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The Download

The Download: resurrecting mammoths, and the climate bill’s big flaw

Plus: Donald Trump is back on Twitter—but says he doesn't want to be.

November 21, 2022

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 much would you pay to see a woolly mammoth?

Sara Ord has one of the most futuristic job titles around—director of species restoration at Colossal Biosciences, the world’s first “de-extinction” company. Her team is figuring out how to turn Asian elephants into something resembling a woolly mammoth, by adding genes for cold resistance and thick red hair, in the hopes of creating an embryo, and eventually, an animal.

While there are no resurrected species yet, of course, Ord’s job is really about an imagined future, in which a high-tech combination of DNA technology, stem-cell research, gene editing, and artificial wombs could lead not just to the resurrection of lost species, but also to the preservation of those close to disappearing.

If everything goes smoothly, the company hopes to succeed in re-creating its first long-extinct animal, the striped marsupial predator the thylacine, by 2025. And, just like Jurassic Park, it may turn a profit by selling tickets to see them. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

The US climate bill has made emission reductions dependent on economic success

In August, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law, the largest US climate bill in more than a decade. In the months since, it has been enthusiastically welcomed by politicians, manufacturers, and scientists alike. But beyond enacting specific measures to reduce US carbon emissions by more than 40% by 2030, the IRA also fundamentally reframes how the government approaches climate change. 

Climate policy is now explicitly framed as an economic policy issue, dependent on economic policy success in ways that could complicate efforts to reduce US carbon emissions, and potentially add to the already formidable challenges facing its domestic clean energy industries. Read the full story.

By Jonas Nahm, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and expert on green industries.

The must-reads

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

1 Donald Trump has been allowed back onto Twitter 
But he says he’s sticking to his own Truth Social platform. (CNBC)
+ It’s possible Trump may just tweet links to Truth Social anyway. (NYT $)
+ Elon Musk has also reinstated Kanye West’s account. (Bloomberg $)
+ It’s worth noting Twitter workers on visas can’t just quit. (Motherboard)

2 Amazon is betting big on healthcare
No great surprise, given that it’s one of America’s most lucrative industries. (Economist $)
+ Workers in the Alexa division haven't been so lucky. (Insider $)

3 FTX customers are losing hope they’ll get their money back
Some are more pessimistic than others. (WSJ $)
+ The chair of the S.E.C. is unimpressed. (NYT $) 

4 Iran’s protests show no signs of stopping
 Women and young people are the driving forces behind the prolonged demonstrations. (Vox)
+ Big Tech could help Iranian protesters by using an old tool. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Weaponized robots are on the rise
But it’s not just military-grade weapons—it’s makeshift moderated commercial robots too. (The Guardian)
+ Robots designed to save satellites could destroy them instead. (Bloomberg $)
Why business is booming for military AI startups. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Vertical farming needs to widen its repertoire 
Vegetables and crops would be more useful than salad. (Wired $)
+ Inside Singapore’s huge bet on vertical farming. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Why supergenes are a double-edged sword
While they help animals and plants evolve in unexpected ways, they could also trigger harmful mutations. (The Atlantic $)

8 China’s answer to Instagram is in trouble
A brutal crackdown on China’s startups means it could have lost up to half of its implied value. (FT $)

9 Say goodbye to the leap second
But not until 2035, probably. (NYT $)

10 Space junk is snowballing out of control
But China and Japan are competing to clean it up. (WP $)
+ How to cast a wider net for tracking space junk. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“I can’t even quote Martin Luther King Jr. without having to take so many precautions.”

—Kahlil Greene, a TikTok creator, criticizes the platform’s over-zealous moderation rules around content discussing racism and Black history to the New York Times.

The big story

Eight ways scientists are unwrapping the mysteries of the human brain

August 2021 

There is no greater scientific mystery than the brain. It’s made mostly of water; much of the rest is largely fat. Yet this roughly three-pound blob of material produces our thoughts, memories, and emotions. It governs how we interact with the world, and it runs our body.

Increasingly, scientists are beginning to unravel the complexities of how it works and understand how the 86 billion neurons in the human brain form the connections that produce ideas and feelings, as well as the ability to communicate and react. Here’s our whistle-stop tour of some of the most cutting-edge research—and why it’s important. 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.)

+ Who doesn’t love the one and only Jennifer Coolidge?
+ Wow, these James Webb Telescope shots of a protostar are pretty special.
+ If you’re planning on watching the USA take on Wales today in the soccer World Cup, here’s a little bit of history behind the world’s coolest flag—Y Ddraig Goch.
+ This disruptive baby elephant is just too cute.
+ It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to be the sauna master.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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