How conservative Facebook groups are changing what books children read in school
Conservative activists are becoming increasingly powerful in determining what books are on school shelves. Districts in Texas have begun to require parent approval for books; in Utah, parents not only have the power to control what books their child checks out but have equal standing with educators to challenge and review books for inclusion in the library at all.
That policy in Utah is perhaps one of the conservative parent groups’ first success stories. Beavers says BookLooks doesn’t track how parents use the reviews for school policy challenges, but the group Utah Parents United is featured on the site as a “guardian of the library” and was instrumental in getting the state to implement its current system. Beavers herself has testified at her local Brevard County school district, successfully challenging 19 books for review in May.
But those challenges aren’t coming without a fight, on Facebook and elsewhere. One organization opposed to the book bans, the Florida Freedom to Read Project, says rating systems like BookLooks’ ignore the fact that teachers and librarians are specifically trained to recommend books on the basis of a child’s development, interests, and maturity, even though materials are currently slotted into suggested age ranges by publishers and editors.
“They [conservative rate-and-review groups] want to restrict what is available for everyone else, but these rating systems are done by people who don’t have any expertise,” says Stephana Ferrell, a co-founder of the FFTRP. “We would never do an opposing system. Another rating system is not needed.”
Groups like Ferrell’s are concerned that ratings are erasing the voices of those in marginalized communities. “Those reviewers that focus solely on controversial topics with the goal of limiting access to books with which they disagree reflect a bias that fails to take into account the needs of the diverse families and individuals served by public schools and libraries,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a statement.
“Pornography” scare stories
Many parents in the conservative groups say pornography is one of their major concerns. Beavers, for example, cites an oral sex scene in Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer, a coming-of-age graphic novel, as the reason why she was spurred to action. Gender Queer has been banned in many schools across the country.
“We are asking for books to be reviewed and put up against pornography laws and judging what would be appropriate for a school setting,” she says. But her group’s view of what counts as pornographic don’t always tally with the laws. On August 30, a Virginia court dismissed claims that Gender Queer and another book, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, were obscene. The dismissal means that liberal groups now have grounds to challenge the book’s bans in other states.
The driving force behind many of the conservative Facebook review groups is Moms for Liberty. Moms for Liberty is a nonprofit organization advocating for school reforms (often including book bans). It has a wide network of regional chapters willing to organize locally on behalf of the national organization. Beavers, for example, is on the board of her local Moms for Liberty group.
Ferrell says FFTRP’s work was founded when Moms for Liberty members began lobbying to remove Gender Queer from her local district. She and her co-founder have purchased books to distribute to local librarians and also held public giveaways of books featuring diverse voices.
To her, the fight is about the quality of education for her children. “Most parents want to give their child more, not less, access,” she says. “I really worry about the future of children’s education because of this.”
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.)
The emergent industrial metaverse
Annika Hauptvogel, head of technology and innovation management at Siemens, describes the industrial metaverse as “immersive, making users feel as if they’re in a real environment; collaborative in real time; open enough for different applications to seamlessly interact; and trusted by the individuals and businesses that participate”—far more than simply a digital world.
The industrial metaverse will revolutionize the way work is done, but it will also unlock significant new value for business and societies. By allowing businesses to model, prototype, and test dozens, hundreds, or millions of design iterations in real time and in an immersive, physics-based environment before committing physical and human resources to a project, industrial metaverse tools will usher in a new era of solving real-world problems digitally.
“The real world is very messy, noisy, and sometimes hard to really understand,” says Danny Lange, senior vice president of artificial intelligence at Unity Technologies, a leading platform for creating and growing real-time 3-D content. “The idea of the industrial metaverse is to create a cleaner connection between the real world and the virtual world, because the virtual world is so much easier and cheaper to work with.”
While real-life applications of the consumer metaverse are still developing, industrial metaverse use cases are purpose-driven, well aligned with real-world problems and business imperatives. The resource efficiencies enabled by industrial metaverse solutions may increase business competitiveness while also continually driving progress toward the sustainability, resilience, decarbonization, and dematerialization goals that are essential to human flourishing.
This report explores what it will take to create the industrial metaverse, its potential impacts on business and society, the challenges ahead, and innovative use cases that will shape the future. Its key findings are as follows:
• The industrial metaverse will bring together the digital and real worlds. It will enable a constant exchange of information, data, and decisions and empower industries to solve extraordinarily complex real-world problems digitally, changing how organizations operate and unlocking significant societal benefits.
• The digital twin is a core metaverse building block. These virtual models simulate real-world objects in detail. The next generation of digital twins will be photorealistic, physics-based, AI-enabled, and linked in metaverse ecosystems.
• The industrial metaverse will transform every industry. Currently existing digital twins illustrate the power and potential of the industrial metaverse to revolutionize design and engineering, testing, operations, and training.
The Download: China’s retro AI photos, and experts’ AI fears
Across social media, a number of creators are generating nostalgic photographs of China with the help of AI. Even though these images get some details wrong, they are realistic enough to trick and impress many of their followers.
The pictures look sophisticated in terms of definition, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. Their realism is partly down to a recent major update of image-making artificial-intelligence program Midjourney that was released in mid-March, which is better not only at generating human hands but also at simulating various photography styles.
It’s still relatively easy, even for untrained eyes, to tell that the photos are generated by an AI. But for some creators, their experiments are more about trying to recall a specific era in time than trying to trick their audience. Read the full story.
Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.
Read more of our reporting on AI-generated images:
+ These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are. Bias and stereotyping are still huge problems for systems like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion, despite companies’ attempts to fix it. Read the full story.