The Download: transphobic panic, and the US-China chip war
Plus: how Adam Neumann was given a second chance
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.
How the idea of a “transgender contagion” went viral—and caused untold harm
When Jay told his mom he was bisexual at 14, she was supportive. But when he came out as transgender a few years later, she pushed back. YouTube videos and online forums soon convinced her that she was right to feel that way. A trans “contagion” called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” spread through social media, had caught hold of him and convinced him he was not female, she said. The Internet had “turned” him trans.
Widely introduced four years ago in a PLOS One paper by Lisa Littman, a physician and researcher, the concept of ROGD hypothesizes a “potential new subcategory” of gender dysphoria—the feeling of distress that one’s gender and assigned sex do not match. Young people with ROGD, the theory claims, identify as trans as a result of peer influence, especially online.
The paper almost immediately drew criticism. PLOS One reissued the study with a large correction, and the Journal of Pediatrics published a comprehensive study that found no evidence for ROGD’s existence. The scientific community agreed there was no such thing as ROGD. But did it matter? Read the full story.
Inside the software that will become the next battle front in US-China chip war
The days when computer chips were designed by hand are long gone. These days, electrical designers use electronic design automation (EDA) software to help them design and develop ever more complex chips.
This software now forms the latest battle front in the tech trade war between China and the United States. On August 12, the US Commerce Department announced a multilateral export control on certain EDA tools, blocking China and over 150 other countries—essentially any country that isn’t a traditional US ally—from accessing them without specially granted licenses.
EDA software is a small but mighty part of the semiconductor supply chain, and it’s mostly controlled by three Western companies. That gives the US a powerful point of leverage. So how has the industry become so American-centric, and why can’t China just develop its own alternative software? Read the full story.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Why Silicon Valley forgave WeWork’s Adam Neumann
The cult of the founder has struck again. (Recode)
+ He’s spent tens of millions of dollars on property. (Insider $)
+ Community living, the focus of his new startup, has a checkered history. (Fast Company $)
2 Tiny caps can measure activity in lab-grown minibrains 🧠
It could provide an ethical alternative to animal testing for chemicals. (MIT Technology Review)
+ This man has been using a brain-computer interface for longer than anyone else. (Wired $)
3Here’s how to clean up aviation fuels
The benefits are obvious, but scaling and lowering costs are still obstacles. (Economist $)
+ The clean hydrogen industry is the busiest it’s been in years. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ This $1.5 billion startup promised to deliver clean fuels as cheap as gas. (MIT Technology Review)
4 How one New York hospital tests its waste water for disease
The same technique helps health experts track the spread of disease across the US. (NYT $)
+ Monkeypox is in Bay Area wastewater. (MIT Technology Review)
5 Salvadorans wants digital banking, not bitcoin
Fintech company n1co wants to be the one to deliver it. (Rest of World)
+ South Korea is planning to ban foreign crypto exchanges. (Bloomberg $)
+ Investors in collapsed crypto bank Celsius are trying to claw their money back. (NYT $)
+ Uhoh, it looks like memestocks are on the rise again. (NY Mag)
6 Giving web users greater control over ads just makes sense
Not only does it stop users from seeing potentially triggering ads, it stops companies wasting advertising dollars. (WSJ $)
7 China has called the US Chips Act discriminatory and unfair
The country has accused the legislation, which is designed to boost America’s chipmaking industry, of violating fair market principles. (Bloomberg $)
8 The movement of continents can trigger mass-extinction in the ocean
Cutting off oxygen to the ocean’s depths causes its lifeforms to die. (Motherboard)
9 Here’s what two merging galaxies look like 🌌
And it’ll take about 500 million years for them to settle. (The Atlantic $)
+ It’s possible a second asteroid helped to kill off the dinosaurs. (Space)
10 Twitter can’t get enough of the USA Mullet Championship
Specifically the kids division. (Input)
Quote of the day
“Everybody leaves politics at home."
—Giovanni Vigna, a participant in the annual DEF CON CTF hacking championship, tells Reuters about how the ‘Olympics of hacking’ brings participants from so-called enemy nations together.
The big story
The messy, secretive reality behind OpenAI’s bid to save the world
OpenAI has become one of the leading AI research labs in the world. It has made a name for itself producing consistently headline-grabbing research, but also for its mission—to be the first to create AGI—a machine with the learning and reasoning powers of a human mind.
Their purpose is not world domination; rather, the lab wants to ensure that the technology is developed safely and its benefits distributed evenly to the world. But there is a misalignment between what the company publicly espouses and how it operates behind closed doors. Over time, it has allowed a fierce competitiveness and mounting pressure for ever more funding to erode its founding ideals of transparency, openness, and collaboration, and birthed a culture of intense secrecy in the process. Read the full story.
We can still have nice things
A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)
+ Here’s an entirely factual account of what really happened at the Teddy Bear’s Picnic ($).
+ She’s brave, ladies and gentlemen.
+ A band of gorillas has developed a new call especially for communicating with their human handlers.
+ The height of summer calls for focaccia—here’s how to make it properly.
+ Aww, a lost parrot has been reunited with its owners after seven years on the run (wing?)
The Download: Geoffrey Hinton’s AI fears, and decoding our thoughts
Plus: TikTok wants to make it clearer when a video is a deep fake
The Download: future space food, and EV battery swapping
Plus: Montana has banned TikTok across the state
The Download: fetal brain surgery, and a White House AI summit
Plus: The FDA has approved a first-of-its-kind vaccine
The Download: OpenAI’s data disaster, and screens in schools
Plus: AI is not as smart as it thinks it is
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