Skip to Content
The Download

The Download: brain signals as speech, and faster-charging batteries

Plus: AI is worming its way into academic journals

August 24, 2023

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.

Brain implants helped create a digital avatar of a stroke survivor’s face

The news: A woman who lost her ability to speak after a stroke 18 years ago was able to replicate her voice and even convey a limited range of facial expressions via a computer avatar. A pair of papers published in Nature yesterday about experiments that restored speech to women via brain implants show just how quickly this field is advancing.

How they did it: Both teams used recording devices implanted into the brain to capture the signals controlling the small movements that provide facial expressions. Then they used AI algorithms to decode them into words, and a language model to adjust for accuracy. One team, led by Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, even managed to capture emotions.

The caveats: Researchers caution that these results may not hold for other people, and either way, we are still a very long way from tech that’s available to the wider public. Still, these proofs of concept are hugely exciting. Read the full story

—Cassandra Willyard

How new batteries could help your EV charge faster

The news: Chinese battery giant CATL has unveiled a new fast-charging battery—one that the company says can add up to 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) of range in 10 minutes. That’s faster than virtually all EV charging today, and CATL claims the new cells, which it plans to produce commercially by the end of 2023, will “open up an era of EV superfast charging.”

Why it matters: Although EVs are increasingly popular, drivers can be held back by worries about the limited range of their batteries, and the need to charge for upwards of half an hour. Innovation in battery materials, if matched with progress in charging infrastructure, could help mimic the convenience of gas-powered cars and encourage adoption of EVs. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

If you want to learn more about why fast charging is so crucial to the future of EVs, and what it’ll take to speed things up, read this week’s edition of The Spark, Casey’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things energy and climate. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday. 

The must-reads

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

1 India’s moon landing was a success 🚀
Great news for all of us, as it means we’ll learn more about the moon’s largely unexplored south pole. (Reuters)
Here’s why it’s significant, and what’ll come next. (Wired $)
India seems to be replacing Russia as a space power. (Quartz $)
 
2 Greece is battling its biggest wildfires yet
It’s having to tackle scores of simultaneous blazes across the country. (NYT $)
Why Lahania’s wildfires were so dreadful. (Wired $)
+ Locals say the inferno began after firefighters left a ‘contained’ fire. (NYT $)
The G20 pledged to end fossil fuel subsidies—then quadrupled them. (Quartz $)
Norway has opened the world’s biggest floating wind farm. (Reuters)
 
3 Google is trying to have it both ways with AI and copyright
It’s acknowledging musicians deserve to be paid for their data… but not publishers.  (The Verge)
Some of the thorniest questions about AI will be answered in court. (WSJ $)
How judges, not politicians, could dictate America’s AI rules. (MIT Technology Review)
 
4 Nvidia posted insanely good financial results
It’s now the sixth-most valuable public company in the world, as it profits from the AI boom. (WP $)
 
5 AI is everywhere… yet also nowhere
CEOs talk a good game, but drill into the details, and it’s yet to make any real impact for the vast majority of companies. (FT $)
Artificial intelligence is infiltrating health care. We shouldn’t let it make all the decisions. (MIT Technology Review)
 
6 Instagram is still riddled with criminal activity
It’s not only failing to moderate the sale of guns, drugs, and counterfeit cash—it’s actively promoting and profiting from it.  (404 Media)
 
7 TikTok Shop is hemorrhaging money in the US
But whether the $500 million it’s spent so far this year is really a loss or an investment remains to be seen. (The Information $)
 
8 How to talk to your kids about social media
Step one? Set a good example yourself. (Wired $)
+ How to log off. (MIT Technology Review)
 
9 It’s official: gifs just aren’t cool these days
I’m as gutted as you are. (The Guardian)
 
10 Netflix has given up asking for its DVDs back 📀
If you’ve still got a DVD player, you’ve still got a short window of time to nab some free discs. (Vox)

Quote of the day

“They are going to grow up in a world where this is the norm.”

—Yazmin Bahena, a middle school social studies teacher, tells the New York Times why she thinks schools are better off teaching students how to use AI tools than banning them.

The big story

The next act for messenger RNA could be bigger than covid vaccines

February 2021

Many covid vaccines were built and tested in under a year, thanks to a previously unproven technology made 20 years earlier: messenger RNA.

In the near future, researchers believe, shots that deliver temporary instructions into cells could also lead to vaccines against herpes and malaria, better flu vaccines.

But researchers also see a future well beyond vaccines. They think the technology will permit cheap gene fixes for cancer, sickle-cell disease, and maybe even HIV. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+ You may not be ready to hear this, but pumpkin spice season is almost upon us.
+ Tanaka Tatsuya creates adorable miniature art
+ We all know exercise is great, but starting can be daunting. Here’s how to ease yourself into it. 
+ I’d wholeheartedly welcome a slice of this pie into my life.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.