The Download: Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megalopolis and sleeping babies’ brains
This is today’s edition of The Download,our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the tech world.
These exclusive satellite images show the Saudi sci-fi megacity is on the right track
In early 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced The Line: a “civilizational revolution” that would house up to 9 million people in a zero-carbon megacity, 170 kilometers long and half a kilometer high but only 200 meters wide. Within its mirrored, car-free walls, residents would be transported in subways and electric air taxis.
Satellite images of the $500 billion project obtained exclusively by MIT Technology Review show that the line’s vast linear construction site is already taking shape. Visit The Line’s location on Google Maps and Google Earth, however, and you’ll see little more than bare rock and sand.
The strange gap in imagery raises questions about who can access high-resolution satellite technology. And if the largest urban construction site on the planet does not appear on Google Maps, what else do we not see? Read the full story.
Why babies sleep so much
Babies spend much more time sleeping than waking up. Scientists still don’t know exactly why, but new technologies are beginning to unravel this mystery a bit more and could help reveal what’s going on inside a newborn’s rapidly developing brain.
During the first few months, babies’ brains develop connections at a rate of about one million synapses per second. These connections are thought to play a key role in helping babies learn to make sense of the world around them, laying crucial foundations for the rest of their lives. Read the full story.
This story is from The Checkup, a weekly newsletter from our senior reporter Jessica Hamzelou that brings you information on all things biomedicine and biotechnology. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
I’ve scoured the internet to find you today’s funniest/important/scariest/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Covid data begins to disappear in China
It is about to enter its deadliest phase of the pandemic. How deadly? We will not know it. (FT$)
+A letter from the Foxconn founder may have helped persuade China’s leaders to abandon zero-covid. (WSJ$)
+The political pivot was greeted with relief, but also with concern and confusion.(NYT$)
+Here’s what scientists say. (Nature)
2 AI selfies are everywhere
You can thank the Lensa app, and the fact that people can’t help but share how sexy it makes them. (WP$)
+However, it generates disturbing NSFW images. Even when the photo is of a child. (Wired $)
+The AI is also improving to produce compelling texts.(voice)
+Can you tell a real tweet from a tweet written by an AI?(WSJ$)
3 Americans flock to climate danger zones
Migration patterns are mostly moving away from safer areas, towards hotter, drier regions with more wildfires. (Wired $)
+These three graphs show who is most responsible for climate change.(MIT Technology Review)
4 Lawsuit claims women were targeted for layoffs on Twitter
In engineering positions, 63% of women lost their jobs compared to 48% of men. (NBC)
+Musk’s plan to encrypt Twitter messages appears to be on hold.(Forbes)
+Twitter considers changing the cost of “Twitter Blue” after a spat with Apple. (Information $)
+Elon Musk is openly courting a conspiracy-obsessed far-right fan base.(Wired $)
5 CoinDesk’s FTX scoop shot its own parent company in the foot
Ownership structures in crypto are complex and, in this case, a bit too comfortable for comfort. (The edge)
+Crypto officials exchanged frantic texts as FTX plummeted.(NYT$)
6 Exhausted from the internet? You’re not alone.
It’s starting to look like a dying mall full of stores you don’t want to visit. (New Yorkers $)
+Amazon launches a TikTok clone. Yes, Amazon. (WP$)
7 The hype around esports is fading
A broader economic downturn is scaring away sponsors and investors. ($Bloomberg)
+The FTC is trying to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of gaming giant Activision Blizzard.(voice)
8 What causes Alzheimer’s disease?
A stream of recent findings suggests it’s more complex than amyloid plaque buildup. (amount)
+The miracle molecule that could treat brain damage and boost your failing memory.(MIT Technology Review)
9 The global spyware industry has spun out of control
And the United States plays both arsonists and firefighters, adopting the same tools they condemn. (NYT$)
+It is difficult to control spyware technology when it is in such demand by governments around the world.(MIT Technology Review)
10 Xiaomi taught a robot to play drums
Professional musicians can rest easy for now, if the demo clip is anything to go by. (IEEE Spectrum)
quote of the day
“Globalization is almost dead. Free trade is almost dead. And a lot of people still want to come back, but I really don’t think it’ll be back for a while.
—Morris Chang, founder of Taiwanese chip giant TSMC, made blunt remarks about geopolitics at the launch of a new factory in Arizona this week, Nikkei Asia reports.
The big story
The future of urban housing lies in energy-efficient refrigerators
The aging apartments under the New York City Housing Authority’s trusteeship don’t cry out for innovation. The largest landlord in the city, home to nearly 1 in 16 New Yorkers, NYCHA has seen its buildings literally crumble after decades of deferred maintenance and mismanagement. It would take about $40 billion or more, at least $180,000 per unit, to restore the buildings to good condition.
Despite the scale of the challenge, NYCHA hopes to address it. It launched a Clean Heat for All Challenge that asks manufacturers to develop low-cost, easy-to-install heat pump technologies for building retrofits. The stakes for the agency, the winning company, and for society itself could be enormous and good for the planet.
After all, it is much more sustainable to renovate existing buildings than to tear them down and build new ones. Read the full story.
We can still have beautiful things
A place of comfort, pleasure and distraction in these strange times. (Have ideas? Send me a message ortweet them to me.)
+ This sky replacement photoshop cartoon is really adorable.
+ Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas: whatever you call him, he has a long and illustrious history.
+ How to dress smart, but casually.
+ Cowboy butter, anyone?