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The Download: monkeypox detection in wastewater, and China’s tycoon control

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The Download: monkeypox detection in wastewater, and China’s tycoon control


The news: Last month, Stanford’s Sewer Coronavirus Alert Network, or SCAN, added monkeypox to the suite of viruses it checks wastewater for daily. Since then, the virus has been detected in 10 of the 11 sewer systems that SCAN tests, including those in Sacramento, Palo Alto, and several other cities in California’s Bay Area.

Why it matters: The World Health Organization declared the spread of monkeypox a global health emergency over the weekend, following weeks of indecision over whether the situation was severe enough to be considered an international threat. While the US has recorded 2,891 confirmed cases of the virus as of 22 July, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SCAN’s wastewater analysis methods could reveal higher case numbers, much more swiftly.

How it works: SCAN’s researchers are using the data to estimate the actual number of people with monkeypox in the communities they monitor by modeling how wastewater data and monkeypox cases from the past month correlate. This estimate, which can be updated daily, would be a much faster way to track community spread than waiting for symptomatic patients to go to a doctor and get tested, and help to catch infections much earlier. Read the full story.

Read next: Homophobic misinformation is making it harder to contain the spread of monkeypox. Read the full story.

—Hana Kiros

The must-reads

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

1 China has its native tech tycoons in a chokehold
Companies that promised to disrupt the status quo have ended up katowing to power. (The Guardian)
+ It’s working on a system to help Chinese firms comply with US rules. (FT $)
+ How China’s biggest online influencers fell from their thrones. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Joe Biden’s semiconductor bill is making unlikely political allies
Bernie Sanders and Republicans claim the legislation would simply line the pockets of the already-wealthy. (ABC)
+ Meanwhile,China is forging ahead making its own chips. (WSJ $)

3 South Carolina has outlawed websites explaining how to get an abortion
The chilling legislation could set a precedent for conservative states. (WP $)
+ Abortion surveillance could trigger a refugee crisis across the US. (Fast Company $)
+ Big Tech remains silent on questions about data privacy in a post-Roe US. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Parisian internet cables were sabotaged in a mysterious attack
Three months on, we still don’t know why. (Wired $)

5 Europe isn’t built to withstand extreme heat
But what used to be considered freak weather events are becoming scarily common. (Slate)
+ Do these heat waves mean climate change is happening faster than expected? (MIT Technology Review)

6 Google is selling advanced surveillance AI to Israel
Which would give its government even greater power over its people. (The Intercept)
Why business is booming for military AI startups. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Erotica has been outsourced to the gig economy
But while it helps budding writers to find an audience, readers fear their favorite steamy authors are being exploited. (Rest of World)

8 We shouldn’t forget about Hubble 🔭
The James Webb Space Telescope may have been making headlines recently, but Hubble still has an important role to play. (CNET)
+ Why Hubble is unlike any other satellite in history. (MIT Technology Review)
+ The Wentian module is on its way to the Tiangong space station. (The Verge)
+ NASA-branded clothing is everywhere, because we all want to be astronauts. (CNN

9 Influencers don’t want followers any more—they want communities
Creating groups of like-minded members breaks down the boundaries between creator and fan. (WP $)
+ Instagram’s meme creators are fed up with being deplatformed. (Buzzfeed)
+ It’s also getting even harder to make a living on TikTok these days. (The Information $)

10 Don’t mess with this chess-playing robot ♟️
Or you may come away with a broken finger. (The Guardian)

Quote of the day

“You’ve always had people who sell snake oil. But they had to go door to door, and now with social media they can sit at home and be amplified to every corner of the world.”

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The Download: sleeping in VR, and promising clean energy projects

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The Download: sleeping in VR, and promising clean energy projects


People are gathering in virtual spaces to relax, and even sleep, with their headsets on. VR sleep rooms are becoming popular among people who suffer from insomnia or loneliness, offering cozy enclaves where strangers can safely find relaxation and company—most of the time.

