The Download: the aging/disease debate, and WeChat’s dark side

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.

The debate over whether aging is a disease rages on

Last October, word began to spread among researchers that the World Health Organization was considering a change to its International Classification of Diseases, a catalog used to standardize disease diagnosis worldwide.

In an upcoming revision, the plan was to replace the diagnosis of “senility” with something more expansive: “old age.” Crucially, the code associated with the diagnosis included the term “pathological,” which could have been interpreted as suggesting that old age is a disease in itself. 

While some researchers looked forward to the revision, seeing it as part of the path toward creating and distributing anti-­aging therapies, others feared that these changes would only further ageism, pointing out that if age alone were presumed to be a disease, that could lead to inadequate care from physicians. Read the full story.

—Sarah Sloat

Read more:

+ What if aging weren’t inevitable, but a curable disease? If this controversial idea gains acceptance, it could radically change the way we treat getting old. Read the full story.

The dark side of a super app like WeChat

Imagine being blocked from accessing almost the entirety of your social and digital life in one fell swoop. That’s what happened to people in Beijing who discussed the recent banner protest in Beijing against the 20th Chinese Communist party congress over the weekend, after Tencent banned them from accessing their WeChat accounts.

It may not be so obvious to people outside China just how crucial the super app is in the country—there simply aren’t many alternatives. Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal are all blocked, SMS messages are inundated with spam, and email is basically nonexistent among the general population. 

But the impact of WeChat is not just personal. It’s so popular and so ubiquitous that it has influenced Chinese society as a whole, and transformed it into a dangerous tool to be wielded by those in power. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, our new weekly newsletter covering everything you need to know about what’s going on in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

Podcast: I was there when AI replicated Darth Vader

I Was There When is an oral history project that’s part of the In Machines We Trust podcast. It features stories of how breakthroughs and watershed moments in artificial intelligence and computing happened, as told by the people who witnessed them. In this episode we meet Alex Serdiuk, founder and CEO of voice cloning company Respeecher. Listen to it on Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you usually listen.

The must-reads

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

1 Ebola has returned to Uganda
And there’s no current proven vaccine for this particular strain. (Wired $)
+ The US has sent shipments of an experimental antibody drug. (Reuters)
+ Experts are confident the outbreak in the region can be contained. (NBC)

2 Alex Hanna left Google to try to save AI’s future
She’s joined her former manager Timnit Gebru’s research institute. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Hand-counting ballots would make results less accurate
Some Republicans are pushing for entire elections to be tallied by hand anyway. (NYT $)
+ US election misinformation is thriving on WeChat. (Wired $)

4 Europe’s antitrust regulators are getting results 
The UK has forced Meta to sell Giphy, the first time a global regulator has reversed such an acquisition. (Vox)
+ Where do GIF fans go from here? (The Atlantic $)

5 Meet the woman weeding out non-consensual intimate images online 
Mia Landsem spends hours a day helping survivors to get the violating content taken off the internet. (The Guardian)
+ A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Death is an essential part of keeping nature thriving
But not all ecologists agree. (New Scientist $)

7 Why gamers rejected NFTs
Despite the industry’s desperate attempts to force players to embrace them. (Bloomberg $)
+ How Black gamers are creating new opportunities for representation. (FT $)

8 Surveillance isn’t always imposed on us
Many paying customers opt into it willingly. (The Atlantic $)

9 Fans love taking celebrities’ social media handles 
Some stars are more amenable than others to negotiation. (WSJ $)
+ There’s a whole black market for Twitter’s sought-after blue checks. (The Verge)

10 The shadowy disappearance and reemergence of Austin Li
He’s one of China’s biggest stars, but it wasn’t just his fans who were watching him. (Rest of World)
+ How China’s biggest online influencers fell from their thrones. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“All I can do is sleep and look out the window.”

—How James McDivitt, commander of two pivotal NASA missions, who has died aged 93, described the confines of space flight to his wife, reports the Washington Post.

The big story

India’s surging economy could doom climate efforts—unless richer nations step up

April 2019

In the flat terrain of eastern Karnataka, deep in the interior of the Indian subcontinent, you don’t see the Pavagada Solar Park coming. But when it appears, on the far side of a dusty little village, it is, all at once, everywhere. When it’s complete, the project, which cost more than $2.5 billion, will be one of the largest solar parks in the world.

India is now a shining case study in how rapidly generation of renewable power can expand with government investment and support, even in a deeply poor country. But it also underscores the fact that adding clean energy and cutting climate emissions aren’t the same thing. 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.)

+ These two are the new Seigfried and Roy. 🪄
+ Aww I’m glad Pip the wonder pup is home safe.
+ Seriously, trust no one.
+ An interesting question: do bad artists know that they’re bad?
+ This skyscraper in Singapore is home to tens of thousands of plants.

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