The Download: Tweaking AI for energy efficiency, and China’s leaked data

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.

These simple changes can make AI research much more energy efficient

What’s the news?: Deep learning is behind machine learning’s most high-profile successes. But this incredible performance comes at a cost: training deep-learning models requires huge amounts of energy. Now, new research shows how scientists who use cloud platforms to train algorithms can dramatically reduce the energy they use, and therefore the emissions they create.

How can they do it?: Simple changes to cloud settings are the key. Researchers created a tool that measures the electricity usage of any machine-learning program that runs on Azure, Microsoft’s cloud service, during every phase of their project. They estimated emissions based on the zip codes of servers running 11 machine-learning models, finding that they can be significantly reduced if researchers adjusted settings to use servers in specific geographic locations and at certain times of day.

The bigger picture: Getting people to opt in to adjust their own settings is an uphill battle. Only 13% of Azure users running machine-learning programs have looked at the energy measurement tool since it debuted in October, so the next step will be convincing the rest of them. Read the full story.

—Tammy Xu

The world will need dozens of breakthrough climate technologies in the next decade

We’re living in a pivotal decade. By 2030, global emissions must fall by half, mostly through massive deployment of existing technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles. But emerging climate technologies must come to market during this decade too, even if they don’t make much of a dent in emissions right away.

Those on this year’s list of MIT Technology Review Innovators under 35 list are seizing the chance to decarbonize the economy and to make the clean energy transition affordable. Read more about their work and what’s needed to help them to succeed in this essay by Varun Sivaram, the senior director for clean energy and innovation for US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry.

This essay is part of MIT Technology Review’s 2022 Innovators Under 35 package recognizing the most promising young people working in technology today. See the full list here.

The must-reads

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

1 The leaked data of a billion Chinese people was online for over a year
It was sitting unnoticed in an unsecured database before a hacker offered to sell it. (CNN)

2 The Large Hadron Collider helped scientists find three new particles
The combinations have never been seen before. (Motherboard)
+ Don’t fall for these misconceptions about the Hadron Collider’s abilities. (Big Think)

3 How Wall Street emerged unscathed from the crypto massacre
It turns out that regulation is pretty handy after all. (NYT $)
+ And it’s coming for crypto, too. (Wired $)
+ The crypto crash could be a setback for web3. (FT $)
+ Venture capitalists burnt by the past decade of crazy growth are cautious. (Motherboard)
+ Black investors are suffering the most. (FT $)
+ It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Europe has green-lit Big Tech regulation
However, it will take a while until new laws come into force. (Axios)
+ The UK’s Online Safety Bill has been tweaked to prioritize child abuse material detection. (The Guardian
+ The Supreme Court’s EPA ruling last week doesn’t bode well for regulation in the US. (Protocol)

5 Microsoft is still using emotion-detecting AI 
For an app for people with vision loss—despite widespread skepticism about the technology’s accuracy. (Protocol)
+ Emotion AI researchers say overblown claims give their work a bad name. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How tech is saving Sri Lanka’s beleaguered tourism industry
Including virtual leopard safaris. (Rest of World)

7 Humans aren’t supposed to hibernate
But a handful of cases suggest entering a torpor-like state may be possible. (CNET)

8 Everything’s a vibe these days
Which suggests it could be time for a vibe shift—away from vibes themselves. (The Atlantic $)

9 Sports in space is coming 🪐
No gravity? No problem. (WSJ $)
+ Can constant acceleration be used to produce artificial gravity in space? (MIT Technology Review)

10 The existential sadness of robots
Maybe it’s time to stop projecting our own emotions onto them. (The Guardian)
+ How we feel about robots that feel. (MIT Technology Review)
+ That said, they make pretty good surgeons. (Spectrum IEEE)

The big story

A plan to redesign the internet could make apps that no one controls

July 2020

Back in the early days of the accessible internet, many of its pioneers championed a free and open internet controlled by its users. Fast-forward a quarter-century and that vision feels naïve.

It’s clear that a desire for revolution is brewing, led in part by Dfinity, a non-profit building what it calls the internet computer, a decentralized technology spread across a network of independent data centers that allows software to run anywhere on the internet rather than in server farms that are increasingly controlled by large firms.

But this desire for a rewilding of the internet is not about nostalgia—the dominance of these companies, and the ad-tech industry that supports them, has distorted the way we communicate—pulling public discourse into a gravity well of hate speech and misinformation—and upended basic norms of privacy. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

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.)

+ Bless your Twitter timeline by following this account documenting some of the world’s most beautiful places (thanks Rochelle!)
+ The world’s oldest university, Nalanda, was reduced to rubble 800 years ago—but now it’s been rebuilt.
+ The gripping tale of how Argentina was rewilded—jaguar cubs included.
+ This funky sunflower is out of control (thanks Charlotte!)
+ It’s raining fish (hallelujah?)

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