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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.

These prosthetics break the mold with third thumbs, spikes, and superhero skins

Traditionally, prosthetics designers have looked to the human body for inspiration. Prosthetics were seen as replacements for missing body parts; hyper-realistic bionic legs and arms were the holy grail.

But we’re now witnessing a movement in alternative prosthetics, a form of assistive tech that bucks convention by making no attempt to blend in. Instead of making devices that mimic the appearance of a “normal” arm or leg, a new wave of designers are creating fantastical prosthetics that might wriggle like a tentacle, light up, or even shoot glitter. Read the full story.

—Joanna Thompson

Joanna’s story is from the latest print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is all about design. Sign up for a subscription to read the full thing when it comes out later this month.

We don’t need to panic about a bird flu pandemic—yet

How worried should we be about bird flu? Some have warned that avian flu will be the next deadly pandemic. Others have said the risk is no different from what it was a few years ago.

There’s no denying that outbreaks of the virus have had a huge impact on birds in recent months, and that the current outbreak is significantly worse than what we’ve seen in the past. But although we’ve seen a small number of cases in people, there’s no evidence to suggest it poses a bigger threat to humans now than in the past. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

Jessica’s story is from The Checkup, her weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

Americans are ready to test embryos for future college chances

Imagine that you were provided no-cost fertility treatment and also offered a free DNA test to gauge which of those little IVF embryos floating in a dish stood the best chance of getting into a top college someday.

If you said a hypothetical yes to the test, you’re among about 40% percent of Americans who said they’d be more likely than not to test and pick IVF embryos for intellectual aptitude. Ethicists and gene scientists think it’s a bad idea. Although these tests do not exist yet, they’re sounding the alarm early. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

The must-reads

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

1 We’re witnessing the age of AI one-upmanship
But every single company faces the same problem: large language models can’t tell fact from fiction. (The Atlantic $)
ChatGPT is the equivalent of a compressed internet file. (New Yorker $)+ Even the Pentagon is using ChatGPT to write press releases. (Motherboard)
Generative AI sees the world as a very white place. (Slate $)
Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)

2 The ‘spy balloon’ debate is still raging
The US has accused China of spying; China says the claims are exaggerated. (Bloomberg $)
The companies that helped to make the balloon may face sanctions. (Quartz)
The balloon dispute is symbolic of worsening relations between the nations. (NYT $)
Such research balloons were originally designed to soar to the edge of space. (WSJ $)

3 Donald Trump is allowed to post on Facebook again
That said, he’s staying silent, for now. (CNBC)

4 China has pulled out of an international cable project
Because companies from other countries backed the US to build the line instead. (FT $)

5 Crowd-control tech is becoming more brutal
So-called “less lethal” weapons are still dangerous—and under-regulated to boot. (Wired $)

6 The health benefits of EVs are irrefutable
However, it’s wealthier areas that stand to benefit the most. (Vox) + But the auto industry in general isn’t doing enough to save the climate. (The Verge)
Cars are still cars—even when they’re electric. (MIT Technology Review)

7 There’s yet more bad news for NFT artists
The first NFT intellectual property lawsuit found that MetaBirkin NFTs had fallen foul of the law. (Bloomberg $)
Some artists found a lifeline selling NFTs. Others worry it’s a trap. (MIT Technology Review)

8 The never-ending quest to unlock the universe’s secrets
Interrogating interstellar objects could help. (New Scientist $)
Blue Origin has finally secured an interplanetary NASA contract. (Engadget)

9 How to catch a ‘sushi terrorist’
?
Japanese sushi chains are rolling out AI-equipped cameras to catch

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: revolutionary prosthetics, and new pandemic concerns
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/02/10/1068264/download-revolutionary-prosthetics-new-pandemic-concerns/
Published Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2023 13:10:00 +0000

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Three frequently asked questions about EVs, answered

This article is from The Spark, MIT Technology Review’s weekly climate newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here

For someone who does not own or drive a car, I sure do have a lot of thoughts about them.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about transportation in general, since it’s one of the biggest areas we need to clean up to address climate change: it accounts for something like a quarter of global emissions. And the vehicles that we use to shuttle around to work, school, and the grocery store in many parts of the world are a huge piece of the problem.

Last week, MIT Technology Review hosted an event where my colleagues and I dug into a conversation about the future of batteries and the materials that go into them. We got so many great questions, and we answered quite a few of them (subscribers should check out the recording of the full event here).

But there were still a lot of questions, particularly about EVs, that we didn’t get to, so let’s take a look at a few. (I’ve edited these for length and clarity, but they came from subscribers, so thank you to everyone who submitted!)

Why is there not a bigger push for plug-in hybrids during the transition to full EVs? Could those play a role?

Hybrids are sometimes relegated to the fringes of the EV discussion, but I think they’re absolutely worth talking about.

