The Download: robotic bees, and China’s surveillance state

The Download: robotic bees, and China’s surveillance state thumbnail

Things were wrong, but Thomas Schmickl could not pinpoint the cause. It was 2007, and the Austrian biologist was spending part of the year at East Tennessee State University. During his daily walks, he noticed that insects were conspicuously absent.

Schmickl is now the head of the Artificial Life Lab at University of Graz, Austria. He wasn’t wrong. The world’s insect populations are changing or declining.

Robotic honey bees could, he believes help both the real thing as well as their environment, which he calls ecosystem hacking. Some companies already offer augmented beehives, which can monitor the environment and even automatically tend to the bees. Schmickl and his associates want to take it a step further by using technology to control the behavior of the insects. Read more .

–Elizabeth Preston

The Chinese surveillance state proves that the idea of privacy is more “malleable” than you’d expect

Over the past decade, the US–and the world more generally–has watched with growing alarm as China has emerged as a global leader in surveillance technologies. This has led to a number of human rights violations, but the state has also used surveillance technology for good: to find missing children and improve traffic control and trash management in cities.

The Chinese government has created a new social contract, according to Liza Lin and Josh Chin, Wall Street Journal reporters. They exchange their citizens’ data for more precise governance. This, in theory, should make their lives safer and more comfortable (even though it may not always work out that way in practice).

MIT Technology Review recently interviewed Lin and Chin about the myth that privacy is not valued by China, how the pandemic has accelerated China’s use of surveillance tech, and whether technology can remain neutral. Read the complete story .

–Zeyi Yang

The must-reads

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

1 North Korea’s crypto hackers are fueling its nuclear weapons program
They’re believed to have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars in the past year alone. (CNET)
The country’s recent missile launches were ‘simulation’ of attacks on South Korea. (BBC)

2 We’re all likely to contract covid multiple times
But, experts say, the infections should become less frequent. (New Yorker $)
Unraveling the human immunome is incredibly complex. (Neo.Life)
This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Apple’s new iPhone misinterprets roller coaster rides as car crashes
It’s a major problem when it keeps warning both 911 and loved ones that you’re in danger when you’re not. (WSJ $)

4 Even Meta’s employees aren’t fully convinced by the metaverse
Some teams are fed up with catering to Mark Zuckerberg’s whims. (NYT $)
The company is desperately trying to improve the quality of its experiences. (FT $)

5 The US and China are engaged in an economic war
America’s efforts to curb China’s domestic tech industry has infuriated Beijing. (Bloomberg $)
Supercomputers are at the heart of the restrictions. (Reuters)
Inside the software that will become the next battle front in the US-China chip war. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How online moderation became rebranded as a censorship
The 2016 US Presidential election was a turning point in online speech’s politicization. (WP $)
A former Democratic strategist is building a network of progressive news sites. (Wired $)

7 How sustainable are biofuels, exactly?
Scientists can’t agree on whether greener fuels will ultimately help or harm the planet. (Knowable Magazine)
The world will need dozens of breakthrough climate technologies in the next decade. (MIT Technology Review)

8 China’s biggest influencers are being dogged by scandal
Squeaky-clean virtual avatars are one solution. (FT $)
How China’s online influencers fell from their thrones. (MIT Technology Review)

9 GIFs are in decline
But they refuse to die quite yet. (The Atlantic $)

10 Magnetism may have helped shape the universe after all
The theory has been dismissed for decades, but new experiments suggest otherwise. (New Scientist $)

Quote of the day

“I kind of want to up the standards a bit.”

–Christopher Slayton, an 18-year old Minecraft player, tells the New York Times why he decided to spend two months creating the entire known universe within the video game.

The big story

A first-of-its-kind geoengineering experiment is about to take its first step

February 2021

In a world that’s cutting carbon dioxide emissions too slowly to prevent catastrophic climate change, solar geoengineering might buy some time. However, it could cause disruptions to the weather patterns across the globe. These effects can be unpredictable and in some cases, even disastrous.

If those launches are approved – and that’s a big if – they will be the first geoengineering experiment in the stratosphere. They’re already being criticized even before they have left the ground. Read the full story.

–James Temple

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. Have any other ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me. )

This celebration of all things arty and spooky is perfect as the nights start to draw in.
Are politicians the new influencers?
Somebody stop me!
Happy 10th anniversary to Losing You by Solange, which is an absolute tune.
A veteran weather reporter explains what it’s like to cover some of the biggest storms on record.

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