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The Download

The Download: Liver transplant success, and lifting Shanghai’s lockdown

Plus: The Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the Texas law designed to make moderation impossible

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.

A new storage technique could vastly expand the number of livers available for transplant

A patient who received a donated liver that had been stored for three days in a new type of machine that mimics the human body is healthy one year on from surgery, according to a study in Nature Biotechnology.

The technology could significantly increase the number of livers suitable for transplant, the authors claim, both by enabling donor livers to be preserved for longer than the current standard, and by making it possible to repair organs that are available but too damaged to transplant as is.

Although further research is required, the team believes the new technique could allow donor livers to be stored safely for up to 12 days before transplantation. If it works, it could increase the likelihood of treating donor livers with drugs before surgery, widening the availability of livers to patients in need, and potentially saving countless lives. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

The must-reads

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

1 Shanghai has lifted its 65-day covid lockdown
Much to the relief of the city’s exhausted residents. (BBC)
+ For many citizens, the celebrations have felt like Chinese New Year. (The Guardian)
+ However, a negative covid test is still required 72 hours before taking public transport. (CNN)

2 The Supreme Court has blocked Texas’ attempt to control social media
But the order banning the law, which would make content moderation impossible, is only temporary. (Vox)
+ Racist content that radicalizes extremists is freely available on mainstream platforms. (NYT $)
+ Why social media can’t keep moderating content in the shadows. (MIT Technology Review)

3 NSO proposed selling its spyware tool to known risky customers
In a desperate bid to make money, despite human rights groups revealing its abuse. (FT $)
+ Inside NSO, Israel’s billion-dollar spyware giant. (MIT Technology Review) 

4 What a ‘60s sci-fi novel tells us about Elon Musk
His habit of treating everything as a problem to be fixed ignores the underlying systems that created them. (Jacobin)
+ A new biography paints Musk’s success as inevitable, but tainted with sadness. (New Statesman $)

5 Why the next great neural networks will be physical 🖥️
Digital networks can only scale so much. Physical networks could revolutionize computing. (Quanta)
+ Is your brain a computer? (MIT Technology Review)

6 Accepting crypto as legal tender is fraught with danger
But cities and states are still desperate to make it work. (Spectrum IEEE)
+ Tech experts have warned Washington to resist crypto’s persuasive lobbying. (FT $)
+ The rising cost of electricity and Bitcoin’s falling value is not a good combination. (Wired $)
+ El Salvador’s crypto gamble is looking riskier than ever. (Slate $)
Crypto millionaires are pouring money into Central America to build their own cities. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Our obsession with perfection has locked us in a climate inaction cage
Combating climate change is complicated. So is our reaction to it. (Wired $)
+ It’s time we stopped pretending that plastic recycling is going to work. (The Atlantic $)

8 Bird watching is about more than watching birds 🦉
It can teach us about nature, climate change, and also ourselves. (The Verge)

9 We rarely need anything delivered in 15 minutes
And yet, it’s becoming the new normal. (The Atlantic $)

10 Tech is helping to shed light on the ocean’s deepest mysteries
Fish cams and sensor tags are helping us understand why certain species dive to the depths. (Knowable Magazine)

The big story

Meet the scientists trying to understand the world’s worst wildfires
December 2019


In 1972, a researcher named Dick Rothermel created one of the first mathematical models to predict how a fire might spread. The Rothermel model now provides the spine for almost every computer program used to analyze wildfire behavior in the US.

Today, after decades of drought and rising temperatures, monstrous blazes throughout the American West have brought the system’s weaknesses into focus. Rothermel’s model can’t deal with everything the environment is throwing at it, from the number of dead trees now standing in America’s forests to fluctuating wind speeds. Scientists are trying to build a brand new model for the first time in half a century. There’s a lot of catching up to do. Read the full story.

—Alissa Greenberg

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.)

+ Soothe your mind and soul with a honeycomb harvesting video.
+ Icelandic horses are on hand to help you compose your emails while you’re on holiday—complete with a gigantic keyboard.
+ This collection of spiteful buildings makes me want to become even pettier (Thanks Charlotte!)
+ If you prefer to skip the complicated automated systems on helplines when you’re trying to reach a customer services rep, this website points you in the right direction to speak to a human (and even tells you if they answer the phone or not.) 
+ In a true David vs Goliath scenario, it seems as though the humble great white shark may have driven the mighty megalodon to extinction.

Deep Dive

Biotechnology

How scientists want to make you young again

Research labs are pursuing technology to “reprogram” aging bodies back to youth.

Inside the billion-dollar meeting for the mega-rich who want to live forever

Hope, hype, and self-experimentation collided at an exclusive conference for ultra-rich investors who want to extend their lives past 100. I went along for the ride.

Human brain cells transplanted into baby rats’ brains grow and form connections

When lab-grown clumps of human neurons are transplanted into newborn rats, they grow with the animals. The research raises some tricky ethical questions.

The debate over whether aging is a disease rages on

In its latest catalogue of health conditions, the World Health Organization almost equated old age with disease. Then it backed off.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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