The Download: cleaning up shipping, and Elon Musk’s new AI startup

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 common chemicals could help clean up global shipping

Global shipping is a big deal for the climate, accounting for 3% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Last week saw a big news announcement from the International Maritime Organization, the UN agency in charge of regulating the vessels that carry the goods we buy all over the world. 

On July 7, the IMO agreed to new climate goals, setting a target date of “by or around 2050” to clean up the industry’s act and reach net-zero emissions. There are checkpoints too: emissions should be at least 20% below 2008 levels by 2030.

The shipping industry hasn’t had targets like this before. So how does it reach them? It’s more doable than you might think, as our climate reporter Casey Crownhart explains. Read the full story.

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

If you’re interested in the shipping industry’s carbon footprint, why not check out:

+ How ammonia could help clean up global shipping. The fuel could provide an efficient way to store the energy needed to power large ships on long journeys. Read the full story.

+ Why slower ships and new fuels could be a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to reaching those net-zero goals.

The must-reads

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

1 Elon Musk has unveiled his new startup, xAI
But his chances of overtaking OpenAI any time soon are slim. (Wired $)
+ The new company will rely on Tesla for a lot of its resources. (WP $)
+ Anthropic’s new chatbot is here. (The Guardian)

2 What the James Webb Space Telescope has taught us
Its first year of operation has opened our eyes to the wonders of the universe. (The Atlantic $)
+ There’s granite on the moon, apparently. (Economist $)
+ How the James Webb Space Telescope broke the universe. (MIT Technology Review)

3 What hasn’t Sam Altman invested in?
Many of his 400 or so investments are benefiting from the AI boom, too. (The Information $)
+ Has GPT-4 been secretly overhauled? It seems like it. (Insider $)
+ Sam Altman invested $180 million into a company trying to delay death. (MIT Technology Review)

4 America’s aggressive subsidies policy is paying off
The US wants future technologies to be developed at home, and the rest of the world is scrabbling to keep up. (FT $)
+ The $100 billion bet that a postindustrial US city can reinvent itself as a high-tech hub. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Facebook and Google are tracking your tax preparations
Now, a group of lawmakers want to do something about it. (Vox)

6 Junky AI content is taking over the internet
It’s a new form of spam, and it’s everywhere. (WSJ $)
+ Junk websites filled with AI-generated text are pulling in money from programmatic ads. (MIT Technology Review)
+ AI is fueling a drug addiction crisis. (Insider $)

7 Climate change is changing the color of the ocean
Its new greener hue indicates serious disruptions in the marine food web. (Motherboard)

8 IT workers in Bangladesh are struggling in the heat
The country’s intense heatwave makes it virtually impossible to work in offices. (Rest of World)
+ Heat exposure is a deadly killer. (Slate $)
+ The villagers fighting to survive India’s deadly heatwaves. (MIT Technology Review)

9  Farming robots are getting better—and cheaper
Human laborers are no longer always the best at what they do. (FT $)
+ How technology might finally start telling farmers things they didn’t already know. (MIT Technology Review)

10  Airbnb’s party ban isn’t working
It seems like background checks aren’t doing much to curb wild guests. (Wired $)

Quote of the day

“I look a little bit askance at signing a six month pause while you’re trying to accelerate your own effort.”

—Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, criticizes Elon Musk’s recent call for a pause on AI development given that the billionaire has just unveiled his own AI startup, xAI, he tells Bloomberg.

The big story

Predictive policing algorithms are racist. They need to be dismantled.

July 2020

Inequality and the misuses of police power don’t just play out on the streets or during school riots. For digital rights activists, the focus is now on where there is most potential for long-lasting damage: predictive policing tools and the abuse of data by police forces.

A number of studies have shown that these tools perpetuate systemic racism, and yet we still know very little about how they work, who is using them, and for what purpose. All of this needs to change before a proper reckoning can take place, but a clear principle is emerging: if we can’t fix them, we should ditch them. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

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 baby flamingo learning to stand on one leg is just too cute.
+ Live Aid was 38 years ago today! Let’s revisit just one of its iconic performances.
+ Brutalist architecture is an acquired taste, but you can’t deny its buildings are striking.
+ Mads Mikkelsen is just unapologetically himself.
+ What are these daring shrimp up to at the bottom of the sea, exactly?


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