earphones. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

I tried lab-grown chicken at a Michelin-starred restaurant

Last week, our climate reporter Casey Crownhart paid a visit to Bar Crenn, a Michelin-starred spot and one of two restaurants in the US currently serving up lab-grown meat. She was served a one-ounce sampling of cultivated chicken, made in the lab by startup Upside Foods, coated with a recado negro tempura crust, and topped with edible flowers and leaves.

Cultivated meat, also called cultured or lab-grown meat, is meat made using animal cells—but not animals themselves. It’s a growing business. But does it really taste like chicken? Read Casey’s full review.

This story is from The Spark, our weekly climate and energy newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

Why battery recycling is so important

Until the day comes when we can recharge batteries in perpetuity, we’ll need to solve the problem of a rapidly growing pile of discarded batteries. This is just one of the fascinating topics we’ll be exploring at EmTech MIT 2023, our flagship technology event kicking off 14 November.

You can register now for in-person or digital access for the two-day event, and readers of The Download get a special 30% discount too. Find out more here.

The must-reads

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

1 Cruise is recalling all 950 of its driverless cars 
After one of its cars dragged and seriously injured a pedestrian. (WP $)
The company is blaming the vehicle’s software for the incident. (SF Chronicle)
Robotaxis are here. It’s time to decide what to do about them. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Humane’s AI Pin is basically a smartphone without a screen
The AI wearable appears to be powered by GPT-4, according to leaked details. (The Verge)

3 Mark Zuckerberg allegedly repeatedly dismissed child safety concerns 
Court documents claim he ignored warnings that his platforms harmed young users. (WSJ $)
The legal complaint is led by US state officials seeking answers. (WP $)

4 Israeli intelligence agencies ignored warnings about Hamas
Volunteer spies tried to sound the alarm for years, but their concerns were dismissed. (FT $)
The conflict is moving underground into Gaza’s tunnel network. (Economist $)
Archeologists are helping to search for bodies in Israel. (Bloomberg $)

5 Red states keep on protecting abortion rights
Post-Roe, voters are overwhelmingly rejecting attempts to curtail access to it. (The Atlantic $)
It’s giving Democrats hope for 2024. (The Guardian)
The cognitive dissonance of watching the end of Roe unfold online. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The Hollywood strikes have reached an AI resolution
But the exact terms of the agreement remain a mystery for now. (Wired $)
How Meta and AI companies recruited striking actors to train AI. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Nvidia is working on three new chips for China
That’s one way to circumvent the US-China trade restrictions. (Bloomberg $)
The US-China chip war is still escalating. (MIT Technology Review)

8 It’s taking too long to instal heat pumps in the US
And it’s jeopardizing the Biden administration’s climate targets. (NYT $)
The surprising truth about which homes have heat pumps. (MIT Technology Review)

9 What it takes to catch a scientific fraud
Data sleuths comb through journals looking for inconsistencies and manipulations. (Vox)

10 Are you delulu?
That’s TikTok talk for delusional—but in a good way. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“Somebody has to say it: Grok AI is cringe

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: cancelling out noises, and tastes like (lab-grown) chicken
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/11/09/1083204/the-download-cancelling-out-noises-and-tastes-like-lab-grown-chicken/
Published Date: Thu, 09 Nov 2023 13:10:00 +0000

Tech

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

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/the-download-milk-beyond-cows-and-geoengineerings-funding-boom/

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Tech

The Download: milk beyond cows, and geoengineering’s funding boom

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.

Biotech companies are trying to make milk without cows

The outbreak of avian influenza on US dairy farms has started to make milk seem a lot less wholesome. Milk that’s raw, or unpasteurized, can actually infect mice that drink it, and a few dairy workers have already caught the bug.

The FDA says that commercial milk is safe because it is pasteurized, killing the germs. Even so, it’s enough to make a person ponder a life beyond milk—say, taking your coffee black or maybe drinking oat milk.

But for those of us who can’t do without the real thing, it turns out some genetic engineers are working on ways to keep the milk and get rid of the cows instead. Here’s how they’re doing it.

—Antonio Regalado

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly biotech and health newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

This London non-profit is now one of the biggest backers of geoengineering research

A London-based nonprofit is poised to become one of the world’s largest financial backers of solar geoengineering research. It’s just one of a growing number of foundations eager to support scientists exploring whether the world could ease climate change by reflecting away more sunlight.

The uptick in funding will offer scientists in the controversial field far more support than they’ve enjoyed in the past. This will allow them to pursue a wider array of lab work, modeling, and potentially even outdoor experiments that could improve our understanding of the benefits and risks of such interventions. Read the full story.

—James Temple

How to opt out of Meta’s AI training

If you post or interact with chatbots on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, or WhatsApp, Meta can use your data to train its generative AI models beginning June 26, according to its recently updated privacy policy.

Internet data scraping is one of the biggest fights in AI right now. Tech companies argue that anything on the public internet is fair game, but they are facing a barrage of lawsuits over their data practices and copyright. It will likely take years until clear rules are in place.

In the meantime, if you’re uncomfortable with having Meta use your personal information and intellectual property to train its AI models, consider opting out. Here’s how to do it.

