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In early 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced The Line: a “civilizational revolution” that would house up to 9 million people in a zero-carbon megacity, 170 kilometers long and half a kilometer high but just 200 meters wide. Within its mirrored, car-free walls, residents would be whisked around in underground trains and electric air taxis.

Satellite images of the $500 billion project obtained exclusively by MIT Technology Review show that the Line’s vast linear building site is already taking shape, running as straight as an arrow across the deserts and through the mountains of northern Saudi Arabia. The site, tens of meters deep in places, is teeming with many hundreds of construction vehicles and likely thousands of workers, themselves housed in sprawling bases nearby.

Analysis of the satellite images by Soar Earth, an Australian startup that aggregates satellite imagery and crowdsourced maps into an online digital atlas, suggests that the workers have already excavated around 26 million cubic meters of earth and rock—78 times the volume of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Official drone footage of The Line’s construction site, released in October, indeed showed fleets of bulldozers, trucks, and diggers excavating its foundations. Visit The Line’s location on Google Maps and Google Earth, however, and you will see little more than bare rock and sand.

2022 12 05 15 13 46 Soar crop 1
The area of the Line, highlighted in yellow, shows numerous excavators in the area (red dots) moving earth to the areas in purple. Blue dots representing construction vehicles can be seen throughout the base for the construction workers. Arrays of solar panels have been shaded in green.SOAR

The strange gap in imagery raises questions about who gets to access high-res satellite technology. And if the largest urban construction site on the planet doesn’t appear on Google Maps, what else can’t we see?

The Line is as controversial as it is futuristic. Critics doubt the practical and environmental wisdom of building such a massive structure in the desert. And many of the technologies it is supposed to incorporate remain unproven, including cloud seeding, air taxis, domestic robot servants, and seawater desalination using renewable power. And part of the site has been home to the Huwaitat people, who have been evicted from the area to make way. One person protesting their displacement was allegedly shot dead by Saudi security forces, and three more recently received death sentences.

Nevertheless, initial construction began in April 2022, and in June The Line’s parent company, Neom, awarded tunneling and blasting contracts for high-speed passenger and freight rail tunnels.

It was when the drone footage of the early work was released that Amir Farhand, CEO and founder of Soar Earth, started wondering: Where were the high-resolution images of this half-trillion-dollar project?

Google sources its satellite images from a range of providers, including governmental satellites like the US’s Landsat and the EU’s Sentinel 2, as well as commercial providers such as Maxar and Planet. While the lower-resolution Landsat and Sentinel 2 images were available to download, confirming that some construction activity was happening, at least one private company seemed to have stopped taking high-resolution pictures of The Line’s site sometime in March.

“When we started zooming in, we found that there were significant gaps in Maxar’s coverage,” says Farhand. “In fact, high-definition imagery was nonexistent publicly.”

Soar then approached some of its users in the open-source intelligence community, who confirmed that they could not access detailed images of the area either. “It wasn’t just us having this problem. It was other people as well,” says Farhand. “That’s when we thought, something has to be up.”

One of the main commercial uses for satellite imagery is to help companies understand how their rivals or entire countries are faring in the global marketplace—to see, for example, “how many cranes are active on the Manhattan skyline right now, or [how many] oil tankers are in port,” says Jamon Van Den Hoek, a geography professor and director of the Conflict Ecology Lab at Oregon State University.

“If there’s no Maxar images acquired over an area

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By: Mark Harris
Title: These exclusive satellite images show Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/12/09/1064544/satellite-images-line-megacity-google/
Published Date: Fri, 09 Dec 2022 10:00:00 +0000

Tech

Climate tech is back—and this time, it can’t afford to fail

Lost in a stupor of déjà vu, I rang the intercom buzzer a second time. I had the odd sensation of being unstuck in time. The headquarters of this solar startup looked strangely similar to its previous offices, which I had visited more than a decade before. The name of the company had changed from 1366 Technologies to CubicPV, and it had moved about a mile away. But the rest felt familiar, right down to what I had come to talk about: a climate-tech boom.

