The Download: revolutionary prosthetics, and new pandemic concerns

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.

These prosthetics break the mold with third thumbs, spikes, and superhero skins

Traditionally, prosthetics designers have looked to the human body for inspiration. Prosthetics were seen as replacements for missing body parts; hyper-realistic bionic legs and arms were the holy grail. 

But we’re now witnessing a movement in alternative prosthetics, a form of assistive tech that bucks convention by making no attempt to blend in. Instead of making devices that mimic the appearance of a “normal” arm or leg, a new wave of designers are creating fantastical prosthetics that might wriggle like a tentacle, light up, or even shoot glitter. Read the full story.

—Joanna Thompson

Joanna’s story is from the latest print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is all about design. Sign up for a subscription to read the full thing when it comes out later this month.

We don’t need to panic about a bird flu pandemic—yet

How worried should we be about bird flu? Some have warned that avian flu will be the next deadly pandemic. Others have said the risk is no different from what it was a few years ago.

There’s no denying that outbreaks of the virus have had a huge impact on birds in recent months, and that the current outbreak is significantly worse than what we’ve seen in the past. But although we’ve seen a small number of cases in people, there’s no evidence to suggest it poses a bigger threat to humans now than in the past. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

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

Americans are ready to test embryos for future college chances

Imagine that you were provided no-cost fertility treatment and also offered a free DNA test to gauge which of those little IVF embryos floating in a dish stood the best chance of getting into a top college someday.

If you said a hypothetical yes to the test, you’re among about 40% percent of Americans who said they’d be more likely than not to test and pick IVF embryos for intellectual aptitude. Ethicists and gene scientists think it’s a bad idea. Although these tests do not exist yet, they’re sounding the alarm early. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

The must-reads

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

1 We’re witnessing the age of AI one-upmanship
But every single company faces the same problem: large language models can’t tell fact from fiction. (The Atlantic $)
+ ChatGPT is the equivalent of a compressed internet file. (New Yorker $)+ Even the Pentagon is using ChatGPT to write press releases. (Motherboard)
+ Generative AI sees the world as a very white place. (Slate $)
+ Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)

2 The ‘spy balloon’ debate is still raging
The US has accused China of spying; China says the claims are exaggerated. (Bloomberg $)
+ The companies that helped to make the balloon may face sanctions. (Quartz)
+ The balloon dispute is symbolic of worsening relations between the nations. (NYT $)
+ Such research balloons were originally designed to soar to the edge of space. (WSJ $)

3 Donald Trump is allowed to post on Facebook again
That said, he’s staying silent, for now. (CNBC)

4 China has pulled out of an international cable project
Because companies from other countries backed the US to build the line instead. (FT $)

5 Crowd-control tech is becoming more brutal
So-called “less lethal” weapons are still dangerous—and under-regulated to boot. (Wired $)

6 The health benefits of EVs are irrefutable
However, it’s wealthier areas that stand to benefit the most. (Vox) + But the auto industry in general isn’t doing enough to save the climate. (The Verge)
+ Cars are still cars—even when they’re electric. (MIT Technology Review)

7 There’s yet more bad news for NFT artists
The first NFT intellectual property lawsuit found that MetaBirkin NFTs had fallen foul of the law. (Bloomberg $)
+ Some artists found a lifeline selling NFTs. Others worry it’s a trap. (MIT Technology Review)

8 The never-ending quest to unlock the universe’s secrets
Interrogating interstellar objects could help. (New Scientist $)
+ Blue Origin has finally secured an interplanetary NASA contract. (Engadget)

9 How to catch a ‘sushi terrorist’ 🍣
Japanese sushi chains are rolling out AI-equipped cameras to catch troublesome customers. (Nikkei Asia $)

10 LinkedIn has never been hotter
Job hunters love it, but the posts are still cringe-inducing. (Vox)

Quote of the day

“You’re fired, you’re fired.” 

—Elon Musk’s response to a Twitter engineer who dared to suggest that Musk’s falling engagement on the platform was down to his falling popularity, not a bug, Platformer reports. 

The big story

The fight for “Instagram face”

August 2022

Through beauty filters, platforms like Instagram are helping users achieve increasingly narrowing beauty standards—though only in the digital world—at a stunningly rapid pace. There is evidence that excessive use of these filters online has harmful effects on mental health, especially for young girls.

“Instagram face” is a recognized aesthetic template: ethnically ambiguous and featuring the flawless skin, big eyes, full lips, small nose, and perfectly contoured curves made accessible in large part by filters. And while Instagram has banned filters that encourage plastic surgery, massive demand for beauty augmentation on social media is complicating matters. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

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’m very much here for Ru Paul’s life lessons.
+ This furious, farting wombat is an icon.
+ Why being a one-hit wonder isn’t all bad.
+ The winner’s of this year’s Ocean Art Contest are just beautiful.
+ Some of the world’s rarest records are tucked away in this Hong Kong shop.

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