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The Download, Jan 27, 2017: Chimera Controversy, Uber’s Labor Impact, and Insecure White House Tech

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January 27, 2017

Three Things You Need to Know Today

Creating Pig-Human Chimeras (and Controversy, Too)
Researchers have described controversial attempts to create pigs with human organs inside them. The experiments, carried out at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California and described in the journal Cell, injected human stem cells into pig embryos, which were then allowed to gestate for up to four weeks in surrogate sows. The idea: to eventually grow human organs for transplant inside barnyard animals. The results so far, however, have been less impressive than that. Few human cells survived this round of experiments, and they did not contribute to the developing animals in a meaningful way. But, as our own Antonio Regalado explains, even though the results aren’t too thrilling, the experiments are rattling policy makers, from Washington to the Vatican.

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Shaky Tech Security at the White House
The Trump administration's digital dealings are raising security concerns. The Twitter accounts of the President, Vice President, and Press Secretary were tied to personal Gmail accounts for password reset links. (They may have used two-factor authentication, but at any rate are now linked to White House accounts instead.) Donald Trump is eschewing his new secure phone, and instead using an old Android device to tweet. (Aides are concerned that it could give away his location, or have its camera and mic hacked.) Newsweek has reported that some members of White House staff are using e-mail accounts hosted on Republican National Committee servers. (Which isn’t necessarily a problem yet, but will require them to closely follow record retention laws.) Oh, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer has now twice tweeted what could have been the password to his Twitter account. This is an administration in transition, and creases will likely be ironed out. But it seems that, this week at least, its tech practices leave a little to be desired.

Uber’s Impact on Traditional Taxi Jobs
Ride-hailing services like Uber have changed the way we get around cities—but how have they changed the employment situation of drivers? A study by University of Oxford researchers suggests that, contrary to what many people expect, while the arrival of Uber has caused a 50 percent boost in the number of self-employed drivers, it hasn’t reduced the number of traditional taxi driver jobs. As New Scientist points out in its report of the research, though, the average hourly earnings of traditional taxi drivers have fallen by around 10 percent in cities where Uber has set up shop. Meanwhile, self-employed drivers—such as those who work for Uber—have enjoyed a 10 percent rise. Not that Uber drivers are necessarily happy with their income: earlier this month, the ride-hailing firm announced that it will pay $20 million to settle a lawsuit with the FTC because it promised unrealistic earnings.

Six Fascinating Things

1. Decreasing supply and increasing demand for memory chips is causing prices for the hardware to soar.

2. When executives want to learn how to disrupt a business, where do they turn? For $14,000, they can get a week-long dose of Silicon Valley Kool-Aid.
3. A new pair of glasses built by University of Utah researchers use liquid-filled lenses and infrared ranging to keep the world in focus, wherever the wearer looks.
4. Donald Trump’s border wall is built on shaky math—but it’s also an environmental disaster waiting to happen.
5. A team of physicists claims to have made metallic hydrogen in the lab for the first time—but some researchers are skeptical of the claims.
6. Fake news already feels like a big deal. But, argues Nick Bilton, it’s going to get far worse before it gets any better.

Quote of the Day

"Climate change should not be a partisan issue. The well-established physics of the Earth's carbon cycle is neither liberal nor conservative in character.”

— David Titley, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University, explains why political leanings shouldn’t matter when it comes to fighting global warming. He was speaking at a press conference held to announce the advancing of the Doomsday Clock.

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