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Instead Of Banning Books, Idaho Library Decides To Ban Kids In Response To New Law On ‘Inappropriate Books’

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Public libraries are supposed to be places for communities to gather and learn, with an important focus on being a place for kids to gain access to information. But thanks to a moral panic in the GOP about “indoctrination” in libraries, it seems that at least one library has decided to shut its door to children.

A public library in a tiny Idaho mountain community announced on Facebook that it is no longer allowing minors to enter its facilities and check out books, citing a new law adopted by the state legislature. Donnelly Public Library, in the roughly 250-person town of Donnelly, Idaho, will still offer after-school and summer learning programs for local youth.

But it’s now an adults-only establishment—literally

“Donnelly Public Library was deeply saddened by the passing of [House Bill] 710,” the library posted. “Unfortunately, the ambiguous language in the legislation leaves us no options but to make some very drastic changes. In order to comply with the legislation we will be transitioning our Library to be an adult only library as of July 1.” 

House Bill (HB) 710 allows parents or guardians to sue any school or public library for carrying materials that could be viewed as age-inappropriate and obscene. Libraries have to move books and materials or face lawsuits. Donnelly Public Library is a small facility in a literal log cabin.

“Donnelly [Public] Library is only 1024 [square foot],” said the library. “Our size prohibits us from separating our ‘grown up’ books to be out of the accessible range of children.” 

Idaho’s Republican-controlled state legislature adopted HB 710, and Gov. Brad Little signed it into law in April. The law’s proponents argue it is meant to give parents more oversight of what their children are reading while doubly serving as a law to protect minors from viewing potentially disturbing images. Entering force on July 1, 2024, HB 710 features a definition of obscene materials for minors that critics believe to be broad and, per the library, “ambiguous.” 

“‘Sexual conduct’ means any act of masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact with a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks or, if such person be a female, the breast,” reads a portion of the bill. The law provides for broad assumptions regarding material that is potentially “obscene” or “harmful to minors” for simply dealing with the subject matter of sexuality or the human body’s biological reproductive functions. Parents or guardians can arbitrarily apply these definitions against libraries accused of “promoting” material that is supposedly harmful to minors. In the law, “promoting” refers to virtually any act of selling, loaning out, and distributing books, DVDs, CDs, or other media types. The law also prohibits live performances that meet the definition of being harmful to minors. It is pretty encompassing. 

What’s even more nuts is that HB 710 is a bounty law. A “bounty law” allows private parties to bring civil complaints against entities for alleged violations of the law. If a judge determines the law is broken, the private parties are entitled to predetermined sums as compensation. HB 710 creates a civil right of action to sue schools and public libraries for promoting obscene materials to minors. If the parties suing the institutions prevail, they’re given $250 in statutory damages. 

They could be entitled to compensation for the actual, alleged damages of having their child exposed to a book viewed as violating HB 710. For small library systems like Donnelly Public Library, litigation prospects could be financially catastrophic and spatially restrictive. The law also allows county prosecutors and the Idaho state attorney general to bring civil action against schools and public libraries. Due to this, it isn’t that surprising that this public library is now adults-only. Nothing will be accomplished. Here’s why. HB 710 is grossly unconstitutional. 

Proponents will argue the law doesn’t ban books or the ability for adults to access materials.

Instead, they’ll say it gives parents more say in what children can read. That sounds all well and good, but a claim of such a law empowering parental rights is naïve. State lawmakers have essentially deputized pissed-off voters who believe in conspiracy theories about the nation’s youth being indoctrinated in public schools and libraries by leftist educators and librarians. 

Individuals ultimately become state actors incentivized by promises of guaranteed monies to challenge books and their locations that probably aren’t even “pornographic” or “obscene.” 

Anything that even remotely deals with sexuality or gender in any capacity could be challenged. Such challenges would violate the First Amendment rights of authors, parents, and children — but, most importantly, librarians, educators, and administrators. I can’t say this would happen exactly in the case of the Donnelly Public Library.

However, the fact that this library is so concerned with the beefed up liabilities under HB 710 that the library district board had to restrict the age of access for its patrons speaks to how unjust laws that significantly restrict and regulate libraries can genuinely be. There is no regard for the unintended consequences, which could have a greater impact on the state than the intent of the law.

