The Download: updates from our flagship EmTech event, and cleaning up the grid

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 latest news and announcements from EmTech 2022

Which technologies are creating new opportunities for our planet, our bodies and our businesses? That question was at the forefront of yesterday’s EmTech 2022—MIT Technology Review’s annual conference that brings together global changemakers, innovators, and industry veterans to discuss cutting-edge technologies and the people making them possible.

Highlights from the day included:

+ Michael López-Alegría, an astronaut with more than 40 years of aviation and space experience, who explained to the audience what it’s like to live and work onboard the International Space Station.

Tara Ruttley, Blue Origin’s chief scientist for Orbital Reef, a future commercial space station in low Earth orbit. She described how Orbital Reef intends to facilitate a whole load of industries venturing into space including the entertainment, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing sectors.

+ Yangyang Cheng, a research scholar in Law and Fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center, and Matt Sheehan, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, discussing their perspectives on the US and China’s tricky ongoing relationship.

+ Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and chairman of the board of Moderna, discussing the company’s pivot from fighting flu and cancer to covid. 

Check out our live blog from Wednesday for all the details! And you can tune into today’s live blog to follow the final day of the conference from 9am ET this morning.  It’s not too late to get tickets, if you haven’t already.

How new versions of solar, wind, and batteries could help the grid

Renewables are being deployed at a massive scale. However, further progress in labs and startups could help move the technology forward—and, crucially, help us to clean up the grid.

Casey Crownhart, our climate and energy reporter, discussed the future of solar, wind, and batteries onstage at this week’s EmTech in a bid to find out what’s coming next for renewable energy. Read the full story.

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

The must-reads

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

1 Ukraine’s maritime drones are damaging Russian ships
The powerful underwater drones demonstrate how Ukraine is still rapidly adopting new military technology. (FT $)
+ Russia’s close-air support jets haven’t fared well in the war. (Economist $)
+ Ukraine desperately needs help from allies to repair its damaged grid. (IEEE Spectrum)

2 Mastodon is welcoming tens of thousands of new users
 But it’s much trickier to get to grips with than Twitter. (The Guardian)
+ Twitter’s entire culture could dramatically change. (The Atlantic $)
+ Elon Musk reportedly plans to cut half of Twitter’s workforce. (Bloomberg $)
+ Before the purchase, Musk said owning Twitter is a “recipe for misery.” (New Yorker $)

3 Businesses are growing tired of China’s strict covid controls
The stop-start nature of the restrictions on factory production mean companies are starting to look beyond China. (CNBC)

4 The internet has an uneasy relationship with the US First Amendment
And that tension is only set to intensify during the looming midterm elections. (The Verge)
+ What do parents warring with school boards really achieve? (New Yorker $)
+ How conservative Facebook groups are changing what books children read in school. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Home security cameras are a privacy nightmare
They may not be as effective a crime deterrent as you may think. (NYT $)
+ How Amazon Ring uses domestic violence to market doorbell cameras. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How Amazon forced the book market to consolidate  
The publishing industry is dominated by a handful of key players, but Amazon outranks them all. (The Atlantic $)
+ Amazon’s fake reviews problem isn’t going away. (Wired $)

7 China’s Uyghur internet has been wiped from existence
Many of the people who helped to create it are believed to have been detained. (Wired $)

8 Plane designs are getting weirder ✈
Lowering their energy use is the aim of the game. (WSJ $)
+ Mobile homes are seriously bad for the planet. (Slate)
+ The US government is seeking to hire maverick geoengineers. (Economist $)
+ This is what’s keeping electric planes from taking off. (MIT Technology Review)

9 How living in space could alter our microbiomes
Not everyone is fully convinced it does change, however. (Undark)

10 This company wants to catch a rocket with a helicopter 🚀🚁
And this time, it promises not to drop it. (Gizmodo)

Quote of the day

“I’d happily have it sit in for me at budget committee meetings.”

—Taro Kono, Japan’s digital affairs minister, quips about a robotic doppelgänger that Osaka University created to resemble him, reports the Financial Times.

The big story

Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal

May 2022

A crew of staffers from a company called Charm Industrial have been working on the edge of Kansas corn fields, moving rolled bales of stalks, leaves, husks, and tassels up to a semi-trailer.

Inside, a contraption uses high temperatures to break down the plant material into a mix of biochar and bio-oil. This oil is pumped into deep wells, or into salt caverns. Charm says it solidifies there, locking away carbon for thousands to millions of years that would otherwise go back into the air.

The San Francisco startup has been sequestering carbon this way for the past two years. It claims that the process is locking up thousands of tons of carbon. But there are still plenty of questions about how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove to be. Read the full story.

—James Temple

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.)

+ I’ve fallen down an autostereogram rabbit hole.
+ 26 of the best movies of the 2000s, you say? Go on, then.
+ It’s not a phase mom—it’s an era.
+ A little to the left, please.
+ Are you guilty of multitasking while playing video games?

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