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The Download

The Download: introducing the Hard Problems issue

Plus: Meta is being sued by more than 40 US states

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.

Introducing: the Hard Problems issue

For all of history we’ve turned to technology, again and again, to help us solve our hardest problems. It has made virtually all of human knowledge available to us instantly on demand. And we can speak to each other in entirely different languages and be understood using nothing more than a slim slab of glass and metals in our pocket.

Sometimes technology can seem like a miracle. But, of course, it is nothing more than human achievement. Yet like all things human, our creations can be deeply flawed. As a result, we have also used tech to unleash horrors on ourselves, intentionally and by accident. 

Technology is an engine for problems, for solving them and for creating entirely new ones—and then we perversely turn to even newer technologies to try to solve those.

In our latest print issue of MIT Technology Review, we step back from this cycle. We explore big questions and hard problems and ask: What role can—and should—technology play going forward?

Here’s just some of the great stories you can read in the new issue:

+ Think that your plastic is being recycled? This incisive, fascinating feature by Douglas Main will make you think again.

+ The internet feels pretty broken these days. But there are real steps we can take towards fixing it, as Katie Notopoulos explains in her piece for us. 

+ Meet Gábor Domokos, the Hungarian mathematician making sense of nature’s complexity by describing its forms in the simplest possible geometry.

+ AI consciousness isn’t just a devilishly tricky intellectual puzzle; it’s a morally weighty problem, writes Grace Huckins.

+ Why captchas are getting harder to solve—and what comes next.

Read the full magazine, and if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to MIT Technology Review for as little as $60 a year—for a limited time only.

2023 Climate Tech Companies to Watch: NuScale and its modular nuclear reactors

NuScale is hoping to revitalize the moribund nuclear power industry with safe and affordable small modular reactors. Its approach could put nuclear power within reach of many more communities, and with a fresh stamp of approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the company plans to break ground in 2025. Read more about NuScale, and check out the rest of the list of 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 Meta is being sued over claims it harms children
A new lawsuit on behalf of more than 40 US states claims that it knowingly created features to reel in young users. (NYT $)
+ The complaint alleges that Meta used harmful and manipulative tactics. (WP $)+ These are the five Instagram features the states say harm teens. (Wired $)

2 Cruise’s driverless taxi service has been suspended in San Francisco
Over fears it poses an unreasonable risk to public safety. (CNBC)
+ The company also withheld video footage from an ongoing investigation. (Motherboard)
+ Robotaxis are here. It’s time to decide what to do about them. (MIT Technology Review)

3 AI thinks the world is full of hot people
Because, surprise surprise, that’s what it’s been trained on. (The Atlantic $)
+ How it feels to be sexually objectified by an AI. (MIT Technology Review)

4 A drug factory is stranded in outer space
All because of ongoing conflict between the startup behind it and the US government. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ A new Vulcan rocket could be launched before the year’s end. (Ars Technica)
+ This startup wants to find out if humans can have babies in space. (MIT Technology Review)

5 This new quantum computer is a record breaker
It’s got more qubits than any other—but that doesn’t mean it’s more powerful. (New Scientist $)
+ IBM wants to build a 100,000-qubit quantum computer. (MIT Technology Review)

6 How US immigration authorities investigate ‘derogatory’ social media posts 
Their content can help determine whether someone is allowed to remain in the country. (404 Media)

7 Threads is living in the past
Its users are optimistic, but they want more up-to-date content. (WSJ $)

8 A Chinese firm wants to build the world’s largest gay social platform 
And it’s set its sights on the US. (Rest of World)

9 Work software isn’t really about work anymore
It’s all about organizing how you’re planning to complete tasks, instead. (New Yorker $)
+ Meet the people who use Notion to plan their whole lives. (MIT Technology Review)

10 How to make your TikToks to go viral 
It might be as simple as applying a bit of lippie. (NYT $)

Quote of the day

"'Avoid all robots until further notice' was not on my 2023 bingo card." 

—An X user jokes about Oregon State University issuing a warning to students to avoid food delivery robots patrolling its campus after receiving a bomb threat, which later turned out to be false.

The big story

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

September 2022

Long before Alexander Cohen—or anyone else—had heard of the alpha, delta, or omicron variants of covid-19, he and his graduate school advisor Pamela Bjorkman were doing the research that might soon make it possible for a single vaccine to defeat the rapidly evolving virus—along with any other covid-19 variant that might arise in the future.

The pair and their collaborators are now tantalizingly close to achieving their goal of manufacturing a vaccine that broadly triggers an immune response not just to covid and its variants but to a wider variety of coronaviruses. If it works, it could protect us against ever having to endure another covid-related lockdown again. Read the full story.

—Adam Piore

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.)

+ Whatever you do, don’t mess with the ancient demons of Mesopotamia (just ask Regan MacNeil).
+  The Mangrove Photography Awards finalists have captured some really beautiful moments.
+ Dare you take an extreme couple selfie?
+ Happy anniversary to Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, which turns 23 years old this week.
+ If you’re considering a trip to Salem this Halloween, this guide is a great place to start.

Deep Dive

The Download

The Download: defining AI, and China’s driverless ambitions

Plus: Apple and Microsoft are walking away from OpenAI's board

The Download: AI agents, and how to detect a lie

Plus: Chinese EVs have hit an EU-shaped blockade

The Download: fish-safe hydropower, and fixing space debris

Plus: Apple is planning to bring AI features to the Vision Pro

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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