The Download: tech’s ethical congregation, and the Inflation Reduction Act’s anniversary

The Download: tech’s ethical congregation, and the Inflation Reduction Act’s anniversary

Plus: Google is readying a major AI push this fall

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 rise of the tech ethics congregation

Just before Christmas last year, a pastor preached a gospel of morals over money to several hundred members of his flock. But the leader in question was not an ordained minister, nor even a religious man.

Polgar, 44, is the founder of All Tech Is Human, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting ethics and responsibility in tech. His congregation is undergoing dramatic growth in an age when the life of the spirit often struggles to compete with cold, hard, capitalism.

Its leaders believe there are large numbers of individuals in and around the technology world, often from marginalized backgrounds, who wish tech focused less on profits and more on being a force for ethics and justice. But attempts to stay above the fray can cause more problems than they solve. Read the full story.

—Greg M. Epstein

How a half-trillion dollars is transforming climate technology

One year ago, the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law, marking the most significant action on climate change to date from the federal government. The legislation set aside hundreds of billions of dollars to support both new and existing technologies in an effort to slash costs for clean technologies and cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Experts say the IRA has already begun making waves, most visibly through a steady stream of announcements unveiling new manufacturing facilities in the US. However, the legislation’s most significant effects are still to come, as many of the programs are designed to last for a decade or longer. And there are even some remaining questions about how key pieces of the bill will play out. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

China’s car companies are turning into tech companies

This year, car buyers in China are being bombarded with claims about how advanced Navigation on Autopilot systems are coming to their city. These software systems are not quite fully autonomous driving, but they let cars stop, steer, and accelerate by themselves.

Both EV makers and AI startups have published aggressive roadmaps for national rollouts of their services. Their willingness to embrace software subscription models illustrates how auto companies are rapidly turning into tech companies—and nowhere is that transformation happening faster than in China. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things happening in China’s tech sector. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Google is preparing for a major AI offensive this fall
Its overarching aim? To flatten OpenAI. (The Information $)
+ Google is throwing generative AI at everything. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Tech is broken—can collective action fix it? 
Forcing tech workers to confront their own impact on the world could give the industry a much-needed shakeup. (MIT Technology Review)

3 OpenAI has been testing GPT-4 for content moderation
But we don’t know just how reliable it is at this stage. (Bloomberg $)
+ Catching bad content in the age of AI. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Twitter has been slowing links to sites Elon Musk dislikes
Which seems very much in keeping with his calm, rational approach to things he disagrees with. (WP $)
+ Throttling traffic to rival organizations is a worrying abuse of power. (The Guardian)
+ X is very much into legal threats these days. (Wired $)

5 Weaning nations off coal is easier said than done 
However, South Africa shows how former coal-powered plants can be transformed into green hubs. (Wired $)
+ Putting the oceans to work soaking up carbon is another bright idea. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ Yes, we have enough materials to power the world with renewable energy. (MIT Technology Review)

6 China is developing its own cut-price weight loss drugs
Which is likely to catch the eye of cost-aware healthcare providers in the west. (FT $)
+ Weight-loss injections have taken over the internet. But what does this mean for people IRL? (MIT Technology Review)

7 Streaming is getting a whole lot more expensive
The days of cheap TV are well and truly over. (The Verge)
+ It’s going to be a real test of loyalty for customers. (WSJ $)
+ Where there’s a will to save money, there’s a way. (WP $)

8 Brazil’s gig economy workers have a common foe: each other
A wave of new opportunities ushered in by AI is turning employees against industry newcomers. (Rest of World)

9 We’ve become a nation of online returners 🛍️
You bought it, you break it, you still get your money back. (New Yorker $)
+ Amazon’s own brands are in serious decline. (NY Mag $)

10 When AI meets architecture 🏢
The construction industry has long resisted tech’s siren call—until now. (NYT $)

Quote of the day

“Everyone is going to be racing against the clock continuously.”

—Ramandeep Randhawa, senior vice dean for the USC Marshall School of Business, says universities are better prepared for the rapid changes ushered in by ChatGPT this year, Bloomberg reports.

The big story

Alina Chan tweeted life into the idea that the virus came from a lab.

June 2021Alina Chan started asking questions in March 2020. She was chatting with friends on Facebook about the virus then spreading out of China. She thought it was strange that no one had found any infected animal. She wondered why no one was admitting another possibility, which to her seemed very obvious: the outbreak might have been due to a lab accident.

Chan is a postdoc in a gene therapy lab at the Broad Institute, a prestigious research institute affiliated with both Harvard and MIT. Throughout 2020, Chan relentlessly stoked scientific argument, and wasn’t afraid to pit her brain against the best virologists in the world. Her persistence even helped change some researchers’ minds. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

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.)

+ Today marks 46 years since Elvis Presley died—which is a great excuse to revisit his amazing ‘68 Comeback Special.
+ In more music trivia, happy birthday to the queen of pop: 65 years young today!
+ The internet’s fixation with cats can be traced back much further than you may think.
+ A meat-based dessert sounds like it shouldn’t work on paper, but Mutanjan is truly delicious.
+ This is very cool—AI has recreated a clip of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1 purely by analyzing people’s brain activity while they listened to it.

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