The download: Sam Altman’s big longevity gamble and how CRISPR is changing lives

The download: Sam Altman’s big longevity gamble and how CRISPR is changing lives

The download: Sam Altman's big longevity gamble and how CRISPR is changing lives

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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.


Sam Altman invested $180 million in a company trying to delay death

When a startup called Retro Biosciences came out of stealth mode in mid-2022, it announced it had secured $180 million to fund a bold mission: to add 10 years to the average human lifespan.

The company has always been vague about where its money comes from. Now, MIT Technology Reveal can reveal that the entire sum was put together by Sam Altman, the 37-year-old startup guru and investor who is CEO of OpenAI.

The amount is among the largest ever invested by an individual in a startup pursuing human longevity, and will fund Retro’s “aggressive mission” to delay or even reverse aging. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

If you want to know more about OpenAI:

+ Read the inside story of how ChatGPT was built from the people who created it.
+ Sam Altman: That’s what I learned from DALL-E 2.

Forget designer babies. Here’s how CRISPR really changes lives

Gene editing is a technology that many people tend to associate with its ethical ability to create custom babies. But it’s also a distraction from the real story of how technology is changing people’s lives through treatments used on adults with serious illnesses.

There are now more than 50 experimental studies underway that use gene editing in human volunteers to treat everything from cancer to HIV and blood diseases, according to a tally shared with MIT Technology Review.

But these first-generation treatments will be extremely expensive and difficult to implement, and they could be quickly replaced by a next generation of improved editing drugs. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

How China is taking extreme measures to keep teens away from TikTok

The American people and the Chinese people have a lot more in common than either side cares to admit. Take the common concern about the time kids and teens spend on TikTok (or its Chinese home version, Douyin).

Several US senators have pushed for bills that would restrict underage users’ access to apps like TikTok. But ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is no stranger to such demands. In fact, he’s faced similar government pressure in China since at least 2018. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

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

The unavoidable

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

1 Google developed a powerful chatbot years before ChatGPT
However, he was spooked that the system did not meet safety and fairness standards.(WSJ$)+ How tech’s obsession with AI masks abuses of power. ($Bloomberg)
+ In theory, copyright law could derail generative AI. (Initiate $)
+ ChatGPT is everywhere. Here’s where it comes from. (MIT Technology Review)

2 A pro-Ukrainian group may have orchestrated the Nord Stream pipeline attack
But there is no evidence that Ukrainian officials were involved. (NYT$)
+ Ukraine has denied any involvement in last year’s attack. (BBC)
+ Here’s how Nord Stream gas pipelines could be repaired. (MIT Technology Review)

3 How the FBI pushed for more powerful facial recognition
It could be used to power a large surveillance network. (WP$)
+ Fake CCTV footage is also on the rise. (Wired $)
+ South Africa’s private surveillance machine fuels digital apartheid. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Crypto Startups Are Joking For Funding
Times are tougher than ever since things turned sour for the industry’s favorite bank. (Information $)

5 Meta’s Great Language Model Leaked On 4Chan
This is the first model from a major company to leak. (Motherboard)
+ Why Meta’s Last Great Language Model Only Survived Three Days Online. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Japan Was Forced To Blow Up Its Own Rocket
The vehicle’s second engine failed to ignite during takeoff. (Ars Technica)
+ What’s next in space. (MIT Technology Review)

7 YouTube Just Can’t Get Rid Of Andrew Tate
His misogynistic videos continue to be re-uploaded, despite an existing ban. (Atlantic $)

8 The hidden risks of the sharing economy
When almost anything can be rented out to strangers, not everyone is well-intentioned. (The Guardian)

9 Viral TikTok drinks leave a bad taste in your mouth
Users are making increasingly wacky concoctions in an effort to get views. (FT$)
+ The china challenge didn’t have to be real to get views. (MIT Technology Review)

10 The business phone is making a comeback
Partly because of the companies cracking down on TikTok. ($Bloomberg)

quote of the day

“I made my money independently, instead of saying, I inherited an emerald mine.”

—Halli, a recently fired Twitter employee, riposte to his former boss Elon Musk, who accused Halli of shirking his job responsibilities.

The big story

Why can’t technology solve her gender problem?

August 2022

Despite the vast wealth of the tech sector and the companies’ self-proclaimed commitments to the rights of women, LGBTQ+ people, and racial minorities, the industry remains primarily a white and straight men’s world.

It has not always been so. Software programming was once an almost entirely female profession. As late as 1980, women held 70% of programming jobs in Silicon Valley, but the ratio has since completely reversed. While many things have contributed to change, from the educational pipeline to the tedious and persistent fiction of technology as a gender-blind “meritocracy,” none fully explains it. What really lies at the heart of tech’s gender issue is money. Read the full story.

—Margaret O’Mara

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.)

+ Aww, Dave Grohl has cemented his status as the nicest man in rock.
+ These photos of a little cheetah and a puppy are the cutest thing you’ll see today.
+ If you like snooping through emails from technical executives, This The Twitter account is for you.
+ The 10 things actor Jeremy Strong can’t live without are generally unbalanced.
+ This story sent a shiver down my spine.


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