TechnologyThe Download

The Download: a history of brainwashing, and America’s chipmaking ambitions

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

A brief, weird history of brainwashing

On a spring day in 1959, war correspondent Edward Hunter testified before a US Senate subcommittee investigating “the effect of Red China Communes on the United States.”

Hunter discussed a new concept to the American public: a supposedly scientific system for changing people’s minds, even making them love things they once hated.

Much of it was baseless, but Hunter’s sensational tales still became an important part of the disinformation and pseudoscience that fueled a “mind-control race” during the Cold War. US officials prepared themselves for a psychic war with the Soviet Union and China by spending millions of dollars on research into manipulating the human brain.

But while the science never exactly panned out, residual beliefs fostered by this bizarre conflict continue to play a role in ideological and scientific debates to this day. Read the full story.

—Annalee Newitz

This US startup makes a crucial chip material and is taking on a Japanese giant

It can be dizzying to try to understand all the complex components of a single computer chip: layers of microscopic components linked to one another through highways of copper wires. 

Zooming in further, there’s one particular type of insulating material placed between the chip and the structure beneath it; this material, called dielectric film, is produced in sheets as thin as white blood cells.

For 30 years, a single Japanese company called Ajinomoto has made billions producing this particular film. Competitors have struggled to outdo them, and today Ajinomoto’s products are used in everything from laptops to data centers. 

Now, a startup based in Berkeley, California, is embarking on a herculean effort to dethrone Ajinomoto and bring this small slice of the chipmaking supply chain back to the US. But success is far from guaranteed. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

The effort to make a breakthrough cancer therapy cheaper

CAR-T therapies, created by engineering a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, are typically reserved for people who have exhausted other treatment options. But last week, the FDA approved Carvykti, a CAR-T product for multiple myeloma, as a second-line therapy. That means people are eligible to receive Carvykti after their first relapse.

While this means some multiple myeloma patients in the US will now get earlier access to CAR-T, the vast majority of patients around the globe still won’t get CAR-T at all. These therapies are expensive—half a million dollars in some cases. But do they have to be? Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly health and biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

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

1 Humane’s AI Pin struggles with the most basic tasks
Which means it’s seriously unlikely to replace a smartphone any time soon. (NYT $)
+ The device needs to nail the fundamentals before it can be genuinely useful. (The Verge)
+ It seems to have a pretty severe overheating problem, too. (WP $)

2 China is pushing American chipmakers out of its telecoms systems
It’s confident its locally-produced chips are adequate replacements. (WSJ $)
+ How ASML took over the chipmaking chessboard. (MIT Technology Review)

3 OpenAI has reportedly fired two researchers for leaking
But for leaking what, we do not know. (The Information $)
+ Now we know what OpenAI’s superalignment team has been up to. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Repairing your iPhone might be about to get cheaper
At long last, Apple has approved used parts to fix devices. (WP $)
+ But the policy only applies to the iPhone 15. (NYT $)
+ The announcement coincides with Colorado considering a right-to-repair bill. (404 Media)

5 AI data centers have a serious overheating problem
A Japanese ceramics company thinks it has the answer. (FT $)

6 We could be nearing a turning point for geothermal energy
Tapping into the systems is expensive and complicated. But new projects are making headway. (Knowable Magazine)
+ Underground thermal energy networks are becoming crucial to the US’s energy future. (MIT Technology Review)

7 The US Space Force is preparing for the first military exercise in orbit
In which a spacecraft will chase down a satellite, before swapping roles. (Ars Technica)
+ An exploding star released the brightest-ever burst of light in 2022. (BBC)
+ The first-ever mission to pull a dead rocket out of space has just begun. (MIT Technology Review)

8 You shouldn’t rely on TikTok for tax advice
You almost definitely can’t claim your pet as a work expense. (The Guardian)
+ You probably shouldn’t trust virtual influencers either. (The Information $)

9 San Francisco’s Metro system still runs on floppy discs 💾
And it still works just fine—for now. (Wired $)

10 Dyson’s AR app highlights all the dusty spots you’ve missed
If you think your home is clean, think again. (The Verge)

Quote of the day

“Murphy’s law states that ‘anything that can go wrong will go wrong.’ That pretty much sums up my first three days with Humane’s Ai Pin.”

—Journalist Raymond Wong expresses his frustration at trying to get Humane’s Ai Pin, a device touted as the future of mobile computing, to do pretty much anything, Inverse reports.

The big story

Inside NASA’s bid to make spacecraft as small as possible

October 2023

Since the 1970s, we’ve sent a lot of big things to Mars. But when NASA successfully sent twin Mars Cube One spacecraft, the size of cereal boxes, to the red planet in November 2018, it was the first time we’d ever sent something so small.

Just making it this far heralded a new age in space exploration. NASA and the community of planetary science researchers caught a glimpse of a future long sought: a pathway to much more affordable space exploration using smaller, cheaper spacecraft. Read the full story.

—David W. Brown

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ In adorable news: a science teacher hosted dozens of his former pupils after he promised them they’d watch the eclipse together all the way back in 1978.
+ Congratulations to Trigger, a guide dog who fathered so many guide puppies (more than 300!), he’s been given the nickname the Dogfather.
+ We’re all getting older, so we may as well embrace it.
+ These hyraxes love tea so much, they could become honorary UK citizens. ☕

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