The Download: authoritarian tech, and tower-building drones

The Download: authoritarian tech, and tower-building drones
Despite President Biden’s assurances Wednesday at the United Nations meeting that the US was not seeking a new Cold War, one is already brewing between the world’s autocracies, democracies, and technology is fueling it.

Last week, Iran and Turkey joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an economic and political alliance headed by the authoritarian regimes in China and Russia.

The majority of SCO member states, along with other authoritarian countries, are following China’s example and are moving towards more digital rights abuses. This includes increasing digital surveillance of citizens, censorship and controls on individual expression.

While democracies use large amounts of surveillance technology, it is the tech trade relations between authoritarian nations that are enabling the rise in digitally enabled social control. Read the complete story .

–Tate Ryan-Mosley

Watch this team of drones 3D-print a tower

The news: A mini-swarm’s worth of drones have been trained to work together to 3D-print some simple towers. The process is inspired by how bees and wasps build large nests. Multiple drones work together to create a single blueprint. One then checks the work of the others.

How does it work? One drone deposits a layer and the other verifies that everything has been printed accurately. While the drones fly autonomously, a human monitors them and can intervene if necessary.

Why it matters: One day, the method could help with challenging projects such as post-disaster construction or even repairs on buildings that are too high to access safely, the team behind it hopes–and could construct buildings in the Arctic or even on Mars. Read the complete story .

–Tammy Xu

Podcast: Real-time farming

In the latest episode of our podcast, In Machines We Trust, we take a trip to a Californian vineyard to learn about how how it’s deploying sensors and other forms of AI. Listen to it on Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you usually listen.

The must-reads

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

1 ISIS execution footage is powering AI text-to-image models
Non-consensual explicit images of celebrities have also been found in popular models’ datasets. (Motherboard)
Dall-E 2 can now generate images of human faces. (The Guardian)
Open source AI tool Stable Diffusion creates more risque art than other models. (Wired $)
The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Patients immersed in VR during surgery may need less anesthetic
Which could help to shorten hospital stays and swerve surgical complications. (MIT Technology Review)
VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Predators are targeting children on Twitch with startling ease
Its moderation tools are failing to protect young users from abusers. (Bloomberg $)
The platform is slashing the percentage of revenue it gives to its biggest streamers. (NYT $)

4 Making a battery-powered plane is really hard
But that’s not stopping companies from trying to overcome the significant hurdles. (WP $)
Air taxi firm Kittyhawk has announced that it’s closing down. (WSJ $)
This is what’s keeping electric planes from taking off. (MIT Technology Review)

5 The hidden dangers of machine translation
When harmless phrases are mistranslated into another language, the results can be deadly. (Slate $)

6 We need new painkillers
We’re overly reliant on dangerous opioids. It is difficult to find new drugs that are equally as effective. (Economist $)

7 South Korea doesn’t want to miss out on the US EV boom
Carmakers outside the US are excluded from the country’s tax credits break. (Rest of World)
China is considering legal action over the “discriminatory” law. (Bloomberg $)
EV tax credits could stall out on lack of US battery supply. (MIT Technology Review)

8 How tech can help save whales from fatal ship encounters
Data streams and microphones monitor the animals. (NYT $)

9 Neptune has never looked better
The James Webb Space Telescope has taken a super clear picture of the planet. (The Atlantic $)
NASA has refueled its Artemis 1 rocket ahead of its next launch. (The Verge)
SpaceX’s Starship rocket could take off in October, apparently. (CNET)

10 Cats and dogs may not need to eat so much meat
Evidence is mounting that pets can thrive on plant-based diets, but vets aren’t so sure. (New Scientist $)

Quote of the day

“Start thinking with your sci-fi hat on.”

–Peter Singer, co-manager of futurist firm Useful Fiction, which has advised the US Air Force and military contractors, explains to Vox why the war in Ukraine has ushered in a new era of technological warfare.

The big story

Zimbabwe’s climate migration is a sign of what’s to come

December 2021

Julius Mutero has spent his entire adult life farming a three-hectare plot in Mabiya, eastern Zimbabwe, but has harvested virtually nothing in the past six years. He is just one of the 86 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who the World Bank estimates will migrate domestically by 2050 because of climate change–the largest number predicted in any of six major regions the organization studied. In Zimbabwe, farmers have struggled to adapt to new weather conditions by trying to stay put and harvest rainwater. Tens of thousands have been forced from the country’s lowlands to move to the Eastern Highlands by droughts. Their desperate actions are creating new competition for water, and tensions could soon boil over. Read the full story.

–Andrew Mambondiyani

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