TechnologyThe Download

The Download: US facial recognition, and battery ingredients

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.

Face recognition in the US is about to meet one of its biggest tests

Just four years ago, the movement to ban police departments from using face recognition in the US was riding high. By the end of 2020, around 18 cities had enacted restrictive laws, and lawmakers proposed a pause on the federal government’s use of it. 

In the years since, that effort has slowed to a halt. Some local bans have even been partially repealed, and today, few seriously believe that a federal ban could pass in the foreseeable future. Right now in the US, facial recognition regulations are trapped in political gridlock.

However, in Massachusetts there is hope for those who want to restrict police access to face recognition, thanks to a bipartisan state bill being thrashed out by its lawmakers which would do exactly that.

A lot rides on whether this law gets passed. It could usher in a new age of compromise, and could set the standard for how face recognition is regulated elsewhere. On the other hand, if a vote is delayed or fails, it would be yet another sign that the movement is waning. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

Want to know where batteries are going? Look at their ingredients. 

Batteries are going to be a key part of how we tackle climate change. They’ll transform transportation and could also be crucial for storing renewables like wind or solar power for times when those resources aren’t available. 

So in a way, they’re a central technology for the two sectors responsible for the biggest share of emissions: energy and transportation. 

The International Energy Agency has just released a new report on the state of critical minerals in energy, which has some interesting battery-related tidbits. If you want to understand what’s next for batteries, you need to look at what’s happening right now in their materials. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

Casey’s story is from The Spark, her weekly climate newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Apple is plotting its own answer to ChatGPT
It’s part of Tim Cook’s plans to embrace AI on a “very thoughtful basis.” (Bloomberg $)
+ AI might not be all bad news for Hollywood. (Wired $)
+ Google is experimenting with AI for journalists. (NYT $)
+ Researchers think they’ve proved that GPT-4 is getting worse. (Ars Technica)
+ ChatGPT is everywhere. Here’s where it came from. (MIT Technology Review)

2 It’s about to get tougher for tech companies to merge
Courtesy of new US guidelines designed to prevent monopolies. (NYT $)

3 We all know climate change is getting worse
But experts are divided over whether it’s doing so faster than expected, and if so why. (Economist $)
+ Do these heat waves mean climate change is happening faster than expected? (MIT Technology Review)

4 A bill that curbs US government access to our data has been greenlit
If passed, it’ll prevent agencies from buying data without a warrant. (Motherboard)

5 EVs have a tire pollution problem
Making them smaller and slower are a few ways to reduce it. (The Atlantic $)+ Recycling cars is big business these days. (Economist $)

6 It looks like Netflix’s password-sharing crackdown paid off
Almost 6 million subscribers have stumped up for their own accounts. (WSJ $)

7 The world is racing to unlock the power of geothermal energy
Fracking is a contentious way to do it, though. (Wired $)
+ This geothermal startup showed its wells can be used like a giant underground battery. (MIT Technology Review)

8 What is a head of AI?
Plenty of companies don’t know, but they’re hiring them anyway. (Vox)

9 Gen Z is freezing their eggs

But even with youth on their side, success rates are still on the low side. (Vice)
+ There’s still so much we don’t understand about fertility. (Economist $)
+ I took an international trip with my frozen eggs to learn about the fertility industry. (MIT Technology Review)

10 This free music streaming app is gaining fans in Latin America
It’s ad-powered, and crucially, it’s legal. (Rest of World)

Quote of the day

“It’s sort of like you’re a therapist. They tell you their life stories.”

— Ylonda Sherrod, an AT&T call center worker, tells the New York Times that replacing employees with AI systems will leave customers missing the human touch.

The big story

Why the balance of power in tech is shifting toward workers

February 2022

Something has changed for tech giants. Even as they continue to hold tremendous influence in our daily lives, a growing accountability movement has begun to check their power. Led in large part by tech workers themselves, a movement seeking reform of how these companies do business has taken on unprecedented momentum, particularly in the past year.

Concerns and anger over tech companies’ impact in the world is nothing new, of course. What’s changed is that workers are increasingly getting organized. Read the full story.

—Jane Lytvynenko

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.)

+ The women’s soccer World Cup is kicking off today! And England are the favorites to challenge the reigning champions.
+ This extreme deep sea freezer sounds like the perfect way to keep your beers icy cold.
+ Wow, the drunken monks of the Middle Ages sure knew how to have a good time.
+ Hey, hey, hey, what would an entire song of ‘heys’ sound like?
+ The unbearable brilliance of children’s books.

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