The Download: AI to predict ice, and healthcare censorship in China

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.

Deep learning can almost perfectly predict how ice forms

The news: Researchers have used deep learning to model more precisely than ever before how ice crystals form in the atmosphere. Their paper, published this week in PNAS, hints at the potential to significantly increase the accuracy of weather and climate forecasting.

How they did it: The researchers used deep learning to predict how atoms and molecules behave. First, models were trained on small-scale simulations of water molecules to help them predict how electrons in atoms interact. The models then replicated those interactions on a larger scale, with more atoms and molecules. It’s this ability to precisely simulate electron interactions that allowed the team to accurately predict physical and chemical behavior.

Why it matters: If researchers could model how ice forms more accurately, it could give a big boost to weather prediction overall, especially those involving whether and how much it’s likely to rain or snow. It could also aid climate forecasting by improving the ability to model clouds, which affect the planet’s temperature in complex ways. Read the full story.

—Tammy Xu

China has censored a top health information platform

China has censored DXY, the country’s leading health information platform and online community for Chinese doctors. On August 9, DXY fell silent across its social media channels, where it boasts over 80 million followers. While Weibo offered the vague explanation that the platform’s five channels had violated “relevant laws and regulations,”  Nikkei Asia reported that the order came from regulators and won’t end without official approval.

In the increasingly polarized social media environment in China, healthcare is becoming a target for controversy. The suspension has met with a gleeful social reaction among nationalist bloggers, who accuse DXY of receiving foreign funding, bashing traditional Chinese medicine, and criticizing China’s health-care system, illustrating just how politicized health topics have become. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Podcast: How to craft effective AI policy

When are policy makers going to catch up with the speed of AI innovation? The latest episode of our award-winning podcast, In Machines We Trust, examines what it will take to make effective AI policy and equitable access to technology. It was recorded before a live audience at MIT Technology Review’s annual AI conference, EmTech Digital. Listen to it for yourself.

The must-reads

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

1 The FTC is planning to regulate how Big Tech collects data
It has surveillance advertising and targeting algorithms in its sights. (WSJ $)
+ Meta defended injecting code into sites to track users across the web. (The Guardian)
+ Google has been fined in Australia for misleading consumers about location data collection. (TechCrunch)

2 Predicting the US climate bill’s effects is harder than you might think
We don’t know how effectively or quickly its tax credits will cut emissions. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Emissions modeling is not an exact science. (Scientific American $)
+ The bill could have major ramifications for electric vehicle manufacturers. (NYT $)

3 A bioengineered cornea can restore sight to blind people
At a fraction of the cost of traditional cornea transplants from humans. (MIT Technology Review)

4 This is why thinking deeply makes you tired
Feeling exhausted is your brain’s way of balancing out chemical changes. (Economist $)
+ Self-taught AI could shine a light on how the brain works. (Quanta)

5 Micro-robots could replace your toothbrush 🦷
By clearing biofilm from your teeth and wriggling between them. (Neo.Life)
+ Drilling underground tunnels is another task robots might take on someday. (Wired $)

6 Caste discrimination is overshadowing Silicon Valley
India’s discriminatory caste system is affecting tech workers at Google and other tech companies across the world. (New Yorker $)

7 How Roomba took over our homes
And became the most recognizable consumer robot in the process. (WSJ $)
+ Its new owner, Amazon, wants to make a TV show of Ring doorbell footage. (Ars Technica)

8 The Nokia ringtones of the 2000s deserve some respect 🎶
Believe it or not, they’re a neglected part of electronic music history. (The Verge)

9 The origins of the Dark Brandon meme are complicated
Democrats have tried, with moderate success, to reclaim it from facist corners of the internet. (Vox)
+ Its rise is another awkward moment in the meme wars. (The Atlantic $)
+ Twitter is swarming with bizarre theories about Ivana Trump’s casket. (Motherboard)

10 TikTokers are collecting the tags from their expensive athleisure
Just…why? (Motherboard)

Quote of the day

“We just see the workforce without the lens of people who had been in it pre-covid.”

—Ginsey Stephenson, 23, tells the Washington Post why younger workers are less prepared to compromise on flexible working from home arrangements.

The big story

Dementia content gets billions of views on TikTok. Whose story does it tell?

February 2022

A dementia diagnosis can instantly change how the world sees someone. The internet, at its best, can help make the reality of living with dementia more visible. And for some, the internet is the only place they can connect with others going through the same thing. But among the popular #Dementia hashtag on TikTok, it’s easy to find viral videos in which care partners mock dementia patients and escalate arguments with them on camera.

Creators have not settled on the ethics of making public content about someone who may no longer be able to consent to being filmed. Meanwhile, people who are themselves living with dementia are raising their own questions about consent, and emphasizing the harms caused by viral content that perpetuates stereotypes or misrepresents the full nature of the condition. Read the full story.

—Abby Ohlheiser

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.)

+ Polynesia’s history of tattooing spans back more than 3,000 years, which is pretty incredible.
+ Would you decorate your home with circus-inspired elements?
+ Panic over—a giant tortoise on a mission for love is set to make a full recovery after getting a bit too close to a train.
+ This teddy bear is a straight up chiller.
+ Anonymous messaging apps tend to be more trouble than they’re worth.

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