The Download: a brain implant breakthrough, and China tech reflections

The Download: a brain implant breakthrough, and China tech reflections thumbnail

The news: Eight years ago, a patient lost her power of speech because of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which causes progressive paralysis. Now, after volunteering to receive a brain implant, the woman has been able to rapidly communicate phrases at a rate approaching normal speech.

Why it matters: Even in an era of keyboards, thumb-typing, emojis, and internet abbreviations, speech remains the fastest form of human-to-human communication. The scientists from Stanford University say their volunteer smashed previous records by using the brain-reading implant to communicate at a rate of 62 words a minute, three times the previous best. 

What’s next: Although the study has not been formally reviewed, experts have hailed the results as a significant breakthrough. The findings could pave the way for experimental brain-reading technology to leave the lab and become a useful product soon. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

Resolving to live the Year of the Rabbit to the fullest

By Zeyi Yang, China reporter

This past Sunday was the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday for Chinese and several other Asian cultures. It’s supposed to be an opportunity for us to reset and seize new opportunities.

In that spirit, I’ve recently revisited some of my favorite China-focused MIT Technology Review stories from the last year and gone back to the people I interviewed. I asked them whether they’d resolved any troubling challenges, and what they’re hoping for in the Year of the Rabbit. 

I’m very grateful to everyone who has let me tell their stories—which I hope have helped all of us understand more about tech and China and, more broadly, the people around us. Read the full story.

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter covering all the major happenings in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Germany and the US are sending tanks to Ukraine
They could help to usher in a turning point in the war with Russia. (BBC)
Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency is stepping up its efforts. (The Guardian)

2 The US Justice Department is suing Google (again)
It’s accusing the company of abusing its dominance in the digital advertising market. (Vox)
It’s unlikely it would ever actually break Google up, though. (Ars Technica)
Google is axing its spam exemption measures for political emails. (WP $)

3 Ticketmaster blamed a cyberattack for its Taylor Swift fiasco
But senators think its stranglehold on the ticket market is the real cause. (Bloomberg $)
Ticketmaster is the definition of a ticketing superpower. (Vox)

4 Crypto bank Silvergate is tanking 
To the point that its future is now in serious doubt. (NY Mag $)
What’s next for crypto. (MIT Technology Review)

5 China is the world leader in facial recognition tech exports  
Experts are worried the intrusive software can fuel human rights violations. (Wired $)

6 Amazon has warned staff not to share secrets with ChatGPT
It’s not clear how the system uses confidential company data. (Insider $)

7 How Nextdoor became a breeding ground for housing hostility
Neighbors quickly become enemies in a “permanent online cage match.” (Motherboard)

8 Artificial skin senses objects better than humans
It can even discern the kind of material it’s made of. (New Scientist $)

9 Meet the daters using questionnaires to screen potential matches
Champions say it helps them weed out romantic time-wasters. (The Guardian)
Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Online marketplace Zazzle is locked in a font war
The popular font “Blooming Elegant” is at the heart of it. (Slate $)

Quote of the day

“The way that artists are embracing crazy capitalist, hyper-technology culture is just really disheartening.”

—Art student Marla Chinbat explains why she finds the generative AI boom so depressing to Motherboard.

The big story

The next act for messenger RNA could be bigger than covid vaccines

February 2021

Many covid vaccines used a previously unproven technology based on messenger RNA. They were built and tested in under a year, thanks to discoveries made 20 years earlier.

In the near future, researchers believe, shots that deliver temporary instructions into cells could lead to vaccines against herpes and malaria, better flu vaccines, and, if the covid-19 germ keeps mutating, updated coronavirus vaccinations, too.

But researchers also see a future well beyond vaccines. They think the technology will permit cheap gene fixes for cancer, sickle-cell disease, and maybe even HIV. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

But what about their future crimes?
Who sells a life-sized dinosaur on Facebook? This guy, that’s who.
Now this is some AI art I can get onboard with (thanks Will!)
If you’re been trying to carve out more time to be creative, here’s some tips on how to solidify it into a habit.
Sardines may have a bad rep, but there’s so much you can do with them.

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