The Download: preserving digital lives, and more sensitive prostheses

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.

Your digital life isn’t as permanent as you think it is

Earlier this week, Google announced its intention to start deleting personal accounts that haven’t been active in over two years in December. Photos, emails, and docs attached to inactive accounts will all be eradicated.

The announcement follows a similar one from Twitter last week, pledging to purge accounts that have been inactive for several years. It caused an uproar among people who don’t want their deceased loved ones’ accounts to be deleted. 

With developments like cloud storage, we’ve developed an expectation, or fantasy, that data is infinite and that our digital spaces will last forever. Such policy changes are a reminder of how fragile our digital lives are and just how little control we have over their preservation. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

A soft e-skin mimics the way human skin can sense things

The news: A soft electronic skin could allow people with prosthetics to sense pressure and temperature, helping them to more easily interact with their surroundings. It contains sensors to measure external temperature and pressure, which it converts into electrical signals to help the brain tell the difference between sensations like a softer touch and a firm handshake, or a strawberry and an apple. 

Why it matters: Lack of sensory feedback is one of the main reasons people stop wearing a prosthesis, as it can leave users feeling frustrated. Flexible e-skins could lead to better prosthetics, and could also pave the way for robots that can feel human-like sensations. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

I just met the founders of a would-be longevity state

What if I told you there’s a group of people who think death is morally bad—that we have a moral duty to find ways to slow or reverse aging? Who seek to create a new state with its own laws that expedite the development of longevity drugs, partly by encouraging biohacking and self-experimentation?

A community of such individuals have been living together in a resort in Montenegro for the past seven weeks. They’ve been sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, running hackathons, and having plenty of parties. They call their gathering Zuzalu. Jessica Hamzelou, our senior biotech reporter, went to check out the community for herself last week. Read about her experience and the colorful characters she met.

This story is from The Checkup, Jessica’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

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 won’t dismantle Section 230 after all 
Social media firms and other internet companies will be breathing a sigh of relief. (WP $)
+ The court ruled that social media sites weren’t liable for hosting terrorist content. (WSJ $)
+ It also declined to blame algorithms for pushing recommended content. (FT $)

2 Your iPhone can now run ChatGPT 
It still requires an internet connection, though. (Ars Technica)
+ The fallout from Meta’s chatbot leak is still reverberating. (WSJ $)
+ Apple doesn’t want its workers spilling secrets to the chatbot. (The Verge)
+ The inside story of how ChatGPT was built. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Robotic surgery is already saving lives
Doctors separated by oceans are able to guide each other through tricky operations. (Wired $)

4 Extremism is rife in gaming chat rooms
While communities can be small, they’re incredibly influential. (NYT $)
+ Pro gaming streamers receive constant abuse, too. (The Guardian)

5 Apple’s repair partners are losing out
The smaller businesses claim Apple is reluctant to cooperate with them. (The Guardian)

6 Advertisers are cautiously considering working with Twitter again
It’s no longer considered “high risk” by a major advertising group. (FT $)

7 Crypto fraud is still fraud
It’s the same old tricks, dressed up in a shiny tech interface. (Vox)
+ Disgraced crypto fugitive Do Kwon is facing trial in Montenegro. (NY Mag $)
+ It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. (MIT Technology Review)

8 US soldiers are turning to Reddit for help at work
When official channels can’t resolve their issues, they head to the internet. (Slate $)

9 We’re firmly in our exothing era 🪐
We’re learning more and more about the stuff in space that’s not a planet. (The Atlantic $)
+ Earth is probably safe from a killer asteroid for 1,000 years. (MIT Technology Review)

10 How to reduce your pet’s carbon pawprint 🐶
Feeding them insects is certainly one solution—if they’ll oblige. (Fast Company $)

Quote of the day

“Everyone knows we are lagging behind.”

—Taro Kono, Japan’s digital minister, speaks frankly about his struggle to digitize Japan’s paper-based bureaucracy to the Financial Times.

The big story

The big new idea for making self-driving cars that can go anywhere

May 2022

When Alex Kendall sat in a car on a small road in the British countryside and took his hands off the wheel back in 2016, it was a small step in a new direction—one that a new bunch of startups bet might be the breakthrough that makes driverless cars an everyday reality.

This was the first time that reinforcement learning—an AI technique that trains a neural network to perform a task via trial and error—had been used to teach a car to drive from scratch on a real road. It took less than 20 minutes for the car to learn to stay on the road by itself, Kendall claims.

These startups are betting that smarter, cheaper tech will let them overtake current market leaders. But is this yet more hype from an industry that’s been drinking its own Kool-Aid for years? 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.)

+ I enjoyed this sweet homage to the writer’s poker playing mom.
+ Let’s celebrate the incredible skills of Andy Rourke, bassist with The Smiths, who’s sadly died.
+ Tag yourself in this endlessly entertaining list of wild early Quaker names—I’m Temperance Poor.
+ What solitude can really teach us.
+ This is a very fun look over the weird and wonderful metaphors we’ve used for the internet (thankfully there’s no mention of ‘interwebs.’)

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