The Download: risks to Reddit, and the potential return of the dodo

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.

How the Supreme Court ruling on Section 230 could end Reddit as we know it

When the Supreme Court hears a landmark case on Section 230 later in February, all eyes will be on the biggest players in tech—Meta, Google, Twitter, YouTube.

The case might have a range of outcomes. One of the potential consequences is that these companies may be forced to transform their approach to community content moderation.

Many sites rely on users for community moderation to edit, shape, remove, and promote other users’ content online—think Reddit’s upvote, or changes to a Wikipedia page. If those users were forced to take on legal risk every time they made a content decision, experts warn that it could have a catastrophic effect on online speech communities. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

A de-extinction company is trying to resurrect the dodo

The news: The dodo bird was big, flightless, and pretty tasty, too—all of which help to explain why it went extinct around 1662. Now a US biotechnology company says it plans to bring the dodo back into existence.

Why a dodo? It’s the third species picked by Colossal Biosciences, of Austin, Texas, for what it calls a process of technological “de-extinction.” The company is also working on using large-scale genome engineering to morph modern elephants back into wooly mammoths and resurrect the Tasmanian tiger. 

How are they doing it? The company recovered detailed DNA information from 500-year-old dodo remains held at a museum in Denmark. It plans to try to modify the bird’s closest living relative, the Nicobar pigeon, turning it step by step into a dodo and possibly “re-wilding” the animal in its native habitat. The problem is that while it is easy to gene-edit bird cells in the lab, it’s hard to turn carefully edited cells back into a bird. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

Who gets to be a tech entrepreneur in China?

We live in an age where the concept of being an entrepreneur is increasingly broad. It’s often hard to slot occupations—hosting a podcast, driving for Uber, even having an OnlyFans account—into the traditional definitions of employment vs. entrepreneurship.

Of course, this is not a strictly Western phenomenon; it’s happening all over the world. And in China, it’s also transforming how people work—but with the country’s own twists. 

Our China reporter Zeyi Yang has spoken with author Lin Zhang about her new book that explores the rise and social impact of Chinese people who have succeeded (at least temporarily) as entrepreneurs. Read the full story.

This story is from China Report, Zeyi’s weekly newsletter covering all the latest news from 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 OpenAI has released a tool that detects AI-generated text
Unfortunately, it’s not very good. (WSJ $)
+ The tool returns a lot of both false positives and false negatives. (Axios)
+ It identified only 26% of AI-written text correctly. (Bloomberg $)
+ What the human brain can teach us about AI. (The Atlantic $)
+ Google is apparently testing its own ChatGPT rivals. (CNBC)
+ A watermark for chatbots can expose text written by an AI. (MIT Technology Review)

2 The US defense industry is struggling to arm Ukraine
Its supply chains are straining under the sheer demand for weapons. (FT $)
+ How Russia is sneakily bypassing oil sanctions. (Economist $)

3 Elon Musk’s Twitter feed is an echo chamber
Despite his insistence that the broader platform should be more open and diverse. (NYT $)
+ Twitter isn’t happy at the cost of private jets. (Bloomberg $)
+ We’re witnessing the brain death of Twitter. (MIT Technology Review)

4 A streamer was caught watching deepfake porn of his colleagues  
The non-consensual videos demonstrate the dangers of the technology. (Motherboard)
+ A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Covid appears to be scrambling our immune systems
Even mild infections seem to disrupt our ability to fight off diseases. (Slate $)
+ How to work out how healthy your immune system is. (New Scientist $)

6 Tracking truckers hasn’t made long-haul driving safer
It has, however, ushered in a new era of surveillance. (New Yorker $)

7 What’s next for laid-off tech workers?
Their skills are highly prized—especially by businesses outside tech. (Vox)
+ Anonymous app Blind is the hottest place to search for work. (CNN)
+ The US is weaning itself off being a nation of workaholics. (The Atlantic $)

8 Assembling iPhones in Foxconn’s factory is a thankless task
It pays well, but the grueling working conditions challenge employees daily. (Rest of World)

9 Airport protocols are getting faster 🛫
E-gates and biometric passports are making it easier to speed through. (WP $)

10 It’s easier than ever to report a UFO sighting 🛸
Simply fire up Enigma Labs’ app. (Wired $)

Quote of the day

“As I kept looking, it was hard not to laugh out loud at the absurdity of those hands and teeth.”

—Programmer Miles Zimmerman recalls a nightmarish experiment with generative AI model Mindjourney, which created images of people with too many fingers and teeth, he tells BuzzFeed.

The big story

This $1.5 billion startup promised to deliver clean fuels as cheap as gas. Experts are deeply skeptical.

April 2022

Last summer, Rob McGinnis, the founder and chief executive of startup Prometheus Fuels, gathered investors and staged a theatrical demonstration of his technology. Prometheus promises to transform the global fuel sector by drawing greenhouse gas out of the air and converting it into carbon-neutral fuels that are as cheap as dirty, conventional ones.

But while investors have thrown money at the company, pushing it up to a valuation of more than $1.5 billion, there is little evidence it can actually live up to its lofty claims. Read the full story.

—James Temple

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.)

+ It’s fair to say that I didn’t see the twist in any of these agony aunt letters coming (thanks Jess!)
+ Some choices are too tough to contemplate, and this is one of them.
+ What can board games teach us? More than you might think, actually. 
+ Keep an eye out for the green comet passing close to Earth tonight—if you miss it, you’ll have to wait another 50,000 years.
+ A coffee date with these three angels is my idea of the perfect day.

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