The Download: Google’s Gemini plans, and virtual power plants

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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.

Google’s Gemini is now in everything. Here’s how you can try it out.

The latest news Google has launched its largest AI mass-market launch to date by launching Gemini, a family of large language model, across all its products. This includes Android, iOS Google App, Gmail, Docs, and more. Users will be able to access Gemini Ultra for the first time with a new subscription plan.  

Why it matters ChatGPT, released by Microsoft-backed OpenAI just 14 months ago, changed people’s expectations of what computers could do. Google has been trying to catch up since then and released its Gemini line of models in December. Gemini will be baked into Google’s ubiquitous tools in an attempt to catch up and even surpass its rival. Read the full article.

—Will Douglas Heaven

How virtual power plants are shaping tomorrow’s energy system

The shift from conventional energy sources like coal and gas to variable and unpredictable renewables such as solar and wind means the  way we operate the energy system is changing. Welcome to the virtual power plant (VPP) era.

Governments and private companies alike are counting on VPPs’ potential to help keep costs down and stop the grid from becoming overburdened.

Here’s what you need to know about VPPs—and why they could be the key to helping us bring more clean power and energy storage online. Read the full article.

—June Kim

This piece is a part of MIT Technology Review Explains: our series untangling the complex, messy world of technology to help you understand what’s coming next. More from the series can be read here.

Advanced solar panels need to stand the test of time

It must be hard to be a panel of solar energy. They’re consistently exposed to sun, heat, and humidity—and the panels installed today are expected to last 30 years or more.

How can we tell if new solar technologies are going to stand the test? That’s been especially tricky for one emerging technology in particular: perovskites. They’re 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, perovskites are notorious for degrading when exposed to high temperatures, moisture, and bright light—all the things they’ll need to withstand to make it in the real world. 

The good news is that  researchers have made progress in both stretching out the lifetime of perovskite materials and working out how to predict which materials will be winners in the long run. Read the full article.

—Casey Crownhart

This article is from The Spark – our weekly climate and energy news newsletter. Sign upYou will receive it in your mailbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

OpenAI is currently working on a AI agent that will take control of any device.
Software would be able to perform clicks and typing, among other actions. (The Information $)
+ These six questions will determine how generative AI evolves in the future. (MIT Technology Review)

A driverless Waymo hit a bicycle in San Francisco
It’s yet another example of autonomous cars posing a danger to pedestrians (Reuters)
+ What’s next for robotaxis in 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Russia is fueling fears of civil war in US online
Influencers, bloggers, and state-run platforms spread misinformation about the Texas border crisis. (Wired $)

Four ransomware hackers stole over $1 billion in ransomware last year
That’s nearly double the funds stolen in 2022. (The Guardian)
+ It’s far easier to share ransomware than it used to be. (Bloomberg $)
+ No, millions of smart toothbrushes weren’t used in a DDoS attack. (Media 404)

New York has taken on social media algorithms
Officials want to stop platforms from serving minors content algorithmically. (WSJ $)

Uber has made its first annual profit
It has been less than five years since its IPO flopped. (FT $)

7 Self-fertilizing plant varieties may be coming soon
Engineered plants that don’t rely on synthetic fertilizer could liberate farmers in areas with typically poor fertility.(New Yorker $)
+ The Earth is getting greener—quite literally. (Vox)

8 It’s not just you—the whole internet is getting worse
The end is near when platforms start prioritizing business over users. (FT $)
+ You’ll have a hard time watching those viral Grammy videos on social media. (Slate $)
+ How to fix the Internet (MIT Technology Review)

9 A Dutch man is officially the world’s longest-living heart transplant patient
Bert Janssen received his donor heart almost 40 years ago—and is happy and healthy. (BBC)
+ This company plans on transplanting gene-edited heart pigs into babies. (MIT Technology Review)

10 TikTok is filled with lame, manufactured slang
Creators are desperate to coin terms in the hopes it’ll go viral. (Vox)

Quote of the day

“It feels very gloves-off.”

—Jackie Burns Koven, head of threat intelligence at crypto tracing Chainalysis, explains why criminal activity online has returned to the bad old days of the height of the covid pandemic to Wired.

The big story

Welcome to Chula Vista where police drones responds to 911 calls

February 2023 

In the skies above Chula Vista, California, where the police department runs a drone program 10 hours a day, seven days a week, it’s not uncommon to see an unmanned aerial vehicle darting across the sky. 

Chula Vista is one of a dozen departments in the US that operate what are called drone-as-first-responder programs, where drones are dispatched by pilots, who are listening to live 911 calls, and often arrive first at the scenes of accidents, emergencies, and crimes, cameras in tow.

But many argue that police forces’ adoption of drones is happening too quickly. Drones are being used as surveillance tools and emergency responders, a fundamental shift for policing. This is happening without a public debate that is well-informed about privacy regulations, tactics and limits. There’s also little evidence that drone policing reduces crime.

Now Chula Vista is being sue for releasing drone footage. This illustrates how privacy and civil rights groups are increasingly worried about the technology’s ability to expand surveillance and lead to increased police interactions with demographics who have historically been overpoliced. Read the full article.

—Patrick Sisson

We can still enjoy nice things

A place to relax, have fun and be distracted in these weird times. (Do you have an idea? Drop me a lineThe following are some examples of how to use tweet ’em at me.)

I can tell you with absolute certainty that the picture above is the Sweetest slug I’ve ever seen.
These are the Best British rappersWhat is the greatest invention of all time?
+ Easy weeknight mealsThis time of year, it is essential to have a good supply.
The wild tale of the Noguchi TableIt’s a rollercoaster.
+ Wildlife Photographer Of The YearWinners never fail to amaze. (Thanks Peter!)

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