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The Download

The Download: replacing animal testing, and underwater drones

Plus: the US government is banning sales of Kaspersky software from next month

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.

Is this the end of animal testing?

Animal studies are notoriously bad at identifying human treatments. Around 95% of the drugs developed through animal research fail in people, but until recently there was no other option.

Now organs on chips, also known as microphysiological systems, may offer a truly viable alternative. They’re triumphs of bioengineering, intricate constructions furrowed with tiny channels that are lined with living human tissues that expand and contract with the flow of fluid and air, mimicking key organ functions like breathing, blood flow, and peristalsis, the muscular contractions of the digestive system.

It’s only early days, but if they work as hoped, organs on chips could solve one of the biggest problems in medicine today. Read the full story.

—Harriet Brown

This story is from the forthcoming print issue of MIT Technology Review, which explores the theme of Play. It’s set to go live on Wednesday June 26, so if you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands.

How underwater drones could shape a potential Taiwan-China conflict

A potential future conflict between Taiwan and China would be shaped by novel methods of drone warfare involving advanced underwater drones and increased levels of autonomy, according to a new war-gaming experiment by the think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS). 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, drones have been aiding in what military experts describe as the first three steps of the “kill chain”—finding, targeting, and tracking a target—as well as in delivering explosives. Drones like these would be far less useful in a possible invasion of Taiwan. Instead, a conflict with Taiwan would likely make use of undersea and maritime drones to scout for submarines. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

Should social media come with a health warning?

Earlier this week, the US surgeon general, also known as the “nation’s doctor,” authored an article making the case that health warnings should accompany social media. The goal: to protect teenagers from its harmful effects.

But the relationship between this technology and health isn’t black and white. Social media can affect users in different ways—often positively. So let’s take a closer look at the concerns, the evidence behind them, and how best to tackle them. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly health and biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

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

1 The US government is banning Kaspersky’s antivirus software  
Officials claim the firm’s ties with Russia mean it poses a major security risk. (Reuters)
+ It’ll ban sales of software from 20 July, and updates from 29 September. (TechCrunch)
+ The ban follows a two-year probe into Kaspersky. (The Verge)

2 Americans are paying way too much for prescription drugs
And shadowy pharmacy benefit managers are partly to blame. (NYT $)
+ The UK has been hit by a drug shortage, too. (The Guardian)

3 How a secretive ocean alkalinity project in the UK spiraled into disaster
It raises important questions: who gets to decide where trials can take place? (Hakai Magazine)
+ This town’s mining battle reveals the contentious path to a cleaner future. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Car dealers have been locked out of their selling systems
Businesses have had to resort to paper and pen to close their sales. (WSJ $)
+ It’s unlikely to be resolved before the weekend. (Bloomberg $)

5 Make way for much less large language models
They’re a fraction of the size, but just as effective. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ Large language models can do jaw-dropping things. But nobody knows exactly why. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Inside the growing cottage industry of wildfire mitigation
In Boulder, Colorado, the solutions are increasingly experimental. (Bloomberg $)+ The quest to build wildfire-resistant homes. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Zimbabwe’s traditional healers are peddling financial advice on TikTok
But spirituality and tech are uneasy bedfellows. (Rest of World)

8 How to avoid falling for scams on Amazon
Read those product reviews super carefully. (Wired $)

9 Tech companies are still interested in making smart glasses 👓
Despite Meta being the sole big player. (The Information $)

10 The internet looked very different 30 years ago
A whole lot more interesting, some might say. (Fast Company $)
+ How to fix the internet. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“Congress reached for a sledgehammer without even considering if a scalpel would suffice.”

—A legal brief filed by TikTok lays out why the company feels that the US Congress is not operating in good faith in its attempts to ban the platform, the Washington Post reports.

The big story

The first babies conceived with a sperm-injecting robot have been born

April 2023

Last spring, a group of engineers set out to test the sperm-injecting robot they’d designed. Altogether, the robot was used to fertilize more than a dozen eggs.

The result of the procedures, say the researchers, was healthy embryos—and now two baby girls, who they claim are the first people born after fertilization by a “robot.”

The startup behind the robot, Overture Life, says its device is an initial step toward automating IVF, and potentially making the procedure less expensive and far more common than it is today. But that will be far from easy. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

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.)

+ Bradley the baby kangaroo has all the makings of an excellent hopper.
+ Ooh, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are reuniting in a new brawny crime thriller.
+ Here’s a couple of things you may not know about one of the world’s most famous paintings: Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
+ Admire this newly-discovered shape, which is currently without a name.

Deep Dive

The Download

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

The Download: defining AI, and China’s driverless ambitions

Plus: Apple and Microsoft are walking away from OpenAI's board

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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