The Download: clean energy investments, and Amazon’s data privacy fine

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 world is finally spending more on solar than oil production

Money makes the world go round. And when it comes to energy, we’re seeing more investment than ever: companies, research institutions, and governments are all pouring money into technologies that could help power our world in the future. 

The International Energy Agency just published its annual report on global investment in energy, where it tallies up all that cash. The world saw about $2.8 trillion of investments in energy in 2022, with about $1.7 trillion of that going into clean energy. 

That’s the biggest single-year investment in clean energy ever, and where it’s all going is pretty interesting. Our climate reporter Casey Crownhart has some good news, some bad news, and a couple of surprising tidbits to share. Read the full story.

Casey’s story is from The Spark, her weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things climate. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

Check out some of our other recent renewable energy stories:

+ Yes, we have enough materials to power the world with renewable energy. We won’t run out of key ingredients for climate action, but mining comes with social and environmental ramifications. Read the full story.

+ Busting three myths about materials and renewable energy. Here’s what you really need to know about mining and climate change. Read the full story.

+ Inside the little-known group setting the corporate climate agenda. The Science Based Targets initiative has earned praise for pushing companies to take climate action, but can voluntary emissions targets really get the world where it needs to be? Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 Amazon has been fined $25 million for violating children’s privacy
It’s a warning to all companies using people’s data to train their AI models. (WP $)
+ It collected data from children who’d conversed with its Alexa assistant. (NYT $)
+ The company is ruthless when it comes to axing its own projects. (Bloomberg $)

2 Scientists have taken the first X-ray of a single atom 
It’s an achievement they say could pave the way to curing life-threatening diseases. (Ars Technica)

3 New cars sold in the US will need automatic braking systems
Safety regulators are confident it will save lives. (The Verge)
+ Cars getting so much larger is another major factor, too. (NYT $)

4 Greener steel is on the horizon
It makes a lot more sense to rely on electricity than hydrogen to produce it. (Economist $)
+ How green steel made with electricity could clean up a dirty industry. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Outer space has a cyberthreat problem
While it’s tough to launch malware attacks in space, it’s not impossible. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ What are the mysterious orbs the Pentagon keeps spotting? (Motherboard)

6 Psychedelic experiments are getting even weirder
Erasing people’s memories of their trips is one way researchers are trying to better study the drugs’ effects. (Wired $)
+ Mind-altering substances are being overhyped as wonder drugs. (MIT Technology Review)

7 AI is a hit-and-miss coder
While some of what models are able to generate is decent, other parts are shoddy. (WSJ $)
+ The open-source AI boom is built on Big Tech’s handouts. How long will it last? (MIT Technology Review)

8 That laptop you’re trying to recycle may not be recycled at all
In fact, it could end up being sold on eBay. (FT $)

9 How permanently sharing your location affects your relationships
The illusion of privacy is easily shattered if you’re always keeping tabs on each other. (Vox)

10 India’s Facebook groups are helping to rehome stray pets 🐈 🐕
It’s an easy way to reach a huge audience of animal lovers. (Rest of World)

Quote of the day

“Fear is contagious, but so is courage.”

—Heavy, a member of the Ukrainian army, describes her platoon leader’s philosophy to the Guardian as she and her fellow recruits prepare a long-anticipated counteroffensive to recapture the city of Bakhmut.

The big story

How Bitcoin mining devastated this New York town

April 2022

If, in 2017, you had taken a gamble and purchased a comparatively new digital currency called Bitcoin, today you might be a millionaire many times over. But while the industry has provided windfalls for some, local communities have paid a high price, as people started scouring the world for cheap sources of energy to run large Bitcoin-mining farms.

It didn’t take long for a subsidiary of the popular Bitcoin mining firm Coinmint to lease a Family Dollar store in Plattsburgh, a city in New York state offering cheap power. Soon, the company was regularly drawing enough power for about 4,000 homes. And while other miners were quick to follow, the problems had already taken root. Read the full story.

—Lois Parshley

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.)

+ The secret to a truly delicious coffee cake? It’s all in the melted butter.
+ A new exhibition claims to have unearthed some Nan Goldin slides—from eBay, of all places.
+ Morris dancing has had a hip new makeover.
+ Beyoncé’s incredible Renaissance World Tour outfits have to be seen to be believed.+ Here’s an interesting explanation for why every season technically begins twice.

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