Category: TECHNOLOGY REVIEW

How the Artemis moon mission could help get us to Mars

“The biggest problem we have right now is we don’t know how to live and work productively off planet Earth,” says Clive Neal, an engineer at the University of Notre Dame and an expert in lunar exploration. “We have no clue.” We’ve never properly tested out the technologies we’d need to live and work in space for months or years on end, in harsh environments with much colder temperatures, much higher amounts of radiation, lower levels of gravity, and a lack of oxygen and water.

“But we’ve got our own lab in our backyard with which to try these things,” says Neal. He and many colleagues recently authored a new report released by Explore Mars, an advocacy group promoting sustainable space exploration. The report identifies dozens of activities and technologies critical to Mars exploration that can be developed and tested through Artemis and ongoing lunar exploration efforts. 

Some things essential

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If China plans to go carbon neutral by 2060, why’s it building so many coal plants?

China’s president, Xi Jinping, has announced plans for the nation to become carbon neutral by 2060, setting a bold goal for the world’s biggest climate polluter.

But it’s hard to reconcile Xi’s pledge, made before the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, with the nation’s recent actions. Most notably, China is in the midst of a coal building boom. As of late last year, the country had nearly 150 gigawatts’ worth of coal power plants in the development pipeline, roughly equal to the European Union’s total capacity, according to Global Energy Monitor, a nonprofit that tracks coal projects around the world.

The plants can easily operate for 60 years or more, so anything built today could continue pumping out greenhouse gases for decades beyond the 2060 deadline.

China appears to be trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, the nation is asserting itself as a climate leader at

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The only black hole we’ve ever seen has a shadow that wobbles

“We want to understand physics in the extreme conditions in the vicinity of a black hole and learn about how the black hole interacts with the matter in its immediate environment,” says Maciek Wielgus, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the lead author of the new study. “Studying the dynamics of the crescent-like appearance of a black hole is a way to probe this fascinating environment.”

Before the EHT, scientists didn’t have the sensitive tools needed to study the structural changes a black hole goes through. “It was like watching a movie with a 1-pixel resolution,” says Wielgus. “You see that the brightness is changing in time—clearly something is going on there—but good luck figuring out what the movie is about.” 

EVENT HORIZON TELESCOPE

The new findings don’t make new observations of M87*, but rather characterize the shadow crescent through a new analysis of data collected from

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Four must-haves for business resilience in a time of crisis

In March, Adobe’s leadership team decided—for the sake of employee well-being—to institute worldwide work-from-home policies to protect against the spread of covid-19. And it was a large undertaking.

This content was produced by Adobe. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.

Anil Chakravarthy is Executive Vice President and General Manager of Adobe’s Digital Experience Business Unit.

Adobe has more than 20,000 employees around the globe, not dissimilar from many of our peers. But March also happens to be a key point in time for the digital experience-focused side of the business: It’s when we hold our annual customer conference in Las Vegas. When we moved our workforce to remote, there had already been months of work completed for this in-person event, which was expected to attract 23,000-plus attendees, and teams had to shift quickly (25 days, to be exact) to reimagine our event into an online experience.

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OpenAI is giving Microsoft exclusive access to its GPT-3 language model

The news: On September 22, Microsoft announced that it would begin exclusively licensing GPT-3, the world’s largest language model built by San Francisco-based OpenAI. The model acts like a powerful autocomplete: it can generate essays given the starting sentence, songs given a musical intro, or even webpage layouts given a few lines of HTML code. Microsoft says it will begin making use of these capabilities in its products and services, though it didn’t specify details.

What does exclusive mean? The companies say OpenAI will continue to offer its public-facing API, which allows chosen users to send text to GPT-3 or OpenAI’s other models and receive its output. Only Microsoft, however, will have access to GPT-3’s underlying code, allowing it to embed, repurpose, and modify the model as it pleases.

