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The Download: hope for new long covid treatments, and the future of chiplets

Plus: OpenAI has suspended a political chatbot developer

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 are finding signals of long covid in blood. They could lead to new treatments.

The news: For tens of millions of people, a case of covid is the beginning of a chronic and sometimes debilitating illness that persists for months or even years. Now, new research suggests that faults in a certain part of the immune system might be at the root of some long covid cases.

How they did it: A team of researchers compared protein levels in blood samples taken from patients who had never had covid, those who had recovered from covid, and those who had developed long covid. They found that people with long covid exhibit changes in a suite of proteins involved in the complement system, which helps the immune system destroy microbes and clear away cellular debris.

What it means: The findings don’t prove that these changes are driving the disease. But they offer up a new avenue for treatment exploration by helping doctors pick the best people to trial certain drugs. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

Chiplets: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Packaging. It may sound boring, but it’s an essential part of building computer systems. Now companies are defining what that looks like for a new generation of machines.

For decades, chipmakers have improved performance by making transistors smaller and cramming more of them onto chips. The popular name for the trend is Moore’s Law. But that era is ending. It’s gotten immensely expensive to further shrink transistors and manufacture the complex chips that today’s high-tech industries demand.

In response, manufacturers are turning to smaller, more modular “chiplets” that are designed for specific functions and can be linked together to build a system. But whether chiplets can help the industry maintain performance gains at the pace of Moore’s Law will depend on packaging, which entails placing them side by side or stacking them, forming fast, high-bandwidth electrical connections between them, and encasing them in protective plastic.  Read the full story.

—Mike Orcutt

Chiplets 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.

Three technology trends shaping 2024’s elections

The biggest story of this year will be elections in the US and all around the globe. Over 40 national contests are scheduled, making 2024 one of the most consequential electoral years in history. 

While tech has played a major role in campaigns and political discourse over the past 15 years or so, and candidates and political parties have long tried to make use of big data to learn about and target voters, the past offers limited insight into where we are now. The ground is shifting incredibly quickly at technology’s intersection with business, information, and media.

Tate Ryan-Mosley, our senior tech policy reporter, has run down three of the most important technology trends in the election space that you should stay on top of. Read the full story.

This story is from The Technocrat, our weekly newsletter covering power, politics, and Silicon Valley. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

The must-reads

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

1 OpenAI suspended a developer who made a presidential candidate bot
It’s the first known violation of the company’s policies forbidding political usage. (WP $)
+ The bot was designed to impersonate Democratic hopeful Dean Phillips. (The Guardian)
+ Eric Schmidt has a 6-point plan for fighting election misinformation. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Some early Vision Pro apps may be repurposed from the iPad
Rather than designed specifically for the headset. (Bloomberg $)
+ It’s looking like Apple will have to heavily rely on the web. (The Verge)
+ These minuscule pixels are poised to take augmented reality by storm. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Apple Vision Pro is one of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies for 2024. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Generative AI won’t be free for much longer
Its systems are hugely expensive to run, and subscriptions are coming. (Insider $)
+ Can you tell which of these faces are AI-generated? (NYT $)
+ These six questions will dictate the future of generative AI. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Scientists are fighting superbugs with ancient predators
Viruses called phages are bacteria killers—and one of our best defenses against antimicrobial-resistant infections. (CNN)
+ Why tiny viruses could be our best bet against antimicrobial resistance. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Lamborghini has licensed a new fast-charging organic EV battery
Organic compounds are looking like increasingly feasible cathodes. (TechCrunch)
+ Jeep is planning on releasing its first full EV later this year. (The Verge)
+ How water could make safer batteries. (MIT Technology Review)

6 We’re edging closer to fully-private internet searches
A new method could pull information from large databases free from detection. (Wired $)

7 Google’s Play Store is riddled with predatory loan apps
Getting them removed from the platform is an uphill struggle. (Rest of World)

8 Japan is plugging its labor shortage with AI and robots
The country’s strict restrictions on overseas workers are biting hard. (FT $)
+ Inside Japan’s long experiment in automating elder care. (MIT Technology Review)

9 New map apps are helping delivery drivers to get it right first time
Mailrooms and delivery points aren’t always marked clearly on conventional maps. (WSJ $)

10 A UK university is trialing hologram lecturers 
Much to students’ delight. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“Oh gosh, I have to become a coder.”

—Karin Kimbrough, LinkedIn’s chief economist, gives the Financial Times an example of the kinds of panicked thoughts job seekers have prompted by reports warning of AI-induced job losses.

The big story

What’s next for the world’s fastest supercomputers

September 2023

When the Frontier supercomputer came online last year, it marked the dawn of so-called exascale computing, with machines that can execute an exaflop—or a quintillion (1018) floating point operations a second. 

Since then, scientists have geared up to make more of these blazingly fast computers: several exascale machines are due to come online in the US and Europe in 2024.

But speed itself isn’t the endgame. Researchers hope to pursue previously unanswerable questions about nature—and to design new technologies in areas from transportation to medicine. Read the full story.

—Sophia Chen

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.)

+ It’s not just you: all hipster coffee shops really do look the same.
+ Coffee trees don’t just grow delicious produce—they’re great for conservation, too.
+ Train travel and immersive experiences: the city trends you need to stay on top of this year.
+ Central city in Kentucky wants to welcome little green men. 👽
+ The Shaggy D.A movie looks completely crackers.

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