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The Download

The Download: battery recycling, and how AI might revamp Microsoft Office

Plus: China's population has fallen for the first time in six decades

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.

How old batteries will help power tomorrow’s EVs

To Redwood Materials, the rows of cardboard boxes in the parking lot of its new battery recycling site just outside Reno, Nevada, represent both the past and the future of electric vehicles.

Far from trash, the battery materials in the wireless keyboards, discarded toys and chunks of used Honda Civic batteries are treasure—the metals are valuable ingredients that could be critical to meeting exploding demand for electric vehicles.

Redwood Materials is just one of several new recycling ventures that are not only preventing the metals from being buried in landfills, but also spurring a booming market for electric vehicles. The ever-growing number of EVs will require far more metals than are currently available. While recycling can’t address material shortages alone, it has a significant role to play. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

This is where Tesla's former CTO thinks battery recycling is headed

As Tesla’s former chief technology officer, JB Straubel has been a major player in bringing electric vehicles to the world. He’s often credited with inventing key pieces of Tesla’s battery technology and establishing the company’s charging network.

Now, as founder of Redwood Materials, he’s at the forefront of battery recycling. Our climate reporter Casey Crownhart spoke to him about the role he sees battery recycling playing in the transition to renewable energy, his plans for Redwood, and what’s next. Read the full story.

Battery recycling is one of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies, which we’re showcasing one-by-one in The Download each day. Why not take a look at the rest of the list, and vote in our poll to help us decide what should make the final 11th?

Here’s how Microsoft could use ChatGPT

Microsoft is reportedly eyeing a $10 billion investment in OpenAI, the startup that created the viral chatbot ChatGPT, and is planning to integrate it into Office products and Bing search.

This is a big deal. If successful, it will bring powerful AI tools to the masses. So what would ChatGPT-powered Microsoft products look like? While neither Microsoft or OpenAI were willing to answer our questions, we know enough to make some informed, intelligent guesses. Hint: it’s probably good news if you find creating PowerPoint presentations and answering emails boring. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Melissa’s story is from The Algorithm, her weekly AI newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

The must-reads

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

1 China’s population has fallen for the first time in 60 years
The news has major implications for the country’s social, defense and economic policies. (CNN)
+ China’s economy is slumping. (Quartz)
+ India is set to take over as the world’s most populous country. (Economist $)
+ Anti-covid zero demonstrators are still being detained. (Bloomberg $)

2 The first bill for Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase is looming
How he deals with it is yet another major test of his leadership. (FT $)
+ We’re witnessing the brain death of Twitter. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Getty Images is suing Stable Diffusion’s creators
Getty claims the software was trained using millions of unlawfully scraped images. (The Verge)
+ Microsoft is adding ChatGPT to its cloud service “soon.” (Bloomberg $)

4 EV sales have passed a significant milestone
They made up 10% of new cars sold last year. (WSJ $)
+ Tesla is slashing its prices—but not everyone’s happy. (The Verge)

5 Tenant-screening algorithms reportedly discriminated against Black renters 
Now the US Department of Justice is getting involved. (Wired $)
+ AI has exacerbated racial bias in housing. Could it help eliminate it instead? (MIT Technology Review)

6 3D printed buildings could help to solve the US housing crisis
But there’s a major barrier: the way the construction industry works now. (New Yorker $)
+ Meet the designers printing houses out of salt and clay. (MIT Technology Review)

7 US tech firms are poaching talent from Latin American startups
Local startups struggle to match the salaries, which are still low by US standards. (Rest of World)

8 The agony and ecstasy of owning a coveted Instagram handle
You’d better prepare for people trying to steal it. (Slate $)

9 Life management apps can be more trouble than they’re worth
They’re designed to lighten our load, but can often add to it instead. (Vice)
+ Chore apps were meant to make mothers’ lives easier. They often don’t. (MIT Technology Review)

10 One of the internet’s favorite memes deserves a happier ending 
Maybe this really is fine, after all. (WP $)

Quote of the day

“With all the love and respect in the world, this song is bullshit, a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human, and, well, I don’t much like it.”

—Musician Nick Cave tears into AI model ChatGPT’s attempt to “write a song in the style of Nick Cave,” reports the Guardian.

The big story

Why cheaper solar photovoltaics are key to addressing climate change

June 2021

In late 2007, Google came out swinging on the clean energy front, declaring it wanted to make renewable energy cheaper than coal. The company invested tens of millions of dollars into R&D efforts. Just four years later, those efforts had been scrapped.

It would be all too easy to see this as an admission of failure. But Google’s shift in strategy was a reflection of the growing success of the solar sector. And though the deployment of solar photovoltaic technology, which converts light into electricity, has increased rapidly over the past decade, we still need ever further technological advances to keep pushing the existing methods— as well as supporting research and development in new areas. Read the full story.

—Gernot Wagner

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 curious about how to make a negroni sbagliato (with prosecco in it), wonder no longer.
+ There’s no stopping the hyperfemininity hype train. 
+ Affordable holidays, you say?
+ Here’s a great list of recipes for those days when you’re feeling under the weather (thanks Charlotte!)
+ How to make a lovely mug from a big ole hunk of wood.

Deep Dive

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