Innovation of the week
Your T-shirt could one day be used to power the smartphone in your pocket, said Maria Gallucci in Mashable.com. New “smart” fibers developed by Chinese researchers “can be tailored and woven like cotton—but can also produce and store solar energy, like tiny clean power plants.” Energy-generating cloth could potentially solve the conundrum of keeping our devices fully charged without burning harmful fossil fuels. Unlike other smart textiles, the solar cloth can be cut, sewn, and tailored to a designer’s specifications. The technology still has a long way to go before it’s ready to wear. The “environmentally unfriendly” dye currently used in its solar cells, for example, is a potential health hazard, and the fabric isn’t waterproof. But experts say the first commercial products using solar-generating textiles could be available in “the next five years.”
Bytes: What’s new in tech
A rocky start for Facebook Marketplace
“Illegal drugs. Dogs. Guns. Sexual services. Baby hedgehogs.” All of these and more were available for purchase on Facebook last week, just hours after the social network rolled out its newest e-commerce feature, said Jonah Engel Bromwich in The New York Times. Marketplace, a new section on the Facebook mobile app, lets users buy and sell things from friends and strangers, similar to Craigslist and other online bazaars. But the site was almost immediately flooded with items in clear violation of Facebook’s commerce policy. Facebook laid the blame on a technical glitch preventing its reviewing system from vetting posts. The company says it’s working to fix the issue and to remove any offensive items. Marketplace is being rolled out gradually, with a desktop version to be released in the “coming months.”
Trouble in the troll den
“The infamous message board 4Chan is struggling to stay afloat,” said Jacob Kastrenakes in TheVerge.com. The site’s owner posted last week that 4Chan hasn’t brought in enough ad revenue to continue paying for the cost of running the site. To survive, 4Chan may have to close message boards, slow upload speeds, or reduce the size of images that can be posted. It would be a seismic change for the site, “which has long been almost entirely unregulated.” 4Chan has been hugely influential in shaping internet culture, spawning “countless memes” as well as the hacktivist movement known as Anonymous. But it’s equally famous as a “home to racism, sexism, and otherwise vile discussions.” 4Chan has been linked to the Gamergate movement and to the release of stolen nude photos of actresses.
Your AI language tutor
“Today’s chatbots, for the most part, aren’t all that useful,” said Frederic Lardinois in Tech Crunch.com, “but what if you could use them to learn a new language?” Duolingo, a free language-learning app, now features artificially intelligent conversation partners with whom users can practice their newly acquired skills. Online language learners can text back and forth with bots featuring different personalities, like “Chef Robert, Renée the Driver, and Officer Ada.” Each bot reacts differently to what users say and will correct them when they make a mistake. The feature is currently available only on the Duolingo iPhone app, in French, Spanish, and German, but more languages are coming. Duolingo eventually hopes to add spoken conversation as well.