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The Download

The Download: organoid uses, and open source voting machines

Plus: TikTok is fighting back against yet another proposed ban

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 many uses of mini-organs

This week, we reported on a team of researchers who managed to grow lung, kidney, and intestinal organoids from fetal cells. Because these tiny 3D cell clusters mimic some of the features of a real, full-size organ, they can provide a sneak peek at how the fetus is developing. That’s something nearly impossible to do with existing tools.

But organoids can do so much more, ranging from weird, wild, and wonderful uses, to the downright unsettling. Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

If you’re interested in the wild world of organoids, why not take a look at:

+ Tiny faux organs could crack the mystery of menstruation. Researchers are using organoids to unlock one of the human body’s most mysterious—and miraculous—processes. Read the full story.

+ Human brain cells hooked up to a chip can do speech recognition, showing potential as a new type of hybrid bio-computer.

+ Human brain cells transplanted into baby rats’ brains grow and form connections. When lab-grown clumps of human neurons are transplanted into newborn rats, they grow with the animals. Read the full story.

How open source voting machines could boost trust in US elections

While vendors pitched their latest voting machines in Concord, New Hampshire, this past August, election officials asked every kind of question: How much does the new scanner weigh? Are any of its parts made in China?

The answers weren’t trivial. These machines are a once-in-a-decade purchase and many towns in New Hampshire want to replace their current, shoddy machines. But with what? 

The officials’ first option was to continue with a legacy vendor. The second was to gamble on VotingWorks, a nonprofit with only 17 employees which is at the forefront of the movement to make elections more transparent thanks to its open source approach. But can an idealist nonprofit really unseat industry juggernauts — and restore faith in democracy along the way? Read the full story.

—Spenser Mestel

A plan to bring down drug prices could threaten America’s technology boom

—Lita Nelsen joined the Technology Licensing Office of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1986 and was director from 1992 to 2016.

Forty years ago, Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was full of deserted warehouses and dying low-tech factories. Today, it is arguably the center of the global biotech industry.

During my 30 years in MIT’s Technology Licensing Office, I witnessed this transformation firsthand, and I know it was no accident. Much of it was the direct result of the Bayh-Dole Act, a bipartisan law that Congress passed in 1980.

The reform enabled world-class universities like MIT and Harvard to retain the rights on discoveries made by their scientists—even when federal funds paid for the research. Those discoveries, in turn, helped a significant number of biotechnology startups throughout the Boston area launch and grow. But the efficacy of the Bayh-Dole Act is now under serious threat. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 US Congressional offices are swamped with calls from angry TikTok users
It’s part of a campaign mobilized by TikTok itself fighting another potential ban. (Axios)
+ The company sent push notifications urging users to call their representatives. (The Verge)
+ One office received so many calls, they turned their phones off. (The Information $)

2 Criminals are hacking US doctors’ drug-ordering systems 
To order controlled substances, including Fentanyl, and sell them for a profit. (404 Media)
+ Why is it so hard to create new types of pain relievers? (MIT Technology Review)

3 OpenAI’s CTO played a key role in ousting Sam Altman
Mira Murati’s concerns about Altman motivated the board to force him out—shortly before he returned. (NYT $)
+ What’s next for OpenAI. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The White House is betting big on content creators
It hopes influencers spread the word of President Biden’s State of the Union address. (Wired $)

5 A quantum computing firm claims to have achieved "computational supremacy"
Outside observers aren’t so sure. (New Scientist $)
+ Quantum computing is taking on its biggest challenge: noise. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Jensen Huang’s star is in ascendance 💫
After years in relative obscurity, the Nvida CEO is stepping into the spotlight. (The Atlantic $)
+ The company’s worth has eclipsed Google and Amazon’s. (Vox)

7 Amazon is pressing pause on its international ambitions
It’s got to save cash somehow, so website launches are a logical casualty. (The Information $)

8 Could FTX’s victims get their money back after all?
The company’s lawyers seem to think so—which could reduce SBF’s sentence. (Slate $)

9 Designers made a handbag from NASA’s futuristic material 👜
And it looks pretty cool to boot. (Fast Company $)
+ Future space food could be made from astronaut breath. (MIT Technology Review)

10 This terrifying noise machine is the soundtrack to your nightmares
Making navigating creepy video games an even scarier experience. (The Guardian)
+ A Disney director tried—and failed—to use an AI Hans Zimmer to create a soundtrack. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“We're getting a lot of calls from high schoolers asking what a Congressman is.”

—Taylor Hulsey, a communications director for Florida congressman Vern Buchanan, offers an interesting insight into the age demographics of the TikTok users inundating their representatives with calls to prevent a TikTok ban, the Guardian reports.

The big story

The chip patterning machines that will shape computing’s next act

June 2023

When we talk about computing these days, we tend to talk about software and the engineers who write it. But without the hardware and the physical sciences that enabled their creation—disciplines like optics, materials science, and mechanical engineering—modern computing would have been impossible.

Semiconductor lithography, the manufacturing process responsible for producing computer chips, stands at the center of a geopolitical competition to control the future of computing power. And the speed at which new lithography systems and components are developed will shape not only the speed of computing progress but also the balance of power and profits within the tech industry. Read the full story.

—Chris Miller

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+ I want to ride my tiny bicycle, I want to ride my bike 🎶
+ Mr Bump is known as Herr Dumpidump in Norwegian, which is frankly adorable.
+ AI imagining luxury homes inspired by great albums? Love, love, love.
+ This short poem is a lovely reminder to make the most of every moment (thanks Charlotte!)

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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