The Download: K-pop activists, and the future of search

The Download: K-pop activists, and the future of search

This is today’s edition ofThe Download,our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

How K-pop fans are shaping elections around the globe

Back in the early ‘90s, Korean pop music, known as K-pop, was largely conserved to its native South Korea. It’s since exploded around the globe into an international phenomenon, emphasizing choreography and elaborate performance.

It’s made bands like Girls Generation, EXO, BTS, and Blackpink into household names, and inspired a special brand of particularly fierce devotion in their fans.

Now, those same fandoms have learned how to use their digital skills to advocate for social change and pursue political goals—organizing acts of civil resistance, donating generously to charity, and even foiling white supremacist attempts to spread hate speech. Read the full story.

—Soo Youn

The ChatGPT-fueled battle for search is bigger than Microsoft or Google

Search is suddenly cool again. Last week, Microsoft and Google staked out their respective claims to the future of search, showing off chatbots that can respond to queries with sentences rather than lists of links.

But while these announcements gave a glimpse of what’s next for search, to get the full picture we need to look beyond these companies. Search is set to become more crowded and varied. That’s because, under the radar, a new wave of startups have been playing with many of the same chatbot-enhanced search tools for months. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

If you want to learn more about this topic, read this piece from Melissa Heikkilä about why you shouldn’t trust AI search engines.

Huge EVs are far from perfect, but they could still help fight climate change.

A handful of electric-vehicle commercials aired during the Super Bowl on Sunday, and all of them had one thing in common: the vehicles featured were massive.

In the US, cars are already big, and they’re getting bigger. Now, in the name of addressing climate change, companies are catering to America’s obsession with giant vehicles, advertising the same trucks and SUVs we know and love—but electrified.

Giving people what they want could be key to boosting EV adoption. But big EVs could come with a climate cost. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

Casey’s article is from The Spark, her weekly climate and energy newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Bird flu is rapidly spreading among mammals
But, for now, there’s still no evidence it poses a direct threat to humans. (The Atlantic $)
+ Humans tend to contract the virus only after handling birds. (Economist $)
+ At least 60 countries have killed birds in response to outbreaks so far. (Reuters)
+ We don’t need to panic about a bird flu pandemic—yet. (MIT Technology Review)

2 China’s covid wave was far deadlier than reported
Estimates suggest it killed up to 1.5 million people, far higher than the official death toll. (NOW $)
+ The country spent billions of covid measures last year. (The Guardian)

3 What flies in the sky’s ‘forgotten space’?
Spy balloons aren’t the only objects you’ll find up there. (FT $)
+ Why the US is obsessed with UFOs. (The Atlantic $)

4 The Doomsday Glacier is melting rapidly
A robot submerged below the ice has found troubling signs of sensitivity. (Wired $)

5 Sexual predators are grooming teens on TikTok
Its recommendation algorithm makes it easier than ever to seek new victims. (WSJ $)

6 Tesla is opening its vast network of chargers to other EVs
At least 7,5000 new chargers will be made available—and more are coming. (TechCrunch)
+ The U.S. only has 6,000 fast charging stations for EVs. Here’s where they all are. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Effective altruism is failing to tackle sexual harassment
A lack of formalized leadership makes it extra challenging. (Vox)+ Inside effective altruism, where the far future counts a lot more than the present. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Erotic AI companions are giving up roleplay

The abrupt change to Replika’s chatbots has left devotees bereft. (Motherboard)

9 Who was John McAfee?
Even the eccentric and so-called centimillionaire’s friends and family aren’t sure. (Bloomberg $)

10 It’s time to get de-influenced
Creators are over pushing products—now they’re telling you what not to buy. (The Guardian)
+ Like it or not, being an influencer is a real job. (Wired $)

Quote of the day

“We cannot afford to be scared of Putin, or else he wins.”

—Christo Grozev, an investigative journalist dedicated to exposing Russian wrongdoings, tells the Financial Times why he is still committed to his reporting, despite the Kremlin adding him to its “most wanted” list.

The big story

Why it’s a mistake to bet against Silicon Valley

February 2021

There has always been an immense amount of debate over what accounts for the uniqueness of Silicon Valley. Whatever the reasons, the Valley has remained the world’s dominant technology innovation center since then, its roots clearly lie in a serendipitous set of events.

But despite its near-religious belief in its own reputation for innovation, the Valley has been sustained by relatively few huge, dramatic concepts that have spawned whole new ways of living and working. Instead, it has become adept at something else: spotting a profitable new idea. Read the full story.

—John Markoff

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.)

+ These beluga whales sing beautifully, but I can’t say the same for their human friend (thanks Vincent!)
+ Wow, leaves really are amazing.
+ Every single one of these luxe New York hotels look incredible.
+ I don’t know what this Pikmin doggy thing is, but I know I like it.
+ It’s time to watch your back—your gaming chair could be trying to kill you.

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