Tech

The Download: TikTok moral panics, and DeepMind’s record-breaking AI


This is today’s edition ofDownload,Our weekday newsletter provides daily coverage of what’s happening in the tech world.

The porcelain challenge doesn’t have to be real to get views

Despite what you may have heard, teenagers don’t steal their family’s fine tableware, throw it in a blender, and inhale the dust generated for the “porcelain challenge.”

That’s just what Sebastian Durfee, a 23-year-old actor and TikTok creator, hopes you can believe as he goes viral on social media about the latest dangerous teen challenge. Never mind that it’s all fake in the first place.

Last week, Durfee posted a call to action to his followers: working together to get “celebs nervous about a fake TikTok challenge”. His account was banned just a few days later, but his goal isn’t just to increase views. It is also to examine how attention and outrage work online, and, in a new twist, to fool the very people who started the joke in the first place. Read full story.

—Abby Ohlheiser

DeepMind’s gaming AI beats a 50-year-old computer science record

What happened: DeepMind used its board game AI AlphaZero to discover a faster way to solve a fundamental math problem in computer science, beating a record that has stood for more than 50 years.

Why is it important: The problem, matrix multiplication, is an important form of computation at the heart of many applications ranging from displaying images on a screen to simulating complex physics. It is also the foundation for machine learning itself. This computational acceleration can have a big impact on your computer’s thousands of daily tasks, cutting costs and saving energy. Read full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

Inside the battery recycling facility

A massive new battery recycling facility from Redwood Materials is being built in the mountains just outside Reno, Nevada. My colleague Casey Crownhart, our climate reporter, looked around to see how construction was going on, including the hydrometallurgical building, where metals are valuable. – lithium, nickel, cobalt and copper – will be isolated from the crushed battery material. Read full story.

Casey’s story is from The Spark, her new weekly newsletter that gives you insights into all things climate and energy. Register to get it in your inbox every Wednesday.

Things to read

I scoured the internet to find you today’s most interesting/important/scary/striking stories about tech.

1 Hurricane Ian is Florida’s deadliest in 87 years
Most of the more than 100 casualties are believed to have drowned. (WP $)
+ Areas with better solar prices during inclement weather. (Slate $)
+ The flooding problem in Bangkok is getting worse and worse. (New Yorkers $)

2 It’s not too late to avoid a sick winter
Accepting flu and covid shots can help ease the pain. (Atlantic $)
+ A new study shows that the Covid vaccine does not harm the menstrual cycle. (Economist $)
+ This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine. (MIT Technology Review)

3 You Shouldn’t Worry About US Elections Being Hacked
At least, that’s what DBI and CISA are saying. (Motherboard)
+Right-wing tech tactics have evolved since the Capitol riots. (Slate $)
+ Election misinformation is still prevalent in non-English languages. (Cnet)

4 Pollutants can reach babies in the womb
Depending on the level of pollution to which the mother is exposed, soot particles can cross the placenta. (Bloomberg $)

5 Big Tech destroys millions of data storage devices every year
Although they can wipe them and resold them, companies still fear confidential data falling into the wrong hands. (FT $)

6 Inside the race to end HIV — using CRISPR
In theory, this technology could return cells to a quasi-standard state. (Wired $)
+ The scientist who co-created CRISPR won’t rule out babies being created someday. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Chinese apps that still thrive in India
Despite the Indian government’s efforts to push users to use native apps. (The rest of the world)
+ Censorship-evading apps are being phased out in China. (TechCrunch)

8 Rise and rise of facial recognition in US airports
Self-check-in kiosks are being phased out in favor of controversial technology. (NYT $)
+ If you get your face scanned on your next flight, here’s what you should know. (MIT Technology Review)

9 How does it feel to visit a tourist trap on Instagram
It sounds a lot more trouble than it’s worth. (Vox)

10 It’s Time to Hug the Robot Dolphin
They are an ethical substitute for the real thing in captivity. (Hakai Magazine)

Quote of the day

“Spam also found its way into my inbox.”

— Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub of the Federal Election Commission, who helps police US political campaigns, told Washington Post that even she can’t escape countless political spam emails.

Big story

Gene editing has made pigs immune to a deadly disease

Crispy pig concept

December 2020

As covid-19 began to spread, countries closed businesses and asked people to stay home. Many people think that is enough to stop the coronavirus. If we had paid more attention to pigs, we might have known more.

To prevent their animals from getting sick, pig farmers use practices familiar to anyone who has avoided covid-19, including asking staff to change clothes before entering a safe, paying Answer questions about the last contact of the pig and use of supplies in the disinfectant.

Now, the Pig Improvement Company, of Hendersonville, Tennessee, is trying something different. Instead of trying to keep animals out of the environment, it is changing the pigs themselves. At a secret lab facility in the US, the company has an IVF center for pigs and a lab where pig eggs are being genetically edited using CRISPR, a revolutionary gene scissors, to do Immunize piglets from deadly diseases. Read full story.

—Antonio Regalado

We can still have good things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction during these strange times. (Any comments?Drop me a lineortweet ’em with me.)

+ The pitfalls when making movies about filmmaking.
+ Chick is deadluxury long life.
+ Ada Lovelace told Charles Babbage that she wish he was exactly like her awesome (thanks Will!)
+ Notorious rock magazine Creem is coming back.
+ It’s time select the best songs and albums of the 90s—But what is your opinion on iconoclastic?

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