The Download: combating covid, and the challenges of governing AI

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 to know about this autumn’s covid vaccines

Many people have started testing positive for covid recently. Hospitalizations for the disease in the US rose nearly 16% during the third week of August, and even Jill Biden tested positive this week.

Data suggest we’re at the beginning of a fall wave. It’s been a year since a covid booster was released, and while the latest wave isn’t likely to be as bad as the tsunami we experienced in 2021-2022, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the next few months look like. 

So, where are the updated shots to help protect us? And how do they stack up against the challenging new variants? Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story first appeared in The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

My colleague Jessica Hamzelou recently wrote about how covid hasn’t gone away. Check it out here.

How should we regulate AI?

Deciding how to regulate AI is one of the biggest challenges facing politicians and experts alike. On September 12 we’re holding the second MIT Technology Review Roundtable: a 30-minute conversation with our writers and editors—and this one’s all about governing AI.

Melissa Heikkilä, our senior reporter for AI, will be chatting with news editor Charlotte Jee about what should be done to keep AI companies in line. Roundtables are free for MIT Technology Review subscribers, so if you’re not already, you can become one today from just $80 a year.

The must-reads

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

1 Elon Musk cut off Starlink internet to disrupt Ukrainian troops 
He scuppered a sneak attack Ukraine had planned on Russia’s naval fleet. (CNN
+ The news underscores the disproportionate power that SpaceX wields. (WP $)
+ Musk’s famously impulsive decisions often come back to bite him. (WSJ $)
+ Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Huawei has unveiled another controversial smartphone
Officials are baffled how China appears to have sidestepped US chip sanctions. (Bloomberg $)
+ The new handset could be seriously bad news for Apple. (WSJ $)

3 US and UK authorities have sanctioned ransomware gang members
The notorious Trickbot group has evaded justice for years. (Wired $)

4 There are no drugs to reliably treat anorexia
Despite close to 50 years of research, researchers have had little success. (The Atlantic $)

5 Another FTX executive has pleaded guilty
Ryan Salame made political contributions to the Republican party under the guise of loans. (CoinDesk)
+ If he’s found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in prison. (NYT $)

6 Microsoft is working on the world’s largest cancer-detecting AI model
The system examines images of tissues and flags anomalies to human doctors. (CNBC)
+ A new blood test could diagnose diseases within 10 minutes. (FT $)
+ Doctors using AI catch breast cancer more often than either does alone. (MIT Technology Review)

7 ChatGPT convinced the Pentagon to invest in AI-powered weapons
That’s according to former VR CEO Palmer Luckey, who now builds military drones.  (Motherboard)
+ Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Service staff have had enough of your TikTok gimmicks
They’re unwilling participants in thousands of tedious food skits. (WSJ $)

9 Australia is ditching handwritten signatures
Electronic signatures and video link witnessing will replace the need to sign on the dotted line in person. (The Guardian)

10 You probably don’t need to upgrade your iPhone 📱
But Apple sure is good at convincing you that you should. (Vox)

Quote of the day

“People are starting to leave a trace. They’re forgetting the core principles of the burn.”

—Jeffrey Longoria, who attended this year’s mud-stricken Burning Man festival, laments how visitors are forgetting to clear up after themselves, Insider reports.

The big story

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

August 2022

After a near-death experience, artist and physicist David Glowacki tried to recapture the hallucinatory transcendence he felt. A VR experience called Isness-D is his latest effort.

On four key indicators used in studies of psychedelics, the program showed the same effect as a medium dose of LSD or psilocybin (the main psychoactive component of “magic” mushrooms).

That means it could potentially be used to alleviate the symptoms of mental health conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. Read the full story.

—Hana Kiros

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.)

+ These drone shots of marine creatures are pretty cool.
+ If tracking murders in late medieval London, York, or Oxford is your thing, boy, do I have some maps for you.
+ These no-bake peanut butter bars sound like the perfect weekend treat.
+ Ethan Lee is doing the most: by porting our favorite indie PC games to Linux.
+ Alien is full of meticulously-designed semiotic standards. Check them out.

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