The Download: fighting fires and the chip industry’s bill boost

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.

Wildfires are raging across the US

The news: Five large wildfires ignited across the US yesterday, with further outbreaks expected over the next few days, experts have warned. The new fires in California, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas have brought the total number of wildfires currently burning in the country to 54, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The McKinney Fire in California has rapidly grown to the largest the state has seen so far this year, prompting authorities to urge residents in the north of the state to evacuate. Now the center is worried that a heat wave currently gripping the northern half of Western states, coupled with lightning strikes during thunderstorms, could ignite even more fires.

What we know: The US West knew this was coming—years of dry, hot conditions aggravated by climate change have pushed the region into severe drought, and wildfires across California have become a depressing inevitability each summer. Last year, the West Coast’s wildfires wiped out more than half of the region’s pandemic-driven emissions reductions in July alone, demonstrating the threat such deadly fires pose to future climate change progress, as well as the toll it takes on the communities living in devastated areas.

What can be done?: Researchers say the best way to prevent wildfires is through a combination of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, halting deforestation, and improving forest management systems. This includes deliberate, controlled burns of the widespread, dry vegetation that becomes tinder for wildfires once temperatures start to climb. 

New bills could help—last week the House of Representatives passed legislation designed to help the West cope with both wildfires and drought through measures like increasing firefighter pay, protecting watersheds, and boosting prescribed burning projects. The bill has been passed to the Senate, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein has pushed for similar measures. In the meantime, the record-breaking heat wave is expected to work its way east throughout the week, endangering more communities and homes.

—Rhiannon Williams

Read next:

+ Suppressing fires has failed. Here’s what California needs to do instead.
+ Meet the scientists trying to understand the world’s worst wildfires
+ What the complex math of fire modeling tells us about the future of California’s forests

The must-reads

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

1 Chipmakers are already scrapping for the $52 billion CHIPS funding
While the cash is a welcome boost to the industry, the struggle is far from over. (FT $)

2 The software that manages organ transplants is dangerously outdated
Exasperated transplant doctors say the system is endangering lives. (WP $)
+ The UK’s health service will use AI to detect and treat people at risk of hepatitis C. (The Guardian)
+ A new storage technique could vastly expand the number of livers available for transplant. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Covid dealt Americans’ health a savage blow
The extent of which is only now becoming clear. (WSJ $)
+ Anti-aging drugs are being tested as a way to treat covid. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Elon Musk is countersuing Twitter
But details are being kept under wraps. (CNBC)
+ Here’s what could happen next. (NY Mag $) 
+ Musk has suggested that interactions between Twitter accounts have dropped. (Insider $)

5 Data brokers are selling data on billions of potentially pregnant people
While the true number of individuals is unclear, it has chilling implications in a post-Roe world. (Gizmodo)

6 Top livestreamers are being harassed and stalked offline
Obsessive fans are exploiting the intimacy that has become the stars’ calling card. (NYT $)
+ China wants to control how its famous livestreamers act, speak, and even dress. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Part of China’s most powerful rocket crashed back to Earth
NASA was unimpressed by the country’s failure to issue a warning about the falling debris. (NBC)
+ The organization is sending a couple of helicopters to Mars. (Spectrum IEEE)
+ Here’s what you might have missed from those James Webb Space Telescope pictures. (BigThink)

8 True crypto believers are keeping the faith
They’re keeping calm and carrying on, even if other investors aren’t. (WSJ $)
+ Bitcoin’s recovery month was short and sweet. (Bloomberg $)
+ It’s safe to say advice from these “cryptovoyants” should be taken with a mountain of salt. (Sifted)
+ Forget breakfast, Tiffany is getting into NFTs. (CNET)
+ Crypto bros are offloading their pricey Rolexes after the crash. (NY Mag $)

9 These scientists want to use AI to talk to animals
The problem is, a lot of animal communication is rooted in physical movement. (The Guardian)
+ It’s much easier for AI to show us what traffic-free cities look like. (Motherboard)

10 VR’s biggest problem? It doesn’t stink enough
While scent could make it a lot more immersive, it could also be a whole lot more disgusting. (Wired $)

Quote of the day

“I can’t control the price of eggs or milk. If it goes up it just goes up. I still need it.”

—Shannon Villa, who works in an Amazon warehouse, describes how he and his family are being forced to cope with rising prices for shoppers across the US to the Washington Post.

The big story

Geoffrey Hinton has a hunch about what’s next for AI

April 2021 

In November 2020, psychologist Geoffrey Hinton had a hunch. After a half-century’s worth of attempts—some wildly successful—he’d arrived at another promising insight into how the brain works and how to replicate its circuitry in a computer.

If his bet pays off, it might spark the next generation of artificial neural networks—mathematical computing systems, loosely inspired by the brain’s neurons and synapses, that are at the core of today’s artificial intelligence. His “honest motivation,” as he puts it, is curiosity. But the practical motivation—and, ideally, the consequence—is more reliable and more trustworthy AI. Read the full story

—Siobhan Roberts

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.)

+ England’s women’s football team won last night’s Euros 2022 final against Germany – enjoy this masterful winning goal from Chloe Kelly.
+ No one is safe from the googly eye fiend.
+ Is this the best football (as above, read: soccer) photo ever taken?
Slogan t-shirts are a whole lot more entertaining than they deserve to be.
+ Where do I sign up to this gym for dogs?

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