Ever since China lifted most of its pandemic-era travel restrictions in January, foreign executives have been swarming in. And Musk had good reason to go: China is a vital part of Tesla’s electric-vehicle empire, both as a market and as a production powerhouse. But as the owner of Starlink, SpaceX, and recently Twitter, Musk has a much more complicated relationship with the country.
There’s little information in English about Musk’s China trip. That’s primarily because Musk, usually active on the social media platform he just acquired, stayed very quiet during the whole trip. While Twitter is banned in China, people have all sorts of VPN tools to access it. Still, Musk didn’t seem to want to give the impression that he was on Twitter while there. He only tweeted a single time about the trip, after he left China. In fact, he even stopped commenting on other tweets—something he normally does dozens of times every day.
But from the public readouts posted by Chinese government websites and sightings of Musk shared on Chinese social media, we can reconstruct his trip from Tuesday to Thursday.
He had quite a busy itinerary: in 44 hours, Musk met with at least three high-level Chinese officials, dined with the CEO of the world’s largest EV battery supplier, and visited Tesla’s factory in Shanghai, among other things.
Musk’s private jet landed in Beijing on the afternoon of May 30, local time. He met with Qin Gang, China’s new foreign minister and previous ambassador to the US, the same day. According to the ministry’s press release, Musk said in the meeting that he strongly opposes decoupling supply chains between the US and China, because the two countries are “interlinked, like conjoined twins inseparable from each other.” That evening, he had dinner with Zeng Yuqun, the CEO of CATL, which is a key supplier of batteries to Tesla cars.
The next day, he met with two more Chinese ministers, those in charge of commerce and technology. Reuters reported that he also visited Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang—China’s sixth-highest-ranking party official—that afternoon, but the meeting has not been made public by the government or Musk. In the evening, he flew to Shanghai and headed to the Tesla Gigafactory, where he took photos with employees that he would later post on Twitter.
On the morning of June 1, his last day in China, Musk squeezed in one last meeting with Chen Jining, the Shanghai party secretary, before his jet left for Texas at 11:23 a.m.
Musk is not the first American executive to visit China this year: before him, there were Apple’s Tim Cook, General Motors’s Mary Barra, JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, Starbucks’s Laxman Narasimhan, and more. But so far, Musk has received the biggest welcome, both from Chinese government officials and from the people on Chinese social media.
The Download: child online safety laws, and ClimateTech is coming
Matt Kaeberlein is what you might call a dog person. He has grown up with dogs and describes his German shepherd, Dobby, as “really special.” But Dobby is 14 years old—around 98 in dog years.
Kaeberlein is co-director of the Dog Aging Project, an ambitious research effort to track the aging process of tens of thousands of companion dogs across the US. He is one of a handful of scientists on a mission to improve, delay, and possibly reverse that process to help them live longer, healthier lives.
And dogs are just the beginning. One day, this research could help to prolong the lives of humans. Read the full story.
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.)
+ All hail the unsung women of indie sleaze.
+ It’s officially October!
+ This list of sartorial advice has been entertaining us at MIT Technology Review—how many points do you agree with?
+ Put down the expired milk, it’s got a whole lot more to give. 🥛
+ Some top tips for remembering your dreams more fully: should you want to, that is.
Everything you need to know about artificial wombs
The technology would likely be used first on infants born at 22 or 23 weeks who don’t have many other options. “You don’t want to put an infant on this device who would otherwise do well with conventional therapy,” Mychaliska says. At 22 weeks gestation, babies are tiny, often weighing less than a pound. And their lungs are still developing. When researchers looked at babies born between 2013 and 2018, survival among those who were resuscitated at 22 weeks was 30%. That number rose to nearly 56% at 23 weeks. And babies born at that stage who do survive have an increased risk of neurodevelopmental problems, cerebral palsy, mobility problems, hearing impairments, and other disabilities.
Selecting the right participants will be tricky. Some experts argue that gestational age shouldn’t be the only criteria. One complicating factor is that prognosis varies widely from center to center, and it’s improving as hospitals learn how best to treat these preemies. At the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, for example, survival rates are much higher than average: 64% for babies born at 22 weeks. They’ve even managed to keep a handful of infants born at 21 weeks alive. “These babies are not a hopeless case. They very much can survive. They very much can thrive if you are managing them appropriately,” says Brady Thomas, a neonatologist at Stead. “Are you really going to make that much of a bigger impact by adding in this technology, and what risks might exist to those patients as you’re starting to trial it?”
Prognosis also varies widely from baby to baby depending on a variety of factors. “The girls do better than the boys. The bigger ones do better than the smaller ones,” says Mark Mercurio, a neonatologist and pediatric bioethicist at the Yale School of Medicine. So “how bad does the prognosis with current therapy need to be to justify use of an artificial womb?” That’s a question Mercurio would like to see answered.
What are the risks?
One ever-present concern in the tiniest babies is brain bleeds. “That’s due to a number of factors—a combination of their brain immaturity, and in part associated with the treatment that we provide,” Mychaliska says. Babies in an artificial womb would need to be on a blood thinner to prevent clots from forming where the tubes enter the body. “I believe that places a premature infant at very high risk for brain bleeding,” he says.
And it’s not just about the baby. To be eligible for EXTEND, infants must be delivered via cesarean section, which puts the pregnant person at higher risk for infection and bleeding. Delivery via a C-section can also have an impact on future pregnancies.
So if it works, could babies be grown entirely outside the womb?
Not anytime soon. Maybe not ever. In a paper published in 2022, Flake and his colleagues called this scenario “a technically and developmentally naive, yet sensationally speculative, pipe dream.” The problem is twofold. First, fetal development is a carefully choreographed process that relies on chemical communication between the pregnant parent’s body and the fetus. Even if researchers understood all the factors that contribute to fetal development—and they don’t—there’s no guarantee they could recreate those conditions.
The second issue is size. The artificial womb systems being developed require doctors to insert a small tube into the infant’s umbilical cord to deliver oxygenated blood. The smaller the umbilical cord, the more difficult this becomes.
What are the ethical concerns?
In the near term, there are concerns about how to ensure that researchers are obtaining proper informed consent from parents who may be desperate to save their babies. “This is an issue that comes up with lots of last-chance therapies,” says Vardit Ravitsky, a bioethicist and president of the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute.
The Download: brain bandwidth, and artificial wombs
Last week, Elon Musk made the bold assertion that sticking electrodes in people’s heads is going to lead to a huge increase in the rate of data transfer out of, and into, human brains.
The occasion of Musk’s post was the announcement by Neuralink, his brain-computer interface company, that it was officially seeking the first volunteer to receive an implant that contains more than twice the number of electrodes than previous versions to collect more data from more nerve cells.
The entrepreneur mentioned a long-term goal of vastly increasing “bandwidth” between people, or people and machines, by a factor of 1,000 or more. But what does he mean, and is it even possible? Read the full story.
This story is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
Everything you need to know about artificial wombs
Earlier this month, US Food and Drug Administration advisors met to discuss how to move research on artificial wombs from animals into humans.
These medical devices are designed to give extremely premature infants a bit more time to develop in a womb-like environment before entering the outside world. They have been tested with hundreds of lambs (and some piglets), but animal models can’t fully predict how the technology will work for humans.