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The Download

The Download: synthetic cow embryos, and AI jobs of the future

Plus: Apple has been working on its own chip project

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 trying to get cows pregnant with synthetic embryos

About a decade ago, biologists started to observe that stem cells, left alone in a walled plastic container, will spontaneously self-assemble and try to make an embryo. These structures, sometimes called “embryo models” or embryoids, have gradually become increasingly realistic.

The University of Florida is trying to create a large animal starting only from stem cells—no egg, no sperm, and no conception. They’ve transferred “synthetic embryos,” artificial structures created in a lab, to the uteruses of eight cows in the hope that some might take.

At the Florida center, researchers are now attempting to go all the way. They want to make a live animal. If they do, it wouldn’t just be a totally new way to breed cattle. It could shake our notion of what life even is. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

Job titles of the future: AI prompt engineer

The role of AI prompt engineer attracted attention for its high-six-figure salaries when it emerged in early 2023. Companies define it in different ways, but its principal aim is to help a company integrate AI into its operations. 

Danai Myrtzani of Sleed, a digital marketing agency in Greece, describes herself as more prompter than engineer. She joined the company in March 2023 as one of two experts on its new experimental-AI team, and has helped develop a tool that generates personalized LinkedIn posts for clients. Here’s what she has to say about her work

—Charlie Metcalfe

The story is from the current print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is on the fascinating theme of Build. If you don’t already, subscribe now to receive future copies once they land.

The must-reads

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

1 Apple has been working on its own secretive chip project
Its new chip is likely to focus on running, rather than training, AI models. (WSJ $)
+ The US will sink $285 million into digital twin chip research. (The Verge)
+ This US startup makes a crucial chip material and is taking on a Japanese giant. (MIT Technology Review)

2 The US campus protests are unfolding on Twitch
The platform, best known for video game streaming, is gaining traction among young people dissatisfied with the mainstream media. (WP $)
+ Rubber bullets are seriously dangerous, and can kill their targets. (Slate $)

3 China and the US will meet to discuss AI arms controls
It’s America’s first real step into an entire new realm of 21st century diplomacy. (NYT $)
+ To avoid AI doom, learn from nuclear safety. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Russia is plotting violent sabotage across Europe
Experts are unsure if the Kremlin is getting sloppier, or Western detection methods are improving. (FT $)
+ Autocrats are attempting to discredit liberalism across the world. (The Atlantic $)
+ China is believed to be behind a cyberattack on the UK defense ministry. (Bloomberg $)
+ Ukraine’s foreign ministry has revealed an AI spokesperson. (The Guardian)

5 NASA refuses to let Voyager 1 die
The space agency is remotely hacking the space probe in the hope of fixing it. (IEEE Spectrum

6 CRISPR’s progress is hampered by genetics research’s lack of diversity
Many genetic databases and biobanks are highly unrepresentative of the wider population. (Vox)
+ I received the new gene-editing drug for sickle-cell disease. It changed my life. (MIT Technology Review)

7 This app is helping fishermen in South Africa sell their wares
Abalobi is a real-time marketplace that also helps to monitor fish populations. (The Guardian)

8 Nintendo’s next console is coming 🕹️
The Switch went on sale in 2017. But what’s coming next? (Reuters)
+ We may never fully know how video games affect our well-being. (MIT Technology Review)

9 How tech is supercharging rap beefs
Social media and platforms like YouTube are creating conflicts out of thin air. (Wired $)

10 An MMA fighter-turned TikTok food critic is saving struggling restaurants 🍔
Keith Lee’s viral reviews are turning around the fortunes of small businesses. (Bloomberg $)
+ Is TikTok in its flop era? Some younger users think so. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“You want to be on the golf course like, ‘Hey, I own some SpaceX.’”

—Jeff Parks, chief executive of investment firm Stack Capital, tells the New York Times how obtaining shares in certain companies has become something of a status symbol.

The big story

Think that your plastic is being recycled? Think again.

October 2023

The problem of plastic waste hides in plain sight, a ubiquitous part of our lives we rarely question. But a closer examination of the situation is shocking. To date, humans have created around 11 billion metric tons of plastic. 72% of the plastic we make ends up in landfills or the environment. Only 9% of the plastic ever produced has been recycled. 

To make matters worse, plastic production is growing dramatically; in fact, half of all plastics in existence have been produced in just the last two decades. Production is projected to continue growing, at about 5% annually. 

So what do we do? Sadly, solutions such as recycling and reuse aren't equal to the scale of the task. The only answer is drastic cuts in production in the first place. Read the full story

—Douglas Main

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.)

+ It’s the day after the Met Gala! Time to judge all the outfits.
+ We love you, Lola the therapy sausage dog.
+ Forgot tomatoes—this summer is all about growing cucamelons.
+ This prehistoric themed house party is on a whole other level.

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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