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The Download

The Download: gene-edited microbiomes, and Google’s Canadian standoff

Plus: the US Supreme Court's latest ruling has grave significance for victims of online harassment

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 gene-edited microbiomes could improve our health

Microbes are everywhere, and the ones in our bodies appear to be incredibly important for our health. They’ve developed intricate relationships with other living systems, feeding on chemicals in their environments to produce other chemicals—some of which are more beneficial to nearby organisms than others.

Getting microbes to work for us has been a tantalizing prospect to scientists for decades. Can we tweak the genomes of these microbes to control exactly which chemicals they break down or produce, for example? What if we could get microbes to help us reduce pollution, or create microbes that make medicines?

The good news is that new technologies are bringing us ever closer to making engineering microbes to benefit our health and environment a reality. Experts say we could be as little as four years away from human treatments. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

Jessica’s story is from The Checkup, her weekly biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

If you’re interested in reading more about microbes and microbiomes, why not check out:

+ Bacteria can be engineered to fight cancer in mice. Scientists have engineered microbes that appear to prevent or treat cancer in animal tests, and human trails are on the cards. Read the full story.

+ Your microbiome ages as you do—and that’s a problem. Our guts are home to a complex ecosystem of bacteria. Can we tweak it to stay healthy as we age? Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 Google will start blocking Canadian news stories 
It’s in response to Canada’s new law forcing tech firms to pay media outlets for their news. (NPR)
+ Tech companies call Canada’s proposals unsustainable for their businesses. (The Guardian)
+ But Canada's news organization body says a viable path forward is possible. (BBC)

2 The US Supreme Court has made it harder to prosecute online harassment
Which has catastrophic implications for victims. (WP $)

3 A hunt for dark matter has begun
A new space mission launching this weekend is searching for answers. (Motherboard)
+ Experts are hoping to spot evidence with its precise space telescope. (Axios)
+ It turns out the whole universe is humming around us. (The Atlantic $)

4 Self-driving cars are witnessing crimes
And the footage they capture can be crucial police evidence. (Bloomberg $)
+ The big new idea for making self-driving cars that can go anywhere. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Amazon has a plan to wean its customers off returns
Returning goods costs Amazon a lot of money, and it’s had enough. (The Information $)

6 South Africa’s women ride-hailing drivers risk their lives daily
Male customers are a constant threat, even in areas considered safe. (Rest of World)

7 Should we believe billionaires?
The 1% say they want to save the world, but the evidence doesn’t always stack up. (FT $)
+ Getting them to fight in cages? Why not. (WSJ $)

8 Volunteers are guiding people experimenting with drugs through bad trips
It’s all part of the burgeoning psychedelic peer support movement. (Wired $)
+ Psychedelics are having a moment and women could be the ones to benefit. (MIT Technology Review)

9 The Grimace shake is all over TikTok 🥤
Creators are making spoof videos of deaths caused by the sickly-looking milkshake. (NYT $)

10 Phone bots are wasting scammers’ time
By keeping them chatting with automated nonsense. (WSJ $)+ The people using humor to troll their spam texts. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“They need to get on the ball and do their jobs.”

— Phil Robertson, the Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch, criticizes Meta’s moderation team in Cambodia for failing to prevent violent threats on its platform to the Washington Post.

The big story

The great chip crisis threatens the promise of Moore’s Law

June 2021

The world is facing an economically devastating shortage of microchips.

Production has also slowed for smartphones, laptops, video-game consoles, TVs, and even smart appliances, all because of the lack of cheap microchips. Their use is so essential and so widespread that some observers think the chip crisis could threaten the global economic recovery from the pandemic. 

The spirit of Moore’s Law—the expectation that cheap, powerful chips will always be readily available—is now being threatened by something far more mundane: inflexible supply chains. Read the full story.

 —Jeremy Hsu

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.)

+ Say what you will about AI, it’s inspired some great movies.
+ We’re learning more about how cuttlefish change colors, and it’s a whole lot more sophisticated than we’d previously thought.
+ The Web Design Museum’s, err, website, is a thing of beauty (thanks Stefan!)
+ Posh Brits really love to party—and we’ve got the pictures to prove it.
+ I hope you have almost as much fun this weekend as these lovely dogs are having with a balloon. 🎈

Deep Dive

The Download

The Download: the problem with plug-in hybrids, and China’s AI talent

Plus: Silicon Valley is desperate to snap up top AI talent—before anyone else does

The Download: defining open source AI, and replacing Siri

Plus: the EU has announced a raft of new Big Tech probes

The Download: the mystery of LLMs, and the EU’s Big Tech crackdown

Plus: the trade secret war between China and the US is hotting up

The Download: new AI regulations, and a running robot

Plus: Nvidia has unveiled a whole load of new AI chips

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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