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June 13, 2024

The Download: cancelling out noises, and tastes like (lab-grown) chicken

The Download: cancelling out noises, and tastes like (lab-grown) chicken

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.

Noise-canceling headphones could let you pick and choose the sounds you want to hear

The news: A new system for noise-canceling headphones lets users opt back in to certain sounds they’d like to hear, such as babies crying, birds tweeting, or alarms ringing. 

How it works: The system, which is still in prototype, connects off-the-shelf headphones to a smartphone app. The microphones embedded in these headphones, which are used to cancel out noise, also detect the sounds in the world around the wearer. These sounds are then played back to a neural network, which has been trained to recognize 20 everyday noises; then certain sounds are boosted or suppressed in real time, depending on the user’s preferences. 

Why it matters: Researchers have long tried to solve the “cocktail party problem”—that is, to get a computer to focus on a single voice in a crowded room, as humans are able to do. Experts say this new method is a significant step forward, and could pave the way for smarter hearing aids and earphones. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

I tried lab-grown chicken at a Michelin-starred restaurant

Last week, our climate reporter Casey Crownhart paid a visit to Bar Crenn, a Michelin-starred spot and one of two restaurants in the US currently serving up lab-grown meat. She was served a one-ounce sampling of cultivated chicken, made in the lab by startup Upside Foods, coated with a recado negro tempura crust, and topped with edible flowers and leaves. 

Cultivated meat, also called cultured or lab-grown meat, is meat made using animal cells—but not animals themselves. It’s a growing business. But does it really taste like chicken? Read Casey’s full review.

This story is from The Spark, our weekly climate and energy newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

Why battery recycling is so important

Until the day comes when we can recharge batteries in perpetuity, we’ll need to solve the problem of a rapidly growing pile of discarded batteries. This is just one of the fascinating topics we’ll be exploring at EmTech MIT 2023, our flagship technology event kicking off 14 November.

You can register now for in-person or digital access for the two-day event, and readers of The Download get a special 30% discount too. Find out more here.

The must-reads

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

1 Cruise is recalling all 950 of its driverless cars 
After one of its cars dragged and seriously injured a pedestrian. (WP $)
+ The company is blaming the vehicle’s software for the incident. (SF Chronicle)
+ Robotaxis are here. It’s time to decide what to do about them. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Humane’s AI Pin is basically a smartphone without a screen
The AI wearable appears to be powered by GPT-4, according to leaked details. (The Verge)

3 Mark Zuckerberg allegedly repeatedly dismissed child safety concerns 
Court documents claim he ignored warnings that his platforms harmed young users. (WSJ $)
+ The legal complaint is led by US state officials seeking answers. (WP $)

4 Israeli intelligence agencies ignored warnings about Hamas
Volunteer spies tried to sound the alarm for years, but their concerns were dismissed. (FT $)
+ The conflict is moving underground into Gaza’s tunnel network. (Economist $)
+ Archeologists are helping to search for bodies in Israel. (Bloomberg $)

5 Red states keep on protecting abortion rights
Post-Roe, voters are overwhelmingly rejecting attempts to curtail access to it. (The Atlantic $)
+ It’s giving Democrats hope for 2024. (The Guardian)
+ The cognitive dissonance of watching the end of Roe unfold online. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The Hollywood strikes have reached an AI resolution
But the exact terms of the agreement remain a mystery for now. (Wired $)
+ How Meta and AI companies recruited striking actors to train AI. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Nvidia is working on three new chips for China
That’s one way to circumvent the US-China trade restrictions. (Bloomberg $)
+ The US-China chip war is still escalating. (MIT Technology Review)

8 It’s taking too long to instal heat pumps in the US
And it’s jeopardizing the Biden administration’s climate targets. (NYT $)
+ The surprising truth about which homes have heat pumps. (MIT Technology Review)

9 What it takes to catch a scientific fraud
Data sleuths comb through journals looking for inconsistencies and manipulations. (Vox)

10 Are you delulu?
That’s TikTok talk for delusional—but in a good way. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“Somebody has to say it: Grok AI is cringe AF. Like, boomer cringe.”

—Chris Průcha, a startup founder, delivers his opinion on Elon Musk’s “anti-woke” chatbot.

The big story

I took an international trip with my frozen eggs to learn about the fertility industry

September 2022

—Anna Louie Sussman

Like me, my eggs were flying economy class. They were ensconced in a cryogenic storage flask packed into a metal suitcase next to Paolo, the courier overseeing their passage from a fertility clinic in Bologna, Italy, to the clinic in Madrid, Spain, where I would be undergoing in vitro fertilization.

The shipping of gametes and embryos around the world is a growing part of a booming global fertility sector. As people have children later in life, the need for fertility treatment increases each year.

After paying for storage costs for six and four years, respectively, at 40 I was ready to try to get pregnant. Transporting the Bolognese batch served to literally put all my eggs in one basket. Read the full story.

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.)

+ A Taste for Love, the long-awaited Dracula musical as featured in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, lives!
+ I love unlikely animal friendships—especially Owen the hippo and Mzee the tortoise.
+ What did Ernest Hemingway get up to while he was hanging out in Cuba? A whole lot of fishing, by the sounds of it.
+ There’s no need to make your own pie crust these days, unless you really want to.
+ Stop: put down that cologne.

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