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April 14, 2024

The Download: combating Parkinson’s with implants, and counting carbon’s cost

The Download: combating Parkinson’s with implants, and counting carbon’s cost

Plus: OpenAI has unveiled its own chatbot platform

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.

A man with Parkinson’s regained the ability to walk thanks to a spinal implant

The news: A man with Parkinson’s disease has regained the ability to walk after physicians implanted a small device into his spinal cord that sends signals to his legs.

How they did it: Marc, who has had Parkinson’s for around three decades, is the first and only person to have received the new spinal neuroprosthesis, a small device containing electrodes placed under the skin on top of his spinal cord. It works by sending bursts of electrical signals to stimulate the nerves in his spinal cord, which then activate his leg muscles.

What’s next: The neuroprosthetic device worked for Marc after his symptoms persisted in spite of a deep brain stimulation implant he’d received 20 years ago. However, it remains unclear whether the device will work in every person with Parkinson’s—a question that the team are keen to answer. Read the full story.

—Abdullahi Tsanni

Job titles of the future: carbon accountant

His official title is vice president of regulated reporting solutions. But really, Billy Scherba is a carbon accountant. At Persefoni, a platform for climate management, Scherba works with companies to measure, manage, and disclose their contributions to climate change.

Carbon accountants help companies understand what data matters to their carbon footprint, how to collect that data in a consistent manner, and, most importantly, how to use it to calculate the greenhouse-gas emissions they’re responsible for. Read the full story.

—Allison Arieff

The must-reads

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

1 OpenAI has created its own platform for building chatbots 
For a monthly fee, anyone can now build a customized bot. (NYT $)
+ How chatbots can help—and hinder—at work. (WSJ $)
+ Sam Altman appears to be a somewhat clumsy typist. (Insider $)
+ The inside story of how ChatGPT was built from the people who made it. (MIT Technology Review)

2 How Israeli surveillance tracks—and logs— Palestinians in the West Bank
Residents must pass facial recognition checkpoints, or stay cooped up indoors. (Wired $)

3 Cruise’s self-driving taxis had difficulty recognizing children
But the company kept them on the road anyway. (The Intercept)
+ Robotaxis are here. It’s time to decide what to do about them. (MIT Technology Review)

4  Epic Games is targeting Google now
Months after a court ruled that Apple’s App Store is not an illegal monopoly, Epic is now going after Google Play. (WP $)
+ Epic really hates mobile app stores. (FT $)

5 The West’s military tech is superior to China’s 

Beijing’s weapons industry is besieged by technical flaws—and corruption. (Economist $)
+ Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)

6 What it’s like behind the scenes at Neuralink
It’s the closest technology we have to a general-purpose computer in the brain. (Bloomberg $)
+ Elon Musk wants more bandwidth between people and machines. Do we need it? (MIT Technology Review)

7 Google search results suck now
And we can heap the blame, at least partly, at generative AI’s door. (The Atlantic $)
+ Meta has banned political advertisers from using generative AI tools. (Reuters

8 Sea walls come with high stakes
They protect shores, but at an environmental cost. (New Yorker $)
+ How rising groundwater caused by climate change could devastate coastal communities. (MIT Technology Review)

9 China is propping up Japan’s video games industry
Despite the two countries’ extremely different approaches to gaming. (The Guardian)

10 The people who can’t stand to update their devices’ software
Even when it’s a full decade out of date. (WSJ $)

Quote of the day

“I refuse to get any more accounts. I’m over it.”

—An anonymous first-gen social media user tells Wired how her relationship with social platforms has changed now that many of the biggest networks are eroding. 

The big story

The future of open source is still very much in flux

August 2023

When Xerox donated a new laser printer to MIT in 1980, the company couldn’t have known that the machine would ignite a revolution.

While the early decades of software development generally ran on a culture of open access, this new printer ran on inaccessible proprietary software, much to the horror of Richard M. Stallman, then a 27-year-old programmer at the university.

A few years later, Stallman released GNU, an operating system designed to be a free alternative to one of the dominant operating systems at the time: Unix. The free-software movement was born, with a simple premise: for the good of the world, all code should be open, without restriction or commercial intervention.

Forty years later, tech companies are making billions on proprietary software, and much of the technology around us is inscrutable. But while Stallman’s movement may look like a failed experiment, the free and open-source software movement is not only alive and well; it has become a keystone of the tech industry. Read the full story.

—Rebecca Ackermann

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.)

+ After four long years on the run, the men who stole a golden toilet from Winston Churchill’s birthplace have been apprehended.
+ These guys really did fall in love with a girl at the rock show.
+ Enjoy a selection of incredible random facts!
+ Nala the cat is easily the world’s cutest ticket inspector.
+ Blade Runner fans will love these photos of Tokyo from the 1970s.

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