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A few weeks ago, at the peak of China’s protests against stringent zero-covid policies, people were shocked to find that searching for major Chinese cities on Twitter led to an endless stream of ads for hookup or escort services in Chinese. At the time, people suspected this was a tactic deployed by the Chinese government to poison the search results and prevent people from accessing protest information. 

But this spam content may not have had anything to do with the Chinese government after allaccording toa report published on Monday by the Stanford Internet Observatory. “While the spam did drown out legitimate protest-related content, there is no evidence that it was designed to do so, nor that it was a deliberate effort by the Chinese government,” wrote David Thiel, the report’s author.

Instead, they were likely just the usual commercial spam bots that have plagued Twitter forever. These particular accounts exist to attract the attention of Chinese users who go on foreign networks to access porn.

So the “significant uptick” in spam was just a coincidence? The short answer is: very likely. There are two major reasons why Thiel does not think the bots are related to the Chinese government.

First of all, these accounts have been posting spam for a long time. And they sent out even more tweets, and more consistently, before the protests broke out, according to a data analysis on the activities of over 600,000 accounts from November 15 to 29. Another analysis shows they’ve also continued to push out spam even as discussions of the protests have died down. 

Check out these two charts (for reference, the protests peaked around November 27):

So did it just feel as if spam activity spiked during the protests? This graph shows that many more bot accounts were in fact created in November: 

A bar chart showing that spam accounts created in November largely outnumbers accounts created in the past months.

But Thiel emphasizes that content moderation takes time. People tend to ignore the effect called “survivorship bias”: older spam content and accounts are constantly being removed from the platform, but researchers don’t have data on suspended accounts. So a graph like this one only shows accounts that survived Twitter’s spam filters. That’s why November’s spike looks so big: they are new accounts created most recently to replace their dead peers and are still standing—but not all will survive, so they wouldn’t be there if we were to revisit this graph in, say, a few months. In other words, if you conducted a data analysis right after the protests, it would certainly seem thatthis kind of spam just started recently. But it’s not necessarily the full truth.

Secondly, if the spam accounts were meant to bury information about the protests, they did a pretty poor job. While escort-ad spam featured many Chinese city names as keywords and hashtags, Thiel found that they did not target the hashtags actually used to discuss the protests, like #A4Revolution or #ChinaProtest2022, “which is what you would assume the government would be interested in jumping on if they were trying to silence things,” he tells me. Of the

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: Why it’s so hard to tell porn spam from Chinese state bots
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/12/21/1065676/china-twitter-porn-spam-bot/
Published Date: Wed, 21 Dec 2022 11:00:00 +0000

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Why China’s EV ambitions need virtual power plants

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

The first time I heard the term “virtual power plants,” I was reporting on how extreme heat waves in 2022 had overwhelmed the Chinese grid and led the government to restrict electric-vehicle charging as an emergency solution. I was told at the time that virtual power plants (VPPs) could make grid breakdowns like that less likely to happen again, but I didn’t have a chance to delve in to learn what that meant.

If you, like me, are unsure how a power plant can be virtual, my colleague June Kim just published an insightful article explaining the technology and how it works. For this week’s newsletter, I took the chance to ask her some more questions about VPPs. It turns out the technology has a particularly good synergy with the EV industry, which is why the Chinese government has started to invest in VPPs.

“VPPs are basically just aggregations of distributed energy resources that can balance electricity on the grid,” June says—resources including electric-vehicle chargers, heat pumps, rooftop solar panels, and home battery packs for power backups. “They’re working in coordination to replace the function of a centralized coal plant or gas plant … but also add a whole host of other functionalities that are beneficial for the grid,” she says.

To really make the most of these resources, VPPs introduce another layer: a central smart system that coordinates energy consumption and supply.

This system allows utility companies to handle times of higher energy demand by making adjustments like shifting EV charge time to 2 a.m. to avoid peak hours.

The US government is working to triple VPP capacity by 2030, June says. That capacity is equivalent to 80 to 160 fossil-fuel plants that don’t have to be built. “They expect that EV batteries and the EV charging infrastructure are going to be the biggest factor in building up this additional VPP capacity,” she says.

Considering the significant impact that EVs have on the grid, it’s no surprise that China, where an EV revolution is taking place faster than in any other country, has also turned its attention to VPPs.

