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The Download

The Download: Tencent’s palm payments, and AI’s carbon footprint

Plus: MIT Technology Review's 2023 Innovators under 35 competition is now open!

November 15, 2022

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.

Tencent wants you to pay with your palm. What could go wrong?

Would you want a bottle of soda for just one cent? Before you say yes, there’s a catch: You have to pay by scanning your palm and sharing your information with a Chinese tech giant.

This was the proposition Tencent made to a handful of Chinese consumers recently, as seen in a video posted on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, in late September. Tencent, the company that owns the payment system WeChat Pay, appears to have been testing palm-print payment devices in the country for months.

Supporters of the technology claim it’s more accurate and secure than other forms of biometrics. But its widespread installation would still come with privacy risks for consumers, not to mention practical complications. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

We’re getting a better idea of AI’s true carbon footprint

The news: Large language models have a dirty secret: they require vast amounts of energy to train and run. But it’s still a bit of a mystery exactly how big these models’ carbon footprints really are. AI startup Hugging Face believes it’s come up with a new, more accurate way to calculate it. 

The details: Hugging Face estimated that training its large language model BLOOM led to 25 metric tons of carbon emissions. But, the researchers found, that figure doubled when they took into account the emissions produced by the manufacturing of the computer equipment used for training, the broader computing infrastructure, and the energy required to actually run BLOOM once it was trained.

Why it matters: The startup’s work, which has been published in a non-peer reviewed paper, could be a step toward more realistic data from tech companies about the carbon footprint of their AI products. It comes at a time when experts are calling for the sector to do a better job of evaluating AI’s environmental impact. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

You can read more of Melissa’s thoughts on why we need to improve how we measure AI’s carbon footprint—and why the true figure is likely to be even bigger than Hugging Face’s calculations—in her weekly newsletter. Sign up to receive The Algorithm in your inbox every Monday.

The 2023 Innovators Under 35 competition is now open for nominations

MIT Technology Review’s annual list of 35 Innovators Under 35 is now accepting nominations for 2023! There’s no better way to recognize the good and important work done by people just starting out in their careers, while giving you a first look at the amazing opportunities they’re creating to change the world for the better.

Read more about how to nominate up-and-coming innovators working in all areas of technology, and take a look back at this year’s winners.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Twitter is lurching from bad to worse
From public firings to a rise in hate speech, the platform is crumbling under Elon Musk’s cavalier leadership. (Vox)
+ Musk is revealing himself to be a pretty thin-skinned leader. (Bloomberg $)
+ Twitter’s SMS security verification is breaking. (Wired $) 
+ The vast majority of Twitter workers think it’s on course to fail. (Rest of World)
+ Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Crypto’s biggest exchange wants the industry to clean up its act
Binance’s CEO says that laws alone cannot prevent a “bad player.” (FT $)
+ Inside the rise and rapid fall of Bankman-Fried. (NYT $)
+ His approach to risk may have been what triggered his downfall. (WSJ $) 
+ The balance sheet of his company, FTX, is quite something. (NY Mag $)

3 How Russian software infiltrated US government and army apps
The agencies were tricked into thinking the company that built the software was based in the US. (Reuters)

4 Why Big Tech’s layoffs are so gutting
After years of unconstrained growth, workers are paying the price. (WP $)
+ Amazon has joined the big names cutting thousands of staff. (FT $)
+ A whole lot of people are cheating on their certification exams. (Insider $)
+ For what it’s worth, tech stocks are much better value now. (Economist $)

5 China’s billionaires are fleeing to Singapore
Xi Jinping’s tax plans are driving them to more wealth-friendly places. (Bloomberg $)
+ The fight for control of Taiwan is bubbling up again. (New Yorker $)

6 Why online political betting is so popular in the US
The specter of elections really isn’t so different to sports. (The Atlantic $)
+ Here’s what last week’s US midterms have taught us. (Vox)

7 It’s not clear what’s actually in tampons
A much-criticized TikTok shone a light on what is—and isn’t—known about their ingredients. (Undark)
+ What if you could diagnose diseases with a tampon? (MIT Technology Review)

8 We need new antibiotics
The pandemic has only strengthened infections’ resistance to existing drugs. (Wired $)
+ The next pandemic is already here. Covid can teach us how to fight it. (MIT Technology Review)

9 The irresistible appeal of Duolingo 🦉
That little green owl may be annoying, but he sure gets results. (The Guardian)

10 Malaysia is ready to welcome digital nomads
The only problem is, there are far fewer nomads than there used to be. (Rest of World)

Quote of the day

“They’re all a bunch of cowards.”

—Eric Frohnhoefer, a veteran Twitter engineer, tells Forbes exactly what he thinks of the company’s management, after Elon Musk fired Frohnhoefer for publicly questioning him in a tweet.

The big story

This is how your brain makes your mind

August 2021

What is your mind? It’s a strange question, perhaps, but if pressed, you might describe it as the part of yourself that makes you who you are—your consciousness, dreams, emotions, and memories. Scientists believed for a long time that such aspects of the mind had specific brain locations, like a circuit for fear, a region for memory, and so on.

But in recent years we’ve learned that the human brain is actually a master of deception, and your experiences and actions do not reveal its inner workings. Your mind is in fact an ongoing construction of your brain, your body, and the surrounding world, in a constant state of trying to make sense of your present using what it’s learned in the past. Read the full story.

—Lisa Feldman Barrett

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 you’re looking to catch up on your recent music releases, this is a good place to start.
+ I’ve never solved a single Rubik’s Cube, let alone 6,931 in 24 hours.
+ One of the coolest things about new video game Pentiment is its incredibly detailed fonts.
+ Hey, I thought Peaky Blinders was supposed to have finished?
+ Happiness comes in many different forms, but here’s how science thinks it can be achieved.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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