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The Download

The Download: teaching girls to build, and fixing government tech

Plus: Big Tech workers want their employers to take sides in the Israel-Hamas conflict

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.

The nonprofit that lets girls build the world they want to see

Emily Pilloton-Lam didn’t grow up in a particularly handy household, but she did spend hours outside building treehouses out of logs and sticks. After years studying architecture at prestigious institutions, she realized she wanted to pursue what made her fall in love with building: working with her hands and with other people on projects that mattered. 

In 2008, at age 26, she founded a nonprofit that’s now called Girls Garage, to equip girls with both the personal power and the literal power tools to build the world they want to see.

The architecture, engineering, and construction industries are famously slow to innovate. But Girls Garage is helping to jump-start change. Read the full story.

—Allison Arieff

This piece is from the next magazine edition of MIT Technology Review, set to go live on Wednesday. It’s all about society’s hardest problems, and how we should tackle them. If you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands!

How to make government technology better

Who hasn’t tried to fill in a government form online and run into at least one issue? Or even just thought, Hmm, why can’t I easily just do this basic civic activity online, like renewing your license? Can you even imagine a world where you could submit a digital request to fill a pothole in your neighborhood (and it actually got filled)?

All too often, online experiences with government agencies are painfully inefficient. At the same time, examples of dangerous, eye-roll-inducing techno-solutionist thinking run rampant. But it doesn’t have to be this way. To see how government tech could improve, it’s worth studying the example of Massachusetts, and Boston in particular. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

Tate’s story is from The Technocrat, MIT Technology Review’s weekly newsletter covering power and policy in Silicon Valley. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

2023 Climate Tech Companies to Watch: Form Energy and its iron batteries

Form Energy is building iron-based batteries that could store renewable energy on the grid for long stretches, saving up for times when electricity sources such as wind and solar aren’t available. 

Iron, one of the most common metals on the planet, could help the company build batteries that are cheap enough to be practical. Read more about Form Energy, and check out the rest of the list of Climate Tech Companies to Watch.

25% off MIT Technology Review

For a limited time, we’re offering 25% off an annual subscription to MIT Technology Review. Subscribe for as little as $60 for digital access, or from $90 for both digital and print editions. 

The must-reads

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

1 Big Tech firms are being urged to take sides in the Israel-Hamas conflict
Blacklists of employees who’ve voiced support for Palestine are appearing online. (WP $)
+ Palestinians say that online censorship is endangering lives. (Wired $)
+ The CEO of a tech conference has resigned over his comments on the conflict. (Reuters)

2 Japan is investigating Google over potential antitrust violations 
It echoes the ongoing case the company is currently fighting in the US. (Bloomberg $)

3 Inside a cash-for-bitcoin laundering ring in New York
The scheme, which ran for years, raked in millions of dollars for criminals. (404 Media)

4 The US military hopes AI will give it the edge over China
But experts fear that startup ScaleAI’s ambitions could rush advanced AI onto the battlefield before it’s ready. (WP $)
+ Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Chinese authorities are investigating iPhone maker Foxconn
The Taiwan-based firm is being investigated over tax and land use. (FT $)
+ Apple can’t shake its dependence on third parties to make iPhones. (WSJ $)

6 Sustainable aviation is edging closer to taking off
But you have to cut through a whole load of greenwashing to get to the truth. (Vox)
+ Everything you need to know about the wild world of alternative jet fuels. (MIT Technology Review)

7 How to make your food last longer
Expiration dates aren’t always accurate. Algorithms can fill in the gaps. (The Atlantic $)

8 This startup wants to use a headset to induce lucid dreaming
The problem is, there’s no proof it will work. (Slate $)
+ I taught myself to lucid dream. You can too. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Meet the teens who actually want their parents to track them
However, knowing where someone is not the same as knowing they’re safe. (WSJ $)

10 The uncanny reality of AI-generated newsreaders
They don’t need breaks or salaries, but they can’t meet their fans, either. (The Guardian)
+ Deepfakes of Chinese influencers are livestreaming 24/7 (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“Religion is all about spirituality... If AI writes a sermon from A to Z, it can’t be soulful.”

—Kim Min-joon, CEO of AI bible chatbot company Awake Corp, which uses ChatGPT to answer its users’ faith-based questions, tells the Financial Times why he cautions pastors against lifting entire sermons from its app

The big story

What does breaking up Big Tech really mean?

June 2021

For Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet, covid-19 was an economic blessing. Even as the pandemic sent the global economy into a deep recession and cratered most companies’ profits, these companies—often referred to as the “Big Four” of technology—not only survived but thrived.

Yet at the same time, they have come under unprecedented attack from politicians and government regulators in the US and Europe, in the form of new lawsuits, proposed bills, and regulations. There’s no denying that the pressure is building to rein in Big Tech’s power. But what would that entail? Read the full story.

—James Surowiecki

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.)

+ Galapagos giant tortoises are being put to work: as dedicated ecosystem engineers.
+ These extreme close ups demonstrating how pens distribute ink are going to give me nightmares.
+ Ancient Egypt’s ‘mummy portraits’ are really quite remarkable.
+ There’s only one Eric Cantona, who, not content with going down in history as a European footballing legend, is turning his hand to singing.
+ How to make a gigantic Mars Bar, because why not?

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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