The Download: introducing The Design Issue

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.

Introducing: The Design issue

—Allison Arieff, editorial director of print

Good design has a habit of making things simple—sometimes too simple. You may look at the first iPod, for example, and marvel at its minimalist elegance without having to consider who designed it, where it was made and by whom, or even how long it would work.

Now, the design profession has been awakened to questions it hadn’t been asking before: Who is this for? Who is benefiting from it (and who or what might be harmed by it)? Who is being excluded? Have we explored the unintended consequences? Are we solving the right problem?

These are just some of the questions we were thinking about when we were (yes) designing this latest print issue of MIT Technology Review, which features what you will see are not typical “design” stories. What they reveal is the astonishing breadth of what falls under the umbrella of design today. 

Here’s just a few of the stories you can delve into:

+ Take a trip to the oldest corner of the metaverse—Ultima Online.

+ How Rust rapidly rose from obscurity to become the world’s most beloved programming language.

+ AI is being put to work dreaming up never-before-seen drugs. But do they work?

+ How K-pop fans’ online campaigning skills are changing the face of civil resistance and social change advocacy.

+ Prosthetics designers are shunning traditional hyperreal aesthetics to create fantastical alternatives that might wriggle like a tentacle, light up, or even shoot glitter.

Read the full magazine, and if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to MIT Technology Review for as little as $80 a year.

EV batteries are the next point of tension between China and the US

Over the past few decades, China has established itself as a world leader in the electric vehicle industry. Its control of refined materials for battery cells and advanced battery-making technologies is so all-encompassing that Western automakers who want to transition out of gas cars won’t be able to do it without turning to Chinese-made batteries. 

As a result, battery technology is becoming increasingly politicized in both the United States and China. Ford’s recent announcement it was building a battery plant in Michigan with Chinese battery giant CATL wasn’t without controversy, and the deal could still be derailed—proving that China’s advantage in battery tech will only become more relevant in our daily lives going forward. Read the full story.

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things 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 The US Supreme Court is debating the internet’s future
The justices appear cautious about making any dramatic, knee-jerk decisions. (WP $)
+ Section 230 is the internet’s most essential legal provision. (Vox)
+ The Supreme Court may overhaul how you live online. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Startups’ favorite bank is under the microscope 
Silicon Valley Bank is being scrutinized over loss-making investments. (FT $) 

3 Elon Musk keeps firing Twitter staff
Despite telling them that he was finished making job cuts. (The Verge)
+ He’s planning on open sourcing its algorithm from next week, too. (Insider $)

4 A trader who drained a crypto exchange has appeared in court
He says he legally withdrew more than $100 million, but prosecutors disagree. (WSJ $)
+ Hong Kong is poised to become the next major crypto hub. (Bloomberg $)

5 ChatGPT is a published author 
The chatbot is already listed as an author of more than 200 ebooks, but the true number of titles could be even higher. (Reuters)
+ Microsoft has already backpedaled on some of its Bing restrictions. (WP $)
+ A much-loved sci-fi magazine has been swamped with AI-written submissions. (Motherboard)
+ How to spot AI-generated text. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Social media isn’t free anymore 
Your data is no longer enough—Meta and Twitter are asking users to cough up cash too. (Vox)
+ Netflix is getting tougher too. (The Atlantic $)

7 Social media sleuths are thwarting police investigations 
The online rumor mill and appetite for true crime means it’s getting worse—and more intrusive. (Economist $)
+ TikTok’s been recommending macabre videos linked to the discovery of a missing woman’s body in the UK. (Motherboard)

8 China loves its tiny EVs
And now Indonesia does too. (Rest of World)
+ How did China come to dominate the world of electric cars? (MIT Technology Review)

9 Meet the IMDb superusers
The movie database is constantly updated by a network of passionate contributors. (Wired $)

10 Why chatbots are locking us in a cycle of clichés
Trained on nonsense, spewing out nonsense. (The Atlantic $)

Quote of the day

“You know, these are not like the nine greatest experts on the internet.”

—Justice Elena Kagan jokes about the ability of the US Supreme Court’s justices to make a decision in a case with major repercussions for the very structure of the internet, reports the New York Times.

The big story

How technology can let us see and manipulate memories

August 2021

There are 86 billion neurons in the human brain, each with thousands of connections, giving rise to hundreds of trillions of synapses. Synapses—the connection points between neurons—store memories.

In many ways, neuroscience has revealed the nature of memories, but it has also upended the very notion of what memories are. So, how much have we learned so far, and what mysteries remain? Read the full story.

—Joshua Sariñana

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.)

+ Forget Silicon Valley—Helsinki packs some serious tech clout.
+ Let’s all move to an earthship (thanks Allison!)
+ How innovative New Yorkers are getting around rules requiring them to carry their dog in a bag on the subway. 
+ Remember HQ Trivia? Now TikTok is hoping to fill the quiz-shaped void it left behind.
+ Justice for bananas!

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