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Too Poor For Privacy, Climate Pact Catastrophe, and Everything as a Touchpad—The Download, May 9, 2017

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America quitting the Paris climate pact is an awful idea.
Today, climate officials from around the world meet in Bonn to discuss the Paris climate agreement. But a dark cloud hangs over proceedings, because the Trump administration is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing the U.S. from the pact. In fact, the long-awaited decision on what America does about its role in the 2015 agreement could come as early as today. Our own James Temple gives it to us straight: an exit will be hugely damaging, for America and the rest of the world.

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Touch-screen smart speakers could cement Amazon’s AI assistant stranglehold.
This week—perhaps today—Amazon is expected to unveil a new Echo smart speaker with a touchscreen. That will make it easier to discover content and also provide Skype-like calling, features we’ve already described as imminent arrivals for such smart devices. With Microsoft’s first AI speaker launched just yesterday and Apple’s take still a rumor, the e-tailer is clearly leading the pack (in fact, it has a 71 percent market share on voice assistant speakers). Really, it’s Amazon’s to lose.

The next to-die-for gadget might be invented in a Chinese factory.
In the past, hardware that people lusted after may have been built in China—but little of it was designed there. Now, as the likes of Apple struggle for ideas while Donald Trump tries to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing, that may change. Bloomberg reports how Chinese factories are developing their own ideas, with in-house teams testing prototypes to build the latest hardware hit. The next iPhone-like phenomenon might not be all-American—it may be all-Chinese.

Ten Fascinating Things

  1. This wonderful essay explores how data has value, and why keeping it locked down is a luxury. So, are we now all too poor for privacy?
  2. Imagine if, with a squirt from a spray can, you could turn your toy, steering wheel, wall, or electric guitar into a touchpad. Actually, maybe you can.
  3. Much of Russia’s wealth is owed to its fossil fuel industry—but, surprisingly, the nation now appears to be warming to the idea of adopting renewables.
  4. Airbnb, Uber, and TaskRabbit have changed our approach to vacations, transit, and getting stuff done. But is the change they wrought sustainable?
  5. A million-dollar competition to develop lung cancer-spotting AI algorithms shows how machine learning could transform medical imaging.
  6. How do you keep a quantum computer’s vital parts cool enough to crunch numbers? Using a nanofridge, of course.
  7. A synthetic bone implant that contains marrow is able to produce blood cells, and could help treat some disorders more easily than existing therapies.
  8. A lot has been made of the potential for the microbiome to help keep us healthy. Do claims of its utility in cosmetics really hold water?
  9. Yesterday, Uber showed off its first officially branded Uber Freight truck. But Backchannel suggests that the firm’s enthusiasm for haulage may be waning.
  10. Why would you build a robot using origami? NASA’s Jaakko Karras explains that it could help it crawl through tiny openings or survive huge sheer drops.

Quote of the Day

"A lot of the value ... from machine learning is actually happening kind of beneath the surface."

—Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says that artificial intelligence is enjoying a golden age, but argues that a lot of its benefits still remain hidden from view for most people.

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