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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 look back at the year’s most-read climate stories

2023 has been a big year for climate news. Wildfires, floods and heatwaves displaced and killed thousands of people across the world as extreme weather events worsened, and scientists have concluded the past 12 months were the hottest since records began.

But it’s not exclusively bad news. Our climate experts James Temple and Casey Crownhart have been covering the most promising technologies that could make a difference. Take a look back over some of MIT Technology Review’s most-read climate stories of the year—and make sure you keep up-to-date with all the latest news by subscribing to The Spark, our weekly climate and energy tech newsletter.

+ This geothermal startup showed its wells can be used like a giant underground battery. If Fervo Energy’s field results work at commercial scale, it could become cheaper and easier to green the grid. Read the full story.

+ Helion Energy, a startup backed by Sam Altman, says its first fusion plant is five years away. Experts aren’t so sure.

+ Check out our handy explainer of how heat pumps work—and how they could save you money in the process.

+ Spraying iron particles above the ocean could help to fight climate change. But scientists say far more research still needs to be done. Read the full story.

+ Yes, we have enough materials to power the world with renewable energy. We won’t run out of key ingredients for climate action, but mining comes with social and environmental ramifications. Read the full story.

+ Nonprofits and academic groups are working to help climate-vulnerable regions take part in the high-stakes global debate over solar geoengineering.

+ We were promised smaller nuclear reactors. Where are they? Small modular reactors could be quicker and cheaper to build. Now, they’ve reached a major milestone. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 Amazon has launched a new AI chatbot called Q
Not to be confused with OpenAI’s rumored Q* AI model. (NYT $)
It’s designed to help code and manage cloud software for businesses. (Wired $)

2 Elon Musk boosted the dangerous pizzagate conspiracy theory
It’s the latest in a string of long-debunked theories he’s given oxygen to on X. (WP $)
It’s no wonder the platform can’t keep its advertisers. (Motherboard)

3 Apple is winding down its Goldman Sachs credit card partnership
But it’s unclear whether this spells the end of Apple’s foray into finance or not. (WSJ $)

4 There’s no evidence the internet is harming your mental health
Contrary to popular opinion. (FT $)
Your kid’s phone probably isn’t causing depression. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Amazon is disrupting rural mail services across America
Postal workers have been instructed to prioritize the retail giant’s package deliveries, and customers aren’t happy about it. (WP $)

6 High-profile women in AI don’t want to join OpenAI’s all-male board
The board reflects the wider problems within the AI industry. (Wired $)
A prominent female tech influencer’s accounts are run by a man. (404 Media)
Why can’t tech fix its gender problem? (MIT Technology Review)

7 America loves hydrogen 
It’s an attractive green energy—but only if it can be made efficiently. (The Atlantic $)
When hydrogen will help climate change—and when it won’t. (MIT Technology Review)

8 US soldiers are sharing their horrific barracks on a new app  
Hots&Cots is full of images of dirty lodgings and substandard living conditions. (Motherboard)
The future of military tech is heavily AI-based. (Vox)

9 The world’s first AI singer is no Taylor Swift
Her first release is deeply basic, to put it kindly. (Insider $)

10 Those Instagrammable offices aren’t fooling anyone
Workers don’t want to go back, and photogenic spaces won’t change that. (NYT $)

Quote of the day

“The list of abuses is endless…[X] has become a vast global sewer.”

—Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, explains why she’s leaving X after 14 years on the platform, Insider reports.

The big story

How robotic honeybees and hives could help the species fight back

XnY9S

October 2022

Something was wrong, but Thomas Schmickl couldn’t put his finger on it. It was 2007, and the Austrian biologist was spending part of the year at East Tennessee State

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: the year’s most-read climate stories, and Amazon’s chatbot
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/11/29/1084048/the-download-the-years-most-read-climate-stories-and-amazons-chatbot/
Published Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2023 13:10:00 +0000

Tech

The citizen scientists chronicling a neglected but vital Mexican river

LIZ AAA00202 scaled

The city of Monterrey in northeastern Mexico is an industrial powerhouse that has rapidly devoured green space to make room for its 5.3 million people. The Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range around the city is still holding strong, though the hills are increasingly encroached on by the urban sprawl of skyscrapers, apartment buildings, industrial parks, and highways. The same can’t be said for the Río Santa Catarina, the river that has been the vital core of the city for hundreds of years.

LIZ AAA00202 1 scaled
Lizbeth Ovalle, founder of Viaje al Microcosmos, gathers water from
the Río Santa CatarinaANDREA VILLARREAL
circle of approx 25 people seated on the rocky shore of a river
Participants in one of the Viaje al Microcosmos river walks sit to share their observations and reflect on their findings.
DSC08667 scaled
Andrea Villarreal, a member of the citizen science group, shows a participant how to use the iNaturalist app, which can help identify plants and animals.

overgrowth in the area below an overpass
Viaje al Micrososmos
organized a walk along this stretch of the Río Santa Catarina in October 2023.LORENA RíOS

Today, the Río Santa Catarina looks more like a forest than a river. It is mostly a dry jumble of rocks whose water is diverted to supply the city’s growing needs. Much of the riverbed is obscured by vegetation that has grown wild since a hurricane in 2010 destroyed many structures along the river, including soccer fields, parking lots, and a mini-golf course. But despite what many city officials and residents make of it, this urban river is very much alive, and a group of young women wants to prove it.

