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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.

Introducing: the Hard Problems issue

For all of history we’ve turned to technology, again and again, to help us solve our hardest problems. It has made virtually all of human knowledge available to us instantly on demand. And we can speak to each other in entirely different languages and be understood using nothing more than a slim slab of glass and metals in our pocket.

Sometimes technology can seem like a miracle. But, of course, it is nothing more than human achievement. Yet like all things human, our creations can be deeply flawed. As a result, we have also used tech to unleash horrors on ourselves, intentionally and by accident.

Technology is an engine for problems, for solving them and for creating entirely new ones—and then we perversely turn to even newer technologies to try to solve those.

In our latest print issue of MIT Technology Review, we step back from this cycle. We explore big questions and hard problems and ask: What role can—and should—technology play going forward?

Here’s just some of the great stories you can read in the new issue:

+ Think that your plastic is being recycled? This incisive, fascinating feature by Douglas Main will make you think again.

+ The internet feels pretty broken these days. But there are real steps we can take towards fixing it, as Katie Notopoulos explains in her piece for us.

+ Meet Gábor Domokos, the Hungarian mathematician making sense of nature’s complexity by describing its forms in the simplest possible geometry.

+ AI consciousness isn’t just a devilishly tricky intellectual puzzle; it’s a morally weighty problem, writes Grace Huckins.

+ Why captchas are getting harder to solve—and what comes next.

Read the full magazine, and if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to MIT Technology Review for as little as $60 a year—for a limited time only.

2023 Climate Tech Companies to Watch: NuScale and its modular nuclear reactors

NuScale is hoping to revitalize the moribund nuclear power industry with safe and affordable small modular reactors. Its approach could put nuclear power within reach of many more communities, and with a fresh stamp of approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the company plans to break ground in 2025. Read more about NuScale, and check out the rest of the list of Climate Tech Companies to Watch.

The must-reads

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

1 Meta is being sued over claims it harms children
A new lawsuit on behalf of more than 40 US states claims that it knowingly created features to reel in young users. (NYT $)
The complaint alleges that Meta used harmful and manipulative tactics. (WP $)+ These are the five Instagram features the states say harm teens. (Wired $)

2 Cruise’s driverless taxi service has been suspended in San Francisco
Over fears it poses an unreasonable risk to public safety. (CNBC)
The company also withheld video footage from an ongoing investigation. (Motherboard)
Robotaxis are here. It’s time to decide what to do about them. (MIT Technology Review)

3 AI thinks the world is full of hot people
Because, surprise surprise, that’s what it’s been trained on. (The Atlantic $)
How it feels to be sexually objectified by an AI. (MIT Technology Review)

4 A drug factory is stranded in outer space
All because of ongoing conflict between the startup behind it and the US government. (IEEE Spectrum)
A new Vulcan rocket could be launched before the year’s end. (Ars Technica)
This startup wants to find out if humans can have babies in space. (MIT Technology Review)

5 This new quantum computer is a record breaker
It’s got more qubits than any other—but that doesn’t mean it’s more powerful. (New Scientist $)
IBM wants to build a 100,000-qubit quantum computer. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How US immigration authorities investigate ‘derogatory’ social media posts 
Their content can help determine whether someone is allowed to remain in the country. (404 Media)

7 Threads is living in the past
Its users are optimistic, but they want more up-to-date content. (WSJ $)

8 A Chinese firm wants to build the world’s largest gay social platform 
And it’s set its sights on the US. (Rest of World)

9 Work software isn’t really about work anymore
It’s all about organizing how you’re planning to complete tasks, instead. (New Yorker $)
Meet the people who use Notion to plan their whole lives. (MIT Technology Review)

10 How to make your TikToks to go viral 
It might be as simple as applying a bit of lippie. (NYT $)

Quote of the day

“‘Avoid all robots until further

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: introducing the Hard Problems issue
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/10/25/1082332/the-download-introducing-the-hard-problems-issue/
Published Date: Wed, 25 Oct 2023 12:14:47 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/how-this-turing-awardwinning-researcher-became-a-legendary-academic-advisor/

Tech

Meet the architect creating wood structures that shape themselves

ICD ITKE HygroShell2022 P01a scaled

Humanity has long sought to tame wood into something more predictable. Sawmills manufacture lumber from trees selected for consistency. Wood is then sawed into standard sizes and dried in kilns to prevent twisting, cupping, or cracking. Generations of craftsmen have employed sophisticated techniques like dovetail joinery, breadboard ends, and pocket flooring to keep wood from distorting in their finished pieces.

But wood is inherently imprecise. Its grain reverses and swirls. Trauma and disease manifest in scars and knots.

Instead of viewing these natural tendencies as liabilities, Achim Menges, an architect and professor at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, sees them as wood’s greatest assets. Menges and his team at the Institute for Computational Design and Construction are uncovering new ways to build with the material by using computational design—which relies on algorithms and data to simulate and predict how wood will behave within a structure long before it is built. He hopes this work will enable architects to create more sustainable and affordable timber buildings by reducing the amount of wood required.

