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The Download

The Download: the future of geoengineering, and how to make stronger, lighter materials

Plus: bad actors are using AI tools to generate child abuse images

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.

Why new proposals to restrict geoengineering are misguided

—Daniele Visioni is a climate scientist and assistant professor at Cornell University

The public debate over whether we should consider intentionally altering the climate system is heating up, as the dangers of climate instability rise and more groups look to study technologies that could cool the planet.

Such interventions, commonly known as solar geoengineering, may include releasing sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere to cast away more sunlight, or spraying salt particles along coastlines to create denser, more reflective marine clouds.  

The growing interest in studying the potential of these tools has triggered corresponding calls to shut down the research field, or at least to restrict it more tightly. But such rules would hinder scientific exploration of technologies that could save lives and ease suffering as global warming accelerates—and they might also be far harder to define and implement than their proponents appreciate. Read the full story.

This architect is cutting up materials to make them stronger and lighter

As a child, Emily Baker loved to make paper versions of things. It was a habit that stuck. Years later, studying architecture in graduate school, she was playing around with some paper and scissors when she made a striking discovery.

By making a series of cuts and folds in a sheet of paper, Baker found she could produce two planes connected by a complex set of thin strips. Without the need for an adhesive, this pattern created a surface that was thick but lightweight. Baker named her creation Spin-Valence. 

Structural tests later showed that an individual tile made this way, and rendered in steel, can bear more than a thousand times its own weight. Baker envisions using the technique to make shelters or bridges that are easier to transport and assemble following a natural disaster—or to create lightweight structures that could be packed with supplies for missions to outer space. Read the full story.

—Sofi Thanhauser

This story is for subscribers only, and is from the next magazine issue of MIT Technology Review, set to go live tomorrow, on the theme of Build. If you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands.

Three things we learned about AI from Emtech Digital London

Last week, MIT Technology Review held its inaugural Emtech Digital conference in London. It was a great success, full of brain-tickling insights about where AI is going next. 

Here are the three main things Melissa Heikkilä, our senior AI reporter, took away from the conference.

This story is from The Algorithm, our weekly AI newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

The must-reads

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

1 US child protection agencies are inundated with AI-created abuse images
And their systems are struggling to spot real children who could be helped. (WP $)
+ A new report is urging tech platforms to improve how such material is reported. (The Verge)
+ Legislation that could overhaul problems in the reporting pipelines is in motion. (WSJ $)

2 A startup edited human DNA using generative AI 
It aims to make the new wave of CRISPR faster and more powerful. (NYT $)
+ Forget designer babies. Here’s how CRISPR is really changing lives. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Amazon is shutting down one of its drone delivery programs in California
Just two years after it launched. (The Verge)

4 There’s no room in China’s tech sector for over-35s
Ageism is rife as companies overlook workers they worry may have home commitments. (FT $)
+ One of China’s most successful cultural exports? Bubble tea. (Bloomberg $)

5 Measuring ocean waves and currents is hard
Luckily, a new kind of sensor-rich buoy that communicates with satellites is one solution. (IEEE Spectrum)

6 Recycling plastic has been a colossal failure
Can ‘advanced recycling’ finally crack it? (New Scientist $)
+ Think that your plastic is being recycled? Think again. (MIT Technology Review)

7 How to make your home as energy-efficient as possible
Appliances are much better than they used to be, but you may still have to make sacrifices. (Vox)

8 Captchas are getting tougher to solve
Machines are getting better at cracking them, so the bar is raised for humans. (WSJ $)
+ Death to captchas. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Good luck getting a restaurant reservation these days
Pesky bots and convoluted online booking systems are wrecking our dinners. (New Yorker $)

10 Muting annoying accounts makes social media so much better
Seriously, try it and thank me later. (The Guardian)
+ How to log off. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“I, for one, welcome our new Taylor Swift overlords.” 

—A member of a Reddit community for typewriter enthusiasts jokes about how the group might swell rapidly after Taylor Swift referenced the machines in her new album, 404 Media reports.

The big story

This town’s mining battle reveals the contentious path to a cleaner future

January 2024

In June last year, Talon, an exploratory mining company, submitted a proposal to Minnesota state regulators to begin digging up as much as 725,000 metric tons of raw ore per year, mainly to unlock the rich and lucrative reserves of high-grade nickel in the bedrock.

Talon is striving to distance itself from the mining industry’s dirty past, portraying its plan as a clean, friendly model of modern mineral extraction. It proclaims the site will help to power a greener future for the US by producing the nickel needed to manufacture batteries for electric cars and trucks, but with low emissions and light environmental impacts.

But as the company has quickly discovered, a lot of locals aren’t eager for major mining operations near their towns. Read the full story.

—James Temple

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.)

+ What a wonderful piece of music!
+ Weighted blanket devotees swear by them—but what does the science say?
+ Donald Nelson is on a mission to restore sharks’ reputations following decades of persecution.
+ Meanwhile, a British boy has won a European championship with his uncanny impression of a seagull.

Deep Dive

The Download

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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