A rich body of research shows that a child’s ability to access a school or public library positively impacts their development. 

In some studies, the role of the librarian in rural communities carries as much weight as a teacher or other trusted adult.

While it is true that Donnelly Public School isn’t canceling its after-school and summer reading programs, restricting year-round access to this library to just adults could come at a cost. I believe that having the ability to read is a fundamental human right, especially for teens. I might not be the best voice to discuss the rights of youth, but it’s evident this is a product of fear-mongering to gain power among Republicans is out of political gain. 

It is the Republicans, in the case of HB 710, that are harming the children just so a powerful minority of individuals could appease their political backers. No matter who it is or how they are held, everyone should be able to access the information they want and need

Michael McGrady covers the legal and tech side of the online porn business, among other topics.

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LinuxGeek
24 days ago
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This library found a great response to a stupid law. Face it, we can't make the world 'child safe'. We shouldn't even try. It's the parents' job to raise their children. Protecting them in the early ages, and teaching them when it's appropriate for their child.
freeAgent
24 days ago
Agreed, protecting children from books is something that should be strictly the responsibility of parents, IMO.
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AI is an energy hog. This is what it means for climate change.

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This article is from The Spark, MIT Technology Review’s weekly climate newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

Tech companies keep finding new ways to bring AI into every facet of our lives. AI has taken over my search engine results, and new virtual assistants from Google and OpenAI announced last week are bringing the world eerily close to the 2013 film Her (in more ways than one).

As AI has become more integrated into our world, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the technology’s rising electricity demand. You may have seen the headlines proclaiming that AI uses as much electricity as small countries, that it’ll usher in a fossil-fuel resurgence, and that it’s already challenging the grid.  

So how worried should we be about AI’s electricity demands? Well, it’s complicated. 

Using AI for certain tasks can come with a significant energy price tag. With some powerful AI models, generating an image can require as much energy as charging up your phone, as my colleague Melissa Heikkilä explained in a story from December. Create 1,000 images with a model like Stable Diffusion XL, and you’ve produced as much carbon dioxide as driving just over four miles in a gas-powered car, according to the researchers Melissa spoke to. 

But while generated images are splashy, there are plenty of AI tasks that don’t use as much energy. For example, creating images is thousands of times more energy-intensive than generating text. And using a smaller model that’s tailored to a specific task, rather than a massive, all-purpose generative model, can be dozens of times more efficient. In any case, generative AI models require energy, and we’re using them a lot. 

Electricity consumption from data centers, AI, and cryptocurrency could reach double 2022 levels by 2026, according to projections from the International Energy Agency. Those technologies together made up roughly 2% of global electricity demand in 2022. Note that these numbers aren’t just for AI—it’s tricky to nail down AI’s specific contribution, so keep that in mind when you see predictions about electricity demand from data centers. 

There’s a wide range of uncertainty in the IEA’s projections, depending on factors like how quickly deployment increases and how efficient computing processes get. On the low end, the sector could require about 160 terawatt-hours of additional electricity by 2026. On the higher end, that number might be 590 TWh. As the report puts it, AI, data centers, and cryptocurrency together are likely adding “at least one Sweden or at most one Germany” to global electricity demand. 

In total, the IEA projects, the world will add about 3,500 TWh of electricity demand over that same period—so while computing is certainly part of the demand crunch, it’s far from the whole story. Electric vehicles and the industrial sector will both be bigger sources of growth in electricity demand than data centers in the European Union, for example. 

Still, some big tech companies are suggesting that AI could get in the way of their climate goals. Microsoft pledged four years ago to bring its greenhouse-gas emissions to zero (or even lower) by the end of the decade. But the company’s recent sustainability report shows that instead, emissions are still ticking up, and some executives point to AI as a reason. “In 2020, we unveiled what we called our carbon moonshot. That was before the explosion in artificial intelligence,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, told Bloomberg Green.

What I found interesting, though, is that it’s not AI’s electricity demand that’s contributing to Microsoft’s rising emissions, at least on paper. The company has agreements in place and buys renewable-energy credits so that electricity needs for all its functions (including AI) are met with renewables. (How much these credits actually help is questionable, but that’s a story for another day.) 

