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The Download, Feb 23, 2017: Immunotherapy Upgrade, Tesla’s Next Challenge, and Locating the Dark Web

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February 23, 2017

Three Things You Need to Know Today

CRISPR Makes a Promising Cancer Therapy More Potent
A cancer treatment that uses modified immune cells may get a shot in the arm. Genetically engineered T-cells are being tuned to kill cancer, and initial tests show that they could work phenomenally well. But a new study published in Nature suggests that when the cells are engineered using CRISPR/Cas9 the tweaks can be made more carefully, resulting in T-cells that attack cancers for longer. The upshot: in mouse experiments, the CRISPR-tuned cells fought tumors even more effectively than regular engineered T-cells.

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The Marketplace Turning Neighborhoods Into Power Plants
A new renewables marketplace makes small-time energy moguls of homeowners. Virtual power plants promise to ease the intermittency issues of renewable energy, by using software and batteries to combine separate solar panels as a single large source. The new Distributed Energy Exchange, being trialled in Australia, allows homeowners to connect their domestic solar set-ups to such a scheme. When excess power is being generated somewhere on the grid, smart devices enable homeowners' hardware to offer up spare battery capacity—for a fee.

Transparency Alone Won't Fix Algorithmic Bias
The fight against unfair algorithms will require a multi-pronged approach. Algorithms invariably contain bias—from the people that write them, as well as the data they’re based on—and a commonly suggested solution is to demand transparency to ensure people understand them. But in a thoughtful essay comparing algorithms to bureaucracy, writer Adam Clair points out that such an approach will lead to people gaming the system—which, in turn, will prompt engineers to continually tweak their code, ensuring that it always remains opaque. There are, however, other approaches to making algorithms accountable.

Ten Fascinating Things  

Tesla's described the big plans required to keep its promise and deliver the Model 3 this year—but it may need a cash injection to pull it off.

Retailers are busy developing fancy new technological ways to sell products to shoppers. Consumers couldn’t care less.

You may not think it, but in the Republican heartland of the Great Plains there's a desire to treat the planet better. Just don’t call it climate change policy.

Replacing call center workers with AI isn’t just about getting software to work—it’s also about ensuring the whole phone call sounds right.

What’s 10 feet long, 5 feet wide, and full of almost nothing? Lockheed’s new space-mimicking test chamber.

The murky world of the dark web is designed to enable secrecy—but a pair of University of Oxford researchers plan to trace the physical transactions that it facilitates.

Here’s how politics itself could put the reliability of future elections at risk.

Tech companies are offering us new ways to communicate in the workplace. Truth is, we’re so wedded to phone calls and e-mail that we don’t use them.

EU policies that encourage the burning of wood for power generation are actually harming the environment.

How about this for an outlandish hack: malware controls the LED blinks of a computer to relay information via a drone’s camera.

Quote of the Day 

"Will there be a new way for the working class of the future to earn a paycheck? Sure. Playing video games."

— Writer Clive Thompson explains why playing computer games may yet become a legitimate occupation.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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