This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the tech world.
The three-parent baby technique could create babies at risk of serious illness
When the first baby was born in 2016 with a controversial procedure that meant he had three genetic parents, he made headlines. The boy inherited most of his DNA from his mother and father, but also had a small amount from a third person.
The idea was to prevent the baby from inheriting a deadly disease. His mother carried genes for a disease in her mitochondria. Swapping them with genes from a donor, a third genetic parent, could prevent the baby from developing it. The strategy seemed to work.
But it may not always be successful. The MIT Technology Review can reveal two cases in which babies conceived with the procedure have shown what scientists call “reversion.” In both cases, the proportion of mitochondrial genes from the child’s mother has increased over time, from less than 1% in both embryos to about 50% in one baby and 72% in the other.
Fortunately, both babies were born to parents without genes for mitochondrial disease. But the scientists behind the work believe that around one in five babies born using the three-parent technique could inherit high levels of mitochondrial genes from their mothers.
For babies born to people with disease-causing mutations, this could spell disaster, leaving them with a devastating and potentially fatal disease. Read the whole story.
Researchers launched a solar geoengineering test flight in the UK last year
Last September, UK researchers launched a high-altitude weather balloon that released several hundred grams of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, a potential scientific first in the field of solar geoengineering, MIT can reveal Technology Review.
In theory, spraying sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere could mimic a cooling effect that occurs as a result of major volcanic eruptions, reflecting more sunlight back into space in an attempt to alleviate global warming. It is highly controversial given concerns about potential unintended consequences, among other issues.
But the UK effort was not an experiment in geoengineering. Rather, the stated goal was to evaluate a low-cost, controllable, and recoverable balloon system. And some are concerned that the effort has gone ahead without broader public disclosures and engagement beforehand. Read the whole story.
The 11th Breakthrough Technology of 2023 takes flight
It’s official: After more than a month of open voting, hydrogen jets are our readers’ choice for the 11th entry on our list of breakthrough technologies for 2023!
It just so happens that this week there is also some interesting news about hydrogen planes. Startup Universal Hydrogen is planning a test flight today. If all goes according to plan, it will be the largest aircraft powered by hydrogen fuel cells yet to fly.
But even if the test flight is successful, there’s a long way to go before cargo or passengers board a hydrogen-powered plane. Read the whole story.
Casey’s story is from The Spark, their weekly climate change and energy newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.
Vote for our amazing magazine covers
MIT Technology Review has been nominated for Readers’ Choice Awards in the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Best Cover Contest! Just like your favorite cover urban planning matter, Money subject, i Genre post on Twitter to make your vote count (or even all three!) You have until March 31st.
I’ve combed the internet to find you the funniest/important/scary and fascinating stories about technology.
1 OpenAI wants to make AI smarter than humans
However, rushing to build these models doesn’t exactly fill ethicists with confidence. (Voice)
+ AI-powered search is getting really messy. (Blackboard $)
+ Chatbots are not human, and we would do well to remember that. (NY Mag$)
+ OpenAI could do with a little less hype, according to executive Mira Murati. (fast company $)
+ How to build, release and share generative AI responsibly. (MIT Technology Review)
2 Greener graphite quest is on
It is essential for electric vehicle batteries, and supplies are running low. (Economist $)
+ A town in India has been caught in the crosshairs of a lithium mining boom. (via cable $)
3 Twitter is stretching itself to breaking point
It runs on a personal skeleton, and bugs and outages keep popping up. (WSJ$)
+ It suffered a major outage just yesterday. (BBC)
+ Twitter is becoming a very boring place. (FT$)
+ What happened to Elon Musk’s plan to make it an “everything app”? (Ars Technique)
+ Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it’s going to break. (MIT Technology Review)
4 NASA’s SpaceX crew is on its way to the ISS
They are expected to spend a full year in orbit. (CBS News)
5 Psychedelics are being tested as a treatment for anorexia
Scientists are very interested in how breaking with reality could benefit patients. (FT$)
+ The UK has opened its first psychedelic therapy clinic. (vice)
+ Psychedelics are having a moment and women could be the ones to benefit. (MIT Technology Review)
6 TikTok’s screen time limit for teenagers can be easily circumvented
But the company insists it’s still a significant intervention. (NPR)
7 Turkey has closed its most popular social platform
Residents had used Ekşi Sözlük to organize relief after the earthquakes. (The Guardian)
8 How greenwashing finally went out of fashion
Financial regulation will make it much harder to get out. (The Atlantic $)
9 What AI art can teach us about real art
There are no memories or lived experiences behind AI images, for example. (New Yorker $)
+ This artist masters AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it. (MIT Technology Review)
10 How the Xerox Alto changed the world
The 50-year-old computer paved the way for modern laptops. (IEEE spectrum)
quote of the day
“If you enjoyed your trip, 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.
The great story
We’re getting a better idea of
Great language models have a dirty secret: they require huge amounts of energy to train and run. But it’s still a bit of a mystery how big the carbon footprints of these models really are. But AI startup Hugging Face believes it has created a new and more accurate way to calculate it.
The startup’s work could be a step toward 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 industry to do a better job of assessing the environmental impact of AI. Read the whole story.
We can still have beautiful things
A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these strange times. (Do you have any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet them to me.)
+ Tidycore is a TikTok trend that sounds rewarding, if exhausting.
+ Giant armadillos are very cute and seriously endangered.
+ This is so comforting: Turkey’s baklava makers are back in business after the devastating earthquake.
+ I love these recipes for entertaining at home: Make me a vodka horseradish bloody mary.
+ The internet has a lot of thoughts about the recently announced Lord of the Rings movies.