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The Download

The Download: saving Louisiana from sinking, and the promise of thermal batteries

Plus: the bitcoin halving commeth

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.

How to stop a state from sinking

In a 10-month span between 2020 and 2021, southwest Louisiana saw five climate-related disasters, including two destructive hurricanes. As if that wasn’t bad enough, more storms are coming, and many areas are not prepared.

But some government officials and state engineers are hoping there is an alternative: elevation. The $6.8 billion Southwest Coastal Louisiana Project is betting that raising residences by a few feet, coupled with extensive work to restore coastal boundary lands, will keep Louisianans in their communities.

Ultimately, it’s something of a last-ditch effort to preserve this slice of coastline, even as some locals pick up and move inland and as formal plans for managed retreat become more popular in climate-­vulnerable areas across the country and the rest of the world. Read the full story.

—Xander Peters

This story is from the next magazine issue of MIT Technology Review, set to go live on April 24, packed with stories on the theme ‘Build’. If you don’t subscribe already, sign up now to get a copy when it lands.

How thermal batteries are heating up energy storage

We need heat to make everything from steel bars to ketchup packets. Today, a whopping 20% of global energy demand goes to producing heat used in industry, and most of that heat is generated by burning fossil fuels. In an effort to clean up industry, a growing number of companies are working to supply that heat with a technology called thermal batteries.

It’s such an exciting idea that MIT Technology Review readers have officially selected thermal batteries as the reader’s choice addition to our 2024 list of 10 Breakthrough Technologies. Here’s a closer look at what all the excitement is about.

—Casey Crownhart

If thermal batteries have piqued your interest, take a look at the rest of MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies, which we revealed earlier in the year.

The must-reads

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

1 Crypto miners are bracing themselves to lose out on billions of dollars
The forthcoming ‘halving’ software update will slash the amount they can earn each day. (Bloomberg $)
+ Beware the inevitable crypto scams. (Wired $)

2 Blind people could benefit from artificial vision
Current trials are small, but promising. (Wired $)
+ A new implant for blind people jacks directly into the brain. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Overzealous porn blockers are sabotaging US students’ homework 
Schools’ systems have blocked access to everything from NASA’s site to suicide prevention resources. (The Markup)
+ Teachers in Denmark are using apps to audit their students’ moods. (MIT Technology Review)

4 What do chief AI officers do, exactly?
Firms are rushing to hire them, but no two roles are identical. (FT $)

5 Behind the scenes, EV batteries are getting better
The new and improved cells should make it into cars on sale within the next five years. (WSJ $)
+ A US senator is agitating for a ban on Chinese-made EVs. (Ars Technica)
+ Meet the new batteries unlocking cheaper electric vehicles. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Pumping oxygen into the ocean could revitalize ‘dead zones’
In the hopes of bringing local ecosystems back to life. (The Atlantic $)

7 Millions of people catch Tuberculosis each year
A new vaccine could help to fight the disease, which is both preventable and treatable. (Vox)
+ These AI-powered apps can hear the cause of a cough. (MIT Technology Review)

8 AI is ruining beloved movies
That’s according to film aficionados, who hate the technology’s sharp, polished look. (NYT $)

9 Color analysis has had a 21st century makeover
The ‘80s way of working out which shades suit you best is a TikTok sensation. (WP $)
+ An in-person consultation could set you back $500. (NYT $)

10 Neopets is back!
Millennials are logging back on to hang out with virtual pets they created 20 years ago. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“If you were wondering what they're using to train GPT-5, well, now you know.”

—John Levine, creator of a site designed to trap web crawling bots, explains his site has received millions of pings from OpenAI bots over recent days, as they indiscriminately hoover up internet data used to train AI models, 404 Media 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. Read the full story.

—Elizabeth Preston

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.)

+ These artistic cookies are healing my soul.
+ Would you like to listen to the whole of Rubber Soul, but it’s just the bass and drums? Of course you would.
+ It’s French toast—but not as we know it.
+ Take me to all of these beaches immediately.

Deep Dive

The Download

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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