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The Download

The Download: introducing the Build issue

Plus: the US has passed the bill that could make banning TikTok a reality

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.

Introducing: the Build issue

Building is a popular tech industry motif—especially in Silicon Valley, where “Time to build” has become something of a call to arms. Yet the future is built brick by brick from the imperfect decisions we make in the present. 

We don’t often recognize that the seeming steps forward we are taking today could be seen as steps back in the years to come. Sometimes the things we don’t do, or the steps we skip, have bigger implications than the actions we do take.

These are the themes we delve into in our Build issue. Check out these stories from the magazine:

Check out these stories from the magazine:

+ Our cover story from Melissa Heikkilä investigates whether the AI boom is going to usher in robotics’ very own ChatGPT moment.

+ Louisiana’s homes are sinking. Can a government-led project build the area up and out of crisis?

+ Axiom Space and other commercial companies are betting they can build private structures to replace the International Space Station.

+ A fascinating look at the serious weird history of brainwashing, and how America became obsessed with waging psychic war against China.

+ Why the rise of generative AI means we need a new term to replace ‘user.’

+ AI was supposed to make police bodycams better. What happened?

+ How we transform to a fully decarbonized world. A world powered by electricity from abundant, renewable resources is now within reach.

This is just a small selection of what’s on offer. Subscribe if you don’t already to check out the whole thing. Enjoy!

This solar giant is moving manufacturing back to the US

Whenever you see a solar panel, most parts of it probably come from China. The US invented the technology and once dominated its production, but over the past two decades, government subsidies and low costs in China have led most of the solar manufacturing supply chain to be concentrated there.

But the US government is trying to change that. Through high tariffs on imports and hefty domestic tax credits, it is trying to make the cost of manufacturing solar panels in the US competitive enough for companies to want to come back and set up factories.

To understand its chances of success, MIT Technology Review spoke to Shawn Qu, founder and chairman of long-standing solar firm Canadian Solar. After decades of mostly manufacturing in Asia, Canadian Solar is pivoting back to the US. He told Zeyi Yang, our China reporter, why he sees a real chance for a solar industry revival

To learn more about the state of Chinese tech in the US, including climate tech stars, check out the latest edition of China Report, our weekly newsletter covering tech, policy and power in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 The US Senate has passed the bill that could ban TikTok 
It could either force parent company ByteDance to sell TikTok, or face a national ban. (WP $)
+ Senators insist that TikTok’s ownership poses a real threat to the US. (FT $)+ But ByteDance is highly unlikely to complete a sale within the narrow timeframe. (Reuters)
+ Here’s what’s likely to happen next. (NYT $)

2 The AI industry is desperate for more data centers
Demand is so high, it’s causing a shortage of essential components. (WSJ $)
+ Energy-hungry data centers are quietly moving into cities. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Hackers are testing cyberattacks in developing nations
Africa, Asia and South America are targeted before they move onto richer countries. (FT $)
+ Australia is worried that AI is supercharging online extremist activity. (Bloomberg $)

4 Google has pushed back its plan to phase out cookies—again
It’s the third time the company has delayed the project. (Bloomberg $)

5 How General Motors spied on its customers
It tracked driving data and sold it to the insurance industry. (NYT $)
+ The advertising industry is kicking its heels as it waits. (WSJ $)
+ China’s car companies are turning into tech companies. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How AI could help to make sense of complicated theories
String theory, anyone? (Quanta Magazine)
+ Is it possible to really understand someone else’s mind? (MIT Technology Review)

7 The NFL is diving into big data
When it comes to optimizing sporting performance, knowledge is power. (Knowable Magazine)

8 A new industry is trying to game Reddit with AI-generated product promo
It’s the kind of sneaky approach the Reddit community famously hates. (404 Media)
+ A GPT-3 bot posted comments on Reddit for a week and no one noticed. (MIT Technology Review)

9 AI beauty pageants are a thing now 💄
Which surely undermines the point of beauty contests. (The Guardian)

10 X’s latest trend is infuriating
Look down at my keyboard? Absolutely not. (Insider $)

Quote of the day

“If the Chinese government wants data on Americans, they don’t need TikTok to get it.”

—Alan Z. Rozenshtein, an associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota, reflects on the US Senate’s decision to pressure ByteDance into selling TikTok or face a national ban, Platformer reports.

The big story

The lucky break behind the first CRISPR treatment

December 2023

The world’s first commercial gene-editing treatment is set to start changing the lives of people with sickle-cell disease. It’s called Casgevy, and it was approved last November in the UK.

The treatment, which will be sold in the US by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, employs CRISPR, which can be easily programmed by scientists to cut DNA at precise locations they choose.

But where do you aim CRISPR, and how did the researchers know what DNA to change? That’s the lesser-known story of the sickle-cell breakthrough. Read more about it.

—Antonio Regalado

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.)

+ The Monument Valley games are lovely, if you’ve never played them, and their music is particularly poignant.
+ There’s nothing more satisfying than a good pressure washer video.
+ Have you ever found your doppelganger in an art gallery? These people have.
+ Replacing beef with fish in classic recipes—with surprisingly tasty results.

Deep Dive

The Download

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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