The Download: military drones, and forbidden US chips
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.
Mass-market military drones have changed the way wars are fought
When the United States first fired a missile from an armed Predator drone at suspected Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan in November 2001, it changed warfare permanently. During the two decades that followed, highly sophisticated US drones were repeatedly deployed in targeted killing campaigns. They were only available to the most powerful nations.
But new navigation systems and wireless technologies have helped to create a new type of Turkish-made military drone. It caught the world’s attention in Ukraine in 2022, when it proved itself capable of holding back one of the most formidable militaries on the planet.
The Bayraktar TB2 drone marks a new chapter in drone warfare. Read the full story.
— Kelsey D. Atherton
Mass-market military drones are one of MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2023. Explore the rest of the list here, and vote in our poll to help decide our 11th technology.
Read more about how technology is changing the face of modern warfare:
+ Why business is booming for military AI startups. The invasion of Ukraine prompted militaries to update their arsenals—and Silicon Valley stands to capitalize. Read the full story.
+ The US military wants to understand the most important software on Earth. Open-source code runs on every computer on the planet—and keeps America’s critical infrastructure going. DARPA is worried about how well it can be trusted. Read the full story.
New report: Generative AI in industrial design and engineering
Generative AI has the potential to transform industrial design and engineering, making it more important than ever for leaders in those industries to stay ahead. So MIT Technology Review has created a new research report that highlights the potential benefits—and pitfalls— of this new technology.
The report includes two case studies from leading industrial and engineering companies that are already applying generative AI to their work—and a ton of takeaways and best practices from industry leaders. It is available now to download for $195.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 China’s nuclear weapons lab bought forbidden US chips
It obtained US semiconductors at least six times in the past few years despite decades-old export restrictions. (WSJ $)
2 Baidu is developing a ChatGPT rival
With a view to integrating the chatbot into its search engine, just like Microsoft plans to. (WSJ $)
+ Here’s what ChatGPT can tell us about technohumanism. (The Atlantic $)
+ Here’s how Microsoft could use ChatGPT. (MIT Technology Review)
3 San Francisco’s self-driving cars are getting weird
To the point that residents are calling 911 about their erratic behavior. (Motherboard)
+ It’s forcing the city to reconsider its robotaxi expansion. (NBC News)
+ The big new idea for making self-driving cars that can go anywhere. (MIT Technology Review)
4 Tech’s biggest companies are channeling their inner startup
Everything’s getting too messy—it’s time to go back to basics. (Vox)
+ The new AI arms race is being led by agile startups, not Big Tech. (WP $)
5 The shape of water politics in the US
Tribal nations in Southwest control much of the drought-stricken region’s water. (New Yorker $)
+ Who truly pays the price of climate change? (Wired $)
+ The architect making friends with flooding. (MIT Technology Review)
6 The UK’s universities are turning on their spinouts
Commercializing technology developed on-campus comes at a price. (FT $)
7 What it takes to update the human genome
The current code is mostly based on one man, which is far from representative. (The Guardian)
8 Zero-carbon eggs are on the horizon
Hens are picky eaters, but one company has figured out the secret to feeding them food waste. (Bloomberg $)
+ Why scientists are examining animals killed by wind turbines. (The Atlantic $)
9 The rise and rise of the home antibodies test
Besides covid, they can help to diagnose other diseases more accurately. (Neo.Life)
10 The case for a third robotic arm
If it could be easily controlled by the brain, extra limbs could be a major boon. (IEEE Spectrum)
Quote of the day
“This person is probably wondering, ‘Who is the person that’s listening to Pussycat Dolls?’”
—Ash LaPoint, a support specialist who shares her Spotify listening habits with her colleagues, wonders whether being so open about her music taste could backfire, she tells the Wall Street Journal.
The big story
Novel lithium-metal batteries will drive the switch to electric cars
For all the hype and hope around electric vehicles, they still make up only about 2% of new car sales in the US, and just a little more globally.
For many buyers, they’re simply too expensive, their range is too limited, and charging them isn’t nearly as quick and convenient as refueling at the pump. All these limitations have to do with the lithium-ion batteries that power the vehicles.
But QuantumScape, a Silicon Valley startup is working on a new type of battery that could finally make electric cars as convenient and cheap as gas ones. 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.)
+ That’s one freaky-looking cloud.
+ Cats arrived in Europe a whole lot earlier than we previously thought.
+ The Cordova Iceworm Festival in Alaska, which kicked off over the weekend, is a charming way to celebrate these little-known creatures (thanks Amy!)
+ Rick Astley isn’t giving up—he’s suing rapper Yung Gravy for “theft of voice.”
+ If your negotiating skills could do with a bit of a fine tuning, these tips will help.