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This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center’s AI Accountability Network.

When it’s dark outside and Josephine Zhao has to walk even a few blocks home in San Francisco, she will sometimes call in an extra set of eyes—literally.

After opening the Citizen app on her phone, Zhao connects with one of the platform’s agents through a feature called “Live Monitoring.” This allows a human on the other end to track Zhao’s GPS location and, with the tap of another button, access her phone’s camera so they “can see what I see,” Zhao says. Often she won’t even speak to the agent, but knowing that “someone will walk with me” offers a little peace of mind.

It’s one of the latest security measures Zhao has embraced: she also avoids public transportation and walks around the city with a long pointed device attached to her keychain, a baby-pink piece of plastic that can be turned into a weapon in her fist.

But she feels Citizen, a hyperlocal app that allows users to report and follow notifications of nearby crimes, is one of her best means of protection—the kind of data-powered DIY security measure that can help a community she says has been rendered invisible for so long.

“Our needs are not being met in education, in public safety, in housing, in transportation—nothing, really. Like we don’t matter,” says Zhao, a substitute teacher and community liaison for various educational NGOs. “Our needs are not respected. Our needs are not being met. And people discount us left and right.”

“I genuinely believe Citizen is a social justice and racial justice tool.”

“We have to do things for ourselves to protect our community,” she adds. “Citizen is the perfect tool.”

Many members of the Bay Area’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community who spoke with MIT Technology Review have similarly welcomed the app as a means to address anti-Asian hate and mitigate their anxieties during a period of ongoing race-based attacks in the region and across the US—and following a string of mass shootings affecting Asians, most recently in nearby Half Moon Bay.

Citizen has become a way for people in one of the most traumatized populations to find information that puts them at ease.

Citizen’s reinvention

This positive reception may seem odd for an app that has long been criticized for amplifying paranoia around crime and helping white residents to practice racial gatekeeping. Citizen, originally called Vigilante, has indeed had a checkered history: the Apple App Store banned it within a week of its launch in 2016 for violating the Developer Review Guidelines that keep apps from encouraging physical harm. The company made headlines in 2021 when its CEO asked his staff to put out a $30,000 reward for a man whom he incorrectly identified as the person who started a brushfire in Los Angeles. And its users have frequently been criticized for racist comments.

It’s in this context that the app is now actively trying to win users like Zhao. Starting in September of last year, Citizenhas been recruitingpeople of Chinese and other Asian descent in the Bay Area, many of them elderly, at events organized with area institutions like the Oakland Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese American Association of Commerce in San Francisco, asking them to join the service and receive a free one-year premium subscription worth $240. (While the free version of the app sends users alerts of noteworthy incidents, the premium version is needed to connect with Citizen agents for live monitoring.) Zhao, in fact, worked directly with Citizen to help translate onboarding materials into Chinese and spread them among her network.

The end goal is to recruit 20,000 new users from the region’s AAPI community, which translates to roughly $5 million worth of paid-for year-long premium subscriptions. Darrell Stone, Citizen’s head of product, says 700 people have already signed up.

The Bay Area project is also something of a test for an even broader revamping of the app—an appeal to a number of vulnerable groups that may often avoid the police, from the Black trans community in Atlanta to gang violence interrupters in the Chicago area. “I genuinely believe Citizen is a social justice and racial justice tool,” says Trevor Chandler, who led the Bay Area pilot program last year when he was Citizen’s director of government affairs and public policy.

But some advocates who work with Asian communities in the Bay Area, as well as experts focused on misinformation in vulnerable populations, wonder whether embracing this technology and the hyperspeed with which it can deliver information really solves the problem at heart—whether it can actually make people safer rather than just make them feel a little safer. And beyond that, they are asking whether Citizen may actually make things worse—amplifying paranoia

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By: Lam Thuy Vo
Title: How Citizen is trying to remake itself by recruiting elderly Asians
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Published Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2023 10:00:00 +0000


The Download: the EU AI Act is here, and preventing deadly cancer

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.

Why the EU AI Act was so hard to agree on

On Saturday, European Union lawmakers announced they’d finally agreed the terms of the final version of the EU AI Act, a major package of laws regulating the industry. To get the full low-down on what’s happened, sign up to read our AI newsletter, The Algorithm, later today.

First proposed back in 2021, the Act is now the world’s first comprehensive AI legislation. But it’s been a long and rocky road: the governing bodies missed an initial deadline for a final package last Wednesday, and details are still emerging.

Tate Ryan-Mosley, our senior tech policy reporter, has dug into the key sticking points of the legislation—and what comes next. Read the full story.

This story is from The Technocrat, our weekly tech policy newsletter, which was sent before the legislation was finalized. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

How to prevent the deadliest gynecological cancer

—by Golda Arthur, an audio journalist and podcast producer

In 2018, we found out that my mom, Teresa, had stage 4 ovarian cancer. While the odds were stacked against her, she somehow survived after a brutal six months of chemotherapy.

When the cancer came back 11 months later, she tested positive for a gene mutation, which contributed to the development of her cancer. She urged her three kids to get tested to see if we have it too. My results revealed that I do.

