July 18, 2024


Technological development

The Download: ancient DNA, and offshore wind

The Download: ancient DNA, and offshore wind

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.

DNA that was frozen for two million years has been sequenced

What’s happened: After an eight-year effort to recover DNA from Greenland’s frozen interior, researchers say they’ve managed to sequence gene fragments from ancient fish, plants, and even a mastodon that lived 2 million years ago. It’s the oldest DNA ever recovered.

How they did it: The researchers examined genetic material that was left behind by dozens of species and washed into sediment layers long ago. The DNA was preserved by freezing temperatures and bound to clay and quartz, which also slows down the process of degradation.

Why it matters: The genetic findings, which paint a picture of an era when Greenland was covered with flowering plants and cedar trees, could provide clues to how ecosystems adapted to warmer climates in the past. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

The wild new technology coming to offshore wind power

Wind power is one of the world’s fastest-growing renewable energy sources, and soon its reach might expand even further. This week, California is auctioning sites off its coast that could house the first floating wind turbines in the US. 

There are already a few demonstration projects around the world for floating offshore wind turbines, but the technology is entering a new phase, with more governments setting goals for installations and larger projects entering the planning and permitting stages. California could be a major testing ground for the technology. But what it would take to actually happen, and what will California’s auction mean for wind power globally? Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

Casey’s story is from The Spark, her weekly newsletter covering energy and climate change. Sign up to receive it in your inbox.

The must-reads

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

1 Sam Bankman-Fried is reportedly being investigated by US prosecutors 
The inquiry wants to determine whether he manipulated the market for two cryptocurrencies. (NYT $)
+ The FTX founder has made his fair share of enemies lately. (Vox)
+ Facebook is asking lawmakers to go easy on crypto, please. (Motherboard)
+ An underground community in Lebanon is mining crypto in neglected dams. (Rest of World)

2 Apple is finally encrypting most of iCloud 
It will protect data from both hackers and law enforcement. (WSJ $)
+ The company has dropped its plans to scan iCloud Photos for potential child abuse. (Wired $)
+ Government agencies are unlikely to welcome Advanced Data Protection. (WP $)
3 Ukraine is revolutionizing sea warfare with naval drones
The uncrewed boats are targeting enemy ships. (Economist $)
+ Russian disinformation is demonizing Ukrainian refugees. (WP $)
4 China has agreed to US inspections of its tech businesses
In a bid to avoid being placed on a trade blacklist. (FT $)
5 How France’s privacy darling turned cyber snooper
Eric Leandri used to be a staunch defender of digital privacy. Now, he runs a cybersurveillance firm. (Politico)

6 Scammers are scamming each other
And a surprising number of them are complaining about it online. (Wired $)
+ The 1,000 Chinese SpaceX engineers who never existed. (MIT Technology Review)
7 Working out the internet’s carbon footprint is surprisingly difficult 
We’re using more energy, but it’s hard to compare certain activities. (The Conversation)
8 The trouble with being “chronically online”
It’s mostly a lot of people getting het up over nothing. (Vox)
+ Even the fanciest influencers are feeling the cost-of-living pinch. (Wired $)
9 The simple magic of Christmas shopping in real life
Online may be more convenient, but algorithms are unlikely to delight you with an unexpected find. (The Atlantic $)

10 How to prepare for a giant asteroid strike
The Asteroid Launcher simulator provides a fascinating look at what could happen—but hopefully won’t. (Motherboard)
+ How to stay safe from a solar flare. (Insider $)
+ Watch the moment NASA’s DART spacecraft crashed into an asteroid. (MIT Technology Review)

Quote of the day

“It’s not a good look. It’s yet another unspoken sign of disrespect. There is no discussion. Just like, beds showed up.”

—A disgruntled Twitter employee tells Forbes about beds mysteriously appearing in the company’s offices without any warning, presumably to enable staff to pull crazy hours.

The big story

Is your brain a computer?

It’s an analogy that goes back to the dawn of the computer era: ever since we discovered that machines could solve problems by manipulating symbols, we’ve wondered if the brain might work in a similar fashion.

Alan Turing, for example, asked what it would take for a machine to “think” back in 1950, wondering that if machines could think like human brains, it was only natural to wonder if brains might work like machines.

Today, experts are divided. We asked them to tell us why they think we should—or shouldn’t—think of the brain as being “like a computer.” Although everyone agrees that our biological brains create our conscious minds, they’re split on the question of what role, if any, is played by information processing—the crucial similarity that brains and computers are alleged to share. Read the full story.

—Dan Falk

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.)

+ How ‘goblin mode’ became the word of the year.
+ 2022 has been A Year, but at least the memes were good.
+ Yeardley Smith, aka the voice of Lisa Simpson, has been on a real journey.
+ Netflix has a ton of secret codes to shake up your recommendations. What’re you waiting for?
+ Here’s why what we think we know about the brain at 25 years old probably isn’t true at all.