The Download: the mortality issue, and America’s new favorite shopping app
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.
Introducing: The Mortality Issue
From the moment you’re born, the one thing you can be completely certain of is that you will die. But what if aging isn’t inevitable, after all? And if you could slow, or even turn back the clock, would you?
The latest issue of MIT Technology Review examines what death means to us in 2022, digging into why some people are still dedicating their lives to kicking against it, while others are developing their own coping mechanisms for grief. Here’s a selection of some of the new stories in the edition, guaranteed to get you thinking about what comes next.
- My colleague Charlotte wrote a beautiful piece about making digital clones of her (living) parents, for a glimpse into what it could be like to talk to the dead. Would you be prepared to do the same for your loved ones?
- If you’ve ever wondered about what happens to your body when you donate it to science, wonder no more.
- Just because AI can make life-and-death decisions, doesn’t necessarily mean we should allow it to.
- Why the impossible-seeming dream of reviving frozen human bodies using cryonics refuses to die.
- Should we believe in—or even want—immortality?
- In an age when everything is being recorded, even knowledge has a lifespan.
- Are electric vehicles really the solution to the climate crisis they’re being touted as?
- Technology used to be something to get excited about. When did it become something to dread?
Read the full magazine, and if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to MIT Technology Review for as little as $80 a year.
The biggest shopping app in America that you’ve never heard of
There’s a new Chinese e-commerce app that is quietly but quickly growing. It’s called Temu. And on October 17, it became the most downloaded shopping app in the United States, beating off competition from Amazon, Walmart, and its Chinese competitor Shein.
If your immediate response is What? I’ve never even heard of Temu!, you’re in good company. The app remains obscure among most people, though it marks another high-profile attempt by yet another Chinese tech giant to try its luck in the American e-commerce market. So how did Temu rise to the top of the iOS App Store’s shopping chart? Read the full story.
Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his new weekly newsletter filling you in on all the latest happenings in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Conspiracy theorists have seized upon Russia’s “dirty bomb” claims
Despite there being no evidence for its existence. (NYT $)
+ Russia’s presentation on the so-called dirty bomb contained 9/11 footage. (Motherboard)
+ The war in Ukraine is dragging us back to a bloodier age. (Economist $)
2 Celebrity deepfakes are advertising’s next frontier
The companies behind them think the guaranteed attention is worth the potential legal repercussions. (WSJ $)
+ Inside the strange new world of being a deepfake actor. (MIT Technology Review)
3 Twitter’s most active users are turning their back on it
And its staff aren’t entirely sure why. (Reuters)
+ Twitter has been ever madder than usual over the past week. (Motherboard)
+ Elon Musk is optimistic he can close his deal by Friday. (Reuters)
+ Why Twitter still has those terrible Trends. (MIT Technology Review)
4 US election officials are swamped with public records requests
It’s all thanks to one man in Florida. (Bloomberg $)
5 Climate activists are suing governments
They claim that authorities’ inaction to protect nature has harmed their constitutional rights. (Hakai Magazine)
+ Nature-based solutions can help to mitigate the climate crisis’ effects. (CNET)
+ Climate action is gaining momentum. So are the disasters. (MIT Technology Review)
6 Tech’s unicorns are becoming rarer again
Investors aren’t giving up hope, though. (WP $)
+ Some venture capital funds are going after narwhals instead. (Bloomberg $)
7 Sexually transmitted infections are rising in the US
Doctors are holding off prescribing a pill specifically designed to combat them, though. (Vox)
8 The pandemic proved it was possible to conduct good science quickly
Greater transparency around research could help to carry it on. (Wired $)
+ Is a covid and flu “twindemic” on the horizon? (MIT Technology Review)
9 NASA’s major UFO investigation has begun
Maybe the truth really is out there. (Motherboard)
+ Radiation-resistant bacteria could survive on Mars for millions of years. (New Scientist $)
10 Singapore’s politicians are TikTok superstars
Their clips are met with almost unprecedented positivity. (Rest of World)
Quote of the day
“It’s not good, it’s not fun.”
—Palmer Luckey, who founded Oculus VR, is not a fan of Meta’s VR social app Horizon Worlds, Insider reports.
The big story
This is how AI bias really happens—and why it’s so hard to fix
If we want to be able to fix bias in AI, we need to understand the mechanics of how it arises in the first place.
We often shorthand our explanation of AI bias by blaming it on biased training data, but the reality is more nuanced. Bias can creep in long before the data is collected as well as at many other stages of the deep-learning process—and can be incredibly hard to fix. Read the full story.
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.)
+ Animals really do do the funniest things (thanks Charlotte!)
+ Men, would you dare to bare in a backless suit?
+ Well, this small wooden ball rolling down a colossal xylophone in a Japanese forest has made everything better.
+ I had no idea a magnified ant face would be such nightmare fodder.
+ Dare you visit this spooky Italian ghost town?