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The Download

The Download: missions to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and Uruguay’s screwworm gene drive

Plus: the FCC has banned AI robocalls

February 19, 2024

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.

The search for extraterrestrial life is targeting Jupiter’s icy moon Europa

Europa, Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon, is nothing like ours. Its surface is a vast saltwater ocean, encased in a blanket of cracked ice, one that seems to occasionally break open and spew watery plumes into the moon’s thin atmosphere. 

For these reasons, Europa captivates planetary scientists. All that water and energy—and hints of elements essential for building organic molecules —point to another extraordinary possibility. Jupiter’s big, bright moon could host life. 

And they may eventually get some answers. Later this year, NASA plans to launch Europa Clipper, the largest-­ever craft designed to visit another planet. The $5 billion mission, scheduled to reach Jupiter in 2030, will spend four years analyzing this moon to determine whether it could support life. Read the full story.

—Stephen Ornes

This story is from the upcoming print issue of MIT Technology Review, dedicated to exploring hidden worlds. Buy a subscription to get your hands on a copy when it publishes on February 28th! Deals start at just $8 a month.

Uruguay wants to use gene drives to eradicate devastating screwworms

The New World screwworm, a parasite common in parts of South America and the Caribbean, is a disaster for cattle. It burrows into their flesh, eventually killing them. In Uruguay alone, it costs farmers between $40 million and $154 million a year. However, work is underway to fight back.

A group of researchers in Montevideo Uruguay have used the gene-editing system CRISPR to develop what’s known as a gene drive: tweaks to the screwworms genes that, if they spread, will cause a population crash.

They are about to move into the next stage of caged trials in the lab, with a view to eventually using the genetic tool to decimate the screwworm fly population. Read the full story

—Abdullahi Tsanni

The must-reads

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

1 The White House will spend $1.5 billion on a new chip factory
The money will go to semiconductor giant GlobalFoundries to produce advanced chips not currently made in the US. (WP $)
But work to expand US chip manufacturing keeps being plagued with problems. (NYT $)
+ Can the massive infusions of money rebuild the US’s industrial base? (MIT Technology Review)

2 Apple is facing its first EU fine
The EU says its music streaming services violate antitrust law. (FT $)

3 A judge ruled that Air Canada had to honor its chatbots’ discount error
This sets an important precedent as companies start to adopt AI tools. (WP $)
Judges, not politicians, are starting to dictate AI rules. (MIT Technology Review)
Should you trust an AI chatbot to plan a trip for you? (The Atlantic $)
+ It’s surprisingly tricky to work out when and how we’ll use generative AI. (FT $)

4  Is AI going to change how we define videos? 
Systems like OpenAI’s Sora don’t make recordings. They render ideas. (New Yorker $)
Sora looks amazing—but the rest of us will have to wait to try it out. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Don’t blindly trust Google search results 
AI-generated content, adverts, and ranking algorithms are really starting to spoil searches. (WSJ $)

6 The days of fast, free shipping may be coming to an end
Blame interest-rate hikes, and growing impatience from startup investors. (Insider $)

7 How New York’s legal weed revolution got derailed 
The state’s plans ended up in an unholy mess. (New Yorker $)
The feud between a weed influencer and scientist over puking stoners. (MIT Technology Review)

8 A gun influencer’s conviction has done nothing to dent his popularity
In fact, YouTube is still running adverts on his channel. (NBC
+ Hated that video? YouTube’s algorithm might push you another just like it. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Phone cases are getting jazzed up 🤳
They can do so much more than just protect your phone—for example, holding your lip balm. (Wired $)
Sharp-cornered smartphone cases are all the rage too. (WSJ $)

10 3D-printed chocolate sounds delicious 🍫
It’s something to do with the ridges and textures. (The Verge)

Quote of the day

“Everyone is looking around, talking about when layoffs are coming next, at what company.”

—A tech worker tells Insider that no job in the industry feels safe right now. 

The big story

Longevity enthusiasts want to create their own independent state. They’re eyeing Rhode Island.

A high-angle drone shot of Lustica bay resort with forested mountains in the background
GETTY IMAGES

May 2023

—Jessica Hamzelou

Earlier this month, I traveled to Montenegro for a gathering of longevity enthusiasts, people interested in extending human life through various biotechnology approaches. All the attendees were super friendly, and the sense of optimism was palpable. They’re all confident we’ll be able to find a way to slow or reverse aging—and they have a bold plan to speed up progress.

Around 780 of these people have created a “pop-up city” that hopes to circumvent the traditional process of clinical trials. They want to create an independent state where like-minded innovators can work together in an all-new jurisdiction that gives them free rein to self-experiment with unproven drugs. Welcome to Zuzalu. Read the full story.

We can still have nice things

+ Finding this funny New Yorker piece almost painfully relatable. 

+ I don’t need another cat, I don’t need another cat…..oh. Hmm. Maybe I do

+ Let this clip of Weird Al Yankovic conducting an orchestra brighten up your day. 

+ When people say the English are eccentric, I guess this is the sort of thing they mean.

Deep Dive

The Download

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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

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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