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The Download: mRNA vaccines, and batteries’ breakout year

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.

What’s next for mRNA vaccines

As the covid pandemic began, we were warned that wearing face coverings, disinfecting everything we touched, and keeping away from other people were some of the only ways we could protect ourselves from the potentially fatal disease.

Thankfully, a more effective form of protection was in the works. Scientists were developing new vaccines at rapid speed: sequencing the virus behind covid in January, and starting clinical trials of vaccines using messenger RNA in March. Vaccination efforts took off around the world by the end of 2020.

As things stand today, over 670 million doses of the vaccines have been delivered in the US. But while the first approved mRNA vaccines are for covid, similar vaccines are being explored for a whole host of other infectious diseases, including Malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, and Zika—and they could even help to treat cancer. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

Why 2023 is a breakout year for batteries

If you stop to think about it for long enough, batteries start to sound a bit like magic. Seriously, tiny chemical factories that we carry around to store energy and release it when we need it, over and over again? Wild.

But magic aside, batteries are set for a starring role in climate action, both in powering EVs and in storing electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels. There are significant challenges in making them cheaper and more efficient, but 2023 might be the year when some dramatically different approaches to batteries could see progress. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

Casey’s story is from The Spark, our weekly newsletter delving into batteries, climate and energy technology breakthroughs. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Chinese researchers are claiming to have broken encryption
If they’re right, it’s a significant turning point in the history of quantum computers. (FT $)
+ The tricky legality of police hacking encryption to catch criminals. (Wired $)
+ What are quantum-resistant algorithms? (MIT Technology Review)

2 We’re not monitoring covid like we used to
But the virus is still killing thousands of people each week. (Economist $)
+ The new XBB.1.5 sub-variant is rapidly spreading across the US. (CNN)
+ The Chinese government’s covid death toll is being questioned. (BBC)

3 Coinbase has agreed to pay US regulators $50 million
The crypto exchange is alleged to have violated anti-money laundering laws. (The Verge)

4 Amazon is laying off 18,000 workers 
It’s the highest number of people let go by a tech company in the past few months. (WSJ $)
+ Staff will have to wait two weeks to find out. (Insider $)
+ Salesforce is cutting 10% of its workforce, too. (Reuters)

5 Twitter verification is still busted
Paying $8 for a blue check doesn’t actually verify someone’s identity after all. (WP $)

6 Apple has launched a series of audiobooks narrated by AI
Sparking an instant backlash from authors and voice actors. (The Guardian)
+ NYC’s education department has banned access to ChatGPT. (Motherboard)
+ It could, however, prove helpful in spotting the early signs of Alzheimer’s. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ What’s next for AI. (MIT Technology Review)

7 EVs are unnecessarily powerful
Automakers are missing their opportunity to make the next generation of cars safer. (The Atlantic $)
+ How about a flying taxi instead? (Axios)

8 Consumer products are poorer quality these days
You can thank the rising cost of manufacturing and the era of fast fashion. (Vox)

9 They don’t make MP3 blogs like they used to
TikTok is a poor substitute for the void they’ve left. (New Yorker $)

10 Shitposting has finally reached LinkedIn
That said, it’s still more authentic than some of the platform’s wildest posts. (Vice)

Quote of the day

“Put me there, please. That sounds like a delightful environment to live in.”

—Danielle Venne, a musician and electric vehicle sound designer, reflects on how urban life will become much quieter once EVs become the predominant mode of transport to The Guardian.

The big story

The great chip crisis threatens the promise of Moore’s Law

June 2021

A year into the covid-19 pandemic, Apple showed off a custom-designed M1 chip which packed 16 billion transistors on a microprocessor the size of a large postage stamp during an event. It was a triumph for Moore’s Law, the observation turned prophecy that chipmakers can double the number of transistors on a chip every few years.

But even as Apple celebrated the M1, the world was facing an economically devastating shortage of microchips, particularly the relatively cheap ones that make many of today’s technologies possible. 

After decades of fretting about how we will carve out features as small as a few nanometers on silicon wafers, the spirit of Moore’s Law—the expectation that cheap, powerful chips will be readily available—is being threatened by something far more mundane: inflexible supply chains. Read the full story.

—Jeremy Hsu

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, keep your hands off the artwork!
+ Have we finally had enough of gallery walls?
+ Here’s how trans singers are adapting to their changing voices.
+ Congratulations to Denmark, which didn’t host a single bank robbery last year.
+ Millennials fell in love with the Cheesecake Factory because of its whacky vibe.

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