The Download: monkeypox detection in wastewater, and China’s tycoon control

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.

Wastewater could help us more accurately detect monkeypox

The news: Last month, Stanford’s Sewer Coronavirus Alert Network, or SCAN, added monkeypox to the suite of viruses it checks wastewater for daily. Since then, the virus has been detected in 10 of the 11 sewer systems that SCAN tests, including those in Sacramento, Palo Alto, and several other cities in California’s Bay Area.

Why it matters: The World Health Organization declared the spread of monkeypox a global health emergency over the weekend, following weeks of indecision over whether the situation was severe enough to be considered an international threat. While the US has recorded 2,891 confirmed cases of the virus as of 22 July, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SCAN’s wastewater analysis methods could reveal higher case numbers, much more swiftly.

How it works: SCAN’s researchers are using the data to estimate the actual number of people with monkeypox in the communities they monitor by modeling how wastewater data and monkeypox cases from the past month correlate. This estimate, which can be updated daily, would be a much faster way to track community spread than waiting for symptomatic patients to go to a doctor and get tested, and help to catch infections much earlier. Read the full story.

Read next: Homophobic misinformation is making it harder to contain the spread of monkeypox. Read the full story.

—Hana Kiros

The must-reads

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

1 China has its native tech tycoons in a chokehold
Companies that promised to disrupt the status quo have ended up katowing to power. (The Guardian)
+ It’s working on a system to help Chinese firms comply with US rules. (FT $)
+ How China’s biggest online influencers fell from their thrones. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Joe Biden’s semiconductor bill is making unlikely political allies
Bernie Sanders and Republicans claim the legislation would simply line the pockets of the already-wealthy. (ABC)
+ Meanwhile,China is forging ahead making its own chips. (WSJ $)

3 South Carolina has outlawed websites explaining how to get an abortion
The chilling legislation could set a precedent for conservative states. (WP $)
+ Abortion surveillance could trigger a refugee crisis across the US. (Fast Company $)
+ Big Tech remains silent on questions about data privacy in a post-Roe US. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Parisian internet cables were sabotaged in a mysterious attack
Three months on, we still don’t know why. (Wired $)

5 Europe isn’t built to withstand extreme heat
But what used to be considered freak weather events are becoming scarily common. (Slate)
+ Do these heat waves mean climate change is happening faster than expected? (MIT Technology Review)

6 Google is selling advanced surveillance AI to Israel
Which would give its government even greater power over its people. (The Intercept)
Why business is booming for military AI startups. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Erotica has been outsourced to the gig economy
But while it helps budding writers to find an audience, readers fear their favorite steamy authors are being exploited. (Rest of World)

8 We shouldn’t forget about Hubble 🔭
The James Webb Space Telescope may have been making headlines recently, but Hubble still has an important role to play. (CNET)
+ Why Hubble is unlike any other satellite in history. (MIT Technology Review)
+ The Wentian module is on its way to the Tiangong space station. (The Verge)
+ NASA-branded clothing is everywhere, because we all want to be astronauts. (CNN

9 Influencers don’t want followers any more—they want communities
Creating groups of like-minded members breaks down the boundaries between creator and fan. (WP $)
+ Instagram’s meme creators are fed up with being deplatformed. (Buzzfeed)
+ It’s also getting even harder to make a living on TikTok these days. (The Information $)

10 Don’t mess with this chess-playing robot ♟
Or you may come away with a broken finger. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“You’ve always had people who sell snake oil. But they had to go door to door, and now with social media they can sit at home and be amplified to every corner of the world.”

—Jason Goldman, a former Twitter executive, criticizes crypto influencers’ ability to hype bogus currencies and scams to millions of social media users unchecked, reports the Washington Post.

The big story

Video game addiction is now being recognized—what happens next?

November 2019

In May 2019 the World Health Organization added gaming disorder to its International Classification of Diseases, a diagnostic guide for clinicians. The hope is that by giving a label to a set of problematic behaviors, medical professionals—from doctors to insurance providers—can more readily identify and treat them.

But what is it about games that some people find addictive? Or is what looks like gaming addiction simply a symptom of other underlying problems, such as depression? Scientists are trying to make sense of the psychological effects of video games, but despite the large number of players seeking help with a hobby that has them hooked—and in extreme cases is ruining their lives—there is little agreement about what video game addiction is, or even if it is a genuine addiction. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

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.)

+ Halifax’s oyster mascot is the stuff of nightmares.
+ This video makes my head spin.
+ Some geneticists have encoded South Korean pop sensations BTS’ lyrics within DNA cells.
+ The fascinating story of how artist nun Corita Kent turned pop art on its head.
+ I’ve had enough of your tedious sunset photos, and so has this scathing Twitter account.

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