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The Download

The Download: COP28 controversy and the future of families

Plus: Instagram Reels are recommending disturbing content

November 28, 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.

Why the UN climate talks are a moment of reckoning for oil and gas companies

The United Arab Emirates is one of the world’s largest oil producers. It's also the site of this year’s UN COP28 climate summit, which kicks off later this week in Dubai. 

It's a controversial host, but the truth is that there’s massive potential for oil and gas companies to help address climate change, both by cleaning up their operations and by investing their considerable wealth and expertise into new technologies.

The problem is that these companies also have a vested interest in preserving the status quo. If they want to be part of a net-zero future, something will need to change—and soon. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

How reproductive technology can reverse population decline

Birth rates have been plummeting in wealthy countries, well below the “replacement” rate. Even in China, a dramatic downturn in the number of babies has officials scrambling, as its population growth turns negative.

So, what’s behind the baby bust and can new reproductive technology reverse the trend? MIT Technology Review is hosting a subscriber-only Roundtables discussion on how innovations from the lab could affect the future of families at 11am ET this morning, featuring Antonio Regalado, our biotechnology editor, and entrepreneur Martín Varsavsky, founder of fertility clinic Prelude Fertility. Don’t miss out—make sure you register now.

The must-reads

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

1 Instagram recommends sexual content to adults that follow kids 

Test accounts were served risqué posts and disturbing videos. (WSJ $)
+ Meta was aware it had millions of underage users, a complaint alleges. (NYT $)

2  The first transatlantic flight powered by alternative fuels has taken off
Waste fats and corn leftovers are fueling the flight between London and New York. (BBC)
+ Here are the key phrases you need to know to understand climate change. (Vox)
+ Everything you need to know about the wild world of alternative jet fuels. (MIT Technology Review)

3 The United Arab Emirates planned to strike oil deals during COP28 
Which doesn’t seem terribly climate-friendly. (BBC)
+ A UAE AI firm is believed to have covertly worked with Chinese companies. (NYT $)
+ China’s own carbon emissions are on course to peak soon. (Economist $)

4 Starlink can only operate in Gaza with Israel’s approval
That’s according to Elon Musk, who is visiting Israel currently. (FT $) 

5 Foxconn is struggling to build iPhones in India
So the manufacturer started shipping over skilled workers from China. (Rest of World)

6 The world’s banana supply is in serious trouble 🍌
A deadly fungus is sweeping through crops—and there’s no known cure. (Bloomberg $)

7 Digital car keys don’t always work the way they’re supposed to
Which is a major problem if you can’t guarantee your vehicle is secure. (The Verge)

8 It’s not just you—dating is tough
But these tips can help to make it a less harrowing experience. (WP $)
+ Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Big dogs don’t live that long 🐶
But biotech company Loyal is hoping to change that with an experimental drug. (Wired $)
+ These scientists are working to extend the life span of pet dogs—and their owners. (MIT Technology Review)

10 The quiet bliss of living in an internet-free home
And how you can achieve it, too. (The Atlantic $)
+ How to log off. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

"He ignored me royally, which is his privilege. And he lost almost all the money that he had invested."

—Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, explains to students in Frankfurt how one of her sons lost his money on crypto, despite her repeated warnings, Reuters reports.

The big story

Are you ready to be a techno-optimist again?

February 2021

Back in 2001, MIT Technology Review picked 10 emerging areas of innovation that we promised would “change the world.” It was a time of peak techno-optimism.

We eschewed robotic exoskeletons and human cloning, as well as molecular nanomanufacturing and the dreaded gray goo of the nano doomsayers. Instead we focused on fundamental advances in information technology, materials, and biotech. Most of the technologies are still familiar: data mining, natural-language processing, microfluidics, brain-machine interfaces, biometrics, and robot design.

So how well did these technologies fulfill the dreams we had for them two decades ago? Here are a few lessons from the 2001 list. Read the full story.

—David Rotman

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.)

+ Sign me up for the cosy life, please.
+ Push yourself out of your comfort zone with a pair of statement specs, a la Elton John.
+ How to improve your attention span over time—it’s not as tough as it seems.
+ There’s a delicate balance to be struck between too much and not enough protein.
+ What can sand drawings teach us about math? Quite a lot, actually.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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