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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.

A day in the life of a Chinese robotaxi driver

When Liu Yang started his current job, he found it hard to go back to driving his own car: “I instinctively went for the passenger seat. Or when I was driving, I would expect the car to brake by itself,” says the 33-year-old Beijing native, who joined the Chinese tech giant Baidu in January 2021 as a robotaxi driver.

Robotaxi driver is an occupation that only exists in our time, the result of an evolving technology that’s advanced enough to get rid of a driver—most of the time, in controlled environments— but not good enough to convince authorities that they can do away with human intervention altogether. 

Liu is one of the hundreds of safety operators employed by Baidu, “driving” five days a week in Shougang Park. But despite having only worked for the company for 19 months, he already has to think about his next career move, as his job will likely be eliminated within a few years. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Podcast: Can AI keep guns out of schools?

Amid a growing epidemic of gun violence across the US, can AI be part of the solution? In the latest episode of our award-winning podcast, In Machines We Trust, we look at some of the weapons detection technologies schools are using to try to keep students safe, and delve into whether they’re delivering on their promise. Listen to it for yourself.

The must-reads

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

1 ByteDance’s US news app reportedly pushed pro-China messaging
Former employees say they were also instructed to censor criticism of Beijing. (Buzzfeed)
Smartphone sales in China are at their lowest level for a decade. (The Register)

2Mark Zuckerberg is going into overdrive
In order to make the metaverse work, he needs his employees to work even harder. (NYT $)
He’s right to be worried—Meta is likely to report its first-ever revenue drop today. (Reuters)
Facebook workers hoping for extra days off can think again. (The Verge)
Meta is raising the prices of its Quest 2 VR headset, too. (ZDNet)
A metaverse security update is annoying its early users. (Motherboard)

3 An AI convincingly masqueraded as a philosopher
Which could be incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands. (Motherboard)
The new version of GPT-3 is much better behaved (and should be less toxic). (MIT Technology Review)

4 How Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing algorithm experiment backfired
Charging Bruce Springsteen fans up to $5,000 per ticket was not a good move. (Variety $)
How pricing algorithms learn to collude. (MIT Technology Review)

5 The new psychedelic drug renaissance is here
But critics are wary it’s fueling psychedelic capitalism. (Wired $)
What do psychedelic drugs do to our brains? AI could help us find out. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Russia says it’ll withdraw from the ISS partnership in 2024
NASA says it hasn’t been officially told, though. (The Verge)
Spacetime warped around the Sun could hold the key to discovering alien life. (Motherboard)

7 New York’s e-bikes keep catching fire
Lithium-ion batteries from China appear to be the culprit. (Motherboard)
How bike parking pods could make US cities better for cyclists. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Floating plastic in the ocean is harboring nasty bacteria

Urinary tract, skin and stomach infections are just some of the less-than-pleasant illnesses they could cause. (Hakai Magazine)
A kidney-stone eating pseudo-parasite appears to have given up parasitism. (The Atlantic $)

9 Undersea internet cables could soon detect tsunamis

And track them in real time to help swerve future disasters. (New Yorker $)

10 Turns out that dead spiders make excellent robots
Specifically hydraulic grippers. (Spectrum IEEE)
This robot taught itself to walk entirely on its own. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“In Biggie’s mind, the metaverse already existed.”

—Wayne Barrow, a friend of the late Biggie Smalls, explains why releasing an NFT collection of the rapper’s signature looks is the perfect way to honor his legacy to the Washington Post.

The big story

Is Ginkgo’s synthetic-biology story worth $15 billion?

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August 2021

The Boston genetic engineering company

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: Chinese robotaxi drivers, and AI gun detection
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Published Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2022 12:10:00 +0000


LATAM crypto exchange Bitso and FMF launch NFT of Mexico’s National Team jerseys



Bitso, a leading cryptocurrency platform operating in Latin America, and the Mexican Football Federation (FMF), today announced the joint launch of the first collectible NFT of the Mexico National Team’s jerseys that was acquired in cryptocurrencies.

This morning through their social media platforms, the FMF and Bitso announced the opportunity to acquire the new official National Team fan jerseys ahead of the team’s participation in the 2022 World Cup. In just 20 minutes, the entire collection sold out.

The NFTs of the jerseys have an exclusive design for the metaverse – each is unique on the blockchain and can be resold by its owner in subsequent transactions.

The collection consisted of 100 official physical jerseys, each with a corresponding NFT version of the jersey that fans’ avatars can wear within the Decentraland metaverse. Each physical and NFT jersey set sold for the equivalent of $1,800 MXN in ethers.

“Our mission is to make cryptocurrency useful in the everyday life of Mexicans; we are committed to spreading the technology through innovative opportunities that help people throughout the country familiarize themselves with this new world. We are very excited to offer the incredible, historic opportunity for the fans of our National Team so that through their Bitso account, they can wear the colors of the National Team on and ‘off’ the field in the metaverse.”
– Bárbara González Briseño, General Director of Bitso México

Jersey NFTs

Created by Bitso, the virtual jersey sports the official colors of Mexico and the new National Team shield, characteristics that will make it stand out when users wear it in the virtual world of Decentraland.

