The Download, Jan 26, 2017: Climate Change Ground Zero, 3-D Printed Transplants, and Snazzy Space Suits
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Three Things You Need to Know Today
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The Smartest News App You’ve Never Heard Of
One of the world’s most intelligent news apps is used by more than 600 million people—and it’s almost certainly not installed on your phone. That’s because, even though the app, called Toutiao, ticks all the Silicon Valley boxes, it has been developed in China. Perhaps the largest factor in its runaway success is its formidable machine learning, which, the company claims, creates less of a filter bubble than the likes of Facebook and Twitter, as it focuses on preferences rather than social ties. It’s also already developed ways to weed out fake news. And its ambitions are far from modest: it hopes to become the world’s number-one online content destination, eclipsing the likes of Facebook and Twitter, as well as the New York Times and Buzzfeed in their own markets. Our own Will Knight paid the company a visit to find out how it uses AI to deliver headlines to so many people.
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Bio-printing Comes to Life
The hype surrounding 3-D printing may have started to fade, but researchers using the technique to create living tissue are finally showing results. This week, a team of Spanish scientists published research describing new hardware that’s capable of printing functional human skin. The device creates the individual layers of skin one at a time, depositing plasma containing skin cells into precise geometries. The end result, the researchers claim, will be suitable for both transplantation and lab testing of new products. Still, skin lends itself to being printed, as it's flat and neatly layered—so the Economist has taken a look at when more complex parts of the anatomy could flop out of a printer. Advances have been happening fast, and the magazine says that we could expect 3-D printed kidneys and livers within the next six years. More complex organs, such as the heart, will have to wait a little longer.
Hunting for a Climate Change Ground Zero
Humans may have caused the world to warm more than we thought—but that depends on when you’re counting from. Climate scientists often define temperature increases above the “pre-industrial” level, a shorthand for the average global temperature between 1850 and 1900. The range is chosen because that’s when accurate temperature measurements stretch back to. But a team of researchersexplain in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society that human influence on the climate was already well underway at that point. Instead, the researchers argue that using figures between 1720 and 1800 would better reflect our true impact. It sounds like nit-picking, and the lack of data is problematic, but their analysis suggests that temperatures could have been up to 0.2 °C cooler in their proposed period than the usual standard. The idea doesn’t, of course, change the big picture: we still need to ensure that warming of the planet slows, and quickly.
Six Fascinating Things
1. Doctors in London say they have cured two babies of leukemia in the world’s first attempt to treat cancer with genetically engineered immune cells from a donor.
2. Last week Donald Trump traded in his old phone for something more secure. But he’s once more using an Android device to tweet, and that could be a security risk.
3. Uber and Airbnb transformed the way we use cities. From Bloomberg, an excellent essay on how they both tackled incumbents, fought regulators, and challenged consumer orthodoxy to take over the world.
4. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Facebook is rebooting its Trending feature(again) to try and stamp out fake news.
5. Is that mole something you should worry about? Turns out, AI is able to spot skin cancers just as well as a human expert can.
6. When you head to space, you want to look the part. Boeing’s new space suits for NASA astronauts are hi-tech—and surprisingly sharp.
Quote of the Day
"The more voices of reason that the President hears, the better. Simply attacking him will achieve nothing. Are you aware of a single case where Trump bowed to protests or media attacks?"
— Elon Musk explains how he thinks people will have to approach negotiations with Donald Trump, in a conversation with Gizmodo about how useful climate change policies could yet be introduced under his administration.