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The Download

The Download: cleantech 2.0, and ‘jury duty’ on Chinese delivery apps

Plus: the new US AI executive order has landed

December 4, 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.

Climate tech is back—and this time, it can’t afford to fail

A cleantech bust in 2011 left almost all the renewable-energy startups in the US either dead or struggling to survive.

Over a decade on, the excitement around cleantech investments and manufacturing is back, and the money is flowing again. A recent analysis estimates that total green investments reached $213 billion in the US during the 12 months beginning July, 2022.

However, as ‘cleantech 2.0’ startups inch towards commercialization, many of them still face the same issues that tripped up the green revolution a decade ago. Can they succeed where their predecessors failed? Read the full story

—David Rotman

Users are doling out justice on a Chinese food delivery app 

Jury trials are plentiful on Chinese apps—especially Meituan, the country’s most popular food delivery service. 

Offered as a way for restaurants to appeal bad reviews they believe are unreasonable, Meituan crowdsources help from users by showing them the review, details of the order, and notes from the restaurant. Then users can vote on whether to take down the review from the restaurant’s public page. More than six million users have now participated in ‘jury duty’ on the app.

Even though it has existed for a few years, many people have only recently become aware of Meituan’s public jury feature. It’s now frequently a viral topic on social media—and a source of joy for those nosy enough to weigh in on other people’s business. Read the full story

—Zeyi Yang

Meet the 15-year-old deepfake victim pushing Congress into action

In October, Francesca Mani was one of reportedly more than 30 girls at Westfield High School in New Jersey who were victims of deepfake pornography. Boys at the school had taken photos of Francesca and her classmates and used AI to create sexually explicit images of them without their consent.

The practice is actually stunningly commonplace, but we rarely hear such stories—at least in part because many victims understandably don’t want to talk publicly. But, within just a day of learning about the violation, 15-year-old Francesca started speaking out and calling on lawmakers to do something about the broader problem. Her efforts are already starting to pay off with new momentum for legislation. 

Francesca and her mother, Dorota, say that their activism aims particularly to support women and girls who might be less equipped to push for change. Our senior reporter Tate Ryan-Mosley spoke to them both—read her write-up of their interview.

This story is from The Technocrat, our weekly newsletter all about power, politics, and Silicon Valley. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

The must-reads

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

1 Inside the bitter feuds that will shape the future of AI
It seems most of today’s top AI companies were born out of arguments between rich, egomaniacal men. (NYT $)
How Microsoft navigated the recent OpenAI board turmoil. (New Yorker $)
OpenAI agreed to buy $51 million of AI chips from a startup backed by Sam Altman. (Wired $)
Adam D’Angelo helped to fire Altman. Now he has to work with him. (WSJ $)
Not every AI expert thinks superintelligence is on its way. (CNBC)
 
2 Satellite images suggest nearly 98,000 buildings in Gaza are damaged
The pictures were taken before the seven-day suspension of hostilities, which has now ended. (BBC)
+ Inside the satellite tech being used to reveal the extent of Gaza’s destruction. (Scientific American $)
 
3 A group of 56 nations have agreed to phase out coal
Including the US, which sends a strong signal. (AP $)
Why the UN climate talks are a moment of reckoning for oil and gas companies. (MIT  Technology Review)
Climate experts are furious with the head of COP28 for spreading misinformation. (Sky)
 
4 We badly need to regulate AI in medicine
Here’s how we might approach that mammoth task. (Proto.Life)
+ Artificial intelligence is infiltrating health care. We shouldn’t let it make all the decisions. (MIT Technology Review)
 
5 Ozempic makes people want to drink less alcohol 🍷
Researchers need to collect more data to understand why, but it’s a potentially promising finding. (Wired $)
+ Weight-loss injections have taken over the internet. But what does this mean for people IRL? (MIT Technology Review)
 
6 As X descends into chaos, news outlets are turning to Reddit
The trouble is, it’s a very different beast. (WP $)
X is still struggling to lure back advertisers. (The Guardian)
 
7 What it’s like to get your hamburgers delivered by drone
Fun… but probably not economically viable, in the long-run. (The Information $)
Food delivery by drone is just part of daily life in Shenzhen. (MIT Technology Review)
 
8 Kiss is becoming a ‘virtual-only’ band
Their avatars can stay on tour forever, while the actual members of the group put their feet up. (BBC)
 
9 You probably don’t need that shiny new tech gadget this Christmas 📱
The days of constant, rapid advancements in consumer tech are over. (The Guardian)
 
10 Inside the audacious plan to bring the dodo back from the dead
The plan is to reintroduce it to its once-native habitat in Mauritius. (CNN)
+ It might never work out. But wouldn’t it be cool if it did? (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“Other states are going to be watching and learning.”

—A former White House security official tells The Guardian that other nations are taking a keen interest in how Israel is using AI to select bombing targets in Gaza.

The big story

Ghost ships, crop circles, and soft gold: A GPS mystery in Shanghai

November 2019

On a sultry summer night in 2019, the MV Manukai was arriving at the port of Shanghai. The city would be the American container ship’s last stop in China before making its long homeward journey to California.

As the crew carefully maneuvered the 700-foot ship through the world’s busiest port, its captain watched his navigation screens closely. According to the Manukai’s screens, another ship was steaming up the same channel at about seven knots (eight miles per hour). Suddenly, the other ship disappeared from the AIS display. A few minutes later, the screen showed the other ship back at the dock. Then it was in the channel and moving again, then back at the dock, then gone once more.

Eventually, mystified, the captain picked up his binoculars and scanned the dockside. The other ship had been stationary at the dock the entire time. Now, new research and previously unseen data show that the Manukai, and thousands of other vessels, are falling victim to a mysterious new weapon that is able to spoof GPS systems in a way never seen before. Read the full story.

—Mark Harris

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.)

+ All aboard the booze train!
+ Treat yourself to these amazing BBC music performances, showcasing some of the best musicians of the past 50 years.
+ Gen Z is doling out dating advice to millennials, and it is savage.
+ Fortune telling with cheese? It doesn’t get much crazier than that. 🧀
+ The Conway Library archives are really quite remarkable.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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