The group, called Viaje al Microcosmos de Nuevo LeónJourney into the Microcosm of Nuevo León), is not made up of scientists but, rather, of concerned citizens. Through the use of art and citizen science, its members are documenting and sharing with others the river’s forgotten nature—its trees, bushes, birds, flowers, insects, and even microorganisms (from which the group takes its name).

IMG 8109 scaledRead More

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By: Lorena Ríos
Title: The citizen scientists chronicling a neglected but vital Mexican river
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/28/1088234/monterrey-mexico-rio-santa-catarina-viaje-al-microcosmos/
Published Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/what-luddites-can-teach-us-about-resisting-an-automated-future/

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Tech

What Luddites can teach us about resisting an automated future

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A story in comic format. In this first panel, two figures in silhouette look out at a modern city skyline.  The text reads,

A person's smiling headshot being uploaded.  The text reads,

The headshot from the previous panel with distroted features and a wavy new background. The text reads,

Two people look at the blank space where the framed picture of a flower has been stolen by a giant robot hand. The text reads,

Two panels. In the first, a scrabbly line resembling a signature. The text reads,

The text reads,

Text across the top continues, Read More

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By: Tom Humberstone
Title: What Luddites can teach us about resisting an automated future
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/28/1088262/luddites-resisting-automated-future-technology/
Published Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/the-worlds-most-famous-concert-pianos-got-a-major-tech-upgrade/

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Tech

The world’s most famous concert pianos got a major tech upgrade

steinway 2 scaled

At a showroom in a Boston suburb, Patrick Elisha sat down and began to play the opening measures of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2 to demonstrate why Steinway & Sons grand pianos are celebrated in concert halls around the world.

Steinways are meticulously crafted instruments: it takes around 250 workers a year to assemble each grand piano’s 12,000 individual parts. Everything, from the hand-bent rims (made of more than a dozen layers of rock maple, each heated and shaped to form a grand piano’s classic curves) to the small felt rollers in the piano’s action (which help dictate how much pressure it takes to play an individual note), is crafted to produce clarion, resonant tones that range from the pianissimo bell-like chimes that open the concerto to the thundering fortissimo chords that seem to rise from the depths over its next eight measures.

Elisha, who runs the education division of M. Steinert & Sons, the world’s oldest Steinway dealer, is an award-winning pianist and composer—but I wanted to hear how the piano handled a virtuoso like Lang Lang going to town on, say, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit from the Disney film Encanto.

a Steinway piano with a tablet resting on the sheet music stand, showing a screen from the Spirio app with 6 options for songs
STEINWAY

No problem: Elisha called up a video of Lang performing in New York’s Steinway Hall on a nearby wide-screen TV. Once he hit Play on the video, whatever Lang played was perfectly reproduced on the piano in front of me. When Lang’s right hand flew up the keyboard to produce the opening flourish in the “Bruno” video, the keys on the piano in the room where I stood were depressed with precisely the same velocity for precisely the same amount of time.

This was, I realized, the first time I had ever heard a truly lossless recording. Acoustically, I was getting the equivalent of a private concert from one of the most famous pianists alive, courtesy of Steinway’s Spirio. It’s a thoroughly modern take on the player piano—a device, popular in the early 20th century, that used rolls of paper with holes punched in them to play specific tunes, no pianist required.

Roughly half of all new Steinways sold last year included Spirio technology, which adds between $29,000 and $48,000 to what is already a $150,000 instrument. The most recent addition to the line is the Spirio | r, which has recording, editing, and playback technology. A pianist who’s learning a new piece can play it, record the effort, and then essentially watch the piano play it back—making it possible to pick up on nuances in timing and tone that might be harder to discern from an audio recording alone.

The Spirio, which launched in 2015, added an entirely new set of engineering challenges to what was already one of the most deliberately constructed instruments in history. Before it came to market, Steinway had to ensure that the Spirio tech was, as Elisha puts it, “non-parasitic.” In other words, adding pressure sensors and anything else that could cause friction between the musician and the instrument was verboten; altering the feel in any way would destroy what makes a Steinway a Steinway.

Instead, performances are recorded by dozens of gray-scale optical sensors mounted behind the keyboard that calculate the velocity at which hammers strike the piano wires whenever any of the piano’s 88 keys is pressed. (The sensors have 1,020 levels of sensitivity and can take 800 measurements per second.) A different set of sensors underneath the piano measures the pedal-guided dampers; playback of both the keys and the pedals is controlled by solenoid plungers.

Each Spirio comes with a dedicated iPad; with a couple of swipes, Spirio | r users can edit their performances in an almost infinite number of ways. Everything from individual notes to entire chords can be erased or transposed, elongated or shortened, made louder or softer—if you can imagine it, you can hear what it will sound like as it’s played back to you.

But it’s the constantly updated Spirio library, which currently includes more than 4,000 recordings and more than 100 videos, that really makes this an instrument like no

Read More

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By: Seth Mnookin
Title: The world’s most famous concert pianos got a major tech upgrade
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/28/1088268/steinway-spirio-concert-pianos-performance-upgrade/
Published Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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