The Download: capturing carbon with seagrass, and China’s election interference

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.

Inside Alphabet X’s new effort to combat climate change with seagrass

For years, Tidal, a project within Alphabet’s “moonshot factory” X division, has been using cameras, computer vision and machine learning to get a better understanding of life beneath the oceans, including monitoring fish off the coast of Norway.  

Now, MIT Technology Review can report, Tidal hopes its system can help preserve and restore the world’s seagrass beds, accelerating efforts to harness the oceans to suck up and store away far more carbon dioxide.

The project’s ambitious mission is to improve our understanding of underwater ecosystems in order to inform and incentivize efforts to protect the oceans amid mounting threats. It could also provide crucial answers to the many questions hanging over seagrass’ role in both sucking up carbon and regulating the climate. Read the full story.

—James Temple

China is copying Russia’s election interference playbook

China is increasingly interfering in US politics by getting its agents to create social media accounts posing as American citizens, according to research co-led by Renée DiResta, the technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, who has studied foreign influence on social media for years.

DiResta published a report setting out the scale of the problem just a few days ago, in which she and her colleagues recently analyzed three China-based networks of accounts that pretended to be ordinary Americans on the right or left of the political spectrum.

The phony accounts’ strategy for stoking the political conflicts in an already polarized America closely resembled the activity of the fake Russian accounts that thrived before the 2016 elections—but were less effective than their Russian counterparts. 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.

EmTech MIT podcast special: What’s next for space research?

The International Space Station hosts scores of experiments that can’t be done on Earth. But it’s also showing its age—with repairs and safety concerns becoming increasingly common as it draws nearer to its end of life. 

In this episode of our podcast, In Machines We Trust, we bring you a conversation with astronaut Michael López-Alegría about the path forward for research in low Earth orbit, from MIT Technology Review’s flagship conference, EmTech MIT. 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 The fight for control of the US Senate is hanging in the balance
All eyes are turning to Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona. (Vox)
+ Election deniers were out in force before polls even closed. (The Atlantic $)
+ The predicted “red wave” never truly emerged. (New Yorker $)
+ Political misinformation is nearing boiling point. (WP $)
+ Politicians are content creators these days. (The Verge)

2 Crypto’s biggest exchange has bailed out its biggest rival
Binance has reached a deal to buy FTX, after some decidedly dodgy behavior all round. (NYT $)
+ FTX’s founder was a crypto superstar. Now what? (WSJ $)
+ His $16 billion worth has been almost entirely wiped out. (Insider $)
+ The exchanges have a long and checkered relationship. (Reuters)
+ It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Anthony Fauci has no time for covid deniers
But he wants to believe we’re better prepared for the next pandemic than we would have been pre-covid. (Wired $)

4 How to stay optimistic while the world is burning
Philosophy can teach us some valuable lessons in how to prepare for the future. (NY Mag $) 
+ Economic growth doesn’t have to mean higher emissions. (Economist $) 

5 Your future transfusion could be with lab-grown blood 🩸
The breakthrough is great news for people with rare blood types. (The Verge)

6 The first AI copyright lawsuit has begun
A proposed class action wants to punish companies for using unattributed human-written code. (New Scientist $)
+ AI’s top-ranking Go model has been defeated. (Ars Technica)

7 Social media is a hellscape, after all
All because they chose to pander to advertisers instead of users. (Motherboard)
+ There’s little incentive to make it better, either. (The Information $)
+ Meta’s oversight board wants to expand beyond just Meta. (Wired $)

8 Video games are art now
Consequently, both disciplines are gaining new fans. (FT $)
+ We may never fully know how video games affect our well-being. (MIT Technology Review)

9 What sliding into someone’s DMs can teach us
Namely that disarming trolls is easier in private than in public. (The Atlantic $)

10 Blind dating apps are on the rise
Gen Z is happy to take looks out of the equation in the search for the perfect match. (The Guardian)
+ Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“I am very far from invisible.”

—Steve Tidball, founder of futuristic clothing company Vollebak, admits to the Guardian that his attempt to create an “invisible” thermal camouflage jacket is in the extremely early stages of development.

The big story

The US government is ending the China Initiative. Now what?

February 2022

The US Justice Department announced in February 2022 that it would end its controversial China Initiative and pivot to a new strategy to counter threats from nation states. The program began under the Trump administration as an effort to root out economic espionage, but drew criticism for falling short of that stated goal while increasingly focusing on academics and researchers of Chinese descent.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said that while the department’s actions were driven by genuine national security concerns, by grouping cases under the China Initiative, the DOJ helped create a perception that it treats people with ties to China differently. Instead, it will use a new strategy focused broadly on threats from hostile countries.

However, even with the end of the initiative, there is a palpable fear in the academic community, especially among Asian Americans. Read the full story.

—Jess Aloe & 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.)

+ Acting in a Call of Duty video game sounds ridiculously intense.
+ Gavin Naylor has a very cool job: shark attack researcher.
+ Now it’s (supposed to be) getting colder outside, Amazon Prime has a lot of fun TV shows right now.
+ If you’re a gardening amateur, here’s some terms you’ll definitely need to get to grips with.
+ I would very much like to hang out with Harry the baby highland cow (thanks Charlotte!)

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