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

The idea of downloading a third-party keyboard to your phone may seem unnecessary to most people, but in China it’s the norm. 

Chinese is the only modern language that’s logographic, meaning that the way a character is written can be completely separate from its pronunciation (Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese have their variations of the Chinese characters). Because of that, relying on a default keyboard would be incredibly difficult. So today, 800 million people in China use smart keyboard software that predicts what a user wants to type.

But a strong reliance on this technology also presents a security risk: most keyboard apps transmit keystrokes to the cloud to enable better text prediction, creating an opportunity for the content to be intercepted if the apps don’t have strong enough encryption protocols.

This week, I reported on one such encryption loophole found in Sogou, one of China’s most popular third-party keyboard apps. A group of researchers at the Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto–affiliated research group, managed to intercept almost everything they typed into Sogou by deploying a two-decade-old exploit.

Not only can this kind of software endanger people’s personal and financial information, but—perhaps more important—it can compromise otherwise encrypted messages in apps like Signal, and allow them to be caught by police or malicious actors.

For more information on this particular loophole and the broader implications, you can read the story here.

But for the newsletter, I want to take you all on a geeky journey into the history of keyboard apps—or input method editors (IMEs), as they are formally called. IMEs are so ubiquitous and fundamental today that it’s easy to forget how much hard work was put into their creation. And they’re a fascinating example of how innovations can bridge the gap between the digital world and the real world.

In the ’80s, there was no way of processing Chinese characters with the personal computers on the market. Even after the laborious process of digitizing Chinese characters to be displayed on computer screens, a big question remained: How do you type those characters? Particularly, how do you match the tens of thousands of Chinese characters to the 26 letters on a QWERTY keyboard?

The first attempt was vastly different from the keyboard apps today, and centered on how Chinese characters are written.

In August 1983, exactly 40 years ago, a Chinese engineer named Wang Yongmin developed the first popular way to input Chinese characters into a computer: Wubi. He did it by breaking down a Chinese character into different strokes and assigning several strokes to each letter on the QWERTY keyboard.

A diagram of how Wubi uses the QWERTY keyboard.
The diagram above shows how each key is matched with three to 12 character components. The texts at bottom are poems to help users remember the combinations.

For example, the Chinese character for dog, 犬, has several shapes in it: 犬, 一, 丿, and丶.These shapes were matched with the keys D, G, T, and Y, respectively. So when a user typed “DGTY,” a Wubi input software would match that to the character 犬.

On the left are the Chinese character 犬 and its phonetic spelling; on the right is a guide on how to type the character in Wubi.
A guide on how the character 犬 should be typed into Wubi software.

Wubi was able to match every Chinese character with a keystroke combination using at maximum four QWERTY keys. It’s considered one of the fastest ways to type Chinese, but the downside is also pretty obvious: users need to memorize which keys correspond to which strokes, so the learning curve is quite steep. (One way people have remembered the keyboard designations? Jingles!)

The next step in the evolution of Chinese IMEs was the invention of typing by phonetic spelling.

It may be hard to believe, but pinyin, the modern way of

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: The fascinating evolution of typing Chinese characters
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/08/23/1078274/fascinating-evolution-typing-chinese-characters/
Published Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2023 10:00:00 +0000

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The Download: generative AI’s carbon footprint, and a CRISPR patent battle

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.

Making an image with generative AI uses as much energy as charging your phone

The news: Generating a single image using a powerful AI model takes as much energy as fully charging your smartphone, according to a new study. This is the first time researchers have calculated the carbon emissions caused by using an AI model for different tasks.

The significance: These emissions will add up quickly. The generative-AI boom has led big tech companies to integrate powerful AI models into many different products, from email to word processing. They are now used millions, if not billions, of times every single day.

The bigger picture: The study shows that while training massive AI models is incredibly energy intensive, it’s only one part of the puzzle. Most of their carbon footprint comes from their actual use. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

The first CRISPR cure might kickstart the next big patent battle

By the middle of December, Vertex Pharmaceuticals is expected to receive FDA approval to sell a revolutionary new treatment for sickle-cell disease that’s the first in the US to use CRISPR to alter the DNA inside human cells. (Vertex has already received regulatory approval in the UK.)

But there’s a problem. The US patent on editing human cells with CRISPR isn’t owned by Vertex—it is owned by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, probably America’s largest gene research center, and exclusively licensed to a Vertex competitor, Editas Medicine, which has its own sickle-cell treatment in testing.

