The Download: circumventing China’s firewall, and using AI to invent new drugs

The Download: circumventing China’s firewall, and using AI to invent new drugs thumbnail

As protests against China’s rigid covid control measures raged on social media, one Twitter account emerged as the main source of information: @LiLao Shi Bu Shi Shi Shi (“Teacher Li is Not Your Teacher”)

People all over China have sent the account protest footage and real time updates through private messages. The account has posted them on their behalf, while keeping the sender’s identity secret.

The man behind the account is Li, a Chinese painter who lives in Italy. He requested that his last name be used because of security risks. He has been posting footage round the clock to assist people in China and the wider world.

The work has been hard. He’s received death threats and police have visited his family in China. It also brings a sense of freedom, Li said to Zeyi Yang, our China correspondent. Read more .

Biotech labs are using AI inspired by DALL-E to invent new drugs

The news: Text-to-image AI models like OpenAI’s DALL-E 2–programs trained to generate pictures of almost anything you ask for–have sent ripples through the creative industries. Two biotech labs now use this type of generative AI (known as a diffusion model) to create new types of protein.

Why it matters: Proteins are the basic building blocks of living systems. These protein generators can be programmed to produce proteins with specific properties such as size, shape, or function. This allows for the creation of new proteins that can do specific jobs. Researchers hope this will lead to the development and production of more effective drugs. Read the complete story .

–Will Douglas Heaven

Your microbiome ages as you do–and that’s a problem

We’re all crawling with bugs. There are many ecosystems in our bodies that support microbes, fungi and other organisms essential to our health. These ecosystems change with age, and can lead to increased risk of developing age-related diseases.

The big questions are: What can we do to maintain happy microbiomes? And, even if it is possible, will it help us to prevent age-related diseases? Read the complete story .

–Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, Jessica’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things biotech. Sign up and receive it in your email every Thursday.

The must-reads

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

1 China’s government is cracking down hard on protest content
Among other orders, tech companies have been told to take down guides on how to use VPNs. (WSJ $)
Workers at the Zhengzhou iPhone factory are under intense pressure. (FT $)
There’s no way for the Chinese government to abandon ‘zero covid’ without losing face. (Vox)
Protestors have embraced analogue methods to escape surveillance. (Rest of World)

2 FTX’s collapse is bad news for AI
The embattled crypto exchange invested hundreds of millions in AI projects. Will they have to repay it? (NYT $)
FTX’s implosion is obviously not doing crypto’s reputation any favors, either. (WSJ $)
Bitcoin looks likely to further drop in value. (Bloomberg $)
What’s next for effective altruism? It doesn’t look good. (New Yorker $)

3 Kanye West has been banned from Twitter, again
The rapper tweeted a vile antisemitic symbol. (BBC)
West also praised Hitler during an interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. (Vox)
His deal to buy Parler has fallen through. (CNN)

4 Weight loss app Noom is struggling with vulnerable users
The platform promotes a “psychological” approach to weight loss, which some conflate with therapy. (Insider $)

5 The high aviation costs of Amazon’s obsession with two-day delivery
Delivering goods via plane is neither cheap nor terribly efficient. (Wired $)
This company delivers packages faster than Amazon, but workers pay the price. (MIT Technology Review)

6 OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT is still spouting nonsense
It’s confidently regurgitating false information. (The Verge)
These six high-profile artists’ AI creations are quite something. (The Guardian)
While everyone waits for GPT-4, OpenAI is still fixing its predecessor. (MIT Technology Review)

7 The US Army wanted to recruit Gen Z gamers over Twitch
With a particular focus on reaching women, and Black and Hispanic players. (Motherboard)

8 Beavers are moving to the Arctic
And they could end up traveling even farther, due to global warming. (Knowable Magazine)
The radical intervention that might save the “doomsday” glacier. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Inside the weird world of Competitive Excel
Yes, the spreadsheet software. (The Atlantic $)

10 Saturn’s rarely-seen moon has been captured on camera
Titan looks surprisingly like Earth in the JWST images. (Inverse)

Quote of the day

“They sound like the guy playing the violin on the Titanic.”

–A senior media buyer lampoons the unusually generous deals Twitter is currently offering advertisers in a desperate bid to convince them to keep spending money with the increasingly volatile platform, to the Financial Times.

The big story

The quest to show that biological sex matters in the immune system

immunity concept illustration

August 2022

For years, microbiologist Sabra Klein has painstakingly made the case that sex–defined by biological attributes such as our sex chromosomes, sex hormones, and reproductive tissues–can influence immune responses. Klein and others have demonstrated how the immune systems of male and female patients react to HIV/flu virus and other cancer therapies. They also showed that women are more likely to develop severe asthma or other autoimmune disorders.

Klein is a pioneer in immunology. She has pushed the field of sex difference even further. Read the full story.

–Sandeep Ravindran

We can still have nice things

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

I bet you didn’t know that the way ducks swim in formation is inspiring how freight ships move.
This is a really fascinating account of what it’s like to be a deaf livestreamer.
I envy anyone lucky enough to live close to any of these lovely-looking city hike trails.
This vegan mac and cheese looks outstanding.
Wednesday Addams, how we love ye.

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