The download: blood tests to detect cancer and the great crypto merger

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

US begins trial of blood tests that promise to catch cancers earlier

The news: The US is launching a national trial to assess how effective tests designed to detect signs of multiple types of cancer in blood taken from a patient’s arm are. The goal is to help define how blood test results for cancer should be interpreted and should provide a standard approach for launching cancer screening studies as companies flood the field with new tests.

Why it matters: Most cancers cannot be reliably diagnosed before symptoms begin—tools like mammograms and Pap smears are the exception, not the rule. Most of these tests for early detection of many cancers work by looking for remnants of tumor cells that explode after the immune system attacks them. Debris from dead tumors appears in the bloodstream, where it can potentially be detected to warn of cancer before someone feels sick. If imaging confirms the finding, a biopsy follows.

What next: The study, conducted by the National Cancer Institute, will begin enrolling participants in 2024 and will test how effective different blood tests are at detecting cancer in 24,000 healthy patients over four years. If the findings look promising, a clinical trial nearly 10 times larger will begin. Read the full story.

– Hannah Kyros

Why Ethereum is moving to Proof of Stake and how it will work

Later this week, one of the world’s largest blockchains is set to move to a new way of approving transactions and away from the energy-intensive “proof-of-work” system.

If successful, the process known as The Merge should reduce Ethereum’s energy consumption by around 99.95% and potentially help it reach 100,000 transactions per second. If The Merge continues at its current pace, the process should be completed on Thursday. Read our explainer how it will work.

The required readings

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

1 Russia’s government has been hit with its first climate change lawsuit
A group of activists hopes to force the country’s authorities to adhere to the Paris climate agreement. (The Keeper)
+ The Russian forest biome is at serious risk from climate change. (FT$)
+ Increased demand for coal in Europe is undermining its climate qualities. (Reuters)

2 New cancer drug appears more effective than chemotherapy
However, there is no evidence that this has reduced the total number of deaths. (WSJ$)

3 Twitter whistleblower appears before US Senate
Peter Zatko’s testimony next week could change the course of Elon Musk’s legal battle with the platform. (CNN)
+ Here are just some of the questions Zatko may face. (The Keeper)
+ Why Chinese authorities are buying ads on Twitter, even though they ban it. (Reuters)

4 A Blue Origin rocket suffered a booster failure during launch
However, there were no people on board. (WP$)
+ Perhaps we should broaden our search for “intelligent life.” (Atlantic $)

5 Why is it so important to understand why some people don’t get sick from covid
And why do many people think they are immune when they are not? (with cable $)
+ The lingering brain fog of Covid disproportionately affects women. (Atlantic $)
+ There is a battle for the long covid in children. (MIT Technology Review)

6 CRISPR needs its smartphone moment
Pushing mainstream acceptance could change the way we treat genetic mutations. (Atlantic $)
+ Protein factories can help shed light on the origins of life. (New Scientist $)
+ Cholesterol gene edits could stop the biggest killer on earth. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Why the Internet Archive’s lawsuit could change digital history
It can also lose a huge chunk of it in the process. (Slate $)

8 Antarctica is in danger
We are still learning how vulnerable the East Antarctic ice sheet really is. (CNET)

9 How Beauty AI Repackages the Face for Selfie Lovers
His claims that he can read personality traits from facial features are not supported by science. (The $ info)
+ The battle for “Instagram face” (MIT Technology Review)

10 WhatsApp groups lull us into a false sense of intimacy
But leaving them is easier said than done. (The Keeper)

Quote of the day

“Our main demand is not to be killed.”

— Camila, a student in Mexico City, tells The Rest of the World how her classmates are tracking each other’s whereabouts via WhatsApp amid a dramatic increase in violence against women in Mexico.

The big story

The 50-year-old problem that eludes theoretical computer science

October 2021

In July 2021, a proof appeared online in the respected journal ACM Transactions on Computational Theory. The result claimed to solve the problem of all problems—the Holy Grail of theoretical computer science, worth a $1 million prize and fame rivaling that of Aristotle.

This valuable problem – known as “P vs. NP” – is considered both the most important in theoretical computer science and mathematics and completely unattainable. It addresses issues central to the promise, limitations, and ambitions of computing, asking: Why are some problems harder than others? What problems can computers realistically solve? How long will it take?

The million dollar question posed by P vs. NP is this: Are these two classes of problems the same? Which is to say, could problems that seem so hard actually be solved by an algorithm in a reasonable amount of time, if only the right, damn-fast algorithm could be found? Because if all hard problems could be transformed with such algorithmic agility, the consequences for society—for humanity and our planet—would be enormous. Read the full story.

– Siobhan Roberts

We can still have good things

A place of comfort, entertainment and distraction in these strange times. (Any ideas? Email me ortweet them to me.)

+ Netflix’s new thriller Glass Onion, a sequel to Knives Out, looks like a lot of fun.
+ This Twitter account of a cat vibrates to music is the best (thanks Melissa!)
+ Whether you’re comfortable in water or not, we can all agree that waves look pretty majestic.
+ Teen TV shows are surprisingly good at dealing with death. That’s why.
+ TikTok is throwing its weight behind striking California farmworkers.

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