That means Editas will want Vertex to pay. And if it doesn’t, Editas and Broad could go to the courts to claim patent infringement, demand royalties and damages, or even potentially try to stop the treatment from being sold. Odds are we’re about to see a blockbuster lawsuit. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things health and biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

A high school’s deepfake porn scandal is pushing US lawmakers into action

On October 20, Francesca Mani was called to the counselor’s office at her New Jersey high school. A 14-year-old sophomore and a competitive fencer, Francesca wasn’t one for getting in trouble. But it turned out that over the summer, boys in the school had used artificial intelligence to create sexually explicit pictures of some of their classmates. The school administration told Francesca that she was one of more than 30 girls who had been victimized.

Francesca didn’t see the photo of herself that day. And she still doesn’t intend to. Instead, she’s put all her energy into ensuring that no one else is targeted this way.

And, in the past few weeks, her advocacy has already fueled new legislative momentum to regulate nonconsensual deepfake pornography in the US. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley 

The must-reads

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

1 This is why we’re all sick right now
We’re contending with a lot more illnesses than we did in the pre-covid world. (The Atlantic $)
And covid hasn’t gone away either. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Climate disinformation is a big obstacle to action
And much of it is generated by influential nations, including China and Russia. (NYT $)
The US government has stopped warning social networks about foreign disinformation campaigns. (WP $)

3 Is the Turing Test dead?
It was arguably never that reliable a measure of intelligence to begin with. (IEEE Spectrum)
Mustafa Suleyman: My new Turing test would see if AI can make $1 million. (MIT Technology Review)
Hiring is still hot for prompt engineers, a year since ChatGPT launched. (Bloomberg $)

4 The long-delayed Tesla Cybertruck is finally on sale
And the price tag starts at $60,990. (The Guardian)
It has its detractors. But it has plenty of fans, too. (The Atlantic $)

5 College students are subject to alarming levels of surveillance
Which is adding to their stress levels at an already stressful time in their lives. (The Markup)
Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University can’t agree on what privacy means. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How Huawei stunned the US with a new Chinese-made chip
Getting around sanctions will have been difficult, and very expensive. (FT $)
Huawei’s 5G chip breakthrough needs a reality check. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Anduril has launched a wild new jet-powered AI drone
The company says it could be used in Ukraine to intercept Russian drones. (Wired $)

8 Startups have had a bad

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: generative AI’s carbon footprint, and a CRISPR patent battle
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/12/01/1084204/the-download-ai-carbon-footprint-crispr-battle/
Published Date: Fri, 01 Dec 2023 13:10:00 +0000

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The Download: abandoning carbon offsets, and creating new materials

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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 University of California has all but dropped carbon offsets—and thinks you should, too

In the fall of 2018, the University of California tasked a team of researchers with identifying projects from which it could confidently purchase carbon offsets that would reliably cancel out greenhouse gas emissions across its campuses. They found next to nothing.

The findings helped prompt the entire university system to radically rethink its sustainability plans. Now the researchers are sharing the lessons they learned over the course of the project, in the hopes of helping other universities and organizations consider what role, if any, offsets should play in sustainability strategies, MIT Technology Review can report.

The project’s leaders have three main takeaways for what others should do. Read our story to find out what they are.

—James Temple

Google DeepMind’s new AI tool helped create more than 700 new materials

The news: Google DeepMind has created a tool that uses deep learning to dramatically speed up the process of discovering new materials. The technology, which is called graphical networks for material exploration (GNoME), has already been used to predict structures for 2.2 million new materials, of which more than 700 have gone on to be created and tested in the lab.

Why it matters: From EV batteries to solar cells to microchips, new materials can supercharge technological breakthroughs. But discovering them usually takes months or even years of trial-and-error research. Thanks to GNoME, the number of known stable materials has grown almost tenfold, to 421,000. Read the full story.

—June Kim

The X Prize is taking aim at aging with a new $101 million award

Money can’t buy happiness, but X Prize founder Peter Diamandis hopes it might be able to buy better health. The X Prize Foundation, which funds global competitions to spark development of breakthrough technologies, has announced a new $101 million prize—the largest yet—to address the mental and physical decline that comes with aging.

