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The Download

The Download April 12, 2022: The future of money, and restyling the metaverse

Plus: The US and UK are investigating whether Russia has used chemical weapons in Ukraine

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.

Money is about to enter a new era of competition

We’re on the cusp of a giant upheaval to the ways we pay for things. Cash is on the way out, and the digital technologies set to replace it could transform the very nature of money. Today, central-bank money serves at once as a unit of account, a medium of exchange, and a store of value. But newer technologies, including cryptocurrencies, could separate those functions out. That shift could weaken the dominance of central banks and set off another wave of currency competition, one that could have lasting consequences for many countries.

To many, cash now seems largely anachronistic. People across the world commonly use their smartphones to pay for things. This shift may look like a potential driver of inequality: if cash disappears, one imagines, that could disenfranchise the elderly, the poor, and others at a technological disadvantage. In practice, though, cell phones are nearly at saturation in many countries. And digital money, if implemented correctly, could be a force for financial inclusion. The big questions now are around how we proceed, and whether the huge digital money shift ultimately benefits humanity at large—or exacerbates existing domestic and global inequities. Read the full story.

—Eswar Prasad

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Fears are growing that Russia has used chemical weapons in Mariupol
Both the US and UK are investigating. (BBC)
Why it’s so difficult to confirm chemical weapons allegations. (Axios)
China is parroting Russian war propaganda. (NYT $)
 The people of Bucha experienced a month of sheer horror under Russian occupation. (NYT $)
Ukraine has asked its allies for tens of billions of dollars. (FT $)
Twitch streamers in Ukraine are streaming the war to their Russian followers. (Motherboard)
 
2 Experimental fashion designers are pushing boundaries in the metaverse
And they’re optimistic it’ll translate into real-world sales. (Wired $)
Meta’s taken its first steps towards monetizing the metaverse. (The Verge)
Shockingly, pixel-flavored Coca-Cola does not taste good. (The Verge)
+ Meta spent more than $15 million protecting Mark Zuckerberg last year. (Bloomberg $)
 
3 Shanghai’s locked-down residents are living and sleeping in their offices
While trying to respect each others' privacy. (AFP)
They’re also concerned about false-positive results. (SCMP)
A lawyer ended up in quarantine in China for three months. (NYT $)
Japan has reported its first case of new covid strain omicron XE. (CNBC)
 
4 China has green-lit its first new online games for nine months
Following concerns the country’s youth was addicted to gaming. (FT $)
 
5 AI is helping hospitals to treat deadly sepsis infections
Algorithms can plug the gaps in how medics diagnose the complicated condition. (WSJ $)
+ Hundreds of AI tools have been built to catch covid. None of them helped. (TR)

6 How social media ushered in a decade of stupidity
Because we’re all scared of getting caught in a firestorm. (The Atlantic $)
Is it possible to rid social media of hatred? (The Observer)
 
7 More pet owners are cloning their beloved fluffy friends 🐱
But they don’t share the same quirks as their predecessors. (WP $)
 
8 Tesla fans are struggling to convert loves ones to ‘full-self driving’
Their families, quite reasonably, have some concerns about its safety. (CNN)
 
9 Why Netflix has added a double thumbs-up icon 👍👍
When a single thumbs-up just isn’t enough to show your appreciation. (Protocol)
Streaming platforms are revitalizing Indian actors’ careers. (BBC)
 
10 A love letter to slow, old email 💌
The real beauty of it? You can reply at your own pace. (NYT $)

Quote of the day

“I was enjoying a life that was ruining the world.”

—Pete Knapp, who lives in London, recalls the horror of first experiencing anxiety about climate change, according to The Guardian.

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.)

+ When Alien met The Muppets.
+ Easter’s fast approaching, and I’m losing my mind over the thought of this stunning nest cake.
+ Who knew the masterminds behind Stomp were such committed smokers?
+ How the late, great Anthony Bourdain’s favorite movies, songs and books inspired the (excellent) documentary about his life, Roadrunner.
+ Maybe it’s time to join this retirement community for millennials
+ This podcast pitting seminal journalists Jon Ronson and Louis Theroux against each other promises to be absolutely fascinating.
+ Meanwhile, in the UK, this Dorset man claims to have found a “mutant crisp” (Americans, that’s a potato chip.)

Deep Dive

Blockchain

Ethereum proof of stake concept
Ethereum proof of stake concept

Why Ethereum is switching to proof of stake and how it will work

One of the world’s biggest blockchains is testing a new way to approve transactions. The move has been many years in the making but doesn’t come without risks.

crypto city planner concept
crypto city planner concept

Crypto millionaires are pouring money into Central America to build their own cities

A new class of crypto investors have bold plans to rebuild society from scratch. But their pet projects risk repeating the region’s long history of corporate colonialism.

crypto pop up ads concept
crypto pop up ads concept

It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution

The crypto industry is investing heavily in getting more people to buy in. That doesn't mean you have to.

crypto winter concept
crypto winter concept

Crypto is weathering a bitter storm. Some still hold on for dear life.

When a cryptocurrency’s value is theoretical, what happens if people quit believing?

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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