The Download: the best of Emtech 2022, and US midterm misinformation

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 best of EmTech 2022

Last week, MIT Technology Review brought together some of the world’s sharpest minds dedicated to developing the technologies that are changing the way we live. EmTech, our annual flagship event covering cutting-edge developments and global trends, heard from experts working in fields as diverse as space commercialization to CRISPR gene editing, helping to set the agenda for the year ahead, and beyond. A massive thank you to everyone who attended in person and online!

Here are just some of the highlights from the action-packed agenda:

+ Kiran Musunuru, a top American cardiologist, is pioneering the use of gene editing to treat heart disease. He sat down with Antonio Regalado, our senior biotech writer, to discuss the clinical trial he’s been overseeing to assess whether tweaking a cholesterol-regulating gene could help to prevent future deaths from heart disease.

+ Alla Weinstein, the cofounder of offshore wind company Trident Winds, discussed the ocean’s incredible potential for clean energy generation—an area the Biden administration is particularly excited about. “The ocean itself has more energy than we ever need, as long as we can capture it,” she told the audience.

+ Frank McCourt, a civic entrepreneur and founder of non-profit organization Project Liberty and company McCourt Global, took to the stage to outline his vision of a new internet focused on equality, rather than the current model, which he believes is built on the uneven distribution of power. He explained why the US needs to look to Europe for data privacy lessons, why the status quo is imperiling democracy, and why now is the perfect time to try and fix our broken model.  

+ Hugh Herr is a media arts and sciences professor at the MIT Media Lab and co-director at the K. Lisa Yang Center for Bionics. He gave us a sneak peek into the fascinating projects he and his lab are working on, including helping people who have lost their limbs who need prostheses in Sierra Leone, and the exciting future of exoskeletons.

+ Will Douglas Heaven, our senior editor for AI, chaired a riveting panel with Ashley Llorens, vice president and managing director of Microsoft Research, Yann LeCun, VP and chief AI scientist at Meta, and Raia Hadsell, senior director of research and robotics at DeepMind. They discussed everything from the definition of AI, to the importance of reinforcement learning.

If you missed out, you can read back over our live blogs from both days of live events, or register for EmTech Digital, our signature AI conference, which kicks off in March 2023.

The must-reads

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

1 Misinformation is swirling on social media ahead of the US midterms
Despite major platforms’ repeated promises they’re trying to combat it. (WP $)
+ Twitter, in particular, is at risk of hosting political falsifications. (FT $)
+ How Republicans bolstered each others’ lies about the Pelosi attack. (NYT $)
+ The US economy could prove the biggest tipping point this week. (BBC)

2 Twitter is asking some fired staff to return to work
Some of the workers were allegedly laid off “by mistake.” (Bloomberg $)
+ Jack Dorsey is apologetic for having grown Twitter too quickly, apparently. (The Verge)
+ Mastodon’s founder isn’t a huge fan of Elon Musk. (Time $)
+ Here’s how to find your favorite Twitter accounts on Mastodon. (Wired $)

3 What’s next for covid vaccines?
No more needles, potentially. (Knowable Magazine)
+ Two inhaled covid vaccines have been approved. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Crypto is trying to revitalize lower-league British soccer ⚽
A crypto millionaire wants to play Ted Lasso with the low-ranking Crawley Town. (NYT $)
+ Binance’s boss is selling his token holdings in rival exchange FTX. (CoinDesk)

5 TikTok’s algorithm isn’t as powerful as you may think
A huge part of its stickiness lies in our phone dependence. (Wired $)
+ What it serves to you depends on unknown factors. (The Guardian)
+ How aspiring influencers are forced to fight the algorithm. (MIT Technology Review)

6 The stakes of the US China export ban have never been higher
I’ll shape the next few decades of tech innovation. (Vox)
+ Inside the software that will become the next battle front in the US-China chip war. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Some researchers want to decentralize scientific peer review
Overhauling how papers are rated could, in theory, speed up the notoriously slow process. (Neo.Life

8 What it’s like to have someone steal your website
Impersonation isn’t always the sincerest form of flattery. (The Atlantic $)

9 Don’t mess with this drone falcon 🦅
Vultures are more scared of its size than its appearance. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ How to befriend a crow. (MIT Technology Review)

10 We know we’re not supposed to look at screens before bed 😴
But that doesn’t stop us from doing it anyway. (Vulture $)

Quote of the day

“Within four weeks, the bulk of it was gone.”

—Alexander Hurst, a Paris-based writer who turned $15,000 into $1.2 million during the pandemic, partly thanks to Reddit’s r/wallstreetbets, writes about his whirlwind experience for The Guardian.

The big story

This fuel plant will use agricultural waste to combat climate change

February 2022

A startup called Mote plans to build a new type of fuel-producing plant in California’s fertile Central Valley that would, if it works as hoped, continually capture and bury carbon dioxide, starting from 2024. It’s among a growing number of efforts to commercialize a concept first proposed two decades ago as a means of combating climate change, known as bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration, or BECCS.

It’s an ambitious plan, but there are serious challenges to doing BECCS affordably and in ways that reliably suck down significant levels of carbon dioxide. 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.)

+ No, I can’t believe that Avril Lavigne’s seminal album Complicated is 20 years old either.
+ Is TikTok really teaching us better manners? I’m going to guess not.
+ Enjoy this slow-mo footage of moths and beetles taking flight.
+ This lovely couple met by chance on a coach ride—30 years later, they’re retracing their steps.
+ Here’s how to be a good influence on kids, even when you really don’t feel like it.

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