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The Download

The Download: weight-loss drugs, and the future of offshore wind

Plus: the SEC’s X account was hacked

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.

Weight-loss drugs: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

One-third of US adults have obesity, a condition that makes them more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. However, there’s huge hope that anti-obesity drugs—including Wegovy and Mounjaro—could help address this public health crisis.

While most were originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes, these medications help people lose weight by suppressing their appetite when injected once a week at home. Success stories are everywhere online.

These drugs aren’t perfect. Many patients must stay on the drugs for life to keep the weight off, and the long-term impacts of these treatments remain unknown. Nevertheless, the treatments could improve the health of millions of people. Read the full story.

—Abdullahi Tsanni

Weight-loss drugs is one of MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies for 2024. Check out the rest of the list and vote for the final 11th breakthrough—we’ll reveal the winner in April.

+ We’ve never understood how hunger works. But researchers think they’re getting closer to finally determining how this basic drive functions. Check out Adam Piore’s fascinating story.

What’s next for offshore wind

It’s a turbulent time for offshore wind power. Large groups of turbines installed along coastlines can harness the powerful, consistent winds that blow offshore, and can be a major boon to efforts to clean up the electricity supply around the world. 

But in recent months, projects around the world have been delayed or even canceled as costs have skyrocketed and supply chain disruptions have swelled. These setbacks could spell trouble for efforts to cut the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change.

The question is whether current troubles are more like a speed bump or a sign that 2024 will see the industry run off the road. Here’s what’s next for offshore wind power.

—Casey Crownhart

The end of anonymity online in China

Anonymity online in China changed drastically last year. Following many smaller decisions that make posting anonymously more difficult, the biggest blow came in October when all social media platforms in China demanded that users with large followings display their legal names.

The government and the platforms argue that the new rule can help prevent online harassment and misinformation. But their argument conveniently neglects what anonymity—a right that has existed since the invention of the internet—has afforded people online. 

There’s no doubt that the introduction of the mandatory real-name rule will almost certainly lead to more strict and expansive restrictions for everyone. Perhaps the only glimmer of hope is that users all over China have not given up, and are still finding workarounds to stay anonymous. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things happening in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

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

1 The SEC’s X account was hacked to promote bitcoin
X said the SEC failed to set up two-factor authentication to properly secure its account. (CoinDesk)
+ The crypto industry’s jubilation at the news was short lived. (NYT $)
+ Those in the know could have made a major profit from the scam. (WP $)

2 This AI gadget can use your apps for you
But don’t call the Rabbit R1 a smartphone replacement—yet. (The Verge)
+ As usual, CES is jam-packed with weird and wonderful products. (WP $)

3 A DeepMind spinoff wants to halve drug discovery times
Currently, it takes up to a decade and close to $3 billion to discover and develop a new drug. (FT $)
+ AI is dreaming up drugs that no one has ever seen. Now we’ve got to see if they work. (MIT Technology Review)

4 This US chip technology is fueling China’s encryption ambitions

Washington is unsure how—or if—they should attempt to limit its use. (NYT $)
+ Enterprising Chinese firms are repurposing Nvidia chips to circumvent export blocks. (FT $)
+ These simple design rules could turn the chip industry on its head. (MIT Technology Review)

5 There’s mounting evidence to suggest your mood is linked to your gut health
Ignore microbes at your own peril. (Knowable Magazine)
+ The hunter-gatherer groups at the heart of a microbiome gold rush. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Hollywood’s actors union has struck an AI voiceover deal
And consent is at its heart. (Bloomberg $)
+ Deepfake ads featuring unwitting celebrities are rife on YouTube. (404 Media)
+ How Meta and AI companies recruited striking actors to train AI. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Robotics labs across the world are teaming up to create a robot brain 🤖
Robots need lots of data to train on. Why not collaborate? (IEEE Spectrum)

8 We can’t agree on how worried we should be about ultra-processed food
Coming up with a better way to define what is and isn’t ultra-processed would be a good place to start. (WSJ $)

9 Quora is where the intelligent internet goes to die
It turns out there is such a thing as a stupid question, after all. (The Atlantic $)

10 Would you let an algorithm predict how long you’re going to live? 💀
It’s impossible to be sure of anything but death, taxes—and AI hype. (FT $)

Quote of the day

“There's just so much f**king competition.”

—Joe Forzano, an unemployed software engineer, explains to Motherboard how intensely tough it is to land a new engineering gig in the age of AI.

The big story

The first babies conceived with a sperm-injecting robot have been born

April 2023

Last spring, a group of engineers set out to test the sperm-injecting robot they’d designed. Altogether, the robot was used to fertilize more than a dozen eggs. 

The result of the procedures, say the researchers, was healthy embryos—and now two baby girls, who they claim are the first people born after fertilization by a “robot.”

The startup behind the robot, Overture Life, says its device is an initial step toward automating IVF, and potentially making the procedure less expensive and far more common than it is today. MIT Technology Review has identified a half-dozen startups with similar aims. Some have roots in university laboratories specializing in miniaturized lab-on-a-chip technology.

But fully automating the process will be far from easy. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

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.)

+ The gadget catalogs of yesteryear are really quite something.
+ I wouldn’t trust these extremely outdated entertaining tips—no brilliant guests and no chips!?
+ Everything you can expect in Tinseltown this year, starring slimmer budgets and Jenna Ortega.
+ Aspen Gay Ski Week sounds completely wild in the best possible way 🏳️‍🌈
+ The latest star to join the Minecraft movie? Mr Jack Black.

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

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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