The Download: Driverless cars’ AI plan, and stretching cells with a robotic shoulder
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 New privacy-focused apps are ill-equipped to cope with moderation demands
It makes maintaining the balance between privacy and policing more complicated. (WP $)
+ How to have honest conversations with children about the Texas shooting. (The Atlantic $)
2 Big Tech’s lobbying efforts are paying off
Democrats are wary of backing antitrust legislation for fear of losing their slim majority. (Politico)
+ Industry lobbyists have successfully weakened privacy regulation efforts, too. (The Markup)
+ What does breaking up Big Tech really mean? (MIT Technology Review)
3 The comforting sensation of touch is tough to replicate
But scientists are trying their best with sensors and prostheses. (National Geographic $)
+ Inventing soft things to solve hard problems. (MIT Technology Review)
4 Our obsession with restoring nature is unhelpful 🌲
Living ecosystems are not meant to be static environments, so why do we treat them like they are? (New Statesman $)
+ “A Trillion Trees” is a great idea—that could become a dangerous climate distraction. (MIT Technology Review)
5 A Japanese toy company owns a stake in 4Chan
And sexualized anime figures could explain why. (Wired $)
+ The malicious rumor a trans person was responsible for the Texas shooting started on 4Chan. (Rolling Stone)
6 Students are afraid of being accused of cheating by an algorithm
Schools are placing too much trust in systems which can make flawed judgments. (NYT $)
7 How birth control could change in a post-Roe world
Including “night before” pills and sperm-prohibiting gels. (Neo.Life)
+ Data harvesting is likely to worsen if abortion is banned. (FT $)
+ Activists are helping Texans get access to abortion pills online. (MIT Technology Review)
8 Africa’s market traders are thriving thanks to supply chain startups
Enabling them to order products in bulk without having to travel. (FT $)
+ Major blockchain projects are flooding into the continent, too. (Quartz)
9 How to keep up with the news without getting overwhelmed
Turning off notifications is a good place to start. (WP $)
10 An AI has painted a disturbing portrait of the Queen
And critics are less than impressed with the result. (The Guardian)
+ The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images. (MIT Technology Review)
The big story
Why you don’t really know what you know
What does it really mean to know anything? How well can we understand the world when so much of our knowledge relies on evidence and argument provided by others?
These questions matter not only to scientists. Many other fields are becoming more complex, and we have access to far more information and informed opinions than ever before. Yet at the same time, increasing political polarization and misinformation are making it hard to know whom or what to trust. Read the full story.
We can still have nice things
A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)
+ If I wasn’t excited enough for Jurassic World Dominion hitting movie theaters next month, this list of the top 20 dinosaur movies has tipped me over the edge.
+ The Sims’ answer to the Addams Family has been given a glamorous makeover.
+ There sure are a lot of monkeys scattered throughout the history of art.
+ An ambitious couple are hoping to eat their way around the world by recreating meals from every country—in alphabetical order.
+ This love letter to cities is a reminder of what’s great about urban living.
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.