The Download: US Navy drone swarms, and inside animals’ minds

The Download: US Navy drone swarms, and inside animals’ minds thumbnail
The US Navy is currently working on ways to deploy, build, and control thousands small drones that can flock together to overwhelm antiaircraft defenses. Budget documents reveal. The effectiveness of small drones in combating anti-aircraft defenses has been proven by the conflict in Ukraine. They have conducted reconnaissance, guided artillery firing, and destroyed tanks. These drones are limited in number because each one requires its own operator. However, hundreds to thousands of drones can be controlled together in a swarm.

Many nations are working on such swarms, including China, Russia, India, the UK, Turkey, and Israel, which in 2021 became the first nation to use swarming drones in combat. The US Navy has been a leader in this field and the budget documents that MIT Technology Review reviewed reveal ambitious plans for swarms far greater than any other. Read the complete story .

–David Hambling

Inside the enigmatic minds of animals

More than ever, we feel a duty and desire to extend empathy to our nonhuman neighbors. In the last three years, more than 30 countries have formally recognized other animals–including gorillas, lobsters, crows, and octopuses–as sentient beings. A trio of new books by Ed Yong and Jackie Higgins detail the inner worlds of animals and capture what has led them to these developments. This is a booming field in experimental research that challenges the long-held belief that animals are not conscious or cognitively complex.

But, even though they all provide fascinating insights into the lives and activities of animals, it leaves us wondering if we are really close to bridging this species divide. Read the complete story .

–Matthew Ponsford

This piece is from our forthcoming mortality-themed issue, launching this Wednesday. If you want to read it when it comes out, you can subscribe to MIT Technology Review for as little as $80 a year.

In last Friday’s issue of The Download, we included the wrong link to a fascinating piece on reverse-engineering Starlink signals so that they form a navigation system akin to GPS. Read the entire story to find out why it’s happening and whether SpaceX likes it.

The must-reads

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

1 Donald Trump is looming over the US midterms
Whether he will run for election in 2024 or not is still up in the air. (FT $)
Social media is rife with ads containing voting misinfo. (CNN)
How effective are platforms’ midterm misinfo prevention policies? (Fast Company $)
There’s still plenty of time for some wild midterm twists and turns. (NY Mag $)

2 Xi Jinping has secured a historic third term in power
His victory makes it likely he’ll lead China’s Communist Party for at least another decade. (BBC)
China’s tech stocks dropped sharply after the news. (CNBC)
Xi has surrounded himself with men unlikely to question his authority. (The Guardian)
How power transferred from Mao to Xi. (WP $)
Li Qiang is an unusual choice for Xi’s right-hand man. (Vox)

3 England wants to eradicate new HIV cases by 2030
New treatments will help to address healthcare disparity across the country. (The Guardian)

4 The Argentine influencer who traded luxury for guerilla philanthropy
Santiago Maratea’s cross-party calls to action have made him the scourge of politicians. (Rest of World)

5 Crypto’s biggest political megadonor is an enigma
But we know he’s a dedicated follower of “effective altruism.” (The Atlantic $)
Inside effective altruism, where the far future counts a lot more than the present. (MIT Technology Review)

6 What is the cause of so many food allergies?
Our obsession with hygiene may have something to do with it. (Vox)

7 TikTok’s biggest stars are more vulnerable than ever
Going viral constantly can take a real toll on a creators’ mental health. (WP $)
All of TikTok’s successes can be traced back to its algorithm. (The Guardian)
How aspiring influencers are forced to fight the algorithm. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Steve Jobs is still curating his own legacy
More than a decade after his death. (NYT $)
It was Bono’s idea to inflict U2’s 13th album on Apple users back in 2014. (The Guardian)

9 Record labels aren’t happy about AI music generators
They’re concerned it could pose a threat to artists’ livelihood. (Motherboard)
This artist is dominating AI-generated art. He’s not happy about this. (MIT Technology Review)

10 It’s a scary time for the tech industry
Maybe a party could help take the edge off. (The Information $)

Quote of the day

“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. But you can at least have everyone look at the genie.”

–Peter Wang, an Austin-based tech executive, reflects on the challenges facing the new wave of generative text-to-image and video AI models to the New York Times.

The big story

This US company sold iPhone hacking tools to UAE spies

September 2021

When the United Arab Emirates paid over $1.3 million for a powerful and stealthy iPhone hacking tool in 2016, the monarchy’s spies–and the American mercenary hackers they hired–put it to immediate use.

The tool exploited a flaw within Apple’s iMessage to allow hackers to take over an iPhone. It was used against hundreds and thousands of targets in a massive campaign of surveillance, espionage, which also targeted geopolitical rivals, dissidents and human rights activists.

MIT Technology Review has confirmed that the exploit was created and sold by Accuvant, an American company. This sheds new light on the role of American companies and mercenaries as they contribute to the proliferation and use of powerful hacking abilities around the globe. Read the full story.

–Patrick Howell O’Neill

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. )

Korean thriller Decision to Leave sounds intriguing.
The live dancing references for the Muses in Disney’s Hercules are absolutely incredible.
Happy Diwali to those who celebrate–if you’re stuck for inspiration, these recipes look extremely tasty.
Would you cover your entire home with doodles? This chap did.
Put the notebook down!

Read More