The Download: The minerals powering our economy, and Chinese companies’ identity crisis


It is easy to convince ourselves that we now live in a dematerialized ethereal world, ruled by digital startups, artificial intelligence, and financial services.

Yet there is little evidence that we have decoupled our economy from its churning hunger for resources. We are still reliant on the products of geological processes like coal and quartz, a mineral that’s a rich source of the silicon used to build computer chips, to power our world.

Three recent books aim to reconnect readers with the physical reality that underpins the global economy. Each one fills in dark secrets about the places, processes, and lived realities that make the economy tick, and reveals just how tragic a toll the materials we rely on take for humans and the environment. Read the full story.

—Matthew Ponsford

The story is from the current print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is on the theme of Build. If you don’t already, subscribe now to receive future copies once they land.

If you’re interested in the minerals powering our economy, why not take a look at my colleague James Temple’s pieces about how a US town is being torn apart as communities clash over plans to open a nickel mine—and how that mine could unlock billions in EV subsidies.

The must-reads

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

1 Blacklisted Chinese firms are rebranding as American
In a bid to swerve the Biden administration’s crackdown on national security concerns. (WSJ $)+ The US has sanctioned three Chinese nationals over their links to a botnet. (Ars Technica)

2 More than half of cars sold last year were SUVs
The large vehicles are major contributors to the climate crisis. (The Guardian)
+ Three frequently asked questions about EVs, answered. (MIT Technology Review)



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