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The Download

The Download: why batteries rock, and Apple’s VR headset returns problem

Plus: the FCC has banned AI robocalls

February 15, 2024

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.

Three things to love about batteries

It’s hard to pick favorites when it comes to climate technologies. Really, anything that helps us get closer to tackling climate change is worth writing about, both to share the potential upsides and to carefully examine for pitfalls.

Our climate reporter Casey Crownhart, however, does have a special place in her heart for one in particular: batteries. Why? Well, they play a crucial role in climate action, there are a million different kinds that can meet basically any need, and they’re at least a little bit magical. Read the full story

—Casey Crownhart 

This story is from The Spark, our weekly newsletter that explains the tech that could combat the climate crisis. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

If you’re curious about batteries too, join our Roundtable event at 12.30pm ET today to hear from our editors and reporters discuss battery technologies, and what it’ll take for them to reach their full potential to combat climate change. 

And read more from us:

+ Sulfur could cut both the weight and cost of batteries—if it can overcome some big technical barriers.

Sodium could also be a game-changer for batteries.

+ If you want to know where batteries are going, look at their ingredients. + Discover why we chose battery recycling as one of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies in 2023.

The must-reads

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

1 People are returning their Apple Vision Pro headsets
Their main complaints are that it’s uncomfortable, gives them headaches, and triggers motion sickness. (The Verge)
Should Apple be worried? (Mashable)
2 We shouldn’t be so surprised by big leaps in AI performance
Impressive new abilities, a new paper argues, are actually neither unpredictable nor sudden. (Quanta $
AI hype is built on high test scores. Those tests are flawed. (MIT Technology Review)
AI chatbots are getting tamer—and a bit lamer. (NYT $)
3 Russia is moving towards building space-based nuclear weapons
US intelligence officials say the threat isn’t imminent—but it’s a worrying development. (NYT $)
A globetrotting influencer sent missile and drone parts to Russia, as part of an effort to dodge US sanctions. (Vice)
+ AI is becoming a powerful tool for hacking, Microsoft says. (WP $)
4 Self-driving car firm Waymo is recalling its software 
The bad news just keeps on coming for the autonomous vehicle sector recently. (Quartz $)
+ Robotaxi companies face an uphill battle to restore public trust, and prove their business models work. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Carmakers are ditching hybrid cars too quickly. (Vox)
5 Meta cut funding for fact-checking on WhatsApp
The timing couldn’t be worse, in a year with so many elections around the world. (The Information $)
6 X has been accepting payments from terrorist groups
Directly violating US sanctions in the process. (BBC)
7 How a virus beat back a woman’s ‘zombie’ bacteria 
Viruses called phages can help people for whom antibiotics no longer work—but they can be tricky to deploy. (Wired $)
We’ve known the dangers of antimicrobial resistance for years. It’s time for action. (MIT Technology Review)
8 AI has been used to bring back children killed in shootings
It’s aimed at pushing lawmakers into action—but it’s a controversial way to go about it. (WSJ $)
9 Bitcoin’s on a tear again
It’s the highest price it’s been since December 2021 right now. (CNBC)
+ But don’t get too sucked into the hype. (Gizmodo)
It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)
10 A guy made a dating app where you can only date one person: him
My lord, the chutzpah. (Gizmodo)

Quote of the day

"Quest is the better product, period."

—Mark Zuckerberg’s review of Apple’s Vision Pro headset, posted to his Instagram account. 

The big story

The new US border wall is an app


June 2023

Keisy Plaza, 39, left her home in Colombia seven months ago. She walked a 62-mile stretch with her two daughters and grandson to reach Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, on the border with Texas.

Plaza has been trying every day for weeks to secure an appointment with Customs and Border Protection so she can request permission for her family to enter the US.

So far, she’s had no luck: each time, she’s been met with software errors and frozen screens. When appointment slots do open up, they fill within minutes. A new app, called CBP One, is supposed to help alleviate the sorts of issues Plaza has encountered. But will it? Read the full story.

—Lorena Rios

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.)

+ When chefs are off-duty, these are the kinds of dishes they cook for themselves. 

+ Everyone seems to be loving Mr and Mrs Smith right now.

+ How many of these famous self-portraits were you able to identify? 

+ A home in London with a built-in Russian-style sauna and spa? Be still, my beating heart.

Deep Dive

The Download

The Download: the problem with plug-in hybrids, and China’s AI talent

Plus: Silicon Valley is desperate to snap up top AI talent—before anyone else does

The Download: defining open source AI, and replacing Siri

Plus: the EU has announced a raft of new Big Tech probes

The Download: the mystery of LLMs, and the EU’s Big Tech crackdown

Plus: the trade secret war between China and the US is hotting up

The Download: new AI regulations, and a running robot

Plus: Nvidia has unveiled a whole load of new AI chips

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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