Before we get into this, let’s get a couple of terms straight. All hybrid vehicles use both an internal-combustion engine that burns gasoline and a battery, but there are two key types to know about. Plug-in hybrids can be charged up using an EV charger and run for short distances on electricity. Conventional hybrids have a small battery to help recapture energy that would otherwise be wasted, which boosts gas mileage, but they always run on gasoline.

Any technology that helps reduce emissions immediately can help address climate change, and even a conventional hybrid will cut emissions by something like 20%.

Personally, I think plug-in hybrids in particular are a great option for people who can’t commit to an EV just yet. These vehicles often have a range of around 50 miles on electricity, so if you’re commuting short distances, nearly all your driving can be zero-emissions. 

Plug-ins aren’t the perfect solution, though. For one thing, the vehicles may have higher rates of problems than both EVs and gas-powered vehicles, and they need a bit more maintenance. And some studies have shown that plug-in hybrids don’t tend to get the full emissions benefits advertised, because people use the electric mode less than expected.

Ultimately, we need to stop burning fossil fuels, so we’ll need to get used to vehicles that run without gasoline at all. But in the meantime, dipping a toe into the world of electric vehicles could be a good option for many drivers.

Will current charging technology be able to support EVs? How practical is it to bring chargers to remote areas of the country?

These questions hit on one of the biggest potential barriers to EV adoption: charging availability.

In many parts of the world, there’s a massive need to build more chargers to support the EVs already on the road, not to mention all the new ones being built and sold each year. Some agencies have recommended that there should be one public charger for every 10 EVs on the road, though factors like density and rates of at-home charging mean different communities will have different needs. 

The US had about 24 EVs per charger as of the end of 2022, while the EU is at about 13, and China is among the leading nations with around eight. Improving that ratio is crucial to getting more drivers comfortable with EVs.

But building out the charging network is a big project, and one that looks different for different communities. In dense cities, many people live in apartments as opposed to single-family homes with garages, so even more public chargers will be needed to make up for the lack of at-home charging. For rural communities, or those that are less wealthy, getting any chargers built at all can be a challenge. 

These so-called charging deserts often suffer from a sort of chicken-and-egg problem: there’s a lack of demand for chargers because people aren’t driving EVs, and people aren’t driving EVs because there are no chargers.

Public funding will be key to filling in gaps left by private companies installing charging networks. In the US, some money is tied to making sure that disadvantaged communities will benefit.

The bottom line is that it’s possible to make chargers available and equitable, but it’s definitely going to take a while, and it’s going to be expensive. 

What about hydrogen—could that be an alternative to batteries?

I’ve been digging into this question, so stay

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By: Casey Crownhart
Title: Three frequently asked questions about EVs, answered
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/22/1088800/ev-faqs/
Published Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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Ready, set, grow: These are the biotech plants you can buy now

Purple Tomato Caprese scaled

This spring I am looking forward to growing some biotech in my backyard for the first time. It’s possible because of startups that have started selling genetically engineered plants directly to consumers, including a bright-purple tomato and a petunia that glows in the dark.

This week, for $73, I ordered both by pressing a few buttons online.

Biotech seeds have been a huge business for a while. In fact, by sheer mass, GMOs are probably the single most significant product of genetic engineering ever. Except most of us aren’t planting rows of cotton or corn that can resist worms or survive a spritz of RoundUp, the big gene-splicing innovations that companies like Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred first introduced in the 1990s.

What makes these new plants different is that you can buy them directly from their creators and then plant them in the yard, on a balcony, or just in a pot.

caprese salad in a bowl made with halved yellow, red and purple-fleshed cherry tomatoes
Purple tomatoes developed by Norfolk Health Produce. NORFOLK HEALTHY PRODUCE

Purple tomato

Starting off my biotech shopping spree, I first spent $20 to order 10 tomato seeds from Norfolk Health Produce, a small company in Davis, California, that created what it calls the Purple Tomato. The seeds have a gene introduced from a snapdragon flower, which adds a nutrient, anthocyanin, that also gives the fruits their striking color.

According to Channa S. Prakash, a geneticist and dean at Tuskegee University, the tomato is the “the first-of-its kind GMO food crop marketed directly to home gardeners.”

The CEO of the company, Nathan Pumplin, was packing seeds when I reached him by phone. He claimed that anthocyanin has health benefits—it’s an antioxidant—but he agreed that the color is a useful sales pitch.

“I don’t need to make a label that says this red tomato is better for you than the other red tomato,” says Pumplin. “We can simply put out the purple tomato, and people say, ‘Oh my gosh, this tomato is purple.’ Its beauty is a distinguishing characteristic that people can just immediately see and understand.”

There is a plan to mass-produce the purple tomatoes for sale in supermarkets. But Pumplin says the company couldn’t ignore thousands of requests from regular gardeners. “It’s not the main focus of our business, but we are very interested in having people grow these at home,” he says. And “if home gardeners want to save the seed and replant it in their gardens for their own use, that is okay.”

couple in their glowing garden of gmo petunias
A promotional video for Light Bio’s firefly petunia.LIGHT BIO

Glowing flower

I next decided to shell out for the “firefly petunia,” so called because the plant is supposed to glow in the dark. It’s sold by Light Bio, a startup backed by the venture capital firm NFX .

