The Download: battery alternatives, and Google’s plan for AI

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.

These companies want to go beyond batteries to store energy

Batteries are pretty amazing. Using chemical reactions to store energy is handy and scalable, and there are about a million ways to do it, which is why batteries have basically become synonymous with energy storage. 

But more groups are starting to think outside the battery. In an effort to cut costs and store lots of energy for long periods of time, researchers and companies alike are getting creative: pumping water into the earth, compressing gas in underground caverns or massive tanks, even lifting giant blocks. 

As we build more renewable energy capacity in the form of variable sources like wind and solar power, we’re going to need to add a lot more energy storage to the grid to keep it stable. Our climate reporter Casey Crownhart has dug into the exciting, busy world of battery alternatives, and  what it might take to make them a reality. 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 learning more about batteries:

+ From new chemistries to manufacturing boosts, here’s everything you can expect for batteries in 2023.
+ Read our story about how old batteries will help power tomorrow’s EVs.+ Meet the new batteries unlocking cheaper electric vehicles.

Podcast: In the cockpit with AI

The latest episode of our podcast, In Machines We Trust, is the second of a two-part series, diving into how AI is being used to teach human pilots to perform some of the most dangerous and difficult maneuvers in aerial combat. You can listen to it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you normally listen, and check out the first part here.

The must-reads

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

1 How Google is plotting to make everything smarter
AI was meant to be its big thing, but OpenAI has beaten it to launch whizzy new products. (Bloomberg $)
+ AI-enhanced scams are on the rise, unfortunately. (The Guardian)
+ DuckDuckGo is getting into the chatbot game, too. (Ars Technica)
+ The ChatGPT-fueled battle for search is bigger than Microsoft or Google. (MIT Technology Review)

2 China’s AI groups are sneakily evading US chip blocks
Thanks to a series of loopholes regarding the cloud. (FT $)
+ The Netherlands is following the US in restricting chip exports. (Reuters)
+ Chinese chips will keep powering your everyday life. (MIT Technology Review)

3 US officials are mulling over the rules for war in space
The war in Ukraine is pushing them to make decisions—and fast. (WP $)
+ The FBI has admitted to purchasing location data. (Wired $)
+ How to fight a war in space (and get away with it) (MIT Technology Review)

4 The crypto industry’s favorite bank is shutting down
It’s yet another victim of the crypto winter. (TechCrunch)
+ Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial could be pushed back from October. (Reuters)
+ It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Scientists have created mice with two fathers
It’s promising for future fertility treatments for humans. (The Guardian)
+ Inside the race to make human sex cells in the lab. (MIT Technology Review)

6 We aren’t vaccinating birds against bird flu

But scientists are starting to think we should. (Wired $)
+ We don’t need to panic about a bird flu pandemic—yet. (MIT Technology Review)

7 US border patrol’s app is ridiculously glitchy 
Migrants hoping to cross the border have to contend with constant crashes. (Rest of World)

8 Longer-lasting batteries are on the horizon 🔋
A new superconductor has the potential to usher in better electrical grids, too. (WSJ $)
+ Cars running on e-fuel don’t pose any real competition to EVs. (The Verge)

9 TikTok influencers are pushing parasite cleanses
Which is obviously a terrible idea. (Vice)

10 The world’s first 3D-printed rocket didn’t make it into space 🚀
The aerospace startup behind it is expected to announce a new date soon. (The Register)

Quote of the day

“Meta is not running a bar. No bar has ever caused a genocide.” 

—Imran Ahmed, CEO at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, dismisses Meta’s assertion that users made uncomfortable by what they encounter in the metaverse should simply leave, as they would a real-world venue, to the Washington Post.

The big story

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

August 2022

After a near-death experience, artist and physicist David Glowacki tried to recapture the hallucinatory transcendence he felt. A VR experience called Isness-D is his latest effort. 

And on four key indicators used in studies of psychedelics, the program showed the same effect as a medium dose of LSD or psilocybin (the main psychoactive component of “magic” mushrooms).

That means it could potentially be used to alleviate the symptoms of mental health conditions obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. Read the full story.

—Hana Kiros

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.)

+ Here’s how the octopus became so smart. 
+ An expansive oral history of Bostonian classic Good Will Hunting.
+ Here’s some handy tips on how to heighten your productivity.
+ These innovative seed-planting drones are doing their bit to help reforest Canada in the wake of devastating wildfires.
+ It’s cheese tax time!

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