Each VR sleep room is created to induce calm. Some imitate beaches and campsites with bonfires, while others re-create hotel rooms or cabins. Soundtracks vary from relaxing beats to nature sounds to absolute silence, while lighting can range from neon disco balls to pitch-black darkness. 

The opportunity to sleep in groups can be particularly appealing to isolated or lonely people who want to feel less alone, and safe enough to fall asleep. The trouble is, what if the experience doesn’t make you feel that way? Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu

Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle

There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting. 

But as we knock out the easy climate wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions. 

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Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle

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Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle


The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) funds high-risk, high-reward energy research projects, and each year the agency hosts a summit where funding recipients and other researchers and companies in energy can gather to talk about what’s new in the field.

As I listened to presentations, met with researchers, and—especially—wandered around the showcase, I often had a vague feeling of whiplash. Standing at one booth trying to wrap my head around how we might measure carbon stored by plants, I would look over and see another group focused on making nuclear fusion a more practical way to power the world. 

There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting. But as we knock out the easy wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions. Here are a few intriguing projects from the ARPA-E showcase that caught my eye.

Vaporized rocks

“I heard you have rocks here!” I exclaimed as I approached the Quaise Energy station. 

Quaise’s booth featured a screen flashing through some fast facts and demonstration videos. And sure enough, laid out on the table were two slabs of rock. They looked a bit worse for wear, each sporting a hole about the size of a quarter in the middle, singed around the edges. 

These rocks earned their scorch marks in service of a big goal: making geothermal power possible anywhere. Today, the high temperatures needed to generate electricity using heat from the Earth are only accessible close to the surface in certain places on the planet, like Iceland or the western US. 

Geothermal power could in theory be deployed anywhere, if we could drill deep enough. Getting there won’t be easy, though, and could require drilling 20 kilometers (12 miles) beneath the surface. That’s deeper than any oil and gas drilling done today. 

Rather than grinding through layers of granite with conventional drilling technology, Quaise plans to get through the more obstinate parts of the Earth’s crust by using high-powered millimeter waves to vaporize rock. (It’s sort of like lasers, but not quite.)

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The emergent industrial metaverse

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The emergent industrial metaverse


Annika Hauptvogel, head of technology and innovation management at Siemens, describes the industrial metaverse as “immersive, making users feel as if they’re in a real environment; collaborative in real time; open enough for different applications to seamlessly interact; and trusted by the individuals and businesses that participate”—far more than simply a digital world. 

The industrial metaverse will revolutionize the way work is done, but it will also unlock significant new value for business and societies. By allowing businesses to model, prototype, and test dozens, hundreds, or millions of design iterations in real time and in an immersive, physics-based environment before committing physical and human resources to a project, industrial metaverse tools will usher in a new era of solving real-world problems digitally. 

“The real world is very messy, noisy, and sometimes hard to really understand,” says Danny Lange, senior vice president of artificial intelligence at Unity Technologies, a leading platform for creating and growing real-time 3-D content. “The idea of the industrial metaverse is to create a cleaner connection between the real world and the virtual world, because the virtual world is so much easier and cheaper to work with.” 

While real-life applications of the consumer metaverse are still developing, industrial metaverse use cases are purpose-driven, well aligned with real-world problems and business imperatives. The resource efficiencies enabled by industrial metaverse solutions may increase business competitiveness while also continually driving progress toward the sustainability, resilience, decarbonization, and dematerialization goals that are essential to human flourishing. 

This report explores what it will take to create the industrial metaverse, its potential impacts on business and society, the challenges ahead, and innovative use cases that will shape the future. Its key findings are as follows: 

• The industrial metaverse will bring together the digital and real worlds. It will enable a constant exchange of information, data, and decisions and empower industries to solve extraordinarily complex real-world problems digitally, changing how organizations operate and unlocking significant societal benefits. 

• The digital twin is a core metaverse building block. These virtual models simulate real-world objects in detail. The next generation of digital twins will be photorealistic, physics-based, AI-enabled, and linked in metaverse ecosystems. 

• The industrial metaverse will transform every industry. Currently existing digital twins illustrate the power and potential of the industrial metaverse to revolutionize design and engineering, testing, operations, and training. 

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