The Download, Mar 8, 2017: CIA Leak Realism, Democratizing Gene Therapy, and Luxurious Smartphones

The most fascinating and important news in technology and innovation delivered straight to your inbox, every day.

Mar 8, 2017

Three Things You Need to Know Today

The CIA Leak May Prove Interesting, But Not for the Hacks 
A Wikileaks stash of CIA files is short on technical revelations but may create political explosions. Yesterday, Wikileaks released thousands of files, which it claims is the “largest ever publication of confidential documents” from the CIA, and present and former government staff say that they appear genuine. But while details of hacking tools that allow the agency to seize control of smart TVs, vehicles, and smartphones sound sinister, they’re predictable and technically underwhelming. Still, as Donald Trump rails against U.S. intelligence agencies and seeks to criticize their practices, the timing could prove incendiary.

Do you need The Download? Sign up here to get it for free in your inbox

The Quest to Democratize Gene Therapy
You probably can’t afford gene therapy—but a new lab-in-a-box may change that. Even though the technique is becoming a medical reality, most successful therapies require days of work by teams of world-class scientists in the multimillion-dollar clean rooms of just a handful of elite research centers. That means patients in developing countries and regular folks in the Western world can’t hope to gain access to them. But our own Antonio Regalado reports that a $150,000 portable gene therapy lab that “looks a little like a machine from Willy Wonka’s factory” could democratize the approach.

Silicon Valley’s Very Real Sexism Problem
Today, some tech companies may find themselves a little short of staff. To mark International Women’s Day, many female workers will take part in “A Day Without a Woman" to highlight the economic value that they provide—but the sad truth is that the tech industry probably won’t notice as much as other sectors. Despite many women loving science and technology, sexism is rife in Silicon Valley, as well as the products that it creates, and female staff numbers in tech as a whole remain stubbornly low. Solving it won’t be easy, but the Economist has some suggestions.

Ten Fascinating Things 

Social networks might be distorting both individual and collective memories in strange new ways. This long read from Nature explores the problem.

Some of the most prestigious medical research centers in the U.S. promote alternative therapies with little scientific backing. Why?

What happens inside an AI remains mysterious. Researchers hope that reverse-engineering neural networks, from answers to inputs, could reveal their secrets.

In some corners of the Internet, climate change is a hoax, vaccines cause autism, and GM crops are unhealthy. Buzzfeed explores how fake news extends to science.

Antibiotic-resistant pathogens are a growing concern, but a new one-two therapy first weakens their external defenses then delivers a killer drug to their core.

Patients in intensive care units create vast reams of data, which artificial intelligence systems could use to predict when a person's condition might worsen.

Blue Origin, the space company owned by Jeff Bezos, announced that it’s secured its first paying customer—pitting it more aggressively than ever against SpaceX.

On the back of Uber’s troubling February, its CEO, Travis Kalanick, conceded that he needed "leadership help." Ready your résumé: he’s looking for a COO.

Images of the Earth are captured in greater volume and detail than ever, so a startup called Descartes Labs is building a visual search engine for the planet.

Airbus is serious about making a flying car, and while its modular concept might not be real, it is surprisingly sensible.

Quote of the Day 

"Americans have choices, and they’ve gotta make a choice. So maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love ... maybe they should invest it in their own health care."

— Representative Jason Chaffetz speaks out about health care payment, sparking much debate about whether a smartphone counts as a luxury item in the modern age.