The Download: a military AI boom, and China’s industrial espionage
Exactly two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Alexander Karp, the CEO of data analytics company Palantir, made his pitch to European leaders. With war on their doorstep, Europeans ought to modernize their arsenals with Silicon Valley’s help, he argued in an open letter.
Militaries are responding to the call. NATO announced on June 30 that it is creating a $1 billion innovation fund that will invest in early-stage startups and venture capital funds developing “priority” technologies, while the UK has launched a new AI strategy specifically for defense, and the Germans have earmarked just under half a billion for research and AI.
The war in Ukraine has added urgency to the drive to push more AI tools onto the battlefield. Those with the most to gain are startups such as Palantir, which are hoping to cash in as militaries race to update their arsenals with the latest technologies. But long-standing ethical concerns over the use of AI in warfare have become more urgent as the technology becomes more and more advanced, while the prospect of restrictions and regulations governing its use looks as remote as ever. Read the full story.
Computers will be transformed by alternative materials and approaches—maybe sooner than you think
In less than a century, computing has transformed our society and helped spur countless innovations. But while we fundamentally owe these capabilities to our ability to build progressively better computing devices, the transistor at the heart of computer chips is reaching its limits.
Those on this year’s list of MIT Technology Review Innovators under 35 list are overhauling computer performance and energy efficiency with fresh ideas. Read more about their exciting contributions to computing’s next wave in this essay by Prineha Narang, the Howard Reiss Chair Professor in Physical Sciences at University of California, Los Angeles.
This essay is part of MIT Technology Review’s 2022 Innovators Under 35 package recognizing the most promising young people working in technology today. See the full list here.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 The US and UK are gravely concerned by China’s industrial espionage
Beijing is hellbent on stealing western technology, the countries’ spy chiefs warned (FT $)
+ The US is weighing up expanding restrictions on exports to China. (NYT $)
+ It’s also pressing a Dutch chipmaker to stop selling its gear to China. (Bloomberg $)
2 Apple’s new security feature defends against government spyware
Activating Lockdown Mode is designed to prevent Pegasus-style spyware from transmitting data to other devices. (WP $)
+ The vast majority of iPhone users are unlikely to ever benefit from it. (Ars Technica)
3 Why molecules could become the next microchip
Bioscience holds great promise—but it’s advancing frustratingly slowly. (FT $)
+ Biologists would love to program cells as if they were computer chips. (TR)
4 It’s a bad time to be a startup
Funding has fallen to its lowest level in three years, and more layoffs are looming. (NYT $)
+ It doesn’t look too rosy for the wider industry, either. (Bloomberg $)
5 Growing numbers of women want their tubes tied
But they still have to convince their doctor first. (Wired $)
+ Google should delete abortion search queries. (Bloomberg $)
6 Disinformation is Washington’s elephant in the room
The problem is, no one can agree on how to tackle it. (NYT $)
7 The UK wants to make deepfake porn illegal
The country’s Law Commission says that current laws haven’t moved with the times. (FT $)
+ Deepfake porn is ruining women’s lives. Now the law may finally ban it.
(MIT Technology Review)
8 Sorry, we’re not living in a simulation
Despite some theorists’ best efforts to convince us that we are. (Big Think)
+ This super-realistic virtual world is a driving school for AI. (MIT Technology Review)
9 Walking to earn crypto is as pointless as it sounds
Yet still, people have fallen for it. (NY Mag $)
+ Some American cities are still pinning their hopes on crypto. (Slate)
10 Viral hikes are becoming a problem ⛰️
Instagram geotags are causing overcrowding and disruption. (The Guardian)
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.)
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.