The Download: metaverse fashion, and looser covid rules in China

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 metaverse fashion stylists are here

Fashion creator Jenni Svoboda is designing a beanie with a melted cupcake top, sprinkles, and doughnuts for ears. But this outlandish accessory isn’t destined for the physical world—Svoboda is designing for the metaverse. She’s working in a burgeoning, if bizarre, new niche: fashion stylists who create or curate outfits for people in virtual spaces.

Metaverse stylists are increasingly sought-after as frequent users seek help dressing their avatars—often in experimental, wildly creative looks that defy personal expectations, societal standards, and sometimes even physics. 

Stylists like Svoboda are among those shaping the metaverse fashion industry, which is already generating hundreds of millions of dollars. But while, to the casual observer, it can seem outlandish and even obscene to spend so much money on virtual clothes, there are deeper, more personal, reasons why people are hiring professionals to curate their virtual outfits. Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu

Making sense of the changes to China’s zero-covid policy

On December 1, 2019, the first known covid-19 patient started showing symptoms in Wuhan. Three years later, China is the last country in the world holding on to strict pandemic control restrictions. However, after days of intense protests that shocked the world, it looks as if things could finally change.

Beijing has just announced wide-ranging relaxations of its zero covid policy, including allowing people to quarantine at home instead of in special facilities for the first time.

But while people are celebrating the fact that China has finally started pursuing a covid response emphasizing vaccines and treatments instead of quarantines and lockdowns, it’s just the start of what’s likely to be a long, and very difficult, road to reopening. Read the full story

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter covering all the goings on in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

How US police use counterterrorism money to buy spy tech

The news: Grant money meant to help cities prepare for terror attacks is being spent on surveillance technology for US police departments, a new report shows. While it’s been known that federal funding props up police budgets, these federal grants are bigger than previously understood.

Why it matters: These grants often make it possible for purchases to skirt approval mechanisms and stay out of public view. The report’s findings are yet another example of a growing pattern in which citizens are increasingly kept in the dark about police tech procurement. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

The must-reads

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

1 China is relaxing some of its covid restrictions
Days after the mass protests, the government is allowing people with covid to isolate at home instead of in quarantine facilities. (AP News)
+ The policy change is likely to spark a huge wave of infections. (The Atlantic $)
+ Disinformation campaigns are making it hard to gauge citizens’ reactions. (New Yorker $)
+ Apple’s AirDrop restrictions are curbing the spread of protest memes in China. (Rest of World)
2 Ukraine launched another drone attack on Russia 
They managed to strike military bases that were believed to be impenetrable. (FT $)
+ Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is still in real danger, though. (Foreign Policy $) 
3 Renewable energy growth is “turbocharged” right now 
The global energy crisis has given the industry a much-needed shot in the arm. (The Verge)
+ This calculation is driving global climate policy. (Knowable Magazine)
+ How new versions of solar, wind, and batteries could help the grid. (MIT Technology Review)
4 Flu infections in the US are at an all-time high
The CDC has recorded more positive tests than any other week on record. (Vox)

5 San Francisco police have been barred from using killer robots
Just a week after they were given the go-ahead. (WP $)
6 AI could destroy the student essay
New AI models can write ever-more convincing text. (The Atlantic $)
+ AI is being put to work, at long last. (Economist $)
+ GPT-3 can help people with dyslexia to quickly write coherent emails. (BuzzFeed News
+ AI image model Lensa is generating NSFW images without prompting. (Insider $)
+ ChatGPT is OpenAI’s latest fix for GPT-3. It’s slick but still spews nonsense. (MIT Technology Review)
7 How a teenager’s murder sparked a viral TikTok dance craze
The grisly commemoration raises questions over how we remember the dead. (New Yorker $)
8 The internet has changed what we understand about porn addiction
Researchers are divided over whether it’s a moral, not medical, diagnosis. (Motherboard)
9 Park rangers are sneaking up on poachers using ebikes
The silent bikes have helped rangers in Mozambique to save animals from being killed for bushmeat. (Wired $)
10 Uber’s robotaxis have taken to Las Vegas’ roads
They’re only running during the daytime, for now. (TechCrunch)

Quote of the day

“The metaverse will be our slow death.”

—An anonymous Facebook employee doesn’t mince their words in a comment on an employee survey, reports The Guardian.

The big story

AI has exacerbated racial bias in housing. Could it help eliminate it instead?

October 2020 

Few problems are longer-term or more intractable than America’s systemic racial inequality. And a particularly entrenched form of it is housing discrimination.  A long history of policies by banks, insurance companies, and real estate brokers has denied people of color a fair shot at homeownership, concentrated wealth and property in the hands of white people and communities, and perpetuated de facto segregation. Technology has in some cases exacerbated America’s systemic racial bias. But could it be used to mitigate the bias in housing instead? Read the full story.

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.)

+ Soup is the perfect winter warmer, it’s true.
+ I’m obsessed with musical key changes—but artists these days are using them less and less (thanks Charlotte!)
+ Movie trailers aren’t always representative of the story they’re trying to tell. Avoid them!
+ Literature clock is an amazing project that matches the exact time with a quote from a book.
+ My heart can’t handle puppies and kittens meeting for the first time.

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