TechnologyThe Download

The Download: solar geoengineering’s rocky road, and Apple’s driverless ambitions

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.

Solar geoengineering could start soon if it starts small

—David W. Keith, founding faculty director of the Climate Systems Engineering initiative at the University of Chicago, and Wake Smith, a lecturer at the Yale School of Environment and a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.  

For half a century, climate researchers have considered the possibility of injecting small particles into the stratosphere to counteract some aspects of climate change. The idea is that by reflecting a small fraction of sunlight back to space, these particles could partially offset the energy imbalance caused by accumulating carbon dioxide, reducing warming as well as extreme storms and many other climate risks.

Cooling the planet with this form of solar geoengineering, called stratospheric aerosol injection,  would require a purpose-built fleet of high-altitude aircraft, which could take decades to assemble. This long lead time encourages policymakers to ignore the hard decisions about regulating its deployment.

Such complacency is ill-advised. Our analysis suggests a country could conceivably start a subscale solar geoengineering deployment in as little as five years, one that would produce unmistakable changes in the composition of the stratosphere. 

If we are correct, then policymakers may need to confront solar geoengineering—its promise and disruptive potential, and its profound challenges to global governance—earlier than is now widely assumed. Read the full story.

If you’re interested in learning more about solar geoengineering, take a look at:

+ A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate. Make Sunsets attempted to earn revenue for geoengineering back in 2022. Read the full story.

+ The flawed logic of rushing out extreme climate interventions. Forging too fast into controversial terrain can spark backlashes that stall research and limit our options. Read the full story.

+ This technology could alter the entire planet. These groups want every nation to have a say. Nonprofits and academic groups are working to help climate-vulnerable regions take part in the high-stakes global debate over solar geoengineering. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 Apple’s self-driving car division is secretly racking up the miles
But it’s still lagging far behind its more advanced competition. (Wired $)
+ Chinese automaker Geely has launched new satellites to improve its cars. (Reuters)
+ Automakers are racing to get solid-state batteries off the ground. (The Guardian)
+ What’s next for robotaxis in 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Google will no longer back up the entire internet
RIP web cache. (Ars Technica)

3 Microsoft’s AI chatbot will start developing news stories
But media startup Semafor’s human journalists will still do the actual writing. (FT $)
+ A new AI technique could slash training data requirements. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ ChatGPT can turn bad writers into better ones. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Facebook was launched 20 years ago
The site defined a strain of social network that’s started to die. (Economist $)
+ Its next two decades will be defined by the billions it’s spent on AI. (The Information $)
+ What the world thought of Facebook in 2004. (Fast Company $)

5 Sexual attacks in the metaverse are on the rise
And authorities are beginning to pay attention. (WP $)
+ We reported on this back in 2021. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Life near a bitcoin mine is a living nightmare
Constant noise is driving its neighbors to distraction, and a new law isn’t helping. (NYT $)
+ How Bitcoin mining devastated this New York town. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Bitcoin mining was booming in Kazakhstan. Then it was gone. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Gorillas, militias, and Bitcoin: Why Congo’s most famous national park is betting big on crypto. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Pig-butchering scam kits are for sale on the dark web
The kits contain web pages designed to connect to and drain a victim’s crypto wallets. (Bloomberg $)
+ The involuntary criminals behind pig-butchering scams. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Your perfect home has been dreamt up by AI
Impossibly spacious rooms, cozy nooks, and opulent interiors galore. (NYT $)

9 Sharing a Spotify account is a minefield
You never know when your peaceful playlist is about to be interrupted. (WSJ $)
+ Joe Rogan has thrashed out a multi-million dollar podcast deal. (Variety)

10 The best spots to look for alien life
Planets orbiting stable stars that aren’t too hot—or too cold—are good places to start. (The Atlantic $)
+ The best places to find extraterrestrial life in our solar system, ranked. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Experts are searching for dark matter in another dimension. (Quanta Magazine)
+ What celestial interlopers can teach us about exoplanets. (Knowable Magazine)

Quote of the day

“I thought it was a toy.”

—Derek Dennis, 56, a signal engineer on the New York subway, isn’t impressed by the city’s police department’s retired 400-pound robot, the New York Times reports.


The big story

How to fix the interne

October 2023

We’re in a very strange moment for the internet. We all know it’s broken. But there’s a sense that things are about to change. The stranglehold that the big social platforms have had on us for the last decade is weakening. 

There’s a sort of common wisdom that the internet is irredeemably bad. That social platforms, hungry to profit off your data, opened a Pandora’s box that cannot be closed. 

But the internet has also provided a haven for marginalized groups and a place for support. It offers information at times of crisis. It can connect you with long-lost friends. It can make you laugh. 

The internet is worth fighting for because despite all the misery, there’s still so much good to be found there. And yet, fixing online discourse is the definition of a hard problem. But don’t worry. I have an idea. Read the full story.

—Katie Notopoulos

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.)

+ This cat has no time for David Byrne.
+ How to grow an avocado plant—but you’ll be waiting a while for it to bear fruit. 🥑
+ Some people are really great at learning languages: up to 30 of them!
+ Why great white sharks get such a bad rap (here’s looking at you, Spielberg)
+ Tight shoulders? These stretches should help to sort you out.

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