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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 wants to control how its famous livestreamers act, speak, and even dress

For Zeng, a young Chinese woman, an hour scrolling Douyin, the domestic version of TikTok, has become a daily ritual. Livestreaming took off in China in 2016 and has since become one of the nation’s favorite pastimes. Zeng particularly likes one creator: “Lawyer Longfei.” Every day, Longfei answers her 9 million followers’ legal inquiries live. Many deal with how women should approach tricky divorce cases.

But in May, Longfei’s account went dark for 15 days, most likely because her content doesn’t match the state’s view on marriage. While Longfei’s account was eventually reinstated last month, her case reflects how many streamers are grappling with the Chinese government’s increasing willingness to weigh in on what’s acceptable. 

A new policy document, the Code of Conduct for Online Streamers, released by China’s top cultural authorities on June 22, is designed to instruct streamers on what is expected from them. Having managed to operate under the radar so far, livestreamers are now facing the full force of China’s censorship machine—and future interventions could prove even more invasive. Read the full story.
—Zeyi Yang

The must-reads

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

1 Hackers say they’ve stolen data on up to one billion Chinese residents
This could be the country’s largest ever cybersecurity breach. (Bloomberg $)
How China built a one-of-a-kind cyber-espionage behemoth to last. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Web searches are already being used for abortion prosecutions
In a post-Roe US, such digital evidence could be routinely used in legal proceedings in states where abortion is illegal. (WP $)
+ Experts expect to see some miscarriages and stillbirths treated as criminal investigations. (The Atlantic $)
Google will delete location data for users visiting abortion clinics. (The Guardian)
Abortion access groups say they’ve been battling algorithmic suppression for years. (Wired $)

3 We’re edging closer to understanding covid brain fog
It’s partly to do with how the virus disrupts brain cells and leaves behind inflammation. (Wired $)
How to mend your broken pandemic brain. (MIT Technology Review) 

4 A former Cambridge Analytica exec raised millions in crypto for Ukraine
But while the country has hailed Brittany Kaiser as a key ally, critics are skeptical of her motives. (WP $)
NFT sales are the lowest they’ve been in a year. (The Guardian)
A new bill could grant crypto access to the Federal Reserve. (WP $)

5 Life on earth has helped to create close to half of all our minerals
Which is exciting news for searching for life on other planets. (Quanta)
Making minerals is a tough business. (BBC)
A pro-China online influence campaign is targeting the rare-earths industry. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Twitter is censoring tweets in India
Digital rights activists are worried the country’s new social media “hostage-taking laws” are fueling the latest wave of censorship. (Rest of World)

7 We’re still learning about how porn affects adolescents’ brains 
But we do know younger brains’ reward centers light up more when exposed to it than older viewers’. (WSJ $)

8 Future breast reconstructions could do away with silicone entirely 
In favor of tissue-regrowing implants. (The Guardian)

9 Dinosaurs had a survival secret

They were experts at dealing with the cold. (Economist $)
We know surprisingly little about how dinosaurs procreated. (BBC)

10 The chemistry behind fireworks’ vivid colors

There’s a reason why you don’t see many blue explosions. (Fast Company $)

Quote of the day

“Contrary to the myth that we are sliding into a comfortable evolutionary relationship with a common-cold-like, friendly virus, this is more like being trapped on a rollercoaster in a horror film.”

—Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, explains we shouldn’t be so complacent about covid, the Guardian reports. 

The big story

How to fix what the innovation economy broke about America

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February 2021

For decades, America’s political and business leaders acted as if places like Bryan, a small town in

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: China’s livestreaming crackdown, and a huge police data hack
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/07/04/1055420/download-china-livestreaming-control-censor-police-data-hack-billion-residents/
Published Date: Mon, 04 Jul 2022 12:05:37 +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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Why China’s EV ambitions need virtual power plants

This story first appeared in China Report, MIT Technology Review’s newsletter about technology in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The first time I heard the term “virtual power plants,” I was reporting on how extreme heat waves in 2022 had overwhelmed the Chinese grid and led the government to restrict electric-vehicle charging as an emergency solution. I was told at the time that virtual power plants (VPPs) could make grid breakdowns like that less likely to happen again, but I didn’t have a chance to delve in to learn what that meant.

If you, like me, are unsure how a power plant can be virtual, my colleague June Kim just published an insightful article explaining the technology and how it works. For this week’s newsletter, I took the chance to ask her some more questions about VPPs. It turns out the technology has a particularly good synergy with the EV industry, which is why the Chinese government has started to invest in VPPs.

“VPPs are basically just aggregations of distributed energy resources that can balance electricity on the grid,” June says—resources including electric-vehicle chargers, heat pumps, rooftop solar panels, and home battery packs for power backups. “They’re working in coordination to replace the function of a centralized coal plant or gas plant … but also add a whole host of other functionalities that are beneficial for the grid,” she says.

To really make the most of these resources, VPPs introduce another layer: a central smart system that coordinates energy consumption and supply.

This system allows utility companies to handle times of higher energy demand by making adjustments like shifting EV charge time to 2 a.m. to avoid peak hours.

The US government is working to triple VPP capacity by 2030, June says. That capacity is equivalent to 80 to 160 fossil-fuel plants that don’t have to be built. “They expect that EV batteries and the EV charging infrastructure are going to be the biggest factor in building up this additional VPP capacity,” she says.

Considering the significant impact that EVs have on the grid, it’s no surprise that China, where an EV revolution is taking place faster than in any other country, has also turned its attention to VPPs.

By the end of 2023, there were over 20 million EVs in China, almost half the global total. Together, these cars can consume monstrous amounts of energy—but their batteries can also be an emergency backup source. The power shortage that happens in China almost every summer is an urgent reminder that the country needs to figure out how to incorporate these millions of EVs into the existing grid.

