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The Download: testing wastewater for measles, and the cost of nature

The Download: testing wastewater for measles, and the cost of nature

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.

How wastewater could offer an early warning system for measles

Measles is back with a vengeance. In the UK, where only 85% of school-age children have received two doses of the MMR vaccine, as many as 300 people have contracted the disease since October. And cases are creeping up across the US too.

Catching measles outbreaks early is tricky, though. Like many other respiratory viruses, it starts off with a cough, runny nose, fever, and achy body. The telltale rash doesn’t appear for two to four more days. By then, a person is already infectious. Very infectious, in fact. Measles is one of the most contagious diseases around.

Maybe there’s a solution. The US developed a vast wastewater sampling network to detect covid during the pandemic. Could we leverage that network to provide an early warning system for measles? Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly biotech and health newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

Meet the economist who wants the field to account for nature

What is the true value of a honeybee? A mountain stream? A mangrove tree?

Gretchen Daily, cofounder and faculty director of the Stanford Natural Capital Project, has dedicated her career to answering such complex questions. Daily and her team help governments, international banks, and NGOs to not only quantify the value of nature, but also determine the benefits of conservation and ecosystem restoration.

This marriage of ecological and economic concerns may seem an unusual one to some. But to Daily, it’s a union as natural as the planet’s ecosystems themselves. Read the full story.

—Kathryn Miles

The must-reads

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

1 Social media is overrun with explicit AI deepfakes of Taylor Swift
Her army of fans quickly mobilized to bury the images, which appear to have originated from a single Telegram account. (404 Media)
+ X has suspended numerous accounts, but the images are still circulating. (WSJ $)
+ We can’t say we didn’t see this coming. (Motherboard)
+ A high school’s deepfake porn scandal is pushing US lawmakers into action. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Apple is reluctantly revamping its App Store in Europe
Customers will be able to download apps from rival App Stores from March. (MacRumors)
+ Obviously, Apple isn’t thrilled about the situation. (FT $)

3 Cruise is being investigated by US regulators
The autonomous car company is being probed over its handling of an incident involving a pedestrian last October. (WP $)
+ US competition regulators are also looking at AI partnerships. (FT $)
+ What’s next for robotaxis in 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The first mission to study gravitational waves from space has been green-lit
Work on the European Space Agency project will kick off next January. (Ars Technica)

5 Britain is keen to build cheaper nuclear power plants
Whether it’ll actually happen or not is anyone’s guess. (Economist $)
+ The next generation of nuclear reactors is getting more advanced. Here’s how. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Encoding AI rules in silicon could prevent disasters
Assuming future algorithms will still be restricted by their hardware. (Wired $)
+ Google Chrome’s AI writing assistant is launching next month. (NY Mag $)

7 The US Presidential race could rest on memes
Funny clips and pictures are primary news sources for millions of people. (New Yorker $)

8 How one scientist sparked the weight-loss drug frenzy
Richard DiMarchi spotted a gut hormone’s potential three decades ago—but his employer didn’t want to know. (Bloomberg $)
+ Weight-loss drugs are one of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Don’t even talk to me if you won’t peel me an orange 🍊
TikTok’s latest love litmus test is typically bonkers. (Vox)
+ Letting a chatbot screen your dating matches is not a good idea. (Wired $)

10 How to take much, much better photos 📱
Don’t be afraid to use that zoom! (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“There’s no sound I don’t like.” 

—Aissam Dam, an 11-year old boy from Morocco who was born deaf, describes hearing the world for the first time after a successful gene therapy trial to the New York Times.

The big story

How culture drives foul play on the internet, and how new “upcode” can protect us

August 2023

From Bored Apes and Fancy Bears, to Shiba Inu coins, self-­replicating viruses, and whales, the internet is crawling with fraud, hacks, and scams. 

And while new technologies come and go, they change little about the fact that online illegal operations exist because some people are willing to act illegally, and others fall for the stories they tell. 

Ultimately, online crime is a human story. But why does it work, and how can we protect ourselves from falling for such schemes? 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.)

+ Jet lag is the pits. Can any of these suggestions make it less awful?
+ The most popular attraction at this British zoo? The swearing parrots, obviously. 🦜
+ This hypnotic background painting is healing my soul.
+ Justice for the jell-o shot!
+ It’s (almost) the weekend, which calls for these delicious-looking fluffy pancakes.

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