The Download: Inside Our Chaotic Brains and Tiny Nuclear Reactors

The Download: Inside Our Chaotic Brains and Tiny Nuclear Reactors

The Download: Inside Our Chaotic Brains and Tiny Nuclear Reactors

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


Neuroscientists listened to people’s brains for a week. They found order and chaos.

The news: Our brains exist in a state somewhere between stability and chaos as they help us make sense of the world, according to recordings of brain activity taken from volunteers over the course of a week.

What this means: When we go from reading a book to talking with a friend, for example, our brain jumps from one semi-steady state to another, but only after chaotically traversing several other states in a pattern that seems completely random.

Why it matters: Understanding how our brains restore some degree of stability after chaos could help us determine how to treat disorders on either end of this spectrum. Too much chaos is probably what happens when a person has a seizure, while too much stability can leave a person in a coma. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

We were promised smaller nuclear reactors. Where are they?

For more than a decade, we have heard that small reactors could play an important role in the future of nuclear energy. In theory, small modular reactors (SMRs) could solve some of the main challenges of traditional nuclear power, making plants faster and cheaper to build and safer to operate.

Oregon-based NuScale recently became the first such company to clear one of the final regulatory hurdles before the company can build its reactors in the United States. But even as SMRs promise to speed up nuclear power construction timelines, the path has been strewn with delays and cost escalations — and there’s still a lot of streamlining to do before they become commonplace. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

How Telegram groups can be used by police to find protesters

Many Chinese remain in police custody after taking to the streets of Beijing late last year to protest zero covid policies. While actions took place in many Chinese cities, it was Beijing police who regularly made new arrests, as recently as mid-January.

For younger generations, the movement was an introduction to civil disobedience. But many people lack the technical knowledge to protect themselves when organizing or attending public events, meaning their digital communications could have opened them up to identification. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Zeyi’s story is taken from China Report, its weekly bulletin covering the country. Register to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

Podcast: AI in the Newsroom

OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot has taken the internet by storm since its launch late last year. The latest episode of our award-winning podcast, In Machines We Trust, explores the benefits and potential pitfalls of using AI tools in newsrooms, and what it could mean for the future of journalism as we live. know him. Listen to it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you usually listen.

The unavoidable

I’ve scoured the internet to find you today’s funniest/important/scariest/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Microsoft unveiled Bing powered by OpenAI
Tech companies are racing to revamp search engines with AI. (NYT$)
+ Some of Bing’s AI-enhanced answers are a little dodgy, though. (WP$)
+ Could this finally be a reason to use Bing? (voice)

2 How China’s ‘spy balloon’ drama unfolded on TikTok
With lots of silly jokes and pictures of the big “pop” moment. (WP$)
+ The United States insists the balloon belonged to the Chinese military. (WP$)
+ What the balloon means for the latest iteration of the Space Race. (voice)
+ A new cold war could be on the horizon. (Economist $)

3 chipmakers worried about a ‘forever’ ban on chemicals
They fear it will topple an already fragile industry. (FT$)
+ These simple design rules could shake up the chip industry. (MIT Technology Review)

4 We make superbugs stronger by destroying the environment
Antimicrobial resistance is on the rise, as is environmental destruction. (Wired $)
+ We can use wastewater to track the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (MIT Technology Review)

5 How Big Tech Succeeded in Watering Down the Right to Repair
Lobbyists managed to tweak the US bill in favor of phone makers. (The markup)

6 Digital payments not taking off in Iraq
Decades of war and sanctions mean that citizens are still heavily reliant on cash. (Rest of the world)
+ The country has just revalued its currency. (Reuters)

7 The problem with lab-grown meat
The experimental label is not a tasty incentive. ($Bloomberg)
+ Will lab-grown meat ever make it to our plates? (MIT Technology Review)

8 Meet The Human Guinea Pigs
Innovators are increasingly experimenting on their own bodies. (Neo.Life)

9 We Stop Be real⚠
Authenticity price app downloads plummet. (Sieve)

10 Don’t Expect Super Bowl Crypto Ads
The organizers learned the lesson. (Initiate $)
+ Crypto exchange Binance has grown stronger since the collapse of FTX. (FT$)
+ What’s next for crypto. (MIT Technology Review)

quote of the day

“I would be hurt or offended if I found out my Valentine’s message was written by a machine/artificial intelligence.”

— A statement that 50% of respondents in the United States agree with, reports Fast Company.

The big story

What’s bigger than a megalopolis? Urban clusters planned in China

April 2021

China has urbanized at an unprecedented rate. About 20 years ago, only 30% of the Chinese population lived in cities; today it is 60%. This translates to around 400 million people, more than the entire US population, moving to Chinese cities over the past two decades.

To cope with the influx, China’s national urban development policy has shifted from the expansion of individual cities to the systematic construction of massive urban clusters. Cities in a cluster will collaborate economically, ecologically and politically, it is believed, which in turn will boost the competitiveness of each region. Read the full story.

—Ling Xin

We can still have beautiful things

A place of comfort, pleasure and distraction in these strange times. (You have any ideas ? Write to me Or tweet them to me.)

+ The legendary Sarah Michelle Gellar speaks!
+ Technology Brothers adore their sick sons.
+ Hear me out: Being grateful for the things we don’t like can be an emotionally helpful exercise.
+ I love this photo of Skin of Skunk Anansie accepting an award from King Charles.
+ Winter doesn’t have to be soul destroying after Christmas is over. Here’s how to learn to love it.


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