The winners will have to prove by 2030 that their intervention can turn back the clock in older adults by at least a decade in three key areas: cognition, immunity, and muscle function. Its organizers are hoping the large prize will convince hundreds or even thousands of teams to compete. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

The must-reads

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

1 Ilya Sutskever is leaving the OpenAI board  
But the chief scientist is staying at the firm—for now. (Bloomberg $)
Microsoft has been added as a non voting member of the board. (NYT $)
Sam Altman says he initially felt furious after being asked to return to the company. (The Verge)
Inside the mind of OpenAI’s chief scientist. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Elon Musk isn’t playing nice with X’s worried advertisers
In fact, he went on a foul-mouthed rant railing against them. (CNBC)
Disney boss Bob Iger was a target of Musk’s ire. (WP $)
Musk just can’t help himself. (Slate $)

3 Next year is going to be even hotter
🌡
Thanks, in part, to the El Niño weather phenomenon. (FT $)
Methane is due to be a hot topic at COP28. (Economist $)+ Climate action is gaining momentum. So are the disasters. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Google has agreed to pay Canadian news outlets $100 million a year
It’s a rare win for publishers in their fight to get Big Tech to pay for content. (Motherboard)
Supporters say it’s the first step towards creating a sustainable news ecosystem. (BBC)

5 India is determined to clean up the Ganges river
The sacred waterway is incredibly polluted. Cleaning it up is both a holy and a scientific mission. (Wired $)
El Paso was “drought-proof.” Climate change is pushing its limits. (MIT Technology Review)

6 US border control is planning to trial Palmer Luckey’s AI surveillance towers
The autonomous towers track objects even in the coldest conditions. (404 Media)

7 Inside one man’s mission to track America’s gun violence
No one federal agency charts it, so Dan Kois has stepped up to fill the void. (Bloomberg $)

8 Please don’t follow TikTok’s dating advice
It’s bleak at best, outrageously sexist at worst. (Vox)
Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Cutting virtual grass is deeply satisfying
Just ask the video games fans transfixed by maintaining their lawns. (The Guardian)

10 What Spotify

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————

By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: abandoning carbon offsets, and creating new materials
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/11/30/1084123/the-download-abandoning-carbon-offsets-and-creating-new-materials/
Published Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2023 13:10:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/sustainability-starts-with-the-data-center/

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Sustainability starts with the data center

MIT Hitachi V5 110723 Cover

When asked why he targeted banks, notorious criminal Willie Sutton reportedly answered, “Because that’s where the money is.” Similarly, when thoughtful organizations target sustainability, they look to their data centers—because that’s where the carbon emissions are.

MIT Hitachi V5 110723 Cover 1

The International Energy Agency (IEA) attributes about 1.5% of total global electricity use to data centers and data transmission networks. This figure is much higher, however, in countries with booming data storage sectors: in Ireland, 18% of electricity consumption was attributable to data centers in 2022, and in Denmark, it is projected to reach 15% by 2030. And while there have been encouraging shifts toward green-energy sources and increased deployment of energy-efficient hardware and software, organizations need to accelerate their data center sustainability efforts to meet ambitious net-zero targets.

For data center operators, options for boosting sustainability include shifting energy sources, upgrading physical infrastructure and hardware, improving and automating workflows, and updating the software that manages data center storage. Hitachi Vantara estimates that emissions attributable to data storage infrastructure can be reduced as much as 96% by using a combination of these approaches.

Critics might counter that, though data center decarbonization is a worthy social goal, it also imposes expenses that a company focused on its bottom line can ill afford. This, however, is a shortsighted view.

Data center decarbonization initiatives can provide an impetus that enables organizations to modernize, optimize, and automate their data centers. This leads directly to improved performance of mission-critical applications, as well as a smaller, denser, more efficient data center footprint—which then creates savings via reduced energy costs. And modern data storage and management solutions, beyond supporting sustainability, also create a unified platform for innovation and new business models through advanced data analytics, machine learning, and AI.

Dave Pearson, research vice president at IDC, says, “Decarbonization and the more efficient energy utilization of the data center are supported by the same technologies that support data center modernization. Modernization has sustainability goals, but obviously it provides all kinds of business benefits, including enabling data analytics and better business processes.”

Download the full report.

This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.

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By: MIT Technology Review Insights
Title: Sustainability starts with the data center
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/11/30/1083909/sustainability-starts-with-the-data-center/
Published Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2023 15:03:00 +0000

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