The Download: frozen egg transportation, and Roblox’s expressive avatars

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.

I took an international trip with my frozen eggs to learn about the fertility industry

Like me, my eggs were flying economy class, writes Anna Louie Sussman. My dog Stewie and I were in seat 8D, while 12 of my cryopreserved oocytes, four straws of three eggs each, had a window seat further back. They were ensconced in a cryogenic storage flask packed into a metal suitcase next to Paolo, the courier overseeing their passage from a fertility clinic in Bologna, Italy, to the clinic in Madrid, Spain, where I would be undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) in several weeks’ time.

The shipping of gametes and embryos around the world is a growing part of a booming global fertility sector. As people have children later in life, the need for fertility treatment increases each year. The ability to move eggs, sperm, and embryos across borders allows tens of thousands of patients to access this medical care if it’s unavailable in their own country because of legal restrictions or prohibitive pricing.

In my case, I had frozen eggs in Bologna in 2016, and again in Madrid two years later, because it would have taken me several more years to save up for a cycle in New York.

After paying for storage costs for six and four years, respectively, at 40 I was ready to try to get pregnant. Transporting the Bolognese batch served to literally put all my eggs in one basket. Read the full story.

Read more: 

  • How Silicon Valley hatched a plan to turn blood into human eggs. A well-connected startup company is trying to rewrite the rules of reproduction. Read the full story.
  • Trans men’s eggs have been matured in the lab—and could help them have children. A new technique means eggs can be grown from the ovaries of transgender men, even after years of testosterone therapy. Read the full story.
  • Inside the race to make human sex cells in the lab. Scientists might soon be able to create eggs and sperm from skin and blood cells. What will that mean? Read the full story.

Roblox’s avatars are about to get more expressive

The news: Roblox users will soon be able to give their avatars facial expressions that mimic the player’s own, the platform announced at its annual Roblox Developer Conference last week. The update would mean users could smile, wink, or scrunch their forehead, and their avatar would mimic them in real time. Eyes could scan, heads could shake, and eyebrows and ears could wiggle with the same results.

Why it matters: The online game platform allows visitors to either play games or create them, attracting 52.2 million users each day. The rich, varied virtual worlds created on the site have been considered a precursor to what we might see and experience in the metaverse, with opportunities for connection with other people and personalized avatars that players can use across games.

What’s next: Soon, Roblox says, users will be able to speak directly with other avatars as in other multiplayer video games. In short, the changes might blend our real-world human experience with that of the metaverse and make avatars more like ourselves—for better or worse. Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu

The must-reads

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

1 Experts are worried about a trust problem with the US covid boosters 
Health experts are concerned the lack of human trials could fuel vaccine hesitancy. (FT $)
+ Here’s how the bivalent vaccines work. (Wired $)
+ Booster uptake in the US is still pretty low. (WP $)

2 The White House wants to strengthen its AI chip export ban to China
A new wave of companies will be banned from shipping chips without a license. (Reuters)
+ Inside the software that will become the next battle front in the US-China chip war. (MIT Technology Review)

3 How 9/11 normalized a culture of surveillance
Now, we’re in danger of losing shared spaces altogether. (Wired $)
+ Marseille’s battle against the surveillance state. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Why dust is such a major health threat in California
The state’s recent efforts to save water could make it worse. (The Atlantic $)
+ Summer is becoming more and more dangerous. (New Yorker $)

5 The Merge isn’t crypto’s silver bullet
But it could help pave the way to a cleaner, more efficient future. (FT $)
+ Crypto scams are still ten a penny, though. (Bloomberg $)
+ The industry’s youthful idealism is faltering in the face of regulation. (The Atlantic $)
+ Why Ethereum is switching to proof of stake and how it will work. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Robots can help stop older people from falling
Falls in the home can prove deadly for seniors living alone. Robots are one way to help. (WP $)
+ Robots will play a crucial role in the workforce of the future. (FT $) 

7 Inside the rise and fall of Launch House
The founders community in Beverly Hills both failed to protect its female members, and to hold those that assaulted them to account. (Vox)

8 Why ByteDance bought a bunch of birthing centers
The acquisition is the latest in a long line of healthcare businesses it’s bought. (The Information $)

9 Memorizing Google Maps is easier than you think
Whether you want to, though, is another matter entirely. (Motherboard)

10 Meet TikTok’s charming grandparents
They’re sharing their words of wisdom to tens of millions of followers. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“It’s a case of put up or shut up at this point.”

—Mike Wagner, CEO of self-driving research firm Edge Case Research, tells Reuters that truly autonomous vehicle makers have to rapidly prove that their systems work, or face failure.

The big story

Inside the fight to reclaim AI from Big Tech’s control

June 2021

Over the last decade AI has allowed some of the world’s richest and most powerful companies to monitor users’ behavior; recommend news, information, and products to them; and most of all, target them with ads.

The problem is that the corporate agenda for AI has largely ignored research that could help address challenges like economic inequality and climate change. In fact, it has made these challenges worse.

Now, a growing movement of scholars want to turn the tables. Over the last five years, they’ve sought to shift the field’s priorities away from simply enriching tech companies, by expanding who gets to participate in developing the technology. And their goal is not only to mitigate the harms caused by existing systems but to create a new, more equitable and democratic AI. Read the full story.

—Karen Hao

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.)

+ Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars don’t look like they’ve aged a day.
+ How Lord of the Rings’ AI changed how battles appear on the silver screen.
+ This collection of pictures of newsstands and their owners is remarkable (thanks Charlotte!)
+ A quick run down of who will—and who should—win the Emmys.
+ We could all do with a little more kindness in our lives—here’s how to spread it. ($)

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