Tech

The Download: more energy-efficient AI, and the problem with QWERTY keyboards

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.

How a simple circuit could offer an alternative to energy-intensive GPUs

On a table in his lab at the University of Pennsylvania, physicist Sam Dillavou has connected an array of breadboards via a web of brightly colored wires. The setup looks like a DIY home electronics project, but this unassuming assembly can learn to sort data like a machine-learning model.

While its current capability is rudimentary, the hope is that, if it works, it could help spark a far more energy-efficient approach to building faster AI. Read the full story.

—Sophia Chen

How QWERTY keyboards show the English dominance of tech

Have you ever thought about the fact that, despite the myriad differences between languages, virtually everyone uses the same QWERTY keyboards? Many languages have more or fewer than 26 letters in their alphabet—or no “alphabet” at all, like Chinese, which has tens of thousands of characters. Yet somehow everyone uses the same keyboard to communicate.

Last week, MIT Technology Review published an excerpt from a new book, The Chinese Computer, which talks about how this problem was solved in China. 

Zeyi Yang, our China reporter, sat down with the book’s author, Tom Mullaney, a professor of history at Stanford University to discuss how speakers of non-Latin languages to adapt modern technologies for their uses, and what their efforts contribute to computing technologies. Read the rest of their conversation here.

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter covering tech and power in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 US advisors have rejected MDMA as a treatment for PTSD
Which means it’s increasingly unlikely that it’ll end up being approved in August after all. (Vox)
+ The trials had positive results—but appeared flawed and biased. (Ars Technica)
+ What’s next for MDMA. (MIT Technology Review)

2 China is dead set on EV world domination
Everywhere besides the US and Europe, at least. (FT $)
+ How did China come to dominate the world of electric cars? (MIT Technology Review

3 Israel is secretly targeting US lawmakers with an influence campaign
It’s using fake social media accounts urging US lawmakers to fund Israel’s military. (NYT $)

4 Police drones aren’t all they’re cracked up to be
They’re being deployed to investigate minor crimes in the city of Chula Vista—and residents are increasingly unnerved. (Wired $)
+ Flying taxi firm Joby Aviation is hoping to move into defense contracts. (Fast Company $)
+ Welcome to Chula Vista, where police drones respond to 911 calls. (MIT Technology Review)

5 SpaceX has been permission to launch a fourth test flight
If everything runs smoothly, it should take off at 7am CDT on Thursday. (Ars Technica)

6 How Uganda built a vast biometric surveillance network
Identity verification systems are also used to monitor its citizens. (Bloomberg $)
+ How Worldcoin recruited its first half a million test users. (MIT Technology Review)

7 It’s a good time to be an AI video startup
In some cases, they’re ahead of the established giants. (WP $)
+ What’s next for generative video. (MIT Technology Review)

8 The lonely search for connection online
Modern loneliness is rife. The internet could help—and hinder. (The Guardian)

9 Stretchy screens are on the horizon
And could usher in a whole new era of wearables. (IEEE Spectrum)

10 These glasses could help us to see in the dark 👓
By converting infrared into visible light. (New Scientist $)

Quote of the day

“The world isn’t ready, and we aren’t ready.”

—Daniel Kokotajlo, a former OpenAI researcher, explains to the New York Times why he lost confidence in the company’s ability to behave responsibly as it creates ever more capable AI systems.

The big story

California’s coming offshore wind boom faces big engineering hurdles

December 2022

The state of California has an ambitious goal: building 25 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2045. That’s equivalent to nearly a third of the state’s total generating capacity today, or enough to power 25 million homes.

But the plans are facing a daunting geological challenge: the continental shelf drops steeply just a few miles off the California coast. They also face enormous engineering and regulatory obstacles. Read the full story.

—James Temple

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.)

+ I could watch this clay genius make models of Pokemon all day long.
+ Cellphones and concert halls don’t tend to go together—but a new symphony is looking to forge a new cellular musical connection.
+ Yaupon tea sounds delicious to me.
+ For six years, Katy Perry had the charts in a chokehold. What happened?

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