The Download: corruption in China’s chip sector and VR’s psychedelic experiments

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.

Corruption is sending shock waves through China’s chipmaking industry

The news: China’s chipmaking industry has descended into chaos, with at least four top executives associated with a state-owned semiconductor fund recently arrested on corruption charges. It’s an explosive turn of events that could force the country to fundamentally rethink how it invests in chip development.

Why it matters: The four executives are past or present employees of the China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, nicknamed the “Big Fund,” which was established in 2014 to build a supply chain of chips made in China, thus reducing reliance on the US and its allies. The fact that the fund was driven by a political mission and not financial interests made it ripe for corruption.

What’s next:
Analysts say the latest investigations may push China to manage semiconductor funding with more precision and professional knowledge. The country was forced to learn by trial and error, meaning more targeted investments into specific companies would be a logical next step—coupled with a new boss for the Big Fund. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

The news: After a near-death experience, artist and computational molecular physicist David Glowacki has worked to recapture the hallucinatory transcendence he felt. A VR experience called Isness-D is his latest effort. And 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).

How it works: Isness-D is designed for groups of four to five people, with each participant represented as a diffuse cloud of smoke with a ball of light right about where a person’s heart would be. The experience involves participants gathering in the same spot in the virtual space to overlap their diffuse bodies, making it impossible to tell where each person begins and ends. The resulting sense of deep connectedness and ego reduction mirrors feelings commonly brought about by a psychedelic experience.

Why it matters: Given that Isness-D elicited responses indistinguishable from those associated with medium doses of psychedelics, it could help to alleviate the symptoms of mental health conditions obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression, all of which psychedelic-assisted therapy has been remarkably good at easing. Read the full story.

—Hana Kiros

The must-reads

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

1 The Senate has passed a landmark climate change bill
The legislation, which also promises significant tax provisions, split the senators down party lines. (NYT $)
+ The bill has been 18 months in the making for the Democrats. (BBC)
+ Here are the biggest technology wins in the breakthrough climate bill. (MIT Technology Review)

2 How Kansas fought for the right to abortion—and won 
Last week’s vote attracted more voters than any other primary in state history. (New Yorker $)
+ Location firms are formulating their own responses to abortion clinic data requests. (WSJ $)
+ Anti-abortion activists are collecting the data they’ll need for prosecutions. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Amazon’s fertility benefits have warehouse workers in a bind
Women are signing up for grueling shifts to qualify for expensive IVF treatments. (NY Mag $)
+ Amazon’s public registries could allow thieves to steal the identities of unborn babies. (The Intercept)
+ Here’s how the company’s venture into healthcare could play out. (BuzzFeed News)
+ How Amazon could bring voice cloning to the masses. (Fast Company $)

4 India’s e-waste industry is a ticking time bomb 
Every day, its workers contend with dangerous heat, chemicals and fumes to try and earn a living. (Slate)

5 China has approved Baidu’s driverless taxis in two cities
The country has relaxed its rules for its first fully autonomous self-driving taxis. (Bloomberg $)
+ A day in the life of a Chinese robotaxi driver. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Soccer’s pivot to NFTs was inevitable ⚽
It’s the next step for a game that loves monetizing everything it can get its hands on. (Wired $)

7 What it’s like to live with locked-in syndrome
New surveys suggest many people with the condition are happy, despite widespread assumptions otherwise. (Undark)
+ A locked-in man has been able to communicate in sentences by thought alone. (MIT Technology Review)

8 How TikTok created a misogynistic superstar
Former kickboxer Andrew Tate’s vile content has attracted a vast audience on the platform.  (The Observer)

9 Millennials are embarrassing themselves online
Best to leave Gen Z trends to Gen Z. (The Atlantic $)

10 Dr Pimple Popper isn’t making any money from YouTube  
She may have millions of subscribers, but her content is deemed ‘too graphic’ for advertisers. (Insider $)

Quote of the day

“It’s a different kind of war now.”

—Abdulla, the commander of a special drone reconnaissance platoon in Ukraine, tells the Wall Street Journal how drones have revolutionized how he and his men fight against invading Russian soldiers.

The big story

Brain implants could be the next computer mouse

brain interface with cursor concept

October 2021

Dennis DeGray is paralyzed from the neck down, hurt in a freak fall in his yard while taking out the trash. But DeGray is a virtuoso at using his brain to control a computer mouse. For the last five years, he has been a participant in BrainGate, a series of clinical trials in which surgeons have inserted silicon probes the size of a baby aspirin into the brains of more than 20 paralyzed people. 

Using these brain-computer interfaces, researchers can measure the firing of dozens of neurons as people think of moving their arms and hands. And by sending these signals to a computer, the scientists have enabled those with the implants to grasp objects with robot arms and steer planes around in flight simulators.

While such technology is therapeutic and restorative for people such as DeGray, entrepreneurs including Elon Musk are pouring investment into brain implant projects that are for elective enhancement, creating a dilemma for medical researchers uneasy about worsening inequality and exacerbating humans’ proximity to social media. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

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.)

+ This baby hippo review is the serotonin boost we all need.
+ It turns out those anti-piracy ads from the 90s may have actually encouraged a wave of online piracy.
+ Enjoy this stunning rendition of Britney Spears’ Toxic played entirely by electrical devices.
+ The James Webb Space Telescope’s latest Cartwheel Galaxy picture is pretty awe-inspiring.
+ I had no idea how many Pixar films contain references to the studio’s next picture.

Main Menu