The Download: memory prosthesis, and rising nuclear plant risks

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.

A memory prosthesis could restore memory in people with damaged brains

The news: A unique form of brain stimulation appears to boost people’s ability to remember new information—by mimicking the way our brains create memories. The “memory prosthesis,” which involves inserting an electrode deep into the brain, also seems to work in people with memory disorders—and is even more effective in people who had poor memory to begin with, according to new research.

How it works: The memory prosthesis works by copying what happens in the hippocampus—a seahorse-shaped region deep in the brain that plays a crucial role in memory. The brain structure not only helps us form short-term memories but also appears to direct memories to other regions for long-term storage.

Why it matters: In the future, more advanced versions of the memory prosthesis could help people with memory loss due to brain injuries or as a result of aging or degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, say the researchers behind the work. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

The must-reads

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

1 Europe’s largest nuclear power plant has been knocked off the grid
The Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia plant’s critical cooling systems could be forced to run on emergency backup power. (NYT $)
+ The Kremlin won’t restore gas to Europe until sanctions are lifted. (The Guardian)
+ What is the risk of a nuclear accident in Ukraine? (MIT Technology Review)

2 Hail is getting bigger and bigger
But while climate change is likely to play a role, it’s not the sole explanation for why. (NYT $)
+ Extreme heatwaves and floods are just the beginning. (Economist $)

3 Crypto traders are making big bets again
The Ethereum blockchain upgrade is a probable factor. (Bloomberg $)
+ Enthusiasts are hoping “The Merge” will clean up crypto’s reputation. (TechCrunch)
+ Why Ethereum is switching to proof of stake and how it will work. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Meet Paolo Benanti, the Pope’s AI advisor  
He’s extremely concerned about AI exacerbating inequality by taking middle class jobs. (New Scientist $)

5 Travis Kalanick has opened dozen of dark kitchens in Latin America
The disgraced former Uber CEO has been trying to fly under the radar with his new CloudKitchens startup. (FT $)
+ A former Uber security chief is heading to trial this week. (NYT $)

6 Mothers in the US are caught in a mental health crisis
Most tragically of all, many of their conditions are treatable. (Slate $)
+ Why the anti-abortion movement is pushing abortion pill reversal treatments. (Wired $)

7 Russian Wikipedia editors are being doxxed and arrested
In an attempt to stifle the truth about the country’s role in the war in Ukraine. (Rest of World)

8 How human tastemakers made YouTube into a pop culture giant 
Before the algorithm took over. (The Atlantic $)
+ Thousands of people came to the opening of YouTuber MrBeast’s burger restaurant. (BBC)
+ YouTube’s algorithm seems to be funneling people to alt-right videos. (MIT Technology Review)

9 What computer dating was like in the 1960s ❤
I’m not crying, you’re crying. (NY Mag $)
+ How the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Whale brains are seriously impressive 🐋
Some of their components were previously thought to only exist in humans. (Hakai Magazine)

Quote of the day

“You don’t want to break your toy.”

—Serge Claudet, chair of CERN’s energy management panel, explains the decision to voluntarily shut down the Large Hadron Collider amid Europe’s ongoing energy crisis to the Wall Street Journal.

The big story

Where computing might go next

October 2021

If the future of computing is anything like its past, then its trajectory will depend on things that have little to do with computing itself. 

Technology does not appear from nowhere. It is rooted in time, place, and opportunity. No lab is an island; machines’ capabilities and constraints are determined not only by the laws of physics and chemistry but by who supports those technologies, who builds them, and where they grow. 

The future of computing feels more tenuous, harder to map in a sea of information and disruption. That is not to say that predictions are futile, or that those who build and use technology have no control over where computing goes next. But there are limits to the power of technology to overcome earthbound realities of politics, markets, and culture. To understand computing’s future, we must look beyond the machine. Read the full story.

—Margaret O’Mara

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 good magazine cover is art. Here’s some of the best
+ Professional sand sculptors have the patience of saints. 
+ Daft Punk are the kings of samples (thanks Charlotte!)
+ Modern men just love wearing skirts.
+ Great news for Brits—drinking at least two cups of tea a day could be the secret to living longer.

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