The Download: China’s livestreaming crackdown, and a huge police data hack
For Zeng, a young Chinese woman, an hour scrolling Douyin, the domestic version of TikTok, has become a daily ritual. Livestreaming took off in China in 2016 and has since become one of the nation’s favorite pastimes. Zeng particularly likes one creator: “Lawyer Longfei.” Every day, Longfei answers her 9 million followers’ legal inquiries live. Many deal with how women should approach tricky divorce cases.
But in May, Longfei’s account went dark for 15 days, most likely because her content doesn’t match the state’s view on marriage. While Longfei’s account was eventually reinstated last month, her case reflects how many streamers are grappling with the Chinese government’s increasing willingness to weigh in on what’s acceptable.
A new policy document, the Code of Conduct for Online Streamers, released by China’s top cultural authorities on June 22, is designed to instruct streamers on what is expected from them. Having managed to operate under the radar so far, livestreamers are now facing the full force of China’s censorship machine—and future interventions could prove even more invasive. Read the full story.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Hackers say they’ve stolen data on up to one billion Chinese residents
This could be the country’s largest ever cybersecurity breach. (Bloomberg $)
+ How China built a one-of-a-kind cyber-espionage behemoth to last. (MIT Technology Review)
2 Web searches are already being used for abortion prosecutions
In a post-Roe US, such digital evidence could be routinely used in legal proceedings in states where abortion is illegal. (WP $)
+ Experts expect to see some miscarriages and stillbirths treated as criminal investigations. (The Atlantic $)
+ Google will delete location data for users visiting abortion clinics. (The Guardian)
+ Abortion access groups say they’ve been battling algorithmic suppression for years. (Wired $)
3 We’re edging closer to understanding covid brain fog
It’s partly to do with how the virus disrupts brain cells and leaves behind inflammation. (Wired $)
+ How to mend your broken pandemic brain. (MIT Technology Review)
4 A former Cambridge Analytica exec raised millions in crypto for Ukraine
But while the country has hailed Brittany Kaiser as a key ally, critics are skeptical of her motives. (WP $)
+ NFT sales are the lowest they’ve been in a year. (The Guardian)
+ A new bill could grant crypto access to the Federal Reserve. (WP $)
5 Life on earth has helped to create close to half of all our minerals
Which is exciting news for searching for life on other planets. (Quanta)
+ Making minerals is a tough business. (BBC)
+ A pro-China online influence campaign is targeting the rare-earths industry. (MIT Technology Review)
6 Twitter is censoring tweets in India
Digital rights activists are worried the country’s new social media “hostage-taking laws” are fueling the latest wave of censorship. (Rest of World)
7 We’re still learning about how porn affects adolescents’ brains
But we do know younger brains’ reward centers light up more when exposed to it than older viewers’. (WSJ $)
8 Future breast reconstructions could do away with silicone entirely
In favor of tissue-regrowing implants. (The Guardian)
9 Dinosaurs had a survival secret 🦕
They were experts at dealing with the cold. (Economist $)
+ We know surprisingly little about how dinosaurs procreated. (BBC)
10 The chemistry behind fireworks’ vivid colors 🎆
There’s a reason why you don’t see many blue explosions. (Fast Company $)
Quote of the day
“Contrary to the myth that we are sliding into a comfortable evolutionary relationship with a common-cold-like, friendly virus, this is more like being trapped on a rollercoaster in a horror film.”
—Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, explains we shouldn’t be so complacent about covid, the Guardian reports.
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.