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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.

ChatGPT is everywhere. Here’s where it came from

We’ve reached peak ChatGPT. Released in December as a web app by the San Francisco–based firm OpenAI, the chatbot exploded into the mainstream almost overnight.

According to some estimates, it is the fastest-growing internet service ever, reaching 100 million users just two months after launch. Through OpenAI’s $10 billion deal with Microsoft, the tech is now being built into Office software and the Bing search engine. Stung into action by its newly awakened onetime rival in the battle for search, Google is fast-tracking the rollout of its own chatbot, LaMDA.

But OpenAI’s breakout hit did not come out of nowhere. The chatbot is the most polished iteration to date in a line of large language models going back years. This is how we got here.

—Will Douglas Heaven

The climate solution beneath your feet

The technologies designed to fight climate change are increasingly wild these days. Hydrogen-powered planes, underwater mining robots, and nuclear fusion reactors—each could play a role in cutting down on greenhouse-gas emissions.

But there are also less glamorous pieces of solving climate change. Take building materials, for example—the world’s most used material, by mass, is cement, and it’s sort of a climate nightmare. The good news is a handful of companies are working hard to turn around cement’s climate impact. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

This story is from The Spark, Casey’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things energy and climate tech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

Design thinking was supposed to fix the world. Where did it go wrong?

In the 1990s, a six-step methodology for innovation called design thinking started to grow in popularity. Key to design thinking’s spread was its replicable aesthetic, represented by the Post-it note: a humble square that anyone can use in infinite ways.

But in recent years, for a number of reasons, the shine of design thinking has been wearing off. Critics have argued that its short-term focus on novel and naive ideas has resulted in unrealistic and ungrounded recommendations.

Today, some groups are working to reform both design thinking’s principles and its methodologies. These new efforts seek a set of design tools capable of equitably serving diverse communities and solving diverse problems well into the future. It’s a much more daunting—and crucial—task than design thinking’s original remit. Read the full story.

—Rebecca Ackermann

This piece is from the upcoming edition of our print magazine, which is all about design. Sign up for a subscription to read the full thing when it comes out later this month.

The must-reads

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

1 Google’s Bard AI chatbot made a mistake in its first demo
Yet another example of why chatbots can’t be relied upon, even as tech companies race to release them. (The Verge)
Or did it? Technically, Bard may have actually been correct! (FT $)
OpenAI is stuffed full of talented ex-Googlers. (The Information $)
Disinformation researchers are growing increasingly worried about chatbots. (NYT $)
This string of words causes ChatGPT to break. (Motherboard)
Could ChatGPT do my job? (MIT Technology Review)

2 The Chinese ‘spy balloon’ is reportedly part of a surveillance program
It’s been collecting data on military assets for years, US officials allege. (WP $)

3 The race to save Turkey’s earthquake survivors
Engineers are making apps to help locate trapped civilians and distribute aid. (Wired $)
After a temporary block, Twitter access in the country has been restored. (CNN)

4 New York is cracking down on stalkerware
The city has forced a major player to alert the people infected with its software. (Bloomberg $)
Google is failing to enforce its own ban on ads for stalkerware. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Inside FTX’s crazy final hours
Unanswered frantic messages, panic quitting, and a packed-out war room. (FT $)

6 Why electrochemistry is climate tech’s hottest new buzzword
It promises to play a key role in the future of greener energy, but can it deliver? (WSJ $)

7 AI algorithms are objectifying women
And they’re being used to suppress the reach of images featuring women’s bodies. (The Guardian)
How it feels to be sexually objectified by an AI. (MIT Technology Review)

8 The true cost of fighting climate change
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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: ChatGPT’s origins, and making cement greener
Sourced From:
Published Date: Thu, 09 Feb 2023 13:10:00 +0000


The Download: the future of geoengineering, and how to make stronger, lighter materials

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.

Why new proposals to restrict geoengineering are misguided

—Daniele Visioni is a climate scientist and assistant professor at Cornell University

The public debate over whether we should consider intentionally altering the climate system is heating up, as the dangers of climate instability rise and more groups look to study technologies that could cool the planet.

Such interventions, commonly known as solar geoengineering, may include releasing sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere to cast away more sunlight, or spraying salt particles along coastlines to create denser, more reflective marine clouds.

The growing interest in studying the potential of these tools has triggered corresponding calls to shut down the research field, or at least to restrict it more tightly. But such rules would hinder scientific exploration of technologies that could save lives and ease suffering as global warming accelerates—and they might also be far harder to define and implement than their proponents appreciate. Read the full story.

