The Download: Bill Gates’s new climate plans, and an AI bug bounty

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.

Bill Gates’s energy venture fund is plowing more money into climate adaptation

The news: Bill Gates’s climate-oriented venture capital fund is expanding its mission, adding adaptation to its investment categories and establishing a later-stage fund to help clean-tech startups begin building plants and scaling up their technologies. The announcement was made at the firm’s Breakthrough Energy Summit in Seattle yesterday.

What it means: To date, the fund has focused on “climate mitigation,” which largely concentrates on driving down climate pollution. Climate adaptation refers to developing ways of bolstering protections against the dangers of climate change, rather than just preventing it. 

How it can be achieved: The firm’s new focus will include ways to help farmers and communities grapple with increasingly common or severe droughts, and helping crops remain productive as the world becomes hotter, wetter, or drier; potentially through indoor farming and genetic alteration. Strengthening the infrastructure of global ports, which face growing threats from sea-level rise and increasingly powerful storms, will also be investigated. Read the full story.

—James Temple

Read more:

Bill Gates, John Kerry, and US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm all struck cautiously positive notes at the conference, pointing out that for all the progress made in tackling climate challenges in the past few years, there are still major obstacles to slashing emissions rapidly enough to avoid climate change’s worst dangers. Read the full story.

Why scientists want to help plants capture more carbon dioxide

Last week, my colleague Casey Crownhart sat down with Pamela Ronald, a plant geneticist at the University of California, Davis, at ClimateTech, MIT Technology Review’s inaugural climate conference.

They discussed Ronald’s newest project, which focuses on using crops for carbon removal using a number of measures, including good old fashioned photosynthesis. Read the full story

Casey’s story is from The Spark, MIT Technology Review’s new weekly climate newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

A bias bounty for AI will help to catch unfair algorithms faster

What’s happening: While AI systems are deployed all the time, it can take months or even years until it becomes clear whether, and how, they’re biased. Today, a group of AI and machine-learning experts are launching a new bias bounty competition, which they hope will speed the process of uncovering embedded prejudices.

What’s up first? Taking inspiration from bug bounties in cybersecurity, the first bias bounty competition is going to focus on biased image detection. The winner will take home a $6,000 prize committed by Microsoft and startup Robust Intelligence, which has been hailed as a strong incentive for the machine learning community to winkle out bias. Read the full story.
—Melissa Heikkilä

Should we believe in—or even want—immortality?

Twenty years have passed since writer Jonathan Weiner first met Aubrey de Grey, the man with the Methuselah beard. Back then, Aubrey was already a True Believer in the quest for immortality. But he wasn’t famous, or notorious, yet; he wasn’t Aubrey!, as he would soon become to his fans in the anti-aging crowd. And he wasn’t yet a man in disgrace.

Weiner first met Aubrey in 2002, when Aubrey was still working as a computer programmer in the Department of Genetics at the University of Cambridge, in England. He rapidly became a secular guru, a prophet of immortality—to the intense annoyance of most of the scientists in the aging field. But Aubrey’s eagerness to convince believers they could live for centuries, millennia, or even longer, if they were lucky, raises pertinent questions about what it is to want something we may not even believe in. Read the full story.

This piece is from our forthcoming mortality-themed issue, available from 26 October. If you want to read it when it comes out, you can subscribe to MIT Technology Review for as little as $80 a year.

The must-reads

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

1 The majority of US lithium is found near tribal land
Native American communities are warning the appetite for EV batteries could come at the expense of their ancestral homelands. (The Guardian)
+ Driving electric cars eventually cancels out the pollution created by their production. (NYT $)
+ A thin sheet of nickel could make EV batteries recharge much quicker. (IEEE Spectrum)

2 There’s still a lot we don’t know about how antidepressants work
Medical guidance is inconsistent, and patients are suffering as a result. (Economist $)

3 When you lose weight, where does it go?
Essentially, you breathe it out (no, really!) (MIT Technology Review)

4 Supply chains are still a mess
We can’t blame the pandemic anymore, either. (Vox)
+ How AI digital twins help weather the world’s supply chain nightmare. (MIT Technology Review)

5 What it’s like to get hands-on with image-generating AI
Fun, and more than a little creepy. (WSJ $)
+ Neurodivergent workers are deftly training AI models. (Bloomberg $)
+ AI art generators are super Euro-centric. (Vox)
+ The AI sector has already moved onto the latest breakthrough: text-to-video. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How to equip cities to survive deadly heat waves
Cutting down on cars is a good place to start. (Knowable Magazine)
How megacities could lead the fight against climate change. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Why US internet speeds vary so much between neighborhoods
Lower-income areas where residents are from minority ethnic communities are likely to experience distinctly slower speeds. (The Markup)

8 Arranged marriage apps aren’t really for the bride and groom
In India, it’s their parents swiping for prospective matches. (Slate $)

9 How to stop accidentally turning on your iPhone’s flashlight
It’s not just you—it’s happening to everyone. (WP $) 

10 Paper isn’t dead yet
Just ask any American sorting out their taxes. (FT $)

Quote of the day

“It will take a long time and lots of effort to gain back the trust that we have lost.”

—Namkoong Whon, co-chief executive of South Korean super app Kakao, apologizes after a fire at a data center caused an app outage for several days, the New York Times reports.

The big story

The FBI accused him of spying for China. It ruined his life.

June 2021

In April 2018, Anming Hu, a Chinese-Canadian associate professor at the University of Tennessee, received an unexpected visit from the FBI. The agents wanted to know whether he’d been involved in a Chinese government “talent program,” offering overseas researchers incentives to bring their work back to Chinese universities.

Not too long ago, American universities encouraged their academics to build ties with Chinese institutions, but the US government is now suspicious of these programs, seeing them as a spy recruitment tool. Despite Hu’s denial he was involved in such programs, a little less than two years later, they showed up again—this time to arrest him. Read the full story.

—Karen Hao & Eileen Guo

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.)

+ Why we simply cannot resist stories about what celebrities eat.
+ Meanwhile, in Paris…
+ Life is short. Savor your time with your kids, if you have them.
+ I think I need to lie down after reading this Twitter thread.
+ You’d imagine an eight-day “Gone Girl” themed cruise would be completely deranged. You’d be right.

Main Menu