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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.

The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers.

Plug-in hybrids are supposed to be the best of both worlds—the convenience of a gas-powered car with the climate benefits of a battery electric vehicle. But new data suggests that some official figures severely underestimate the emissions they produce.

According to new real-world driving data from Europe, plug-in hybrids produce roughly 3.5 times the emissions official estimates suggest. The difference is largely linked to driver habits: people tend to charge plug-in hybrids and drive them in electric mode less than expected.

It’s important to close the gap between expectations and reality not only for individuals’ sake, but also to ensure that policies aimed at cutting emissions have the intended effects. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

Four things you need to know about China’s AI talent pool

In 2019, MIT Technology Review covered a report that shined a light on how fast China’s AI talent pool was growing. Its main finding was pretty interesting: the number of elite AI scholars with Chinese origins had multiplied by 10 in the previous decade, but relatively few of them stayed in China for their work. The majority moved to the US.

Now the think tank behind the report has published an updated analysis, showing how the makeup of global AI talent has changed since—during a critical period when the industry has shifted significantly and become the hottest technology sector. Here are the four main things you need to know about the global AI talent landscape today.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things happening in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

AI could make better beer. Here’s how.

The news: Crafting a good-tasting beer is a difficult task. Big breweries select hundreds of trained tasters to test their new products. But running such sensory tasting panels is expensive, and perceptions of what tastes good can be highly subjective.

New AI models could help to lighten the load—accurately identifying not only how highly consumers will rate a certain Belgian beer, but also what kinds of compounds brewers should be adding to make the beer taste better.

Why it matters: These kinds of models could help food and drink manufacturers develop new products or tweak existing recipes to better suit the tastes of consumers, which could help save a lot of time and money. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

The must-reads

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

1 Inside Silicon Valley’s intense AI talent wars
Companies are throwing $1 million compensation packages at top-tier candidates. (WSJ $)
The AI hype train is showing no signs of slowing. (Insider $)

2 Hydropower usage is falling in the Western US
The amount of hydropower generated in the region last year was the lowest in more than 20 years. (The Verge)
A startup is plotting the world’s largest ocean geoengineering plant. (IEEE Spectrum)
Emissions hit a record high in 2023. Blame hydropower. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Israel is conducting mass surveillance of Palestinians in Gaza
Facial recognition cameras are identifying civilians from lists of wanted persons. (NYT $)

4 Online conspiracy theories are spreading about the Baltimore bridge disaster
Unfounded theories are proliferating unchecked on X. (NBC News)
Entire narratives are playing out on Reddit, too. (404 Media)
X use in the US is in free fall. (The Guardian)

5 A Samsung-backed AI image platform generates non-consensual porn
Certain prompts easily circumvent the AI’s guardrails. (404 Media)
Text-to-image AI models can be tricked into generating disturbing images. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Apple has struck a major Chinese media deal for its Vision Pro
Tencent has agreed to make its apps available for the headset. (The Information $)
iPhone shipments are falling in China, according to new data. (Bloomberg $)
These minuscule pixels are poised to take augmented reality by storm. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Meta snooped on Snapchat’s traffic
In a bid to try and gain a competitive advantage. (TechCrunch) 

8 Accounting software isn’t exactly sexy
But it can be incredibly lucrative—in Sweden, at least. (FT $)
The software industry is asking for more government support in the UK. (Reuters)

9 AI is threatening foreign language education
Fewer people are learning other languages, and automatic translation is on the rise. (The Atlantic $)

10 Inside the search for quantum gravity
If

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: the problem with plug-in hybrids, and China’s AI talent
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/03/27/1090191/the-download-the-problem-with-plug-in-hybrids-and-chinas-ai-talent/
Published Date: Wed, 27 Mar 2024 13:10:00 +0000

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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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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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