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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.

What are the hardest problems in tech we should be more focused on as a society?

Technology is all about solving big thorny problems, yet one of the hardest things is knowing where to focus our efforts. There are so many urgent issues facing the world. Where should we even begin?

We asked dozens of people to identify what problem at the intersection of technology and society that they think we should focus more of our energy on. We queried scientists, journalists, politicians, entrepreneurs, activists, and CEOs.

Some broad themes emerged: the climate crisis, global health, creating a just and equitable society, and AI all came up frequently. There were plenty of outliers, too, ranging from regulating social media to fighting corruption. Read the full list to find out what they said.

This story is from our most recent print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is all about society’s hardest problems, and how we should tackle them. If you don’t subscribe already, sign up now to get future issues when they land.

Innovative new cell therapies could finally get at tough-to-target cancers

The news: A biotech company is making headway in leveraging patients’ own immune systems to destroy cancerous cells in solid tumors. While researchers have recently had success in treating some hard-to-treat blood cancers with engineered T cells, solid tumors, which make up the vast majority of cancer diagnoses, have proved much more difficult.

How they did it: The technicians harvested T cells, which help the body fight infections, from a patient’s blood, before genetically engineering the cells to carry a receptor called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR, which can bind to a protein on the surface of the cancer cell. Next they grow these engineered cells in the lab, then reinfuse them back into the body. When the cells encounter the protein they’re designed to recognize, they activate and start destroying the cancer cells.

The results: BioNTech treated 44 people with solid tumors with varying doses of CAR T cells and, in some cases, a vaccine to help boost the therapy. Among the 38 people for whom there was enough data to assess how well the treatment worked, 45% responded, meaning their tumors shrank or disappeared altogether. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

China wants to win the gene therapy race—and it’ll spend millions

Last week, our China reporter Zeyi Yang and Antonio Regalado, our senior editor for biomedicine, broke an amazing story: Chinese scientists used gene therapy to restore hearing ability in children who were born deaf.

During the trial, five young patients received injections of a virus that added replacement DNA to the hair cells in their inner ear. Four of them have since developed the ability to hear. But while this is a phenomenal step forward in using gene therapy to restore human senses, it faces the same challenging financial calculations that plague a lot of niche medical solutions.

One thing that may help is generous government subsidies. It’s one area that Chinese authorities also may be more willing to spend on given the fact that, at least in this application of gene therapy, the country has raced ahead of its competitors in the West. Read the full story.

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter covering tech and power in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 The UK’s AI summit is kicking off today 
The great and the good of the AI world have gathered to thrash out some guidelines. (WP $)
Chinese AI scientists are calling for tighter controls, too. (FT $)
Kamala Harris will urge attendees to address AI’s short-term threats. (The Guardian)

2 Sam Bankman-Fried’s fraud trial testimony is over
The jurors could start deliberating a verdict as soon as tomorrow. (NYT $)
His decision to testify is undoubtedly a risky move. (WP $)+ SBF’s courtroom sketches are…unflattering to say the least. (The Guardian)

3 The second person to receive a pig’s heart transplant has died
The experimental procedure is fraught with risks. (Wired $)
This company plans to transplant gene-edited pig hearts into babies next year. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The global semiconductor industry is emerging from its slump
Chipmakers are confident the worst is over—for now. (WSJ $)
Samsung is feeling particularly optimistic. (FT $)+ These simple design rules could turn the chip industry on its head. (MIT Technology Review)

5 YouTube really wants you to stop using ad blockers
To the extent that

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: tech’s hardest problems, and cancer-fighting cell therapies
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/11/01/1082801/the-download-techs-hardest-problems-and-cancer-fighting-cell-therapies/
Published Date: Wed, 01 Nov 2023 12:10:00 +0000

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The Download: technological complexity, and climate change Catan

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 terrible complexity of technological problems

The philosopher Karl Popper once argued that there are two kinds of problems in the world: clock problems and cloud problems. As the metaphor suggests, clock problems obey a certain logic. The fix may not be easy, but it’s achievable.

Cloud problems offer no such assurances. They are inherently complex and unpredictable, and they usually have social, psychological, or political dimensions. Because of their dynamic, shape-shifting nature, trying to “fix” a cloud problem often ends up creating several new problems.

But there are ways to reckon with this kind of technological complexity—and the wicked problems it creates. Read the full story.

—Bryan Gardiner

These board games want you to beat climate change

The urgent need to address climate change might seem like unlikely fodder for a fun evening. But a growing number of games are attempting to take on the topic, including a version of the bestseller Catan released this summer.

Our climate reporter Casey Crownhart was curious about whether games could, even abstractly, represent the challenge of the climate crisis. Perhaps more crucially, could they possibly be any fun? Read the full story.

Both of these stories feature in the most recent print issue of MIT Technology Review, which explores the theme of Play. If you don’t already, subscribe now to be among the first to receive future copies.