Luckily, there are already some moves in this area, both from the Chinese government and from Chinese EV companies.

In January 2024, China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning authority, released a blueprint for integrating EV charging infrastructure into the grid. The country plans to start pilot programs with dynamic electricity pricing in a few cities: lower prices late at night can incentivize EV owners to charge their vehicles when the grid is not stressed. The goal is that no more than 40% of EV charging will take place outside these “trough hours.” There will also be a batch of bidirectional charging stations in public and private spaces. At these chargers, batteries can either draw electricity from the grid or send it back.

Meanwhile, NIO, a leading Chinese EV company, is transforming its own charging networks. Last month, 10 NIO charging stations opened in Shanghai that allow vehicles to feed energy back into the grid. The company also has over 2,000 battery-swapping stations across the country. These are ideal energy storage resources for the VPP network. Some of them have already been connected to VPP pilot programs in eastern China, the company said in July 2023.

One of the key obstacles to adoption of VPPs is getting people to sign up to participate. But there’s a compelling reward on offer: money.

If the reverse-charging infrastructure grows larger, millions of Chinese EV owners could make a little income by charging at the right times and selling electricity at others.

We don’t know how much earning potential there is, since these pilot programs are still in their very early stages in China. But existing VPP projects in the US can offer some reference. Over the course of one summer, a Massachusetts home can make an estimated $550; participants in a separate VPP project in Texas can earn an estimated $150 per year. “It’s not huge, but it’s not nothing,” June says.

Obviously, it will take a long time to transform our electric grids. But developing VPPs along with the EV charging network seems like a win-win situation for China: it helps the country maintain its lead in the EV industry, and it also makes the grid more

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: Why China’s EV ambitions need virtual power plants
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/21/1088748/virtual-power-plant-electric-vehicle/
Published Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2024 11:00:00 +0000

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The Download: deep diving, and virtual power plants in China

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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.

Meet the divers trying to figure out how deep humans can go

Two hundred thirty meters into one of the deepest underwater caves on Earth, Richard “Harry” Harris knew that not far ahead of him was a 15-meter drop leading to a place no human being had seen before.

Getting there had taken two helicopters, three weeks of test dives, two tons of equipment, and hard work to overcome an unexpected number of technical problems. But in the moment, Harris was hypnotized by what was before him: the vast, black, gaping unknown.

Staring into it, he felt the familiar pull—maybe he could go just a little farther. Instead, he and his diving partner, Craig Challen, decided to turn back. They weren’t there to exceed 245 meters—a depth they’d reached three years earlier. Nor were they there to set a depth record—that would mean going past 308 meters.

They were there to test what they saw as a possible key to unlocking depths beyond even 310 meters: breathing hydrogen. Read the full story.

—Samantha Schuyler

This story is from the next print issue of MIT Technology Review, all about exploring hidden worlds. Want to get your hands on a copy when it publishes next Wednesday? Subscribe now

Why China’s EV ambitions need virtual power plants

Virtual power plants (VPPs) are an idea whose time has arrived. They’re basically a layer on top of resources like electric vehicle chargers, solar panels, and battery packs, which allow you to coordinate energy consumption and supply. This lets utility companies handle times of higher energy demand by adjusting the end use of electricity, for example reducing the efficiency of an EV charger so it takes longer to finish and thus puts less burden on the grid.

In China, which is adopting electric vehicles faster than any other country, VPPs could be transformational. The country has just started testing programs which incentivize EV owners to charge their vehicles late at night, when there’s less demand on the grid.

It’s also piloting bidirectional charging stations, which would let EV owners not only use electricity, but even sell it back into the grid at times of peak demand, earning them a little extra cash. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter giving you behind-the-scenes insights into China and its tech scene. 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 Alabama’s Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are ‘children’
It’s a worrying development, especially for people seeking infertility treatments. (CNN)
The first IVF babies conceived by a robot have been born. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Inside AI startup Anthrophic’s funding spree
Investors cannot hand money over to promising AI companies quickly enough right now, it seems. (NYT $)
OpenAI is now valued at a staggering $86 billion. (Bloomberg $)
Why the New York Times could win against OpenAI. (Ars Technica)

3 The EU is setting up rules for sucking CO2 out of the sky
It’s creating a first-of-its-kind certification framework for carbon removal technologies. (The Verge)
How carbon removal technology is like a time machine. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Researchers are imbibing AI with human-like qualities
No one is immune from anthropomorphism, it seems. (New Scientist $)
If you’ve posted on Reddit, your words are probably being used to train AI. (Ars Technica)

5 What mind-reading devices can teach us
They’re restoring functions like speech and movement. But they’re also shining a light on how the brain works. (Nature)
Elon Musk claims the first Neuralink patient can now control a computer mouse with their thoughts. (CNBC)

6 Fake funeral livestream scams are proliferating on Facebook
Beyond grim, and Meta’s doing almost nothing to prevent it. (404 Media)

7 A spacecraft is about to try to snag some space junk
If it works, it’ll be an important development for the effort to clear Earth’s orbit of debris. (Ars Technica)

8 People are breeding pythons to have ‘emoji’ patterns
🐍
But, as always amid a gold rush, some of them are doing some deeply unethical things in the process. (New Yorker $)

9 How scientists predicted Iceland’s vast volcanic eruption
And saved a lot of lives in the process. (Quanta)
How machine learning might unlock earthquake prediction. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Older people are among VR’s most enthusiastic adopters
And studies

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————

By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: deep diving, and virtual power plants in China
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/21/1088754/deep-diving-virtual-power-plants-china/
Published Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2024 13:10:00 +0000

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