This architect is cutting up materials to make them stronger and lighter

As a child, Emily Baker loved to make paper versions of things. It was a habit that stuck. Years later, studying architecture in graduate school, she was playing around with some paper and scissors when she made a striking discovery.

By making a series of cuts and folds in a sheet of paper, Baker found she could produce two planes connected by a complex set of thin strips. Without the need for an adhesive, this pattern created a surface that was thick but lightweight. Baker named her creation Spin-Valence.

Structural tests later showed that an individual tile made this way, and rendered in steel, can bear more than a thousand times its own weight. Baker envisions using the technique to make shelters or bridges that are easier to transport and assemble following a natural disaster—or to create lightweight structures that could be packed with supplies for missions to outer space. Read the full story.

—Sofi Thanhauser

This story is for subscribers only, and is from the next magazine issue of MIT Technology Review, set to go live tomorrow, on the theme of Build. If you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands.

Three things we learned about AI from Emtech Digital London

Last week, MIT Technology Review held its inaugural Emtech Digital conference in London. It was a great success, full of brain-tickling insights about where AI is going next.

Here are the three main things Melissa Heikkilä, our senior AI reporter, took away from the conference.

This story is from The Algorithm, our weekly AI newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

The must-reads

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

1 US child protection agencies are inundated with AI-created abuse images
And their systems are struggling to spot real children who could be helped. (WP $)
A new report is urging tech platforms to improve how such material is reported. (The Verge)
Legislation that could overhaul problems in the reporting pipelines is in motion. (WSJ $)

2 A startup edited human DNA using generative AI 
It aims to make the new wave of CRISPR faster and more powerful. (NYT $)
Forget designer babies. Here’s how CRISPR is really changing lives. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Amazon is shutting down one of its drone delivery programs in California
Just two years after it launched. (The Verge)

4 There’s no room in China’s tech sector for over-35s
Ageism is rife as companies overlook workers they worry may have home commitments. (FT $)
One of China’s most successful cultural exports? Bubble tea. (Bloomberg $)

5 Measuring ocean waves and currents is hard
Luckily, a new kind of sensor-rich buoy that communicates with satellites is one solution. (IEEE Spectrum)

6 Recycling plastic has been a colossal failure
Can ‘advanced recycling’ finally crack it? (New Scientist $)
Think that your plastic is being recycled? Think again. (MIT Technology Review)

7 How to make your home as energy-efficient as possible
Appliances are much better than they used to be, but you may still have to make sacrifices. (Vox)

8 Captchas are getting tougher to solve
Machines are getting better at cracking them, so the bar is raised for humans. (WSJ $)
Death to captchas. (MIT Technology Review)

9Good luck getting a restaurant reservation these days
Pesky bots and convoluted online booking systems are wrecking our dinners. (New Yorker $)

10 Muting annoying accounts makes social media so

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: the future of geoengineering, and how to make stronger, lighter materials
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2024 12:10:00 +0000

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This solar giant is moving manufacturing back to the US

Shawn Qu 1

Whenever you see a solar panel, most parts of it probably come from China. The US invented the technology and once dominated its production, but over the past two decades, government subsidies and low costs in China have led most of the solar manufacturing supply chain to be concentrated there. The country will soon be responsible for over 80% of solar manufacturing capacity around the world.

But the US government is trying to change that. Through high tariffs on imports and hefty domestic tax credits, it is trying to make the cost of manufacturing solar panels in the US competitive enough for companies to want to come back and set up factories. The International Energy Agency has forecast that by 2027, solar-generated energy will be the largest source of power capacity in the world, exceeding both natural gas and coal—making it a market that already attracts over $300 billion in investment every year.

To understand the chances that the US will succeed, MIT Technology Review spoke to Shawn Qu. As the founder and chairman of Canadian Solar, one of the largest and longest-standing solar manufacturing companies in the world, Qu has observed cycle after cycle of changing demand for solar panels over the last 28 years. 

Shawn Qu 1 1

After decades of mostly manufacturing in Asia, Canadian Solar is pivoting back to the US because it sees a real chance for a solar industry revival, mostly thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed in 2022. The incentives provided in the bill are just enough to offset the higher manufacturing costs in the US, Qu says. He believes that US solar manufacturing capacity could grow significantly in two to three years, if the industrial policy turns out to be stable enough to keep bringing companies in.

How tariffs forced manufacturing capacity to move out of China

There are a few important steps to making a solar panel. First silicon is purified; then the resulting polysilicon is shaped and sliced into wafers. Wafers are treated with techniques like etching and coating to become solar cells, and eventually those cells are connected and assembled into solar modules.