The must-reads

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

1 China is dropping sanctions against a US communications firm 
In an extremely rare about-turn. (Bloomberg $)
The flow of restricted goods through China to Russia has fallen. (Reuters)

2 OpenAI is closing a major safety loophole
Telling GPT-4o mini to ‘ignore all previous instructions’ will no longer work. (The Verge)

3 Nvidia is working on a premium AI chip for the Chinese market 
Bringing its Blackwell chip in line with US export controls. (Reuters)
What’s next in chips. (MIT Technology Review)

4 This new nuclear reactor is entirely meltdown-proof
And could serve as the blueprint to assuage fears around other reactors. (New Scientist $)
There’s fears that nuclear fuel could be repurposed into weapons. (The Verge)
The next generation of nuclear reactors is getting more advanced. Here’s how. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Amazon’s returns policy is a total mess
Spare a thought for the poor retail staff who have to deal with it. (WP $)

6 Ethiopia wasn’t ready to ban importing gas and diesel vehicles
Almost six months into the ban, the country is struggling. (Rest of World)
Three frequently asked questions about EVs, answered. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Digital nomad visas are a hard sell in south-east Asia
Remote workers are just entering as tourists instead. (FT $)
The world isn’t ready for digital workers, either. (The Guardian)

8 Developing film photos is a lost art 
You never quite know how they’re going to turn out. (404 Media)

9 Billionaire dressing is out, mogul style is in
Jensen Huang remains the only tech boss to nail corporate chic. (The Guardian)
Hoodies are still fine, but polo shirts are out. (The Information $)

10 EA’s new video game stars AI replicas of real college football players
It was a huge gamble that appears to have paid off. (WSJ $)
How generative AI could reinvent what it means to play. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“They are so filled with rage that they have lost all sense of human decency and respect.”

—Richard Zhang, 30, describes the extremely negative reactions to his decision to buy a Cybertruck to the New York Times.

The big story

The humble oyster could hold the key to restoring coastal waters. Developers hate it.

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October 2023

Carol Friend has taken on a difficult job. She is one of the 10 people in Delaware currently trying to make it as a cultivated oyster farmer.

Her Salty Witch Oyster Company holds a lease to grow the mollusks as part of the state’s new program for aquaculture, launched in 2017. It has sputtered despite its obvious promise.

Five years after the first farmed oysters went into the Inland Bays, the aquaculture industry remains in a larval stage. Oysters themselves are almost mythical in their ability to clean and filter water. But

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: technological complexity, and climate change Catan
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/22/1095178/the-download-technological-complexity-and-climate-change-catan/
Published Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2024 12:10:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/balloons-will-surf-wind-currents-to-track-wildfires/

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Balloons will surf wind currents to track wildfires

240717 microballoon embed1 scaled

This August, strange balloons will drift high above Colorado. These airy aircraft, launched from the back of a pickup truck, will be equipped with sensors that can measure heat on the ground, pinpointing new wildfire outbreaks from above.

The company behind the balloons, called Urban Sky, also plans to use them to understand conditions on the ground before fires start. Approximately 237,500 acres burn in Colorado annually, according to 2011–2020 data from the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center. The hope is that this new high-altitude tool might allow humans to manage—or at least understand—those blazes better.

“Wildfire is a natural part of ecosystems,” says Michael Falkowski, manager of the wildland fire programs at NASA. But climate change has proved to be an accelerant, rendering fires bigger, more intense, and more frequent. At the same time, more people are living closer to wild spaces, and the US’s history of fire suppression, which has crowded forests and left old and dead vegetation sitting around, is fanning the flames.

To deal with modern fires, Falkowski says, researchers and fire agencies have to gather data before those fires start and after they’re done smoldering, not just as they’re burning. That makes it possible to understand the risks ahead of time and try to mitigate them, track ongoing blazes, and understand the threats fires pose to communities and the environment.

Before a fire takes hold, researchers can map vegetation and estimate how wet or dry it is. During a fire, they can map where and how hot the activity is. When it’s all over, they can assess the severity of the burn and track air quality.

Pass Fire (New Mexico) 3.5m Infrared Sample from Urban Sky Microballoon.
An infrared image of the 2023 Pass Fire in New Mexico, taken by an Urban Sky balloon.COURTESY URBAN SKY

Still, the most acute phase is obviously the one when the fire is actually burning. In the heat of that moment, it can be hard to get a handle on when and where, exactly, the fire is taking hold. Satellites do some of that work, surveying large areas all at once. But the primary governmental satellites produce pictures with pixels around 300 meters across, and they can’t always get a super timely look at a given spot, since their view is limited by their orbit.

Airplanes and helicopters can map a fire’s extent in more detail, but they’re expensive to operate and dangerous to fly. They have to coordinate with other aircraft and have smaller views, being closer to the ground. They’re also a limited resource. 

Urban Sky aims to combine the advantages of satellites and aircraft by using relatively inexpensive high-altitude balloons that can fly above the fray—out of the way of airspace restrictions, other aircraft, and the fire itself. The system doesn’t put a human pilot at risk and has an infraredsensor system called HotSpot that provides a sharp, real-time picture, with pixels 3.5 meters across. “We targeted that resolution with the goal of being able to see a single burning tree,” says Jared Leidich, chief technology officer at Urban Sky. “And so that would show up essentially as one pixel—one hot pixel.” The company has some competition: Others, like Aerostar and LUX Aerobot, also make balloons that can monitor wildfires.