I’ll shortly have surgery for prophylactic removal of my ovaries and my fallopian tubes, as a way to make sure I don’t go through what my mom has gone through: four rounds with this cancer in the last five years.

In some ways, things are looking up. But there’s no getting away from those grim statistics—most women who get ovarian cancer die from it. So while removing my organs is not an ideal plan of action, it’s the only one we’ve got so far. Read the full story.

5 things we didn’t put on our 2024 list of 10 Breakthrough Technologies

No one can predict the future, but at MIT Technology Review we spend much of our time thinking about what it might hold.

Each year, we put together a list of 10 Breakthrough Technologies, picking the advances that we think have the greatest potential to change our lives (for better or worse). We’ve done this for more than 20 years, and next month we’ll reveal our picks for the 2024 list.

Every year, our reporters and editors nominate technologies that they think deserve a spot, and we spend weeks debating which ones should make the cut. Here are some of the technologies we didn’t pick this time—and why we’ve left them off, for now. Read the full story.

—Amy Nordrum

The must-reads

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

1 Elon Musk has restored conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ X account  
After conducting yet another poll gauging X users’ opinions. (CNN)
Jones was first banned in 2018 for spreading antisemitism and hate speech. (WP $)
Musk now says users should only be banned in response to illegal activity. (Bloomberg $)
There’s still no sign of X becoming the promised ‘everything app’. (NY Mag $)

2 AI’s Effective Accelerationism movement wants progress—at any cost
No guardrails, no gatekeepers—and few rules. (NYT $)+ You’re either an E/acc or a decel, according to its followers. (Bloomberg $)

3 SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy spaceplane will launch today
After its launch on Sunday was postponed due to poor weather conditions. (NBC News)
China launched its second methane-powered rocket over the weekend. (Bloomberg $)

4 The next generation of semiconductors is here
And the world’s biggest chipmakers are locked in a race to be first to make them. (FT $)
A US university is building a major chip research facility. (WSJ $)
Huawei’s 5G chip breakthrough needs a reality check. (MIT Technology Review)

5 These engineers are working to make the internet feel faster
A new internet standard could eradicate buffering and glitches for good. (The Verge)
How to fix the internet. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Americans bought more than a million electric cars this year
But not every state is equipped to keep them charged. (NY Mag $)
Why getting more EVs on the road is all about charging. (MIT Technology Review)

7 We need to grow more resilient crops
Extreme weather events and the changing climate mean we have to switch up how we approach agriculture. (Undark Magazine)
Heat is bad for plant health. Here’s how gene editing could help. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Not every robot needs to look like a human
In fact, a lot of them would be more effective if they didn’t. (Insider

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: the EU AI Act is here, and preventing deadly cancer
Sourced From:
Published Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2023 13:10:00 +0000

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The Download: inside the first CRISPR treatment, and smarter robots

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.

The lucky break behind the first CRISPR treatment

The world’s first commercial gene-editing treatment is set to start changing the lives of people with sickle-cell disease. It’s called Casgevy, and it was approved last month in the UK. US approval is pending this week.

The treatment, which will be sold in the US by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, employs CRISPR, which can be easily programmed by scientists to cut DNA at precise locations they choose.

But where do you aim CRISPR, and how did the researchers know what DNA to change? That’s the lesser-known story of the sickle-cell breakthrough, which doesn’t rely on fixing the genes responsible for the mutation that leaves patients’ hemoglobin molecules misshapen. Instead, it’s a kind of molecular bank shot—thankfully, one with a happy ending. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

Read more about the sickle-cell breakthrough:

+ I received the new gene-editing drug for sickle cell disease. It changed my life. As a patient enrolled in a clinical trial for Vertex’s new exa-cel treatment, Jimi Olaghere was among the first to experience CRISPR’s transformative effects. Read the full story.

+ The first CRISPR cure might kick-start the next big patent battle. Vertex Pharmaceuticals plans to sell a gene-editing treatment for sickle-cell disease. A patent on CRISPR could stand in the way. Read the full story.

These robots know when to ask for help

The news: A new robot training model, dubbed “KnowNo,” aims to teach robots to ask for our help when orders are unclear. At the same time, it ensures they seek clarification only when necessary, minimizing needless back-and-forth. The result is a smart assistant that tries to make sure it understands what you want without bothering you too much.

Why it matters: While robots can be powerful in many specific scenarios, they are often bad at generalized tasks that require common sense. That’s something large language models could help to fix, because they have a lot of common-sense knowledge baked in. Read the full story.

—June Kim

Medical microrobots that travel inside the body are (still) on their way

The human body is a labyrinth of vessels and tubing, full of barriers that are difficult to break through. That poses a serious hurdle for doctors. Illness is often caused by problems that are hard to visualize and difficult to access. But imagine if we could deploy armies of tiny robots into the body to do the job for us. They could break up hard-to-reach clots, deliver drugs to even the most inaccessible tumors, and even help guide embryos toward implantation.

