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The Download

The Download: how to talk about climate tech, and Sam Altman’s past

Plus: the new US AI executive order has landed

November 23, 2023

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.

Your guide to talking about climate tech over Thanksgiving

Ah, the holidays. Time for good food, quality moments with family, and hard questions about climate change … or is that just us?

Our climate reporter Casey Crownhart has been in the middle of plenty of heated conversations around the dinner table. And although you might be tempted to sneak away or change the subject, it might be worth sticking around and helping people to cut through the confusing things they’ve heard on TV, or the internet, or from their friends.

If you decide to do that, we’ve got you covered. Let’s dig into a few questions about climate change, and especially climate technology, that might come up over the course of the holidays. Read the full story.

This story is from The Spark, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things energy and climate change. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Sam Altman’s past hints at why OpenAI’s board tried to fire him
The very qualities some admire deeply rankle others. (WP $)
Who is in and who is out on OpenAI’s board. (NYT $)
Behind the scenes of the OpenAI showdown. (WSJ $)
Who won? The money men. (NYT $)
Some OpenAI customers have been considering switching to rival companies. (CNBC)
But the development of AI is now controlled by a tiny cadre of firms. (NBC)
You can now voice chat with ChatGPT. (Engadget)

2 Binance users have withdrawn at least $1 billion in the last 24 hours
With the CEO pleading guilty to various criminal charges, can you really blame them? (CNBC)
One of the perks Binance offered VIP customers was a heads-up if they were being investigated by law enforcement. (CNBC)
But does all this drama mean crypto might be about to become… boring? (Wired $)
What’s next for crypto. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Gazans are desperately trying to stay online
Even before the siege, internet connectivity was poor. Now the situation is dire. (Vice)

4 Digital hate has a long, dark history in India 
And we can expect things to get much worse with an election looming early next year. (Wired $)

5 AI-generated photos are proliferating on stock image sites
It’s harder than ever before to tell fact from fiction. (WP $)
Text-to-image AI models can be tricked into generating disturbing images. (MIT Technology Review)

6 A judge ruled that Elon Musk ignored Tesla Autopilot’s fatal flaws
Between this and the mess at Cruise, it’s a pretty bad week for the autonomous vehicle sector. (Ars Technica)
Cruise claims it’s likely to relaunch soon in Texas or Arizona. (Axios)
A race for autopilot dominance is giving China the edge in autonomous driving. (MIT Technology Review)

7 TikTokers are posting videos of strangers gossiping about people
While, uh, potentially harming everyone involved in the process. (The Guardian

8 We’re getting better at using tech to smell stuff 👃
But ‘e-noses’ are complex to calibrate, and extremely expensive. (BBC)
New research aims to bring odors into virtual worlds. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Just go ahead and use your smartphone this Thanksgiving 
Sure, you don’t want to be glued to it, but it might be a handy piece of distraction. (WSJ $)

10 Paris Hilton’s company joined a long list of advertisers abandoning X
It’s becoming an ‘X-odus’ (sorry.) (CNN)

Quote of the day

“You could parachute him into an island full of cannibals and come back in 5 years and he'd be the king.”

—Paul Graham on his fellow Y Combinator co-founder Sam Altman in a blog post from 2008. 

The big story

The FBI accused him of spying for China. It ruined his life.

" "

June 2021

In April 2018, Anming Hu, a Chinese-Canadian associate professor at the University of Tennessee, received an unexpected visit from the FBI. The agents wanted to know whether he’d been involved in a Chinese government “talent program,” offering overseas researchers incentives to bring their work back to Chinese universities.

Not too long ago, American universities encouraged their academics to build ties with Chinese institutions, but the US government is now suspicious of these programs, seeing them as a spy recruitment tool. Despite Hu’s denial he was involved in such programs, a little less than two years later, they showed up again—this time to arrest him. Read the full story.

—Karen Hao & Eileen Guo

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+ These hip horses are rockin’ all over the world 🐴 
+ Having a baby and need to settle on a name that works in two languages? MixedName is here to help.
+ Aww, the very shy Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna has been caught on camera for the first time.
+ What’s more appropriate for Thanksgiving than an espresso martini? Nothing, that’s what.
+ Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving slasher movie is a box office hit for a reason.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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