The Download: waiting at the US border, and seaweed’s carbon capture shortcomings

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 new US border wall is an app

Keisy Plaza, 39, left her home in Colombia seven months ago. She walked a 62-mile stretch of dense mountainous rainforest and swampland with her two daughters and grandson to reach Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, on the border with Texas.

Plaza has been trying every day for weeks to secure an appointment with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) so she can request permission for her family to enter the US. 

So far, she’s had no luck: each time, she’s been met with software errors and frozen screens. When appointment slots do open up, they fill within minutes.

Plaza has not been the only one to encounter this new obstacle. At the start of this year, President Biden announced that people at the southern border who want to seek asylum in the US must first request an appointment to meet with an immigration official via a mobile app. 

The app, called CBP One, is one of just a handful of legal pathways for people seeking protection to enter the US. And no one knows how long their wait will be. Read the full story.

—Lorena Rios

Seaweed farming for carbon dioxide capture would take up too much of the ocean

What’s the news?: Projects focused on growing seaweed to suck CO2 from the air and lock it in the sea have attracted a lot of attention, but farming enough seaweed to meet climate-change goals may not be feasible after all.

Why not? A new study suggests that around a million square kilometers of ocean would need to be farmed in order to remove a billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the course of a year. That might sound a lot, but many scientific models suggest we  should be removing anything from 1.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year to 29 billion tons by 2050 in order to hit targets. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

The must-reads

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

1 Meta’s hoping to monetize its open-source AI
It could have serious implications for Google and OpenAI’s current dominance of the market. (The Information $)
+ Meta’s Yann LeCunn reckons dogs are smarter than AI—for now. (CNBC)
+ Researchers in China are growing increasingly worried about AI. (Wired $)
+ The open-source AI boom is built on Big Tech’s handouts. How long will it last? (MIT Technology Review)

2 Several US government agencies have been hacked
Russian cybercriminals exploited a data transfer flaw—but no ransom demands have been made. (CNN)+ US officials described the attack as largely “opportunistic.” (NYT $)

3 Jamal Khashoggi’s widow is suing the NSO Group
She maintains that its Pegasus spyware tracked her husband before he was murdered. (WP $)
+ US financiers are in talks to acquire some of NSO’s assets. (The Guardian)

4 AI is overruling nurses
And it’s forcing them to make decisions against their better judgment. (WSJ $)
+ Artificial intelligence is infiltrating health care. We shouldn’t let it make all the decisions. (MIT Technology Review)

5 A US chipmaker is sinking $600 million into its Chinese factory
Micron is doubling down on its commitment to the country, despite ongoing tensions. (FT $)
+ Chinese chips will keep powering your everyday life. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Ozempic ads are everywhere
From Meta platforms and airports, to billboards and TV. (NBC News)
+ Weight-loss injections have taken over the internet. But what does this mean for people IRL? (MIT Technology Review)

7 How SEO butchered the internet
Keywords are king, and nuanced language has been rendered next to useless. (The Verge)

8 We may have no choice but to embrace robotic carers
But for now, they remain prohibitively expensive. (Proto.Life)+ Inside Japan’s long experiment in automating elder care. (MIT Technology Review)

9 AI is ruining Etsy
ChatGPT’s hustle culture is churning out poorly-designed and badly-made products. (The Atlantic $)

10 Psychedelics could help us to learn like children again
Some researchers believe the drugs can kickstart ‘critical periods’ for learning, but not everyone’s convinced. (Wired $)
+ VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“We know where you are, we know where you are going to, we know what you have eaten.”

— Mark Grether, vice president and general manager of Uber’s advertising department, describes the company’s ominous-sounding video ad-targeting capabilities to the Wall Street Journal.

The big story

Money is about to enter a new era of competition

April 2022

To many, cash now seems largely anachronistic. People across the world commonly use their smartphones to pay for things. This shift may look like a potential driver of inequality: if cash disappears, one imagines, that could disenfranchise the elderly, the poor, and others. 

In practice, though, cell phones are nearly at saturation in many countries. And digital money, if implemented correctly, could be a force for financial inclusion. 

The big questions now are around how we proceed, and whether the huge digital money shift ultimately benefits humanity at large—or exacerbates existing domestic and global inequities. Read the full story.

—Eswar Prasad

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.)

+ It’s never too late to discover a new dinosaur species. 🦕
+ In praise of a cinematic classic: The Room (if you haven’t seen it yet, you really should.)
+ I beg, someone please green-light a White Lotus prequel.
+ A multi-generational beauty secret is the best kind of beauty secret.
+ Boo to whoever canceled the Polish route to Hel!

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