The Urban Sky team has launched balloons in previous tests, but in August, the technology will monitor potential fires for an actual (unspecified) customer. Sending the balloon-lofted HotSpot up will be a surprisingly simple affair, thanks to the balloon’s relatively small size: While the company makes several sizes, the original is about as big as a van at launch, inflating to the size of a small garage once it’s aloft and surrounded by lower-pressure air. The Urban Sky team uses weather software to calculate where to launch a balloon so that it will drift over the fire at the right elevation. Then the team packs one up, along with compressed helium or hydrogen gas, and drives a truck out to that location. The balloon is hooked onto a mast jutting from the vehicle, filled up with the lighter-than-air molecules,

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By: Sarah Scoles
Title: Balloons will surf wind currents to track wildfires
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/19/1095125/balloons-will-surf-wind-currents-to-track-wildfires/
Published Date: Fri, 19 Jul 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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The Download: Windows’ CrowdStrike outage, and wildfire-tracking balloons

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.

A widespread Windows outage is affecting airlines, banks, and TV broadcasters

What’s happening? Windows PCs have crashed around the world, bringing airlines, major banks, TV broadcasters, healthcare providers and other businesses to a standstill. Airlines including United Airlines, Delta, and American Airlines have been forced to ground and delay flights, stranding passengers in airports, while UK broadcaster Sky News was temporarily pulled off air.

Banking customers in Europe, Australia and India have been unable to access their online accounts, and traders have been unable to operate as normal.

What caused it? The issue originates from a faulty update from cybersecurity provider CrowdStrike, which has knocked affected servers and PCs offline and caused Windows workstations to display ‘blue screens of death’ when users attempt to boot them. Mac and Linux hosts are not affected.

When will it be fixed?

George Kurtz, CEO of Crowdstrike, said that the company was actively working with customers impacted by the defect, found in a single content update for Windows hosts.

“This is not a security incident or cyberattack,” he said in a statement on X. “The issue has been identified, isolated and a fix has been deployed. We refer customers to the support portal for the latest updates and will continue to provide complete and continuous updates on our website.”

However, that doesn’t appear to help computers that are already affected, meaning that companies’ IT teams may have to follow a manual workaround that CrowdStrike sent to its customers earlier this morning, Reuters reports.

—Rhiannon Williams

Balloons will surf wind currents to track wildfires

This August, strange balloons will drift high above Colorado. These airy aircraft will be equipped with sensors that can measure heat on the ground, pinpointing new wildfire outbreaks from above.

The company behind the balloons, called Urban Sky, also plans to use them to understand conditions on the ground before fires start. The hope is that this new high-altitude tool might allow us to better manage—or at least understand—these worsening wildfires better. Read the full story.

—Sarah Scoles

Why we need safeguards against genetic discrimination

Tens of millions of people have shipped their DNA off to companies offering to reveal clues about their customers’ health or ancestry, or had genetic tests as part of their clinical care.

It isn’t always clear how secure this data is, or who might end up getting their hands on it—and how that information might affect people’s lives. Scientists, ethicists and legal scholars aren’t clear on the matter either. They are still getting to grips with what genetic discrimination entails—and how we can defend against it. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly health and 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 The US has created satellite-jamming devices to combat Russia and China 
Its Space Force has developed 24 ground-based jammers to deploy. (Bloomberg $)

2 OpenAI is considering making a new AI chip
Which is unlikely to please its biggest chip supplier, Nvidia. (The Information $)
Demand for AI chips is still outstripping supply, according to TSMC. (The Register)
What’s next in chips. (MIT Technology Review)

3 You have the right to opt out of airport facial recognition
The next time you’re traveling, remember you don’t have to consent. (Vox)
The movement to limit face recognition tech might finally get a win. (MIT Technology Review)

4 We’re running out of data to train AI models
We’re staring down the barrel of a ‘crisis in content.’ (NYT $)
We’ve been aware of the problem for years. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Meta is betting big on smart glasses
It’s considering a stake in the luxury sunglasses firm EssilorLuxottica. (FT $)

6 Scientists have uncovered a surprising source of nitrogen
Microbes at sea work together to produce the vital nutrient. (Quanta Magazine)

7 Jailbreaking AI models could be legalized
It’s something the US government is weighing up to make models safer. (404 Media)

8 Small drugmakers are snapping up biotech companies
Normally, it’s only big pharma that can afford to wade in. (WSJ $)

9 You should check your Venmo privacy settings
The payment platform can reveal a surprising amount of data. (WP $)
J.D Vance’s public Venmo transactions are pretty revealing, for example. (Wired $)

10 This robot dog

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————

By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: Windows’ CrowdStrike outage, and wildfire-tracking balloons
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/19/1095149/the-download-windows-crowdstrike-outage-and-wildfire-tracking-balloons/
Published Date: Fri, 19 Jul 2024 12:10:00 +0000

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