By the end of 2023, there were over 20 million EVs in China, almost half the global total. Together, these cars can consume monstrous amounts of energy—but their batteries can also be an emergency backup source. The power shortage that happens in China almost every summer is an urgent reminder that the country needs to figure out how to incorporate these millions of EVs into the existing grid.

Luckily, there are already some moves in this area, both from the Chinese government and from Chinese EV companies.

In January 2024, China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning authority, released a blueprint for integrating EV charging infrastructure into the grid. The country plans to start pilot programs with dynamic electricity pricing in a few cities: lower prices late at night can incentivize EV owners to charge their vehicles when the grid is not stressed. The goal is that no more than 40% of EV charging will take place outside these “trough hours.” There will also be a batch of bidirectional charging stations in public and private spaces. At these chargers, batteries can either draw electricity from the grid or send it back.

Meanwhile, NIO, a leading Chinese EV company, is transforming its own charging networks. Last month, 10 NIO charging stations opened in Shanghai that allow vehicles to feed energy back into the grid. The company also has over 2,000 battery-swapping stations across the country. These are ideal energy storage resources for the VPP network. Some of them have already been connected to VPP pilot programs in eastern China, the company said in July 2023.

One of the key obstacles to adoption of VPPs is getting people to sign up to participate. But there’s a compelling reward on offer: money.

If the reverse-charging infrastructure grows larger, millions of Chinese EV owners could make a little income by charging at the right times and selling electricity at others.

We don’t know how much earning potential there is, since these pilot programs are still in their very early stages in China. But existing VPP projects in the US can offer some reference. Over the course of one summer, a Massachusetts home can make an estimated $550; participants in a separate VPP project in Texas can earn an estimated $150 per year. “It’s not huge, but it’s not nothing,” June says.

Obviously, it will take a long time to transform our electric grids. But developing VPPs along with the EV charging network seems like a win-win situation for China: it helps the country maintain its lead in the EV industry, and it also makes the grid more

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By: Zeyi Yang
Title: Why China’s EV ambitions need virtual power plants
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/21/1088748/virtual-power-plant-electric-vehicle/
Published Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2024 11:00:00 +0000

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Tech

The Download: deep diving, and virtual power plants in China

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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.

Meet the divers trying to figure out how deep humans can go

Two hundred thirty meters into one of the deepest underwater caves on Earth, Richard “Harry” Harris knew that not far ahead of him was a 15-meter drop leading to a place no human being had seen before.

Getting there had taken two helicopters, three weeks of test dives, two tons of equipment, and hard work to overcome an unexpected number of technical problems. But in the moment, Harris was hypnotized by what was before him: the vast, black, gaping unknown.

Staring into it, he felt the familiar pull—maybe he could go just a little farther. Instead, he and his diving partner, Craig Challen, decided to turn back. They weren’t there to exceed 245 meters—a depth they’d reached three years earlier. Nor were they there to set a depth record—that would mean going past 308 meters.

They were there to test what they saw as a possible key to unlocking depths beyond even 310 meters: breathing hydrogen. Read the full story.

—Samantha Schuyler

This story is from the next print issue of MIT Technology Review, all about exploring hidden worlds. Want to get your hands on a copy when it publishes next Wednesday? Subscribe now

Why China’s EV ambitions need virtual power plants

Virtual power plants (VPPs) are an idea whose time has arrived. They’re basically a layer on top of resources like electric vehicle chargers, solar panels, and battery packs, which allow you to coordinate energy consumption and supply. This lets utility companies handle times of higher energy demand by adjusting the end use of electricity, for example reducing the efficiency of an EV charger so it takes longer to finish and thus puts less burden on the grid.

In China, which is adopting electric vehicles faster than any other country, VPPs could be transformational. The country has just started testing programs which incentivize EV owners to charge their vehicles late at night, when there’s less demand on the grid.

