TechnologyThe Download

The Download: Cutting cholesterol with CRISPR, and the James Webb Space Telescope’s first image

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.

Edits to a cholesterol gene could stop the biggest killer on earth

The news: A volunteer in New Zealand has become the first person to undergo DNA editing in order to lower their blood cholesterol, a step that may foreshadow wide use of the technology to prevent heart attacks.

How did they do it?: The experiment involved injecting a version of the gene-editing tool CRISPR in order to modify a single letter of DNA in the patient’s liver cells. According to the company, that tiny edit should be enough to permanently lower a person’s levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, the fatty molecule that causes arteries to clog and harden with time.

Why is it important?: While the patient had an inherited risk for extra-high cholesterol and was already suffering from heart disease, the company believes the same technique could eventually be used to prevent cardiovascular disease. In the 10 years since scientists developed CRISPR, it has only been tested on people suffering from rare diseases, and only as part of exploratory trials. If successful, it could signal far wider use of gene editing to prevent common conditions. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

This is the James Webb Space Telescope’s “poetic” first image of the universe

The first stunning picture taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been released, depicting thousands of galaxies, some dating back more than 13 billion years.

The image, unveiled by President Biden last night, shows a small portion of the sky—comparable to the span of a grain of sand held at arm’s length—enhanced considerably by the JWST’s remarkable light-collecting power. The more remote galaxies date back to not long after the birth of the universe, and have been magnified into view by a massive galaxy in the foreground. Read the full story.

There are more images to come later today—make sure to come back to to see them.

—Jonathan O’Callaghan

Inside a radical new project to democratize AI

Inside the French National Center for Scientific Research, on the outskirts of Paris, a supercomputer has spent 117 days gestating a new large language model (LLM) called BLOOM that its creators hope represents a radical departure from the way AI is usually developed.

Unlike other, more famous large language models, BLOOM is designed to be as transparent as possible, with researchers sharing details about the data it was trained on in the hopes of making long-lasting changes in the culture of AI development—and helping democratize access to cutting-edge AI technology for researchers around the world. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

The must-reads

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

1 The Uber whistleblower is the company’s former chief lobbyist
Mark MacGann says he’s partly to blame for the company’s outrageous conduct. (The Guardian)

2 New York City is drowning in packages

The wave of online deliveries is showing no signs of returning to pre-pandemic levels. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Inside the experimental world of animal infrastructure. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Elon Musk has inflicted real damage on Twitter
It’ss up to its employees to pick up the pieces. (NYT $)
+ Twitter has called his attempt to abandon the deal “invalid and wrongful.” (WSJ $)

4 Climate change anxiety is dominated by white voices
How trauma is framed means people of color’s contributions are being edged out. (Wired $)

5 China’s tech workers are opting out
Brutal working hours, job instability and crushing stress mean laid-off workers are increasingly looking to new industries. (Rest of World)
+A Utah startup is spotting the engineers most likely to steal secrets for China. (Bloomberg $)
+ The country has no plans to relax its strict gaming limits over the summer. (SCMP)

6 Fraudsters are holding restaurateurs to ransom over bad Google reviews
And there’s next to nothing business owners can do to stop it. (NYT $)
+ Anti-vaxxers are weaponizing Yelp to punish bars that require vaccine proof. (MIT Technology Review)

7 The crypto crash ruined these amateur investors’ lives
A crypto addiction rehab facility in Scotland is helping some of them to rebuild.(The Guardian)

8 Mines manned by robots are crying out for human workers
Amid an industry-wide labor crisis, finding human staff is proving a real challenge. (WSJ $)

9 Secrets adverts are hiding in plain sight on TikTok
And many of their creators don’t seem to care about declaring them. (Vox)+ Technically, TikTok could charge its users to view viewers. (Wired $)+ Italy has slapped TikTok with a warning about a supposed breach of privacy rules. (Reuters)

10 Rocket debris falling from space could kill someone this decade
Hard hats at the ready. (Motherboard)

Quote of the day

“This law is the most stupid thing in history.”

—Michael Nacke, a popular Russian YouTuber living in Lithuania, criticizes new Russian censorship rules that threaten him with up to 10 years in prison for condemning military operations in Ukraine if he returns home, Bloomberg reports.

The big story

Beauty filters are changing the way young girls see themselves

April 2021

When augmented-reality face filters first appeared on social media, they were a gimmick. They allowed users to play a kind of virtual dress-up: change your face to look like an animal, or suddenly grow a mustache.

Today, though, more and more young people—and especially teenage girls—are using filters on social media that “beautify” their appearance and promise to deliver model-esque looks by sharpening, shrinking, enhancing, and recoloring their faces and bodies. 

Researchers don’t yet understand the impact that sustained use of augmented reality may have, but they do know there are real risks—and with face filters, young girls are the ones taking that risk. They are subjects in an experiment that will show how the technology changes the way we form our identities, represent ourselves, and relate to others. And it’s all happening without much oversight. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

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.)

+ If you’ve ever tried and failed to catch the Northern Lights, fear not—Paris is recreating them this summer.
+ This adorable cat has a very important qualification to share.
+ A comprehensive snack guide for the ultimate family movie night.
+ Ice cream trucks are cruising around New York and LA selling popsicles shaped like tech billionaires.
+ In exciting architecture news, Helsinki is now home to a recyclable building held up by trees (thanks Peter!)

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