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The Download

The Download: the year’s most-read climate stories, and Amazon’s chatbot

Plus: Amazon has launched a new AI chatbot

November 29, 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.

A look back at the year’s most-read climate stories

2023 has been a big year for climate news. Wildfires, floods and heatwaves displaced and killed thousands of people across the world as extreme weather events worsened, and scientists have concluded the past 12 months were the hottest since records began.

But it’s not exclusively bad news. Our climate experts James Temple and Casey Crownhart have been covering the most promising technologies that could make a difference. Take a look back over some of MIT Technology Review’s most-read climate stories of the year—and make sure you keep up-to-date with all the latest news by subscribing to The Spark, our weekly climate and energy tech newsletter. 

+ This geothermal startup showed its wells can be used like a giant underground battery. If Fervo Energy’s field results work at commercial scale, it could become cheaper and easier to green the grid. Read the full story.

+ Helion Energy, a startup backed by Sam Altman, says its first fusion plant is five years away. Experts aren’t so sure.

+ Check out our handy explainer of how heat pumps work—and how they could save you money in the process.

+ Spraying iron particles above the ocean could help to fight climate change. But scientists say far more research still needs to be done. Read the full story.

+ Yes, we have enough materials to power the world with renewable energy. We won’t run out of key ingredients for climate action, but mining comes with social and environmental ramifications. Read the full story.

+ Nonprofits and academic groups are working to help climate-vulnerable regions take part in the high-stakes global debate over solar geoengineering.

+ We were promised smaller nuclear reactors. Where are they? Small modular reactors could be quicker and cheaper to build. Now, they’ve reached a major milestone. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 Amazon has launched a new AI chatbot called Q
Not to be confused with OpenAI’s rumored Q* AI model. (NYT $)
+ It’s designed to help code and manage cloud software for businesses. (Wired $)

2 Elon Musk boosted the dangerous pizzagate conspiracy theory
It’s the latest in a string of long-debunked theories he’s given oxygen to on X. (WP $)
+ It’s no wonder the platform can’t keep its advertisers. (Motherboard)

3 Apple is winding down its Goldman Sachs credit card partnership
But it’s unclear whether this spells the end of Apple’s foray into finance or not. (WSJ $)

4 There’s no evidence the internet is harming your mental health
Contrary to popular opinion. (FT $)
+ Your kid’s phone probably isn’t causing depression. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Amazon is disrupting rural mail services across America
Postal workers have been instructed to prioritize the retail giant’s package deliveries, and customers aren’t happy about it. (WP $)

6 High-profile women in AI don’t want to join OpenAI’s all-male board 
The board reflects the wider problems within the AI industry. (Wired $)
+ A prominent female tech influencer’s accounts are run by a man. (404 Media)
+ Why can’t tech fix its gender problem? (MIT Technology Review)

7 America loves hydrogen 
It’s an attractive green energy—but only if it can be made efficiently. (The Atlantic $)
+ When hydrogen will help climate change—and when it won’t. (MIT Technology Review)

8 US soldiers are sharing their horrific barracks on a new app  
Hots&Cots is full of images of dirty lodgings and substandard living conditions. (Motherboard)
+ The future of military tech is heavily AI-based. (Vox)

9 The world’s first AI singer is no Taylor Swift
Her first release is deeply basic, to put it kindly. (Insider $)

10 Those Instagrammable offices aren’t fooling anyone
Workers don't want to go back, and photogenic spaces won’t change that. (NYT $)

Quote of the day

"The list of abuses is endless…[X] has become a vast global sewer."

—Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, explains why she’s leaving X after 14 years on the platform, Insider reports.

The big story

How robotic honeybees and hives could help the species fight back

October 2022

Something was wrong, but Thomas Schmickl couldn’t put his finger on it. It was 2007, and the Austrian biologist was spending part of the year at East Tennessee State University. During his daily walks, he realized that insects seemed conspicuously absent.

Schmickl, who now leads the Artificial Life Lab at the University of Graz in Austria, wasn’t wrong. Insect populations are indeed declining or changing around the world.

Robotic bees, he believes, could help both the real thing and their surrounding nature, a concept he calls ecosystem hacking. Read the full story.

—Elizabeth Preston

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.)

+ Now the nights are drawing in, what could be better than snuggling up with a great book?
+ How to make a fictional brand a success in the real world.
+ The world’s toughest language to learn? That’ll be Navajo.
+ BRB, making a tiny bookshelf filled with all the books I’ve read this year.
+ Will you be tucking into a Christmas pudding this year?

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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