Instead, infrastructure growth could be adding to the uptick in emissions. Microsoft plans to spend $50 billion between July 2023 and June 2024 on expanding data centers to meet demand for AI products, according to the Bloomberg story. Building those data centers requires materials that can be carbon intensive, like steel, cement, and of course chips. 

Some important context to consider in the panic over AI’s energy demand is that while the technology is new, this sort of concern isn’t, as Robinson Meyer laid out in an April story in Heatmap.

Meyer points to estimates from 1999 that information technologies were already accounting for up to 13% of US power demand, and that personal computers and the internet could eat up half the grid’s capacity within the decade. That didn’t end up happening, and even at the time, computing was actually accounting for something like 3% of electricity demand. 

We’ll have to wait and see if doomsday predictions about AI’s energy demand play out. The way I see it, though, AI is probably going to be a small piece of a much bigger story. Ultimately, rising electricity demand from AI is in some ways no different from rising demand from EVs, heat pumps, or factory growth. It’s really how we meet that demand that matters. 

If we build more fossil-fuel plants to meet our growing electricity demand, it’ll come with negative consequences for the climate. But if we use rising electricity demand as a catalyst to lean harder into renewable energy and other low-carbon power sources, and push AI to get more efficient, doing more with less energy, then we can continue to slowly clean up the grid, even as AI continues to expand its reach in our lives. 


Now read the rest of The Spark

Related reading

Check out my colleague Melissa’s story on the carbon footprint of AI from December here

For a closer look at Microsoft’s new sustainability report and the effects of AI, give this Bloomberg Green story from reporters Akshat Rathi and Dina Bass a read. 

Robinson Meyer at Heatmap dug into the context around the AI energy demand in this April piece

Another thing

Missed our event last week on thermal batteries? Good news—the recording is now available for subscribers!

For the latest in our Roundtables series, I spoke with Amy Nordrum, MIT Technology Review executive editor, about how the technology works, who the crucial players are, and what I’m watching for next. Check it out here

Keeping up with climate  

Changing how we generate heat in industry will be crucial to cleaning up that sector in China, according to a new report. Thermal batteries and heat pumps could meet most of the demand. (Axios)

Form Energy is known for its iron-air batteries, which could help unlock cheap energy storage on the grid. Now, the company is working on research to produce green iron. (Canary Media)

The NET Power pilot in Texas is working to generate electricity with natural gas while capturing the vast majority of emissions. But carbon capture technology in power plants is far from proven. (Cipher News)

MIT spinoff Electrified Thermal Solutions is working to bring its thermal battery technology to commercial use. The company’s product is roughly the size of an elevator and can reach temperatures up to 1,800 °C. (Inside Climate News)

Mexico City has seen constant struggles over water. Now groundwater is drying up, and a system of dams and canals may soon be unable to provide water to the city. (New York Times)

Sodium-ion batteries could offer cheap energy storage while avoiding material crunches for metals like lithium, nickel, and cobalt. China has a massive head start, leaving other countries scrambling to catch up. (Latitude Media)

→ Here’s how this abundant material could unlock cheaper energy storage. (MIT Technology Review)

Biochar is made by heating up biomass like wood and plants in low-oxygen environments. It’s a simple approach to carbon removal, but it doesn’t always get as much attention as other carbon removal technologies. (Heatmap)

This startup wants ships to capture their own emissions by bubbling exhaust through seawater and limestone and dumping it into the ocean. Experts caution that some components of the exhaust could harm sea life if they’re not handled properly. (New Scientist)

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LinuxGeek
25 days ago
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What dire news do we need to hear before mankind wakes up to the fact that we need to change before we make the Earth uninhabitable for future generations? Are we shortsighted, or just uncaring that after we die, people will be harmed by what we've done?
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Microsoft outage affects Bing, Copilot, DuckDuckGo and ChatGPT internet search

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A massive Microsoft outage in some regions affects Bing.com, Copilot for web and mobile, Copilot in Windows, ChatGPT internet search and DuckDuckGo. [...]
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LinuxGeek
25 days ago
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Ah! I wondered why ddg wasn't working today. Didn't know they relied on MS
freeAgent
25 days ago
Yeah, it's been known that they relied on Bing for a long time, but I wasn't aware that the reliance was real-time/live.
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Virginia judge to decide whether state law considers embryos as property

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A judge must decide whether Virginia law allows frozen embryos to be considered property that can be divided up and given a monetary value
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LinuxGeek
39 days ago
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One state decides that embryos are children and another state is deciding if they are property. They can't both be right. Perhaps neither is right.
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Court Supports NY State’s Quest To Require $15 Broadband For Poor People, Much To Big Telecom’s Horror

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When the Trump administration killed net neutrality, telecom industry giants convinced them to push their luck and declared that not only would federal regulators no longer try to meaningfully oversee telecom giants like Comcast and AT&T, but that states couldn’t either. They got greedy.

