The download: Sam Altman’s Big Bet on Longevity 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 happening in the tech world.

Sam Altman invests $180 million in a company that tries to delay death

When a startup called Retro Biosciences emerged from stealth mode in mid-2022, it announced that it had secured $180 million in funding for an audacious mission: to add 10 years to the average human lifespan.

The business has always been vague about where its money comes from. Now MIT Technology Reveal can reveal that the entire sum was contributed by Sam Altman, the 37-year-old startup guru and investor who is the CEO of OpenAI.

The sum is among the largest ever invested by an individual in a startup pursuing human longevity, and will fund Retro’s “aggressive mission” to stop or even reverse aging. Read the full story.

— Antonio Regalado

If you want to read more about OpenAI:

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

Forget designer babies. This is how CRISPR really changes lives

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

More than 50 experimental studies are currently underway that use gene editing in human volunteers to treat everything from cancer to HIV and blood disorders, according to data shared with MIT Technology Review.

But these first-generation treatments will be extremely expensive and difficult to administer — and could quickly be replaced by the next generation of improved editing drugs. Read the full story.

— Antonio Regalado

How China is taking extreme measures to keep teenagers off TikTok

The American people and the Chinese people have much more in common than either country cares to admit. Take the shared concern about how much time kids and teens spend 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, TikTok’s parent company, is no stranger to these demands. In fact, it has been dealing with similar government pressure in China since at least 2018. Read the full story.

— Zeyi Yang

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

The required readings

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

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

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

3 How the FBI is pushing for more powerful facial recognition
It can be used to power an extensive surveillance network. (WP$)
+ Fake CCTV footage is also on the rise. (with cable $)
+ South Africa’s private surveillance machine is fueling digital apartheid. (MIT Technology Review)

4 crypto startups are fighting for funding
Times are tougher than ever since things went downhill for the industry’s favorite bank. (The $ info)

5 Large Meta Language Model Leaked on 4Chan
This is the first model from a major company to leak. (Motherboard)
+ Why Meta’s Last Big Language Pattern Only Survived Three Days Online (MIT Technology Review)

6 Japan was forced to detonate its own missile
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 continue to be re-uploaded despite the existing ban. (Atlantic $)

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

9 Viral TikTok Drinks Leave a Bad Taste in Your Mouth
Users are making increasingly unusual contrivances in a bid for views. (FT$)
+ The porcelain challenge didn’t have to be real to get views. (MIT Technology Review)

10 The business phone is back
Partly because of the companies fighting TikTok. (Bloomberg $)

Quote of the day

“I made my money on my own instead of, say, inheriting an emerald mine.”

—Hally, a recently fired employee at Twitter, shoot back at her former boss Elon Musk, who accused Halle of shirking her job duties.

The big story

Why can’t technology solve its gender problem?

August 2022

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

It wasn’t always like that. Software programming was once an almost entirely female profession. Back in 1980, women held 70% of Silicon Valley’s programming jobs, but since then the ratio has completely reversed. While many things have contributed to the shift, from the educational pipeline to the tiresomely persistent fiction of technology as a gender-blind “meritocracy,” none fully explain it. What really lies at the heart of the gender problem in tech is money. Read the full story.

— Margaret O’Mara

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.)

+ Wow, Dave Grohl cemented his status as the ultimate man in rock.
+ These cheetah and puppy pictures are the cutest thing you will see today.
+ If you enjoy looking through the emails of technical executives, this The Twitter account is for you.
+ The 10 things actor Jeremy Strong can’t live without are usually single.
+ This story gave me chills.

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