TechnologyThe Download

The Download: China’s digital red packet jamboree, and a methane-leak mapping satellite

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 the internet pushed China’s New Year red packet tradition to the extreme

If you ask any child in China what’s the most exciting thing about the Lunar New Year, they are likely to answer: the red packets. It’s a festive tradition: During the holidays, people give out red envelopes of cash to young members of the family. You can reliably get cash gifts every year until you graduate from school and start working full-time.

In the digital age, however, they’ve become a way for Chinese tech companies to make a stack of money and attract new users and traffic. 

In return, users have to follow increasingly complicated rules to get a few bucks, for example rewards for inviting friends to join the app, or spinning wheels of coupons. And these sorts of tactics are coming to the US and beyond, as apps like Temu expand. Read the full story. 

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter all about China’s tech scene and its impact on the wider world. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

How sulfur could be a surprise ingredient in cheaper, better batteries

The key to building less-expensive batteries that could extend the range of EVs might lie in a cheap, abundant material: sulfur.

Addressing climate change is going to require a whole lot of batteries, both to drive an increasingly electric fleet of vehicles and to store renewable power on the grid. Today, lithium-ion batteries are the dominant choice for both industries.

But as the need for more batteries grows, digging up the required materials becomes more challenging. The solution may lie in alternatives like lithium-sulfur, which could soon reach a major milestone, as startup Lyten plans to deliver limited quantities of lithium-sulfur cells to its first customers later this year. Read the full story. 

—Casey Crownhart

The must-reads

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

1 Is it worth paying for AI?
Tech giants have made huge bets that businesses will think it isbut some are unconvinced. (WSJ $)
AI hype is starting to look a bit like the telecoms boom and bust. (FT $)
OpenAI announced something that will make ChatGPT more useful: giving it a better memory. (NYT $)
+ It’s becoming clearer how AI is going to be sold to a skeptical public. (CNBC)

2 Chatbot ‘girlfriends’ are a privacy horror show
And the data they’re harvesting is about as intimate as it gets. (Wired $) 
If an AI chatbot dumped you, would you be able to tell? (WP $)
Please, do think carefully before outsourcing flirty texts to ChatGPT. (CNET)

3 EU climate policy is worryingly flawed
It looks good on the surface, but when you dig into it, it heavily relies on untested carbon-capture technology. (Nature)
Carbon removal hype is becoming a dangerous distraction. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Bots could be a big problem for this year’s elections
It’s not just deepfakes—there’s a whole gamut of new AI tools that’ll be used to wreak mayhem. (Scientific American $)
France says it’s uncovered a vast network of Russian disinformation websites in Europe. (The Economist $) 

5 A judge sided with OpenAI in a copyright lawsuit brought by authors
However, the lawsuit hasn’t reached a final conclusion yet. (Forbes)
How judges, not politicians, could dictate America’s AI rules. (MIT Technology Review)

6 It’s not a great idea to walk around while wearing your Vision Pro
For a whole stack of reasons, not least your own safety. (CNET)

7 The US military is targeting teen gamers for recruitment 🎮
But there are questions hovering over whether their tactics are entirely ethical. (The Guardian) 

8 A private company called off its first attempt to land on the moon
Odysseus and NASA will try again on Thursday so we’ll see then. (NBC)

9 Jeff Bezos has sold over $4 billion in Amazon shares 
I’m honestly dying to know what he’s planning to do with it. (Axios)

10 What it’s like to eat a robot 🤖🍽
Deeply strange from the sounds of it! (IEEE Spectrum)

Quote of the day

“It’s something old that probably we think that we left behind, but that is coming back.”

—Father Benanti, AI advisor to the Vatican, tells the New York Times that unwavering beliefs in AI’s power are almost becoming a new religion. 

The big story

Why we can no longer afford to ignore the case for climate adaptation

Father and his two small children in a boat surrounded by flooded homes


August 2022

Back in the 1990s, anyone suggesting that we’d need to adapt to climate change while also cutting emissions was met with suspicion. Most climate change researchers felt adaptation studies would distract from the vital work of keeping pollution out of the atmosphere to begin with.

Despite this hostile environment, a handful of experts were already sowing the seeds for a new field of research called “climate change adaptation”: study and policy on how the world could prepare for and adapt to the new disasters and dangers brought forth on a warming planet. Today, their research is more important than ever. Read the full story. 

—Madeline Ostrander

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.)

+ It really is possible to think yourself happier—here’s how.
+ Panic-buying some flowers this Valentine’s Day? Don’t make these mistakes. 
+ I’ll be having nightmares about my poor, neglected notebooks after seeing this. 
+ What a champion: Bella can officially claim the title of world’s loudest purring cat. 
+ Hate to break it to you, but running really does seem to have the edge over walking if you want to get fitter. 

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