TechnologyThe Download

The Download: saving seals with artificial snow, and AI’s effects on politics

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.

These artificial snowdrifts protect seal pups from climate change

For millennia, during Finland’s blistering winters, wind drove snow into meters-high snowbanks along Lake Saimaa’s shoreline, offering prime real estate from which seals carved cave-like dens to shelter from the elements and raise newborns.

But in recent decades, these snowdrifts have failed to form in sufficient numbers, as climate change has brought warming temperatures and rain in place of snow, decimating the seal population.

For the last 11 years, humans have stepped in to construct what nature can no longer reliably provide. Human-made snowdrifts, built using handheld snowplows, now house 90% of seal pups. They are the latest in a raft of measures that have brought Saimaa’s seals back from the brink of extinction. Read the full story.

—Matthew Ponsford

Matthew’s story is from the next magazine issue of MIT Technology Review, set to go live this Wednesday April 24, on the theme of Build. If you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands.

Politics in the AI era

2024 is a banner year for elections across the world, and it arrives just as AI advances come thick and fast. This collision of events raises a crucial question: how will the rise of AI change politics?

Join MIT Technology Review Editor in Chief Mat Honan and Executive Editor Amy Nordrum for a LinkedIn Live event where they’ll explore the impact of political influencers and deepfakes, and unpack industry insights and predictions. Register here to tune in at 1pm ET tomorrow.

The must-reads

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

1 Inside the movement to create AI models without guardrails 
These ‘anti-woke’ systems often introduce more problems than solutions. (WSJ $)
+ Do AI systems need to come with safety warnings? (MIT Technology Review)

2 California wants to force Google and Meta to compensate news publishers
Unsurprisingly, they’re not taking the so-called ‘link tax’ lying down. (WP $)
+ Japan’s regulators have accused Google of anticompetitive behavior. (Bloomberg $)

3 China is planning on becoming the global leader for flying cars
Its regulators are beavering away to green-light projects as quickly as possible. (FT $)
+ The aviation industry is still weathering the backlash over Boeing’s issues. (Vox)
+ These aircraft could change how we fly. (MIT Technology Review)

4 TikTok’s top lawyer is stepping down
Amid the company’s highly-publicized legal tussle with the US government. (The Information $)
+ The US Senate is expected to vote on its proposed ban bill this week. (The Guardian)

5 A huge cyberattack revealed Finnish people’s psychotherapy records
The fallout was likened to the trauma of a terrorist attack. (Bloomberg $)

6 A UK sex offender has been banned from using AI tools
In the first known legal case of its kind. (The Guardian)
+ Catching bad content in the age of AI. (MIT Technology Review)

7 The internet is rife with scams
They’re so convincing, even experts are falling for them. (NYT $)
+ How culture drives foul play on the internet. (MIT Technology Review)

8 The future of AI gadgets is probably just phones
The Ai Pin’s savage reviews look like an omen. (The Verge)

9 Spare a thought for Nvidia’s engineers
A million dollars doesn’t go too far these days, according to one worker. (Insider $)

10 This camera produced AI-generated poetry instead of photos
Is a picture really worth a thousand words? (TechCrunch)
+ A Salvador Dalí AI lobster telephone has gone on display in Florida. (Insider $)

Quote of the day

“Politics is being treated as a four-letter word and pushed out of the public square.”

—Eric Wilson, managing partner at Republican campaign tech incubator Startup Caucus, laments Meta’s decision to treat politics as less of a priority on its platforms to the Washington Post.

The big story

Cops built a shadowy surveillance machine in Minnesota after George Floyd’s murder 

March 2022

Law enforcement agencies in Minnesota have been carrying out a secretive, long-running surveillance program targeting civil rights activists and journalists in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

Run under a consortium known as Operation Safety Net, the program was set up in spring 2021, ostensibly to maintain public order as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin went on trial for Floyd’s murder.

But an investigation by MIT Technology Review reveals that the initiative expanded far beyond its publicly announced scope to include expansive use of tools to scour social media, track cell phones, and amass detailed images of people’s faces. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley & Sam Richards

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 cats have a bright pottery-making career ahead of them.
+ You just can’t escape British workwear these days.
+ It’s never too late to take up something you love.
+ The first-ever model of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise NCC-1701 has been returned to the family of series creator Gene Roddenberry.

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