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The Download: fixing space weather-forecasting, and reopening a nuclear power plant

The Download: fixing space weather-forecasting, and reopening a nuclear power plant

Plus: an earthquake in Taiwan has laid bare the vulnerability of the global chip supply

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.

The race to fix space-weather forecasting before next big solar storm hits

As the number of satellites in space grows, and as we rely on them for increasing numbers of vital tasks on Earth, the need to better predict stormy space weather is becoming more and more urgent. 

Scientists have long known that solar activity can change the density of the upper atmosphere. But it’s incredibly difficult to precisely predict the sorts of density changes that a given amount of solar activity would produce. 

Now, experts are working on a model of the upper atmosphere to help scientists to improve their models of how solar activity affects the environment in low Earth orbit. If they succeed, they’ll be able to keep satellites safe even amid turbulent space weather, reducing the risk of potentially catastrophic orbital collisions. Read the full story.

—Tereza Pultarova

How to reopen a nuclear power plant

A shut-down nuclear power plant in Michigan could get a second life thanks to a $1.52 billion loan from the US Department of Energy. If successful, it will be the first time a shuttered nuclear power plant reopens in the US.  

Palisades Power Plant shut down on May 20, 2022, after 50 years of generating low-carbon electricity. But the plant’s new owner thinks economic conditions have improved in the past few years and plans to reopen by the end of next year.

A successful restart would be a major milestone for the US nuclear fleet, and help inch the country closer to climate goals. But reopening isn’t as simple as flipping on a light switch. Here’s what it takes to reopen a nuclear power plant

—Casey Crownhart

Threads is giving Taiwanese users a safe space to talk about politics

For months, Threads has been the most downloaded app in Taiwan, as users flock to the platform to talk about politics and more. On the platform itself, Taiwanese users are also belatedly realizing their influence when they see that comments under popular accounts, like a K-pop group, come mostly from fellow Taiwanese users.

But why did Threads succeed in Taiwan when it has failed in so many other places? Zeyi Yang, our China reporter, has dug into the surprising reasons why. Read the full story.

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things happening 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 Taiwan’s deadly earthquake highlights how vulnerable chip supplies are
Major manufacturers were forced to halt production. (FT $)
+ It could have significant implications for AI firms who rely on the chips. (Bloomberg $)
+ The chip patterning machines that will shape computing’s next act. (MIT Technology Review)

2 How to get an AI model to break its ethical rules
Repetitive questions are key to tricking systems into breaking their own guidelines. (TechCrunch)
+ Text-to-image AI models can be tricked into generating disturbing images. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Microsoft has been lambasted for its shoddy cybersecurity
Its lapses led to hackers from China infiltrating US officials’ emails. (WP $)

4 We shouldn’t have to rely on pig kidney transfers
Unfortunately, human donors are in short supply. (Vox)
+ The entrepreneur dreaming of a factory of unlimited organs. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Europe’s alternative iPhone app stores require a lot of work
You’d have to be a very patient fan of emulators to make the installation process worthwhile. (The Verge)

6 X has hired a new head of safety
Kylie McRoberts has her work cut out. (WSJ $)
+ She is X’s third safety head since Elon Musk took over. (NBC News)
+ The platform is currently swamped with pornographic content. (Bloomberg $)

7 Partisan fake news sites have overtaken local newspaper sites in the US
And we’re likely to see even more of them as the election approaches. (FT $)
+ Three technology trends shaping 2024’s elections. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Caregivers are going viral on TikTok
Some viewers think it’s sweet—but others worry it’s exploitative. (NYT $)
+ Dementia content gets billions of views on TikTok. Whose story does it tell? (MIT Technology Review)

9 What 13th century Native North Americans can teach us about climate change
Communities developed entirely new strategies to cope. (The Atlantic $)
+ Inside the fight to protect the Amazon. (New Yorker $)

10 Inside the retro gaming revival
For younger gamers, old is most definitely cool. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“We’ve facilitated this common ground that people have. Not to be too heady about it, because it’s just sticks.”

—Boone Hogg, co-creator of the wildly popular Instagram account Official Stick Review, reflects on why such a simple concept has resonated with so many people to the New York Times.

The big story

How Meta and AI companies recruited striking actors to train AI

October 2023

Between July and September last year, actors in the US were invited to participate in an unusual research project, designed to capture their voices, faces, movements, and expressions.

The project, which coincided with Hollywood’s historic strikes, was run by London-based emotion AI company Realeyes and Meta. The information captured from the actors was fed into an AI database to better understand and express human emotions. 

Many actors across the industry worry that AI could be used to replace them, whether or not their exact faces are copied. And in this case, by providing the facial expressions that will teach AI to appear more human, study participants may in fact have been the ones inadvertently training their own potential replacements. Read the full story.

—Eileen Guo

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.)

+ Gen Z loves Nirvana—and so do we (thanks Charlotte!)
+ Tune in for some lo-fi Succession beats.
+ If you’re hoping to get a glimpse of some cherry blossom this spring, these are the best places to head to.
+ I love these teeny tiny mushrooms! 🍄

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