The post LATAM crypto exchange Bitso and FMF launch NFT of Mexico’s National Team jerseys appeared first on CryptoNinjas.

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Title: LATAM crypto exchange Bitso and FMF launch NFT of Mexico’s National Team jerseys
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Published Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2022 15:19:02 +0000

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Long-running crypto exchange EXMO unveils “lively” rebrand amidst growth



EXMO, a crypto exchange platform operating since 2014, announced this week a rebranded visual identity with includes a new logo, brand colors, and design features. This new branding comes as EXMO continues to grow its crypto platform while also seeking to expand its presence in other jurisdictions.

Some new developments underway at EXMO:

Soon, users will be able to earn passive income from EXMO’s new staking platform.Plans to launch an EXMO crypto debit card.Expansion of its services in international markets with the opening of offices in Poland and Lithuania.

EXMO’s new logo

The rationale for the re-brand:

“At EXMO, we have a vision of a world where crypto is in every wallet. Hassle-free. We want to achieve this by making crypto as simple and accessible to everyone as possible. And we know that you already appreciate EXMO for offering user-friendly services and helpful support. Also for the opportunity to trade anywhere and anytime, closing deals in just a few taps. Such important changes required a rethinking of our corporate style, which has long needed a massive upgrade. So today we are introducing a new brand identity for EXMO with a completely new visual concept. We are launching a new logo, brand colors, and design elements. Our key design principles are simplicity, boldness, and a pinch of fun. But most importantly, we have changed our logo. Simple and easily recognizable, it represents the humanity of our brand. The logo stands out due to the wavy letter ‘m’ which symbolizes exchange rate charts and also resembles a spring that will launch you into the crypto world.”
– The EXMO Team regarding the re-branding

The post Long-running crypto exchange EXMO unveils “lively” rebrand amidst growth appeared first on CryptoNinjas.

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Title: Long-running crypto exchange EXMO unveils “lively” rebrand amidst growth
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Published Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2022 08:10:38 +0000

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Stitching together the grid will save lives as extreme weather worsens



The blistering heat waves that set temperature records across much of the US in recent days have strained electricity systems, threatening to knock out power in vulnerable regions of the country. 

The electricity has largely stayed online so far this summer, but there have been scattered problems and close calls already. 

Heavy use of energy-sucking air-conditioners is the biggest problem. But intense heat can also reduce the output of power plants, blow transformers, and force power lines to sag. Severe droughts across large parts of the country have also significantly reduced the availability of hydroelectric power, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). 

It’s unlikely to get better soon. A number of grid operators may struggle to meet peak summer demand, creating the risk of rolling blackouts, the NERC report notes.

The nation’s isolated and antiquated grids are in desperate need of upgrades to keep the lights, heat, and air-conditioning on in the midst of extreme weather events that climate change is making more common, severe, and dangerous. One clear way to ease many of these issues is to more tightly integrate the country’s regional grids, stitching them together with more long-range transmission lines. 

If electricity generated in one area can be more easily shared across much wider regions, power can simply flow to where it’s needed at those moments when customers crank up air-conditioners en masse, or when power plants or fuel supply lines fail amid soaring temperatures, wildfires, hurricanes, or other events, says Liza Reed, a research manager focused on transmission at the Niskanen Center, a Washington, DC, think tank.  

The problem is it’s proved difficult to build more long-range transmission and grid interconnections for a variety of reasons, including the permitting challenges of erecting wires through private and public lands across cities, counties, and states and the reluctance of local authorities to forfeit control or submit to greater federal oversight.

The case of Texas

The unreliability of the US grid is not a new problem. Severe heat and winter storms have repeatedly exposed the frailty of electricity systems in recent years, leaving thousands to millions of people without power as temperatures spiked or plunged.

One of the fundamental challenges is that the grids today are highly fragmented. There are three main electricity networks within the US: the Eastern Grid, the Western Grid, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). But there are numerous regional transmission organizations within those first two systems, including the California Independent System Operator, Southwest Power Pool, PJM Interconnection, New York ISO, and more. 

These grids form a complex web of networks operating under different regulators, rules and market structures, and often with limited connections between them.

Map USA grid
A variety of regional transmission organizations oversee different parts of the nation’s aging and fragmented grids, which operate under different rules and with often limited connections between them.

ERCOT is especially isolated, in part because of the desire among local politicians, citizens, and power companies to avoid added competition, the hassle of following other states’ rules, and oversight from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). But the state offers a case study in why that can be a serious problem amid increasingly harsh climate conditions, Reed says.

The Texas grid operator pleaded with customers several times earlier this month to cut electricity use as blistering summer temperatures created  demand surges that threatened to outstrip supply and require rolling blackouts.  Low wind conditions, cloud cover, and outages at fossil-fuel power plants added to the strains.

Shutting off the electricity needed to run air-conditioning in triple-digit temperatures

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By: James Temple
Title: Stitching together the grid will save lives as extreme weather worsens
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Published Date: Thu, 28 Jul 2022 08:00:00 +0000

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