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The Download, Feb 3, 2017: Snap’s IPO, Next-gen Nuclear Hurdles, and a Robotic Pack Horse

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February 3, 2017

Snap Is Going Public—Offering Ideas, Not Profits
Snap, the parent company of the messaging app Snapchat, has filed the paperwork required for its initial public offering. It’s thought to be seeking a valuation of up to $25 billion. The company, co-founded by Evan Spiegel, who was one of our 35 Innovators Under 35, is based around the now: capture a moment, share it, and watch it disappear. So far, it’s worked, as the Snapchat app has over 150 million active users. But the IPO paperwork reveals that Snap actually made a loss of $514 million in 2016. Instead of profits, then, it’s offering investors a slice of vision. It will bill itself not as a social media firm, but as a camera company. And it’s pushing new ideas hard: while disappearing messages are its bread and butter, it’s also selling smart glasses, building AR into apps, and developing weird and wonderful new ways to make its experience sticky (read: sell more ads). Whether the market will be won over by such ambitions? That remains to be seen.

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Next-gen Nuclear? Not So Fast
A new kind of safer, simpler nuclear reactor is having a hard time becoming a reality. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the nuclear industry decided to introduce more straightforward designs. The result: the generation III+ reactor. These large-scale devices—not to be confused with new small modular nuclear reactors, which may be used to provide localized power—are intended to pump out large quantities of megawatts and ease the route to a renewable future. But projects in France, Finland, and the U.S. are running behind schedule and over budget. And newly committed projects, such as the UK’s Hinkley Point reactor, are proving to be eye-wateringly expensive. What gives? According to Lake Barrett, a former official at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who spoke to Bloomberg: “a near-perfect storm of societal risk aversion to nuclear causing ultra-restrictive regulatory requirements, construction complexity, and lack of nuclear construction experience by the industry.”

Blame Your Brain For Computer Hacks
A new study reveals how the brain reacts to computer security alerts—and the findings could help make our devices safer. Our own Tom Simonite explains that research carried out by Anthony Vance from Brigham Young University used functional MRI scans of people’s brains to reveal the unconscious mechanisms behind the way they perceive security warnings. It turns out that alerts often appear when we’re in the midst of doing something else, which makes us less likely to respond to them, as our brain struggles to handle two tasks at once. The warnings are also boringly consistent, which means that we pay them less attention over time. Instead, specially designed warnings developed in collaboration with Google wait for people to complete tasks and have messages appear in different colors. The upshot: people are more likely to respond. Vance says that Google plans to add the feature to an upcoming version of its Chrome browser.

Ten Fascinating Things

01. Bored of carrying a knapsack or briefcase? This robot will swallow up your stuff and then follow you around all day.
02. It’s happening: the EPA has started to remove some of the Obama-era content from its web pages, including references to climate plans.

03. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has stepped down from President Trump’s business advisory council. Elon Musk will remain, for “the greater good.”

04. Google Maps is a great way to navigate a city—but not if you struggle to move around by foot. Access Map hopes to change that.

05. Take $2-worth of paper, polystyrene blocks, and acrylic, then add some sunlight. What have you got? A liter of clean drinking water every hour.

06. Afraid of tech industry disruption, FedEx is looking to embrace robotics to ensure that your parcels get delivered.

07. Europe’s chipmakers aren’t usually all that celebrated. The rise of autonomous cars might change that.

08. Facebook’s artificial intelligence system now lets you search for photos by their content, rather than having to use tags.
09. How many startups does it take to change a lightbulb? As many as you need in order to convince people that smart lighting is actually useful.
10. This is what happens if you quit using screens at home for a month.

Quote of the Day

"It makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw these issues to an agency with no rule-making power that has to compete with everything else that’s going on in the economy.”

— Ex-chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Tim Wheeler describes why he very much disagrees with the idea of stripping regulatory power from the FCC and handing some of it to the Federal Trade Commission.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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