The Download: controversial gene therapy tests, and algorithms on trial

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.

This biohacking company is using a crypto city to test controversial gene therapies

Last year, biotech startup Minicircle started recruiting participants for a clinical trial of gene therapy. But several details made it unusual. For one, it instructed would-be guinea pigs to purchase an NFT to take part, before being paid in cryptocurrency. Another is it would take place in what is essentially an experimental crypto city—Próspera, Honduras.

It’s against this unusual backdrop that Minicircle is trying to lead biohacking’s charge into the mainstream—studying gene therapies that target familiar conditions like muscular disorders, HIV, low testosterone, and obesity.

But medical ethics experts are less enthusiastic—and are concerned about how the trials will move forward, and what they could mean for the burgeoning and sometimes unscrupulous medical tourism industry. Read the full story.

Laurie Clarke

The Supreme Court may overhaul how you live online

Recommendation algorithms sort most of what we see online and determine how posts, news articles, and accounts you follow are prioritized on digital platforms. Now they’re at the center of a landmark legal case that ultimately has the power to completely change how we live online.

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, which deals with allegations that Google violated the Anti-Terrorism Act when YouTube’s recommendations promoted ISIS content. It’s the first time the court will consider a legal provision called Section 230, and the stakes could not be higher. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

Tate’s story is from The Technocrat, the first edition of her new weekly newsletter covering power, politics and Silicon Valley. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

Restoring an ancient lake from the rubble of an unfinished airport in Mexico City

Weeks after Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in 2018, he controversially canceled ambitious plans to build an airport on the deserted site of the former Lake Texcoco—despite the fact it was already around a third complete.

Instead, he tasked Iñaki Echeverria, a Mexican architect and landscape designer, with turning it into a vast urban park, an artificial wetland that aims to transform the future of the entire Valley region. 

But as López Obrador’s presidential team nears its end, the plans for Lake Texcoco’s rebirth could yet vanish. Read the full story.

—Matthew Ponsford

This story is from our forthcoming print issue, which dives into the intersection between technology and design. Sign up for a subscription to read the full edition when it comes out later this month.

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 shot down more mysterious flying objects
The suspicious objects, which are decidedly not balloons, were passing over US airspace. (The Guardian)
+ US authorities are racing to work out what they actually are. (Vox)
+ Uruguay and China have reported lights in the sky and unidentified objects. (Motherboard)
+ Why the ‘spy balloon’ has unnerved America so much. (Slate $)

2 The US government is threatening to sue crypto firm Paxos
It claims that by offering a stablecoin pegged to the US dollar, Paxos has been selling unregistered securities. (WSJ $)

3 The tech industry is undergoing a Great Re-Sorting
Laid-off workers are often well-compensated, but feel bruised existentially. (The Information $)

4 What Tencent’s return to glory tells us about the Chinese economy
The conglomerate has had a tough two years, but now it’s bouncing back. (Economist $)
+ Alibaba hacks are gaining traction in Latin America. (Rest of World)
+ Tencent wants you to pay with your palm. What could go wrong? (MIT Technology Review)

5 What is Amazon without Jeff Bezos at the helm?
Andy Jassy’s first first of leadership has been far from smooth sailing. (FT $)

6 The FBI is at risk of losing its most valuable surveillance tool
Authorities are concerned it’s misused its powers on native soil. (Wired $)

7 South Africa’s traditional healers are going high-tech
Video consultations are becoming increasingly commonplace, but not everyone agrees they should. (Rest of World)

8 Interns are in high demand
Particularly if they’ve got the skills to produce viral TikToks. (NYT $)+ Elsewhere, younger workers are picking up their employer’s IT support. (Bloomberg $)

9 Wikipedia doesn’t have much time for cryptids 🦶
Which is bad news for ardent cryptologists. (Slate $)

10 High school students built their classmate a prosthetic hand
Sergio Peralta can now toss and catch a ball for the first time. (WP $)
+ These prosthetics break the mold with third thumbs, spikes, and superhero skins. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“Imagine that stress, imagine waking up every morning and wondering if you’ve lost your career.”

—Pornographic actress Cherie DeVille describes her intense fear over being banned from Instagram, which she worries is becoming less hospitable to adult stars, she tells NBC News.

The big story

We asked Bill Gates, a Nobel laureate, and others to name the most effective way to combat climate change

February 2021

Despite decades of warnings and increasingly devastating disasters, we’ve made little progress in slowing climate change.

Clean energy alternatives have secured just a fraction of the marketplace today, and greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to climb year after year.

Given the lack of momentum, how do we make faster, more significant progress? We asked 10 experts a single question: “If you could invent, invest in, or implement one thing that you believe would do the most to reduce the risks of climate change, what would it be and why?” Read the full story.

—James Temple

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.)

+ A deep-dive investigation into each US state’s favorite Super Bowl dip.
+ There’s no better way to kick off your week than looking through pictures of beautiful gardens (thanks Peter!)
+ This version of This Guy’s in Love with You featuring Noel Gallagher is great—thank you to the late, great Burt Bacharach.
+ These samsas look beyond tasty, and are cooked in an ingenious way.
+ Don’t even think about getting too close to California’s super bloom.

Main Menu