The Download: EV havoc in China, and the first private Venus mission

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.

China’s heat wave is creating havoc for electric vehicle drivers

As a globally unprecedented heat wave continues to hold its grip on southern China, with the highest temperature as much as 113°F (45°C), severe droughts and shortages in the hydropower supply are wreaking havoc on the lives of residents. 

Electric vehicle owners are one group particularly feeling the heat. Since public charging posts are temporarily closed or restricted and many owners don’t have a private charging post, they’ve suddenly found themselves facing serious difficulties in powering their daily commutes.

As the country’s power supply has become increasingly unreliable, the government has instituted EV charging restrictions in order to prioritize more critical daily electricity needs—leaving EV owners searching for hours for a working charging station. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

The first private mission to Venus will have just five minutes to hunt for life

As the covid pandemic raged in late 2020, all eyes turned briefly from our troubled planet to our planetary neighbor Venus. Astronomers had made a startling detection in its cloud tops: a gas called phosphine that on Earth is created through biological processes. Speculation ran wild as scientists struggled to understand what they were seeing.

Now, a mission due to be launched next year could finally begin to answer the question that has excited astronomers ever since: Could microbial life be belching out the gas? Although later studies have questioned the detection of phosphine, scientists are looking to the planet’s temperate clouds for signs of life—but have just five minutes to do so. Read the full story.

—Jonathan O’Callaghan

Podcast: I Was There When: AI helped create a vaccine

Only a select few people know what it’s like to be present during breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and computing. In the latest episode of our award-winning podcast, In Machines We Trust, we meet Dave Johnson, the chief data and artificial intelligence officer at Moderna, who witnessed AI helping to create the company’s covid vaccine. 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 NASA is waiting to find out when it can relaunch its moon rocket
Mission managers are meeting today to work out the best time to have another stab. (NYT $)
+ The next attempt could come as soon as Friday. (WSJ $)
+ Snoopy and Shaun the Sheep stuffed toys are essential crew members. (Slate)

2 The US has an Adderall shortage
Lax telehealth providers and TikTok diagnoses are likely to have contributed to the spike in demand. (Economist $)
+ How startups are pushing Adderall on TikTok. (Vox)

3 The US government is suing a location data company
The Federal Trade Commission says the firm’s data could be used to track visitors to abortion clinics. (NBC)
+ Anti-abortion activists are collecting the data they’ll need for prosecutions post-Roe. (MIT Technology Review)

4 China is silencing feminists online
Its government is trying to covertly suppress discussions around women’s rights. (New Yorker $)
+ European spies are increasingly worried about Beijing’s espionage. (FT $)
+ Hong Kong’s anonymous Facebook pages are being shut down. (Rest of World)

5 An immortal jellyfish could help humans live longer
The secret lies in the creatures’ genes. (New Scientist $)

6 Wire thieves are cutting electric car chargers
The cables contain valuable copper, which rocketed in price during the pandemic. (Motherboard)
+ Electric cars could soon recharge by 90% within just 10 minutes. (WSJ $)
+ Many automatic car braking systems don’t work well in the dark, worryingly. (Reuters)
+ This startup wants to pack more energy into electric vehicle batteries. (MIT Technology Review)

7 AI uncovered 20,000 undeclared swimming pools 🏊
It’ll help French authorities to fine tax dodgers around €10m. (The Guardian)

8 Most social media creators are not qualified therapists
But millions of followers treat their advice as gospel anyway. (WP $)

9 A TikToker convinced his followers he was AI-generated
However, not everyone was so easily fooled. (Input)

10 How the internet murdered the nudist beach
Younger people are less convinced that public nudity represents emancipation in the same way it did to older generations. (The Atlantic $)

Quote of the day

“We’re trying to build while we can before big awful corporations come and ruin it for everybody.”

—Joshua Eustis, a musician, explains why he is so keen to be among the earliest creators defining the purpose of web3 to the Washington Post.

The big story

This chemist is reimagining the discovery of materials using AI and automation

October 2021

Alán Aspuru-Guzik, a Mexico City–born, Toronto-based chemist, has devoted much of his life to contemplating worst-case scenarios. What if climate change proceeds as expected, or gets significantly worse? Could we quickly come up with the materials we’ll need to cheaply capture carbon, or make batteries from something other than costly lithium?

Materials discovery—the science of creating and developing useful new substances—often moves at a frustratingly slow pace. The typical trial-and-error approach, whereby scientists produce new molecules and then test each one sequentially for the desired properties, takes an average of two decades, making it too expensive and risky for most companies to pursue.

Aspuru-Guzik’s objective—which he shares with a growing number of computer-­savvy chemists—is to shrink that interval to a matter of months or years, enabling humanity to quickly amass an arsenal of resources for fighting climate change. And advances in AI, robotics, and computing are bringing new life to his vision. Read the full story.

—Simon Lewsen

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.)

+ The Wikipedia photos explaining how to do a high five have the loveliest back story
+ I was not expecting an X-Men party to be this sassy.
+ These tiny Lego computers are too cute.
+ What a relief—New York’s squirrels aren’t ill, they’re just hot.
+ Arctic Monkeys’ comeback single has landed—and it’s a love letter to lounge lizards.

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