—Melissa Heikkila

The must-reads

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

1 The US Supreme Court has upheld access to the abortion pill
It’s the most significant ruling since it overturned Roe v Wade in 2022. (FT $)
The decision represents the aversion of a major crisis for reproductive health. (Wired $)
But states like Kansas are likely to draw out legal arguments over access. (The Guardian)

2 Amazon is struggling to revamp Alexa
It’s repeatedly missed deadlines and is floundering to catch up with its rivals. (Fortune)
OpenAI has stolen a march on Amazon’s AI assistant ambitions. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Clearview AI has struck a deal to end a privacy class action
If your face was scraped as facial recognition data, you may be entitled to a stake in the company. (NYT $)
The startup doesn’t have the funds to settle the lawsuit. (Reuters)
It was fined millions of dollars for its practices back in 2022. (MIT Technology Review)

4 What’s next for nanotechnology
Molecular machines to kill bacteria aren’t new—but they are promising. (New Yorker $)

5 The Pope is a surprisingly influential voice in the AI safety debate
Pope Francis will address G7 leaders who have gathered today to discuss AI regulation. (WP $)
Smaller startups are lobbying to be acquired by bigger fish. (Bloomberg $)
What’s next for AI regulation in 2024? (MIT Technology Review)

6 Keeping data centers cool uses colossal amounts of power
Dunking servers in oil could be a far more environmentally-friendly method. (IEEE Spectrum)

7 UK voters can back an AI-generated candidate in next month’s election
How very Black Mirror. (NBC News)

8 How to tell if your boss is spying on you
Checking your browser extensions is a good place to start. (WP $)

9We don’t know much about how the human body reacts to space
But with the rise of space tourism, scientists are hoping to find out. (TechCrunch)
This startup wants to find out if humans can have babies in space. (MIT Technology Review)

10 This platform is a who’s-who of rising internet stars
Famous Birthdays is basically a directory of hugely successful teenagers you’ve never heard of. (Economist $)

Quote of the day

“If it’s somebody on the right, I reward them. If it’s somebody

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: milk beyond cows, and geoengineering’s funding boom
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/14/1093797/the-download-milk-beyond-cows-and-geoengineerings-funding-boom/
Published Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2024 12:10:00 +0000

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How gamification took over the world

It’s a thought that occurs to every video-game player at some point: What if the weird, hyper-focused state I enter when playing in virtual worlds could somehow be applied to the real one?

Often pondered during especially challenging or tedious tasks in meatspace (writing essays, say, or doing your taxes), it’s an eminently reasonable question to ask. Life, after all, is hard. And while video games are too, there’s something almost magical about the way they can promote sustained bouts of superhuman concentration and resolve.

For some, this phenomenon leads to an interest in flow states and immersion. For others, it’s simply a reason to play more games. For a handful of consultants, startup gurus, and game designers in the late 2000s, it became the key to unlocking our true human potential.

In her 2010 TED Talk, “Gaming Can Make a Better World,” the game designer Jane McGonigal called this engaged state “blissful productivity.” “There’s a reason why the average World of Warcraft gamer plays for 22 hours a week,” she said. “It’s because we know when we’re playing a game that we’re actually happier working hard than we are relaxing or hanging out. We know that we are optimized as human beings to do hard and meaningful work. And gamers are willing to work hard all the time.”

McGonigal’s basic pitch was this: By making the real world more like a video game, we could harness the blissful productivity of millions of people and direct it at some of humanity’s thorniest problems—things like poverty, obesity, and climate change. The exact details of how to accomplish this were a bit vague (play more games?), but her objective was clear: “My goal for the next decade is to try to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games.”

While the word “gamification” never came up during her talk, by that time anyone following the big-ideas circuit (TED, South by Southwest, DICE, etc.) or using the new Foursquare app would have been familiar with the basic idea. Broadly defined as the application of game design elements and principles to non-game activities—think points, levels, missions, badges, leaderboards, reinforcement loops, and so on—gamification was already being hawked as a revolutionary new tool for transforming education, work, health and fitness, and countless other parts of life.

Instead of liberating us, gamification turned out to be just another tool for coercion, distraction, and control.

Adding “world-saving” to the list of potential benefits was perhaps inevitable, given the prevalence of that theme in video-game storylines. But it also spoke to gamification’s foundational premise: the idea that reality is somehow broken. According to McGonigal and other gamification boosters, the real world is insufficiently engaging and motivating, and too often it fails to make us happy. Gamification promises to remedy this design flawby engineering a new reality, one that transforms the dull, difficult, and depressing parts of life into something fun and inspiring. Studying for exams, doing household chores, flossing, exercising, learning a new language—there was no limit to the tasks that could be turned into games, making everything IRL better.

Today, we live in an undeniably gamified world. We stand up and move around to close colorful rings and earn achievement badges on our smartwatches; we meditate and sleep to recharge our body batteries; we plant virtual trees to be more productive; we chase “likes” and “karma” on social media sites and try to swipe our way toward social connection. And yet for all the crude gamelike elements that have been grafted onto our lives, the more hopeful and collaborative world that gamification promised more than a decade ago seems as far away as ever. Instead of liberating us from drudgery and maximizing our potential, gamification turned out to be just another tool for coercion, distraction, and control.

Con game

This was not an unforeseeable outcome. From the start, a small but vocal group of journalists and game designers warned against the fairy-tale thinking and facile view of video games that they saw in the concept of gamification. Adrian Hon, author of You’ve Been Played, a recent book that chronicles its dangers, was one of them.

“As someone who was building so-called ‘serious games’ at the time the concept was taking off, I knew that a lot of the claims being made around the possibility of games to transform people’s behaviors and change the world were completely overblown,” he says.

Hon isn’t some knee-jerk polemicist. A trained neuroscientist who switched to a career in game design and development, he’s the co-creator of Zombies, Run!—one of the most popular gamified fitness apps in the world. While he still believes games can benefit and enrich aspects of our nongaming lives, Hon says a one-size-fits-all

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By: Bryan Gardiner
Title: How gamification took over the world
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/13/1093375/gamification-behaviorism-npcs-video-games/
Published Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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