The plant is such a novelty that it’s being sold in a preorder, with promises they will arrive by May. One petunia plant costs $29 plus $24 for shipping. The company’s marketing promises that your plant will unveil “mesmerizing luminescence after dusk” and that “its soothing light is produced from living energy, cultivating a deeper connection with the inner life of the plant.”

Finally, “Your nurturing care will be rewarded with even greater brilliance.”

It joins a short list of ornamental plants with gene modifications. Another is an orange petunia, approved in the US in 2021, that got its unusual color from a corn gene. (When some copies got loose prior to approval, officials in the US and Europe demanded its eradication in what became known as “the petunia carnage.”)

Karen Sarkisyan, a synthetic biologist at the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences in the UK, is one of the petunia’s creators, and also the chief scientist of Light Bio. His lab is interested in using bioluminescence as a reporter system—a plant could reveal, for instance, how it

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By: Antonio Regalado
Title: Ready, set, grow: These are the biotech plants you can buy now
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/22/1088768/glowing-plant-lightbio-purple-tomato-norfolk/
Published Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2024 11:45:00 +0000

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The Download: tracking animals, and biotech plants

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 tracking animal movement may save the planet

Animals have long been able to offer unique insights about the natural world around us, acting as organic sensors picking up phenomena invisible to humans. Canaries warned of looming catastrophe in coal mines until the 1980s, for example.

These days, we have more insight into animal behavior than ever before thanks to technologies like sensor tags. But the data we gather from these animals still adds up to only a relatively narrow slice of the whole picture. Results are often confined to silos, and for many years tags were big and expensive, suitable only for a handful of animal species.

This is beginning to change. Researchers are asking: What will we find if we follow even the smallest animals? What if we could see how different species’ lives intersect? What could we learn from a system of animal movement, continuously monitoring how creatures big and small adapt to the world around us? It may be, some researchers believe, a vital tool in the effort to save our increasingly crisis-plagued planet. Read the full story.

—Matthew Ponsford

This story is from the upcoming print issue of MIT Technology Review, dedicated to exploring hidden worlds. Buy a subscription to get your hands on a copy when it publishes on February 28th! Deals start at just $8 a month.

These are the biotech plants you can buy now

—Antonio Regalado

This spring I am looking forward to growing some biotech in my backyard for the first time. It’s possible because of startups that have started selling genetically engineered plants directly to consumers, including a bright-purple tomato and a petunia that glows in the dark.

This week, for $73, I ordered both by pressing a few buttons online.

Biotech seeds have been a huge business for a while. In fact, by sheer mass, GMOs are probably the single most significant product of genetic engineering ever. But the difference now is that people are able to plant and grow GMO houseplants in their homes. Read the full story.

Watch this robot as it learns to stitch up wounds

The news: A new AI-trained surgical robot can make stitches on its own. A video taken by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, shows the two-armed robot completing stitches in a row on a simple wound in imitation skin. It managed to make six stitches before a human had to intervene.

Why it matters: It’s common for surgeons today to get help from robots, but we’re a long way from them being able to fully replace many tasks. This new research marks progress toward robots that can operate more autonomously on very intricate, complicated tasks. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

Three frequently asked questions about EVs, answered

Transportation is a critical part of the climate change puzzle: it accounts for something like a quarter of global emissions. And the vehicles that we use to shuttle around to work, school, and the grocery store in many parts of the world are a huge piece of the problem.

Last week, MIT Technology Review hosted an event where we dug into the future of batteries and the materials that go into them. We got so many great questions, and we answered quite a few of them (subscribers should check out the recording of the full event).

But there were still a lot of questions, particularly about EVs, that we didn’t get to. So let’s take a look at a few of those.

—Casey Crownhart

This story is from The Spark, our weekly newsletter all about the technology that could combat the climate crisis. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

1 The first US moon landing for over 50 years is due today
If all goes to plan, Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus spacecraft will touch down at 5.30pm ET. (WP $)
Here’s how you can watch it. (NYT $)

2 ChatGPT had a meltdown yesterday
Which is not necessarily worrying in itself… but it isn’t great that we have no idea why. (Ars Technica)
Gab’s racist chatbots have been trained to deny the Holocaust. (Wired $)
Soon, we might be using AI to do all sorts of tasks for us. (NPR)

3 You can buy Vision Pro headsets in Russia
Two years after Apple quit the country. (NBC)

4 Google is racing to fix a new “overly woke” AI-powered tool
It was returning women and people of color when asked to produce images of America’s founding fathers, for example. (BBC)
It’s pausing the ability for Gemini AI to generate images until it’s fixed the issue. (The Verge)
These

Read More

————

By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: tracking animals, and biotech plants
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/22/1088821/tracking-animals-biotech-plants/
Published Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2024 13:10:00 +0000

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