We’ve been hearing about the use of tiny robots in medicine for years, maybe even decades. And they’re still not here. But experts are adamant that medical microbots are finally coming, and that they could be a game changer for a number of serious diseases. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

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

The must-reads

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

1 Use of deepfake pornography apps is soaring  
Links to the disturbing AI ‘nudifying’ services are rife on X and Reddit. (Bloomberg $)
The viral AI avatar app Lensa undressed me—without my consent. (MIT Technology Review)

2 TikTok is embarking on an anti-hate speech campaign
Spurred by the criticism the platform received over Israel-Hamas videos (The Information $)
TikTok’s algorithm means everyone’s feed is siloed, though. (The Verge)
The conflict has forced Meta’s oversight board to investigate two posts. (Wired $)
Republicans are repeating bogus claims to try and get TikTok banned. (Motherboard)

3 A major Abu Dhabi-based AI company is cutting ties with China
G42 is ditching its Chinese hardware contracts in favor of US suppliers. (FT $)

4 We’re learning more about how vaping affects us
It’s better than smoking. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for you, either. (New Scientist $)
Social media is full of posts promoting vaping to young users. (The Guardian)

5 The US wants to build the next revolutionary particle collider
But it could take years to get the project off the ground. (NYT $)

6 The Milky Way is likely to devour the galaxies surrounding it
It’s looking like dark matter could have something to do with it. (Ars Technica)

7 Our microbiomes aren’t diverse enough
And our sedentary lifetimes and antibiotics are to blame. (Proto.Life)
We’re learning a lot more about the vaginal microbiome. (Scientific American $)
How gene-edited microbiomes could

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: inside the first CRISPR treatment, and smarter robots
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 08 Dec 2023 13:10:00 +0000

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The lucky break behind the first CRISPR treatment

dr. stuart orkin analyzing chromosomal spectra march 1985 crop jpg

The world’s first commercial gene-editing treatment is set to start changing the lives of people with sickle-cell disease. It’s called Casgevy, and it was approved last month in the UK. US approval is pending this week.

The treatment, which will be sold in the US by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, employs CRISPR, the Nobel-winning molecular scissors that have had journalists scrambling for metaphors: “Swiss Army knife,” “molecular scalpel,” or DNA copy-and-paste. Indeed, CRISPR is revolutionary because scientists can so easily program it to cut DNA at precise locations they choose.

But where do you aim CRISPR? That’s the lesser-known story of the sickle-cell breakthrough. The disease is caused by faulty hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in the blood. To cure it, though, Vertex and its partner company, CRISPR Therapeutics, aren’t fixing the genes responsible for the mutation that leaves those molecules misshapen. Instead, the new treatment involves a kind of molecular bank shot—an edit that turns on fetal hemoglobin, a second form of the molecule which we have in the womb but lose as adults.

You can think of how the edit works as a kind of double negative. It adds a misspelling to the turbo-booster of another gene, BCL11A, that is itself what inhibits the production of fetal hemoglobin in adult bodies. Without that booster, there’s less inhibition, and more fetal hemoglobin. Got it?

“When you inhibit the enhancer, you inhibit the inhibitor,” says Daniel Bauer, a professor at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University, who helped work it out. “It is kind of complicated.”

The important thing is a happy ending—and this edit really works. Some patients say they lived in fear of dying, either from an acute attack of sickling (when their red blood cells start blocking vessels) or from slow, insidious organ damage. Now early volunteers say they’re grateful—and, after living with disease their whole lives, even a little shocked—to be cured.

Newborn theory

The idea that fetal hemoglobin can protect against the disease is an old one. Sickle-cell is most common in people with African ancestry. A doctor on Long Island, Janet Watson, had noticed in 1948 that newborns never showed its signs—the main one being misshapen, crescent-shaped red blood cells. That was pretty odd for an inborn condition.

“Sickle-cell disease should occur in infancy as often as later in life,” Watson wrote. But since it didn’t, Watson hypothesized that the fetal form of the molecule, active in the womb, was protecting babies for a few months after birth, until it was replaced by the adult version: “The theory that at once presents itself is that fetal hemoglobin is unable to produce sickling.”

She was right. But it took another six decades to learn how the switch-over worked—and how to flip it back. Many of those discoveries were made in the laboratory of Stuart Orkin, a Harvard researcher who published his first paper in 1967 and who’s lived through several eras of research on blood diseases, starting near the dawn of molecular biology.

“I am one of the last men standing,” Orkin told me with a grin when I met him for a corned-beef sandwich.

Dr. Stuart Orkin analyzing chromosomal spectra
Stuart Orkin analyzing DNA from individuals with blood disorders in his lab in 1985.BOSTON CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL

He’s a clever scientist who a long time ago decided to study how the blood system is regulated. Logistically, it was a great topic; blood cells are easy to get hold of and study.

“I like to solve a problem, and here is a problem that could be solved,” Orkin says. “How does the system work, and then can you do anything about it?”

Special sauce

Bill Lundberg, the former chief scientific officer of CRISPR Therapeutics, the biotech that first started developing the treatment eight years ago (Vertex later joined as a partner), says the company’s sickle-cell project directly made use of Orkin’s findings. “Stu’s role is really underappreciated,

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By: Antonio Regalado
Title: The lucky break behind the first CRISPR treatment
Sourced From:
Published Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2023 14:00:09 +0000

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