The Download: fusion breakthrough and decoding depression

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 fusion’s breakthrough means for clean energy

The news: After decades of trying, scientists have reached a milestone in fusion research, finally running a reaction that created more energy than was put in to start it. US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced on Tuesday that researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had achieved what’s known as net energy gain, a symbolic victory for nuclear fusion research.

How they did it: In fusion reactions, whether in a reactor or the core of a star, atoms are slammed into each other until they fuse, releasing energy. The goal of fusion energy is to get more energy out of the reaction than what’s put in to energize it. The fusion reaction at NIF achieved it, generating 3.15 megajoules of energy, more than the 2.05 megajoules provided by lasers used in the reactor.

What’s next: The advance demonstrates the basic viability of fusion energy, a goal researchers have been chasing since the 1950s. But the scientific experiment is not an immediately practical route to fusion power. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

Neuroscientists have created a mood decoder that can measure depression

What’s new: Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas say they’ve developed a “mood decoder”—a way of being able to work out how someone is feeling just by looking at brain activity. They also say they can stimulate a positive mood using electrodes implanted in the brains of volunteers with depression. 

Why it matters: Depression is a complicated illness—partly because we still don’t fully understand what’s going on in the brain when it occurs. Neuroscientists hope that by getting a better idea of what’s happening inside the brains of people with depression symptoms, they can make the treatment more effective.

What’s next: The scientists involved in the trial hope the decoder will help them to measure how severe a person’s depression is, and target more precisely where the electrodes are placed to optimize the effect on the patient’s mood. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

How to live-tweet the Cultural Revolution, 50 years later

Twitter, at its best, gives strangers the chance to connect because they’re both interested in the same random thing. Jacob Saxton, a 30-year-old logistics analyst living in Southampton, UK, is the brains behind a particularly niche account: Cultural Revolution OTD 1972 (@GPCR50). The account pretends to live-tweet what happened during the devastating political movement from 1966 to 1976 in China—except, of course, it’s 50 years late. 

Saxton’s tweets offer up a mixture of news events, peculiar anecdotes, historical pretext for modern issues, or snippets of profound violence and tragedy. And this combination of historical records being shared through a retroactive “live-tweeting” lens is particularly interesting because it’s being done by someone with no background in Chinese history. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, Zeyi’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things happening in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 How Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire crumbled
It’s becoming abundantly clear that FTX’s collapse was down to deception rather than bad luck. (Vox)
+ US lawmakers are shaken —and want answers. (WP $)
+ A judge in the Bahamas has denied SBF bail. (Reuters)
+ Crypto exchange Binance is trying to reassure its investors. (Bloomberg $)
+ FTX’s Japanese arm has promised its customers they’ll be repaid within weeks. (Rest of World)

2 Twitter may stop paying severance to laid off workers 
It’d be the latest extreme cost-cutting measure. (NYT $)
+ Jack Dorsey says he’s the one to blame, but also defended the sale to Elon Musk. (Bloomberg $)
+ Musk is behaving suspiciously like Donald Trump these days. (WP $)

3 Covid is sweeping across China 
But there’s no way of knowing the actual scale of the problem. (Economist $)
+ Hospitals in Beijing have been inundated with cases. (Nikkei Asia)
+ The US has added 31 Chinese companies to its official trade blacklist. (Bloomberg $)

4 The US is facing a destructive winter storm
Tornadoes, thunderstorms and blizzards are damaging homes in the south of the country. (ABC News)
+ Stitching together the grid will save lives as extreme weather worsens. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Women’s pain is ignored by doctors
A growing number of studies confirm what women have been saying for a very long time. (WP $)
+ The long journey to bring IVF to Africa. (Slate $)

6 YouTubers are making millions by licensing their old videos
However, many are contractually obliged to keep uploading new ones. (WSJ $)
+ YouTube has introduced a new abusive comment checking tool. (TechCrunch

7 Indonesia has criminalized criticizing its president online 
People who fall foul of the new laws could face years in jail. (Rest of World)

8 DNA phenotyping risks both racial profiling and stigmatization
Despite its obvious pitfalls, it’s still being used across the world. (Undark Magazine)

9 We need new ways to store our endless cat photos
Magnetic tape is still surprisingly efficient—but even that will run out of space one day. (New Scientist $)

10 Fanfiction zines are being given a second life online
They were fandom pioneers, creating something outside of strictly-controlled franchises. (Motherboard)
+ What I learned from studying billions of words of online fan fiction. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“My fear is that we will view Sam Bankman-Fried as just one big snake in a crypto Garden of Eden. The fact is, crypto is a garden of snakes.”

—Representative Brad Sherman tells a US congressional hearing about his grave misgivings about the crypto sector, CoinTelegraph reports.

The big story

Inside the experimental world of animal infrastructure

June 2022

Around the world, cities are building a huge variety of structures intended to mitigate the impacts of urbanization and roadbuilding on wildlife. The list includes green roofs, tree-lined skyscrapers, living seawalls, artificial wetlands, and all manner of shelters and “hibernacula.”

But the data on how effective these approaches are remains patchy and unclear. That is true even for wildlife crossings, the best-studied and most heavily funded example of such animal infrastructure.

Though road ecologists know these crossings can play a vital role in reducing roadkill, the story of their impact on wildlife conservation is still being told. Read the full story.

—Matthew Ponsford

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 gigantic grilled cheese sandwich is always a good idea.
+ I wish Roman Baths were still around for us to take a relaxing dip in. 
+ This scrollable map of the known universe is guaranteed to get you thinking.
+ Lose yourself in the Museo Del Prado’s digital collection of masterpieces, which are all free to download in high-resolution. 
+ If you’re nostalgic for the glory days of ‘90s TV, this simulator is a fun blast from the past.

Main Menu