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 news: China reported 5,370 new covid cases today, the biggest one-day increase since the pandemic began, and more than double the number reported yesterday. It’s a tiny proportion of China’s population of 1.4 billion people, but it has prompted the government to extend an existing lockdown to the entire Jilin province, meaning over 80 million people in China are now locked down.
A major test: Right from the start, China has pursued a “covid zero” policy of eliminating the virus through lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing. However, omicron, which is far more transmissible than any previous covid variant, will make this policy harder than ever to achieve. Although China has reportedly vaccinated over 85% of its population, omicron is better than any previous variant at evading immunity from vaccines (although vaccines still hold up well at preventing severe disease.) China is hampered by the fact that it doesn’t have access to mRNA vaccines, which have proved especially effective against omicron. Although China is working on its own mRNA vaccines, it will be many months before any shot could become available to the general population there.
Global impact: One of the areas under lockdown, Shenzhen, is a major tech hub and home to companies like Foxconn which supply Western companies, including Apple. It’s scheduled to remain under lockdown for at least another five days while local residents undergo several rounds of testing, meaning some degree of impact on global tech supply chains is inevitable.
What’s happening elsewhere: Meanwhile, Europe also seems to be starting to enter another covid surge, with cases ticking up in countries across the continent. In the UK, cases are up nearly 50% week-on-week and, worryingly, hospitalizations are up by 17%. A combination of looser restrictions, waning immunity and BA.2, a more transmissible omicron sub-variant, are believed to be behind the increase in cases.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Clearview says Ukraine is using its facial recognition AI to identify Russian soldiers
But is it accurate enough to be relied upon? (Reuters $)
+ Kyiv is under increasingly heavy fire. (AP $)
+ Cheap drones are making a major dent in Russia’s aerial assault. (NBC)
+ The UN’s chief says a nuclear conflict remains a possibility. (Axios)
+ Maps that track the invasion. (NYT $)
+ The war is jeopardizing hundreds of clinical trials in Ukraine. (Wired $)
2 A NASA spacewalk is going ahead today despite international tensions
Space-based cooperation between the US and Russia is still holding, for now. (WP $)
+ Russia says it will not leave an American astronaut stranded in space. (The Verge)
3 Pfizer says we are going to need fourth covid shots
Given that less than half of fully vaccinated people in the US have even got a third dose, this feels ambitious. (Ars Technica)
4 Is tree planting going to help, or harm, the planet? 🌳
It largely depends on how it’s done. (NYT $)
+ The UN’s climate report highlights the dangers of natural solutions. (TR)
5 It’s getting a lot harder to be an influencer in Russia
They’re seeing entire livelihoods disappear overnight as platforms get banned. (The Guardian)
+ Russia has followed through on its promise to ban Instagram, which had 80 million users there. (The Verge)
+ The far-right in the US is boosting Russian propaganda. (NBC)
+ Facebook says users can’t call for Putin’s death (but Russian soldiers are fair game.) (CNBC)
+ A website lets people email Russians to tell them the truth about the war. (WSJ $)
+ An employee for a Russian TV station interrupted a live broadcast with a protest. (The Guardian)
6 Crypto miners are having to flee Kazakhstan just months after arriving
It looked like a safe haven after China’s ban came in. Now blackouts and government pressure are pushing them out. (Rest of World)
7 TikTok is getting philosophical
And philosophy professors are not entirely sure how to respond. (Slate $)
8 TV is still too dazzled by tech founders ✨
New shows about Uber, Theranos and WeWork end up pulling their punches. (Vox)
+ It’d be good if they could focus more on the people impacted by their dramatic rise. (Wired $)
+ Tech companies have been rebranding recently. Don’t buy it. (WSJ $)
9 Astronomers keep finding black holes in unexpected places 🕳️
Dwarf galaxies weren’t supposed to be able to handle objects of this size and mass. (Quanta)
10 Why we’re all going ‘goblin mode’
We’ve lived through two years of a pandemic, and have now thoroughly embraced the comforts of depravity. (The Guardian)
Quote of the day
—Anastasia Tischchenko, a 31-year-old woman fleeing Ukraine, tells the New York Times she and a friend used Tinder to find a place to temporarily stay in Romania.
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.)
+ (Very!) High tea.
+ It looks like these giant tortoises have been mislabeled for a very long time.
+ Going to have to watch Pixar’s new movie, Turning Red.
+ Music critics from the New York Times talk about the songs they turn to when times get tough.
+ Does it really matter all that much where Scotch malt whisky is made?
+ This question on Reddit about how to translate board games for Ukrainian refugees gave me some hope for humanity today.
This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting
With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.
This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it.
Greg Rutkowski is a more popular prompt than Picasso.
VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence
On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.
This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine
Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.
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