It’s also piloting bidirectional charging stations, which would let EV owners not only use electricity, but even sell it back into the grid at times of peak demand, earning them a little extra cash. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter giving you behind-the-scenes insights into China and its tech scene. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Alabama’s Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are ‘children’
It’s a worrying development, especially for people seeking infertility treatments. (CNN)
The first IVF babies conceived by a robot have been born. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Inside AI startup Anthrophic’s funding spree
Investors cannot hand money over to promising AI companies quickly enough right now, it seems. (NYT $)
OpenAI is now valued at a staggering $86 billion. (Bloomberg $)
Why the New York Times could win against OpenAI. (Ars Technica)

3 The EU is setting up rules for sucking CO2 out of the sky
It’s creating a first-of-its-kind certification framework for carbon removal technologies. (The Verge)
How carbon removal technology is like a time machine. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Researchers are imbibing AI with human-like qualities
No one is immune from anthropomorphism, it seems. (New Scientist $)
If you’ve posted on Reddit, your words are probably being used to train AI. (Ars Technica)

5 What mind-reading devices can teach us
They’re restoring functions like speech and movement. But they’re also shining a light on how the brain works. (Nature)
Elon Musk claims the first Neuralink patient can now control a computer mouse with their thoughts. (CNBC)

6 Fake funeral livestream scams are proliferating on Facebook
Beyond grim, and Meta’s doing almost nothing to prevent it. (404 Media)

7 A spacecraft is about to try to snag some space junk
If it works, it’ll be an important development for the effort to clear Earth’s orbit of debris. (Ars Technica)

8 People are breeding pythons to have ‘emoji’ patterns
🐍
But, as always amid a gold rush, some of them are doing some deeply unethical things in the process. (New Yorker $)

9 How scientists predicted Iceland’s vast volcanic eruption
And saved a lot of lives in the process. (Quanta)
How machine learning might unlock earthquake prediction. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Older people are among VR’s most enthusiastic adopters
And studies

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: deep diving, and virtual power plants in China
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/21/1088754/deep-diving-virtual-power-plants-china/
Published Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2024 13:10:00 +0000

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Cryptocurrency Payments for Insurance: Are Insurance Companies Really Embracing Bitcoin and Altcoins?

Inguard Crypto Payment for Insurance 587x330 1 jpg

It is no longer unusual to hear that a bank accepts savings in Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the like. Or that a loan company helps businesses with crypto. After all, the traditional financial and insurance industries were among the first to adopt cryptocurrencies. The latter ones have found more than one way to incorporate these means of payment into their business. This approach proved useful not only for companies but also for policyholders.

The above claim was confirmed by several recent surveys, including that of Goldman Sachs, which showed that 6% of respondents (over 300 financial executives in the insurance sector) verified that their companies invest in crypto.

Benefits for Policyholders and Insurance Companies

Several things make cryptocurrencies attractive, not only for insurance companies but also for policyholders. Some of them are beneficial to both parties, and some are specific.

So, when it comes to policyholders, they can expect several advantages of using crypto. One of the most notable is the opportunity for diversification. Thanks to crypto, they can get another asset (on top of the traditional ones) to add to their diversification strategy. By doing this, they can spread risk and keep their funds protected.

Also, policyholders can count on speedy transactions because crypto transactions are usually processed much faster than wire transfers. Receiving claim payouts on time in urgent situations is possible thanks to cryptocurrency.

We should also note that they get more privacy because they can stay pseudonymous.

On the other hand, insurance companies benefit from reduced transaction costs, faster settlements, improved security, and a few other things.

Successful Examples

It’s one thing to discuss things in theory and another to see how they work in real life. Fortunately, there are many successful examples of insurance companies accepting crypto as a payment plan.

INGUARD

Inguard Crypto Payment for Insurance 587x330 2 jpg

INGUARD is one of the leading digital insurance companies based in the U.S. It provides its services in all 50 U.S. States. What makes INGUARD truly special is that they were the first insurance companies in North America to accept Bitcoin payments in 2013.

Interestingly, this brand is partnered with numerous tech companies who share their vision for insurance, including Fitbit and Michelin.

Lemonade

Some insurance companies rely on the blockchain. Lemonade is an excellent example of this. This brand throws blockchain technology and artificial intelligence into the mix or provides pet, car, home, and other types of insurance. It goes without saying that policyholders can use cryptocurrency as a payment plan.

XA

Insurance Axa Accepting Bitcoin 587x330 1 jpg

Compiling a list of insurance companies accepting crypto without mentioning

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By: CryptoNinjas.net
Title: Cryptocurrency Payments for Insurance: Are Insurance Companies Really Embracing Bitcoin and Altcoins?
Sourced From: www.cryptoninjas.net/2023/11/20/cryptocurrency-payments-for-insurance-are-insurance-companies-really-embracing-bitcoin-and-altcoins/
Published Date: Mon, 20 Nov 2023 06:07:04 +0000

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