This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekly newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the world of technology.
The three-parent technique can create babies at risk of severe disease
When the first baby was born in 2016 using a controversial procedure that meant he had three genetic parents, it made headlines. The boy inherited most of his DNA from his mother and father, but he also had a small amount from a third party.
The idea was to avoid the child inheriting a fatal disease. His mother carried disease genes in her mitochondria. Replacing them with genes from a donor — a third genetic parent — can prevent a child from developing. The strategy seemed to work.
But it may not always be successful. An MIT technology review can reveal two cases where babies conceived with the procedure showed what scientists call “reversion.” In both cases, the proportion of mitochondrial genes from the child’s mother increased over time from less than 1% in both embryos to about 50% in one child and 72% in the other.
Fortunately, both babies were born to parents without mitochondrial disease genes. But the scientists behind the work believe that around one in five children born using the three-parent method may end up inheriting high levels of their mother’s mitochondrial genes.
For children born to people with disease-causing mutations, it can be catastrophic – leaving them with a devastating and potentially fatal disease. Read the story in its entirety.
— Jessica Hamzelow
Researchers launched a test flight of solar geoengineering in the UK last year
Last September, researchers from Great Britain launched a high-altitude balloon that released several hundred grams of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere.
In theory, spraying sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere could mimic the cooling effect that occurs after large volcanic eruptions, reflecting more sunlight into space to alleviate global warming. This is highly controversial given concerns about potential side effects, among other issues.
But Britain’s effort was not a geoengineering experiment. Rather, the stated goal was to evaluate an inexpensive, controllable, recoverable balloon system. And some are concerned that the effort was made without extensive disclosure and prior public input. Read the story in its entirety.
— James Temple
The 11th technology breakthrough of 2023 is launched
It’s official—after more than a month of open voting, hydrogen jets are the readers’ choice for #11 on our list of disruptive technologies for 2023!
It just so happens that there is also some interesting news about hydrogen planes this week. Startup Universal Hydrogen is planning a test flight today. If all goes according to plan, it will be the largest aircraft yet to fly on hydrogen fuel cells.
But even if the test flight is successful, there’s still a long way to go before cargo or passengers climb aboard the hydrogen-powered aircraft. Read the story in its entirety.
— Casey Crownheart
Casey’s story is from The Spark, her weekly newsletter on climate change and energy. Register to get it delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.
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A must read
I’ve combed the web to find the funniest/important/scary/interesting tech stories for you today.
1 OpenAI wants to make artificial intelligence smarter than humans
Rushing to build such models, however, does not exactly fill ethicists with confidence. (vox)
+ Searching with AI gets very messy. (Slate $)
+ Chatbots are not people, and we would do well to remember that. (NY Mag$)
+ According to CEO Mira Murati, OpenAI could do with a little less hype. (Fast Campaign $)
+ How to responsibly create, release and distribute generative artificial intelligence. (MIT Technology Review)
2 The hunt for greener graphite continues
This is important for electric vehicle batteries, and supplies are running low. (Economist $)
+ A village in India is at the center of the lithium mining boom. (Wired $)
3 Twitter is stretched to breaking point
It’s running full time and crashes and glitches all the time. (WSJ$)
+ Just yesterday there was a serious failure. (BBC)
+ Twitter is becoming a very boring place. (FT$)
+ What happened to Elon Musk’s plan to turn it into an “app for everything”? (Ars Technica)
+ Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break. (MIT Technology Review)
4 The NASA SpaceX crew is heading to the ISS
They are expected to spend a full year in orbit. (CBS News)
5 Psychedelics are being tested as a treatment for anorexia
Scientists are cautiously interested in how disconnection from reality can benefit patients. (FT$)
+ The first psychedelic therapy clinic opened in Great Britain. (Vice)
+ Psychedelics are having a moment, and women may be the ones to win. (MIT Technology Review)
6 It’s easy to get around TikTok’s time limit for teens
But the company insists it’s still a significant intervention. (NPR)
7 Turkey shut down its most popular social media platform
Residents used Ekshi Sezlyuk to organize aid after the earthquakes. (The Guardian)
8 How greenwashing finally went out of fashion
Financial regulation will make it a lot harder to get away with. (Atlantic dollar)
9 What artificial intelligence can teach us about real art
In particular, there are no memories or life experiences behind AI images. (New Yorker $)
+ This artist dominates art created by artificial intelligence. And he is not happy about it. (MIT Technology Review)
10 How the Xerox Alto Changed the World
A 50-year-old computer paved the way for today’s laptop. (IEEE Spectrum)
Quote of the day
“If you enjoyed your trip, please don’t forget to give us five stars.”
— A SpaceX mission control manager jokes with the crew aboard the Falcon 9 rocket en route to the International Space Station, Reuters reports.
A great story
We’re getting a better idea of the true carbon footprint of artificial intelligence
Large language models have a dirty secret: they require enormous amounts of energy to learn and operate. But it’s still a mystery how big the carbon footprint of these models is. But AI startup Hugging Face believes it has come up with a new, more accurate way to calculate it.
The startup’s work could be a step toward getting more realistic data from tech companies about the carbon footprint of their AI product — and comes at a time when experts are calling for the sector to do a better job of assessing AI’s environmental impact. Read the story in its entirety.
— by Melissa Haykill
We can still have nice things
A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these strange times. (Any ideas? Scribble me a few lines or chirping at me.)
+ Tidycore is one TikTok trend that sounds wholesome, albeit exhausting.
+ Giant armadillos are very beautiful and critically endangered.
+ This is so heartwarming: Turkish baklava makers are back at work after a devastating earthquake.
+ I like these recipes to enjoy at home: make vodka with horseradish, bloody mary.
+ The internet has a lot of thoughts about the recently announced Lord of the Rings movies.