The Download: the Saudi sci-fi megacity, and sleeping babies’ brains

The Download: the Saudi sci-fi megacity, and sleeping babies’ brains thumbnail

In early 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced The Line: a “civilizational revolution” that would house up to 9 million people in a zero-carbon megacity, 170 kilometers long and half a kilometer high but just 200 meters wide. Residents would be transported around the city by underground trains and electric air taxis, thanks to its mirror walls.

Satellite images of the $500 billion project obtained exclusively by MIT Technology Review show that the Line’s vast linear building site is already taking shape. You will see nothing more than bare rock, sand, and dirt when you visit The Line’s location in Google Maps or Google Earth ,.

The strange gap in imagery raises questions as to who has access to high-resolution satellite technology. Google Maps doesn’t show the largest urban construction site in the world. What else can we see? Read more .

–Mark Harris

Why babies sleep so much

Babies spend much more time asleep than they do awake. Scientists are still not sure why babies sleep so much, but new technologies are beginning to shed some light on the mystery. They could reveal what happens inside the rapidly developing brain of a newborn.

In the first few months of life, babies’ brains develop connections at a rate that is approximately one million synapses per second. These connections are believed to play a crucial role in helping babies to understand the world around them and set the foundations for their lives to come. Read full story . This story is from The Checkup. It’s a weekly newsletter written by Jessica Hamzelou, our senior reporter. It gives you the inside scoop on all things biomedicine/biotechnology. 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 Covid data is starting to disappear in China
It’s about to enter its deadliest phase of the pandemic. How dangerous? We won’t be able to tell. (FT $)
A letter from Foxconn’s founder may have helped to persuade China’s leaders to abandon zero-covid. (WSJ $)
The policy pivot has been met with relief–but also worry and confusion. (NYT $)
Here’s what scientists have to say about it. (Nature)

2 AI selfies are everywhere
You can thank the app Lensa, and the fact people can’t resist sharing how sexy it makes them look. (WP $)
However, it generates troublingly NSFW images. Even if the photo is of a child . (Wired $)
AI is getting better and better at producing convincing text too. (Vox)
Can you tell a real tweet from one written by an AI? (WSJ $)

3 Americans are flocking to climate danger zones
Migration patterns are mostly away from safer areas, towards hotter, drier regions with more wildfires. (Wired $)
These three charts show who is most to blame for climate change. (MIT Technology Review)

4 A lawsuit claims women were targeted for Twitter layoffs
In engineering roles, 63% of women lost their jobs compared to 48% of men. (NBC)
Musk’s plan to encrypt Twitter messages seems to be on hold. (Forbes)
Twitter is planning to change the cost of ‘Twitter Blue’ after a spat with Apple. (The Information $)
Elon Musk is openly courting a far-right, conspiracy obsessed fan base. (Wired $)

5 CoinDesk’s FTX scoop shot its own parent company in the foot
Ownership structures in crypto are complex–and in this case, a bit too cozy for comfort. (The Verge)
Crypto execs exchanged frantic texts as FTX collapsed. (NYT $)

6 Exhausted by the internet? You are not the only one.
It’s beginning to feel like a dying mall full of stores you don’t want to visit. (New Yorker $)
Amazon is launching a TikTok clone. Yes, Amazon. (WP $)

7 The hype around esports is fading
A wider economic downturn is causing sponsors and investors to flee. (Bloomberg $)
The FTC is trying to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of video game giant Activision Blizzard. (Vox)

8 What causes Alzheimer’s?
A stream of recent findings suggest that it’s more complex than the build-up of amyloid plaques. (Quanta)
The miracle molecule that could treat brain injuries and boost your fading memory. (MIT Technology Review)

9 The global spyware industry has spiraled out of control
And the US is playing both arsonist and firefighter, adopting the very same tools it condemns. (NYT $)
It’s hard to control spyware technology when it’s in such high demand from governments around the world. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Xiaomi taught a robot to play the drums
Professional musicians can rest easy for now though, if the demo clip is anything to go by. (IEEE Spectrum)

Quote of the day

“Globalization is almost dead. Free trade is almost dead. And a lot of people still wish they would come back, but I really don’t think that it will be back for a while.”

–Morris Chang, founder of Taiwanese chip giant TSMC, made some blunt remarks about geopolitics at the launch of a new plant in Arizona this week, Nikkei Asia reports.

The big story

The future of urban housing is energy-efficient refrigerators

June 2022

The aging apartments that fall under the control of the New York City Housing Authority aren’t exactly a sign of innovation. The largest landlord in the city, housing nearly 1 in 16 New Yorkers, NYCHA has seen its buildings literally crumble after decades of deferred maintenance and poor stewardship. It would require an estimated $40 billion or more, at least $180,000 per unit, to return the buildings to a state of good repair. Despite the challenges, NYCHA hopes to solve them. NYCHA has launched the Clean Heat for All Challenge, which challenges manufacturers to create low-cost, easy to install heat-pump technology for retrofits. The stakes for the agency and the winning company as well as society could be enormous–and good news for the planet.

It’s much more sustainable to retrofit existing buildings rather than to tear them down and rebuild them. Read the full story.

–Patrick Sisson

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