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The Download

The Download: AI accelerating scientific discovery, and Tesla’s EV charging meltdown

Plus: Neuralink's first implant in a human has experienced a problem

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.

Google DeepMind’s new AlphaFold can model a much larger slice of biological life

What’s new: Google DeepMind has released an improved version of its biology prediction tool, AlphaFold, that can predict the structures not only of proteins but of nearly all the elements of biological life.

How they did it: AlphaFold 3’s larger library of molecules and higher level of complexity required improvements to the underlying model architecture. So DeepMind turned to diffusion techniques, which have been steadily improving in recent years and power image and video generators. It works by training a model to start with a noisy image and then reduce that noise bit by bit until an accurate prediction emerges—a method that allows AlphaFold 3 to handle a much larger set of inputs.

Why it matters: It’s a development that could help accelerate drug discovery and other scientific research. And the tool is already being used to experiment with identifying everything from more resilient crops to new vaccines. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

Why EV charging needs more than Tesla

Tesla, one of the biggest electric vehicle makers in the world, laid off its entire charging team last week. 

The timing of the move is baffling. We desperately need many more EV chargers to come online as quickly as possible, and Tesla was in the midst of opening its charging network to other automakers and establishing its technology as the de facto standard in the US. Now, we’re already seeing new charging sites canceled because of this move.

Casey Crownhart, our climate reporter, has dug into why the charging meltdown at Tesla could slow progress on EVs in the US overall, and ultimately, the whole situation shows why climate technology needs a whole lot more than Tesla. Read the full story.

This story is from The Spark, our weekly climate and energy newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

1 The first Neuralink implant in a human has run into difficulty
A number of threads in Noland Arbaugh’s brain came out, interrupting the data flow. (WSJ $)
+ Meet the other companies developing brain-computer interfaces. (MIT Technology Review)

2 A British toddler has had her hearing restored
Opal Sandy, who was born deaf, can now hear unaided following gene therapy treatment. (BBC)
+ Some deaf children in China can hear after gene therapy treatment. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Is America ready for its next nuclear age?
Holtec, a nuclear waste storage manufacturer, is set on powering new reactors. (Bloomberg $)
+ Advanced fusion reactors could create nuclear weapons in weeks. (New Scientist $)
+ How to reopen a nuclear power plant. (MIT Technology Review)

4 TikTok employees are worried about their future prospects
Advertisers and creators are starting to ask questions, but nobody has the answers. (The Information $)

5 The US has unmasked a notorious Russian hacker
But he’s unlikely to be brought to justice any time soon. (Bloomberg $)

6 Baidu has reignited criticism of China’s toxic tech work culture
After its head of PR told staff she could ruin their careers. (FT $)
+ WhatApp has started mysteriously working for some users in China. (Bloomberg $)

7 The US Marines have equipped robot dogs with gun systems
What could possibly go wrong? (Ars Technica)
+ Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Inside the rise and rise of the sexualized web
The relentless nudification of everything is exhausting. (The Atlantic $)
+ OpenAI is looking into creating responsible AI porn. (Wired $)
+ The viral AI avatar app Lensa undressed me—without my consent. (MIT Technology Review)

9 An always-on video portal is connecting NYC and Dublin
It’s just a matter of time until someone ends up offended. (TechCrunch)

10 This lyrics site buckled as fans rushed to document rap beef
Enthusiastic volunteers desperate to dissect Kendrick Lamar’s latest lyrics caused Genius to crash temporarily. (NYT $)
+ Lamar’s feud with rapper Drake has transcended music. (The Atlantic $)
+ If you have no idea what’s going on, check out this potted history. (NY Mag $)

Quote of the day

“By the end of the second day, you’re like: Trust no one.” 

—Dana Lewis, an election worker in Arizona, describes the unsettling claims she’s dealt with during an AI training exercise designed to help spot electoral fraud to the Washington Post.

The big story

The future of open source is still very much in flux

August 2023

When Xerox donated a new laser printer to MIT in 1980, the company couldn’t have known that the machine would ignite a revolution.

While the early decades of software development generally ran on a culture of open access, this new printer ran on inaccessible proprietary software, much to the horror of Richard M. Stallman, then a 27-year-old programmer at the university.

A few years later, Stallman released GNU, an operating system designed to be a free alternative to one of the dominant operating systems at the time: Unix. The free-software movement was born, with a simple premise: for the good of the world, all code should be open, without restriction or commercial intervention.

Forty years later, tech companies are making billions on proprietary software, and much of the technology around us is inscrutable. But while Stallman’s movement may look like a failed experiment, the free and open-source software movement is not only alive and well; it has become a keystone of the tech industry. Read the full story.

—Rebecca Ackermann

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 Eurovision Song Contest this weekend: come on the UK!
+ Thank you for the music, Steve Albini. Legendary producer, remarkable poker player.
+ On a deadline? Let this inspirational playlist soothe your nerves.
+ It’s like Kontrabant 2 never went away.

Deep Dive

The Download

The Download: more energy-efficient AI, and the problem with QWERTY keyboards

Plus: an FDA panel has voted against approving MDMA as a treatment for PTSD

The Download: Apple’s AI plans, and a carbon storage boom

Plus: Elon Musk has withdrawn his lawsuit against OpenAI

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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