This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.
There was some good climate news in 2023. Really.
Scientists are loudly warning that the world is running out of time to avoid dangerous warming levels. The picture is grim. But if you know where to look, there are a few bright spots shining through the darkness.
New technologies that can help address climate change, from heat pumps to solar panels to EVs, are coming to the market and getting cheaper. Climate policy is also developing, from incentives to support new technology to rule-making around pollution.
And efforts to help the most vulnerable nations adapt to climate change are growing. Read on for a few of those bright spots that our climate reporters saw in 2023.
—Casey Crownhart, James Temple & June Kim
These minuscule pixels are poised to take augmented reality by storm
Google Glass, a prototype augmented-reality headset released in April 2013, had the makings of a hit. But Glass was awkward to wear and struggled to deliver a sharp, bright image outdoors. Then came the “glasshole” backlash.
The implications were clear. Hands-free augmented reality (AR) was fun on paper, but with tensions over Big Tech’s influence mounting, it couldn’t overcome the stigma of making people look like extras in a cyberpunk flick.
Now, more than a decade later, the future Google envisioned—and much more—is on the brink of becoming reality. Tiny new displays, some small enough to fit on the tip of your finger, will contain micro-LEDs and micro-OLEDs—and they’re set to deliver a wave of headsets that may convert even the most ardent AR skeptics. Read the full story.
—Matthew S. Smith
This story is from the next magazine edition of MIT Technology Review, set to go live on January 8—and it’s all about innovation. If you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands.
China’s judicial system is becoming even more secretive
Last week, a leaked document started circulating online from China’s highest court saying that by the end of 2023, courts of all levels should finish uploading their judgments to a new “National Court Judgment Document Database.” This database will come online in January and will only be accessible to internal staff.
Building an internal digitized system isn’t inherently bad. But the news caused alarm because academics and other experts believe it is likely to replace a similar resource that was free and open to the public: China Judgements Online.
CJO is one of the largest widely accessible databases. By allowing the Chinese public to search through millions of detailed court judgments, it was able to hold the powerful accountable, at least to some degree. If it goes away, that will have a big impact both on Chinese people and those observing from the outside. Read the full story.
This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter covering tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Pharmacy chain Rite Aid’s facial recognition discriminated against customers
It wrongly flagged shoppers as shoplifters, many of whom were people of color. (Bloomberg $)
+ The news could have knock-on implications for other facial recognition use cases. (WP $)
2 NASA has streamed the first video from deep space
Featuring an adorable ginger cat called Taters. (NYT $)
3 China is spreading AI-generated anti-America memes
Troll farms are disseminating images depicting Joe Biden as a warmongering drug addict. (Motherboard)
4 Avoiding getting sick feels impossible right now
Trying to dodge covid, flu, and RSV feels like a game we’re all destined to lose. (The Atlantic $)
+ Sick season is in full swing in New York City. (NY Mag $)
+ Needle-free covid vaccines are (still) in the works. (MIT Technology Review)
5 X is pinning all its hopes on winning political advertisers
But industry insiders are yet to be convinced. (FT $)6 A fight over data access in South Dakota is endangering Indigenous Americans
Agencies are withholding information about a syphilis outbreak—and cases are still spreading. (Vox)
7 Graphene is the semiconductor industry’s secret weapon
The super material could replace silicon in the next wave of chips. (The Guardian)
+ Japan is trying to give its faltering chip industry a shot in the arm. (Reuters)
+ Huawei’s 5G chip breakthrough needs a reality check. (MIT Technology Review)
8 Electric scooter firm Bird has filed for bankruptcy 🛴
It’s yet another blow for the micromobility sector. (TechCrunch)
9 Would you drive a 300mph hypercar?
They’re the auto equivalent of a big game hunter’s trophy. (New Yorker $)
+ Supersonic jets are on the cusp of a revival. (Economist $)
10 Dark matter is even more mysterious than we realized
New evidence suggests an unknown dark force is at work. (Ars Technica)
Quote of the day
“He would call himself a laser beam motion analyst. I think he’s just happy to help out.”
—Joby Harris, a NASA worker and owner of Taters, the feline subject of NASA’s first video streamed from deep space, discusses his furry friend’s attitude to his newfound fame with the Washington Post.
The big story
These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway
In early 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced The Line: a “civilizational revolution” that would house up to 9 million people in a zero-carbon megacity, 170 kilometers long and half a kilometer high but just 200 meters wide. Within its mirrored, car-free walls, residents would be whisked around in underground trains and electric air taxis.
Satellite images of the $500 billion project obtained exclusively by MIT Technology Review show that the Line’s vast linear building site is already taking shape. Visit The Line’s location on Google Maps and Google Earth, however, and you will see little more than bare rock and sand.
The strange gap in imagery raises questions about who gets to access high-res satellite technology. And if the largest urban construction site on the planet doesn’t appear on Google Maps, what else can’t we see? Read the full story.
Source : Technology Review