For the past decade, China has dominated almost all of these steps, for a few reasons: low labor costs, ample supply of proficient workers, and easy access to the necessary raw materials. All these factors make made-in-China solar modules extremely price-competitive. By the end of 2024, a US-made solar panel will still cost almost three times as much as one produced in China, according to researchers at BloombergNEF.

The question for the US, then, is how to compete. One tool the government has used since 2012 is tariffs. If a solar module containing cells made in China is imported to the US, it’s subject to as much as a 250% tariff. To avoid those tariffs, many companies, including Canadian Solar, have moved solar cell manufacturing and the downstream supply chain to Southeast Asia. Labor costs and the availability of labor forces are “the number one reason” for that move, Qu says.

When Canadian Solar was founded in 2001, it made all its solar products in China. By early 2023, the company had factories in four countries: China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Canada. (Qu says it used to manufacture in Brazil and Taiwan too, but later scaled back production in response to contracting local demand.)

But that equilibrium is changing again as further tariffs imposed by the US government aim to force supply chains to move out of China. Starting in June 2024, companies importing silicon wafers from China to make cells outside the country will also be subject to tariffs. The most likely solution for solar companies would be to “set up wafer capacity or set up partnerships with wafer makers in Southeast Asia,” says Jenny Chase, the lead solar analyst at BloombergNEF.

Qu says he’s confident the company will meet the new requirements for tariff exemption after June. “They gave the industry about two years to adapt, so I believe most of the companies, at least the tier-one companies, will be able to adapt,” he says.

The IRA, and moving the factories to the US

While US policies have succeeded in turning Southeast Asia into a solar manufacturing hot spot, not much of the supply chain has actually come back to the US. But that’s slowly changing thanks to the IRA, introduced in

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: This solar giant is moving manufacturing back to the US
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2024 14:39:45 +0000

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These artificial snowdrifts protect seal pups from climate change

IMG 0726a 1 scaled

Just before 10 a.m., hydrobiologist Jari Ilmonen and his team of six step out across a flat, half-mile-wide disk of snow and ice. For half the year this vast clearing is open water, the tip of one arm of the labyrinthine Lake Saimaa, Finland’s biggest lake, which reaches almost to Russia’s western border. As each snow boot lands, there’s a burst of static, like the spine-tingling scrape of a freezer drawer closing. “It’s a poor amount of snow,” complains Ilmonen, who sees less than half the 20 centimeters (eight inches) he’d hope for in mid-January.

To reach their destination, one of the roughly 14,000 islands that poke out from the lake’s frozen surface, the team must walk for almost an hour in temperatures of −17 °C (1.4 °F). Ilmonen pays close attention to the snow underfoot because today it will be the material from which they construct lifesaving shelters for the Saimaa ringed seal, one of the world’s most endangered seals.

IMG 0726a 1 1 scaled
Hydrobiologist Jari Ilmonen and his
team set out across Lake Saimaa in Finland, where they are building
artificial snowbanks for endangered Saimaa ringed seals.MATTHEW PONSFORD

One key question brings volunteers out in these icy conditions: How will an animal that’s born inside a grotto of snow survive on a warming planet? For millennia, during Saimaa’s blistering winters, wind drove snow into meters-high snowbanks along the lake’s shoreline, offering prime real estate from which these seals carved cave-like dens to shelter from the elements and raise newborns. But in recent decades, these snowdrifts have failed to form in sufficient numbers, as climate change has brought warming temperatures and rain in place of snow.

For the last 11 years, humans have stepped in to construct for these animals what nature can no longer reliably provide.

For the last 11 years, humans have stepped in to construct what nature can no longer reliably provide. Human-made snowdrifts, built using handheld snowplows to mimic the actions of strong winds, are the latest in a raft of measures that have brought Saimaa’s seals back from the brink of extinction, following curbs on hunting and industrial pollution, and seasonal bans on fishing with gill nets. Now the seal population is rebounding, from lows of 100 or so in the 1980s to about 400 today. Some 320 pups—half of all Saimaa ringed seals born since 2014—took their first breath inside these shelters.

close-up of a florescent stick, marked with numbers in the snow

IMG 2111 scaled
Volunteers pile up and compact layers of snow to build a meter-high snowbank.

This year, Ilmonen and his colleagues at Finland’s parks and wildlife agency have been watching since winter began for signs of trouble ahead. By December, an ice sheet typically covers the lake, and seals will use sharp claws on their front flippers to make a hole in the ice from the water below before carving out their

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By: Matthew Ponsford
Title: These artificial snowdrifts protect seal pups from climate change
Sourced From:
Published Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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