The courts didn’t like that much, repeatedly ruling that the FCC can’t abdicate its authority over broadband consumer protection, then turn around tell states what they can or can’t do.

The courts took that stance again last week, with a new ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit restoring a New York State law (the Affordable Broadband Act) requiring that ISPs provide low-income state residents $15 broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps. The law was blocked in June of 2021 by a US District Judge who claimed that the state law was preempted by the federal net neutrality repeal.

Giant ISPs, and the Trump administration officials who love them, desperately tried to insist that states were magically barred from regulating broadband because the Trump administration said so. But the appeals court ruled, once again, those efforts aren’t supported by logic or the law:

“the ABA is not conflict-preempted by the Federal Communications Commission’s 2018 order classifying broadband as an information service. That order stripped the agency of its authority to regulate the rates charged for broadband Internet, and a federal agency cannot exclude states from regulating in an area where the agency itself lacks regulatory authority. Accordingly, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court and VACATE the permanent injunction.”

This ruling is once again good news for future fights over net neutrality and broadband consumer protection, Stanford Law Professor and net neutrality expert Barbara van Schewick notes in a statement:

“Today’s decision means that if a future FCC again decided to abdicate its oversight over broadband like it did in 2017, the states have strong legal precedent, across circuits, to institute their own protections or re-activate dormant ones.”

Telecom lobbyists have spent years lobbying to ensure federal broadband oversight is as captured and feckless as possible. And, with the occasional exception, they’ve largely succeeded. Big telecom had really hoped they could extend that winning streak even further and bar states from standing up to them as well, but so far that really hasn’t gone as planned.

One of the things that absolutely terrifies telecom monopoly lobbyists is the idea of rate regulation, or that government would ever stop them from ripping off captive customers stuck in uncompetitive markets. It’s never been a serious threat on the federal level due to regulatory capture and lobbying, even though it’s thrown around a lot by monopoly apologists as a terrifying bogeyman akin to leprosy.

Here you not only have a state retaining its authority to protect consumers from monopoly harm, but dictating to them that they must provide poor people with 25 Mbps broadband (which really costs ISPs at Comcast’s scale virtually nothing to provide in the gigabit era). Still, it’s the kind of ruling that’s going to give AT&T and Comcast lobbyists (and consultants and think tank proxies) cold sweats for years.

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LinuxGeek
45 days ago
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This is the wrong fix. If Internet is an essential part of modern life (and I'm not sure that it is) then the right fix would be to require ISPs to provide some degree of internet access for everyone (perhaps 25 Mbps) at a fixed price. The government gave a lot of money and tax breaks to these companies. You could argue that citizens should 'own' some part of the ISP businesses. Instead, we've got a lot of red tape and paperwork to prove that the customer is poor enough to get a break while the rest of us pay higher fees to maintain their profit margin.
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Microsoft rolls out passkey auth for personal Microsoft accounts

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Microsoft announced that Windows users can now log into their Microsoft consumer accounts using a passkey, allowing users to authenticate using password-less methods such as Windows Hello, FIDO2 security keys, biometric data (facial scans or fingerprints), or device PINs. [...]
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LinuxGeek
45 days ago
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Once again, Microsoft compromises security for convenience (details about this are in the story). Several security experts have recently written about how the concept behind passkeys is okay, but the various incompatible implementations suck so much that people might just stay with username/password.
NeonCone
40 days ago
Passkeys are much better for the majority of people for the majority of accounts. I still recommend username/password + 2fa for critical accounts like banking or your primary email account but for everything else passkeys are a big step up in usability for most people. I do agree though that having ecosystem locked implementations is going to suck if you aren't all in on either Google or Apple. The main reason I still use a physical yubikey and/or bitwarden passkeys instead.
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