This is today's edition of The download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's happening in the world of tech.
Google's Gemini is now in everything. Here's how you can try it.
The news: In the biggest consumer AI launch yet, Google is rolling out Gemini, its family of large language models, to almost all of its products, from Android to the Google iOS app to Gmail, Docs and more Again. A new subscription plan will also give users first access to Gemini Ultra, the most powerful version of the model.
Why is this important: ChatGPT, released by Microsoft-backed OpenAI just 14 months ago, changed people's expectations of what computers could do. Since then, Google has been working to catch up and unveiled its Gemini family of models in December. By integrating Gemini into its omnipresent tools, it hopes to make up for lost ground, and even overtake its rival. Read the full story.
—Will Douglas Heaven
How virtual power plants are shaping the energy system of tomorrow
The shift from conventional energy sources like coal and gas to variable and unpredictable renewables like solar and wind means that the way we operate the energy system is changing. Welcome to the era of virtual power plants (VPP).
Governments and private companies are relying on the potential of VPPs to reduce costs and prevent network overload.
Here's what you need to know about VPPs and why they could be the key to helping us bring more clean energy and energy storage online. Read the full story.
This piece is part of MIT Technology Review Explains: our series untangles the complex and messy world of technology to help you understand what's next. You can find out more about the series here.
Advanced solar panels have yet to pass the test of time
It must be tough being a solar panel. They are constantly exposed to sun, heat and humidity, and panels installed today should last 30 years or more.
But how do we know if new solar technologies will stand the test of time? This proves particularly tricky for one emerging technology in particular: perovskites. This is a class of materials that developers are increasingly interested in incorporating into solar panels because of their high efficiency and low cost.
The problem is that perovskites are known to degrade when exposed to high temperatures, humidity, and bright light – all things they will need to withstand to succeed in the real world.
The good news is that researchers have made progress extending the lifespan of perovskite materials and investigating how to predict which materials will win in the long term. Read the full story.
This story is from The Spark, our weekly climate and energy newsletter. Register to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.
I've scoured the internet to find you today's most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 OpenAI is working on an AI agent to take control of your device
This would allow software to perform clicks, types, and other actions. (Information $)
+ These six questions will dictate the future of generative AI. (MIT Technology Review)
2 Driverless Waymo car hit cyclist in San Francisco
This is yet another example of self-driving cars posing a danger to pedestrians (Reuters)
+ What's next for robotaxis in 2024. (MIT Technology Review)
3 Russia stokes fears of US civil war online
Influencers, bloggers and public media platforms are spreading misinformation about the Texas border crisis. (Wired $)
4 Ransomware Hackers Stole Over $1 Billion Last Year
This is almost double the funds stolen in 2022. (The Guardian)
+ It's much easier to share ransomware than before. (Bloomberg $)
+ No, millions of smart toothbrushes were not used in a DDoS attack. (404 Media)
5 New York takes on social media algorithms
State officials want to ban platforms from serving content to minors algorithmically. (WSJ $)
6 Uber recorded its first annual profit
A little less than five years since its IPO failure. (FT $)
7 Self-fertile plants could be on the horizon
Artificial plants that don't rely on synthetic fertilizers could free up farmers in typically low-fertility areas.New Yorker $)
+ The Earth is literally becoming greener. (Voice)
8 It's Not Just You: The Whole Internet Is Going Bad
Once platforms start prioritizing businesses over ordinary users, the end will be near. (FT $)
+ Good luck trying to watch those viral Grammy clips on social media. (Slate $)
+ How to fix the Internet. (MIT Technology Review)
9 A Dutchman is officially the longest-lived heart transplant patient in the world
Bert Janssen received his heart almost 40 years ago and is happy and healthy. (BBC)
+ This company plans to transplant genetically modified pig hearts into babies. (MIT Technology Review)
10 TikTok Is Overrun With Lame, Fabricated Slang
Creators are desperate to coin terms in the hopes that it will go viral. (Voice)
Quote of the day
“It’s very gloveless.”
—Jackie Burns Koven, Head of Threat Intelligence at Crypto Tracing Chainalysis, explains why online criminal activity has returned to the bad old days of the height of the covid pandemic. Wired.
The big story
Welcome to Chula Vista, where police drones respond to 911 calls
In the skies of Chula Vista, Calif., where the police department operates a drone program 10 hours a day, seven days a week, it's not uncommon to see an unmanned aerial vehicle streaking across the sky.
Chula Vista is one of a dozen U.S. departments that operate so-called first responder drone programs, in which drones are dispatched by pilots, who listen live to 911 calls and arrive often the first on the scene of accidents. emergencies and crimes, cameras in tow.
But many say the adoption of drones by police forces is happening too quickly. The use of drones as surveillance tools and first responders represents a fundamental shift in policing without a well-informed public debate about privacy regulations, tactics, and limits. There is also little evidence that drone policing reduces crime.
Chula Vista is now being sued for releasing drone footage, illustrating how privacy and civil liberties groups are increasingly concerned that the technology will dramatically expand surveillance capabilities and lead to even more police interactions with demographic groups that have historically suffered from excessive police surveillance. Read the full story.
We can still have beautiful things
+ I can say with absolute certainty that this is the the sweetest slug That I've never seen.
+ Are these the best british rappers all time?
+ Easy Weekday Dinners are essential at this time of year.
+ The wild tale of Noguchi painting is a roller coaster ride.
+ The Wildlife Photographer of the Year the winners never fail to amaze (thanks Peter!)