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The Download

The Download: enhanced geothermal systems, and promising climate tech

Plus: US regulators have given bitcoin exchange traded funds the green light

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.

Enhanced geothermal systems: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Geothermal heat, an abundant and carbon-­free energy source, offers an alternative to fossil fuels that doesn’t vary with the weather or time of day. However, conventional geothermal plants require specific geological conditions—in particular, permeable rocks with water sources.

Because of this, geothermal accounts for less than 1% of global renewables capacity. But an emerging technology could let us exploit even more of the heat beneath our feet.

Enhanced geothermal systems allow companies to access geothermal heat in new locations, cracking open relatively solid rocks at depths much greater than existing geothermal wells. Water is then injected into these rocks to generate steam, which subsequently drives turbines to produce electricity. But the technology is not without potential risks. Read the full story.

—June Kim

Enhanced geothermal systems is one of MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies for 2024. Check out the rest of the list and vote for the final 11th breakthrough—we’ll reveal the winner in April.

Three climate technologies breaking through in 2024

Climate tech is big news for 2024. So much so, it makes up not one, not two, but three entries in this year’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies, MIT Technology Review’s list of the tech that’s changing our world.

Our climate reporter Casey Crownhart has written a handy guide to why these technologies are so noteworthy, and what you need to know about them. Read the full story.

This story is from The Spark, our weekly climate and energy newsletter. 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 US regulators have approved a new bitcoin-tracking product after all
Just hours after saying a tweet confirming the news was the result of a hack. (NYT $)
+ The approval of bitcoin exchange traded funds is a major boon for crypto. (Reuters)
+ A goldrush for investors could be on the horizon. (Wired $)
+ Funding for crypto startups is still in the doldrums, though. (Bloomberg $)

2 OpenAI’s GPT Store is live
Visitors can both buy and sell customized chatbots through it. (The Guardian)
+ The bots can be as simple or complex as their creators desire. (TechCrunch)
+ What’s next for OpenAI. (MIT Technology Review)

3 America’s EV charging network just got a major boost
To the tune of $623 million to build 7,5000 new charge points. (Wired $)
+ Why getting more EVs on the road is all about charging. (MIT Technology Review)

4 How Mark Zuckerberg fell out of love with the metaverse
And pivoted fully to AI. (Bloomberg $) 

5 We don’t have proper tools to detect plagiarism
AI checkers are trained to look for matching text—not plagiarism itself. (The Markup)
+ AI-text detection tools are really easy to fool. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The US is on the verge of a dangerous vaccination tipping point
Misinformation online is the driving force behind falling vaccination rates for numerous conditions, regulators warn. (Ars Technica)

7 Meta’s content moderators are fighting for their rights
After being forced to watch online atrocities, they were sacked without warning. (FT $)
+ How an undercover content moderator polices the metaverse. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Gadgets that used to be ‘smart’ are ‘AI-powered’ now
As ever, clever marketing is no guarantee they’ll be successful—but it doesn’t hurt. (WSJ $)
+ AI binoculars for identifying birds? Take my money! (The Verge)

9 TikTok has a bland fixation with performative cleanliness
It’s a reminder that excessive oversanitization can cause more harm than good. (Vox)
+ Things are getting crazy over in TikTok Shop. (NY Mag $)

10 There’s no shame in playing your video games on easy mode 🧟
Life’s too short to be mauled to death by zombies. (The Atlantic $)

Quote of the day

“I’m sure if Picasso or Matisse were still alive they would quit their job.”

—Renowned artist Ai Weiwei explains how even some of the world’s most-recognized artists would have had to rethink their approach if AI had existed in their era to the Guardian.

The big story

The rise of the tech ethics congregation

August 2023

Just before Christmas 2022, a pastor preached a gospel of morals over money to several hundred members of his flock. But the leader in question was not an ordained minister, nor even a religious man.

Polgar is the founder of All Tech Is Human, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting ethics and responsibility in tech. His congregation is undergoing dramatic growth in an age when the life of the spirit often struggles to compete with cold, hard, capitalism.

Its leaders believe there are large numbers of individuals in and around the technology world, often from marginalized backgrounds, who wish tech focused less on profits and more on being a force for ethics and justice. But attempts to stay above the fray can cause more problems than they solve. Read the full story.

—Greg M. Epstein

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.)

+ How to fall in love with cottage cheese (even if you hate it).
+ The recipient of the most Razzie Awards, celebrating the worst in cinematic achievement? One Sylvester Stallone.
+ Here’s a good rundown of the albums we’re most looking forward to this year.
+ I had no idea it was possible to grow tea in Scotland, of all places.
+ Awards show speeches aren’t all dull—sometimes they can be downright hilarious.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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