The download: covid origin drama and TikTok’s uncertain future

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the tech world.

Newly revealed data about the coronavirus has reignited the debate about the origin of the virus

This week saw the resurgence of a debate that has been swirling since the beginning of the pandemic – where did the virus that causes covid-19 come from?

For the most part, scientists say the virus likely jumped from an animal to a human at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan at some point in late 2019. But some say the virus jumped from humans to animals, not vice versa around. And many continue to claim that the virus somehow leaked from a nearby lab that was studying coronaviruses in bats.

The data, collected in 2020 and kept from the public since then, potentially adds weight to the animal theory. He highlights a potential suspect: the raccoon. But exactly how much weight it adds depends on who you ask. Read the full story.

— Jessica Hamzelu

This story is from The Checkup, Jessica’s weekly biotech newsletter. register to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

Read more about MIT Technology Review’s covid reports:

+ Our senior biotech editor Antonio Regalado explored the origins of the coronavirus behind covid-19 in his five-part podcast series Curious Coincidence.

+ Meet the scientist at the center of the Covid lab leak controversy. Shi Junli has spent years at the Wuhan Institute of Virology studying coronaviruses that live in bats. Her work has come under fire as the world tries to figure out where Covid-19 came from. Read the full story.

+ This scientist now believes that covid started from Wuhan wet market. That’s why. Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona believes that the spread of the virus from animals at the Huanan seafood market is almost certainly behind the origin of the pandemic. Read the full story.

The required readings

I’ve scoured the internet to find you today’s funniest/important/scary/fascinating tech stories.

1 TikTok’s future in the US hangs in the balance
Banning it is a colossal challenge and officials do not yet have the legal authority to do so. (WP$)
+ TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled by a congressional committee. (FT$)
+ He told lawmakers that the company would earn their trust. (WSJ$)
+ Meanwhile, TikTok paid influencers to travel to DC to lobby for its cause. (with cable $)

2 Crypto fugitive arrested in Montenegro
Do Kwon has been on the run since the TerraUSD stablecoin crashed last year. (WSJ$)
+ Do you want to mine bitcoins? Go to Texas. (Reuters)
+ What’s next for crypto. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Twitter is getting rid of its legacy blue checks
On the all-serious date of April 1st. (The Verge)+ The platform is still an unattractive prospect for advertisers. (Vox)

4 chatbots have difficult conversations for us
ChatGPT is experienced in writing scripts for sensitive conversations with children and colleagues. (NYT$)
+ OpenAI gave ChatGPT access to the live data on the web. (On the edge)
+ How Character.AI Became a Billion Dollar Unicorn (WSJ$)
+ The inside story of how ChatGPT was created by the people who made it. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Jack Dorsey’s Block is accused of fraudulent transactions
The payment company denied this and claimed that it had also inflated the number of its users. (FT$)
+ Dorsey has no experience of being interested in such things. (The $ info)

6 Homeowners associations secretly install surveillance systems
The system tracks license plates and residents’ movements. (The Intercept)

7 Inside the complex ethics of using DNA to solve crimes
A new database could help protect user privacy. (Cable $)|
+ The citizen scientist who finds killers from his couch. (MIT Technology Review)

8 There are many reasons to be optimistic about the climate
Healthier, more sustainable diets are a good start. (Scientific American)
+ An overview of the past, present and future of our climate. (MIT Technology Review)

9 TikTok continues to harass us
We just can’t seem to get enough of being aggressively told what to do. (Vox)

10 Don’t be fooled by deepfakes
CallerID cannot be trusted to protect you from fraudulent AI calls. (Gizmodo)

Quote of the day

“Wait, I need content.”

— TikTok fashion creator Christine Thompson refuses to miss a content opportunity on a trip to the US Capitol to lobby against a potential ban on TikTok, she tells the New York Times.

The big story

This sci-fi blockchain game could help create a metauniverse that no one owns

November 2022

The Dark Forest is a vast universe and most of it is shrouded in darkness. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to venture into the unknown, avoid being destroyed by opposing players who may be lurking in the darkness, and build an empire from the planets you discover and can make your own.

But while the video game seemingly looks and plays a lot like other online strategy games, it doesn’t rely on the servers running other popular online strategy games. And it may point to something even deeper: the possibility of a metaverse that isn’t owned by a big tech company. Read the full story.

— Mike Orcutt

We can still have good things

A place of comfort, entertainment and distraction in these strange times. (Do you have any ideas? Write me or tweet them to me.)

+ If you like underwater horrors, Joe Romiero takes some really impressive photos and videos of sharks.
+ Try as he might, Ted Lasso’s British dialogue falls far short of the mark.
+ Let’s do a good old snoop around some celebrities’ bedrooms.
+ Why we can’t get enough of these luxurious candles.
+ Interviewing animals with a tiny microphone doesn’t get much better than this.

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