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.
Why the dream of fusion power isn’t going away
There’s a joke about fusion power that always comes up when people start talking about the technology. It goes like this: Fusion is the energy of the future … and it always will be.
Fusion reactors could someday deliver cheap, abundant power with no carbon emissions. But the promise of “someday” has been around for a long time without payoff. Fusion has generated so much excitement but also so much skepticism. It’s the ultimate long shot in energy technology.
But despite the massive technical challenges, the promise of fusion’s round-the-clock power with no carbon emissions means that experts say we mustn’t give up on it. Read the full story.
Psst: our climate reporter Casey Crownhart will be discussing the future of long-shot climate technologies like fusion during our second annual ClimateTech conference, taking place at MIT on October 4 and 5. Nab your ticket now!
This story first appeared in The Spark, our weekly climate and energy newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.
This robotic exoskeleton can help runners sprint faster
What’s happened: A wearable exoskeleton can help runners increase their speed by encouraging them to take more steps, allowing them to cover short distances more quickly, a new study has found.
How it works: The researchers built a lightweight exosuit with steel cables powered by electrical motors attached to the runner’s thighs. The motors pull the cables, mimicking the contraction of muscles. The exosuit helps people run faster by assisting their hip extension—the powerful motion that propels a runner forward.
Big ambitions: Buoyed by their findings, the researchers want to see if their exosuit can help a runner to beat the men’s world record for running 100 meters. They’re working on a customized exosuit for Kyung-soo Oh, a former national elite runner in South Korea who had retired, in a bid to break Usain Bolt’s record of 9.58 seconds. Read the full story.
MIT Technology Review flash sale!
It’s the final day of our flash sale, allowing you to subscribe to MIT Technology Review from just $8 a month for digital-only access, or $99 a year for both digital access and to receive our print issues in the post.
Even better, you’ll receive a free copy of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2023 issue as well. Sign up today and save 17% off the full price.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Meta has released a slew of AI chatbots with famous personas
Paris Hilton and Snoop Dogg-inspired AI chatbots are coming to its apps. (The Verge)
+ Its new conversational chatbot Meta AI is its answer to ChatGPT. (WP $)
+ Meta is confident that private data hasn’t been used to train the model. (Reuters)
+ Chinese AI chatbots want to be your emotional support. (MIT Technology Review)
2 The Hollywood writers’ strike is over
After they managed to secure protections against AI writing scripts. (TechCrunch)
+ Studios can still present writers with AI-generated material, though. (Motherboard)
+ There’s no contracted agreement with the major AI firms in place, either. (Wired $)
3 OpenAI is secretly working on a consumer device
In conjunction with tech design supremo Jony Ive, no less. (FT $)
+ Hardware for the AI age is an interesting proposition. (The Information $)
+ The inside story of how ChatGPT was built from the people who made it. (MIT Technology Review)
4 Google is increasingly handing over location data to the police
And innocent people’s information is often caught up in the process. (Bloomberg $)
5 X’s CEO Linda Yaccarino says it will make a profit next year
Despite Elon Musk’s recent announcement about a major drop in advertising revenue. (WSJ $)
+ Yaccarino says 90% of its top advertisers have returned. (Bloomberg $)
6 We’re living in the age of the austerity influencer
Money-saving experts hold a huge sway over their budget-conscious audience. (The Guardian)
8 Wikiracing is seriously wholesome
The art of racing between Wikipedia articles in as few clicks as possible is harder than it sounds. (Slate $)
9 Online creators are having an identity crisis
They’ve outgrown their personal brands, but their fans won’t let them change. (Bustle)
10 Scientists are releasing armies of crabs in Florida
They’re essential to helping save its vulnerable reefs from the ravages of climate change. (Vox)
+ The desperate race to cool the ocean before it’s too late. (MIT Technology Review)
Quote of the day
“I think it’ll be more fun to fight someone who actually fights.”
—Mark Zuckerberg sets his sights on a match with a more worthy opponent, after his brawl with rival Elon Musk never came to fruition, he tells the Verge.
The big story
Uber’s facial recognition is locking Indian drivers out of their accounts
One evening in February 2021, Uber driver Niradi Srikanth was getting ready to start his shift ferrying passengers around the Indian city of Hyderabad. He pointed the phone at his face to take a selfie to verify his identity. The process usually worked seamlessly. But this time he was unable to log in.
Srikanth suspected it was because he had recently shaved his head. After further attempts to log in were rejected, Uber informed him that his account had been blocked. He is not alone.
In a survey conducted by MIT Technology Review of 150 Uber drivers in the country, almost half had been either temporarily or permanently locked out of their accounts because of problems with their selfie. It’s a glitch that can have devastating consequences for affected workers. Read the full story.
We can still have nice things
+ Acting legend Brian Cox has no time for AI.
+ How Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour captured a sociopolitical moment in time.
+ The ‘90s is well and truly back, and it’s coming for the next generation. ($)
+ It’s time to jam on tiny toy pianos.
+ If you’ve been planning a trip to somewhere as far-flung as possible, these locations are well worth a look.