Menges’s recent work has focused on creating “self-shaping” timber structures like the HygroShell, which debuted at the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2023. Constructed from prefabricated panels of a common building material known as cross-laminated timber, HygroShell morphed over a span of five days, unfurling into a series of interlaced sheets clad with wooden scale-like shingles that stretched to cover the structure as it expanded. Its final form, designed as a proof of concept, is a delicately arched canopy that rises to nearly 33 feet (10 meters) but is only an inch thick. In a time-lapse video, the evolving structure resembles a bird stretching its wings.

HygroShell takes its name from hygroscopicity, a property of wood that causes it to absorb or lose moisture with humidity changes. As the material dries, it contracts and tends to twist and curve. Traditionally, lumber manufacturers have sought to minimize these movements. But through computational design, Menges’s team can predict the changes and structure the material to guide it into the shape they want.

“From the start, I was motivated to understand computation not as something that divides the physical and the digital world but, instead, that deeply connects them.”

Achim Menges, architect and professor, University of Stuttgart in Germany

The result is a predictable and repeatable process that creates tighter curves with less material than what can be attained through traditional construction techniques. Existing curved structures made from cross-laminated timber (also known as mass timber) are limited to custom applications and carry premium prices, Menges says. Self-shaping, in contrast, could offer industrial-scale production of curved mass timber structures for far less cost.

To build HygroShell, the team created digital profiles of hundreds of freshly sawed boards using data about moisture content, grain orientation, and more. Those parameters were fed into modeling software that predicted how the boards were likely to distort as they dried and simulated how to arrange them to achieve the desired structure. Then the team used robotic milling machines to create the joints that held the panels together as the piece unfolded.

“What we’re trying to do is develop design methods that are so sophisticated they meet or match the sophistication of the material we deal with,” Menges says.

Menges views “self-shaping,” as he calls his technique, as a low-energy way of creating complex curved architectures that would otherwise be too difficult to build on most construction sites. Typically, making curves requires extensive machining and a lot more materials, at considerable cost. By letting the wood’s natural properties do the heavy lifting, and using robotic machinery to prefabricate the structures, Menges’s process allows for thin-walled timber construction that saves material and money.

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By: John Wiegand
Title: Meet the architect creating wood structures that shape themselves
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/24/1093513/achim-menges-architect-wood-buildings-sustainability/
Published Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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Tech

The Download: hyperrealistic deepfakes, and using math to shape wood

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.

Synthesia’s hyperrealistic deepfakes will soon have full bodies

Startup Synthesia’s AI-generated avatars are getting an update to make them even more realistic: They will soon have bodies that can move, and hands that gesticulate.

The new full-body avatars will be able to do things like sing and brandish a microphone while dancing, or move from behind a desk and walk across a room. They will be able to express more complex emotions than previously possible, like excitement, fear, or nervousness.

These new capabilities, which are set to launch toward the end of the year, will add a lot to the illusion of realism. That’s a scary prospect at a time when deepfakes and online misinformation are proliferating. Read the full story and watch our reporter’s avatars meet each other.

—Melissa Heikkilä

Meet the architect creating wood structures that shape themselves

Humanity has long sought to tame wood into something more predictable, but it is inherently imprecise. Its grain reverses and swirls. Trauma and disease manifest in scars and knots.

Instead of viewing these natural tendencies as liabilities, Achim Menges, an architect and professor at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, sees them as wood’s greatest assets.

Menges and his team at the Institute for Computational Design and Construction are uncovering new ways to build with wood by using algorithms and data to simulate and predict how wood will behave within a structure long before it is built. He hopes this will help create more sustainable and affordable timber buildings by reducing the amount of wood required. Read our story all about him and his work.

—John Wiegand

This story is from the forthcoming print issue of MIT Technology Review, which explores the theme of Play. It’s set to go live on Wednesday June 26, so if you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands.

Live: How generative AI could transform games

Generative AI could soon revolutionize how we play video games, creating characters that can converse with you freely, and experiences that are infinitely detailed, twisting and changing every time you experience them.

Together, these could open the door to entirely new kinds of in-game interactions that are open-ended, creative, and unexpected. One day, the games we love playing may not have to end. Read our executive editor Niall Firth’s story all about what that future could look like. 

If you want to learn more, register now to join our next exclusive subscriber-only Roundtable discussion at 11.30ET today! Niall and our editorial director Allison Arieff will be talking about games without limits, the future of play, and much more.