A long time coming: OpenAI was originally founded as a nonprofit and raised its initial billion dollars on the premise that

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A city in Brazil where covid-19 ran amok may be a ‘sentinel’ for the rest of the world

What happens when a major city allows the coronavirus to rage unchecked?

If the Brazilian city of Manaus is any answer, it means about two-thirds of the population could get infected and one person in 500 could die before the epidemic winds down.

During May, as the virus spread rapidly in Manaus, the equatorial capital of the state of Amazonas, dire reports described overwhelmed hospitals and freshly dug graves. Demand for coffins ran at four to five times figures for the previous year. But since hitting a peak four months ago, new coronavirus cases and deaths in the city of 1.8 million have undergone a rapid and unexplained decline.

Now a group of researchers from Brazil and the United Kingdom say they know why—so many people got infected that the virus is running out of hosts.

In a report posted to the preprint server medRxiv, a group led by Ester

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AI planners in Minecraft could help machines design better cities

Meanwhile, Arnaud Grignard and his colleagues at the MIT Media Lab are using agent-based simulation to explore possible designs for busy public spaces, including a regenerated Champs-Élysées in Paris. And New York startup Topos is using AI to help understand how the layout of a city affects those living in it. In one project it used a range of AI approaches, including image recognition and natural-language processing, to learn how different areas in New York were used by the people living there. It then redrew the boundaries of New York’s five boroughs on the basis of similarities between neighborhoods, such as whether they are residential or commercial, leafy or urban. The resulting map arrays the boroughs as more or less concentric rings around a central Manhattan.

Jasper Wijnands, at the University of Melbourne in Australia, is also convinced that AI has a place in future urban design. He and his

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The TikTok and WeChat ban that wasn’t: here’s whats happening now

What’s going on? The US Commerce Department issued an order banning Americans from downloading Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat at the end of last week. A lot has changed since then.

First, TikTok: Back in August, President Donald Trump said TikTok had to either be bought by a US entity by September 15 or face a ban. On Friday, the company, which doesn’t operate in China but is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, was given a deadline of November 12 to come up with a satisfactory deal to keep its operations running in the US. It hasn’t met Trump’s demands. Instead, on Saturday Oracle and Walmart announced they will buy a 20% stake in TikTok. ByteDance will continue to own the majority. Trump said the deal has his “blessing.” ByteDance said Oracle has the “right to conduct security inspections on TikTok’s US source code” in order to allay supposed security

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App bans won’t make US security risks disappear

Will the US government ban TikTok and WeChat, or won’t they—and why? With the Trump administration issuing vaguely phrased executive orders and policies about the apps, even as legal challenges against potential bans move through the courts and the president gives his “blessing” to a deal to keep TikTok in US app stores, it’s hard to make out a coherent story.

The Trump administration’s actions against the two Chinese-owned social media platforms are driven more by politics and an effort to seem tough on China than by actual privacy, safety, or national security concerns. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t tough challenges ahead in regulating digital platforms based in China, the United States, or anywhere else.

As the TikTok and WeChat stories unfold—and no one should expect a permanent resolution anytime soon—policymakers, technologists, and citizens should look beyond this chaotic start to the deeper, unresolved questions. Now is the time

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Trump’s rollbacks could add half an EU’s worth of climate pollution by 2035

US President Donald Trump has successfully moved the nation backwards on climate change, even as the world grapples with increasingly devastating fires, heat waves and droughts.

His rollbacks of major environmental policies, should they survive legal challenges and subsequent administrations, could pump the equivalent of 1.8 billion additional metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2035, according to a new Rhodium Group analysis. That’s a little more than Russia’s total annual fossil-fuel emissions, or more than half the European Union’s in recent years.

Those increased greenhouse-gas emissions would come from the unraveling of regulations, mostly implemented under President Barack Obama, in several key areas:

  • Efforts to roll back federal vehicle emissions standards and revoke California’s ability to set stricter rules could together add more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the next 15 years.
  • The weakening of Environmental Protection Agency rules requiring oil and gas companies
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