How censoring China’s open-source coders might backfire
For now, there’s little clue as to what prompted the change, but censorship of certain types of language—profanity, pornography, and politically sensitive words—has been creeping up on the platform for a while. On Gitee’s official and public feedback page, there are multiple user complaints about how projects were censored for unclear reasons, possibly because technical language was mistaken for a sensitive word.
The immediate result of Gitee’s May 18 change was that public projects hosted on the platform suddenly became unavailable without notice. Users complained that this disrupted services or even ruined their business deals. For the code to be made public again, developers need to submit an application and confirm it doesn’t contain anything that violates Chinese law or infringes copyrights.
Li went through the manual review for all his projects on Gitee, and so far 22 out of 24 have been restored. “Yet I assume that the review process is not a one-time thing, so the question is if the friction of hosting projects will increase in the future,” he says. Still, with no better domestic alternative, Li expects users to stay: “People might not like what Gitee is doing, but [Gitee] will still be required to get their daily job done.”
In the long run, this puts an unreasonable burden on the developers. “When you are coding, you are also writing comments and setting up names for the variables. Which developer, while writing code, would like to be thinking whether their code could trigger the list of sensitive words?” says Yao.
With almost every other aspect of the internet, the Chinese way of building its own alternative has worked well in recent years. But with open-source software, a direct product of cross-border collaboration, China seems to have run into a wall.
“This push to insulate the domestic open-source community from risks arising from the global community is something that very much goes against the core proposition of open-source tech development,” says Rebecca Arcesati, an analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies and coauthor of a report on China’s bet on open-source.
Technologists in China, she says, don’t want to be cut off from the global software development conversation and may feel uncomfortable with the direction China is heading: “The more Beijing tries to nationalize open-source and create an indigenous ecosystem, the less eager developers will be to participate in what they perceive to be government-led open-source projects.”
And cutting off its global ties prematurely may interrupt the fast growth of China’s open-source software industry before its benefits to the economy can be realized. It’s part of a broader concern that overshadows China’s tech sector as the government has ramped up regulations in recent years: is China sacrificing the long-term benefits of tech for short-term impact?
“I struggle to see how China can make do without those global links with international open-source communities and foundations,” Arcesati says. “We are not there yet.”
The Download: toxic chemicals, and Russia’s cyberwar tactics
What are chemical pollutants doing to our bodies? It’s a timely question given that last week, people in Philadelphia cleared grocery shelves of bottled water after a toxic leak from a chemical plant spilled into a tributary of the Delaware River, a source of drinking water for 14 million people. And it was only last month that a train carrying a suite of other hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, unleashing an unknown quantity of toxic chemicals.
There’s no doubt that we are polluting the planet. In order to find out how these pollutants might be affecting our own bodies, we need to work out how we are exposed to them. Which chemicals are we inhaling, eating, and digesting? And how much? The field of exposomics, which seeks to study our exposure to pollutants, among other factors, could help to give us some much-needed answers. Read the full story.
This story is from The Checkup, Jessica’s weekly biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
+ The toxic chemicals all around us. Meet Nicolette Bugher, a researcher working to expose the poisons lurking in our environment and discover what they mean for human health. Read the full story.
+ Building a better chemical factory—out of microbes. Professor Kristala Jones Prather is helping to turn microbes into efficient producers of desired chemicals. Read the full story.
+ Microplastics are messing with the microbiomes of seabirds. The next step is to work out what this might mean for their health—and ours. Read the full story.
The Download: sleeping in VR, and promising clean energy projects
People are gathering in virtual spaces to relax, and even sleep, with their headsets on. VR sleep rooms are becoming popular among people who suffer from insomnia or loneliness, offering cozy enclaves where strangers can safely find relaxation and company—most of the time.
Each VR sleep room is created to induce calm. Some imitate beaches and campsites with bonfires, while others re-create hotel rooms or cabins. Soundtracks vary from relaxing beats to nature sounds to absolute silence, while lighting can range from neon disco balls to pitch-black darkness.
The opportunity to sleep in groups can be particularly appealing to isolated or lonely people who want to feel less alone, and safe enough to fall asleep. The trouble is, what if the experience doesn’t make you feel that way? Read the full story.
Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle
There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting.
But as we knock out the easy climate wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions.
Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle
The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) funds high-risk, high-reward energy research projects, and each year the agency hosts a summit where funding recipients and other researchers and companies in energy can gather to talk about what’s new in the field.
As I listened to presentations, met with researchers, and—especially—wandered around the showcase, I often had a vague feeling of whiplash. Standing at one booth trying to wrap my head around how we might measure carbon stored by plants, I would look over and see another group focused on making nuclear fusion a more practical way to power the world.
There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting. But as we knock out the easy wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions. Here are a few intriguing projects from the ARPA-E showcase that caught my eye.
“I heard you have rocks here!” I exclaimed as I approached the Quaise Energy station.
Quaise’s booth featured a screen flashing through some fast facts and demonstration videos. And sure enough, laid out on the table were two slabs of rock. They looked a bit worse for wear, each sporting a hole about the size of a quarter in the middle, singed around the edges.
These rocks earned their scorch marks in service of a big goal: making geothermal power possible anywhere. Today, the high temperatures needed to generate electricity using heat from the Earth are only accessible close to the surface in certain places on the planet, like Iceland or the western US.
Geothermal power could in theory be deployed anywhere, if we could drill deep enough. Getting there won’t be easy, though, and could require drilling 20 kilometers (12 miles) beneath the surface. That’s deeper than any oil and gas drilling done today.
Rather than grinding through layers of granite with conventional drilling technology, Quaise plans to get through the more obstinate parts of the Earth’s crust by using high-powered millimeter waves to vaporize rock. (It’s sort of like lasers, but not quite.)