The must-reads

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

1 Big Tech firms are going all-in on experimental clean energy projects
Due to the fact AI is so horribly polluting. But the projects range from ‘long shot’ to ‘magical thinking’. (WP $)
Making the grid smarter, rather than bigger, could help. (Semafor)
How virtual power plants are shaping tomorrow’s energy system. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Google is about to be hit with a ton of AI-related lawsuits
Its AI Overviews keep libeling people—and they’re lawyering up. (The Atlantic $)
Why Google’s AI Overviews gets things wrong. (MIT Technology Review)
Another AI-powered search engine, Perplexity, is running into the exact same issues. (Wired $)
Worst of all? There’s currently no way to fix the underlying problem. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Apple is exploring a deal with Meta
To integrate Meta’s generative AI models into Apple Intelligence. (Wall Street Journal $)
Apple is delaying launching AI features in Europe due to regulatory concerns. (Quartz)

4 NASA is indefinitely delaying the return of Starliner
In order to give it more time to review data. (Ars Technica)

5 Chinese tech companies are pushing their staff beyond breaking point
As growth slows and competition rises, work-life balance is going out the window. (FT $)

6 Used electric vehicles are now less expensive than gas cars in the US
It’s a worrying statistic that reflects the cratering demand for EVs. (Insider $)
The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Check out these photos of San Francisco’s AI scene
The city is currently buzzing with people hoping to make their fortune off the back of the boom. (WP $)

8 The next wave of weight loss drugs is coming
The hope is that they might be cheaper, and come with fewer side effects. (NBC)

9 Elon Musk is obsessed with getting us to have more babies
He’s funding

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: hyperrealistic deepfakes, and using math to shape wood
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/24/1094179/the-download-hyperrealistic-deepfakes-math-shape-wood/
Published Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2024 12:10:00 +0000

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Tech

Is this the end of animal testing?

In a clean room in his lab, Sean Moore peers through a microscope at a bit of intestine, its dark squiggles and rounded structures standing out against a light gray background. This sample is not part of an actual intestine; rather, it’s human intestinal cells on a tiny plastic rectangle, one of 24 so-called “organs on chips” his lab bought three years ago.

Moore, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, hopes the chips will offer answers to a particularly thorny research problem. He studies rotavirus, a common infection that causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and even death in young children. In the US and other rich nations, up to 98% of the children who are vaccinated against rotavirus develop lifelong immunity. But in low-income countries, only about a third of vaccinated children become immune. Moore wants to know why.

His lab uses mice for some protocols, but animal studies are notoriously bad at identifying human treatments. Around 95% of the drugs developed through animal research fail in people. Researchers have documented this translation gap since at least 1962. “All these pharmaceutical companies know the animal models stink,” says Don Ingber, founder of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard and a leading advocate for organs on chips. “The FDA knows they stink.”

But until recently there was no other option. Research questions like Moore’s can’t ethically or practically be addressed with a randomized, double-blinded study in humans. Now these organs on chips, also known as microphysiological systems, may offer a truly viable alternative. They look remarkably prosaic: flexible polymer rectangles about the size of a thumb drive. In reality they’re triumphs of bioengineering, intricate constructions furrowed with tiny channels that are lined with living human tissues. These tissues expand and contract with the flow of fluid and air, mimicking key organ functions like breathing, blood flow, and peristalsis, the muscular contractions of the digestive system.

More than 60 companies now produce organs on chips commercially, focusing on five major organs: liver, kidney, lung, intestines, and brain. They’re already being used to understand diseases, discover and test new drugs, and explore personalized approaches to treatment.

As they continue to be refined, they could solve one of the biggest problems in medicine today. “You need to do three things when you’re making a drug,” says Lorna Ewart, a pharmacologist and chief scientific officer of Emulate, a biotech company based in Boston. “You need to show it’s safe. You need to show it works. You need to be able to make it.”

All new compounds have to pass through a preclinical phase, where they’re tested for safety and effectiveness before moving to clinical trials in humans. Until recently, those tests had to run in at least two animal species—usually rats and dogs—before the drugs were tried on people.

But in December 2022, President Biden signed the FDA Modernization Act, which amended the original FDA Act of 1938. With a few small word changes, the act opened the door for non-animal-based testing in preclinical trials. Anything that makes it faster and easier for pharmaceutical companies to identify safe and effective drugs means better, potentially cheaper treatments for all of us.

Moore, for one, is banking on it, hoping the chips help him and his colleagues shed light on the rotavirus vaccine responses that confound them. “If you could figure out the answer,” he says, “you could save a lot of kids’ lives.”

While many teams have worked on organ chips over the last 30 years, the OG in the field is generally acknowledged to be Michael Shuler, a professor emeritus of chemical engineering at Cornell. In the 1980s, Shuler was a math and engineering guy who imagined an “animal on a chip,” a cell culture base seeded with a variety of human cells that could be used for testing drugs. He wanted to position a handful of different organ cells on the same chip, linked to one another, which could mimic the chemical communication between organs and the way drugs move through the body. “This was science fiction,” says Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University whose lab works with cardiac tissue on chips. “There was no body on a chip. There is still no body on a chip. God knows if there will ever be a body on a chip.”

Shuler had hoped to develop a computer model of a multi-organ system, but there were too many unknowns. The living cell culture system he dreamed up was his bid to fill in the blanks. For a while he played with the concept, but the materials simply weren’t good enough to build what he imagined.

“You can force mice to menstruate, but it’s not really menstruation. You need the human being.”

Linda Griffith, founding

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By: Harriet Brown
Title: Is this the end of animal testing?
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/21/1093419/animal-testing-organ-on-chip-research/
Published Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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