Making Finance Fairer, Facebook’s AR Dream, and Why You’re an E-tail Schmuck—The Download, April 19, 2017

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Three Things You Need to Know Today

Blockchain’s Big Money Promise
The technology behind Bitcoin could help make finance fairer—if we use it correctly. That was one of the main messages to emerge from yesterday's Business of Blockchain conference, an event organized by MIT Technology Review and the MIT Media Lab. There, luminaries in the field argued that cryptocurrencies can increase financial stability, boost accountability, and provide financial services for the poor. But others warned that such promise rests on finding a solution to a big problem: companies and developers must agree on the underlying technology's future.

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Facebook’s AR Dream
Mark Zuckerberg wants to augment your reality. Yesterday, he announced a plan to inject AR into feeds by launching new software that will help you view and manipulate interactive digital layers on the world around you. Ultimately, Facebook wants to transfer our reliance on physical stuff over to its own virtual ecosystem, so you can summon a board game, TV screen, or … anything, really, from thin air on a whim. As our own Rachel Metz points out, Facebook's user base of 2 billion people could provide the powerful shove that AR needs to hit the mainstream.

A Tale of Two Driverless Car Approaches
It's the most open of innovation, it's the most closed of innovation—at least when it comes to building autonomous cars. Our own Will Knight reports that Chinese Internet company Baidu is releasing an open-source version of its driverless car operating system in order to reduce duplicated efforts and encourage innovation. In stark contrast, Apple’s long-rumored autonomous car plans remain under tight wraps—with news of forthcoming road tests the first real acknowledgment of the company's intent. Which approach will yield the best results remains uncertain.

Ten Fascinating Things

Here’s how Donald Trump's "Hire American" plan might affect the tech industry.

Europe’s coal power infrastructure is rapidly becoming obsolete as renewables continue to tumble in price.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory built tools to detect microorganisms—but it's now using the same approach to understand the origins of breast cancer.

Online retailers are getting way, way smarter—and making suckers of every last person that chooses to shop with them.

Ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is back with a new venture: he wants to show you as clearly as possible how the government spends its money.

A strange kidney disease is becoming a more prolific killer, and it appears to be exacerbated by dehydration brought about by climate change.

Harvard Business Review explains why the first wave of commercial AI is doomed for failure.

A small startup called Enviro Power is trying to build a combined heat and power unit that’s affordable enough for a small family home.

Along parts of the East Coast, sinking land and rising sea levels mean that flooding is no longer a risk but a certainty—making it all but impossible to insure a home.

A new scheme in Scotland will see wind turbines generate power for a rural community, while profits from excess energy subsidize affordable housing.

Quote of the Day

"When you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. We’re competing with sleep."

— Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, explains that his company's main competitor isn’t HBO, Amazon Video, or YouTube—but the human need for shut eye.

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