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The Download

The Download: mysterious radio energy from outer space, and banning TikTok


Binance founder CZ has swerved a lengthy jail sentence

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.

Inside the quest to map the universe with mysterious bursts of radio energy

When our universe was less than half as old as it is today, a burst of energy that could cook a sun’s worth of popcorn shot out from somewhere amid a compact group of galaxies. Some 8 billion years later, radio waves from that burst reached Earth and were captured by a sophisticated low-frequency radio telescope in the Australian outback. 

The signal, which arrived in June 2022, and lasted for under half a millisecond, is one of a growing class of mysterious radio signals called fast radio bursts. In the last 10 years, astronomers have picked up nearly 5,000 of them. This one was particularly special: nearly double the age of anything previously observed, and three and a half times more energetic. 

No one knows what causes fast radio bursts. They flash in a seemingly random and unpredictable pattern from all over the sky. But despite the mystery, these radio waves are starting to prove extraordinarily useful. Read the full story.

—Anna Kramer

The depressing truth about TikTok’s impending ban

Trump's 2020 executive order banning TikTok came to nothing in the end. Yet the idea—that the US government should ban TikTok in some way—never went away. It would repeatedly be suggested in different forms and shapes. And eventually, on April 24, 2024, things came full circle with the bill passed in Congress and signed into law.

A lot has changed in those four years. Back then, TikTok was a rising sensation that many people didn’t understand; now, it’s one of the biggest social media platforms. But if the TikTok saga tells us anything, it’s that the US is increasingly inhospitable for Chinese companies. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter covering tech and policy 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 Changpeng Zhao has been sentenced to just four months in prison
The crypto exchange founder got off pretty lightly after pleading guilty to a money-laundering violation. (The Verge)+ The US Department of Justice had sought a three-year sentence. (The Guardian)

2 Tesla has gutted its charging team
Which is extremely bad news for those reliant on its massive charging network. (NYT $)
+ And more layoffs may be coming down the road. (The Information $)
+ Why getting more EVs on the road is all about charging. (MIT Technology Review)

3 A group of newspapers joined forces to sue OpenAI 
It comes just after the AI firm signed a deal with the Financial Times to use its articles as training data for its models. (WP $)
+ Meanwhile, Google is working with News Corp to fund new AI content. (The Information $)
+ OpenAI’s hunger for data is coming back to bite it. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Worldcoin is thriving in Argentina
The cash it offers in exchange for locals’ biometric data is a major incentive as unemployment in the country bites. (Rest of World)
+ Deception, exploited workers, and cash handouts: How Worldcoin recruited its first half a million test users. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Bill Gates’ shadow looms large over Microsoft
The company’s AI revolution is no accident. (Insider $)

6 It’s incredibly difficult to turn off a car’s location tracking
Domestic abuse activists worry the technology plays into abusers’ hands. (The Markup)
+ Regulators are paying attention. (NYT $)

7 Brain monitors have a major privacy problem
Many of them sell your neural data without asking additional permission. (New Scientist $)
+ How your brain data could be used against you. (MIT Technology Review)

8 ECMO machines are a double-edged sword
They help keep critically ill patients alive. But at what cost? (New Yorker $)

9 How drones are helping protect wildlife from predators
So long as wolves stop trying to play with the drones, that is. (Undark Magazine)

10 This plastic contains bacteria that’ll break it down
It has the unusual side-effect of making the plastic even stronger, too. (Ars Technica)
+ Think that your plastic is being recycled? Think again. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“I have constantly been looking ahead for the next thing that’s going to crush all my dreams and the stuff that I built.”

—Tony Northrup, a stock image photographer, explains to the Wall Street Journal generative AI is finally killing an industry that weathered the advent of digital cameras and the internet.

The big story

A new tick-borne disease is killing cattle in the US

November 2021

In the spring of 2021, Cynthia and John Grano, who own a cattle operation in Culpeper County, Virginia, started noticing some of their cows slowing down and acting “spacey.” They figured the animals were suffering from a common infectious disease that causes anemia in cattle. But their veterinarian had warned them that another disease carried by a parasite was spreading rapidly in the area.

After a third cow died, the Granos decided to test its blood. Sure enough, the test came back positive for the disease: theileria. And with no treatment available, the cows kept dying.

Livestock producers around the US are confronting this new and unfamiliar disease without much information, and researchers still don’t know how theileria will unfold, even as it quickly spreads west across the country. Read the full story.

—Britta Lokting

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.)

+ This Instagram account documenting the weird and wonderful world of Beanie Babies is the perfect midweek pick-me-up.
+ Challengers is great—but have you seen the rest of the best sports films?
+ This human fruit machine is killing me.
+ Evan Narcisse is a giant in the video games world.

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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