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September 24, 2023
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The Download: climate heroes, and a new way to track diseases

The Download: climate heroes, and a new way to track diseases

Plus: Please regulate our AI, tech leaders have told the US Senate

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

Meet the climate innovators of tomorrow

A lot of bright minds are working on solutions to climate change. You can find some of them in the latest edition of our annual 35 Innovators Under 35 list

Carbon capture, tackling demand response on the grid, and building satellites for climate monitoring were just some of the topics this year’s forward thinkers have been working on. 

But there was a particular concentration in two fascinating areas: batteries and fuels. 

Casey Crownhart, our climate reporter, has taken a closer look at a few of this year’s innovators and consider what their work could mean for the future of climate action. Read the full story.

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

How software that tracks covid variants could protect us against future outbreaks

When covid-19 started spreading in early 2020, scientists quickly realized that tracking how the virus was mutating would be essential for public health as new strains emerged that put people at greater risk. 

Yatish Turakhia, then a postdoc at UC Santa Cruz’s Genomics Institute, helped develop a software tool called UShER to track these covid variants by placing them, within minutes of each new sample’s submission, on a family tree of all known SARS-CoV-2 genomes. 

The tool, which has been accessible online since 2021, now records more than 15 million viral sequences, and allows scientists to surveil the virus in real time on a global scale. Now, Turakhia has started using it to track other diseases—with promising results. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

Yatish Turakhia is one of MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 for 2023. Read the full list of this year’s honorees, including those making a difference in robotics, computing, biotech, climate and energy, and AI.

The must-reads

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

1 Tech leaders agree AI needs government regulation
But no one’s quite sure what those rules should look like. (WP $)
+ Yesterday’s US Senate session was a veritable who’s-who of tech titans. (WSJ $)
+ Elon Musk is in favor of a ‘regulatory structure,’ he told reporters. (Bloomberg $)

2 The EU is investigating Chinese electric vehicles
China has accused it of “naked” protectionism in response. (FT $)
+ While China’s EV sales soar, its property sector is collapsing. (Bloomberg $)
+ Autoworkers in the US are poised to strike. (Wired $)
+ China’s car companies are turning into tech companies. (MIT Technology Review)

3 An exiled Russian journalist was hacked with Israeli software
Galina Timchenko suspects that Russian officials sanctioned the attack. (The Guardian)
+ Timchenko is a prominent Russian journalist outside the country. (WP $)

4 Chinese AI startups are stumbling
High costs and a poor economy make for uneasy bedfellows. (Wired $)

5 New covid vaccines are coming this fall
You should probably get one, if you can. (The Atlantic $)
+ A winter surge of the virus is likely on its way. (Vox)
+ What to know about this autumn’s covid vaccines. (MIT Technology Review)

6 A startup placed implants in a human skull to treat depression
The implant temporarily stimulated a man’s brain without actually touching it. (Bloomberg $)
+ Here’s how personalized brain stimulation could treat depression. (MIT Technology Review)

7 San Francisco wants state regulators to reconsider its robotaxi expansion
City officials worry the vehicles still present safety risks to the public. (TechCrunch)

8 Ozempic isn’t just for losing weight
It has potential to treat liver fibrosis and a leading cause of infertility, too. (Vox)
+ Weight-loss injections have taken over the internet. But what does this mean for people IRL? (MIT Technology Review)

9 Yahoo is staging a comeback
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. (The Information $)

10 Discord entrepreneurs are selling ‘leaked’ Harry Styles tracks
The bad news? There’s a high likelihood that they’re AI-generated. (404 Media)

Quote of the day

“This is the biggest gathering of monopolists since the Gilded Age.”

—United States senator Josh Hawley criticiques the high-profile tech figures who gathered in the US Senate to discuss the future of AI regulation on Wednesday to the New York Times.

The big story

Can Afghanistan’s underground “sneakernet” survive the Taliban?

November 2021

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, Mohammad Yasin had to make some difficult decisions very quickly. He began erasing some of the sensitive data on his computer and moving the rest onto two of his largest hard drives, which he then wrapped in a layer of plastic and buried underground.

Yasin is what is locally referred to as a “computer kar”: someone who sells digital content by hand in a country where a steady internet connection can be hard to come by, selling everything from movies, music, mobile applications, to iOS updates. And despite the dangers of Taliban rule, the country’s extensive “sneakernet” isn’t planning on shutting down. Read the full story.

—Ruchi Kumar

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.)

+ There’s a new Super Mario Bros speedrunning world record!
+ The UK has been bathing in the Northern Lights this week, and the photos are seriously awe-inducing.
+ If you’ve been looking for new Substack newsletters to grace your inbox, look no further.
+ This Titanic remake is a lot hairier than I expected.
+ Enjoy this timeless classic from Peaches & Herb for no reason at all.

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