The Download: Starlink’s satellite signals, and joyless tech

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.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

For years, Todd Humphreys has been trying to persuade SpaceX to tweak its Starlink constellation to also offer ultra-precise position, navigation, and timing—creating a new system that could act as a backup to the US Army’s vulnerable GPS system.

Despite Elon Musk’s insistence that the company avoid distractions by assisting Humphreys’ proposal, Humphreys persisted.

Now, without Starlink’s help, Humphreys claims to have provided the most complete characterization of its signals to date. This information, he says, is the first step toward developing a new global navigation technology that would operate independently of GPS or its European, Russian, and Chinese equivalents. Read the full story.

—Mark Harris

We used to get excited about technology. What happened?

As a philosopher who studies AI and data, Shannon Vallor’s Twitter feed is always filled with the latest tech news. Increasingly, she’s realized that the constant stream of information, detailing everything from Mark Zuckerberg’s dead-eyed metaverse cartoon avatar, from Amazon’s Ring Nation surveillance reality show, is no longer inspiring joy, but a sense of resignation.

Joy is missing from our lives, and from our technology. Its absence is feeding a growing unease being voiced by many who work in tech or study it. Fixing it depends on understanding how and why the priorities in our tech ecosystem have changed, triggering a sea change in the entire model for innovation and the incentives that drive it. Read the full story.

This piece is from our forthcoming mortality-themed issue, available from 26 October. If you want to read it when it comes out, you can subscribe to MIT Technology Review for as little as $80 a year.

How reproductive technology is changing what it means to be a parent

Advances in reproductive technologies are forcing us to reconsider what it means to be a parent—even at a genetic level. While IVF allows would-be parents to use eggs and sperm donated by others, who may or may not have a role in the life of the resulting child, it’s not just IVF. Technologies that result in babies with three genetic parents are already in use. And others that enable four or more genetic parents could be available in the near future.

This kind of progress inevitably raises vital questions. What is it about a genetic contribution that may or may not make a person a parent? Is there an ideal number of parents a child can have? And, when we come down to it, do genetics even really matter at all? Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, our new weekly health and biotech newsletter. 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 Elon Musk is planning on cutting thousands of Twitter workers
Reducing the company’s workforce by around 75% would have a serious impact on its ability to curb harmful content. (WP $)
+ Twitter has told workers to ignore media speculation. (Bloomberg $)
+ The platform isn’t always a total viper’s nest. (FT $)

2 Billions in funding could kick-start the US battery materials industry
But while the cash injection is a welcome boost for the industry, there’s still a rocky road ahead. (MIT Technology Review)

3 How a major ransomware group flew under the radar
Schools and hospitals make up the bulk of their targets. (Wired $)

4 Inside the rise and rise of China’s tech ambitions
Its rapid progress spooked the US enough to slap it with restrictions. (Bloomberg $)

5 No one knows why federal law enforcement abducted protestors in 2020
And there’s still no record of their arrests. (The Verge)

6 Nuclear fusion is ready for an image overhaul
There’s been a whole lot of hype, but progress has been slow. (New Scientist $)
+ Maybe controlled chaos is the way forward. (Inverse)

7 The fitness industry urgently needs a shakeup
It rarely delivers on its promises of healthy living. (Neo.Life)
+ How do strong muscles keep your brain healthy? (MIT Technology Review)

8 TikTok is captivated by fast-food workers
The clips give them a glimpse behind the scenes. (New Yorker $)
+ Real-estate agents are getting involved, too. (WSJ $)

9 We may never catch the worst chess cheats ♟
Maybe we need to make our peace with it. (The Atlantic $)
+ Hans Niemann is suing Magnus Carlsen in the ongoing cheating row. (Motherboard)
+ I Was There When: AI mastered chess. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Instagram’s new anti-bullying measures might actually work 
Nudges reminding users to be kind seem to have the desired effect. (Vox)

Quote of the day

“Like any physicist, I’m wholeheartedly against promoting quantum mysticism, or anything with totally unfounded claims.”

—Alice O’Keefe, a Ph.D. student at the University of Wollongong in Australia, criticizes popular TikToks making false claims about the recent Novel Prize announcements, she tells Slate.

The big story

How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation

March 2021

When the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in March 2018, it would kick off Facebook’s largest publicity crisis to date. It compounded fears that the algorithms that determine what people see were amplifying fake news and hate speech, and prompted the company to start a team with a directive that was a little vague: to examine the societal impact of the company’s algorithms.

Joaquin Quiñonero Candela was a natural pick to head it up. In his six years at Facebook, he’d created some of the first algorithms for targeting users with content precisely tailored to their interests, and then he’d diffused those algorithms across the company. Now his mandate would be to make them less harmful. However, his hands were tied, and the drive to make money came first. Read the full story.

—Karen Hao

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.)

+ As if running a marathon wasn’t challenging enough, this guy did it balancing a pineapple on his head.
+ If you’re in the mood for controversy, this list of the 100 greatest BBC music performances should fit the bill.
+ How does it manage to sound even better than the original?
+ 1967 sounded like a pretty amazing year for fashion.
+ This fine horse has absolutely zero time for the metaverse.

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