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The Download

The Download: a new brain atlas, and using maths to make sense of nature

Plus: modern social media can't cope with war

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.

Scientists just drafted an incredibly detailed map of the human brain

Scientists have unveiled the most compete atlas of the human brain ever created. The work, part of the National Institutes of Health BRAIN Initiative, is the culmination of five years of research, and includes the location and function of more than 3,000 cell types.

But what is a brain atlas, exactly, and what sets this one apart from other brain atlases that already exist? And what can it tell us? Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things medicine and biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

This mathematician is making sense of nature’s complexity

To Gábor Domokos, a professor at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, an ordinary-looking rocky outcrop in the hills over Budapest is not just a respite from the busy city, but a wellspring of mathematical questions.

Best known for co-discovering the gömböc—the first convex 3D shape with just two balancing points—Domokos’ work on the geometry of pebbles has helped trace erosion on Earth and Mars. 

Most recently, Domokos teamed up with chemists to use his rock fracture geometry to predict how molecules assemble into “2D” sheets—a notoriously stubborn problem usually left to supercomputers.

At the heart of his work, Domokos aims to understand the physical world by describing its forms in the simplest possible geometry—and find a new language to describe shapes in the process. Read the full story.

—Elise Cutts

This story is from the next magazine edition of MIT Technology Review, set to go live on October 25. It’s all about society’s hardest problems, and how we should tackle them. If you don’t subscribe already, sign up now to get a copy when it lands.

2023 Climate Tech Companies to Watch: Blue Frontier and its energy-efficient AC

Global demand for air conditioning is growing. But AC consumes lots of electricity, which comes mainly from fossil fuels, and leaks harmful refrigerants. 

Blue Frontier’s approach cools buildings more efficiently with alternative refrigerants, and its units store energy to avoid overwhelming the grid. 

It’s still very early stages, but if its technology works as planned, its AC units will be three times more efficient than conventional systems. Read all about Blue Frontier, and if you want to learn more, check out the rest of our 2023 list of 15 Climate Tech Companies to Watch

The must-reads

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

1 The Israel-Hamas conflict shows social media is broken beyond repair
It’s the end of an era. What comes next is anyone’s guess. (The Atlantic $)
+ Hamas says it’s going to broadcast hostage executions. Tech firms can’t stop them. (WP $)
+ X is being officially probed over illegal content in the wake of the attacks. (FT $)

2 Microsoft has been given the go-ahead to buy Activision
UK regulators have finally green-lit the controversial deal. (BBC)

3 The chatbots have started chatting to each other
Experts warned against anthropomorphizing AI, but it hasn’t stopped firms from trying. (Wired $)
+ The hottest new job in AI? Reviewing it. (CNBC)
+ Users are apparently spending two hours a day chatting with CharacterAI’s bots. (Quartz)
+ A chatbot that asks questions could help you spot when it makes no sense. (MIT Technology Review)

4 IVF is a risky business
Startup Kindbody has been accused of losing embryos and taking unacceptable risks. (Bloomberg $)
+ I took an international trip with my frozen eggs to learn about the fertility industry. (MIT Technology Review)

5 All those disposable vapes are actually electronic waste
And they’re not getting recycled. (The Verge)
+ Think that your plastic is being recycled? Think again. (MIT Technology Review)

6 AI audio is infiltrating TikTok 
It’s getting harder and harder to work out what’s authentic and what’s not. (NYT $)
+ We’re witnessing the birth of an audio crisis. (WP $)
+ AI voice actors sound more human than ever—and they’re ready to hire. (MIT Technology Review)

7 A new kind of bionic hand is much more comfortable than conventional designs 🦾
As well as reducing pain, it offers the wearer far greater control, too. (Gizmodo)
+ These prosthetics break the mold with third thumbs, spikes, and superhero skins. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Productivity freaks can’t get enough of Obsidian
The note-taking app scratches an itch for people who need their files to have structure. (Fast Company $)
+ Meet the people who use Notion to plan their whole lives. (MIT Technology Review)

9 What to do if your kid says they want to be an influencer
Above all, do not panic. (Wired $)

10 AI is designing robots in 30 seconds flat
Luckily for us, they’re not terribly sophisticated. (Scientific American $)
+ AI is pretty good at coming up with battery ideas, too. (NPR)

Quote of the day

 “I think they probably will be successful in cashing out at least some of these funds. I think whether they're going to get away with it is a separate question.”

—Tom Robison, cofounder of cryptocurrency tracing firm Elliptic, is optimistic that justice will be served to whoever looted disgraced crypto firm FTX on the day it went bankrupt, he tells Wired.

The big story

Logging in to get kicked out: Inside America’s virtual eviction crisis

December 2020

Before the pandemic, an average of 3.6 million Americans lost their homes to evictions every year, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. That number is estimated to have vastly increased, with the financial hardship exacerbated by covid-19 leaving many in a precarious situation.

Eviction hearings that used to be handled only in physical courtrooms are now taking place over video, or simply by phone conference. The result, say lawyers and tenants’ rights activists, is that an already problematic situation has become dramatically, tragically worse. Read the full story.

—Eileen Guo

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.)

+ How to make the seemingly endless daily decisions we all face a little easier
+ I can never see too many behind-the-scenes clips about the making of Lord of the Rings.
+ That is a hecking chonker of a pumpkin
+ I promise, this will both make you laugh and change how you hear the tune they’re talking about
+ I’d love to visit these haunted castles… but strictly during daylight hours.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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