A surge in cleantech investments, which had begun in 2006 with the high-profile entry of some of Silicon Valley’s leading venture capitalists, was still going strong during my first visit, in 2010—or at least it seemed to be. But a year later, it had begun to collapse. The rise of fracking was making natural gas cheap and abundant. US government funding for clean-energy research and deployment was falling. Meanwhile, China had begun to dominate solar and battery manufacturing. By the end of 2011, almost all the renewable-energy startups in the US were dead or struggling to survive.

The list of eventual casualties included headline grabbers like the solar-cell maker Solyndra and the high-flying battery company A123, as well as numerous less well-known startups in areas like advanced biofuels, innovative battery tech, and solar power. How, I was wondering, had CubicPV survived when nearly all its peers had failed?

Ushering me into the conference room (was that the same photo of a solar panel hanging on the wall that I had seen a decade before?), Frank van Mierlo, who is still the CEO, seemed almost giddy. And why not? After more than 10 years in photovoltaic limbo, with few opportunities to scale up its process for making the silicon wafers used in solar cells, the venture-backed company had suddenly seen its fortunes turn around.

The excitement around cleantech investments and manufacturing is back, and the money is flowing again. The 2022 US Inflation Reduction Act, which provides strong incentives for US domestic solar manufacturing, changed everything, says van Mierlo. As of this summer, some 44 new US plants had been planned, providing CubicPV with a huge potential demand for its silicon wafers.

Call it cleantech 2.0. In recent years, there has been a huge increase in public and private spending, both in the US and elsewhere, on technologies and infrastructure to address climate change. A recent analysis estimates that total green investments reached $213 billion in the US during the 12 months beginning July, 2022. Most of that spending is allocated to building sources of renewable energy, such as wind or solar, as well as to supporting battery and EV manufacturing and creating green hydrogen infrastructure. And the enormous amount of money is creating potential opportunities for the next generation of technologies to feed the expanding markets.

For startups like CubicPV, this means that after years of little market demand, the appetite for its products is suddenly almost insatiable. The company is designing a billion-dollar plant to make the silicon wafers needed to feed the rapid expansion in US solar production. What’s more, a bigger solar manufacturing base could eventually provide the startup with a lucrative future market for its next innovation: a new type of solar panel that is far more efficient at capturing sunlight than conventional silicon ones.

Silicon Valley and venture capitalists everywhere have fallen in love with the virtues and the promise of new catalysts and electrodes. Innovations in solar cells no longer seem like a lost cause. Startups are boasting radical new technologies for energy storage and carbon-free processes for making chemicals, steel, and cement. Investors are risking billions on scaling up nascent technologies such as geothermal power, fusion reactors, and ways to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air.

These innovations in what is being called “deep” or “hard” tech—products and processes based on science and engineering advances—could be critical in addressing climate change. While the past few years have seen remarkable progress in deploying relatively mature renewables such as solar and wind power, as well as strong growth in electric-vehicle sales, large gaps in the cleantech portfolio remain. In its most recent report this fall, the International Energy Agency estimates that around 35% of the emissions cuts needed to meet 2050 climate goals will have to come from technologies not yet available.

Key industrial sectors of the economy, in particular, have largely been untouched. Nearly a third of carbon emissions come from industrial processes used to make steel, cement, chemicals, and other commodities; concrete alone accounts for more than 7% of global emissions, while steel production is responsible for another 7% to 9%. Cleaning up these industries will take an almost unlimited supply of cheap, steady, and

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By: David Rotman
Title: Climate tech is back—and this time, it can’t afford to fail
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/12/02/1084059/climate-tech-startups-are-back-and-this-time-they-might-survive/
Published Date: Sat, 02 Dec 2023 12:00:00 +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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