The Download: Sam Altman’s big longevity bet, and how CRISPR is changing lives


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.

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

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

The business has always been vague about where its money had come from. Now MIT Technology Reveal can reveal that the entire sum was put up 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 into a startup pursuing human longevity, and will fund Retro’s “aggressive mission” to stall aging, or even reverse it. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

If you’d like to read more about OpenAI:

+ Read the inside story of how ChatGPT was built from the people who made it.
+ Sam Altman: This is what I learned from DALL-E 2.

Forget designer babies. Here’s how CRISPR is really changing lives

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

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But these first generation of treatments will be hugely expensive and tricky to implement—and they could be quickly superseded by a next generation of improved editing drugs. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

How China takes extreme measures to keep teens off TikTok

The American people and the Chinese people have much more in common than either side likes to admit. Take the shared concern about how much time children and teenagers are spending on TikTok (or its Chinese domestic version, Douyin).

Several US senators have pushed for bills that would restrict underage users’ access to apps like TikTok. But ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, is no stranger to those requests. In fact, it has been dealing with similar government pressures in China since at at least 2018. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter covering China. sign up to receive it in your inbox every tuesday.

The must-reads

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

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

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

3 How the FBI pushed for more powerful facial recognition
It could be used to fuel a vast surveillance network. (WP $)
+ Faked CCTV footage is on the rise, too. (Wired $)
+ South Africa’s private surveillance machine is fueling a digital apartheid. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Crypto startups are scrambling for funding
Times are tougher than ever since things went south for the industry’s favorite bank. (The Information $)

5 Meta’s large language model has been leaked on 4Chan
It’s the first model from a major company to leak. (mother board)
+ Why Meta’s latest large language model survived only 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 keep being re-uploaded, despite an existing ban. (The Atlantic $)

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

9 TikTok’s viral drinks leave a bad taste in the mouth
Users are making increasingly outlandish concoctions in a bid for views. (FT $)
+ The porcelain challenge didn’t need to be real to get views. (MIT Technology Review)

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

Quote of the day

“I independently made my money, as opposed to say, inherited an emerald mine.”

—Halli, a recently laid-off Twitter worker, fires back at his former boss Elon Musk, who accused Halli of shirking his work responsibilities.

The big story

Why can’t tech fix its gender problem?

August 2022

Despite the tech sector’s great wealth and loudly self-proclaimed corporate commitments to the rights of women, LGBTQ+ people, and racial minorities, the industry remains mostly a straight, white man’s world.

It wasn’t always this way. Software programming once was an almost entirely female profession. As recently as 1980, women held 70% of the programming jobs in Silicon Valley, but the ratio has since flipped entirely. , from the educational pipeline to the tiresomely persistent fiction of tech as a gender-blind “meritocracy,” none explain it entirely. What really lies at the core of tech’s gender problem is money. Read the full story.

—Margaret O’Mara

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.)

+ Aww, Dave Grohl has cemented his status as the nicest man in rock.
+ These photos of a cheetah cub and a puppy are the cutest thing you’ll see today.
+ If you enjoy nosing through tech executives’ emails, this Twitter account is the one for you.
+ The 10 things that actor Jeremy Strong can’t live without are typically unhinged.
+ this story sent a shiver down my spine.


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