The Download: AI’s life-and-death decisions, and plant-based steak


This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

The messy morality of letting AI make life-and-death decisions

In a workshop in the Netherlands, Philip Nitschke is overseeing testing on his new assisted suicide machine. Sealed inside the coffin-sized pod, a person who has chosen to die must answer three questions: Who are you? Where are you? And do you know what will happen when you press that button? The machine will then fill with nitrogen gas, causing the occupant to pass out in less than a minute and die by asphyxiation in around five.

Despite a 25-year campaign to “demedicalize death” through technology, Nitschke has not been able to sidestep the medical establishment fully. Switzerland, which has legalized assisted suicide, requires that candidates for euthanasia demonstrate mental capacity, which is typically assessed by a psychiatrist.

A solution could come in the form of an algorithm that Nitschke hopes will allow people to perform a kind of psychiatric self-assessment. While his mission may seem extreme—even outrageous—to some, he is not the only one looking to involve technology, and AI in particular, in life-or-death decisions. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

This fascinating piece is from our forthcoming mortality-themed issue, available from 26 October. If you want to read it when it comes out, you can subscribe to MIT Technology Review for as little as $80 a year.

Impossible Foods has a big new offering in the works: filet mignon

Progress is being made on a truly impossible-seeming area of plant-based meat products: steak. And not just any steak—filet mignon.

At MIT Technology Review’s ClimateTech event on Wednesday, Impossible Foods founder Pat Brown shared that while he couldn’t give an exact date for when the company’s steak product will be ready for consumers to purchase, there is a prototype—and he tried it out himself earlier this year. Read the full story diving into the biggest challenges of replicating the crème de la crème of steaks from plants, and tune in to our live blog covering the second day of ClimateTech later this morning.

Elsewhere at Climate Tech, our climate reporter Casey Crownhart moderated a session on  “Solving the Hard-to-Solve Sectors,” digging into the industries that are crucial to combating climate change, but tend to be overlooked.

She dived into the nitty gritty of what these sectors are, what’s so hard about them, and the approaches companies are taking to clean them up in The Spark, her weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all the latest climate innovations. Read this week’s edition, and sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday. 

Human brain cells transplanted into baby rats’ brains grow and form connections

Human neurons transplanted into a rat’s brain continue to grow, forming connections with the animals’ own brain cells and helping guide their behavior, new research has shown.

In a study published in the journal Nature yesterday, lab-grown clumps of human brain cells were transplanted into the brains of newborn rats. They grew and integrated with the rodents’ own neural circuits, eventually making up around one-sixth of their brains. It’s a development that could shed light on human neuropsychiatric disorders. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

The must-reads

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

1 How China’s chipmakers are preparing for US sanctions 
Stockpiling components and planning to train AI models overseas are just some of the tools in their arsenal. (Wired $)
+ Samsung has been granted a year-long exemption from the rules. (WSJ $)
+ The regulations come at a very trying time for the industry. (Bloomberg $)

2 A robotic exoskeleton adapts to wearers to help them walk faster
Traditional exoskeletons are expensive and bulky, but this one is essentially a little robotic boot. (MIT Technology Review) 

3 Amazon’s dream home is a surveillance nightmare
Its products gather swathes of data, detailing your routines and habits. (WP $)
+ Ring’s new TV show is a brilliant but ominous viral marketing ploy. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Alex Jones must pay the Sandy Hook victims’ families $1 billion
It’s a record-breaking amount for a defamation lawsuit. (Vox)

5 Ukraine’s Starlink systems are coming back online
The devices have suffered outages in the past few days, leaving soldiers without any way to communicate. (FT $)
+ Odessa’s officials have removed Elon Musk’s picture from a billboard. (Motherboard)
+ Russia’s train reliance is part of its problem during the war. (The Atlantic $)

6 The US midterms have a misinformation problem
Multilingual fact-checking groups are stepping up to try to combat the falsehoods. (NYT $)
+ Why midterm “October surprises” are rarely the revelations they seem. (Vox)

7 A long-standing malaria mystery has been solved 🦟
Experts simply couldn’t work out where mosquitoes went during hot weather. (Economist $)
+ The new malaria vaccine will save countless lives. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Fake vaccination certificates are circulating in India
It doesn’t bode well for the country’s claims of high vaccination rates. (Rest of World)

9 Even AI doesn’t like math
Some language models are failing to get to grips with tricky problems. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ A new AI tool can detect sepsis. (Undark)
+ DeepMind’s game-playing AI has beaten a 50-year-old record. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Consumer tech is going solar powered 
If this Swedish startup has their way, that is. (The Next Web)

Quote of the day

“Compare that to Lord of the Rings, when they scan your eyeballs just to get in!”

—Charlie Vickers, the actor who plays Halbrand in The Rings of Power, discusses the intense biometric lengths that showmakers went to in order to keep the Tolkien show a secret with the Guardian.

The big story

The uneasy coexistence of Yandex and the Kremlin

August 2020

While Moscow was under coronavirus lockdown between March and June 2020, the Russian capital emptied out—apart from the streams of cyclists in the trademark yellow uniform of Yandex’s food delivery service.

Often referred to in the West as Russia’s Google, Yandex is really more like Google, Amazon, Uber, and maybe a few other companies combined. It’s not really part of Russia’s Silicon Valley, as much as it’s a Russian Silicon Valley unto itself.  

But Yandex’s success has come at a price. The Kremlin has long viewed the internet as a battlefield in its escalating tensions with the West and has become increasingly concerned that a company like Yandex, with the heaps of data it has on Russian citizens, could one day fall into foreign hands. In a world increasingly concerned with protecting borders and regulating the tech industry, Yandex’s dilemma may not be just a Russian story. Read the full story.

—Evan Gershkovich

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.)

+ Hey, geese like baseball too! (thanks Craig!)
+ Here’s all the summer movies you may have missed the first time around.
+ Guys, drop everything—it’s squirrel awareness month.
+ This clip reminds me how much I need to up my pool game.
+ John Lennon insisting all four Beatles were bald will never not be funny.





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